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4/20- An Elegy [California Seething]

NOTE: This post is intended for medicinal purposes only.

Even though I know a thing or two about dramatic structure, I don’t consider myself a playwright- just like I don’t consider myself a licensed plumber even though I’ve unclogged hundreds of toilets over the course of my illustrious career as Theatre Manager and Renter of Terrible Apartments (for more on the subject of theatre management, I recommend Stanislavski’s master-work on the subject: An Actor Prepares. Which Is Fine, Whatever, But Then He Goes and Takes Like this Enormous Dump in the Moscow Art Theatre’s Only Working Toilet and I’ve Got to Unclog the Fucking Thing, I Mean Jesus Christ- What Is Wrong with You People? How Is it Possible that You Can Memorize Hamlet But You Can’t Remember that Paper Towels Go in the Motherfucking Garbage Can? Don’t You Think I’ve Got Better Things to Do than Wallowing Around in Thespian Turds All Day? I’m Stanislavski, Bitches! You’re Motivation Better Be to Stop Pissing Me Off or the Only Theatre You’re Gonna Work in Is the Moscow Art Theatre of Kiss My Ass. What can I say? The man loved his book titles.) So, right, like I said, as theatre artists go, I’m far more plumber than playwright (and I’m not even that good a plumber) but I did write one play for a playwriting class in 1995. The name of the play was Dude, and here is a list of the characters:

Frank: College student, stoner

Bill: College student, stoner

Jimmy: College student. HUGE stoner. Always broke. Smokes all your shit. Seriously annoying- like, pretend you’re not even home when he comes to the door annoying. Frank and Bill’s best friend.

Sam Spade: Evil German private detective. Possible Nazi war criminal. Stoner. Only smokes kind bud. Likes to share. Good guy.

Lew Archer: Sam Spade’s partner. Large hairy man wearing a small Minnie-Mouse dress. Found dead with his head in Frank’s oven as play begins. Later comes back to life, screams, passes out, comes back to life, screams and is shot in the head by Chinese gangsters. (Who has two thumbs and wrote a role for himself in his own play? This guy!)

Chinese gangsters: Come on. Every play needs Chinese Gangsters. I mean, maybe not Titus Andronicus, because that shit is violent enough, but The Crucible- I mean, come on, have you ever tried really reading The Crucible- blah blah Abigail blah blah witchcraft blah blah blatant metaphor for McCarthyism blah blah Pilgrim hat and big stupid belt buckle blah blah CHINESE GANGSTERS BLAM BLAM! GREEN DRAGON TRIAD, BITCHEZ- DIE, JOHN PROCTOR, DIE!! See- awesome.

Gil Boaz: Radical right-wing Zionist from Long Island. Possible Mossad agent. Bill’s former suitemate from freshman year. Attempts to arrest Sam Spade for war crimes, but is thwarted when Frank breaks Sam Spade’s glass bong over his head. Not a stoner. Too bad for him.

Ya’akov: Hasidic Rabbi. Actually Sam Spade in disguise. Something about staging a fake blood libel? Who the hell knows.

Julie: Frank’s girlfriend. Kidnapped by Ya’akov. Except it turns out that she’s really Ya’akov’s daughter, so she wasn’t really kidnapped. Except it turns out that Ya’akov is really Sam Spade, so she’s really Sam Spade’s daughter so she’s probably a Nazi except we never know for sure because she runs away screaming halfway through the third act, in search of a play that actually makes sense and was written by someone who knows what he’s doing and where everybody isn’t just stoned all the time, like maybe she’s hoping that maybe Steel Magnolias is hiring characters next door. HATES stoners. Sorry, Julie. You deserved better.

Biff Henderson: DEA Agent. Disguised as Gil Boaz. Also as Jimmy. Also as Lew. Busts Sam Spade for selling pot. Except Sam turns out to be a former crew-teammate of Biff’s from Dartmouth and his name is really Jefferson. So maybe Julie isn’t a Nazi? Maybe she’s really just Julie? Who the hell knows. Sorry, Julie.

Calvin: Jimmy’s dog. Unmasks Ya’akov. Foils Sam Spade’s evil plot. Saves Frank and Bill. So, Sam would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for these meddling kids and that stupid dog (yes, the whole play was a giant Scooby Doo joke. You got a problem with that? This was the 90s after-all-just be thankful I didn’t work in Schoolhouse Rock.(there is a pretty kick-ass Bloodhound Gang joke, though. 3-2-1 Contact=Comedy Gold.)) Except that Calvin is really Biff Henderson’s dog. And his name is Sheba. And she’s a girl.

At the time, I believed that the play was a fractured reflection of my college experience- a reinvention of Commedia Dell’ Arte using an original series of stock characters inspired by people I knew and comic archetypes pulled from the collective cultural vocabulary of the time. Remember, kids, we’re not talking about the Stock Option and Aeron Chair 90s – we’re talking about ‘95 – the flannel and bongwater years- America was barely Online, Tarantino was a cinematic god and the only terrorists in sight were funny little white people in Oklahoma. Ahhh, good times (except in Oklahoma.) As far as the play’s baffling and arbitrary plot – well, at the time, I was convinced that was a sly commentary on the University’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy which governed our lives (the University’s cockroaches were also Kafkaesque.)

So, sure, at the time I was convinced I was a genius- a theatrical Kevin Smith telling the stories of my generation in a bold new vernacular. Reading through the play again, my only real insight is that I was stoned off my ass the entire time I wrote it (just like Kevin Smith when he watched Clerks. No wonder he retired. Maybe I can teach him about plumbing. He’s got the right ass for it.)

The fact is my Playwriting Class was at 3 PM on Fridays AND the University of Albany was voted the #1 Party School by Playboy Magazine, so my poor little play never had a chance of being written sober (BTW, this is the first time I’ve ever referred to something as being voted #1 in some kind of magazine and I wasn’t just totally making it up. I think you’ll agree it’s a momentous occasion. I should be on the cover of Hacks Who Tell the Same Joke Over and Over with Slight Variations and Don’t Realize How Tired the Joke is And Oh My God, I Can’t Believe That He’s Going There Again with the Magazine Thing, What an Utter Total Cheeseball Illustrated.)

I mean, it’s really the professor’s fault for putting his class on Friday afternoon when he knew perfectly well that the weekend started on Wednesday afternoons with gravity bongs during Animaniacs. Hell, by the time Seinfeld came on Thursday nights I was usually throwing up buffalo wing chunks from Mild Wally’s (motto: If You’re Drunk, We’re Open) all over the stained purple carpet (aubergine to be precise) in front of my roommate’s huge 27” CRT television (he took it from his Mom’s place in Queens.) So, there was absolutely no chance of being coherent by Friday afternoon- not to mention that Magnum P.I. reruns were on at 2 PM on USA Network, so of course I was going to be stoned out of my gourd by 3.

I mean, come on, what would Jesus do? OK, that’s not strictly relevant right now (something about loaves and fishes? Who the hell knows. Have you read that book? Totally needs Chinese Gangsters. The meek shall inherit the BLAM BLAM! EAGLE DRAGON TRIAD, BITCHEZ- DIE, PONTIOUS PILATE, DIE!! See- awesome) OK, so what would Arthur Miller do? I tell you what he’d do, he’d have been pulling tubes with us, making scatological sex jokes about Higgins and Lady Agatha and marveling at the incredible coolness of Magnum’s mustache and the scrotum tourniquet tightness of Tom Selleck’s pants (LITTLE KNOWN FACT: His jeans cut off all of the oxygen to his brain, which is why he became a Republican.) Then he would have gone off to screw Marilyn Monroe, who, BTW was rated Hottest Girl in History to Ever Schtup a Playwright by Dude, Can You Believe He Actually Hit that Shit? Magazine. This month’s issue features an excellent retrospective on Christy Brinkley and Billy Joel titled “After Auschwitz She Gave Us All Hope: A Shrimpy Jew Remembers” by Eli Wiesel.

Also, I should add that at the time, I didn’t exactly believe in rewrites. Or revisions. Or proofreading. My philosophy about school work then is exactly like my philosophy about rinsing off dishes before loading the dishwasher – just do the absolute bare minimum I need to do to get by. Have I mentioned, BTW, that my dishwasher is working? It’s the first time I’ve had one in my home since I left the suburban confines of my parents’ home in 1991. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of what this blog post is about- but HOLY SHIT- you should see how clean my plates are getting! I can actually see ALL THE WAY THROUGH my water glass! It’s crazy-town.

Anyhow, so as you can tell, I used to like getting high. A lot. I didn’t wear a watch because it was always 4:20 all the time. And because I looked at the world through smoke colored glasses, I assumed that everybody else was always baked as well. Surely Jerry, George and Cosmo were passing a bowl around as soon as the cameras stopped rolling- hence their obsession with cereal and soup; Homer, Lenny & Karl were smoking up in the parking lot before going to work in the nuclear plant (safety first!) and Wacko, Yacko and Dot were smoking through some elaborate and wacky contraption- probably the entire WB water-tower was set up as giant bong. Not to mention President Clinton who taught a generation of teenagers how to lie to their parents (“I swear to God, mom, I totally didn’t inhale.”) Ahh, President Clinton. Good times. The Secret Service still honors his legacy in Colombia.

After a few years of giggling and Pop Tarts, though, Miss Mary Jane started to betray me (just like Peter Parker). As time went on, I was no longer goofy, fun-loving and dumb when I smoked- I was obsessive, brooding and paranoid. I went from being Pinky to being The Brain.

This was catastrophic- I was no longer fun to be with when I was high- and, honestly, I wasn’t really having any fun myself. A short while later (four years – insert hacky joke about Slow Learner magazine here) I stopped smoking altogether. Sort of. Pretty much. Almost. Every once in a while, I am still seduced by that warm, sweet smell- like fresh poured asphalt mixed with happy juice.

Maybe Scarlett Begonias comes on my iPod at work and between sternly written emails about not flushing paper towels in the toilet backstage (CUT IT OUT ALREADY!), a smile will play across my face as I remember that show I was at when we got all that great hydroponic shit (I don’t mean tomatoes) from the little creepy dude who went to Bard and we got so unbelievably stoned that my friend swore that the aisle lights across the arena spelled Nancy Reagan (which, for the record, they did.) Maybe I’ll just ride by one of the 10,000 dispensaries in my neighborhood (keepin’ it classy, Beverlywood! Cheap rent, Chabbad house and medical weed- represent!) and the green cross will wink at me and beckon me inside to sample a little “Green Banana” or “Train Wreck.”

At any rate, something will inspire me to give weed the old college try and the results are never good. A few years ago, I smoked a bowl on my couch and spent the rest of the evening pacing in tight circles freaking out about how my boss had called me earlier with a question and I responded to him by email. More recently, I took a hit off a joint at the Roger Waters show at the Hollywood Bowl and spent most of the Dark Side of the Moon consumed with the financial challenges of the Powerhouse Theatre and trying to balance the budget in my head. And after I did that, I rewrote a grant application to the City of Santa Monica in my head. And then I bought some nachos (COMIC FABRICATION NOTE: The Hollywood Bowl doesn’t really sell nachos. At least, not yet. Sign my petition at: )

Still, even though it’s been a long time since I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve replaced the subtle potency of mind-bending smoke with the toxic sledgehammer charms of Irish whiskey and California wine, I was a little sad to see last Friday, April 20, come and go with nary a whiff of burning ganga. Of course, 4/20 isn’t what it used to be either. Tragic events like Waco and Columbine have marred this once festive carefree date- not to mention the fact that it’s Hitler’s birthday. I mean, it’s always been Hitler’s birthday, but it’s a lot harder to ignore now that it’s a state holiday in Arizona. Apparently in Arizona, life begins before conception and ends at the border.

Still, if there is a silver lining, it’s that I don’t really need marijuana any more to be forgetful, paranoid and obsessed with food. Being middle aged is all the drug I need. Well, that and booze. And Chinese Gangsters BLAM, BLAM, FONG FONG BOYS TRIAD DIE, AGING EX-POTHEAD, DIE!! See, Chinese Gangsters = good shit.

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