High Minded: Joint-Rolling as Performance Art

Joint-rolling is a kind of performance art: You made it. You smoked it. You basically ate it.

At a party last night attended by a selection of like-minded professionals, a curious thing happened when the time for joint-rolling came upon us. Across the board, my peers voiced insecurity regarding their technique. None of us was eager to show off her skills.

Do you remember the first time you tried to roll a joint? You thought it would be fairly straightforward: You are, after all, a person who learned to drive on freeways and bake cakes (not at the same time), a person who has built objects using instructions in another language (Ikean), a person who can get baked and bang out 30-page papers on German Expressionism (a topic invented solely to be cloaked in student-brain BS, but still, pretty good essay, brah). Obviously you can make stuff into a cylinder and light it on fire.

You never considered that there might be an origami aspect to rolling a joint, a frustrating and covertly dehumanizing feeling that creeps in when you’re un-sticking a Zig-Zag for the 70 billionth time: Is this supposed to be so hard? Putting some weed in some paper? You had not accounted for the gluey mess that splits open like a wet paper grocery bag, the hard stare of the greedy would-be smokers, the passage of time marked by the slow, dialogue-heavy movie droning in the background. A joint cannot be rolled apologetically. It requires a truly flat surface, a desk lamp, and some tools (a sharp thing, a slice of heavyweight paper). Your palms must remain dry.

The Roller must be Rocky at the base of the stairs, Tony Soprano meditating on the pool ducks, Ryan Seacrest backstage before the American Idol finale at the peak of its relevance (2007, Jordin Sparks). Nobody puts The Roller in the corner, except for the fact that (come to think of it) The Roller belongs in the corner, where no one is watching and she can rescue a lost paperclip waiting to be plucked from the ground and reborn as a majestic awl.

These are the skills that define generations. Fifty years ago, it was making the perfect Jell-O mold with bay shrimp suspended dynamically inside like so many crustacean acrobats. Today, it's rolling a classy jay effortlessly when the situation requires it, because you’ve practiced in private. Don’t tell people that last part—it blows the effect—but compelling joint-rolling requires study.

Some people knit sweaters for their loved ones. Joint-rolling is my contribution. And not all rolls are created equal. As with any task that can be converted into a bragging right, there is more than one approach to skinning this particular cat. Even for those of us who perform this waltz with two left hands, rolling joints should be a joy—you’re smoking drugs! The most important thing is that you feel—stupidly, perhaps, but stupid is still valid—proud of what you’ve created.

If you’re the kind of person who’s driven nuts by stacks of yellowing tabloids on the coffee table and you like fiddling with things artfully and for fun, by all means go old-school and grind up a big bud with your own two claws. Follow your homemade blueprint. Explore Zig-Zag cantilever techniques. Be the Fountainhead of the Doobie. But if, like me, you leave towels on the floor sometimes and feel despair when faced with detail-oriented tasks, you might want to spring for a $5 roller at a head shop. This will be $5 well-spent, resulting in uniform, cigarette-sized, perfect joints that you can stack into interesting shapes, like architecture without math. I like to alternate between these two approaches, depending on my mood and creative ambition.

The benefits of hand-rolling are that you can improvise and make gigantic cone-shaped THC bombs that you have to lift from the table with two hands, straining tendons, sitting down before lighting up to avoid risk of injury. You could, if you wanted, roll a joint shaped like an airplane or resembling the figure of a tall, beefy man frozen in the act of making a snow angel. I don’t know how creative you are—hell, you could roll them in cherry-scented paper and paint cherry blossoms on them with beet juice, or possibly fashion blackberry brandy papers into dazzling, spinning drug mobiles. I would buy these off Etsy, were it no so filthily illegal. I’d frame them and give them Willy Wonka names and lick them at 3 a.m. It almost seems possible, when you’re smoking a marshmallow-flavored joint shaped like a cocktail umbrella, to achieve some legendary Greek hedonistic level of satisfaction, like when you heard Steely Dan play at the bowling alley while you inhaled a banana split. Joint-rolling is a kind of performance art: You made it. You smoked it. You basically ate it.

If hand-rolling is an art, machine-rolling is a craft. It appeals to the obsessive-compulsive in us. There’s something very mid-century modern about joint-rolling mechanically: The form, function, and quaint dinkiness of tools made of plastic. Pro tip: For maximum efficiency, pair the machine with a coffee grinder to whizz your herbal filler into dust, then transfer the goods into the smooth plastic gears of the roller, to which you may extend the weed-smoking baton, entrusting it to perform the remainder of the work. Rollers are a good way to educate yourself in the basics: They teach you the correct ratio of pot to paper, how tightly to roll your filter, and what happens when you get greedy and overstuff (your eardrums throb when you try to inhale, as if you were trying to breathe through a cement wall). The joint roller is the master, and you are its apprentice. One day, Grasshopper, you will teach the machine a lesson or two when you reach the skill set level of amphibious jacuzzi-joint-roller Wiz Khalifa.

But whatever you do, don’t become a joint-rolling machine. There is a difference between smoking something that took like ten seconds to whip together and toking from a well-considered structural masterpiece (that said, this is pretty impressive). Like all that lies within the confines of the figurative smokers' circle, there is something magical about what makes high times good times, a mystical reverence that begins at the life source. People talk to their weed plants, sing them lullabies, mist them with an almost Scientological deference. Why treat weed’s shriveled, harvested remains any differently? Whether or not bad vibes are real, in observance of weedy oneness, I like to create joints to remember—and that means putting some thought and craftiness into them, whether they take an hour of jazzy inspiration or five highly-focused minutes. If all else fails, the internet is here to help.

With all the stylish and inventive options for consuming pot—vaporizers that look like walkie-talkies, Skywalker cream soda, or the old two-liter Mountain Dew bottle submerged in a bathtub trick—I keep returning to the humble joint, because it’s art. Well, not art, but a thing you do to occupy your hands. Out of a modest crumble of vegetation and some sticky paper you may create something satisfying to look at. And it might just get you super high.

One last thing, before I retire to roll a to-scale strawberry-flavored Eiffel tower doobie: To each his own, but I’m a marijuana purist, so always administer a warning if you’ve gone in a spliff direction and snuck in some unwacky tobaccy. The worst thing that can happen to a cigarette smoker on the wagon is to encounter the ghost of a Camel Blue dressed up like a beautiful, possibly non-carcinogenic pot siren. It would be like slipping a sardine into your shrimpy Jello-O castle: Don’t ever, ever harsh that kind of artistic mellow.

Enter High Minded, where Tess Lynch revisits previously forgotten epiphanies, drags her lazy, leaden body on adventures and—whoa. I think this pudding's texture might improve if I added a handful of popcorn and some, like, canned blueberries. Look for a new column every other Friday at GOOD. Collage, as always, by Beth Hoeckel.

via Alan Levine / Flickr

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