I knew as soon as I popped the candy into my mouth that something was wrong.
Football Mom and Urban Cowboy’s eyes bugged out at me in surprise and I realized that I had somehow committed a serious airplane faux pas.
True, I hadn’t really been listening to their spirited conversation for the past few minutes. I nodded occasionally when they included me, but the pilot had announced his intention to land our plane soonish and I very much wanted to finish reading my book before touch down. When I saw the look on both of their faces, I decided I had better listen with greater attention to see if I could discern what candy-related social gaffe I had just made.
The flight from Phoenix back to Minneapolis started out pleasantly enough. I sat in the aisle seat and the woman in the middle seat gushed her eagerness to watch her son play college football for St. Cloud the next day, earning her the plane name Football Mom. She was proud of her son and decided to show her support by flying in for his first home game. I liked her. Before take off, she announced her intention to sleep most of the flight, which meant I felt more talkative, knowing I wouldn’t have to sustain conversation the entire time.
The guy at the window leaned into our conversation a few times and said, “Yup.” He wore a country-style shirt unbuttoned enough to see chest hair, which earned him the plane name Urban Cowboy.
The plane took off.
Urban Cowboy stared out the window.
Toward the end of the flight she awoke and about that time I suddenly smelled something suspicious. Marijuana. I smelled it strong. Could someone really be smoking weed on a packed-to-capacity airplane? Couldn’t you get arrested for that? I wondered if the air marshal would make a dramatic bust in front of all of us.
I sniffed the air.
Football Mom watched me wrinkle my nose a few times and sniff like a bloodhound before saying, “What? What’s going on?”
I said, “Nothing. I thought I smelled something.”
I went back to reading.
She kept needling me, saying, “What did you think you smelled? Do you still smell it?”
The marijuana smell overcame me again and so I said, “There! Can you smell that? Do you smell weed?”
She inhaled deeply as if the flight attendant just delivered homemade butternut squash soup to her fold-down tray, which caught the attention of Urban Cowboy. He said, “What’s going on? What are you guys doing?”
Football Mom said, “This guy smells marijuana.”
Urban Cowboy joined our sniffing contest and honestly, the three of us looked like freaks huffing stale airplane air. I’m surprised the people in Row 35 didn’t turn around to yell at us to knock it the hell off.
Urban Cowboy said, “Where’d he smell it? From the front?”
I wasn’t sure what I smelled, a whiff of something long gone at this point, so I downplayed that I smelled anything.
Football Mom said, “Do you know what pot smells like?”
I hesitated. When someone asks me about my familiarity with recreational drugs, I try to avoid answering that question directly and say something vague like, “I went to college in the 80′s” and leave it at that. I may want to run for Senate someday and I’d like to keep my deniability options.
While, yes, I have inhaled, I have never done any drugs harder than that. But I did live in San Francisco for four months and whether you smoke pot or not, merely being in that city is a crash course in all things related to mary jane: the surprising public places you get away with smoking and household items you can turn into bongs. I once saw a Diet Pepsi can transformed into an effective delivery mechanism with seven punctures. San Franciscans’ ingenuity amazed me. So, yeah, I know the smell of pot.
(Also, I went to college in the 80′s.)
Football Mom was from California and she confessed that she too would recognize marijuana’s distinct odor but she didn’t smell it at that moment. Urban Cowboy chimed in with “Hells yeah, I’d know it” and he did not shy from this direction of this conversation. The two of them began discussing where to find pot, which turned into how to grow pot, and then the maximum quantity of pot you could grow without police detection.
I lost interest.
I wanted to finish my book.
They kept chatting, including me occasionally. I would look up and nod or say, “Yeah, that sounds about right” and go back to reading.
When the captain announced our imminent landing, I pulled out spearmint gum from my camo pants’ side pocket and offered them both something chewable to pop their ears on the way down. They each took a piece and thanked me.
Football Mom dug around in her purse and offered us each a piece of hard candy. She said, “It’s homemade. My friend made it.”
I liked this, this 30,000 foot high gift exchange. We’ll never see each other again. We never exchanged names. But we gave each other little tokens to say, “I enjoyed this time with you.”
The candy was cute, butterscotch-colored, and shaped like a heart. I unwrapped it and popped it into my mouth.
Then, the shocked looks.
So I started listening to their ongoing conversation.
They were still talking about marijuana. Almost fifteen or twenty minutes had passed since our Row 36 sniffing contest, and I had tuned out most of it. But they were still eagerly discussing marijuana and Football Mom was showing off her California medicinal purpose card.
The candy dissolved on my tongue quickly. It was sweet. Tangy. Almost a hint of herb.
I interrupted their quiet, intense conversation to ask in a hushed tone, “Excuse me, but was this candy laced with marijuana?”
(Who even says, ‘laced with marijuana?’ That’s language from a 1950′s film strip meant to scare sixth-graders.)
Football Mom looked at me with big eyes and said, “Yes. It was.”
I said, “Oh.”
I didn’t know what to say. The candy had already dissolved on my tongue.
We were all quiet for a moment.
I said, “Am I about to get really high?”
With equal solemnity, she said, “Yes. You are.”
I nodded and faced the front. We still had another fifteen minutes or so to fly (pilots make that landing announcement roughly twenty to twenty-five minutes before touch down). I was about to be balls-out stoned in a flying metal box full of people.
I turned to her and said, “I guess you’re not the air marshal on this flight, huh?”
With a smirk, she said, “I guess you’re not either.”
On the plus side, I now understood why their eyes popped open wide. When she gave me her special candy, she had no expectation I would instantly pop it into my mouth. Who knows — she may have even said, “Don’t eat this until you’re at home,” or some other implied warning a few minutes earlier to which I absently replied, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” I probably should have been listening with greater attention to the conversation.
But who gives pot candy to a stranger on an airplane? Hell, who brings pot candy on an airplane? I didn’t even know you could, I dunno, ‘candy it up.’ I thought you could only bake it into cookies and brownies.
Like guilty teenagers, Urban Cowboy and Football Mom ditched me as soon as we disembarked, and it was probably the smart thing to do. I was already acting weird. I walked by every TSA agent thinking to myself, ‘Stay cool. Stay cool. Don’t do anything stupid.’ For me, these thoughts are generally the precursor to my doing something unbelievably stupid. I don’t need marijuana to make a suspicious idiot of myself. I do that quite well on my own, thank you.
At one point, I ordered myself not to sweat.
I held my shit together until baggage claim, when I started giggling. I mean, c’mon. All those same-looking black bags spin around the silver, serpentine circle like black, stuffed sausages riding a carnival snake’s back. Everyone stared at the show with exhausted eyes, blearily watching those same rotating bags spin around and around, as if reluctant to pick a sausage and go home…it was all so ridiculous.
So I started laughing.
Yup. I was baked.
Took a cab home, of course, and managed to give my cab driver the right address. I stayed conspicuously quiet, admiring the trees and pretty, pretty lights flashing by.
Out of habit, I called Mom when I got home right away. She likes to know the plane did not crash. As we chatted, she told an anecdote from her experience at the hairdresser earlier in the week and the story made me cry. Weeping over her hairdresser story made me realize I should probably not be on the phone with my mom while I was baked out of my gourd, so I excused myself, promising to call her the next day. I decided to go sit on the back porch under my gazebo and study the twinkling lights.
So pretty. So very pretty.
I imagine there are several morals you can draw from this tale, including the obvious ‘don’t take candy from a stranger,’ an adage usually reserved for 10-year-olds and not 45-year-old men. Meh. Too obvious. Perhaps one might say, “Listen to the conversations you’re involved in,” and that’s a good one, I guess.
I think my take-away here is to always take breath mints to baggage claim because you never know when you’re going to feel the overwhelming urge to hug strangers and say, “Is it me or does the luggage carousel look a silver snake carrying rotating sausages?”