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High Minded: Working Under the Influence

I believe that it is impossible not to disintegrate from sadness if you attempt to serve people food when you’re stoned.

Have you ever been high at work? It’s a bad idea, because duh, but it’s especially ill-advised if you are in food service, work in a cubicle, or are required to talk on the phone. While high, the hours from two in the afternoon until five morph into Stretch Armstrong’s long limbs, and you become so discombobulated by the irrationality of the clock, the fax machine beeping its request for you to remove the paper from its guts that it cannot release, the layer of bizarre bubbling beneath the monotony. Like the buzz of the fluorescent lights you discover and then can’t un-hear, there may be a time when you wish you were stoned at home instead, and the thought can’t and won’t be dismissed.


In Jackie Brown, Ordell Robbie said of weed, “you smoke too much of that shit, that shit gonna rob you of your own ambition.” But for plenty of stoners, being high doesn’t mean you don’t feel ambitious or productive. How many times have you grabbed a pen and the back of a torn envelope to write down what you thought was a brilliant idea, your brain hovering in the stratosphere like an ignorant blimp, only to later be confused and depressed by the stupidity of what you’d written? Then again, how many times have you been too lazy to write down your stoned musing and paused for five seconds, during which time you totally forget your fertile mindseed? High ideas aren’t always bad. Sometimes they’re awfully good—it’s just that they usually hit when you can’t find the pen or the bodily fortitude to get up to look for it.

The optimal way for productivity and a 420-friendly lifestyle to meet and waltz about in brazen and beautiful harmony is to enroll in a college poetry workshop (laughing in the face / of such apparent discord / working, getting high). The best poem I ever heard in a college poetry workshop was written by a young poet who had so obviously beamed himself into space while writing it that his metaphors stank of bong water. He elected to read the piece in a robot’s voice. If I remember correctly, the poem had nothing to do with robots, but revolved around the thoughts of a lonely astronaut who was hungry for some rather decadent earthly food. The fact that a robot was reciting it, our TA suggested, elevated it into a performance piece that alluded to 2001 and the age of the machine. This wasn’t just a poem, no, this was a happening. We oohed. Our eyes widened. I don’t think a single student left the room unchanged. I ran into the author at a sandwich store afterwards, where I watched him order the entire contents of the bakery case. Poets, jazz musicians, finger-painters: how lucky you are that the planets aligned in such a way that you were born under the house of Bob Marley.

I’ll tell you what’s the worst job if you’re stoned: waitressing. Waiting tables is one of the hardest service jobs out there when you're sober. But I believe that it is impossible not to disintegrate from sadness if you attempt to serve people food when you’re stoned. From experience, I can tell you that if you want to see the lowest tier of human beings, you will find some of the choicest specimens enjoying lunch at any fast-casual restaurant from the hours of 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Not only do many of these people not tip because they didn’t enjoy their salad but were too shy to send it back (you had nothing to do with the salad, other than to transport it like a friendly human shuttle service), but many of them hate their own jobs and would like to spend their lunch breaks making you hate yours, too.

Once, because the restaurant that employed me had run out of whole milk and could only offer half-and-half or skim, I received a note on the receipt that read, “You are the worst waitress we have ever had. BUY SOME MILK.” Buy some milk? I had to buy two Hawaiian shirts for this job—do you think I am also going to buy milk from the outside world I happily inhabit during my blissful waitressing-free hours and bring it to this milkless dungeon that pays me $2.34 an hour to carry fire-spitting fajita stones that weigh two pounds? When such indignities hit me while stoned, my soul leaves my body and the resulting formerly-human sack of bones and skin refuses to carry fajita stones into a crowded dining room filled with haters. My soul explains to the receipt, “Hey, cool it, man, I don’t need this kind of abuse from my fellow human, or even any of the other sympathetic animals of the world, of which there are so many.” After watching a poor innocent Rastafarian teenager have a breakdown in the walk-in freezer, I never dared show up for waitressing work after smoking a joint. I just looked forward to it for my whole shift, and smoked the hell out of it later.

Even outside the work environment, exertion while high is not always advised, especially if anyone is watching or hanging their hopes and dreams on your performance. I personally find competitive sports and games to be anxiety magnets after I’ve smoked: weed is best employed in celebratory, low-stress settings, The pressure to do well, especially when I’m on a team, becomes some kind of an emblem of every personal deficiency I’ve ever had: the wheezily uncompleted lap around the high school track, the math scores handed out with a sigh, every lazy hour spent reclining like a big fat oozing bag of vanilla pudding. I imagine Michael Phelps felt this way if he ever had the misfortune of ingesting a THC medi-strip and hitting the Olympic training pool. Indulging in any substance-romancing (never abuse, I am so gentle) shrouds the world of work in darkness alongside the shining opportunity of relaxation, exploration, and ungraded creativity.

It’s certainly not impossible to work while high, and it can sometimes make for a really cool time for you and your beautiful desk lamp, your mumbling ambient music, and your wackadoo imagination. Or, under slightly different circumstances, it can feel like exposing your nude body to yourself in a parallel universe and then watching as your heart shits itself. Is this who you are? What are you doing with yourself? Why haven’t you worked out more, gone for a run or something? Write meaningful stuff right now! Decipher the errant cries of the fax machine before it’s too late!

The real problem that pot poses to the worker is that it reveals to her, in somewhat high relief, the duties her heart aches to never do again. If you thought you hated your job before, wait until you return tomorrow after a bong rip, especially if you expect you may have to speak on the phone with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. On the other hand, placing a few marijuana-based obstacles in the path of your own ambition could be a helpful culling mechanism for dreams that were not meant to be realized. Did you really want to grow accustomed to the weight of a fajita stone on your palm?

Working through pot is about exploring the relationship between difficulty and impossibility, about trying on new mind-altering garments that can push your fax proficiency to a new level of understanding or bring the unacceptability of your work situation into sharp focus. So if you are willing to keep a pen nearby and are capable of soldiering on when you have a nervous breakdown in front of the word processor, then by all means, proceed. You might even, on nights when everything works out with a new sativa strain and you’re willing to let your soul go streaking across the park, write a poem that will blow a few minds when you read it like Hal 9000. But do remember what I said about the pen.

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.

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