Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sherlock Holmes, Marijuana, and Me

I remember the first time I smoked dope, at least good dope that had an effect. I was 14-years-old, on Christmas break from ninth grade at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Cleveland, Ohio. It was December 27, 1971, a Monday. I remember it as a night of cool temperatures with the threat of rain, and that day’s newspaper, retrieved through a search of the archives of The Plain Dealer, confirm this. In the top left corner of that day’s front page there is a brief weather report: “Mostly cloudy with a chance of showers. High in the middle 40s.” I remember the exact date for reasons that I’ll elaborate on later.

I was with two companions. I wouldn’t call them “friends,” although that’s how most people, less particular about what a word actually means, would have described them. I would have insisted, as I still do, that I have no “friends,” only acquaintances, some of whom I am better acquainted with than others. We were loitering in the doorway of a boarded-up storefront on Storer Avenue. Two strangers, both of them older than us (maybe 21, but no older than 25) approached us from across the street. I remember one of them wore a green Army jacket, very popular attire among those who considered themselves “hippies,” though that’s a word that was often mistakenly applied to, and embraced by, anyone who wore blue jeans (preferably faded), long hair, and listened to rock and roll. John Lennon frequently wore an Army jacket even as he outspokenly protested American involvement in Vietnam. Other protestors and “hippies” did the same. Such were the ironies of that peculiar period.

One of the strangers pulled a joint from his pocket and offered to share it with us. Of course, we agreed. We were kids eager to be treated as adults, and my two companions thought of themselves as hippies, too, and were probably flattered that these two older hippies were willing to share their marijuana with us. One of my companions had previously acquired some pot and we had smoked it, but it had no effect whatsoever, and I wasn’t expecting much from the fat joint that these strangers were inviting me to share.

I was wrong. This was powerful stuff and it left me giggling uncontrollably for the next hour or two. We went back to the house of one of these companions where the giggling continued as his older sister watched, perplexed. But as I sat in the bedroom decorated with black light posters (and a black light which anyone around at the time would confirm was actually blue), I remember hoping the effects of the weed would wear off by 1:40 a.m., the approximate time that Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was scheduled to air on WJW-TV 8’s Late Night Movie. I had seen it before, but I was an avid film buff with a particular fondness for the movies of the 1940s. The Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were favorites that I enjoyed watching repeatedly, particularly after midnight, the perfect hour for a series of films whose greatest attribute, aside from those two stars, was the atmosphere – lots of dark shadows and sinisterly lit faces. My two companions would have had little interest in watching Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, and would not have been likely to mark their calendar to stay home to watch any movie. This was a good five years before the introduction of the Betamax, the first home video device offered for sale to the public. There were no VCRs or DVDs, and cable TV, if it existed, was strictly for the elite. A movie might air once or twice a year, and you were never sure if you would ever have a chance to see it again. I’m sure that neither of my companions knew that Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was airing that night unless I told them, which I’m sure I did not do since we had little in common and I knew they would not have cared. They certainly wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to get high (or to aimlessly wander the streets, for that matter) to watch any old movie.

I would not have remembered the exact date that Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror aired on this particular night if not for my experience earlier that evening, but I wouldn’t have remembered the exact date of that experience unless Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror hadn’t aired later that night. It was the combination of the two that stamped the date on my brain.

The second time that I smoked dope, I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was a case of “Been there, done that.” Giggling, which may have been fun on that particular evening, was not the way I wanted to spend my time, and such silliness was soon joined by paranoia and the “munchies.” Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, however, continued to hold up on repeated viewings, and it isn’t even the best film in the series (an honor that belongs to The Scarlet Claw).

I lost touch (thank God) with one of these companions, but I watched as the other one continued to smoke dope when it was available, as it rarely was to someone who never held a job for more than two weeks and was dependent on his mommy for beer money. He also “experimented,” as they say, with LSD and other substances. At his urging, I took THC at age 17, but otherwise had no interest in getting “high” or “stoned.” Why would I? Why does anyone?

My theory is that those who consider it “fun” to be stoned are shallow boobs who have a void in their life that they are too dumb to fill with something other than pointless and often self-destructive activities. (Sherlock Holmes, as conceived by Arthur Conan Doyle, may have disagreed. His request, at the conclusion of the 1939 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles - “Watson, the needle!” - was a confession to the serious nature of his own addictions.) In 1991, at age 35, after years of drinking and drugging, this former companion was found dead, a direct result of all that drinking and drugging. He was a shallow boob, indeed, whose life was spent pretending he was a bad-ass (he wasn’t) and a ladies man (he wasn’t that either). Was his failure to realize these foolish ambitions to blame for his drug use and early death? I don’t know. I do know that I live on, and partly attribute my survival to Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks



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