the fear



Part One: "I went looking for stoners and all I got was this lousy cough"

by Rev. Sean M. Breen
South Coloradan Online Editor

Part One, Scene One: Where the Mild Things Are.

    When I walked in the front door of Alamosa Mercantile, the first thing that struck me was the décor: for a self-professed "antique shop" there were certainly a lot of rock posters strewn about. Well, maybe the Dead fit the bill, but Jerry still lives in this small town in the backwaters of Colorado. Even the buildings retain a sense that, as the rest of the planet moves into the Information Age, Alamosa has remained right at the beginning of the whole "Tune In, Turn Off, Drop Out" movement.

     Which brings me to the bongs. But we don't call them bongs in Alamosa Mercantile. Nope, they're "water pipes," used for and by tobacco smokers, I'm informed.

    "Well, they sure as hell look like bongs," I say, looking back at the display cases.

     The clerk jumps about a foot and a half straight up when I say this. I suspect that he thinks I'm a narc looking to make a possession with intent bust. He lectures me for two straight minutes. No, the bongs aren't bongs, they're for tobacco smoking, not marijuana at all, don't be silly, and please don't say anything like that again inside the store, thankyouverymuch.

     After the clerk finishes his short yet impassioned speech, I just shrug and go back to my browsing through the touristy knickknacks, muttering "I wonder who they think they're fooling," under my breath.

      It all started a few days before. I had been relaxing in my slightly rundown digs at Savage, doing a little work on the computer, when that trustworthy digital lackey flashed an email on the screen. The Big Boss Man himself wanted me to investigate marijuana use on campus, as much time, money and effort to be invested as possible. I have to admit the idea intrigued me; after all, everybody talks about stoners on campus, but nobody had ever done anything about it.

     This was going to be a very interesting assignment.

     So, I went to work, attacking the subject with the same sort of enthusiasm that I use for all the important things in life. Digging through the place where old newspapers go to die, I found that pot busts kept Public Safety busy, at the very least; over the last year, our intrepid quasi-police made busts for marijuana violations at least once every other week. Obviously, to keep the cops that busy there just had to be a thriving drug culture on campus, but where the hell were they?

    Thus began the Quest for the Holy Stoners. To find them, I did what I do best: listen to other people's conversations. It truly is amazing what you can learn about a society just by staying unobtrusive and having a notepad ready. I figure that I've learned more about the social and sexual lives of the average ASC students than any other person currently on this campus. However, this knowledge came at a terrible price -- I just wanted to hear stuff about pot, I never wanted to know the rest of this shit! Too much information, indeed.

     The rumors flew fast and furious. The shit came from Crestone, the best shit came from Denver or Albuquerque via Crestone, only an idiot buys grass from Mexico, there was wild pot growing all over campus, and so on. But, no matter where I went, the stoners themselves remained elusive. I could hardly blame them -- after all, their favorite pastime was considered illegal by the "civilized" world.

     While I was listening to other people talk about their problems in broad daylight, I checked my notes. Something had been bothering me since I visited the news graveyard. After a little review, I found it: For some reason, when the Junior G-Men made busts, the penalties seemed a bit... variable. While most of the poor schmucks that Public Safety caught (and reported) were never mentioned again, once in a blue moon the top cop Jim Lanier would call in the townies and the DA. It didn't seem to make sense, and I don't like things that don't make sense.

     To some degree, it would seem I had found out where the hardcore users had gone -- Lanier had them all arrested, probably on some selling charge, and now the missing stoners were all doing hard time in Canon City.

     And better yet, the rumor mill had been spinning around some interesting tales about Financial Aid. Rumors that involved people getting caught for drug violations, and then losing their scholarships or loans even if they got off the hook.

     Still, I had to find the Truth, grab it by the throat to keep it if need be. I was resolved. While I searched for the stoners, I would journey to the lairs of the pot smoker's natural enemies, to see what I could see.

     I was going to have a chat with the Man.

Part One, Scene Two: Sean in Richardson-Land

     The problem with having a chat with the Man is twofold. First of all, the Man rarely likes to open up to journalist-types, especially guys like me that look like they just got off the bus from Woodstock. The second, and more pressing, problem is that the Man is a busy Man, and often cannot make time for people like myself.

     So it was to my utmost surprise that Frank Sanchez, our brand-new head honcho, actually deigned to speak with me. I suppose it was because he was new and didn't know about me, or maybe the outgoing guy forgot to give him my dossier.

      No matter. For whatever twisted reason, he was going to talk with me, so I had to be ready. I gathered up my notebook, a pencil, jotted down some questions, and headed off to Richardson.

      Ah, Richardson Hall, that wonderful bastion of rigidity in a sea of chaos. Every time I pass through the front doors on one damn errand or another, I always wonder why the original builders didn't carve "abandon all hope, ye who enter here" on the front. They probably did, actually, but some long-ago President had it removed.

      Anyway, back to the present. Moving through the bureaucratic warrens, I actually bump into Sanchez on the way to his office. He's moving busily through Richardson, on some Important Errand or another. Sanchez fits the profile of the classic upwardly mobile administrator: young, clean-shaven, suit neat and tidy, hair combed neatly, earnest expression on his face. Oddly enough, I'm taller than him. I wondered how he'd react to talking with a long-haired, bearded freak like me.

      The wait in his office wasn't too long, just a few minutes. Sanchez finally reappears from his Important Errand, and welcomes me into his office.

     "Care for a Pepsi?" he asks, acting the role of the polite host. I decline; I was already running mostly on caffeine and nerves by that point, and I really didn't want to go too far over the edge.

     Acting a little twitchy, I jump straight into the subject. I give him my pat spiel about the story, not mentioning the little fact that it wasn't quite a "straight" news story.

     As a source of information, Sanchez was downright disappointing. Part of the whole "new kid on the street" thing, naturally. He didn't have any facts about student lifestyles, and said that he "needed to gather more data" before he could make any judgements.

     Sanchez then takes some time out to show me survey data. Lots and lots of survey data. The data shows, and Sanchez takes pains to point it out, that the "millennial student," as he calls it, is more interested in volunteer work or other activities than drugs. He points out results of surveys taken of middle-schoolers where they say that their parents are their biggest role-models.
Now, this is all very interesting, but it had nothing to do with the story at hand. Not that that ever stopped me in the first place, of course, but sometimes you must draw a line.

     Near the end of the interview, he stops me and says "You know, maybe if I had some time to look over your questions, I could answer them better. They seem to be coming out of thin air, very random."

      Busted! In any case, by that point I had managed to get most of the information I needed (or could get) from him, so I thanked him and proceeded to leave. Before I got up, the rumors of Financial Aid cutting off aid to pot smokers returned from my subconscious. So I asked Sanchez about the situation.

      It was pretty obvious that Frank Sanchez has yet to learn everything about the administrative maze here at good ol' Adams State. He admitted that he hadn't heard anything about Financial Aid cutting off funding, and he obviously wasn't too happy about the idea, either. He told me that he "would love to know what you find out" about the situation. I give him my solemn word as a journalist (not that I'm ever all that solemn) that I'd share any data I got. Sanchez reciprocated the offer by telling me I could borrow some of the anti-drug literature from Student Affairs if I needed the stuff for the story. Since the total collection of "Just Say No" literature in Student Affairs probably weighs more than my car, I declined the offer, and made tracks.

      The next target on my list was the Top Cop himself, Jim Lanier. Lanier has a reputation around the South Coloradan for being somewhat unapproachable. To an extent, the reputation is justified. I spent a few days playing phone tag with Public Safety, trying to get in to see Lanier. The exchange usually went something like this...


Me: "Hello, my name's Sean Breen with the South Coloradan. I'd like to set up an appointment to see Mr. Lanier."
Public Safety Secretary: "I'm sorry, but Mr. Lanier isn't here right now, he's on rounds. If you call or come by around 2:30, you should be able to talk with him."
(2:30 rolls around)
Me: "Hi, I called earlier about talking with Mr. Lanier..."
PSS: "I'm sorry, he's still on rounds. If you try at around 3:30..."

     And so on. This is the sort of thing that drives the average journalist nuts. Finally, I manage to get a hold of Lanier and hang on to him (luckily I had my butterfly net handy) long enough to ask him a few questions.

     Lanier was fairly mellow about the whole matter; I suspect that my telling him it was going to be a quick interview had something to do with that. I gave him the same spiel that I gave Sanchez, then asked him about drugs, busts, and the town cops.

     Lanier told me that he'd call in the townies if he had to deal with a large bust, or only had inexperienced officers handy. He said that he "didn't have a policy for calling the local police in effect" when dealing with drugs. Lanier also noted that the Alamosa sheriff's department had a drug dog, and they'd be willing to call in the hounds if he felt he needed to.

     Interestingly enough, Lanier put me onto something. When I mentioned going through the old papers looking at the frequency of drug busts, he said that there had been damn few drug busts going on over the last semester. I guessed that the smokers were getting more careful about their habits.

    When I was finished asking my questions, Lanier reminded me that, yes, ASC was a zero tolerance zone for drugs. "I will file charges on anybody caught with any amount of drug," he said, "and I have no qualms about releasing [arrestee's] names to the South Coloradan."

     I carefully jotted down Lanier's words, thanked him, then got the hell out of there before he started wondering if I was some sort of user myself.

     As for Financial Aid... well, that part of the story has yet to be completed. One of the charming things everybody on campus knows Financial Aid for is their ability to put students on Habitrails, keeping them busy until the checks clear. As of this writing, I'm still on my Habitrail. Still, don't be discouraged, gentle readers; I'll keep at this subject and find out the truth. I gave my solemn word on the subject.

      Besides, the water bottle and the wood shavings are nice here.

Part One, Scene Three: Victory and Failure

     While I was having these little misadventures with the Man and his little Manlings, I continued the Quest for the Holy Stoners. It didn't take as long as I thought it would to find people who smoked, but to find ones who would be willing to let me hang with them for a little bit was a bigger challenge.

      Eventually, though, I managed to convince a couple to let me go with them. We ended up in a nondescript pad off-campus. The place was the usual college student's lair; the prerequisite stereo system, the pizza boxes, the rudimentary furniture. Nothing that I haven't seen or lived in before.

      I talked for a while with my newfound friends (whom I'll call 'Bob' and 'Bob #2' to protect their identities). Both were college students, naturally, who smoked marijuana less as a habitual thing and more as an occasional stress reliever.

      "I light a joint or burn some incense when I'm stressed, y'know?" 'Bob' told me. "It's not like I toke every day or something."

      "Yeah, usually if I'd had a really shitty day, or I just got out of a test, I'll smoke. Just one, though," chimed in 'Bob #2.'

      The two of them usually bring the grass with them when they come back from trips outside of town. 'Bob' usually gets his grass in Denver, while 'Bob #2' didn't really want to say where he got his from.

      "I got it at a concert, man, and that's all I'm saying," he told me. I couldn't really blame him; my insistence about talking with them about pot smoking must've made me look like a narc. I imagined I had a sign reading "NARC!" painted in bright neon pink on the back of my jacket.

     Since procurement was no longer a safe topic, I turned my questioning to other subjects.

     "So," I said, relaxing a little on the secondhand smoke, "either of you guys been to Crestone?"

     The 'Bobs' just look kind of confused. "I've never been there," says 'Bob.'

     "Ditto," ditto-ed 'Bob #2.'

      This threw me completely. "You've never been to Crestone? Pot capital of the San Luis Valley? The last great refuge of the hippie subculture in Colorado?"

      Quoth 'Bob #2:' "Nope. I never really wanted to go there. Too many New-Age freaks."

       To tell the truth, gentle readers, I was floored. I had finally found the Holy Stoners, only to find out that they weren't the ones I was really looking for. I had snagged a pair of casual smokers, true, and I had listened to enough conversations to know that the 'Bobs' were the majority of the smokers on campus.

      But it wasn't enough. If some people get addicted to pot, I had become addicted to the idea of pot, and the people who make it into a lifestyle. The on-campus potheads were nice enough, but I needed to find out where the real "mild things" were.

     I was going to have to go to Crestone, to look up the one true devotee to the Church of Mary Jane I knew lived there. It was time for a roadtrip.

     I just hoped I didn't get arrested before I got the story done.

To be continued...