Volume 3, Issue 82: Passenger Side

"You're going to make me spill my beer if you don't learn how to steer."

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The first time I ever smoked weed I couldn’t find my way out of the kitchen. It was my sophomore year of college, and a bunch of the older newspaper staffers were having a party at their apartment just across the street from the Daily Illini. The associate sports editor, whose job I wanted, was the sort of friendly guy who was always trying to extol upon you the myriad uses of hemp—“You can, like, make rope with it”—and named his fantasy baseball team the “Leesville Leafsmokers.” I sort of miss having people like that in my life, people who the only real thing anybody knew about them was “guy who just smokes weed all the time.” I must have known about 20 of those guys in college.

I’d only had the first sip of alcohol in my life a couple of months earlier, and I’d found my sea legs pretty quickly there. But I wasn’t particularly curious about marijuana. Even at 20, I was ambitious and hungry and eager to create and work, and the last thing I wanted was any sort of distraction from that. (The weed guys all seemed, uh, to get distracted easily.) But we were at the seniors’ apartment, and I wanted their approval and their assignments and ultimately their jobs, so when the associate sports editor offered me a hit from his tan plastic bong with a Cubs sticker on the side, I did not say no. All I remember is the coughing, and everybody laughing at the downstate farm kid with the center part and his coughing, but then I gave it another try and next thing you knew I was stuck in the kitchen. It wasn’t that I couldn’t move. It was that I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten in there, which made it impossible to retrace my steps to discover the correct way to get out. There had to have been a door somewhere, right? What kind of apartment is designed where there’s no escape from the kitchen? Maybe someone hid it? Maybe I was just beamed here?

In the years after my successful extraction from the kitchen, weed would become a more familiar traveler in my life. After 20 years of never seeing it once, of being the sort of former Christian youth group kid who got nervous watching someone smoke a joint in a movie, weed was sort of inescapable for the next 20 years. In Champaign, in St. Louis and especially in New York, weed was everywhere, an occupational hazard, perhaps, of spending so much time with writers and journalists. The things is, though: I’ve smoked pot dozens of times since the labyrinthine mystery that was that kitchen, and .. I still don’t think I’ve gotten any better at it.

I know people who are able to smoke a joint the way parents might have a glass of wine at the end of a long day, and I also know people who don’t even get high anymore, who just smoke (or, increasingly, eat a gummy) to get to a steady level of semi-relaxed normalcy. I have never been one of those people. I actually get high. Which is to say, I actually get stupid.

That may not be true, actually, I might not actually become stupid like the snap of a finger, but in the moment, it sure seems that way. It seems like for most of you, when you get high, your brain relaxes and slows down. But mine, it does two big things wrong: It stops working right, and it also stops working right really quickly. My brain is a little bit more active than it should be even in its default state—it’s why I talk so fast, though I prefer to think the rest of you are just listening too slowly—and gets completely out of control when I’m high. But I also am aware that it’s not working right, that the usual processes are fraying and the synapses are all misfiring. This leads, essentially, to a total shutdown. I can lose touch with basic human form and function and forget what I’m like and how I’m supposed to act. If I’m at a party with you and everyone’s stoned, I will inevitably be the one talking the least and desperately hoping no one notices that I am there at all. Because if you talk to me you’re going to know.

You’d think I’d be better about this by now: It has been 25 years since I was in that kitchen, after all. Stimulants have always been more of a natural compliment to my personality, but I think I’m stimulated enough as is and plus that shit will kill you. I am a social person, and marijuana, for me, is the opposite of a social drug. It’s a perfectly pleasant solitary one: If I am by myself, reading a book or watching a movie or even at a concert, it’s an enhancement to an already passive experience. But the spell is over the minute I have to talk to someone.

But I’ve been more willing to give it another try in the last couple of years and I’ve gotten a little better. I know people who truly believe marijuana has gotten them through the pandemic. Marijuana is increasingly legal nearly everywhere—an old editor of mine has been predicting universal legality for two decades, noting, “once they realize how much tax you can put on it they’ll sell it in vending machines”—and it has been mainstreamed in a way I never could have predicted. I never thought I’d see the day that, when I volunteer that my parents were having some ailments, people would immediately suggest, “Oh, give them some weed.” That kid out smoking weed with his cousin while home from college for Christmas who discovered to his alarm that his father was still up when he walked in the front door, 25 years later, can’t quite wrap his mind around the fact that strangers are encouraging him to get his dad stoned. And they’re right! It would probably help!

I’ve gotten better, a little. But only a little. A few years ago, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a widely derided column in which she bought a (legal) chocolate edible and clearly ate way too much of it. She freaked the hell out.

I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy. I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.

Hahahahahahaaha what a dope. Except.

Right before the pandemic hit, I went back to Illinois for a few days, to speak to some college students in Champaign and see some old friends and family in Mattoon. This was just a few weeks after legal marijuana shops had opened in the state of Illinois, and I was curious: There was something hilarious to me, for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on, about walking into a store in freaking Effingham and buying a joint right next to the middle school where we used to play baseball and have scholastic bowl tournaments. So on the way I home I stopped by an Effingham dispensary and bought the only item they had left, some capsules that the guy in the window at the store said “were pretty light, they’ll help you sleep.” I had four classes to talk to the next day and was exhausted from the travel, so when I checked into my hotel in Mattoon, a beaten-up old Ramada by the Interstate, I opened a beer and took three. I then lay down and went to sleep.

I woke up three hours later convinced that every decision I’d made in my life had been wrong and everyone in my life I’d ever cared about has always found me to be an insufferable fool. I was cold, and I was hot, and I needed to get up and walk around a bit, except I was in a tiny bug-infested hotel room and next thing I knew I’d been pacing back and forth from the door to the window in my underwear for about an hour but it was also maybe five minutes and perhaps three years? I should go outside. So I put on my clothes and a coat and a hat and made about 30, or maybe just one, laps around the Ramada and the nearby Super 8 in the five-degrees-below cold. Then I went back inside and stripped down to my underwear again and began writing in my notebook about how I had value in the world and how that it was important to remember that right now and then that got too heavy so I decided to see if I could name every AL and NL MVP from the last 40 years just to keep myself occupied and then I had to pace some more and then I went outside again and it is to my eternal credit that I did remember to get dressed.

There I was, the established writer, Mr. Serious Journalist, coming back home, all dignified, ready to espouse wisdom and reconnect with his roots … losing his mind, in his underwear, in a 50-dollar-a-night hotel with one bored teenager at the front desk who barely raised an pierced eyebrow as the middle-aged man kept shuffling through the lobby all night, muttering to himself, trying to keep his brain inside his skull.

It is probably a societal positive that marijuana has gained mainstream acceptance and has found widespread usage as a way to calm the afflicted and ease the pain of the suffering. If it helps, let it help. But my personality is one of a drinker. I’m probably best sticking to drinking. Cheers.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Who Has Held the Best Player in Baseball Belt for the Last 50 Years? MLB.com. This was a fun collaborative project with Michael Clair, Matt Meyers and (former Black Table contributor!) Thomas Forget, and it turned out great. Thanks to Joe Sheehan for the idea.

  2. Will There Ever Be a Pandemic Anniversary We Look Back On? Medium. I tried to look at how we will remember this, someday, if it’s ever over.

  3. AL Wild-Card Matchups, Ranked, MLB.com. I truly love writing pieces like this, I really do. It’s my equivalent of eating candy.

  4. I Interviewed Dave Zirin about His New Book The Kaepernick Effect, New York. I have known Dave a long time, and he has an annoying tendency to end up being right about everything over time.

  5. The Only News Parents Are Waiting For Is Kids Vaccine News, Medium. Hurry hurry hurry hurry.

  6. Internet Nostalgia: Alex from Target, Medium. I do not know who this person is, or at least didn’t until I started researching this.

  7. Seven Free Agents With Plenty on the Line over the Last Month, MLB.com. Javier Baez has had just the wildest few weeks.

  8. The Thirty: One Overlooked Player on Every Team, MLB.com. Well, not overlooked now that I’m done with ‘em!

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, discussing “The Card Counter,” “Malignant” and “Queenpins.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I talked about … whoa, wait, are the Cardinals good now?

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we reviewed the UAB win and previewed South Carolina.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“Parents of America, Unite,” Linda Hirshman, The Atlantic. I had not thought of the idea of parents, ACT UP-style, working together to pressure the FDA to get its act together, but this piece, by an author who wrote a book about the ACT UP movement, is a compelling and persuasive one. Do parents need their Larry Kramer?

Also, this Ben Mathis-Lilley Slate piece finally put all the information about that crazy South Carolina rich lawyer family story in one place so that I could (slightly) understand it. And it’s funny too.

BOOK I’VE READ THAT YOU SHOULD READ

“I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year,” Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. I totally understand why you would not want to relive 2020, why you would not want to remember any of that at all. But this book, which I just finished, is a definitive account and truly, almost apocalyptically shocking, pretty much on every page. I would also argue it helps, psychologically, to read it in book form: When you read about everything that happened last year in a book, you can almost trick yourself into thinking it all went down a long, long time ago, and you’re reading some decades-later historical artifact. It helps!

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Nights Like These,” Lucero. The world is just so full and rich with bands like this, who have just quietly been making great music for decades. And now you get to all discover, or re-discover it all.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

There is some very good stuff happening in Cardinals land right now, and I was there to see some of it. Citi Field is such an underappreciated stadium.

Go Cards. BOO ILLINI THAT WAS DOWNRIGHT CRUEL LAST NIGHT. Be safe out there.

Best,
Will

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