Passing on Traditions
Tradition isn’t any good unless you pass it down as it was once passed to you. Smoking rituals are particularly rich and binding, but they are by nature a bit fraught. In addition to the basic skills involved with the task, an initiate has to be responsible enough to handle the effects of the drug before you bring him into the fold. But often a mentor is only slightly more mature than his apprentice and rarely has the patience to wait until the junior is ready. Such is the nature of youth, of family, and, sometimes, folly.
The first time I smoked pot, I did it like an idiot kid without any guidance. I bought what must have been about a half gram of mediocre weed for 20 bucks from this racist kid in my gym class. I took it home, rolled it up in the packaging of a tea bag, and proceeded to set my little crumpled invention on fire and inhale all the fumes, rushing back inside to call my older brother at college and tell him of the new plateau of consciousness I was about to reach.
On the other end of the line, my brother’s interest was piqued. He asked, “Are you high yet?” And I responded, “Yes, I think so,” which he called bullshit on immediately. Disappointed, he informed me that if I were high, I would know it for sure, and then finally told me that he had been smoking pot since high school. Flabbergasted and sober as a nun, I vowed to learn my shit before visiting him in college that summer, which only led me to several more foolhardy, weed-wasting incidents.
When I arrived at his shared house in Ithaca that June, my brother finally had the chance to review my methods and set me straight. He watched me try to roll a joint and threw his arms in the air with disgust. Seeing how much smoke I left in the chamber of his bong, he demanded that I clean my plate, lest I tarnish my family name with improper etiquette. A couple of times, I got way too stoned and started saying a bunch of weird shit, which he put a stop to by telling me that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. I returned to school the following year with more practical knowledge about the ways of smoking than almost any of my peers.
Beginning with that first visit, bonding between me and my brother always involved weed smoking. On holidays, we would tell the family we needed to go have one-on-one brother time and drive around the suburban streets burning down joints, returning after everyone was asleep to raid the leftover-rich fridge.
It was at one of these Christmas get-togethers that I noticed a knowing look in our younger cousin Eli’s eye as my brother and I zipped up our coats to head out for a drive. In that brief moment, it occurred to me that he was now the same age as I was when my brother had set me straight, and that more likely than not he knew exactly what we were doing. I peered into his mind, seeing the familiar botched attempts at bong and joint creation, the same misconceptions about what it is the be high floating around under that jostling mushroom haircut. It was clear that he wanted to learn. Moments from the door, I turned around and said, “Eli, what are you waiting for? Hurry up and put on your coat.” My brother glared at me. Though he was skeptical of the decision I was making for our little cuz, he knew that just as he had led me, I was to lead Eli. I watched proudly as Eli muzzled his excitement and quietly grabbed his jacket with hands shaking in anticipation.
In the car, I turned around in the shotgun seat to face Eli, strapped in the backseat and wide-eyed as I explained what he already knew. “Eli, we smoke pot. Have you smoked pot before?” He began to shake his head, then paused, then sort of shrugged. I stopped him. “Well, you’re about to see how it’s done right. Don’t go doing this all stupid with your friends, OK?” He nodded, the mushroom haircut peaking out from under his hood. I passed him the J and told him how to inhale the correct way. By the end of the cypher, my brother and I congratulated Eli on smoking like a pro. Just then I noticed that it had been almost an hour since we left. My brother and I decided we wanted to stay out a little longer, and so we took Eli back home.
“Wait, are you guys coming home too?” Eli panicked. My brother and I looked at each other and then back at a terrified Eli. “You’ll be fine,” I said. “Just eat some leftovers and go to sleep, no one will know.” If he’d been having a good first stoned experience until that point, Eli’s buzz was rapidly reversing into paranoia. When we got to the place, my brother was worried they would smell weed on him, and as a precaution, he lit a cigarette and had Eli rotate as he blew clouds of smoke onto him. “It’s cool, they know I smoke cigarettes,” he said maturely.
We sent poor Eli back into the belly of the beast alone and thought nothing of it until the next morning, when he came to us for some answers. In the most respectful possible way, he asked us what the hell we were thinking. “I went inside, and everyone was awake! They asked me if I wanted dessert, and I did, and I ate like three plates of it and now they think I like sweet potato pie even though I don’t at all. I was all burnt out this morning and now my dad thinks I have the flu.” He had bags under his eyes, indicating the restless time he’d had falling asleep. Having been present for most of Eli’s awkward growing-up experiences thus far, my brother and I reacted the same way we did when he got hit in the balls for the first time and when he first thought a girl was cute, by heartily laughing our asses off and making the awkwardness just slightly more hellish than it needed to be. What else are big bros for?
Eli certainly went on to be struck in the nards on a few occasions, and his interest in girls only grew, but he never smoked pot again after that night. Holiday after holiday since, we’ve invited him to join us on our drives, which now even his little sister partakes in. But Eli will not budge. I’m not sure whether we personally turned him off of weed or if we simply helped him to discover his personal preference, but either way, he’s thankful for the experience. Our tradition may have crumbled when it reached Eli, but we’re confident that his kids will be much more receptive to our training when the time comes.
Excerpt from the Novel ‘Family Life’
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