I love music. Here's what's on my IPOD now:
Dwight Yoakim, Merle Haggard, The Mavericks
Lana Del Ray, Vampire Weekend, Television, Tennis,...read more Massive Attack, Yo
La Tengo, George Jones.
My essay collection, Don't Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother, was published in 2016.
My wife is from Iran, a refugee. She's gorgeous and is a Buddhist. Our daughters look exotic
and no one knows what to do with them. My wife is also half-Jewish, and so am I. I think
that makes our daughters half-Jewish, too, but since I slept through tenth grade Biology, I'm
not sure. That's my dog Max over there>>>>>
He's a Carolina Wild Dog.
Most of the guys at school are convinced that you smoke pot.” my younger daughter said to me yesterday. “They figure you spend your days getting stoned and writing. ‘He’s a kick-ass writer,’ they say.”
“What do you say to them?” .
“I try to tell them you don’t, but they don’t believe me. They’re sure. But whatever. It makes you cooler in their eyes.”
They’re all college juniors and seniors, so let them think it. I have tenure. And anyway, I’m kind of glad they do, even though they’re wrong. I gave pot up years ago, and even before I gave it up for good, I had reduced that indulgence to perhaps two or three times a year, always dependent on someone else to suggest or provide it. I think it’s been thirty years since I actually bought any stuff.
Among the realizations I draw from this exchange and the memory of those hazy days is that despite what my students think, I am no longer cool. I could smoke if I wanted to, if I thought that would confer “cool” on me again. I could also regrow my long hair, pull it into a ponytail, and be the guy with the enormous bald-spotted-ponytail who thinks what? That others don’t notice; that just because I can’t see my aging head, they can’t either?
That I am still twenty-five or at most thirty?
Beyond “cool,” what tempts me most about smoking again is the sensual experience: the smell of a freshly-lit joint; the background music accompanying the rolling and smoking. Neil Young’s “Harvest;” David Bowie’s “Heroes;” God, even the first Kansas album. Or after smoking, the taste of an ice-cold Pepsi, the only time I preferred the sweeter Pepsi to Coke. And then the sensation of cool spring air against my arms, in my hair, as my friends and I drive through our college countryside, stopping occasionally and randomly to toss our master Frisbee.
Nice memories, and I can’t say that sometimes I don’t want them back, or that I’ll never do this again. Yet, I don’t crave the re-experience, nor do I plan on seeking it.
While I believe my daughter recreates on occasion, I wonder if she knows that she is the main reason I don’t. I wonder if she gets that I don’t want to be one of those parents; that I don’t want her to think whatever she might think: that there are no boundaries between us.
I was in college when I found out that my own mother once knew a boy who smoked pot. She was in high school then, and this boy showed her a “marijuana cigarette.” Maybe she took a puff, maybe she didn’t. I don’t remember these details, and I’m not gonna ask her again. But after she told me this, I offered her a deal: she would give up cigarettes (she was a chain smoker, three packs a day), and I would give up pot. She looked at me with shaded eyes, and I understood that she didn’t want to know my habits. So she mumbled something like “you shouldn’t be doing that,” and I got that we shouldn’t be talking like this. She wasn’t about to give up her habit back then, and in reality, neither was I.
But more than that. For her, I had crossed a line. I had divulged a secret. I was asking for our relationship to change. We never said another word about my proposal.
If I think about it clearly, I’m glad that neither of my parents smoked pot. Or drank. If they had, I guess I would have absorbed it into that road of them and my life. Just as I’ve absorbed their non-indulgence in this one, the one I’ve really travelled. What I’m saying is that I’m glad for the parents I knew.
Which is why I don’t want to cross lines with my daughter. She doesn’t need the proof that I still do whatever she thinks I once did. If that’s what she thinks, and I have a funny feeling it is.
Is giving up smoking pot a sign of maturity? Of acceding to both age and responsibility? Can you only be young and only have fun once?
It’s late spring, 2008. My daughter and I are on the west coast, spending a few days at a pop culture conference in San Francisco. She’s almost fourteen, finishing her middle school days—those days when children begin maturing in ways no one, least of all them, can fully absorb.
I let her hold my cell phone on this trip. Part of our problem, my wife and I will soon learn, is that since we have forbidden our daughter her own cell phone, we are the enemy to teen independence. She keeps my phone in the back pocket of her way-too-skinny jeans, but her dexterity in whipping it out, simultaneously texting, walking without hitting any object or person, and then repeating the act so many times that her average number of texts per day crawls into the thousands, truly impresses me.
It also makes me wonder how far back and out of sight I could get before she’d notice I was gone.
My wife and I had both hoped this trip would distract her from her sacred peers, would expand her world positively, and at times – those fifteen or twenty seconds between texts – I think my daughter and I are reconnecting, perhaps even bonding. She sits attentively as I deliver my paper – something about comic book golems – and as I speak (eighteen entire minutes), I don’t notice her thumbs moving at all.
After my presentation, we get a coffee and take the trolley to City Lights Bookstore. I tell her about the Beats and Ferlinghetti’s patronage. I explain what “Howl” is and buy her her own copy. Then we head to a bar and grill near Fisherman’s Wharf where I let her take a few sips of my draught beer. We both feel the early beer buzz, just enough to be light and happy, I think.
She urges me to order another, and I do, thinking as everyone does that a little more of a good thing will translate into a lot more good. We laugh about people we know and some we don’t, and I wonder if this moment, this faraway idyll, can last beyond this night. Next, we wander into the Virgin Megastore across the street, as I try to find the Bloc Party record one of the other speakers on my panel mentioned in his paper. As we scour the bins, me telling her about the bands I’m flipping through, I notice the phone is out again. What is she texting about me? About us? About what I’ve allowed myself to believe is this happy time? This experience with her fifty year-old Dad.
“You oughta buy that record,” she says putting the phone away, and so I do, hoping what? That she’ll think I’m hip? That once we’re home, we’ll listen to it together? It’s not like that would be a first. But maybe a “third.”
The next night, our last in this city, I get us tickets to the Fillmore West, a temple of music I’ve dreamed of visiting since the early 70’s days of Santana, the Airplane, and Hendrix. The Black Crowes are playing tonight, and it seems funny to have traveled across the country to here to see a band from our home area, a band I’ve never seen before. But then, I’ve always travelled far, though never so straight, for the music I’ve loved.
We stand on the left side balcony, a good vantage point. When we first entered the Fillmore, I spoke to one of the bouncers, telling him about my journey here to this shrine. He takes us through the lobby, up and down the stairs, pointing out sacred places, hidden alcoves where Janis and Jerry and so many others once stopped, or paused, and did what came naturally. He shows us the history through old posters, and I hope my daughter can appreciate this, just some little part of this. She’s quietly following me, but her phone stays in her pocket. Maybe it’s out of charge, but I don’t ask. Does she wish that she were here with a friend instead of me? For a minute I wonder why indeed we are here, and I almost despair in that way I have of shutting down, of turning off.
But I rally, and so here we are in the balcony as the band starts up. They aren’t my favorite band, but going to concerts wasn’t always, or back in my teen years, usually about seeing your favorites. My daughter stands just in front of me, and I’m buffering us from the slightly-crazed guy to our right. The one who just after the lights go down fires up a joint.
Of course, pot smoke is wafting up and in our faces from all over the building. Only once in my concert-going memory did I turn down taking a hit. It was a Jackson Browne show back in the mid-70’s, and I had been invited by one of my college friends. A very nice and very straight guy who once confessed to me that he didn’t know whether he should masturbate or not because Jesus hadn’t weighed in on the subject. In any case, during the Browne show, a guy sitting next to me offered me a toke, but in deference to my friend, I said no.
Back to tonight. As the smoke envelopes us, my daughter turns to me and says, “You can smoke if you want to. It’s all right.”
Her words almost paralyze me. Yet I manage to say, “No. That’s ok. I’m fine like I am.”
If I had smoked then, what would she have thought? What would that information have done for or to her? How would I have appeared in her eyes, and would she have reported back to her friends that her father was cool? Or crazy? Or pathetic?
Or just an old man trying to stay young?
At 11:00, intermission came. We were both spent, given that we are East Coasters, so we left the Fillmore and the Crowes, and caught a cab back to our hotel. I kept thinking about what my daughter said; about why she believed I smoked, or ever had. Was it just a guess, or a deeper, intuitive suggestion?
And then I wondered – and this formed my thinking during our entire flight home the next day – if I had ever wanted to be the kind of dad who would one day get stoned with his kids? Surely during some moment of cooly-stoned and daughterless bravado I had said something of the kind. And what had changed me?
Was it seeing my daughters in the first seconds of their life? Or was it later, reading stories like Elmo Goes to Day Camp or Adelaide and the Night Train to them? Or fixing them mac and cheese or coaxing them into taking their Augmentin? Or was it their clear brown eyes or even their sometimes devilish smiles that move me beyond any haze?
But as I was wondering if or how this daughter knew what I had once done, or what tempted me during the show, I remembered a night the previous fall and something I thought I had gotten away with. So foolish. For what do we ever “get away” with?
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a good idea to supply myself with a bottle of real Polish potato vodka for my friend Lisa’s fiftieth birthday party. At Lisa’s request, I had made two CD’s of mixed 70’s-80’s music, from Sister Sledge to Queen to Bowie. The spontaneous eruption of fifty-somethings onto a makeshift dance floor would not have been a problem had Lisa not also requested that we bring all our kids and allow them to stay until at least 10:00. The party started at 7, I began drinking that vodka about 7:15, the music was in full-swing by 7:45. So when Prince’s “Kiss” thumped into our collective consciousness, who, but my wife who camped out on the nearest cofa, could maintain their rhythmic inhibitions?
I don’t know what your experience is with potato vodka, but I find that it doesn’t readily adhere to timeframes. I don’t know when 10 pm arrived, but I’m pretty sure that I was “booty-dancing” with someone I didn’t know before then. At least, that’s what my daughters tell me now. They also mentioned something about “Atomic Dog.”
My daughters were old enough to drive themselves away from this madness, and maybe I thought they had already done so, or maybe I was too dizzy to even know. But at some point near or after ten on the front porch of the party house, someone handed me a joint, and if I’m not mistaken or misremembering, I took a few hits. It’s hard to say what a few tokes of pot does to a mind already weighed down by fermented potato juice. At least I can’t tell you now.
That night was eight years ago, the last time I smoked. For as I replayed the scene over and over, I knew that in that moment I had become the kind of middle-aged man I had vowed never to be: the one who was an embarrassment to his daughters.
The morning after the party, all they could say was “Dad was booty-dancing! Ugh!”
What else they saw, they never said.
Smoke winds its way over us in another time, another arena. The Black Keys are playing “Turn Blue” on this wintry Saturday night, 2014, in Greenville, South Carolina. The smell is unmistakable, but why am I surprised? My daughter smells it just when I do. We look at each other and smile. She stands during the entire show, but I’ve paid good money for individual seats. Seats with backs. So I settle in and close my eyes, glad to rest my body, glad to hear this beautiful rock music with my daughter.
My daughter who’s not ashamed to be out on a Saturday night with her dad, a guy who doesn’t smoke and who can barely make it to 11:00 P.M. when the show ends.
After I drive us home and head inside to join my wife on the sofa for a few minutes of Saturday Night Live, my daughter jumps into her car and drives off into the night to join her friends wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. Her feet are in both worlds, while mine are propped on the ottoman. Each pair in its proper place in our respective time of life.