On Saturday morning, September 15, 2007, I left my wife and our 10-year old daughter at the Parker House hotel to help set up the High Times booth on the Boston Commons.
Each year High Times shared a prime booth space with NORML at the Boston Freedom Rally and, on this day, not surprisingly the combined crews of High Times and NORML had already taking care of the grunt work by the time I arrived. “Just like I planned,” I thought.
There was a light rain which would dissipate by early afternoon. The Commons was beginning to fill up with people anyway, and the rally started right on time at High Noon.
Around 12:20 – Keith Stroup asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint.
Now there is a 19yr old boy inside me that gets giddy whenever I get high with Keith.
Admittedly, the adrenaline levels diminished somewhat over the years as we became good friends and frequent conspirators. We often found ourselves in some strange city touting toking to the masses, and I had often been amazed by Keith’s ability to hang long into the night with people a third his age, smoking the best weed in world, sometimes unto the break of dawn.
He was sixty-five years old back then and I was thirteen years his junior. If I ever get around to growing up, I kept telling myself, I wanted to be just like him.
But long before Keith became my personal role-model for aging gracefully, he had been a separate, no-less significant influence on an earlier incarnation of myself:
I was nineteen years old, and I had to get a job.
My parents pulled a few strings, and I went to work as a junior middle-manager for a Fortune 500 company hawking gas meters to municipalities.
I was as misplaced as a young man could be in 1973, and, at the time, corporate America was bedeviled by the question of ties – men’s ties.
Do I have to wear a tie? Can I wear a turtleneck with a sport jacket?
The leisure suit was on the horizon. I distinctly recall that the future Fox News shill Geraldo Rivera gained some early cred when he became the first TV reporter to go on air with an open collar (Just like Mick Jagger or one of the Beatles! Cool!).
A writer of the so-called New Journalism, Tom Wolfe had brought the bow tie back in style too. But all this nonsense had a whiff of anarchy back then so my middle-class managers at North American Rockwell decreed no turtlenecks allowed, but a bow tie would be acceptable.
A bow tie?!! Mick Jagger never wore a fucking bow tie! I can’t pick up girls in a bow tie!
That night I went to my mother’s house for dinner. My Mom – God rest her soul – put up with a lot from me when I was nineteen — perhaps all our mothers did but mine more than most — and she was worried about my predilection for marijuana. It was small comfort that smoking pot was a generational pastime (But Mom! Everybody smokes weed!). She was afraid I was going to lose my soul.
So when I came home for dinner that night, the six-o’clock news was on the tube.
“There’s your friend!” my Mother snapped – pointedly, prophetically – to an unknown person flickering on the screen, a man I had never met in my life. She just thought this guy and I had a lot in common.
The young director of the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was testifying before some congressional committee, and he seemed to me to be a man on fire:
“There is NOTHING wrong with the personal use of marijuana in the privacy of one’s home,” he declared, “and it should be of NO INTEREST whatsoever of the Government.”
I believe I actually said, “Right on!” and I saw my Mother wince. The founder of NORML was touting my rights on national television. Right On! He wore a long blonde shag haircut and big aviator glasses, a velvet sport jacket and – son of a bitch! – a butterfly bow tie. Okay, he wasn’t Mick Jagger, but, damn, he looked cool!
So, the next day I went out and bought six butterfly bow ties — the kind you tie by hand, which took me awhile to figure out — but then I wore them every day for the next six months. — until North American Rockwell finally figured that the stoned junior manager in the gas meter division had to go. Thank God. After that I didn’t wear another tie of any sort for the next twelve years.
So, long before Keith was my personal role model for septuagenarian stoner, he was the fashion maven of my misspent youth. Smoking a joint with Keith can trigger in me my mother’s voice, the familiar smells that emanated from her kitchen, her gentle concern and my first tentative steps out into the big bad world.
My cool quotient was increased by Keith Stroup, then and now. Of course I said yes when he asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint.
We stepped behind the High Times /NORML booth which afforded no cover at all. We were standing behind the makeshift kiosk in the middle of the park. There were hundreds of people milling about in the angel-piss rain.
So it was me and Keith blowing clouds in the middle of Boston Commons. A couple of younger folk float by with whimsical looks and Keith, being Keith, offered them a toke.
Just then, like a baby hawk, an equally young undercover cop grabbed Keith with one hand and grabbed me with the other.
“Don’t move! You’re under arrest! Give me that!”
He took the joint from Keith (I think, but it all happened so fast). The cop was patting me down when I saw Keith throw a second joint in the mud. When the cop turned his attention to Keith I ground the joint in the mud with my foot. The undercover cop nailed us with original one-third of our unfinished joint.
“I don’t give a fuck!” the young cop said. “You think I give a fuck?” I didn’t.
“C’mon,” he said, “Let’s go!” He grabbed us both gruffly and Keith said, “You know, that’s not necessary.”
“I don’t give a fuck.” he reiterated.
The narc moved us through the thickening crowd and passed by the NORML/High Times booth.
I caught the eye of NORML’s 2007 Executive Director, Allen St. Pierre. He saw us being led away, and his face fell. I smiled and nodded.
I realized later I was nodding to myself as much as I was to Allen because the full weight of what was happening was beginning to sink in.
Back in the day when you smoked marijuana you always thought you were about to get busted, always waiting for that shoe to drop.
I had been waiting for thirty-seven years, and now, I was being arrested at 53-years old for a third of a joint with the founder of NORML at the Boston Freedom Rally, where we both were featured speakers that afternoon.
Seriously, if you are going to get busted for pot, that’s the way to do it!
The undercover cop said to Keith, “If I let you go, are you going to try anything?”
“If by that you mean, ‘Am I going to run away’ the answer is ‘No.’”
Believe it or not, part of me felt sorry for the cop because this guy was a one-dimensional low-level municipal tool assigned on a Saturday to bust kids at a pot rally.
I could hear a symphony of jaded resignation in his voice. He had looked our way through the foggy rain and saw a couple of old guys toking on his turf.
He gave himself a well-greased “I don’t give a fuck” and busted us before another thought could enter his otherwise empty head.
But the truth is, if you’re that cop, if you’re that low-level schmuck just trying to pick up a little overtime on the weekend, the last thing you want to do is bust the founder of NORML and the associate publisher of High Times for a third-of-a joint.
Well armed with the facts, we are going to eat you for breakfast, officer.
And we did.
I waited almost forty years to get busted for marijuana and when it happened, it was like buying a VIP-ticket at Disneyland.
It dawned on me then – and I wasn’t wrong – that we all were in for quite a ride.
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