Green Grass and High Hopes
We were just fifteen years old in the summer of 1976. We were bored, full of testosterone, and just looking for ways to pass our idle time. We weren't athletically gifted, very smooth with girls, or learned scholars. We were teenaged kids stuck somewhere between adolescence and early adulthood. One thing we did learn how to do that summer was rebel. We reveled in Rock and Roll. We went to teen dances and stuck our heads directly inside huge speaker cones to prove how we could withstand the threshold of pain and still demand more volume. We looked for trouble because we couldn't talk to girls and wouldn't talk to our parents. The girls were prized possessions and the parents were interlopers in the war with conventional teenage thinking. They were uncool. They didn't get us. They didn't approve of our long hair, our bell-bottomed jeans, or our choice of music.
At that time I was just being introduced to marijuana. We all, at some point or another, had taken a toke or two of the forbidden fruit. There was Homegrown "Weed," Jamaican "Ganja," and Columbian "Black" to name just a few. I recall Columbian "Black" as being so potent, that with just one toke your lungs felt like they were on fire! Jamaican "Ganja" was much smoother, more akin to an acid trip, and then the Homegrown herb, the weakest of all was just that – a weak high. You had to smoke two joints just to feel a buzz. We were looking for something to do one afternoon. One of us decided it was a good day to score some "weed" to get a cheap high from American pot. We were broke. Most of the money we had was spent on phonograph albums, potato chips, and two-dollar movies. Our boredom was at an apex that day. Someone, I don't recall who, knew of a badly guarded secret pertaining to marijuana being grown right in our own local park. Never a serious connoisseur of the elusive herb, I really didn't care if we had some or not, but David and Cazzie, upon hearing the rumor, made it their mission to determine once and for all if the rumor was true. So it was decided that we would invade Bronx Park in search of the evasive condiment. As with similar instances of the "pack mentality," I am sure only two or three of us really wanted to spend an afternoon looking for pot. The rest of us were just hangers-on, needing to look cool and pretend we were extremely interested in the fruits of the rumor.
I recall descending upon the park, not knowing what I was really looking for. I was a born follower. I had no direction, no purpose, and no life-long plans at fifteen, so I followed pretending to be interested in what David and Cazzie were looking for. Bobby, Glenn, Joe, Ken, and I followed as they scoured the park. Now being a city park, it wasn't like there was a landscaping crew available to cut-down the tall blades of grass growing all around us. There had to be thousands of tall weeds growing that summer. Some were taller than we were. Yet, David and Cazzie persisted. I followed pretending to be looking for something, but really just acting like the caboose, the buttocks of a slow-moving train. After a while, as I trailed our fearless leaders, I heard Cazzie let out a shriek - a yelp I had never heard from him that entire summer. He found it! He found the elusive herb, growing amidst thousands of taller weeds in an acres-wide city park! Our find, given the park's vegetation, was astounding and serendipitous at the same time. He knew what the pot plant's distinctive leaf looked like, and seized-upon his prey, like a cat pouncing on an unsuspecting rodent. We began to rip-up the pot plants by their roots. We probably had five or six tall plants in our possession, and there was much rejoicing and celebration amongst us. We did it. And we did it, having not a shred of guilt for stealing someone else's pot plants. It served them right for putting illegal plants in a city park, and they deserved to get them stolen, we reasoned. We walked out of the park that day carrying our bounty like we were victorious over a vanquished foe at the Roman coliseum. Now, we just had to figure-out what to do with the plants.
We knew we needed another plan. We needed fire. David and Cazzie knew another schoolmate from the neighborhood who was home that afternoon. He would certainly help us complete the day's mission by letting us use his oven to cook the pot. Now Mario was a very quiet, well-liked kid from a good home, as we all were. He was an outsider, not a full-fledged member of our inner-circle that summer. But we desperately needed him to help us complete the job. This is where David's extreme likeability and amazing gifts of persuasion took over. He was able to convince Mario that the need to use his kitchen's oven far exceeded the fear he had of getting caught cooking marijuana in his home. So now there were seven of us gathered in Mario's apartment, as I discovered another talent David possessed. He was a master chef at cooking pot! He wasted no time going to work. He borrowed a couple of baking sheets and a knife from Mario's kitchen. He cut-off the roots from the plants, washed the plants in the sink, and laid them out on the baking sheets. He knew exactly what temperature to make the oven, and how long to leave them in without burning them. It was a science. You had to remove the pot from the oven or risk burning the leaves and bulbs. If they burn, they turn to powder when handled. If it turns to powder, you can't pack it into envelopes or rolling paper. Chef David carefully cooked the stalks two at a time. As time progressed, Mario began to panic fearing his mother would come home and smell the pot. Since there were only a couple of baking sheets, David had to wait for two batches of pot to cook before starting a third and fourth. The whole apartment now reeked of marijuana. Mario's fear was at its height, but once again, David's gift of persuasion assuaged Mario's fear as he decided he couldn't let his friends down in their time of great need. He chose to sit silently and apprehensively as David continued baking the pot.
After some time, David announced he was finally finished. Mario could now relax. The first part was done. Now onto the packaging. I recall David using Mario's dinner plates to lay out the pot once it had been removed from the oven. I don't remember how he could have divided and packaged the weed, though. He needed envelopes; small manila envelopes to make packages for the pot. I do not know where he possibly got them, unless he carried them with him in the park early that day in anticipation of scoring the herb. So the kitchen table is now full of plates each with a couple of stalks of marijuana on them. It is now when David begins to divide the stalks into smaller pieces and very gently roll the pieces in his fingers so they fit into the envelopes. When the entire collection was packaged, we counted thirty-five bags. There were seven of us present that afternoon. We each would go home with five "nickel bags" - enough pot for twenty five "joints".
I left Mario's house that day with my bounty never really figuring on smoking it all. I convinced myself I was strictly a passerby, an uninvolved and disinterested hanger-on with nothing better to do that summer day. I would eventually discard most of my pot, which I pretended to treasure when I had it in my hands at Mario's house. Had the other guys known, I surely would have been ostracized and belittled for not returning it to them for their own consumption. But I had to look cool, against all odds. Now we had all heard the school lectures, the endless parental pestering imploring us to refrain from drug use, and read the newspaper articles lambasting drugs. And of course, we all swore to our parents we would never use drugs. I was raised hearing the same cautionary tales as every one else. But this time, I raised the white flag; I surrendered to the beckoning call of my peers, and the "pack mentality." Whether it was real or imagined, I was compelled to hunt for pot that day. I chose irresponsibility, immaturity, and social pressure, eschewing my inner values and conforming to the ad hoc scruples we adopted that day.
Our days of joy would end shortly after that incident and be forever remembered as our greatest caper of the summer. Of all the dangerous, illegal things we did that summer, the park pot caper stands out as our crowning achievement – our tour de force of juvenile irresponsibility. We succeeded at looking the law square in the eye and sneering at it, defying reason, parental guidance, and all sensibility in our never–ending quest to remain young, carefree, and blameless at any cost. We now teach our children values, the very values we abandoned that day. And the best example I can use to teach my son lessons are the lessons I learned that day: from the summer of " The Great Pot Caper," that hallowed, defining summer of 1976.
Greg Sacchet- 12/6/2011
Author Notes: www.gregsacchet.com