THE FIRST TIME
Every once in a while, during the early sixties, there would appear in one of the Philadelphia newspapers an article about the beatniks in Greenwich Village using marijuana. That was the first i ever heard of it. Later, in hushed tones, it was said a guy in the nearby city where the high school was used it. By the middle of the decade military people were coming home from Vietnam with stories of how marijuana use was common over there. I had read a lot about marijuana and although afraid to try it had become convinced it was relatively safe. When it became obvious that it was to be my destiny to go to Vietnam in service to my country i decided to try marijuana when there.
In June ’68 i was inducted into the U.S. Army and by early ’69 was stationed at Long Binh Post, Republic of South Vietnam, a place my friendly recruiter said i would never have to go. Surprise! On my third day in country i saw a bunch of guys sitting on the roof of a bunker and decided to join them. The bunker was a hole in the ground about 3′ deep and measured about 10′ by 20′ and had benches inside. Surrounding this hole were thick walls extending up from the ground made of lumber and sand bags. The walls were about 6′ high and tapered, about 2′ thick at the top and 3′ thick at the base. The roof was similarly constructed and was about 2′ thick and altogether was about 8′ off the ground. There was a blast wall a couple feet back from the entrance to the bunker and with a bit of effort it was possible to climb up it and get on the roof. I climbed up and joined my new found mates. Within a few minutes someone asked if i minded if they smoked. I was a bit taken aback by how formally polite was the request and said of course not, in fact, i’ve been wanting to try it. From somewhere came a bowl and it got passed around a few times. A bit of time time passed and i was just sitting there gazing out thinking that i must be one of those people that marijuana doesn’t work for. I had read there were people like that. Then i noticed that my objective visual reality had developed a picture frame quality to it. It was juxtaposed on my previous reality and tilted a bit. It wasn’t scary but interesting and unique. Then i started laughing. This isn’t what they said it would be.
As all good things must end so went our socializing on the bunker roof. The authorities got hip to what the allure was and put an end to it. The buildings we lived in were called hootchs. They were about 20’x50′ with an aisle down the center. Every 8′ on either side were a bed and locker. By the time i got there individual areas had been partly sectioned off with 4’x8′ sheets of plywood lending a bit of privacy to the whole affair. At the back end of the hootch next to mine some guys had built an elevated porch. On my nights off i would stay up late and smoke and socialize for all hours. I don’t know if the smoke was different or because we smoked so much but the experience was different than what i experienced later when i returned to the states. I feel i should preface this part with don’t try this at home. We would pass the bowl a lot and the herb was a very good sativa. After a while my consciousness would begin rushing. As the night hour approached midnight i would notice that the porch was holding the same three die hards, myself and these two ole boys from the deep south. By this time they had lapsed into speaking a patois that i had not a clue what they were saying. Then i would generally take my leave and carefully navigate my way down from the porch to my hootch and my room. Shortly after laying down cartoons began playing on my consciousness, cartoons just like the ones i grew up with. At some point they stopped and were replaced by a single solitary light way far in the distance of my mind. It stayed there until sleep came.