I can say with absolute honesty that I have never rolled, smelled, or smoked a joint. No weed, not ever, as I approach my late forties. I have, however, gotten a contact high on at least a dozen occasions, over the past thirty years. Heck, I’ve probably been high a few times off of burnt oregano and gasoline fumes, as infrequently as I’ve exposed myself to endorphin catalysts in my life.
My first contact high happened in the vestibule of 616 East Lincoln Avenue, on the night of my senior prom, the third Thursday in May ’87. As with all things in my life at seventeen, this was unexpected, uncomfortable, and underappreciated on my part. I had just called to find out when the limousine was coming to pick me up before swinging across town to pick up the other four people with whom I was to ride. I had done myself up as well as my sinewy bean-pole ass could. With my father’s funds, I rented a well-fitting tux with a white shirt and peach cummerbund. I’d bought my friendly date Dara a white carnation, matching the once pinned on my tux jacket. My idiot stepfather tied my peach bow-tie. Unusual for me, I lotioned myself from head to toe, greased my hair down, and otherwise made sure I smelled as clean as a Carolina pine forest. Not that I usually smelled bad, but I couldn’t look like a po’ boy tonight.
It was almost 6:30 pm before I walked downstairs to wait for the limo. Right on the steps leading into the vestibule were my C-building neighbors and two guys I didn’t recognize. They were all smoking joints, and the smoke had filled a good portion of the semi-enclosed lobby leading to the front doors. My elementary school classmate Valerie was in this group, across the lap of one of the unknown young men, all as he felt up Valerie’s ass like it was his own. Part of her thong underwear was visible, as Valerie’s boyfriend gave one of her butt cheeks a good slap while she giggled. Her brother Ernie was also there, fully blazed up, apparently without a care in the world. I don’t think he went by Ernie by ’87, though. He was a low-level drug dealer at this point, and had bulked up a bit over the previous couple of years, to protect himself in his line of work, I guessed.
Ernie asked me if I wanted a puff. I said, “Naw, man, I’m fine.” Him and his sister and crew just laughed like I told the funniest joke. But I knew why they were laughing. In the half-minute or so of standing around waiting for the limo, I was already high. So much so that I didn’t sound like the proper English-speaking teen I often was in public. I sounded like one of them, in slow motion even to me. A full hydro hit would’ve left me ready to do anything else other than go to the prom.
The limo arrived, and not a moment too soon. Even though I’d been in the lobby and vestibule less than two minutes, even I could smell that the weed was a bit stronger than my deodorant, lotion, and cologne combined. The one guy already in the limo with me asked if I was “okay.” I knew what he meant. “I just have a contact high, that’s all,” I responded.
I would’ve hated to admit this thirty years ago, but I needed to be a little high and a little more relaxed, and not just that prom night. It actually helped to be under the influence, even though the contact high only lasted for thirty or forty minutes. By that time, I had noticed that the non-alcoholic drinks in the back of our limo were alcoholic. My date and a couple of the guys, after they became little buzzed, asked me how I knew. I said, maybe for the first time in public, that, “I know from experience. My father’s an alcoholic.”
In between, me, my date Dara, classmates Allison and Gina, and two MVHS upperclassmen now in college, went to White Plains for the prom dinner and dance, then to Midtown for Copacabana on West 34th, and somewhere around 2 am, for the White Castle on Fordham Road in the Bronx. I didn’t get home until 3 am.
I went to the prom mostly because I didn’t want to look back at my time in high school years later and feel regret about not attending. But the fact is, other than a feigned attempt at social protest during the prom dinner, there was little particularly memorable about the event. Not the rubber chicken or overcooked salmon. Not the music or the overextended small talk. Nor should I have gone on a friendly date to the prom. I should’ve either found someone I did like to go out with, and months earlier, gone in solo, or not gone at all.
But really, the main event for me prom night occurred in the two minutes before I walked out to get into the limo. I didn’t want to smoke weed, feel up a one-time classmate, or risk years of imprisonment in New York State. But even in the midst of a living hell, sometimes it’s best to relax a little. I have five 616 folks to thank for that reminder.