Photo courtesy of Oakland Museum of California

At an Altered State


I don’t often leave the sacred seven by seven, leading what East Bay friends I maintain to complain I rarely visit. While it’s true my international travel schedule is quite busy, simply crossing the Bay is a challenge. (Though I admit that hiring a car is more palatable than in the past — the app-hailed luxury options are quieter and cleaner than taxis, and I have to preserve my suit’s integrity when showing the East Bay how it’s done.)

But I had to attend the Oakland Museum’s first-ever cannabis-centric exhibit, Altered State: Marijuana in California. The self-described first entire museum exhibit dedicated to the vital flower, it’s been running for some time, and I admit I hesitated to make my pilgrimage. I was hurt that I was not asked to help curate — and then to fail to receive even an invitation to the opening? There is only so much a Hightower — the man for whom that giddy high from this precious flower is the very stuff of life, the very salt that flows in my veins — can take.

No matter. Memorial Day has passed, so the light green summertime poplin suit all but called aloud to me from my wardrobe. Accent handkerchief, tie, and shoes joined the ensemble so promptly that I could hardly finish my first Frenchy Cannoli hash-infused joint of the morning.

I don’t claim to know Oakland, but if one judged by the Museum, one might forsake San Francisco without thinking twice. (I kid, of course; they’ll have to drag me, demented but still in a decent suit, out of my Pac Heights abode some decades from now.)
All the concrete has its own charm, but if you somehow miss the entrance as I did and end up on the rooftop gardens — why, it’s not unlike the many terraces atop the Zurcher estate overlooking Lake Geneva.

The gardens are extensive enough that it seemed appropriate to unleash another of Frenchy’s concoctions in peace. An hour and a half later I realized I was still staring at the wondrous view of Lake Merritt and thought a look at the exhibit was in order.

I found it to be nothing like what I expected. I thought marijuana-influenced art would hang on walls in quiet galleries, with three or four patrons lingering in the black light in front of each. But, no: this is more like an educational exhibit that you’d find in a science museum, with stations offering interactive, educational experiences — some of which even appealed to kids.

When I mention science museums with interactive stations, you think of children, don’t you? Yes, there were children there. Friends have said sometimes that children make me uncomfortable, but that’s not true. Rather, I make them uncomfortable.

They tend to stare at me; I don’t know why. Once, a Chinese toddler in a restaurant pointed at me and yelled, “Hey, grandpa!” over and over until she was escorted away.

So I skirted the station with the gloves-into-a-box setup so kids could handle some tattered buds (the same way Homer handles uranium in The Simpsons opening montage). I perused some of the other offerings: a darkened corner with classic publications, including old High Times editions.

Disappointed that an anthology of my work in this publication wasn’t included, I moved on to the horrific portion of the exhibit: the one that shows the public service announcements of yesteryear, touting the war on drugs. Of course, the architects of this era had visited my home.

I’m told I met Nancy Reagan herself when I was little more than a toddler. If anything, her Just Say No campaign may have inspired my seventh-grade science project entitled Just Say No to Bad Commercial Weed (it was not allowed in the general display at the Science Fair, but I did receive a clandestine thumbs-up from my spacy science teacher, Mr. Rothenberg.)

Moving past a vending machine with what are thought to be typical stoner snacks on offer, I finally hit pay dirt: The Confessional. Here a mock confessional booth was set up, and patrons wrote their secret feelings about marijuana on white cards that were stuck to the wall. Here, finally, was something to engage the stoner.

“I got high with my mother at age seven.” Hah! Who didn’t, except perhaps for the part about the mother?

“My boyfriend smokes too much. I can’t take it anymore. I think I’m going to break up with him after we leave this museum.” I think a celebration is in order, my fine stoner friend!

“Weed has gotten too strong! It was more fun when 1 puff didn’t render me stooo-ped.” This one was painful enough to read, much less transcribe — what does this person think the meaning of life is, anyway?

Ultimately, I have to say that as well presented as it all was, the exhibit rolled off me like water off a duck’s back. Why encase a beautiful pot plant in glass when you can rub your face on one? I can only agonize over legalization so much when I’m so high, and so happy that I even eschewed a cab and strolled through Oakland’s Chinatown afterwards, smiling benevolently at all, albeit with a wary eye out for any small children who might take a shine to me.

Altered State: Marijuana In California
Through Sept. 25
Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St. (at 10th Street), Oakland

Photo courtesy of Oakland Museum of California