Please note: What follows here is satire of the Juvenalian variety. I thought I embedded enough tipoffs, but then again I forgot how much stranger than fiction truth can be. So to those who thought it was real and suffered pain as a result, I apologize.
Now that he’s gone and outed himself, I guess I’m free to tell the secret. I smoked pot with David Brooks. I was one of that “clique” with whom he had “those moments of uninhibited frolic.” There were seven of us. We all know what happened to Dave. The rest: a surgeon (rich), a dentist (gay), two lawyers (one dead already), one teacher and one househusband/artist (that’s me). I never spoke up before because I figured if I threw mud at someone whose whole career rests on being squeaky clean, well, that’s just mean. And it’s mostly irrelevant now. I mean, like he said, we’ve “aged out” and “left marijuana behind.”
Well, all except me. I still get high from time to time. It helps me deal with the kids, makes me more playful and my knees ache less when I get on the floor with them. Dave would probably say I delayed having them until so late because I was too busy getting stoned, and maybe he’s right, although I like to think I was waiting for the right woman and the right time. Anyway, I gather he doesn’t have any problem with my once a week toking, even if it’s “not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.” So even if social scientists have proved smoking doesn’t really make me more creative (although I could swear it does, and I’ve heard others say the same, but what do we know?), and even if it makes it impossible for me to “graduate to more satisfying pleasures”–although marriage, kids, reading, music, conversations with friends, I used to think those were pretty satisfying– I guess I’m okay in his book.
Funny thing. I didn’t know before this morning that I was the “full-on stoner” who was one of the four reasons Dave gave up weed. Sorry as I am to hear that our frolics are now his shameful 4 a.m. memories, after all these years of silence, it’s nice to know I mattered to him, that I was a significant part of the moral life of someone so important and with such a strong “sense of satisfaction and accomplishment”—an achievement I guess I made possible by teaching him that “one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.”
And here all along I thought he quit because of that time we got pulled over by the Radnor cops in senior year right after we’d clambaked his Mom’s Vista Cruiser, and first thing the cop does after the smoke clears is look him right in his red, red eyes, and said, “I don’t suppose it would go over so good if I went over to 632 Haverford Road and told Mr and Mrs Brooks their boy was out here with his clique smoking pot.” I was so impressed with the way Dave pulled himself together then. He didn’t beg for mercy or fight with the cop. Somehow he knew exactly how to go all bar mitzvah boy, how to talk to authority, how to flatter and impress and toady, even stoned to the gills, like his inner Eddie Haskell was deeper down than the pot could get. And it worked. The cop let us go, told us we were lucky he knew Dave and that we were white kids from Radnor, and later on, at the pizza house taking care of our munchies, chattering and cackling over our good luck and trying to figure out how Dave and the cop knew each other, busting on him for being a narc, Dave was quiet and pale and barely touched his hoagie, and I think that was the last time he smoked pot, at least with us.
But before that, did we have some uninhibited frolic! He wrote in his column about the time he got high during lunch and then “stumbled through” a presentation in English class. Too bad he didn’t go into the details. But I remember it pretty well. It was senior year. We all had to give a 10-minute talk about one of the leitmotifs in Lord Jim. We’d both chosen “one of us,” an idea that was totally DAve’s. He’d gotten after we smoked some insane Thai stick and went into Philly to see “Freaks” at the TLA. We’d figured out our talks on the train back home. Mine was going to be about how Conrad was being ironic, and the “us” weren’t exactly people you wanted to be one of. His was going to be about the way Jim’s “selfishness of a higher order” was a model for Hamiltonian government. Mine went off without a hitch, even though I was as stoned as he was. (But I was probably already the full-on stoner, so maybe I had a tolerance.)
But when Dave got up there, I think he was trying to be literary or casual or something, and he started in by saying that the idea had come to him watching Freaks, and he got totally sidetracked, the way you do when you’re good and high. “Oh, man, you shoulda seen it,” he said. “These, like, total freakazoids. This one? Prince something or other? No arms or legs, but he could roll a cigarette and then light it—with his mouth, man! He’d fit right in here at Radnor Get High…” and here he started giggling uncontrollably, and all he could say was “One of us, one of us, gobble gobble gobble” until Mr. Sedgwick had to tell him to sit down. (Later Dave told us he told Sedge he’d never done it before and he was really sorry and Sedge said he wouldn’t call his parents, but he (Dave) was such a good boy he knew he wouldn’t do that again.)
The other part he didn’t tell was about how we got high at lunch. This was back when you could smoke at school. Cigarettes, I mean, but naturally that wasn’t all we smoked. Smokers had to go to an area set up outside the cafeteria, hemmed in by the other wings of the building, sort of like a cell block. Architects must have been stoned or something, or maybe that was back when we didn’t care so much about smoking, but anyway they put the air intake for the second floor in a corner of the cell block. So we were smoking this joint of Jamaican over in that corner and Dave got the bright idea to blow the smoke into the register. “That’ll make everyone up there one of us!” he said. And sure enough when we went up to class the whole floor stank and the vice-principal was hustling up and down the hallway, wrinkling his nose like a bloodhound trying to figure out where the smell was coming from, and then he went into the boys’ room and dragged out one of the only two black boys at Radnor High, yelling at him for smoking pot in school.
I remember the guilty look on Dave’s face when he saw Mr. Santangelo with the kid by the collar. Later on, he told me that he was tempted to confess, but he also happened to know that that boy did smoke pot, that he was a full-on stoner, so if he got in a little trouble, it might be good for him. When I read today that Dave thinks that “not smoking, or only smoking sporadically gave you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and interesting,” while “smoking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center,” I thought about that boy and wondered if getting kicked out of school had helped him hold together his deep center, and if his going to juvy was the kind of subtle discouragement that Dave thinks governments should engage in when it comes to the “lesser pleasures.” I suppose he thought he was doing the kid a favor by letting him take the rap.
There were other frolics, of course. Not with girls—Dave wasn’t much for the girls, all fumbly and mumbly and the pot just supersized his nerdiness. But culture and politics, those great interminable debates. Beatles or Stones, pipes or papers, negotiate over the hostages or send in the troops. Dave had a way of starting off all reasonable, usually talking about how both sides were equally bad. But the stoneder he got, the more opinionated he became, and his opinions—well, let’s just say that when Dave wrote this morning that in a healthy society “government subtly encourages the highest pleasures” I remembered a time we were parked out at French Creek and he stood up on top of the Vista Cruiser and gave a speech to us about what Jefferson really meant by the “pursuit of happiness,” and how a government should uphold our right to get as high as possible, and how George Washington grew pot and old Edmund Burke must have smoked it, and I wondered if Dave was sending his old posse a secret message. I wondered if, especially now that he’s past fifty and divorced and all that, he’s getting a little tired of maturity, of being harnessed to “the powers of reason, temperance, and self-control,” not to mention to the New York Times, he wanted us to come take him out and apply some subtle peer group pressure to his “moral ecology.”
Which we’d be glad to do. I just found the other guys on facebook. Flights to Denver are cheap. Pot tourism is already happening, we can buy a cheap package, maybe even find a Vista Cruiser to rent or an air register to blow our smoke into, bake a whole floor of the hotel. If you’re reading this, Dave, consider it an invitation. Let’s go encourage our lesser pleasures, relive those days before we aged out and got all inhibited and gray, give ourselves some new embarrassing memories to wake up to at 4 a.m. Because there’s only one thing worse than waking up in the wee hours reminded of what an idiot you can be, and that’s having nothing at all to trouble you, just the smooth satisfaction of success.