Center of the Universe (55)
Reefer Madness 2018
I was tempted to kneel, but wondered too long if it would be funny, if it would be taken the right way, taken that I was against jingoism, for the NFL protesters, for dissent, iconoclasm, culture-that-is-counter and other values that, coincidentally, made a small, strange town like Fairfax feel like home when we stumbled on it 34 years ago. Instead, I scribbled in the notebook on my knee with a theatrical intensity meant to signal I had an excuse for staying seated. First thing I scribbled was:
“Pledge of Allegiance? Under God???”
It’s Chipper Days in Fairfax. But that doesn’t mean everyone at the town council meeting is cheerful. The first Chipper Day had a few glitches — the dumpsters were full by 10, and the crew had to scramble to find more and then find the mayor to get approval. Also, the minute you do a Chipper Day — the minute you do anything, really — there is some constituency that feels left out or let down or gypped. So the council voted to roll the chipping machine over to Manor Road to get rid of their dead trees and branches and hurty feelings. But considering the success of Chipper Day on Cascade, it seemed a wise disbursal of the town’s fire preparedness funds, the council agreed. And after the vote, all was chipper again on the dais. Down at the podium in the audience, an old man who’d been on the chipper committee in the Cascade neighborhood was moved to share how great their day had been, offering profuse thanks to the committee, the chipper operator and, of course, the council. He was certainly chipper.
Who was not chipper was another old man, who dragged his chair next to the podium to make sure he was first when the official public comment section started. “Twice in the last week,” he said with understandable indignation, “I’ve almost been hit by bicycles down by Picaroto Cleaners.” Not just him, he elaborated, but him and his little dog. A week earlier they’d almost been hit over by Landsdale Station (which is actually in San Anselmo, beyond this body’s jurisdiction). “No one stops at stop signs anymore!” he lamented. And when that didn’t get a rise, he added that this week’s near-tragedies took place when he was en route to visit a fellow who’d been paralyzed in an accident (though not a bike accident), whereupon he devoted the remainder of his allotted three minutes to a heartfelt exhortation to “visit the homebound.”
But there were issues more important than killing, maiming and anarchy on the public’s agenda. For one thing, there was music.
There were plenty of other places to sit when they insisted on parking themselves in front of me, partly blocking my view and fully invading my leg-stretching space. I assumed the hippie couple was stoned and there for the main event — “hippie-yoga couple” is actually how I described them to Roni, trying to suggest the tidiness of their vegetable-dyed habiliments and hauteur of their aura. When the petite partner, in batik top and cotton wrap-skirt, stated, avec French accent, her name and address, I learned they live on Dominga.
“Oh, yeah,” said Roni, memory jarred by the accent. “Down by the Garage Mahal.” (Which is another story of petty perfidy for another time.)
But it wasn’t pot that had got this pair inflamed. It was pot’s frequent affiliate, “amplified music.” Her particular beef (or beef-substitute, as the case may be) was the sonic onslaught from the farmers market that is convened every summer Wednesday on the half-acre that passes for a village green, directly across from Sorellas. And it wasn’t about hearing it a block away at their house, but right there at the market.
“A guy was playing the digeridoo,” she said impassively, referring to notes. “Ordinarily that is an instrument I like. But he was terrible! I was trying to talk to a friend, and it was painful.” Finishing up with an economic zinger she may have imagined went straight to the heart of a bourgeois council, she leaned close to the microphone and admonished: “Not good for shopping...”
Her husband, by contrast, blew his tie-dyed stack. Tall, skinny, with an exquisitely curried gray mane to his nipples and groomed David-Axelrod mustache to his canines, he wasn’t here to talk about farmers. He was here to talk about apostates.
“I demand you resign!” he said to the council.
“You’re yelling,” said the mayor.
“I haven’t begun to yell! This is an emergency!”
The emergency, once more, was music. But not the digideroo from the market. The good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll from Peri’s bar — under assault from buzz-killing neighbors for years, perhaps forever, perhaps as good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll must always be. But in a town where half the population is, or was, musicians and roadies, where Van Morrison and Phil Lesh and John Doe once pitched their tents, where Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes and Dave Getz of Big Brother and the Holding Company tent currently and Jerry played all the time, where, to paraphrase the Starship — at least one of whom lived just over the San Anselmo line, a stone’s throw from the aforementioned Landsdale Station — we built this town on rock ‘n’ roll, you simply have to ask: wtf?
The council, it seems, had voted unanimously in favor of Peri’s appeal of its music permit revocation. And apparently Mr. Pantene had slipped out back with a decibel meter.
“That is 1,600% greater volume than allowed in the Fairfax Master Plan. Sixteen-hundred percent!”
The mayor — Peter, a harmonica player of stellar gifts who sometimes jams in the back room with Wendy and a pol of admirable temperament and murky ideology — gently informed his incensed constituent the council had to move on. And after one unconvincing feint at standing his ground, luxuriant gray head held high, batik bride in tow, the John Brown of Turn-It-Down (who, of course, research reveals, is himself a musician) high-stepped out the door.
A council member made the stoney announcement that “There are goats running around Fairfax.” Which caught a few of us by surprise. I imagined it as a warning, even a call-to-arms, urging able-bodied citizens to stand up to the marauding herds. Turned out the goats were hired to munch weeds* (*not weed) on our sere summer hillsides — another fire-prevention initiative from those wonderful folks who brought you Chipper Days. It was really just an FYI.
Another jolly FYI from the council: “On September 6th, we’re having a celebration of people in our community over 90.” Which oughta be a scorcher.
And then there was the lady — perhaps from an unpublished Samuel Beckett manuscript — who stepped up with a quiet, earnest complaint about the town’s complaint form.
I thought we must finally be into the meat of the thing when Lew Tremaine, target of a too-slick-for-Fairfax poster campaign recently sprouted around town, slid up to the podium to reveal his group had placed a measure on the ballot to get local legalization off the dime, a hurry-up initiative that makes sense of the opposition slogan: “Slow Down, Lew.” And as Lew and his youthful posse pivoted to slide out the door, demonstrably uninterested in tonight’s performance of bureaucratic delay, Lynette Shaw, proprietor of one of the first cannabis dispensaries in the nation, stepped to the mic to confess she doesn’t always agree with Lew — thereby establishing scientific dispassion — but in this case — a case, it has been pointed out, that would leave Lynette Shaw with a legislated monopoly in Fairfax — she does.
But all that was merely a cruel teaser.
Before we got to the weed wars, there was still a town budget to approve, a feature presentation from a county representative about the program to make ours the primo carbon-free county in the country, a plug for the Environmental Forum’s Master Class (“field trips to die for”), an update from the Fairfax Council on Aging about getting older people more engaged, along with one more expression of gratitude for Chipper Days that suggested some older people might not need the encouragement. It was a dense two hours into the festivities, when, with the Women’s Club now full — and, on a mid-July evening, hotter than a hash pipe — Mayor Peter finally made his solemn proclamation: “It’s my job to maintain order. We agree to not use profane language or deride members of the council or staff. The goal for the evening: a high-level policy discussion that doesn’t get lost in the weeds.”
I studied him for signs of comic intent. I don’t gather that, ordinarily, Peter has a whole lot of it. Driven by my own compulsive comic intent, I was tempted to inquire if His Honor was joking. But, again, continued scribbling. After all, it was time for the main event.
Once again, even when it comes to weed, I’m happy to say, life defied cliché. I looked around and saw old longhairs, young longhairs and a conspiratorial knot of teenagers and assumed one thing. But as each of my cartoons stepped to the podium, he or she quickly proved me wrong, in every respect.
For one thing, the first commenter, one of the teens, was from San Rafael, not Fairfax. For another, the second commenter was from Larkspur. The third, from Mill Valley. In fact, most of the ten or twelve young, old and in-between peeps who stepped up were from out of town — that is, out of the jurisdiction — and one was from Santa Rosa, more than an hour north and out of the county. More curious, none of them — not the teens, who if they’re anything like my kids should’ve been gathered round the bong in their bedrooms, what with mom and dad at an out-of-town meeting; not the moms and dads who should’ve been happy, after the kids had finally crashed, to fire up a bowl of middle-aged nostalgia that might also be a spur to middle-aged love; not even the tightly-wound dude who wore his center-parted hair, now white, to the middle of his shoulder-blades, as he had since the heyday of the Airplane and Dead, nor the 16-year-old with the goth haircut who turned out to be his son — not a one was here to stand up for weed. No, mostly they were here to Just Say No.
They were OK — reluctantly, for the most part — with medical, calling it out for the scam it often is/was. And OK — reluctantly — with delivery-only — as long as there wasn’t a 15-year-old on the receiving end. But generally they concurred that marijuana was a “gateway” to the dark path, and, to what seemed to be boilerplate about how retail pot in Fairfax would send the wrong message to the kids, each speaker added a single trenchant detail. One speaker covered increased crime, another traffic, another the prevalence of fake IDs. The goth kid got in touch with his inner copywriter and dispatched this grabby opener: “Corporate marijuana is out for the brains of young people.” Another commenter astutely picked up on the budget discussion (which revealed another surplus) saying “Clearly, we don’t need the tax revenues.” Two commenters used the tragic example of Cotati, where there were not one, but two, pot shops, and where, on a recent visit to the home of the Cotati Accordion Festival, I failed to find iniquity or crime, let alone tragedy, anywhere. In any case, the tone of deep, neighborly concern — never hysteria — was so uniform, so measured, so seemingly reasonable, and their arguments meshed so seamlessly, it was almost as if they’d planned it. In the end, there was only one thing a sound-minded, right-thinking bystander could conclude from their argument:
Slow down, Lew.
Going in, I was sure — in my provincial Fairfax way — that the conclave was going to be full of enthusiastic stoners — the 70% of survey respondents who’d told the council they were all in favor. Instead, I smelled a skunk.
Seeing me scribbling, one go-slow advocate sidled over. He was well-groomed. He was fit. He was stylish — but not too — in a jocky way. He was calm, focused and carried himself — even in a squat — with the muscular self-assurance of a senior executive accustomed to annihilating his quarterly KPIs. He introduced himself as Matt.
“If you’re writing this for the press,” he said in a stage-whisper that made it hard to hear the proceedings, “Linda over there” — he indicated a well-groomed, fit, stylish (but not too) blond — “would be a great interview.”
As the discussion returned to the dais, where council members blathered on, demonstrating their compassion, confusion and inexhaustible capacity for blather, I was happy it never came to that. I was happy the go-slow groups filed out before the council voted to look into it a little more and, effectively, go slow (though Peter pointed out the members had committed to a plan by October), filed out before I filed out and Matt and Linda could ambush me outside. Mostly, I was happy they were from out of town. Happy that these perfectly decent, genial, God-fearing people, these good parents, good citizens, good taxpayers, regular volunteers, sporty, clean-living, civic-minded, well-organized, allegiance-pledging folks were from elsewhere. I’d hate to think my small, strange town had come to this.