It was the first thing I noticed stepping onto the subway train Friday morning: the unmistakable, pungent aroma of skunk weed marijuana. I hadn’t noticed the faces coming off the train, only two or three people, none of them struck me as the kind of people who would get tuned up on a subway train. But who knows.
Over the past few years, not one day has gone by when I’ve been walking the streets in New York City where I haven’t at least once, usually more than once, passed through an invisible skunk-weed cloud somewhere along the sidewalk. It’s disturbing. You like smoking weed? That’s fine. Doing it in public in broad daylight is another thing, just as wandering around getting drunk off your ass tends to get you in trouble with the law.
The odd part is I rarely see anyone smoking. The few times I have, it’s always been surly, irritated looking street kids who make a point of making eye contact and don’t look mellow at all, dude. They look like they want to be confronted over what they’re doing. Meaning they look like assholes. Meaning I leave them the hell alone, much as I’d like to be King Canute ordering back the sea.
This holds as true in midtown Manhattan as it does in Astoria. I gather in Astoria what I’m smelling is someone getting high in his house or apartment. I don’t think people smoking this stuff have any clue how deeply penetrating and lasting the odor of skunk weed is. The "normal" smell of marijuana I've known for years is like jasmine in comparison.
Three instances underline this. One was some jackass getting high in the bathroom of a Pennsylvania-bound bus a few months ago. Usually it’s cigarette smokers who don’t realize that whatever you do in a bus toilet, everyone on the bus can smell. (This is why I never shit on the bus unless it’s an absolute emergency, a tacit rule understood by touring musicians and other experienced bus riders.) But there I was, headed back to PA, relaxing, listening to some Spoon on my headphones, when I’m overwhelmed with that shitbird, dorm-room stench of skunk weed. I seemed to be the only person to know what it was!
The second was recently at the gym in Astoria. In the locker room, getting changed. My gym’s locker rooms, no matter which branch location, are often a mildly negative experience. Sharing close quarters with overgrown babies stumbling through life with faux tough guy/weightlifter mentalities, acting like entitled private-school brats in terms of leaving towels everywhere, spitting gum into urinal guards, pissing on toilet seats and floors, expecting everyone to cater to them, etc. I don’t recall this gym visit being particularly negative, but I do recall sitting there, getting dressed after showering, and once again being overwhelmed by the skunk-weed smell. Jesus, I thought, is someone getting high in the bathroom? Then I realized, it was the teenage kid next to me: the pot stench was coming off him in waves! Obviously, he was getting high daily, probably multiple times a day, and the smell had simply absorbed in to his clothes and hair … maybe even his skin?
The third was last week at work. Let that sink in. High-powered Manhattan office. We’re not as officious as in the near past, what with the advent of corporate casual, but it’s a pretty uptight environment. I walk into the men’s room mid-morning …. BAM! That overpowering odor. I longed for the usual smell of shit in its place? I’m used to stumbling onto the remnants of bad behavior in the men’s room – somebody shit on the floor last month, somehow, you tell me, as I didn’t see any dogs, bears or monkeys in sailor outfits in there previously. But the skunk weed smell was the last odor I expected. No one was in there. We had a bunch of guys in the office that day, outside vendors, doing various construction projects. Thus I’m assuming one of those guys went into a stall at some point in the morning and got high or, just as likely with the gym experience, the guy gets high so much he exudes that earthy skunk weed musk 24/7.
I make that connection with construction/blue collar and skunk weed because with the streets of Manhattan, as noted, while I smell skunk weed all the time on the street, I rarely see anyone nearby smoking. How is this? And I’m not talking a brief whiff. I’ll be walking 25-50 feet and find myself navigating through that odor for a good half minute. This is midtown Manhattan: office buildings, banks, drug stores, Fedex, restaurants, retail stores.
My only explanation is the cars on the street, in particular the vans noting various construction companies on their sides (plumbing, air conditioning, carpentry, etc.). I’m assuming guys are getting high in the vans. There’s one spot on 36th Street, just north of Macy’s between Broadway and 7th Avenue, where that smell lasts almost the whole block! The one constant I see is either these vans on the street or actual construction workers in their hard hats working on a seemingly endless project, who tend not to be the solid wall of braying, short-haired, working-class white guys of yore but more a melting pot of younger black, hispanic and white guys. And I’m guessing instead of hitting the local Blarney Stone for a burger and a beer, they’re simply getting high at lunch.
Also, regarding cars: I’ll often get the skunk-weed smell while walking home over the 59th Street Bridge, something I do most Fridays during daylight savings time. Not fellow pedestrians doing this. Not even the assholes of the universe, bicyclists. It’s coming from passing cars on the bridge. People are getting baked while driving in rush-hour traffic in Manhattan … in case you already weren’t freaked out enough by the debauchery of NYC drivers! Unlike the Simon & Garfunkel song, I am not left “feeling groovy.”
Am I wrong to be offended by all this? Of course not, and I’m not asking your average person who would obviously agree with me. I’m more so asking people who get high on a regular basis. Are you cool with this? Do you get high in public? Around children? Openly on the street during work hours? While driving? I can see getting high in a club parking lot late at night. Or something like Mardi Gras or an outdoor concert. Certain places in public make sense. But just as I don’t normally see people stumbling around drunk on the streets of the city during my work day, I can’t quite grasp how this is somehow acceptable with marijuana instead? If smoking skunk weed in your apartment, fine. But you should understand, people passing by on the street can smell a patch of skunk weed on the sidewalk in front of your apartment, like passing a house with a faulty sewage system. Imagine living a floor above or below, or next door to this dude (always assume it must be a dude to be this far into weed), especially with young kids, and having that choice made for you.
Is this acceptable, or common knowledge that I’ve somehow missed? I’m more than willing to cop to that as I’ve divorced myself from so much of popular culture, but I haven’t been reading anything in print or on the web that recognizes this daily ritual for the past 2-3 years. No public outcry, no pleas for legislation to address the issue. I guess that’s why I write some pieces, because I’m a bit flummoxed that I’m not parroting some clichéd, obvious story about stoners blatantly getting high in public circa 2017. It’s only happening in New York? I strongly doubt it (especially in Colorado)! I’m surely not getting a “Viva La Revolution” vibe from all this either; it’s more a “suck my balls, bro” vibe from people who no longer seem to care about much of anything.