Requiem for a Nickel Bag

All of the things that used to define me as alternative have become mainstream, so who am I now?

While I haven't had a drink in 23 years, I find medicinal marijuana to be the perfect prescription for the physical and emotional aches and pains of aging. It's the weekend before cannabis is going from medicinally to recreationally legal in California, and here I stand, 64 years old, waiting in line at my local dispensary, having yet another identity crisis.

My first crisis was around my sexual identity. Well, it was a crisis at the time. It isn't any longer. I'm gay. I grew up self-identifying, in the best possible way, as queer, which Webster's defines as:

"Strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; unusually different; singular."

Over the years, I've come to embrace an unconventional persona, in a James Dean kind of way. From an early age, I fancied myself the bad boy. But here I am wondering: How is it the things that used to define me as alternative are now mainstream? And if I'm no longer alternative, then who am I?

The inked bud-tender called me out of my reverie when he summoned me up to the counter. Curious about the impending changes, I bombarded him with questions.

"Will I still be able to buy the gummy bears I like so much?" I asked.

"Oh, you'll still be able to buy your gummies, but after next week they won't look like bears."

"No!" I gasped.

"Yup. The new law says edibles can't look like children's candy," he replied.

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"But will I still be able to buy my pot like this? Like a kid in a candy store?" I asked. "You know, I point to a jar, you take it off the shelf. I get to sniff it then you measure out the bud on a scale. We schmooze. It's all so artisanal!"

"Oh. You mean deli-style?"

"Yes, exactly," I replied.

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"Nope, everything will be pre-packaged, dude. Branded and taxed, too."

"Branded, pre-packaged and taxed," I repeated. "Soon I'll be buying McWeed at a drive-through."

He chuckled as I went on to wax poetically about the good old days, when buying and smoking weed had been subversive, alternative, counterculture or whatever we used to call it back then.

"I bought my first nickel bag in 1968," I told him.

"Nickel bag?" he asked as he daintily picked a giant, fragrant bud of Blue Dream out of a glass Mason jar with a pair of tweezers and weighed it.

"Five bucks," I said. "We bought it from the Brookers—the 'bad kids' who lived on the other side of the brook a few blocks from us. The scary, older guys you could always count on for contraband."

He knew the type I meant.

Then I went on to tell him how my friends and I gathered around my mother's Formica kitchen table, sitting on blue plastic molded chairs while we rolled and smoked joint after joint.

The bud-tender listened attentively as he carefully handed me jars of weed to smell. I picked the Super Glue he recommended for sleep and went on.

"Back in the day, the entire ritual was terrifying. But thrilling too."

"Really? How so?" the bud-tender asked.

"Scary because we kept thinking we heard car doors slamming and my parents had returned home three days early from Puerto Rico!" I explained. "Thrilling because we felt cool, knowing this was our initiation into the adult world. And thrilling because we got really hungry and my mother kept really good munchies in the house!"

I counted out my cash, then he counted it. Putting a dollar bill in the tip jar, I strolled out of the store pondering what kind of legal weed I'd be serving at the reception for my wedding to another man.

2018 promises to be scary and thrilling too. Scary for all the obvious reasons. And thrilling because I'll be starting yet another new chapter in my life, where legal weed and gay marriage is as mainstream as it gets.