My car dives headlights first down a shadow-choked road into a tunnel of tangled treetops, slipping into near blackness at the precise moment the sun dips behind the horizon. The high beams carve a modest notch out of the darkness, but I might as well be hurdling through the cold vacuum of space like some doomed astronaut, having arrived at that dark, desolate corner of the California Galaxy known as “The Middle of Nowhere.”
An hour later, I’m sitting in the kitchen of a ranch house at the end of a dirt road with no name, marked only by a crudely painted wooden sign that says “Fresh Eggs: $14/dozen.” My host, a retired philosophy professor from Australia who prefers to remain anonymous, warns me off purchasing any, as if I need convincing at more than $1 an egg.
A childhood accident left the professor completely paralyzed below the waist and partially paralyzed from the neck down. He’s used cannabis to manage pain and depression since his late teens and started growing his own medicine roughly 40 years ago. I first met him five years back when a mutual friend recruited me as a trimmer for an especially bountiful harvest. I guess I did a good enough job to get invited back.
The house is filled with ingenious devices designed by the professor to maximize his independence. His water pipe has a small metal bowl and drop stem set into an ergonomic, hard plastic canteen, which is fitted with a large valve to work the carb and a length of flexible rubber tubing for a mouth piece.
It’s a quality of life saving device that lets him smoke with one hand, but it’s also a badass MacGyver bong, so I use it with him every time I visit. Soon the mellow flavor profile and calming buzz of last season’s Blue Dream is washing away the stress of my multi-hour journey like sidewalk chalk vanishing in the rain.
But I haven’t driven all this way just to get high with the professor and check out his current crop – a stunningly lush and productive mix of Blue Dream and UK Cheese – with both strains bursting out well past the boundaries of a chain-link metal cage meant to deter thieves and grazing wildlife.
I’m here to speak with Shun Kirishima, a journalist with Playboy Japan writing a five-part series on cannabis around the world. Part one focuses on the United States, hence his presence in California. When I heard about his visit, I jumped at the opportunity to help out a fellow journalist.
Shun studied at UC Berkeley and although he can speak English, he’s clearly more comfortable reporting in Japanese. Thankfully, my good friend, Japanese cannabis expert J. Eric Yingling, whose translation of Jack Herer’s seminal legalization polemic “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” recently saw publication, is on hand to interpret for Shun and I.
Many of Shun’s questions are geared towards Eric and while the two are chatting animatedly in Japanese, I’m finishing a blunt roach from my trip and unpacking some samples of shatter and rosin I’ve brought with me, along with a small dab rig, torch and assorted paraphernalia.
Shun has never heard of wax or shatter before – nevermind rosin tech. With Eric’s help, I do my best to cram an entire Extracts 101 curriculum into two or three minutes, covering all the key historical, technical and legal angles as thoroughly as relative brevity allows while Shun scribbles furiously into his notepad.
He gestures towards my end of the table and speaks with what sounds like hesitancy. Eric interrupts with a smile, putting his hand up and speaking a few words in Japanese before turning to me, “he wants to know how you smoke it.”
“Tell him I can show him better than I can tell him,” I say.
Eric laughs, “That’s what I told him.”
As Eric narrates what I’m doing for Shun’s benefit, I gather up a few malleable shards of my personal favorite from the samples I’ve brought – a stable, transparent gold shatter that easily snaps or pulls as desired – and work them onto the end of a metal dab tool.
A few moments of heating followed by a few more of waiting and the nail is ready for a demonstration dab, which I inhale with gusto, blowing a dense cloud of terpy vapor across the table.
Tendrils of shatter mist hit Shun’s nostrils and he makes the unmistakable face of a man whose interest has been piqued. I ask if he plans to do his due diligence and try a dab. A few brief volleys of English and Japanese result in an accord: we’ll all smoke some of Professor X’s Blue Dream and then take shatter hits.
As a professional courtesy to a fellow scribbler, I decide not to blow Shun’s brains out with his first dab hit, giving him a small taste of some rosin. Shun clears the hit with little difficulty and blows it out casually like a cigarette puff. He makes a non-commital, unimpressed-critic face but says he likes the taste. Fifteen minutes or so later, in what may be a variation of that strangely common phenomenon of people not getting high the first time they smoke herb, Eric tells me that Shun isn’t really feeling his dab hit.
I realize I’ve slightly underestimated this man, and that his cautious, academic manner belies an above average herbal aptitude. I smile and chide myself silently as I prepare a proper dab from a generous blend of amber rosin and golden shatter.
This time the dab hits its mark squarely and as Shun wordlessly expresses his appreciation through the deep, fitful coughing of the righteous – no translation is required.