I was psyched when my old buddy, Dave, called to invite me to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. When we worked together many years ago, Dave was 10 years younger—and way cooler than me. A single undergraduate, he lived in Washington, D.C., while I was married and had two daughters in the boring suburbs. Dave played guitar, formed a band and invited me to audition for lead singer. I sucked and resigned myself to a life of day care, potlucks and PTA. After graduating, Dave married a journalist, had a daughter and moved to LA, taking a job as a TV producer. We kept in touch, and whenever he visited D.C., I was envious of his tales of movie premieres and celebrities.
Every April, he and a group of friends went to Jazz Fest, but I was never invited. So, I was flattered when Dave called to say a friend had canceled, sticking Dave with the bill for the ticket and hotel room. Could I help him out? Carlos Santana was headlining. I jumped at the offer, happy even if I hadn't made his A-list.
I packed a pair of black Levis, my Wayfarers and a Rolling Stones T-shirt. The forecast was a swampy 86 degrees, so I threw in sunscreen. In New Orleans, I met Dave and his posse at the fairgrounds, as hot as Cajun jambalaya. When I pulled out my sunscreen to spray my bald spot and choked, they laughed.
Santana went on at sunset, so we waded into the hot, sticky crowd of revelers. At 58, I noticed many people from my generation, but I seemed to be the only one not wearing tie-dye. A strapping guy with long hair and love beads offered me his red Solo cup, which I politely passed on, not knowing what the hell was inside of it.
When it got dark, Dave got us all together and pulled out a joint. He lit up, took a few hits and passed it around. When it got to me, I froze. I worked in the ethics office of an international organization. What if my co-workers found out? Oh, well, what the hell, I thought, and took two quick pulls then passed it on.
Santana was halfway into "A Love Supreme" when Dave's pot suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. The last thing I remember thinking was, "Hmm, this is intense." And then it was fade to black.
"You OK, man? Don't get up." I opened my eyes to a circle of concerned hippie faces.
"Just lie there," some tie-dyed person said. "You're going to be OK."
Mr. Love Beads slid his arm under my shoulders, propped me up and brought a bottle of water to my lips. "Drink, man," he said. "Stay hydrated." He placed a bag of ice on my shoulders. "This will cool you down."
When I could finally stand, the ground felt mushy, so he insisted on walking me to the medical tent. Inside, I lay down on a cot, mortified, and remained there through the encores. Dave and the others eventually found me and brought me back to the hotel.
The next evening, we followed Dave to a desolate part of the city to see a guitarist he liked. We were all hanging out on some dark street when Dave pulled out a joint and lit up. Though still woozy from the previous night, here was my chance to redeem myself and show Dave that I was still cool. I reached for the joint.
"None for you," Dave said, handing it to the others. "Can't have you pass out again." Suddenly, I became the nerdy kid at school no one wanted to play with.
After I got home, the sting of humiliation stayed with me for a good few months until one day when Dave's sister called with disturbing news: Dave was in rehab for an opioid addiction, which he had hidden for years. His wife discovered he'd spent their life savings and kicked him out. His sister and dad managed to scrape up $30,000 for a month at a facility. Dave's teenage daughter refused to speak to him.
I recently told this story to my own daughters, now 31 and 29.
"That dope was really strong," I said.
"Dad, no one calls it 'dope' anymore," Simone, corrected me. "Use 'weed,' instead."
"I just can't believe it," I said. "Dave seemed so together, so cool."
"No one says 'cool' either," said Claire. "We say 'dope.'"
I frowned, and she moved in to give me a hug. "Dad, don't you know we love you precisely because you're not dope?"
Well, that was cool by me.