High Maintenance is the voice of a weed-smoking generation, putting the stories of people before the plant.
Photograph by Blankenhorn / HBO
Look, I’ve never been a weed dealer. I’ve been that person people text late at night to find out where to find the weed dealer. I’ve been called out by complete strangers while sober that they know I know where to find weed. But I’ve never been a weed dealer.
Now plenty of you are probably reading this, like I am writing it, from the comfort of a medical or recreational state or country. Maybe you haven’t seen a weed dealer in a year, maybe you haven’t seen one ever. I’m the former, having originated from the wild world of the New York Metro Area Suburbs and ending up here, in the bustling, smog-covered desert of Los Angeles. Relative to how frequently I used to see them, I haven’t seen a proper pot dealer in ages. I just head over to the fluorescent dispensary to get a casual 5g of Sour Diesel from a budtender, a different one every time. I miss the admittedly minute relationship you can develop with someone who sells you weed: you end up talking every week or two and giving them a glass of water, and slowly elements of your lives—your frustrations about work, the girlfriend who stays over with you and is casually watching television by the bong—end up leaking out into the conversation and the experience until you somehow, sort of, know one another a little.
Eventually, you find that person who helps you out in a tight situation. You find that nice person who will stay and smoke with you when you could use the company. That person is your Guy. In HBO’s High Maintenance, he’s the Guy.
It’s natural to wonder if the translation from 6-minute web series episode to television show can really go smoothly. But the Guy helps to string together the web series’ intricate, emotion-led vignettes into full storylines peppered with stoner appeal. (Like an episode filmed from the perspective of a monster of a dog who finds some deal of sentience through falling in love with his walker.) Small moments are bursting with Northeast nostalgia, like when a teenager (Shazi Raja) smokes and basks on the roof of a New York apartment building. A trippy soundtrack tacked onto the show is enough to make me deeply miss my time there with as much of an ache as any good ‘70s New York film.
But this was all from my perspective, not a dealer’s, and I wondered if the show rang as true for someone who had actually sold pot. There’s a scene in the fifth episode of the show where the Guy gets interviewed by a young NYU journalist. I decided to take the hint and hope that my experience went better than hers.
When I called my Guy, Orlando, he was leaving a Del Taco. I asked him about his thoughts on High Maintenance he said that he too enjoyed the show but as a West Coast dealer one felt that one element of it was off.
“The thing that High Maintenance gets wrong is this whole idea that you sell to a bunch of different people. You sell to the people you know, and the people who you know-know. And those are the same people. There’s none of this, ‘One minute I’m selling to a DJ in the production studio and the next day I’m selling to a family at Passover dinner, that ain’t real life.”
The shenanigans of the show, Orlando said, reminded him of his own experiences. Orlando had a partner who’d been robbed at gunpoint over an ounce, just like the Guy was. In Orlando’s case, most of the shenanigans came from his experiences behind the scenes. Orlando tells me about how,
“The first time we finished a grow and trimmed it together and cured it all we ended up with this giant trash bag full of trim. And we were like, you know, we don’t really wanna make hash because it’s fuckin’ explosive and scary, not trying to blow my hand off. But I wanna do something, how do we make money off of it? [We added popcorn nugs] and then ground it all up and rolled it into blunts. And we spent three days hand-rolling dozens and dozens of blunts. And then, that weekend, we went to all of the frat parties down on like Frat Row on the college campus and went from party to party selling blunts for $10. […] I turned like $100 of schwag and blunt wraps into—I think it ended up being close to $1,000 worth of blunts that we sold. We sold them for like $10 or $15 a pop and people were happy to buy them. They loved it.”
So sure, High Maintenance misses out the nonsense of the back end of being a dealer, but seeing the sales side, Orlando says, shows the universality of weed smoking. It conveys a positive, pro-pot message, and while it might not necessarily reflect the reality of dealing it shows that stoners come from all walks of life.