I looked over at the sculpted resort hedge, shivering in the breeze like a wet Chia Pet and illuminated by a Tikki torch, and stepped uncertainly off the porch. I felt like a young adult waking up from a Frank W. Dixon Hardy Boys mystery.
“Boy! Boy! Come here!”
I walked over to the hedge, eyes adjusting to the androgynous gloom. Crouching behind the hedge like the bleeding gums of a cancer victim was a real live Rastafarian with long flowing dreadlocks and mirrored superfly sunglasses. I could tell he had been smoking weed.
“Do you want to buy a bag of sensimilla?” the Rasta rasped in a low gravelly voice.
“No thanks,” I said. I had never smoked pot before.
“My name is General Montgomery!”
This is, of course, the same name as the legendary former leader of Liberia, the only attempt at a real U.S. colony on the African mainland, spearheaded by Free Blacks, former plantation slaves turned American mercenaries.
Even though I was underage, here on a “secret” permissive island, I was allowed to drink Red Stripe beer—and, more dangerous, talk to the young local women who kept asking me if I wanted some “company.” I guess I looked old for my age. I felt free and easy on this family vacation. Maybe I should try something new.
Yes or no?
The General handed over a large plastic pouch of “sense” and rolling papers for only 20 dollars! Dreams are cheap.
Paranoid. Smoking the ganja in my bungalow bathroom, and ready to flush it down the toilet if my parents barged in, I felt warm waves of ecstasy. This was as cool as Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon!” I felt like my soul was pulsating. I saw stars, stripes, strobes, then passed out on the stone floor like my lethargic cat, Kirk.
Initiated, I would buy a bag from the General every day over the hedge, which appropriated folkloric dimensions, from the vague friendship forming between us. I was a big Bob Marley fan and just a little in awe of the freestyle Rastaman culture, which the General explained was based upon worship of the late assassinated Ethiopian King Haille Sellasse and an eventual exodus or return to Zion. It’s uncertain if the so-called religion is based upon Judaism or Christianity—the twin faiths of the African Ethiopian diaspora.
“Boy! I will return tomorrow with the best sensimilla.” He flapped his way like a bat through the shrubs and rapidly disappeared across the grounds to the beach.
Where the next day I spotted the General wearing only shorts running down the beach like an Olympic athlete on steroids, closely pursued by two policemen, who tackled and handcuffed him. As they hauled him away, he bawled out, “I’m innocent!”
Oh well, I thought glumly, there goes my supply. And so that was probably the end of my experiment with becoming a drug addict–like my burnout friend, Erik, back home, who grew marijuana leaves in his basement with Grow Lights.
Huh? What? The General appeared at the appointed hour at the hedge, like an apparition.
“The police arrested me, mon, but later let me go. No evidence.”
“That’s lucky!” I was psyched to smoke.
General Montgomery then invited me to meet his friend on a secret place on the beach. Reluctantly, I agreed. The friend was a fat black guy wearing a T-shirt, saying simply “Antigua.” He had wild eyes and suffered from some mild palsy which made him shake when he talked. In Caribbean slang, he said something along the lines of: “What’s this frigging white cracker honky doing here?”
With a devilish smile, the General loaded an elaborate chamber pipe with some bud his friend was handing over–reluctantly. He lit the pipe and quickly passed it to me, his arm moving like a lightning bolt in front of my face.
“Try!” demanded a disembodied voice.
I grabbed the pipe and inhaled deeply, deeply.
Whoa, I woke up sprawled out on the beach, my head pounding like pizza dough, unsure of what time it was.
“Boy! Boy! Are you okay?” His creechy voice sounded like a saxophone: scared.
There was now no sign of his friend.
“What happened?” I managed, with suspicion sliding around like a salamander in my sore throat.
“You passed out. Maybe this ganja is too strong for you.”
I stood up and felt around in my pants for my wallet. “My wallet is gone!” I lamented with teenage angst.
“We’ll find it tomorrow,” the General said lamely.
“Do you think your friend stole it?” I accused.
The silence seemed dangerous, so I said goodbye abruptly and walked back toward the resort, wondering if the General had set me up. I no longer wanted to be his friend. I felt like a fool for being so trusting in a virtually unknown vacation destination.
On the way into my bungalow, wouldn’t you know it? “What?”
“John, we’ve been looking all over for you.” My dad looked exhausted with worry. “Where were you? Have you been drinking?”
Luckily, my dad just thought I was drunk. Aside from having seen the classic propaganda film “Reefer Madness” (believing it verbatim) and owning all the original Capitol Records Beatles albums, my father, a university professor and literary critic, was so square that he never suspected that anyone smoked marijuana. He, however, smoked 3 packs of Kent cigarettes a day.
Obviously relieved, my father said, “Well, we’re leaving early tomorrow and you have to get up for the plane. Sleep it off.”
Back home in the boring suburbs (name undisclosed), I received one day out of the wild blue yonder a small package evidencing illiterate scrawl. I opened it. Out popped my wallet, empty. On a small piece of paper was written the following:
“Greetings from General Montgomery! I found your wallet on the beach, but the money and cards were gone. . . .”
Sure that the General had lifted my wallet himself, I was somewhat miffed by the laughably unreasonable request that came after: “For returning your wallet, could you send me 10 pairs of Levi’s blue jeans?”
Signed: “General Montgomery, your Rastafari friend.”