We knew where they hung out.
Hidden by a low lying cloud of smoke, we couldn’t actually see them, but we knew they were there. Right across from the high school, smoking together in the dirt every morning before school. Potheads, druggies, non-conformists. The few, the brave, the wrong.
They were the reason I learned to cross my legs in high school and skip potty breaks til I got home. Everyone did. To this day, I can detect the smell of pot from a hundred yards away, all because of the girls’ bathroom. What amazed me was none of the adults ever did anything about it. I guess they didn’t care as long as no one smoked grass in their restrooms.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to discuss the morality of marijuana. In fact (and don’t suck in too much shocked air here), I have recently come to the conclusion that medical marijuana can be a good idea. I know—let my red hair go curly, and the next thing you know, I’m ditching my conservative roots. Not true. I only ditched my gray roots.
My dad was a narcotics parole officer in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the late 1960’s. He witnessed the birth of the deadly drug culture. We didn’t get G-rated bedtime stories when I was a kid—instead, we heard about the glamorous lives of twenty-something junkies who slept off their highs in roach infested flats. I knew what a dirty hypodermic needle looked like when I was ten. My dad had a display board full of them, all confiscated from free spirited heroin addicts.
So, what does information like that do to a young, impressionable mind? Well, let me just say I never even smoked a cigarette when I was growing up. I didn’t have my first adult drink until I was way into adulthood. In school I had the reputation of being a ‘goody two-shoes’. The girl who was ‘pure as the driven snow’. And it’s lasted into my adult years. I even had a boss who leaned over my desk one morning and said he’d like to get me drunk sometime to “find out what you’re really like.” I told him that was an idea doomed to failure—not because I’m that good at keeping secrets, as he surmised, but because I’m that good at staying sober. Then I found a new employer.
I’ve always had an overactive conscience, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s kept me out of a lot of trouble. And it’s given me a guilt complex the size of Trump Tower. My idea of non-conformity is telling the kid at the Burger King counter that I am serious when I say I don’t want pickles on my hamburger.
So, I’m a chicken. I’m not clever enough to figure out creative ways to maintain a criminal lifestyle. I got pulled over for speeding a few months ago, and when the cop came up to my window I was already in tears apologizing for taking up his valuable time with my stupidity. I confessed my transgression before he even had a chance to explain why he stopped me. See what I mean? I suck at crime.
Yep, I’m a free range chicken—living inside a fence that restricts my movements very little. There’s an irony in that. Usually we think fences are constrictive. The truth is, they give us security, making the boundaries clear so we can enjoy the freedom we have inside.
Next month I’ll be twice the age of rock legends like Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse, whose personal demons secured their membership in the infamous Twenty-Seven Club—a list of celebrities who never made it to their twenty-eighth birthdays thanks to their risky, self-destructive lifestyles. If any one of them had found the security they desperately longed for, they’d probably still be around to blow out candles on this year’s birthday cake, too.
There’s nothing wrong with being a chicken. Chickens live longer.
(Photo courtesy of Le Petit Poulailler's photostream, Flickr.com)