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524: I Was So High

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Prologue

Ira Glass

One of the producers of our radio program, Sean Cole, used to live in Toronto. And he went out to bars a lot when he was there. And at one point, he heard this rumor about the places that he was hanging out.

Sean Cole

A friend of mine basically said, the thing about these bars-- he actually said, the gasoline that allows them to function was cocaine.

Ira Glass

Meaning the staff was doing cocaine?

Sean Cole

The bartenders were on coke. And I was like, how did I not notice? You know?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Sean Cole

And I wondered how true that was.

Sean Cole

Did you do any coke tonight?

Bartender 1

Yeah. [LAUGHS]

Sean Cole

How much?

Bartender 1

Just a bump.

Sean Cole

So that's like, what is that.

Bartender 1

That's like the tip of a key.

Sean Cole

So this is one of about a dozen bartenders that I interviewed, all anonymously.

Ira Glass

When she says a key, she means like--

Sean Cole

Like a house key. You sniff it off of that.

Bartender 1

But I have done it while I'm working. But I don't do it until later, like past 1:00.

Sean Cole

Oh, I see.

Bartender 1

Yes.

Sean Cole

And how often does that happen?

Bartender 1

Umm, like, every weekend.

Ira Glass

I had this experience years ago. A friend sat me down and told me that she'd just started going to AA. And she wanted me to know that she knew how annoying it must have been for me and all of our friends at the time that she was always on coke back when we first were getting to know each other.

She was running to the bathroom all the time. She was really hyper. And I told her, I had no idea. I told her, I just assumed that's your personality. You're a little manic, small bladder. And of course, right?

I think, if you're not a daily drug user, you're not a big drug user, it doesn't occur to you that the people around you might be high. And Sean found that this bar scene he thought he knew so well did, actually, seem to be run on cocaine.

Sean Cole

So lots of bars in certain areas of town, definitely, coke is like fuel for the staff. Partly because, you know, these bars, it's like drinking on the job is kind of expected.

Bartender 2

People are buying me shots. And I see people I know, and I'm buying them shots. And then, just, you start to get the spins.

Bartender 1

It's like, after you do four or five shots, I'm like, OK. I don't want to be too drunk. I need something to straighten me up.

Bartender 2

Jeez, I really want a line right now to straighten this up.

Sean Cole

That's the phrase you keep hearing.

Bartender 3

Everyone uses it so loosely. It's straightening out. You need to straighten out.

Bartender 2

Yeah, you just take a quick little jump down to the bathroom, straighten yourself up. Come upstairs.

Sean Cole

How often does that happen to you?

Bartender 2

Uh, eight minutes ago.

Sean Cole

OK.

Bartender 2

[LAUGHS] Yeah.

Ira Glass

So their bosses have to know, right?

Sean Cole

The bosses are doing it too sometimes.

Bartender 3

For the first little while, the bar I worked at, the managers were doing lines of cocaine in order to sober up enough so they could cash out the bartenders, who were completely inebriated. Oh! I also knew policemen who were partaking.

Sean Cole

In cocaine?

Bartender 3

In the bathroom, with the manager, in uniform. It blew me away! I was so naive. I was like, what? It would be like finding out Superman is-- you know--

Sean Cole

Doing cocaine.

Bartender 3

--doing cocaine! Exactly.

Ira Glass

Of course, to put it in perspective, this is a cop doing cocaine in a city whose mayor was caught on video smoking crack and stayed in his job. He's finally going to rehab now. And all of this got us thinking here at the radio show, how many people around us are high right now? Like, right this second?

OK, if you're out in the world right now as you're hearing me say these words, look around at the people around you. Look at their faces. Could one of them be high? And I mean, everywhere you go, right? It's like, for example, we found this book that came out a couple of years ago by a guy named Ethan Bryson.

Dr. Ethan Bryson

So the title of the book is Addicted Healers. And the subtitle is "5 Key Signs Your Healthcare Professional May Be Drug Impaired."

Sean Cole

And right here on page xviii, it says, "Rates of illicit drug use by health care professionals within the past year ranged from 8% to 20%, depending on the type of personnel within the health care industry." And then, it says, "At any given time, roughly 3% to 5% of this population is using illicit drugs while they are caring for patients."

Ira Glass

3% to 5%, you mean of all health care professionals?

Sean Cole

All across the profession.

Ira Glass

Wow, which drugs?

Sean Cole

They all have their drug of choice. And we actually played this kind of word association game.

Sean Cole

Physicians?

Dr. Ethan Bryson

Pills, Oxycontin, oxycodone.

Sean Cole

Nurses.

Dr. Ethan Bryson

Intravenous opioid-based drugs.

Sean Cole

Psychiatrists.

Dr. Ethan Bryson

Benzodiazepines.

Sean Cole

Anesthesiologists.

Dr. Ethan Bryson

Fentanyl.

Sean Cole

You said that so fast!

Dr. Ethan Bryson

That is the biggest drug.

Sean Cole

I should point out here that Dr. Bryson is himself an anesthesiologist.

Sean Cole

Say it again, fentanyl?

Dr. Ethan Bryson

Fentanyl. It's a highly potent derivative of morphine.

Sean Cole

It's actually like 80 times more potent than morphine and can significantly mess with your judgment. It's extremely addictive. And Dr. Bryson pointed out that most medical professionals don't have to take drug tests. Military personnel, on the other hand, do.

Deborah Lee James

Now, many of you reported last week on the investigation involving some of our airmen and illegal drug possession.

Sean Cole

This is the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, giving a press conference a few months ago. Basically, two lieutenants were busted for allegedly dealing amphetamines and ecstasy. And they were found out, because they were sending text messages to other airmen about drugs.

Deborah Lee James

Well, it turns out that three of the 10 who were implicated in this drug investigation were from our Air Force Global Strike Command, which is the command where our ICBM missile forces reside.

Ira Glass

ICBM, that is--

Sean Cole

The nuclear warheads.

Ira Glass

Well, that doesn't seem like somebody we want high.

Sean Cole

Not someone we want high.

Ira Glass

Sean, are there surveys measuring how many of us are high all the time?

Sean Cole

I mean-- [SIGH] There's not a lot of data. There's workplace drug tests that show 3 and 1/2% of workers test positive for drugs. But obviously, that's only in workplaces that test for drugs in the first place.

One of the experts on this data, who's wonderfully named, Dr. Barry Sample from Quest Diagnostics told me drug use is a couple percentage points higher in places that don't test for drugs.

Ira Glass

Which jobs have the highest drug use?

Sean Cole

So, the Department of Health and Human Services actually has numbers on that. The latest ones that I found said-- so this is people who say, yes, I've done illicit drugs in the past month. People who work in real estate is about 7%. Same for mining.

Ira Glass

Mining? 7%.

Sean Cole

Mining. Retail is 9 and 1/2%. Construction workers is about 14%. So that means roughly one in seven construction workers. The highest is accommodation and food services.

Ira Glass

That would include, dare I say, bartenders? [LAUGHS]

Sean Cole

Yes. Accommodation and food services, roughly one in six admit on the survey to using drugs.

Ira Glass

It could be higher, though, right?

Sean Cole

It could be higher? What do you mean?

Ira Glass

It could be higher than one of six actually do drugs.

Sean Cole

Oh, it could be higher--

Ira Glass

Right, one out of six--

Sean Cole

--meaning one out of six admit on the survey--

Ira Glass

--admit on the survey to drug use. Some more of them, actually, might be doing it.

Sean Cole

Yeah, maybe.

Ira Glass

They should try the survey in Toronto.

Sean Cole

[LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

Well, today on our radio program, the secret world of getting high, which is, OK, maybe not such a well-kept secret. It is all around us all the time. High people mingling with us, working, passing, laughing extra hard at our jokes. We don't even know why.

We have stories today of great drug experiences, and awful drug experiences, and funny drug experiences; tales of miscalculation, bad judgment, and dumb-assery. We have comedians Marc Maron and Wyatt Cenac. From WBEZ Chicago, It's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. Stay with us.

Act One: High on the Corporate Ladder

Ira Glass

Act One, High on the Corporate Ladder. So there's this secret society, many million strong, people who are going through life high. Maybe you are part of this society. If not, you're probably dealing regularly with people who are, cashiers, baristas, and stockbrokers, and cab drivers, maybe the cop writing that parking ticket. Alex Blumberg has this story about just how hard it is to tell who is in that society and who isn't.

Alex Blumberg

Richard, for many years, was a member of that society, the society of people who get high at work.

Richard

I would roll a thin joint and start smoking in the morning. I'd usually duck down at one of the back stairways and take a few more tokes during the day. I'd smoke at lunch. I'd smoke a little bit in the afternoon. I would basically stay high all day long.

Alex Blumberg

And what exactly was your job title?

Richard

I was chief operating [LAUGHS] officer of the second largest ad agency in town. [LAUGHS]

Alex Blumberg

[LAUGHS] How many people at your company knew that you were doing this?

Richard

Um, somewhere between three and all of them.

[LAUGHTER]

Alex Blumberg

Richard says that, at the time, he thought he was hiding his habit. But in retrospect, who knows? One of the head executives toking up in the stairwell every day, how could he hide that? On the other hand, there's this. I had no idea that this was going on. And I'm Richard's son.

I only found out that my dad was getting high at work every day long after the fact, when I was in my 30s. And I found out because my dad got cancer. It was a horrible week. It started with the discovery that the pain in my dad's back wasn't just a pinched nerve. And it ended with a diagnosis of lymphoma, a particular form of lymphoma that we had learned that week to root for, because it's actually curable. That's the word they used. Back then, I didn't even know you could say that about cancer.

But that whole week, my dad was convinced he had a different diagnosis, lung cancer. Even towards the end, when the doctors were pretty convinced the news was good, he insisted on it, which didn't make any sense. My father had quit smoking cigarettes way back in the '80s.

When we pressed him about it, that's when he told us about the pot. My dad's cancer and recovery was a pivotal time for our family. Painful secrets came out. Much was said that needed to be said. My dad got into a 12-step program. And he's been clean for almost 15 years.

But then, here at the radio show, someone suggested doing a show called "I was so high," and I realized something. I really wanted us to do that show. I had a lot of questions for people who got high all day, questions about what they thought of themselves, what they thought of their families, what they were getting out of being high. I realized, in other words, I had a lot of questions for my dad.

Alex Blumberg

When did you use marijuana for the first time?

Richard

Uh, I don't know. You were about a year and a half old.

Alex Blumberg

First, of course, I wanted the details. When did it start? When did it get serious? And for my dad, it started in the '60s. A friend rolled a joint at a party. It was fun. It became something he did socially, getting high with friends, listening to Jefferson Airplane on the brand new FM station in town.

And this part I knew. I remember joints passed around when my parents' friends came over, rolling papers on the end table next to the couch. One afternoon, I answered the door and found a friend of my dad's, turtleneck, sunglasses, what I remember as a Burt Reynolds mustache. He handed me a dime-bag and said, this is for your father.

My dad doesn't remember the first time he smoked weed at work. But it was probably around the time I was leaving middle school and entering high school. By the time I left for college, it had gone far beyond a thing he did at nights with friends to a thing he did routinely, during the day, while he'd walk the several blocks to a meeting with one of his firm's largest clients.

Richard

I knew where every alleyway between our office on Seventh Street and Procter, on the other corner of downtown.

Alex Blumberg

And you're talking about a meeting with Procter & Gamble--

Richard

Yeah.

Alex Blumberg

--one of the largest companies in the world. That was one of clients. If there's any company less associated with habitual work-time pot use, it has to Procter & Gamble.

Richard

Right.

Alex Blumberg

So, when you were making these presentations, you don't think that they knew that you were high at the time? That you'd stopped in at an alley on the way over and smoked a joint?

Richard

No. I was putting something over on the straight world.

Alex Blumberg

Like, I'm not really part of your world. I'm just visiting here for a little bit.

Richard

I think that was something that was very, very much a part of being stoned. Here I was, this guy in a business suit, tucking down a back alley and smoking a joint.

Alex Blumberg

Another question I had for my dad, were there people for whom his drug use was not a secret? Other members of the Society of Secret Pot Smokers that he'd duck into that alley with? Was he regularly sharing joints with-- I don't know-- the Kinko's guy while they both waited on a large print order?

I could see a camaraderie developing between secret pot smokers, just like cigarette smokers at an office will go out and take smoke breaks together. But my dad says that, for him at least, it wasn't like that. Sure, he knew of other people at the agency who smoked pot. And yes, if you must know, they were mostly in the art department. But he mainly kept to himself.

Richard

You increasing live in a secret world that you can't reveal to the people who don't share that world. And there are an increasingly limited number of people who share the world-- the more you use, the deeper you get into it, to the point where you're all alone in it. And you have to keep it a secret from everybody else. And you do really stupid things to keep it a secret, really stupid.

Alex Blumberg

What are you thinking of when you said "really stupid"?

Richard

Well, I remember one time, I went down, I'd stopped in Eton Park on the way back to the office. And I got out of the car. And I got stoned. I smoked a joint. And I came back, and I realized that I'd locked my keys in the car. And I couldn't-- you know, I was stoned. My judgment was shot. I didn't know what to do.

So I went around. And I found a big rock. And I broke the little window in the rear. And I reached in and unlocked the door. And then, the back of the seat was full of glass. And I had to go down to Ace Auto Glass and had the glass replaced. And then, finally, I got to the office an hour and a half late for the meeting. And I made up some excuse. [LAUGHS]

Alex Blumberg

This image of my dad in his suit, early morning, rooting around in the underbrush for a rock to throw through his own car window, I found it so shocking. It is one solution to the problem at hand. But it's hard to imagine a person who wasn't high, weighing all the options and deciding, you know the think I need to do right now at 8:00 AM on a work day? Smash in my own car window.

And I know, as rock bottom stories go, this is nothing special. In general, my dad's addiction story barely registers on the family dysfunction scale. But his marijuana use was starting to fray the edges of his life. He and his business partner, Dale, were having regular fights over my dad's inability to show up to meetings on time, or fill out his time sheets, or just get things done when he said he would.

At a certain point, my dad sold his stake in the business for a nice chunk of money. But then, he lost most of it on a string of failed business ventures. I remember my dad trying to explain a couple of them to me at the time. I was just out of college at this point. And I never really understood what the products actually were or how they were going to make any money.

Only in retrospect did I realize, after the cancer and the secret came out, those business ideas, they made a lot more sense if you were stoned. All told, in today's dollars, my dad probably lost somewhere north of half a million. And this brings me to the most basic question I had for my dad, the question that lay underneath all the other ones.

Alex Blumberg

Why do you think you were getting high every day at work?

Richard

Uh, I think that I was getting high because I didn't really feel that marketing was a worthwhile thing to do.

Alex Blumberg

This is part of it for sure. Getting high allowed my dad to retreat from this reality that he didn't want to face, that he wasn't a hippie anymore but, in fact, a guy in a suit with a job in advertising.

But that answer, it didn't feel like the full truth to me. Because he wasn't just running from reality at work. He was running from it at home as well.

Alex Blumberg

The one time in particular I remember was we were on vacation out in California. It was one of the times we went to California. We did a big road trip across the country. It was sort of crazy.

And we'd found some unbelievably beautiful little swimming hole in northern California. And we'd set up a tent. And the weather was perfect. And we were all getting out. We'd put on our swimsuits. And we were all getting ready to get in. And we'd just been visiting your friends Gene and Jan in San Francisco. And they'd given you some--

Richard

[LAUGHS]

Alex Blumberg

They'd given you some Berkeley gold, as they called it.

Richard

Yeah.

Alex Blumberg

And I remember you rolling a joint and saying something like, but first, it's time for little Berkeley gold, or something like that. And I remember being really upset. And part of, I think, the reason that I was so upset is I remember thinking, what in the world? What more could you want?

And there's sort of a feeling of, are we not enough? It seemed like, almost even at that time in your life, you were almost sort of running from something even in that moment or wanting to change the reality a little bit in that moment. Is it--

Richard

I think I probably was.

Alex Blumberg

What were you--? What didn't you have?

Richard

I don't know.

Alex Blumberg

Yeah.

Richard

I don't know what it was. I had a perfect life.

Alex Blumberg

I guess that's where I feel like I go back to it was feeling. Like, I find when I've used pot, the thing that it takes away is it takes away feeling.

Richard

Yep.

Alex Blumberg

Feelings become less intense. And I feel like, for whatever reason, the feelings of oh my god, this is so perfect. I love my family so much. Or, oh my god, this should be so perfect, but I'm pissed off at my wife. Or, I'm let down by my children, or whatever it is that you were feeling. I sort of feel like that's the thing that links all of the pot use. Is that true? Or is that just my theory?

Richard

Yeah, I think it's true. It's part of what you're running away from. The most important thing is that you're running away from something. You're running away from looking at the world as it really is. You push all of that direct experience of reality away. It's not a good way to live. It's just not a good way to live.

Alex Blumberg

Oddly, for my dad, it wasn't just the happy moments he regretted checking out for, but the sad ones as well. For example, when his mother died of cancer. My aunt had been telling my dad that their mother's condition was getting worse, worse than their mother was letting on.

If my dad hadn't been high, he says, he wouldn't have ignored what my aunt was telling him. He would have spent more time with his mother, engaged more with her doctors.

Richard

I probably would have been in Cleveland with her when she had the operation that ended in her death.

Alex Blumberg

Oh, I didn't know that she died during operation.

Richard

Yes. She had bone cancer. And they were trying to break a connection to the pituitary gland or something like that that would reduce the pain. And she wound up hemorrhaging and died.

Alex Blumberg

Mm. And you thought about going with her when she did that and you decided not to?

Richard

If it were to happen today, there's no question that I would have driven her up to Cleveland. That would've been the most natural thing in the world to do.

Alex Blumberg

Instead, he says, he got high, pushed the feelings aside, and avoided the whole thing, which makes this last story I'll tell all the more amazing. Just last month, my 80-year-old Uncle Paul, my mom's brother, fell ill suddenly and ended up in the hospital, near death, with a breathing tube down his throat.

My parents got the call and were on a plane down to Florida where he lived the very next day. My uncle was a recluse. Except for occasional phone calls to his brothers and sisters, he interacted with almost no one. It was my parents and a neighbor that Paul barely knew confronting the sad end to his lonely life, Medicaid applications, power of attorney, hospice, finally, cremation.

And while my parents were down there going about all that, my dad did something that was, on the one hand, utterly ordinary, but that I found remarkable. He emailed us with regular, almost daily, updates, giving the details on Paul's changing condition, going through next steps. The emails were direct and honest, filled with love for Paul and sadness about his decline.

And I would sit there and read them. And they felt miraculous. A daily email on a tough, hard-to-face topic from my dad, something he never could have done organizationally or emotionally when he was high.

Like I said, as these stories go, ours wasn't that bad. My dad was a good dad. He read to us every night, took us on long hikes in search of snakes and salamanders to keep as pets. But his drug use did leave at least one lasting effect on me. I can't hear any story about a seemingly functional pot-head with anything but a skeptical ear.

From magazine features about rappers who are constantly high but still put out platinum records to casual asides about this friend I know who smokes weed all day but is a great husband and father, some part of me just can't buy it, can't help but think, there's more to that story. There's always something being run from. And there's always at least one person wondering, is that something me?

Ira Glass

Alex Blumberg is one of the producers of our show. Coming up, Marc Maron, Wyatt Cenac and what do you say to Drew Carey when you are a contestant on The Price is Right and you're also high on mushrooms? That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two: You Were So High

Ira Glass

It's This American Life from Ira Glass. Each weekend our program, of course. We choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, "I Was So High," stories about doing drugs, the people who do lots of drugs, and the rest of us who maybe do not do as many drugs.

We have arrived at Act Two of our program-- Act Two, You Were So High. So there are people who are not getting high every single day and organizing their whole lives around drugs. There are people in this world who get high, and have fun, and giggle with their friends.

Among other things, drugs can be enjoyable. And we asked you to send in your drug stories on our blog and Facebook and Twitter. You sent in 2,600. Elna Baker was one of three staffers here at This American Life who went through those emails. And she joins me in the studio now. Elna, what were most of those emails like?

Elna Baker

I would say about half of them are people just doing really dumb stuff while they're high, like this.

Man 1

I called my friend Shane. And when I got him, I was like, well, I think I might have done some mushrooms. He's like, where are you? I was like, I'm at the intersections of One Way and Do Not Enter. He's like, look at other signs.

Woman 1

I thought I picked up the bud. And instead, I picked up goose poop and took a nice big hit of it.

Man 2

I would stop and write little poems. One just said, what if you were a cat and all you could say was meow? All you would have to talk about is meow.

Ira Glass

So one of the reasons why we asked listeners for their drug stories is because we thought we'd get a lot of funny stories. Were they funny?

Elna Baker

They were OK. They weren't that funny. And I feel mean saying that because so many people actually put the effort to write us stories in. And we read 2,600 of these emails. But they don't stand up unless you either know the person or were there, or if you were on drugs at the time, it was funny to you.

Ira Glass

It's like hearing people's dreams.

Elna Baker

Yep.

Ira Glass

So it's like 2,600 emails, but they're not so funny.

Elna Baker

Mm-mm. There was a few or one liners that I remember, inside jokes.

Ira Glass

Like?

Elna Baker

I'm loving that bunny. That was somebody--

Ira Glass

What are you talking about?

[LAUGHTER]

Elna Baker

Exactly, people had their drug catch phrases that I kind of liked, that I want to use now.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS] OK.

Elna Baker

But one was some little boy was on anesthesia. And he had this horrible surgery. And his parents were very worried. And they looked up at the TV screen. And there was Animal Planet. And he just looked up and was like, I'm loving that bunny.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]

Elna Baker

It made me laugh.

Ira Glass

But that's about as good as it gets.

Elna Baker

Yeah, that's about as good as it gets.

Ira Glass

Any surprises?

Elna Baker

Yes. A lot of people, especially teenagers, will hit on their anesthesiologists while they're under the influence.

Ira Glass

So that's like a thing you know if you're an anesthesiologist?

Elna Baker

And if you're hot, yeah. And then, oh, several people doing shrooms had a vision of a Native American guide appearing to them on the path in the distance--

Ira Glass

Oh my god.

Elna Baker

--and just gesturing for them to follow, which just seemed racist, right?

Ira Glass

It does.

Elna Baker

[INAUDIBLE]

Ira Glass

It's like a message from your unconscious. Hi, I've been meaning to tell you, by the way, you're a racist.

Elna Baker

[LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

OK, good. Now you know it. But you did get one email that turns out to be a really funny story. Who is this?

Elna Baker

Josh Androsky. So Josh, one day, goes out with his friends. They're drinking. They end up doing mushrooms. And then they go to be part of the studio audience of The Price is Right.

Josh Androsky

Already without mushrooms it would have been crazy.

[CHEERING CROWD]

George Gray

Here it comes!

Josh Androsky

Because, literally, old people are dancing with children in the aisles. This one old lady starts booty dancing on Drew Carey. There were just dollar signs and flashing lights. I mean, everybody's going crazy. We were, demonstrably, the least high-looking people there.

George Gray

Now it is the most exciting hour of fantastic prizes, the fabulous 60-minute Price is Right!

[CHEERING CROWD]

Josh Androsky

It was so, just, awe-inspiring, seeing all the colored lights that I didn't actually hear, "Come on down."

George Gray

Joshua Androsky, come on down!

Josh Androsky

All of a sudden, I looked on the stage. And there was this PA who was holding up a sign with my full name on it, which was really, really scary. Because, in my head, it wasn't like, "Joshua Androsky, come on down."

In my head, that sign was, "Joshua Androsky, we know that you're here." There was that light bulb that went off in my brain that was like, oh my god. I'm going to play The Price is Right now.

[CHEERING CROWD]

Drew Carey

Let's get the show started with the first prize up for bid today on The Price is Right.

George Gray

Excellent idea, Drew. We're going to start off with a new home theater system!

Josh Androsky

I was the first person to bid on the first prize on contestants' row.

Drew Carey

It goes to whoever bids closest to the actual retail price without going over. Big papa, we're going to start with you.

Josh Androsky

And I'm an idiot. And I bid $1 every time. [LAUGHS]

For that, I'm going to bid $1.

Drew Carey

$1! All right, big papa bids $1. Big papa hat, Dolly Parton shirt, bid $1.

[LAUGHTER]

Josh Androsky

I'm a mystery, dude.

Drew Carey

That's--

Josh Androsky

That's an enigma. Get used to it.

Drew Carey

[LAUGHS]

Josh Androsky

Miraculously, one of the $1 bids worked. And I got up. And then, Drew Carey was like, hey! OK, cool. What do you do?

But that's when all the mushrooms hit me at once. And I just looked at him and I said, I'm a skateboard rabbi.

[LAUGHTER]

Drew Carey

A skateboard rabbi. Uh--

Josh Androsky

Drew Carey turns to me and goes, how do you incorporate skateboards into Judaism? I was like, well, Drew Carey, we go to local high schools and attempt to turn religious extremism into religious "X-tremism!"

Unfortunately, they cut it out of the show. I get it. [LAUGHS] I did! But if you watch the video, the studio audience is going crazy. And Drew Carey looks right at the camera and goes--

Drew Carey

He really is a skateboard rabbi!

Ira Glass

Josh Androsky, he went home from The Price is Right with a diamond ring.

Act Three: Bottom of the Eighth

Ira Glass

Act Three, Bottom of the Eighth. We now turn to this story from Wyatt Cenac, recorded live on stage at Seth Herzog's SWEET at the Slipper Room in New York City.

Wyatt Cenac

A lot of people, they assume I smoke a lot of pot--

[LAUGHTER]

--because I talk kind of slow and I look like in high school jazz teacher.

[LAUGHTER]

I don't really smoke weed. I don't smoke it that much, because I don't get high smoking weed. It doesn't affect me. It doesn't affect me. I've only once gotten high from pot. And that was one time I ate a pot brownie.

Audience

Ooh.

Wyatt Cenac

Yeah, that's right. That's the right response. [LAUGHS]

[LAUGHTER]

I ate a pot brownie. I was about eight years ago. I was living in California at the time. And it was Memorial Day weekend. And I was with three of my friends. And we decided to go to a Dodgers game. And so, it was me, my friend Ben, my friend Steve, and Steve's brother, Sweet Dave.

[LAUGHTER]

You could try to call him Dave if you want to. But he won't answer to anything but Sweet Dave. Like, if a tiger was about to attack and you were like, Dave, look out! Sweet Dave would die.

[LAUGHTER]

And so it's the four of us. We're in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium. We're tailgating. And one of my friends is like, hey, I got some pot brownies. And I'm going to let you guess which friend of mine said that.

Woman

Sweet Dave?

Wyatt Cenac

Wrong. It was Ben.

[LAUGHTER]

But Sweet Dave was like, sweet!

[LAUGHTER]

And so, Ben had four pieces of pot brownies for the four of us. And it seems like, oh yeah, four and four. Here's a little twist. At this point in my life, at 30 years old, I had never had pot before. And also at that point in my life, I had no job. I was living off my credit cards, which my credit cards didn't really appreciate.

[LAUGHTER]

I was about to get evicted. And I was five months behind on my car note. And so I looked at my friends. And I was like, eh, I don't really have anything to live for. Let's go. And I ate the brownie. And then, we went into the game. And we sat down. And we're all sitting in Dodger Stadium.

And I can see that it's starting to hit my friends. Like, they're all starting to look around and get a little giggly. And it's hitting them. And my friend Ben looks at me. And he's like, you feel it yet? And I was like, nah. But I do got to take a piss.

So I get up and I go to the bathroom. And I come back. And Steve is in it hard. I can see. He's just sitting straight up. And his arms are crossed. And he's just watching the field, not the game, the field.

[LAUGHTER]

And Ben looks at me. He's like, you feel it yet? And I was like, nah. But I really got to take a piss.

[LAUGHTER]

And I did that eight more times. [LAUGHS]

[LAUGHTER]

And my phone rang. I answered the phone. But no words would come out. I couldn't say anything. And I could hear my friend Laura on the other end. And she's saying hello.

Then, I'm trying so hard. I'm just like, say something. Just talk. Talk damn it! And finally, I am like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) I am so [BLEEP] high. This is terrible.

[LAUGHTER]

And I did it in that voice. And I have never done that voice before in my life. I don't know where that voice came from. But I heard myself use that voice. And in my mind, I went, oh [BLEEP]. I just gave myself Down Syndrome.

[LAUGHTER]

(NORMAL VOICE) Now let me just say, I know what Down Syndrome is. I know that Down Syndrome is something that you're born with when you are born with an extra chromosome. I know all that information. I knew that information then. But something about eating this brownie made me think that somehow I had grown an extra chromosome and I now had adult-onset Down Syndrome.

[LAUGHTER]

And for people who have Down Syndrome, it's something they grow up with. And they grow up and they have healthy and happy lives. I just got it.

[LAUGHTER]

And I start freaking out. I'm just like, I'm going to have to explain this to people. And I start panicking. And I just start freaking out, freaking out to the point where I start weeping in the middle of Dodger Stadium.

And then, I start laughing. And then, I start weeping again. And then, a bunch of cops start walking towards me. And something in my brain just clicks on. It's like, Wyatt, you have to keep it together right now. I was like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) yes. Keep it together.

(NORMAL VOICE) Yeah, Wyatt, there are cops right there. They cannot know you are high. (UNUSUAL ACCENT) No, they cannot know I am high. (NORMAL VOICE) And now, my internal monologue has become my external monologue. And I start pointing at the cops.

[LAUGHTER]

And I'm like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) you cannot know I am high. I have to fool you. I am fooling you.

[LAUGHTER]

(NORMAL VOICE) We thought maybe it's time we should leave Dodger Stadium. I'm not sure exactly how far into the game we were. I know it was past the first inning. We might not have made it to the third inning.

[LAUGHTER]

But we leave. And we get back to Steve's place. Ben immediately leaves, goes home, sees his roommate who's like, hey, what's up? And he goes, I think I killed Wyatt.

[LAUGHTER]

Steve decides to park himself on the couch and watch TV, not TV shows, just a blank TV.

[LAUGHTER]

Sweet Dave went to a cookout.

[LAUGHTER]

He was fine.

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

Wyatt Cenac. You can catch him every Monday night hosting a show called Night Train at Little Field in Brooklyn, New York.

Act Four: Straight Man

Ira Glass

Act Four, Straight Man. So, Marc Maron is a comedian who, for a long time, very aggressively did smoke pot, every day. He also did coke, and LSD, and mushrooms. He says that, for a while, he did so many drugs that he was hearing voices.

He first tried to get sober in 1988. He has now been continuously sober for over 15 years. He's best known these days for his podcast, WTF, which is basically the New York Times of comedy podcasts. It's like the comedy podcast of record. Every comedian goes on to talk to Marc. He also has a TV series on IFC.

We reached out to him because he's been on both sides of the line, right? He's been a daily drug user. And he has been sober. And we thought that he would just have some perspective on what each side thinks of the other.

Ira Glass

So we're doing this episode of our show this week with a lot of drug stories. And you seemed like the perfect person to ask this question of, because I know that you're someone who loves a funny story when you hear it.

But you're also somebody who has seen what addiction can do to people. So, one of the questions I wanted to ask you is, given how drugs kill people and how dangerous they are, is it OK to laugh at these stories?

Marc Maron

Of course it is.

Ira Glass

Why?

Marc Maron

Because they're funny. Most drug stories are stories about people who are out of control in some way and get into horrendously risky or embarrassing situations. And--

Ira Glass

I know. But isn't it glorifying a thing that shouldn't be glorified? You know what I mean? Have people told you stories that you enjoyed-- like even on your podcast-- have people told you stories that are funny stories, but there's a little part of you that's in recovery that cringes a little bit?

Marc Maron

Oh, yeah. But I think that the other side of glorification is-- I would say that it's as much of a red flag or a warning sign as it is a glorification. You're going to laugh on either side of that.

It's like, oh my god! That guy almost died. I am so glad that I do not live that life. But you can also see that as, like, there is a strange courage to it. And I think that mythology is wearing away.

Ira Glass

That mythology being?

Marc Maron

That there is a courage to the drug adventurer.

Ira Glass

Right.

Marc Maron

I think that was something that the '60s was sort of built on. And I think that it was something that creativity and art was sort of built on, that there was struggle, and torment, and alcohol, and drugs, that people wrestled this amazing--

Ira Glass

And that there was something to learn from drugs.

Marc Maron

I do think there's something to learn.

Ira Glass

You do?

Marc Maron

Well, yeah, I did that big story on my '95 HBO half hour about going to a Jerry Garcia concert and being on mushrooms by myself. And I will stand by that story as being the primary thing that you learn on drugs.

Ira Glass

Wait, I don't know this story, I'm sorry to say. What happens? Not to make you do an entire bit here but, essentially, what happens?

Marc Maron

Well, what happens is I'm going to see Jerry Garcia with my roommates. It was at the Orpheum, I believe, in Boston. And I'm in college. And I'd gotten my tickets from these two girls I didn't know that well. One of them was in my class.

And my roommates had their tickets. And we're going to the concert. And we just eat a big bag of mushrooms. And we get to the concert. And they're going to sit somewhere else.

So I'm all alone with these strange girls. And I'm beginning to trip on mushrooms. And it's not good. You just feel that weird kind of amp.

Ira Glass

Mm-hmm.

Marc Maron

You start getting that surge where you begin to trip on hallucinogens. And your head feels like it's about to pop off. And your perception is starting to change. And I'm starting to freak out a little bit. Because I don't know who I'm with.

My roommates are down somewhere else, sitting there. And I'm looking at these girls. And their faces are a little too large now. And everything's getting a little sweaty. And I'm starting to panic. And I'm thinking, like, OK. I could always go to the emergency room if I freak out. I could just go to the emergency room.

And I think that the women I'm sitting with, who don't really know me, are sensing that I'm starting to panic. And they're like, do you want some gum? And I'm like, oh god, that would be so good. Gum would just be the right thing right now, like everything is when you're tripping.

Oh, of course, gum! And they give me a piece of gum. And it's Freshen-Up. And I didn't really register it until I put it in my mouth. So this gum explodes. And I think--

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS] The gum with the squirty inside, right?

Marc Maron

Yeah, right. And I think I'm bleeding. And I spit the gum out. And I'm just panicking. It's just awful. And then, the lights go down.

And then, Jerry comes out. And he looks fat. And I'm hyper-sensitive on the mushrooms. And I think I'm reading things. And I'm feeling things. I'm an empath. And I realize Jerry's in trouble. He's overweight.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]

Marc Maron

His voice doesn't sound good. So now, I'm freaking out on Jerry, who is really supposed to be the ultimate guide through this experience, you know?

Ira Glass

Right, like calmest calm-inducing person.

Marc Maron

Right. He's the mythological Drug Buddha. And if I'm getting a bad vibe from Jerry, I got nowhere to go. And then, I notice there's one of those guys sitting in front of me who has clearly been to too many Dead shows and done so much acid that he operates at a different frequency than other people. He's kind of jerky. And he's got a very graceful but odd way of just holding his body. You see them at these type of events. [LAUGHS]

And I'm thinking to myself, he'll help me out. This guy will throw me a line. So I'm trying to socialize with this guy. And I tap him on the shoulder. And I go, hey, you know, pretty soon one day, Jerry's going to come out and him and his guitar are just going to be fused. They're going to be, like, one thing.

And this guy just cocks around with such precise hallucinogenic focus. And he looks me right in the eye. And he goes, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) just hang on, man! Just hang on.

[LAUGHTER]

And he turns around. And I'm like, that's it. I will do that. I will hang on.

Ira Glass

Wait, and is that the insight one can have on drugs? Is just hang on?

Marc Maron

Yeah, a lot of times, if you just hang on, it'll pass.

Ira Glass

When you were smoking every day, did you feel superior to people who weren't doing drugs?

Marc Maron

I felt like I had a secret. I don't know of that's superior. But I felt like, oh man, I'm so glad I'm seeing this like I'm seeing it. So I guess there is a slight superiority in that, that I'm not on this hamster wheel, man. You know, I'm just walking down the street. And I'm really seeing what the sunlight is doing.

It's sort of double-edged though. Because the squares are the people that try to function in the world-- like, weird moment back when I was doing a lot of coke. And I think it speaks to your point. I had this woman that I dated in college. She came out to visit me in LA.

And I was living at this creepy old mansion behind The Comedy Store that Mitzi Shore owned. And we were just up there at all hours, doing drugs, and staying up all night, and playing guitar, and talking about whatever for hours. So this woman comes to visit me. And it's like 3:00 in the morning. And she's just a regular girl who works for-- now, she works in health administration.

But so, she comes out to visit me. And we're up in the middle of the night. And I'm just reveling in it, like, this is amazing, man! Nobody lives like this! We're living! And then, she leaves completely discombobulated and visibly upset for things I couldn't quite understand.

And she sends me a handwritten letter, because that's what we did then, basically explaining to me-- she's like, you know when you stood up and just celebrated the fact that nobody lives like we do? And she wrote, I don't know if you know this, but nobody would really want to live like that.

[LAUGHTER]

Like, what do you think you're doing over there staying up all night, doing blow, playing guitar, and talking about nothing for hours to the point where none of you can function in the real world at all? It's like, no! We're the ones who are winning!

So that superiority is very shortsighted. And each side feels superior to the other. But no, I do think that their side sort of wins.

Ira Glass

Their side being the straight people?

Marc Maron

Well, being the people that can function in this society that we're supposed to sort of function in.

Ira Glass

Well, I feel like you get so quickly, in this kind of discussion, to there are just two different ways to drink or do drugs. And there's all the people who can't control it. And they end up alcoholics and addicts. And then, there's all the people who can control it. They can do it occasionally, and they're fine. And it's just--

Marc Maron

Those horrible people.

[LAUGHTER]

Those horrible people that can have a couple of drinks. Or even worse, the people like, yeah, I smoke a couple of cigarettes, maybe, on the weekend. You horrible person! Where's your sense of commitment?

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]

Marc Maron

I mean, don't you want to invest your life in this project? OK.

Ira Glass

I want to play you a clip of you. This is you performing in 1998. I think you're just off drugs at this point. But maybe not.

Marc Maron

In all honesty, I feel bad for people who have never been addicted to anything. Because they're the real losers.

[LAUGHTER]

You want to know why? Because they just don't know what it's like to really want something-- and get it again, and again, and again--

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

--until their sick and have to stop.

[LAUGHTER]

That's passion.

Ira Glass

Do you still feel that way?

Marc Maron

Yeah. [LAUGHS] I feel that way as a survivor. And it's very hard for me to say-- like, I don't regret the times I did drugs. I don't regret the times that I almost died or was in horrible situations. I don't regret wasting, possibly, years of my life. Because I can't live like that. I can't live in those regrets.

But some of those times were great times. Some of those times were hilarious times. I don't regret all those times. I mean, am I happy that it didn't drag me down the hole? And hurt a lot of other people? And make me sick in a way that I could not get better or even die? I'm happy about that. But I am also thrilled that I had some of the experiences I did. And that's the two sides of it.

Ira Glass

Marc Maron. The second season of his TV show on IFC starts May 8.

Act Five: DEA Agent Takes a Hit

Ira Glass

Act Five, "DEA Agent Takes a Hit." So this is a moment when everything seems in flux in how our country sees and deals with drugs, particularly marijuana. Case in point, the past few months in Congress, the House Government Oversight Committee has been holding a series of hearings called "Mixed Signals, the Administration's Stance on Marijuana."

These are the Committee's first hearings on pot in a decade. And they're holding them now, in large part, because so many states-- 20 states plus Washington, DC-- now allow some form of legal marijuana, which of course is in direct conflict with federal drug law. And one of the interesting things about these hearings is that two congressmen who think that our marijuana policies are totally out of whack, they think that pot should not be illegal under federal law-- have been using these hearings as an opportunity to, basically, lay into narcs, just to chew them out.

It's kind of incredible. You almost never hear people on two sides of this issue talk to each other this directly, this fiercely, in public. One side, OK, sees pot smoking as normal, everyday, no biggie. What's the fuss? The other side sees the everyday-ness of pot as the problem, as a menace. Brian Reed tells about one of these congressional face-offs.

Brian Reed

I'm going to play you my favorite tape from these hearings. It's of one of the congressmen, Steve Cohen from Memphis in an Oversight Committee hearing on March 4. Cohen isn't even on the Oversight Committee, by the way.

He asked for special permission to take part in the hearing, because he had some things he wanted to say to the witness, Thomas Harrigan. Harrigan is second in charge of the agency tasked with enforcing federal drug laws, the DEA. The two men do not see eye-to-eye.

Steve Cohen

Mr. Harrigan, you've been in this business now for close to 30 years? 1987, you started with the DEA. How have your views changed on marijuana in those 30 years?

Thomas Harrigan

To be quite honest with you, sir, very little.

Steve Cohen

I was afraid of that.

Thomas Harrigan

I see the devastation--

Steve Cohen

That's enough. The fact that it's changed very little says a lot about--

Thomas Harrigan

Do you want me to respond to your question, sir?

Steve Cohen

No, sir.

Thomas Harrigan

Because I would be happy to.

Steve Cohen

I know you would. We have limited time. The fact that it's changed very little shows that you haven't kept up with society. You haven't kept up with science. And it's part of the problem--

Thomas Harrigan

Science and medical I do keep up, sir.

Steve Cohen

All right. You mentioned in your statement that, quote, "It insults our common values." I want you to read me what you said.

Thomas Harrigan

Yes, sir. I believe this is the section you're referring to. "We also know that marijuana destroys lives and families, undermines our economy, and insults our common values."

Steve Cohen

What are the common values it insults?

Thomas Harrigan

For me, sir?

Steve Cohen

No, for--

Thomas Harrigan

I will tell you. I will tell you if you let me.

Steve Cohen

You said, we know. You're speaking as clairvoyant voice of America. What are our common values?

Thomas Harrigan

Well, I would venture to guess all of law enforcement, just about every single parent out there as well.

Steve Cohen

Every single parent?

Thomas Harrigan

Yes, every single parent. It's based on, again, medical, sir, and scientific fact, not public opinion. OK, I am not the medical expert, as I said before. Everything that I do is based on my 30 plus years of law enforcement.

Steve Cohen

Let me stop you for a minute. You said, it insults our common values. What is the value it insults?

Thomas Harrigan

What is the value it insults?

Steve Cohen

Yeah, you said, this--

Thomas Harrigan

Do we have all--? I could easily go on and on.

Steve Cohen

You haven't started yet.

Thomas Harrigan

Well, you continue to interrupt me. I would be happy to address your question.

Steve Cohen

Answer my question, sir.

Thomas Harrigan

Yes, you know what? From a bare minimum, as a parent, as a former educator, as a law enforcement official for all these years, I have seen the devastation that marijuana has caused not only on individuals, on families and communities.

Steve Cohen

What's our common value, though? You still haven't stated the common value. And the fact is 55% of Americans are in favor of decriminalization or legalization. I got to imagine that some of them are parents.

Your statement that all parents are against this is ludicrous. Want do you think? People that are in favor of decriminalization or a change in policy--

Thomas Harrigan

I didn't say, all.

Steve Cohen

--don't procreate?

Thomas Harrigan

I said, most parents--

Steve Cohen

You said, all.

Thomas Harrigan

--would be opposed to this.

Steve Cohen

And most is wrong too, 55% of America!

Thomas Harrigan

Are they all parents?

Steve Cohen

I don't think that the polls went into that. But I suspect a whole bunch of them were. It's not--

Brian Reed

This went on for more than five minutes.

Steve Cohen

Let's get beyond Richard Nixon.

Brian Reed

I call the DEA to see if Thomas Harrigan wanted to come on the radio and have a chance to actually respond, since Cohen barely let him get a word in edgewise. But the DEA spokesperson said Harrigan was busy preparing for another hearing this week, so he couldn't do it.

As for Congressman Cohen, one of his biggest beefs with the country's drug policy is the fact that marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. That means, in the eyes of the federal government , marijuana has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

Heroin, LSD, peyote, these are all Schedule 1. Cocaine and meth, on the other hand, are Schedule 2, a less serious designation. So under federal law, marijuana is considered the most dangerous type of drug, more dangerous than cocaine and meth. In Cohen's words, that's poppycock. He says, marijuana is the least dangerous of these drugs and most people know it including, apparently, President Obama.

In a New Yorker profile earlier this year, Obama said, quote, "As has been well-documented, I smoked pot as a kid. And I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

In fact, Obama said, quote, "In terms of its impact on the individual consumer, he believes pot is less dangerous than alcohol," which just shows how confused we are as a country right now when it comes to what we're supposed to be doing about marijuana. You've got the president of the United States saying something like that about pot while, at the same time, he's the boss of an entire bureaucracy with thousands of people whose job is to think the opposite.

Ira Glass

Brian Reed is one of the producers of our show.

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Sean Cole and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Brian Reed, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike, our senior producers Julie Snyder, production help from Alison Davis.

Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon is our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our administrative assistant. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Research help from Julie Beer and Michelle Harris. Music help from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. And thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, whenever I get on the back of his motorcycle with him, he never lets me wear a helmet.

Marc Maron

Just hang on, man. Just hang on.

Ira Glass

And I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.