"Nice wig, Mrs. Nat," I said. "But ya know, you should have gone for the Vampira look. It's really you."
My attempt at a joke fell flat. Mrs. Nat -- now considerably flatter than her usual bouncy self -- looked wanly up from the sofa and murmured, "Please don't try to make me laugh, dear. I might ... uhoh." An alarmed look crossed her face, she threw off her hand-crocheted afghan, and ran staggering to the bathroom with her oversized bathrobe flying behind her.
Nat gave me a despairing, you-should-know-better look. My visit to the Lyons family ranch and the ailing Mrs. Nat wasn't off to an auspicious start. It was up to my companion, Doc, to redeem the situation.
I had persuaded Doc to emerge from the sanctum of his Hardyville Drug Store. Although he lives above the store and rarely leaves his books, pills, and potions, it didn't take much persuading to get him to make the 30-mile trip with me to the Lyons' tidy doublewide.
Mrs. Nat, a friend indeed, was now very, very seriously a friend in need.
When she first started losing weight a couple of months back, some of us congratulated her on her dieting success. We wondered why she answered us with averted eyes.
Then came the mysterious trips she and Nat took to the Big City. And when her hair began falling out ... we knew. Mrs. Nat has cancer.
Like so many cancer patients, she's willing to try nearly everything from coffee enemas and shark cartilage to conventional therapies. Or a combination of the traditional and the unusual.
That's what she's been doing. But until our visit, the traditional treatment -- chemo -- was laying her lower than the disease it was supposed to cure. So Doc -- who isn't a doctor, but who certainly knows a thing or three -- brought several bright little tins and cellophane-wrapped packages of a certain herb he hoped would help.
"A predominantly indica blend," Doc muttered, almost to himself, as he placed his first package on an end-table next to the sofa. "producing a sedative effect. And here ..." admiring a packet for a moment before placing it on the table "...a sativa. Sativas produce a more cerebral, energetic effect, which perhaps would be undesirable to a tired cancer patient. However both varieties stimulate the appetite and ..."
She won't smoke any of it," Nat sighed. "She's against it, ya know."
"She won't even smoke this?" Doc queried, holding out the prettiest little tin. The quaintly printed label read "Ma Lyons' Homegrown Cannabis." "She has herself produced an optimum indica-sativa blend for ..."
"Not even that," agreed Mrs. Nat, coming back into the room, tightening the belt of her robe around her and looking very pale. She sank back down onto the sofa again. "I don't use drugs. And I don't really grow that. The Young Curmudgeon is the one who buys the seeds and grows the crop. I just let him use my name. For respectability. The poor boy."
"Pardon me for contradicting you, My Dear Mrs. Nat," Doc said with a polite bow. "But you most certainly do use drugs. You use the drugs that are making your hair fall out and causing you to endure frequent emesis. Should you not be willing to try a drug to make those drugs more tolerable?"
"Lissen to him, Punkin'," Nat urged his wife.
I felt more than a little embarrassed to hear old, gruff Nat address the Mrs. by a pet name. Having already demonstrated my own nauseating lack of diplomacy, I tried to tune out as Doc and Nat persuaded our reluctant town grandma to smoke the Demon Weed.
We don't exactly have "medical marijuana" in Hardyville. That is, we don't have it in the sense of some government grudgingly giving us permission to smoke an herb and putting us in a database of drug users.
On the other hand, we also don't have the government condemning good people to choke to death on their own vomit by taking away the only drug that eases their nausea.
And we don't have the weird "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" standards that would prosecute a quadriplegic for using the only medication that can stop his violent muscle spasms.1
In general, we don't think an individual's choice of medical treatment is the slightest, itty-bitty darned business of any government on earth.
And we sure don't have idiotic laws that say Americans someday won't even be allowed to treat themselves with vitamins and supplements if a bunch of weenie Europeans object.
No, in Hardyville we just have people doing what they believe is best for themselves and their dependents. Mrs. Nat knew that. It's just that after growing up on images of "marihuana" driving young virgins to debauchery and decades more of Cheech & Chong/Harold & Kumar-type stoner imagery, she couldn't see herself doing this particular thing.
That is, until -- after much attempted persuasion -- Nat finally came up with the magic words: "Do it for me, Punkin. Please? For your Natty Bear?"
And so Mrs. Nat, cookie-baker extraordinaire, grandma to us all, and beloved wife of ... "Natty Bear" ... toked her first toke. And her second.
She coughed a bit at first. Pretty violently. We thought she might lose it again, but a few sips of water calmed things down. "I don't feel a thing," she said after five minutes or so. And she said the same thing after 10. But she gamely toked again.
"That's normal the first time," I shrugged. "I guess in this case, we're more hoping for what you don't feel."
"Well, after all that fuss, it's a big disappointment," she assured us sadly, lying back down.
A few minutes later, she sat up. "I still don't feel a thing," she sighed. "It obviously didn't work. But enough lollygagging. Nat, you haven't had lunch yet. You need me to make you a sandwich."
Nat, Doc, and I exchanged glances, as Mrs. Nat hoisted herself from the sofa and marched into the kitchen, where she began clattering about with dishes, utensils, and ingredients.
"No, don't think you need to help, dear," Mrs. Nat called out to me, when I tried to enter her domain. "This is my kitchen, you know. Go. Out."
While Mrs. Nat whipped up a platter of sandwiches -- adding several bowls of soup, three boxes of crackers, some peanut butter-stuffed celery, a pitcher of sweet iced tea, leftover chocolate cake, and several batches of cookies (and testing little snips of ingredients as she worked, as we could see across the counter) -- we all had a little talk about some very recent goings on on the cannabis front.
The government is silly. Dangerous, for sure. But silly. First, state governments rush to ban a plant. Which is exactly like saying God goofed. And the plant is a prolific weed, besides. Geez, I wish I could go out in my yard and ban the weeds, don't you?
Then the federales get involved, completely unconstitutionally, of course. And then they go -- just last week -- and use one unconstitutional law and a wallop of judicial precedent to pretty much complete the trashing they started decades ago using the Constitution's interstate commerce clause as their all-purpose tyranny tool.
Their excuse this time was a "medical marijuana" case called Raich v. Ashcroft. In Raich, the Supreme Court concluded that the federales have the authority to persecute sick people for growing their own cannabis plants. Furthermore, the authority comes from the interstate commerce clause -- even if those plants and their products never leave the sick person's own property!
Now, I said silly, right. Definitely dangerous and getting dangerouser. (Why even the biggest bullies in the world would go out of their way to make sick people more miserable is beyond me.) But still silly. Because in amateur terms, the whole Raich decision boils down to this:
The federal government says there can be no interstate commerce in cannabis because they've made cannabis illegal. But the federal government has the authority to regulate all interstate commerce, right down to objects that never leave the state, just in case there might be an interstate trade in them. And anyway, everything's ultimately probably made with some ingredient that might have travelled in interstate commerce. So the federal government can regulate anything it wants, anywhere it wants.
I'm not kidding. Not one bit. That's what they say. That's how they think. And anybody who thinks that variety of ... er, "reasoning" makes sense has been spending too much time hanging around government.
Mrs. Nat eventually allowed me into the kitchen to help her carry out all the plates and trays. And we four finished our conversation with Mrs. Nat shoveling cookies with the best of us. She chatted away a mile a minute ("Sativa," Doc nodded quietly) -- but still insisted all the while that it hadn't really worked, because after all, she wasn't seeing any hallucinations or anything. And certainly not feeling any urges to run off with jazz musicians or run wild in the streets.
"Very disappointing," she said. "But perhaps I could try it again sometime ...?"
After helping wash up the dishes (it apparently becomes everybody's kitchen once the food is prepared), Doc and I departed, leaving a couple of bright tins of Ma Lyons' (or the Young Curmudgeon's) Best on the table. Mrs. Nat was busily planning her dinner menu. And although nobody can be sure of her long-term prospects (which, frankly, don't look good), her short-term prospects, and her husband's happiness, sure got a lot better.
I ask you: Who are the goofy ones? The hapless dope smokers or their persecutors who've been gettin' way too high for way too long on their own obviously addictive power?
1 Matthew Ducheneaux died May 23, 2005.