copyright © 2001 Todd Ristau

Why I stopped smoking pot

I was never much of a pot smoker, but there was a period where I did the doob fairly often--but not like your normal pot head, I never did anything like your normal anything.

See my mom had been a pretty big influence on me, and while she smoked pot, she never ever once smoked it with me, I want to make that clear. My mom also spent a lot of time while I was growing up going from church to church in search of a spritual anchor.

It was the 70’s.

See, as you may already know, my Mom was 12 when she started dating my dad, and my dad was 19. They did fool around before they got married, but that wasn’t why they got married. They dated till my mom was 17 and then they got married and I was born almost 10 years later, and I’m the oldest, so don’t get the wrong idea there.

My dad had been kind of crazy when he was a kid, but he had something wrong with his pancreas and had to stay out of school a lot to go up to Iowa City for observation and exploratory surgery. One of these surgeries gave him diabetes, but that’s not really what this story is about. See, my Dad’s family are poor, and in the midwest if you’re poor you don’t tell people about ill health. I don’t know why. Anyway, everyone thought that my dad was out of school because he was a hell raiser and a hood. He rode a motorcycle. He listened to Elvis records and loved Jerry Lee Lewis. His little brother Jerry was a hoodlum, and a real ladies man, and everyone figured if Jerry was bad, his older brother had to be worse. My mom got this really big crush on him.

He was like James Dean or something. My Dad had a crush on her too, but she was a rich girl. Anyway, one time my mom and her cheerleader friends went to a movie, it was Blackboard Jungle.

Dad sat behind her and stole her shoes. Put them in his jacket. After the movie he helped her find them and then gave her a ride home. Her parents freaked and forbade her to see him. Well, for nearly five years, as I understand it, my dad paid a guy $5 a week to pick Mom up and drop her off at the tracks, they would ride off on his bike and then get back in time for the other guy to take her home.

Dad used to talk about how his only dream in life was to get on his motorcycle and ride till it ran out of gas, and then work only long enough to get another tank and hit the road again.

My mom ate that up. I mean it was honest, he really meant it, and when they got married they really did take their honeymoon on his Harley Davidson. They rode it up Pike’s Peak.

Talk about a 1950’s fertility ritual.

The thing was, Dad had two different dreams. The dream about the motorcycle and riding free around the country didn’t have a wife in it. His other dream, the one he didn’t tell Mom about, involved being married and owning a farm.

My Mom thought she married James Dean and instead she got a brooding version of Mister Douglas on Green Acres.

My Grandpa Ristau helped get the money to buy a farm and Dad let his crew cut grow out, hung up the leather jacket, and sold the Harley to buy a used John Deere tractor.

My Mom’s family were Baptists, my Dads’ were Missouri Synod Luthern. Mom became a Luthern, because that is what you do, and she didn’t feel that tied to the Baptists anyway.

Dad wasn’t as good a farmer as he was a dreamer. I remember it was a great life, but poor takes on a whole new meaning when you are a poor farmer. Dad and Mom fought a lot, and eventually when I was six Mom left Dad, and the Luthern Church, and the great odyssey that is my life began. I remember one time when I was in college, Dad and I drinking beers in the front seat of my car and he just started crying and asking me to forgive him for the divorce.

He never did stop loving my mother--not really even after she started dating women, but that is also not what this story is about--and I couldn’t tell him I had no idea who I’d be if they had stayed married and I liked who I was. There was no way I could make him feel better because he desperately wanted me to blame him for it, to be angry about it, because if I wasn’t angry and didn’t hate him for it then how could it still feel like the tragedy he still felt it was. It didn't get through. I couldn't stop him crying.

Anyway, Mom went on a kind of 70’s awareness trip. We did Parents Without Partners, which is this insane club where singles who used to be couples hang out with their kids--pizza parties and bowling. Mom went to a bunch of churches, we were Unitararians for a while, Methodists, we did TM and Mom was really into the Carlos Castaneda books, which is how we get back to my relationship not with my parents, but to marijuana.

I should mention that although my Dad did drink beer (Hamm’s mostly) he never ever did drugs and had that pathological conviction about them being tools of Satan that you only find among poor Republicans. When I was starting High School he gave me a pocket knife to use on any drug dealers who tried to force me to use dope in the bathrooms.

"Just stay out of them bathrooms up there, but if you gotta go, take this with you."

It was pretty wild.

Anyway, you younger people probably don’t know about Carlos Castaneda, but "little smoke" was a spritual tool he used under the guidence of a brujo teacher to get access to an alternate reality.

That’s how I used it. In a semi-religious almost scientific way. When they talk about kids experimenting with drugs, that was me. I mean really experimenting with them, it was not a leisure time activity. I was trying to find my spirit guide and expand my mystical powers.

And I really believe it worked, man.

I remember this critical incident. I had gone to a party. I think it was a party where you were supposed to come as your favorite Gilligan’s Island character. There were guys dressed up like Ginger and girls like the Skipper and also all the supporting characters, even that Japanese Sailor who comes to the island in a submarine. I went as that mad scientist that switched peoples brains around and I got kind of drunk and was going around putting my hands on two people’s heads and shouting "Now Igor, throw ze Svitch!" and then yelling at them to switch characters. Either these people were not the Gilligan’s Island fans I was or they were just fucking boring because nobody would do it.

I kept getting "I spent five hours making this costume, I’m Ginger God Damn it!"

So I sat in a big fat chair and smoked a big fat bowl.

And this girl comes up to me with a deck of cards and says pick a card. I say, I can’t pick a card, because I know in my bones if I do it will be the death card. We argue. I pick a card. It is the ace of spades. I was not surprised at all, but the girl was freaked--then I let out a blood curdling scream right in her face and the girl had like a nervous break down and left the party.

Nobody would talk to me after that, so I just sat in the chair becoming very aware of my body. I had a back ache and a headache and I felt like shit. So I imagined all this bad negative energy in me as a cloud of crap. I separated it from me and it was contained in this cloud in me. I knew I could remove the pain then through my will. I thought about leaking it out of me and into the chair, but then I knew that the next person to sit in the chair would get my cloud of crap--it would wait there to pounce on them. I would make a cursed chair, but I couldn’t keep the cloud in me, couldn’t let it leak into the I put it all into this ring I was wearing and then went outside to bury it in some construction they were doing on the street in front of the house.

Nobody was going to get that cursed ring. Not in my lifetime.

Then I realized that if I could make a cursed ring, I could make charmed items. I would smoke some doober and take a ring or something and pour all my lust or love or desire for someone into it and then give them the ring. Sometimes it worked and they got an inexplicable crush on me. It was kind of scary.

But I had to stop. That kind of Majik and so forth really danced with my Baptist-Luthern background. I would get stoned and keep a journal of the experience, I figured out dreaming once. I got really stoned and my eyes relaxed and I started seeing visions, and then I noticed that there was a constant pattern of color, and then I realized that the Christmas tree lights were reflecting off my eyelashes and my brain was trying to make sense of the images and was turning them into visions. So I postulated that in REM sleep you are hitting a point where you relax sufficiently that your eyelid opens just the slightest bit and any light--well you get the idea, of course it made more sense stoned, doesn’t everything?

I still have these "scientific notebooks" where I try to write as fast as I’m thinking while stoned, and the writing gets tinier and tinier....and then I started leaving notes for myself outside the book. I would wake up in the morning and not really remember much of the night before but I would find these little notes I’d hidden for myself all over the house--they all said the same thing, had the same warning:

"Todd, as much as you are happy right now, that’s exactly how much the devil wants your ass."

That’s why I stopped smoking pot. I didn’t want to be that afraid of being happy.

[lights out]


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