The house was down a dirt road in Humboldt County at the top of Northern California. But, the scene could have been anywhere, really. Trimmers of all shapes and sizes, ethnicity and age; sitting in a circle of folding chairs on black plastic in an empty living room.
Piles of colas, full of fragrant bud hung in waiting from a fishing line strung up across the room. Trimmers picked them up, one by one, cutting them down to manageable sizes. First, trimming off the leaves, then tossing the manicured flower into a drying net hanging from the ceiling.
The house belonged to aging So Cal transplant, Greg. On the walls were posters from the 70s. Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” shared space with Jethro Tull and Rush cut-outs; while Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” vinyl spun on a vintage Technics turntable. Greg was clearly stuck in the past, with his only audience, captive, working per pound.
It was 2 a.m. The group had been at it since the afternoon prior. Everyone was getting a little trim-shocked; a little stir-crazy. Some napped on cots in adjoining rooms, some were outside. Most were clipping away towards their next pound and cash payment. If they were lucky, they'd get a bag of shake - swag for a job well done.
A young couple, each with Blond dreds, outfitted in patchwork clothes, tattoos and peircings; sat, seemingly mesmerized by the process - the gentle sound and beat of sniping tiny leaf tips onto the floor.
“Now that’s some bud,” Greg said, admiring a large cola on a branch four feet long, hanging above the group. “You never saw anything like that when I was a young man,” he began, reminiscing on his glory days.
Greg took farmers liberty and snipped a bud from the cola, and dropped it onto what looked like an ancient smoking tray.
“What’s the story on that old tray?” a young man asked.
“It's not old, it's vintage," Greg corrected, with pride. "Del Taco was a Mexican-Gringo fast food chain in So Cal in the 70s. This has been my smoking tray since the day I lifted it in 1975, with a six-pack of tacos - Purina people food, we used to call it.”
This admission was met with laughter around the room. It was plain to see the company logo on the once bright orange tray, now stained with years worth of dark, blackish green resin - battle scars, like a tattoo on a sailor - notches on a belt, sessions of weed's past.
Greg was known for his long, rambling tales of bud, or lack thereof, back in the day. The stories were usually good, but most of the tirmmers at the table had heard them before; so, Greg focused his attention to the new migrant workers with the blond dreds, who were easily amused, if the bowl was kept full.
“The shit I smoked on this tray you wouldn’t allow in your bud jar today,” Greg laughed.
“Yeah, we know, you walked miles in the So Cal snow to get that dry, brown shit,” one local said, with sarcasm.
“Well, you have me there. But I would go back in time for the prices,” he continued, winking at the young woman with blond dreds. “One, four-finger ounce of that brown shit was just 10 bucks, man.”
“Now, that would be cool,” the woman said. “Ten bucks won’t even buy you a decent pipe today.”
“Ten bucks,” Greg repeated to make his point. “It was more likely brought up from Mexico. What we’d call shake here in Humboldt - floor droppings, the stuff we make into hash today. Actually, it’s not as good as the shake we make hash from today,” Greg added, laughing.
One young man with dark circles under his eyes got up and walked to the table where his dab kit was set up.
“Anyone want a hit?” he offered.
“Green Crack isn’t just a strain,” Greg said, dead serious. "Butane's poison - you might as well suck your torch."
A young woman with a vape pen laughed, "Greg, you are so old-school - his dabs are clean, it's medicine, too. Here's try my pen."
“I don’t know about dabs, or medicine - keep your 'pen,'” Greg continued on his glory days soap box, “I do know about hash. It was 1974, and I was in a questionable situation... "
Silence cloaked the room, bongs and butane torches were put down, and all ears were turned to the old guy, for yet another tale from his beloved 70s.
“I was on a road trip with a buddy seeking out our smoke for the night. We had been surfing Trestles and were looking for a weed score in a new place. Never trust a new place,” Greg paused to announce, as if these were his children – in the Black Market game of life.
“There was a large quantity of certain 80 gram slabs of hash laid out on a long table,” he continued, stopping to take a drag on a joint passed his way. “Each brick of hash had an ornate brand on its side - a mark of, ‘Abar Kabul’ engraved into each bar. My buddy and I got out of there fast.”
“I bet that was some great hash, though,” the man with blond dreads said dreamily.
“We didn’t wait around to check it out,” Greg said. “In those days it was ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ No one talked about the pot market, no one.”
“Yeah, but you had some good shit, too, didn’t you?” a young man asked.
“I was a black market entrepreneur in high school, man,” Greg said. “My packages came from a place called Humboldt County, but at that time I didn’t know where the hell this was! We just knew it was some bad ass weed.”
Laughter filled the room as the irony was considered.
“The four-finger, ten dollar Mexican bag we used to sell on campus in high school in the 70s became the sixty-dollar Sinsemilla bag in the 80s” Greg replied. “It improved and got stronger until one ounce was more than two hundred dollars. That was a lot back then. And, yes, it was good, but it didn’t have the intense high we have today.”
“But did you care?” someone said to more laughter.
“I started smoking at 13, do you think I cared?” Greg laughed at his own folly. “All I know is it made me feel better. In high school I was both special needs and gifted. I was and am under the autistic spectrum, but no one could tell me what was wrong with me back then. I only knew pot helped me cope. It righted me like your Ritalin, but only I knew it.”
“They had me on Ritalin for years,” the young man at the dab table said. "Dabs are better."
“By the early 80s we had Thai-Stick rolled in a ‘pinner.’ Now, that was some good shit,” Greg continued. “You could forget your way home on Thai-Stick. Then Kona Gold started showing up from Hawaii. It may as well have been from Heaven.”
“How did they get that to the mainland?” Someone asked.
“They shoved it in their pants,” Greg laughed. “We didn’t have fucking TSA back then. If you didn’t have a boat, you shoved it down your pants. I had buddies bring back bamboo bongs in their suitcases from Hawaii. There was nothing you couldn’t bring back in those days.”
Another load of branches were brought out from a back room and dropped in the middle of the trimmers. It was after three a.m., but they pressed on. Some left, others arrived with new energy, but the tedious work continued into the wee hours of the morning.
Greg trailed with one story after the other while heads were down around the circle and mesmerized trimmers worked to the gentle sound of snipping.
At four a.m. the host stopped trimming, got up and began to roll a few fatties.
“They say 420 began at a high school in San Ramon in the late 70s,” Greg informed. “They say it began when someone counted the amount of active compounds of the plant; or that it was the code word for a pot bust on a police scanner. They say it began as a joke on Hitler’s birthday.”
The trimmers laughed at the list of possibilities, as Greg noted the time and began lighting and passing the joints.
Greg straightened up in his seat and cleared his throat, and the room knew he was going to begin another pot story from the past.
“The history of 420 is as elusive as the history of the plant itself,” he surmised with authority. “The road to legalization has been a long one, with brothers and sisters persecuted, imprisoned, and killed for the right to enjoy this flavorful, enlightening, and healing herb. To quote Jack Herer, ‘The only dead bodies from marijuana are in the prisons and at the hands of the police.’ Let us smoke, my friends. Let us raise our fattys, our bongs, and our pipes, and the occasional brownie high in praise of this plant and its many wonders.”
Smoke filled the room as the trimmers stopped to enjoy a 420 moment in time. Call it recreation, call it remedy - call it church, but don't call it a crime. The road to understanding of this beneficial herb has been rocky and long, but the clock continues to tick, the joints are passed, and a happy 420 prevails.