By Lily Lopate
Over the years, I’ve befriended a fair number of stoners. They are instantly drawn to me, or maybe I’m drawn to them. These relationships start out strong, but eventually there is tension when the stoners realize I am not and never will become a pothead. Initially they feel disappointed, but then they become inspired to convert me: “Why don’t you just try it, you’ll love it,” the stoners purr into my ear. I decline and it limits our connection.
In high school, I had a mad crush on the biggest pot dealer in our school. Jacob was the Jordan Catalano of my generation. He came in late to morning meetings, wore a black leather jacket and shamelessly flirted with our uptight dean to decrease his daily demerits. He had four girls on call at any time. He had the knack of knowing exactly what to say to women.
At lunch he went out and smoked in the park with all the art kids from Manhattan. As a result, he was high for his extra-curricular art classes. He’d saunter into our drawing class and slide across the table, tearing up a student’s sketch of an apple.
He used the period to proselytize. Pot opened up new pockets of his brain. Although his musings were repetitive, I was impressed by his impromptu speechifying. He would stand on the table and say: “We need to change the world and shit.”
“Please do,” our lethargic teacher would respond, “but could you first sponge down this table?”
His indifference to rules made him popular in school, before he got suspended.
My encounters with stoners and attraction for them deepened in college. One of them was from Berkeley. Elizabeth was beautiful and laid-back about all things (friendships, casual sex, diet and exercise) but she had strict policies when it came to pot. If possible, she bought it from her dealer in Berkeley because it was stronger than any available on the Main Line.
“I only smoke quality,” she said.
Her laissez-faire habit of blowing off our plans annoyed me, but she had a graceful way with men, so it was instructive to be around her. She had bedroom eyes reminiscent of Liz Taylor and would lower her eyelids slowly and raise them quickly if she was interested in a man. If bored and ready to mingle with others, she would subtly tilt her body away from him like a Lazy Susan.
“How do you do that effortless flirting?” I once asked her.
“With college boys, you have to exhibit quiet reserve. The more indifferent you are, the more invested they become. Laws of attraction.”
“But how do you know if it’s working? If the connection is real?”
“It’s all real and we’re all imaginary,” she said as she finished the last drag of her joint.
One problem with stoners – I could never tell when they were stoned or, if I knew, how seriously to take what they said. So often, I’d begin a conversation with them, their thoughts would wander and I’d feel this smoky distance between us. A few times I was curious to narrow the gap, so I’d smoke a joint. I usually became paranoid and felt the room getting smaller. I was still considered a “non-smoker.”
Elizabeth’s advice led me to meet one of the most influential stoners on campus. He was also from California, shy, gorgeous, athletic. With a million attributes going for him, he kept the world at bay. We met in a philosophy seminar, and after class he would leave and put on his headphones before anyone could talk to him. At parties, he stayed behind the table and monitored the music. I felt envious of his ability to create his own rules in a social setting, ignoring mindless chitchat.
I found his distant manner infuriating—in part because I was always trying to get closer to him—but I was also surprised that it never offended others. He was seen as spacey rather than rude.
Eventually he took his headphones off for me, and it led to a fast romance. Before graduating college, he told me that he’d debated dating me more seriously but decided against it. Was it because I was too intense, or not a smoker? I didn’t quite fit in his pot world, and even though I was a welcome visitor to it, my own judgment regarding his habit would signal my ultimate exit from the relationship.
I engage with stoners like him because I imagine that they are authentically open, mellow and hopeful about the future—a perspective I lack. In encounters since, he reminds me “not to worry,” telling me it will all work out. I laugh, not sure where his greater sense of faith comes from. Maybe from knowing he has another joint in his pocket.
Lily Lopate is an assistant publicist at HarperCollins Publishers. She has worked with authors such as Ann Patchett, Jacqueline Woodson, Nicole Krauss, Francine Prose, Russell Banks, Michael Schulman, Boris Fishman, and Claire Douglas.
She is a magna cum laude graduate of Bryn Mawr College. Her latest essay, “A Relationship of Words,” was published in the anthology Every Father’s Daughter (McPherson & Co). She has also been published in The Millions, People Magazine, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and Bryn Mawr Publications, such as The Bi-College News. She has given talks and presentations at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Scholastic Inc., The Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Conference, Broadleaf Writers Conference, and Skidmore College. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Facebook (Lily Lopate), Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Article photo: “Smoking” by Chuck Grimmett
Author photo: Cheryl Cipriani