By Tom Huth, a former Washington Post reporter and the author of the memoir Forty Years Stoned: A Journalist’s Romance, to be published on 4/20 by Heliotrope Books.
Where can a guy buy a little weed in Puerto Vallarta?
I ask the cabbie who drives me in from the airport. My Spanish is so bad, it takes half of the ride to come up with: “Conoce donde comprar un poco marijuana?”
He laughs and makes dainty gestures with his fingers to suggest beach boys wearing earrings and bracelets.
When I check into my Old Town hotel, I ask the young man behind the desk. He allows that he has a friend who might be able to help me. He tells me not to smoke in my room and points instead to the roof, three stories up.
That evening I inquire of a bartender. He, too, has a friend. We settle on $20 for a week’s worth. Ten minutes later, it’s $30. And where is his amigo? Not here yet.
“Another margarita?” he asks.
I shake my head. “La quenta, por favor.”
There are worse calamities than going without dope for one week. It won’t give me the shakes or the sweats or terror attacks. Still, as I stroll the beachfront Malecon with the other turistas, I feel a vague incompleteness. I’m not as fully alert or fascinated by my surroundings as I’m accustomed to being. Plus, I’m distracted by my quest: looking for prospective dealers and wondering if they’re cops who’d toss me in jail for twenty years.
The next morning, walking the surfline, I come upon a parasailing crew and remember an online post about someone who scored from them. I watch as they strap fat white people into parachute harnesses. How easy it would be for a rope to get tangled around the thrill-seeker’s arm at just the wrong time and rip it off at the shoulder. The speedboat pulls away from the shore, the tow line draws taut, and in one electrifying moment the gringo is yanked from the earth with a terrified scream.
The handlers start preparing for their next victim, and I fix upon one of the crew, an older dude with long gray hair. He looks like a wise man. A narc wouldn’t go to the trouble of posing as an aging parasail jockey, would he? I approach him and pop the question.
He comes back: “How much you want?”
“Un poco. Por una semana solamente.”
I keep wanting to honor the locals by speaking their tongue. They prefer to use the one language I understand.
“Twenty?” he asks.
He asks me to come back in half an hour.
When I do, he scoops up a giant bag of tortilla chips and walks over through the sand. He holds up the bag to screen what we’re doing from the eyes of his customers. Then he slips me a generous wad sealed in plastic wrap.
I duck behind the tortilla chips to sniff the packet. I have to report to the wise man: “I don’t smell anything.”
I duck down again. “Not stinky,” I insist.
“Look,” he levels, “do you want it or not?”
Without further fuss, I reach into my pocket.
What’s twenty bucks? What’s twenty years?
He points to my purchase: “Rolling papers in there.”
I walk to my hotel room and sit on the bed and pick the flowers off the stems. They’re promisingly sticky. I take out the seeds. Then I roll a jay, confident that this is the real deal. The placebo effect: If you expect you’re going to get high, you’re already halfway there.
I climb the steps to the roof. Nothing up here but ventways and ducts and mechanical apparatus. Signs shout: “PELIGRO! PRECAUTION! PROHIBIDO! NO AUTORIZADO! ALTO VOLTAJE! FLAMABLE! NO FUMAR!”
I flick the lighter and inhale and gaze out upon the myriad rooftops of unfinished buildings, upon the cement-block walls and protruding rebar of unfulfilled dreams.
I exhale and let go of any stresses I’ve put myself through to reach this place of keener awareness.
I inhale and feel a rush of affection for Mexico: the bright colors and effluvious odors, the cock-a-doodle-doos, the music, the sleeping dogs, the vendors, the warm faces.
I exhale and feel the breath of the tropics against my leathered skin and exult in being here, in being alive.
Now I am complete. The wise man did not let me down.
I smoke a third of the joint and stub it out and drop the roach in my shirt pocket for later consultation. Then I venture out again to walk the Malecon, bristling with that illusion of perfect well-being.
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