American Joint

One in a series of essays about being American.


The first time I saw a joint was when some guy in gym asked me to pass it to the this other guy on the other side of me who seemed awfully anxious to get it like he was going to light it up right there in the bleachers in the gym at James Monroe High School in the Bronx I think in the first period as I just was minding my own business watching the other students in their gold and maroon gym clothes run back and forth across the gym floor that has seen too many sneakers running back and forth over the years and I couldn’t help but wonder at the big ass joint (I mean I’d never smoked in my life up until then but I sure knew what a joint looked like even at sixteen say 1965 junior year) with this sticky looking brown smudge on the side of the joint which was fatter than I ever imagined it to be as my eyes followed it from one black hand through my brown hand to another black hand to go somewhere where it would be lit and smoked and I didn’t even wonder what that would be like because well that was a bad thing that any good (well not that good) red blooded Catholic ex-seminarian would know enough to stay away from if he knew what was good for him in that moment in the James Monroe gym in 1965 in the Bronx as the counterculture and craziness of the sixties was beginning to capture my imagination even though I was still a straight-laced uncool kid from the John Adam houses struggling with pimples and identity about being a good American having attended a world conference of other good clean-faced kids that summer on Mackinac Island Michigan where we were reminded that the world was facing a crisis between good and evil (read communists and all those people who were working hard to bring down the righteous and the best and brightest with drugs and beards and long hair and surplus army jackets and sandals) just like was happening in my own soul where I was storing questions about life and authority and why did I have to think like everyone else in the John Adam Houses and St. Anselm’s church across the street instead of my own mind and my own ambitions about life beyond 156th and Westchester Avenue to places where you were free to experiment with everything that you were told you couldn’t do because that was the evil life versus the good life where you didn’t do things like I did the following year in 1966 now seventeen and having graduated from high school bound for college and hanging out with college kids when I smoked my first joint in an apartment in the West Village at a party surrounded by college kids two three years older than me teaching me how to inhale that bitter hard smoke into my lungs which very suddenly explosively rolls my head spinning into the outer atmosphere of the universe bypassing the earth and the moon shooting me onto the bed in the bedroom the one with the jackets while asking anyone who passed by me on their way to get their jackets or to the bathroom in the bedroom excuse me how long will I be circling Jupiter and Mars and is that Uranus coming up but they don’t hear me because I’m not even sure I’m speaking with my outside voice that maybe this is all in my head that maybe I’m not circling Jupiter and Mars and maybe just maybe that’s not Uranus coming up on my left that’s actually the door to the bathroom and the only space I’m occupying is the one where I’m lying on a bed that it not mine because someone is tugging at me telling me that I gots to go home because the party is over and warning me to never smoke a joint again because it’s obvious that I can’t handle being high and that I’ve embarrassed myself in front of a lot of people who are also pissed that I’ve smashed and wrinkled their leather and suede jackets so there are hands pulling me up while I’m still insisting that I am passing Jupiter and Mars and there’s Uranus coming up on the left but they insist that what I’m looking at are the buildings of lower Manhattan from a yellow cab whose windows are open on the way to the Bronx with the hope that I snap out of my space travel atmospheric adventures before I get to 710 Tinton Avenue in the South Bronx at four a.m. where I’m sure my mother is sitting by the window in 14F looking out for me wondering if her oldest child is alive or dead after having fallen under the spell of the devil or the communists or both as I let the night air traveling at sixty miles an hour rushed into the yellow cab pushing me back to earth from Jupiter and Mars and I can no longer see Uranus anymore only the Willis Avenue Bridge and Third Avenue and then Westchester Avenue and the twenty-one story high buildings of the John Adam Houses and the Westchester Avenue El and the front entrance to 710 Tinton where my mother is screaming down at me from apartment 14F at 4 a.m. on a brisk summer night no longer occupied by space travel replaced by reality that this was one trip that I would not like to repeat again especially after my mother shushes me as I stumble into the apartment 14F headed for my bedroom trying not to make any noise that would wake my father and the consequences that would follow as I throw myself down again onto another bed my bed swearing that never again will I take a rocket ship into outer space pass Jupiter and Mars and especially as far as Uranus I swear to my mother and my soul even as I sense that this will not be my last trip into outer space.

Image by Rob Owen-Wahl from Pixabay

Author: Antonio Pedro Ruiz

Antonio Ruiz is an ex-junkie-alcoholic, former seminarian, one-time radio host-producer, past community organizer, continuing to be a media advocate, retired television reporter, ex-commission executive director, once a street vendor of jewelry and gloves, waitron (waiter to you), a former bartender who drank too much on the job, an ex-motorcycle courier who learned to ride a bike just for the job, ex-airport shuttle driver, former Entertainment news director-producer, the best time of my life, one-time live TV events red carpet producer-executive producer, ex-small business consultant, ex-youth media and journalism mentor, and now a college student who also has been married three times (thirds the charm), and just couldn't help living with two other women because well, that's part of my story.

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