99 Problems

Published on June 2nd, 2016 | by Frances Badalamenti


Frances Badalamenti’s Kid Has a STONED DAD

The first time that I was offered weed was in eighth grade. It was pre-braces and post onset of menses. It was during this sweet spot between being an awkward-as-hell pre-pubescent with a shitty mall haircut and way before I was to become the suburban Jersey girl with crimped bangs, colored contacts and the slutty garb that littered the 1980’s.

I still rode my bike around town. And I didn’t care about how I looked.

Most days after school, I hung tight with my friend Matt, a super skinny skateboard-toting, Air Jordan-with-the-laces-untied wearing seventh grader. Matt and I would cruise around town looking for empty parking lots with curbs and embankments, places for me to roll around on a board for a bit but mainly for Matt to master various skateboard related follies. It wouldn’t fail.   Matt would get so pissed off at not being able to pull off a skate trick that he would throw his board hard against the pavement.

And then he would weep like a grieving widow.

Sometimes the board would crack in half, ruined, leaving Matt immobile until his parents sprung for a new deck later in the week. As I was a proper skate betty, my role was to midwife Matt through these emotional upheavals.

For a few weeks during my eighth-grade year, we took another kid into our fold. Matt was in need of a skate colleague, someone to learn new tricks from, and I suppose that I was able to handle a new charge, someone else to shepherd through physical struggle and existential disappointment. It’s no surprise that way down the road, I would work as a bartender and then later, I would train to be a psychotherapist.

Even though he went to our suburban middle school, Chris lived deep in the woods, away from the strip malls and a really long walk from Shop Rite, the epicenter of our town. At this point in my life, I wasn’t used to knowing people who lived in the woods. I was mostly used to the urban wilds of Queens and Brooklyn, where I spent a lot of my childhood and then the tight-quarters-style garden apartment complex where I lived with all the other latchkey kids through The Teen Years.

One afternoon Matt had to stay late for being a jackass in art class, so I blindly followed Chris to his house in the woods. Even though I had a couple of tight girl pals, what I really liked was spending time with boys with flop haircuts and iron on band t-shirts. So I follow Chris like a lost dog. We wander far away from our school and down a really long driveway and towards a monstrous wood-shingled half-done house. I mean, this kid’s house was under some serious construction and looked as if it was going to stay that way for a while.

When we get inside, the first thing that I notice, as we make our way through the house and into the kitchen area, is that there are about twelve cereal boxes and other packaged foodstuffs in various states of disarray sitting on top of the dining room table. Like the edifice itself, things are open and vulnerable and it is obvious that these people never put the food into cabinets. I don’t even think there are any cabinets. You just sit around the boxes when you hang out here I guessed. And then maybe once in a while someone sticks a paw into one of these cardboard boxes for fuel. It all seems so foreign to me. And it’s not like I live in a fancy palace; that is not the case at all – my mom never really cleans the house, but she does at least put food away.

I’m sitting at the table, my brain trying to make sense of the chaos. And then out of nowhere, Chris looks at me over the tallest cereal box.

He says, You wanna smoke some pot?

My body is overcome with fear. I fall into a complete state of fight or flight. It was is as if I walked onto the set of an after-school special. The only adult within earshot is this kid’s grandma who must be holed up in some darkened back room. Where the hell was I?

I hadn’t even gotten drunk yet, not to mention the use of illicit drugs. The whole Nancy Reagan No To Drugs campaign has been plugged hardcore at our school. I have to get the fuck out of here.

Under my breath I say, Uh, maybe later. I forgot, um, my mom, I gotta go….

And then I escape out from under the boxes. I run through the thicket and into the relative safety of our dumb town. I make my way back to my apartment, where cats live in dumpsters and the scariest shit that happens is that once in a while you’d catch some losers humping away in the dank communal laundry room.

And at least my mom would be home from work at six to throw in a TV dinner.

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When I got to high school, I definitely drank, mostly toxic mixtures of shit we called a “bomb” made from a little bit taken from each bottle of someone’s parents liquor cabinet. But none of my friends smoked the weed. Where we went to school in a suburban Jersey, weed was for the so-called burnouts or the dirtbags. We were the cool art kids who cruised around Manhattan on the weekends. Smoking pot simply wasn’t rad. We said no to that shit.

So the first time that I got proper high was during my sophomore year in college. I was attending a chill state school a stone’s throw from Manhattan. I lived at home but my friend Jess lived in the dorms and liked to get high so I started getting high with her in her double. While the dork roommate was at class, we would smoke into dryer sheets stuffed into paper towel rolls and then gnaw on Sour Patch Kids whilst watching Ren and Stimpy cartoons on an endless loop.

Then, Jess bugged out one night because someone wrote “happy birthday” on a joint with a toxic Sharpie permanent marker and I had to walk her around the dorm hallways like a drug trip guide. After that fiasco, Jess turned her back on the pot and my own personal use waned as the result.

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I eventually moved west where I met and married a man that has been a daily pot smoker since he was a young teenager, around the age that kid Chris who lived in the woods was when I hung out with him. Ironically my husband is also a skateboarder for life. We have an eight-year old son. And we live in Portland where you can literally buy pot at the store now.  

Last summer, the possession, private use, and cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 or over became legal in Oregon. Pot smokers are no longer just the burnouts in the back of a car. Or rap artists and aging hippies. Or people who suffer from fibromyalgia or social anxiety and have “the card.” Now green-cross store-fronted weed dispensaries are jostling up beside the ubiquitous coffee roasters and artisanal food trucks. The haze is thick. It’s hard enough here what with the high octane coffee and the strong ass microbrews. I swear, the only time that you can have a clear-headed conversation with someone is on the bathroom line after a gentle yoga class.

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Being partnered up and parenting with a functioning pothead is like existing in a steam room that’s not hot. You can hardly see what’s around you. It’s as if there’s this giant fog bank between you and the spouse, who is just right there across from you at the kitchen table. Try to bring this up to your partner and you might as well talk to your eight-year old son about the neurological and biological effects of too much screen time.

You mostly draw blank stares.

My husband has never been a wake-and-bake, high-all-day-every-day stoner. He generally smokes after the kid is in bed and when I’m contented watching a doc on HBOGO. He smokes daytime on weekends when he can putter in the garden or sweep out the garage under the guise that he’s being productive and useful.

The thing is, my husband is distant by temperament, so when he gets stoned, he is distant plus. But when we get high together (which is not super often anymore, I get wicked anxiety), we seem connected, again bonded by the pot. We talk about the future, killer projects that we want to produce, that independent film that we’ve been talking about for fifteen years.

I will write and direct. He will film and edit.

And of course none of that shit ever happens and that’s because the weed loosens up the mind at the same time that it shuts down the motivation. A few hours go by, some old jazz records are played, we talk about how cute and awesome our kid is and then we eat some dark chocolate and pass the fuck out. And that rad award-winning independent film continues to remain a figment out our joint (pun) imagination.

But now that I have had a distance from said drug to a certain degree, I can say that, like any substance, there is the good and there is the evil. It’s a balancing act. What I worry about, though—what I see—is that mystical haze separating the two of us and is also hanging between he and our son. When you are high, you are farther away from your true self than you are sober. So what my kid and I get most days is a person that is super rad and great in many ways, but is usually a few feet away from us.

Stoned dad is over there. Real dad should be right here.

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Like so many things in life, I believe that it comes down to acceptance on both a micro and on a macro level. Even though there are days that I wish I could wake up in the morning to a fried egg on toast without having to ask, I am doing my best to accept the fact that I am the one who gets up, makes breakfast, packs lunch for the kid, lets out the dogs.

I don’t get the bright-eyed overachiever. I get the stoner dad who does abstract watercolors with our son.

I also get that we are all human and we all need refuges from the muck of life, whether they are the pleasures of brick oven pizza or blowing someone in the bathroom at a bar. I could imagine how the whole idea of both smoking weed and being conscious of your high doesn’t seem to make sense together, as if they are this awkward couple that you see walking down the street. But I do think it can be made possible. Maybe it can be similar to the ideas of “mindful eating” or “conscious spending.”

But, also, what about when my son wants to try the pot?

Maybe he will tell us, maybe he won’t. My true hope for future and current generations is that you smoke the pot when you are ready. You smoke the pot when you are a real person and once you have a hold of yourself. You don’t smoke the pot when you are in the middle of the woods in a half-done house with the only adult within earshot being a creepy grandma. You smoke the pot when you can lay in the grass and look up at the sky and realize that life doesn’t have to be so damn serious all of the time.

And if you are a parent or partner or both, you can at least be mindful of when you need to tuck that vaporizer into a drawer for a while and look at your people with a sense of clarity. So you can look at them and actually see them.


Photos by GOo (c)

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About the Author

Frances was born and raised in Queens, New York and suburban New Jersey, but currently lives on the left coast in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son.  She has completed a full-length memoir and a collection of essays. You can find her at:  francesbadalamenti.com

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