SO THERE I was, arms and legs spreadeagled, hunched over the hood of Tina’s Honda Accord on a busy street in the Bronx, after dark. "I hope you’re embarrassed, I hope you are thoroughly fucking embarrassed!" screamed the officer. They had already cuffed and carried Brian off to the paddy wagon some 100 feet away. The traffic had begun to slow as people stopped to gawk at the three girls being patted down by NYPD’s finest. I was 22, black, with no priors—and my marijuana purchase had gone bad.
As it turned out, a customer behind Brian in the bodega was an undercover cop. They arrested him for buying an illegal substance and then sold Alicia out to the cops. She had a dime bag in her sock, so they arrested her, too. Standing there, I couldn’t recollect exactly why I began smoking marijuana or when it became such a regular habit that I was now crossing the GWB with fellow potheads for a "weed run." But being felt up in a random spot in the Bronx with my best friend’s girlfriend and cousin, facing the possibility of an arrest, made me rethink this newfound recreational habit that I had developed.
Several months before, one evening in the two-family house I had moved to, my new DJ neighbor and her cousin, a terminal ladies man, invited me down and asked me if I smoked. They put me in a "Cipher" and had two Philly blunts packed with weed in rotation while the third blunt was already being rolled. This was my third time smoking grass, and usually there were four people on one joint. But I couldn’t punk out in front of my new cronies; this was a test and I wanted to prove that I could hold my own. So I manned up, chainsmoked until my eyes were bloodshot and received high accolades for my iron lungs.
An hour later, annihilated from smoke, I dragged myself upstairs, certain that I was dying, and passed out on the carpet fully clothed and totally fucked up.
After that night I was in the ganja circle of trust. We didn’t do much that, at some point, didn’t involve getting stoned. And I never had to buy or pay for weed. Contrary to what many say about potheads being lethargic, we were often on the go, constantly socializing. Potheads build rapports with each other that often take most people years to build. Being stoned often means being vulnerable because you are under the influence, and who knows where and how you will end up when the high comes down.
The DJ and I were roommates in that same house for the next two years, during which the good times rolled. So did the grass. One time we showed up at my mother’s house reeking of marijuana that we thought we had cleverly covered up with wads of gum and squirts of Febreeze. But my mother, a child of the ’70s, casually blew our cover. Another time we hot-boxed in the truck en route to a DJ contest, getting so stoned that my roommate fell off the bar stool while waiting her turn on the turntables. And the night several of us went to a strip club, I stumbled into what I thought was the bathroom and nearly staggered out as the next act on stage—much to the delight of the owner and the dancers, all of whom were very encouraging.
But just months into my new recreational habit, there I was on the wrong side of the law and thoroughly fucking embarrassed. All I kept thinking was If I get out of this unscathed, I am going to get high as a kite. The ordeal ended with the cops letting two of us go. They had already snagged two of the four of us on possession charges. And instead of impounding our vehicle like they threatened, they told us to take our asses "the fuck back to New Jersey."
I still get nostalgic whenever I catch a random whiff of smoldering bud. But I’ve been out of ciphers for several years now. It is not that I had some spiritual or moral awakening. And the run-in with the law that night did not exactly amount to a sobering moment. But in time, I moved out of the house, the DJ and I stopped being friends and the endless supply of weed was no longer available or free. Being a pothead is a lot less appealing when you have to start working at it.