Something remarkable happened today. A whole string of remarkable happened, like it used to, back when I was less worried about so many things. Back when I had parents, savings, a safety net, no house, no giant garden, no obligations or commitments except to one big-headed big-hearted dog; I was a nomad, living in my car, camping from one state or national park to another across the country, from Florida to the Olympic Peninsula to Death Valley, and back to DC. That was in 1988. I was twenty-nine years old. Living like that, close to the ground and on the road, I learned to go with the flow.
Today, for awhile, I feel that lightness return.
When a friend came by this morning for a dog walk, she stayed to help me move a dresser downstairs into the mudroom. Organization is a challenge in this house. We rearranged a few things, including, on her way out the door, an ancestral wooden hibachi. I have never known exactly how this was used as a grill, but I’ve always guessed at what might go in the small drawers below and beside an offset metal, inset, where a charcoal fire was presumably kept: there might have been cooking tools in the long narrow drawers up the side, maybe fire-starting implements in the two wide drawers beneath the fire pan.
We set the hibachi, whose fire pan currently holds an excessive collection of totebags, on top of the newly-placed old dresser. Little drawers, with handles too patina’d to make out their metal, beckoned us. The second drawer surprised me with a game I hadn’t thought of in decades, Mille Bornes, a French racing card game that my brother loved when we were children. In the fourth drawer we opened we found some other card games, including two varieties I could not for the life of me remember the provenance of, Eco Fluxx and Stoner Fluxx.
The Stoner Fluxx deck hadn’t even been opened! Here was a brand new unopened card game, in a forgotten drawer in an antique hibachi. Just before we found the game we had been discussing the fundamental UU tenet of covenant, the lexicology of rules and judgement, the nature of metaphor, and the cooperation of realized interconnectedness. Or something like that. We had enjoyed a benign toke after moving the dresser.
We are both avowed but private opponents of cannabis prohibition, for so many reasons. We, and many of our friends, marvel and celebrate often that we have gotten to see the dominoes start falling in the War on Drugs, and reflect with some pride that our state was a pioneer in this civil liberties issue. So we decided to sit down and discover the game of Stoner Fluxx.
Quel surprise! The game unfolded in an exquisite flow of ideas amidst constantly shifting goals and rules, unforeseen effects cascading through the game; it was a beautiful metaphor for life and a comical reminder to live in the moment. Thoughts came so fast and fun I hit the record button so I could retrace the conversation later, mine it for metaphors and lessons. It’s the classic “draw one discard one” type of card game, but some of the cards add or eliminate rules; other cards dictate specific actions, which are “used once and discarded.”
One of the first New Rules to be played on the table was Take two cards on each turn. At first we were delighted to add cards, but this seemingly generous rule turned out to create an uncomfortable excess of cards in our hands, full of uncertain options and conflicting choices… another metaphor.
An Action might be to Discard your choice of up to half of the New Rule cards currently in play. Changing once again, of course, the rules. Or an Action card might instruct you to steal one of another player’s Keeper cards. Or to give each player an extra card of your choosing. Or, one that I got, Your turn ends immediately, and you get to smoke. This card has an orange warning label at the bottom, Doing what this card says is illegal. Set it aside until after marijuana prohibition ends.
When one of us drew the first card with this warning we laughed, of course, and then the wonder hit me. This unknown game, in the forgotten drawer of the ancestral hibachi, had been set aside until after marijuana prohibition had ended. At least, in my state and in almost ten percent of the United States so far. Where had this game come from, and when? How and when had it gotten into the hibachi drawer?
We played on, the game becoming gradually more complex, then suddenly simple, then out of hand; and then, we hit a run of atypical cards in the deck the first of which read, This game is dedicated to: John Lennon, Carl Sagan, Bill Hicks, Peter McWilliams … and all other pot-smokers who won’t be with us to see the beginning of marijuana freedom.
The next card showed a clock on the back, with Message from a Time Traveler. An image on the front of the card implies that 1986 lies in the future, giving us a possible clue as to the game’s genesis, and the text reads in part:
Greetings from the Future! I wish I were allowed to reveal exactly when it will occur, but of course, we chrononauts have to follow the rules, just like everyone else. But I will say this: weed does get legalized in the future! … I know the situation seems bleak these days, but prohibition is so awful that it cannot continue forever. A quick trip to the future will reveal that it doesn’t…
Here we are in the future! The next card discoursed on the theme The Real Crime is Prohibition, reading in part:
The War on Drugs is a futile and nightmarish rerun of a previous mistake. The Drug War has created black-market profiteering, gangland violence, police corruption, government lies, ruined lives, broken families, and overflowing prisons, yet drug use and availability are unchanged. Drug prohibition is unconstitutional and incompatible with freedom. It must end… It’s time to accept the reality of marijuana’s many uses (medical, industrial, spiritual and recreational) and treat it like alcohol and tobacco, both of which are clearly more dangerous. It’s time to put the gangsters and terrorists out of business by taxing and regulating the chemicals they’ve made profitable enough to kill for. It’s time to end the violence caused by prohibition.
From whimsy to hard reality in the flip of a card. I imagine this summary of the case resonates with a lot of people these days. Maybe with a lot more than when the game was invented. Even Sanjay Gupta acknowledges that medical research is full of studies proving that marijuana has remarkable medical benefits, and a possible 2016 presidential candidate decries the absurd failure of the drug war; many leading sociologists, criminologists, and law enforcement agents advocate ending the Drug War for a host of human rights, economic, and social justice reasons. Today’s news is filled with horror stories that came about as unforeseen consequences of Drug War rules: students massacred in Mexico, a mother busted in Minnesota for giving her son new life with medical marijuana after he suffered a TBI, families flocking to legal states to save their children the agony of otherwise uncontrollable epilepsy. Just for a start.
After marveling for awhile at this unexpected turn of the game, we went back to changing Rules, shifting Goals, playing Keeper and Action cards, utterly enchanted in the moment. Then one of us got an Action card that said, “Everybody Toke!” We checked the time, responsibly calculated how much longer we could play before we had to get back to work, and decided to keep going. After doing what the card said.
The next card in the draw deck displayed “Whose Turn Is It?” instead of the game name on the back like all the previous cards. How did it know? We giggled about that. The game was taking on attributes of the first Sufi Game I ever played, in the Esalen bookstore with the mystic Jean, on that flowing road trip back in 1988. Eerily heightening the energy of the moment with an uncanny string of synchronicities.
We kept laughing and playing, as the cold bright day outside heightened toward noon. After awhile my friend said she had to go home soon. I drew the next card, the Goal called Snack Time, which changed the winning task from End the Drug War (The player who has both Peace and Weed on the table wins), to The player who has three or more food Keepers on the table wins. Over the course of the game I had collected a lot of Keepers, including Nachos, Ice Cream, and Pizza. I won the game, we laughed some more, and my friend went home.
I continued to ponder the provenance of the Stoner Fluxx game. I still don’t have the answer, but I’m sure glad I stumbled upon it this winter morning, and that we both took the time out of our busy days to sit down and play for awhile. Maybe it came from that same bookstore on that same road trip, I thought, maybe not. But it sure put me back in the magic of that time, reminding me to go with the flow; the rules of the game are always changing. Sometimes an action has profound, rippling, and long-lasting effects.
Maybe that first joint I smoked when I was barely twenty-one is still determining the course of my life. Maybe revealing to the world at large that I enjoy smoking pot from time to time will change the course of my history, or the regard of some friends. But hey, it’s legal where I live, and it’s time for the world at large to get over its judgements on the subject. It’s time for all of us fine upstanding citizens that don’t fit the pot junkie stereotype to stand up and say, “I do it, too. End Prohibition!”
Sometimes, as the rule book advises, It is also possible for an Action to have no effect on the game. Another nice metaphor. I turned off the recorder, and in the process of trying to name the clip I accidentally deleted it. And so I was forced to rely on my wit, and the cards laid out before me, to make meaning of this remarkable morning.