Larf by Hobie Anthony

Editor Acacia Blackwell, Editor's Choice, December 24th, 2018

"The end results of human endeavors don't often live up to expectations..."

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Personal Essay by Hobie Anthony

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It so happened that in November, 2017 I was gifted an eighth of an ounce of cannabis. It was an early Solstice gift from a random visitor to my life, an itinerant stripper who’d given Portland a try for a few weeks. Her father grows for medical patients in Rhode Island and she had loads to share. It was a kind gesture and well-appreciated. In fact, it knocked me on my ass. It smelled of fruit, like a grape cream-cheese danish, and the smoke was smooth, thick, and potent. As I smoked more, I discovered a bonus gift. This bag of cannabis had both stems and seeds.

It’s hard to find seeds these days. In this era of legalization, professional growers cultivate their female plants separate from the males, which are little more than fodder for the mulch pile. As I understand it, when growers need seeds, they pollinate their female plants in a tightly controlled environment. The seeds are only used in-house. If seeds are released to the public, they are sold for a premium, priced according to the value of the particular strain.

Under prohibition, growers knew that their customers were unlikely to attempt a home-grow. The risk was too high and it’s not exactly easy to grow high quality, psychoactive cannabis. Further, since everything was underground, it was nearly impossible to form communities around this particular form of agriculture.

Yet, due to some trick in the cosmic algorithm, I had seeds. I took one and placed it in a wet paper towel and waited. In a day or two, a small white root split the brown husk. I was giddy with excitement. Nature actually worked. I planted it in soil. In a day or three, a little green shoot sprang from the dirt. I couldn’t believe my luck. I scoured the internet for instructions. I was like a new parent who suddenly had a child but no diapers, crib, or bottles.

I studied lights, soil, strains, and watering protocols. I learned to sex my plant. I discovered how light cycles impacted plant development. There’s a lot to learn. My plant grew like a weed. I closed my eyes, held on loosely, and hoped to not kill it.

 

One year before I was born, one of the oddest rock and roll bands formed in Fremont, New Hampshire. Their music is objectively bad. The players don’t know their instruments and the songs were naive and lack cohesion. The melodies were warbly, the harmonics atonal. However, the songs were consistent in their inept aesthetic and speak to a band of artists who seemingly had a singular, if warped, vision. They created, knowingly or not, one of the finest pieces of outsider art I know.

The band was comprised of the Wiggin sisters, four young women who had no idea how to play musical instruments. Nor did they have any interest in playing in a band. Their father, however, had received a prophecy from his mother who foresaw that he would marry a woman with strawberry-blonde hair and that their progeny would form a rock band that would be as successful as The Beatles. Indeed, he found a strawberry-blonde woman, married her, and had many children, including four girls.

Austin Wiggin, by all accounts, was not a nice person. He was a tyrant, an asshole. He took his daughters out of school and forced them to play music. The girls were obedient and tried to please their father. They practiced their imposed craft in a pressure-cooker environment that was unrelenting, an ad-hoc conservatory led by a dictator who had no clear musical ideas, but loads of willpower. Though it’s fair to say that the sisters had no musical talent, it’s impossible to know for sure, since their father was so thoroughly inept. Even the greatest talent can be quashed when handled by an incompetent fool.

 

My plant continued to grow in a terra cotta flower pot. When it grew to a suitable height, I transplanted it to a larger pot. I followed instructions I found on the internet. I was obsessed: When should I water it? How much was enough? Should I use a store-bought fertilizer or was compost suitable?

That winter I lost a dear friend and client to the flu, then my cousin committed suicide a few days later. In my grief, the plant received all of my attention and care. I lived in a basement so my world was in near-perpetual dark. After all, a dead client doesn’t offer any more work, so my weeks were more idle than normal.

I purchased a small LED lighting system and gave my precious plant the light it needed. There was scant light available in my basement apartment, and I wanted the very best for my vegetating companion.

Austin Wiggin did the best for his daughters, too. He wanted them to be successful. He wanted them to have skills and talent. His mania forced them into phases of growth and development that were not natural for them. His lack of musical knowledge did not nourish classical abilities. Yet they did produce music, they cut an album. They made history.

When the time seemed right, I forced my plant into flowering. This is done by restricting the light cycle. Since I didn’t have a professional indoor grow operation, I jury-rigged a system with a small table and a Mexican blanket. I attached my LED system to one off the legs, placed the plant on the floor, and covered it all with the blanket. I plugged the lights into a timer and commenced to synthesize optimal flowering conditions for cannabis plants. During its man-made daylight hours, I tried to open it to the air, let it feast on needed CO2. I even played music for my beloved plant.

To manage the plant’s size, I’d trimmed the top to restrict its growth. The root system was limited by its small planter. I trimmed it from time to time, but I never used any fertilizers. One day, I read that I was not supposed to prune branches and leaves during the flowering cycle. I wasn’t sure if I was even in the flowering cycle. I had no solid answers, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Somehow the plant survived, green, and alive.

The plant did flower. It created buds that were light and fluffy. The stuff I purchase in stores is tight, solid. My dispensary buds can be torn into healthy chunks. My plant’s buds would be laughed as as larf – immature, unformed, amateur. It’s impossible to tell where the buds begin and the leaves end.

It was hard to be disappointed when I finally harvested my plant. My plant was the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of cannabis. Its beauty was mostly contrived in imagination, its nobility spited lackluster effort. Spindly and stunted, barely offering flowers, the produce it yielded would not be worth the effort of harvesting for resale. However, when I put a dried bud in a pipe smoke it, its value is clear. The smoke is thick, velvety and it gets me stoned.

 

The Shaggs’ record is a larf. It was a forced, unnatural creation that is barely recognizable as music. When the guitarist hits a chord, you hear her pluck each string. The drummer’s rhythm is unsure and halting and the vocals almost sound as though they were warbled in reverse by a tone-deaf chorus.

Nevertheless, their album Philosophy of the World is a classic. Though they never achieved the commercial success of The Beatles, Frank Zappa said the band was “better than The Beatles.” Kurt Cobain declared the record an all-time favorite and the band Deerhoof cites it as an influence. Thanks to these tributes, and obsessive music geeks like myself, I can only assume that the Wiggin sisters have enjoyed a healthy, if inconsistent, source of passive income. They didn’t find the enormous financial yields their father and grandmother foretold, but they have enough. They were forced to produce in conditions hostile to musical creation, but they survived and did it.

To most ears, their incredibly odd, idiosyncratic album is a musical failure. Until, that is, you find yourself humming My Pal Foot-Foot at the bus stop or when a house-less person reminds you of the title track’s naive lyrics. It does what music is supposed to do: it carries you away from the mundane into a place of imagination, where ordinary cares melt away and for a moment you are one with music and musician. In the case of The Shaggs, you can feel how their coerced existence reflects much of modern life: people sacrificing themselves to an asinine set of expectations in the hope of attaining wealth, love, or maybe enough to eat for a day.

The end results of human endeavors don’t often live up to expectations, but more often than not they are enough, they are satisfactory. Occasionally, despite the worst ineptitude and tone-deaf efforts, the outcome of blind human willpower in the absence of talent, proper training, or adequate knowledge creates something wonderful.

 

And it gets you high.

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Header image courtesy of Mirko Isaia. To view his Photographer Feature, go here.

Hobie Anthony is a writer in Portland, Or. His first novel, Silverfish, is available to order wherever fine books are sold. His second book, Liminal, is forthcoming from WhiskeyTit Books. Its sequel and another book are currently in production. In the meantime, there is rain and there is tea. #Resist

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Acacia Blackwell

Acacia is a writer from Portland, OR, which suits her because sunshine gives her anxiety. She is currently completing an MFA, despite being recently told by Tom Spanbauer that to become a better writer, she needs to "unlearn all that grad school stuff." She listened, and it seems to be working. Acacia is working on a collection of personal essays that she really doesn't want to admit might be a memoir, and a memoir that she really doesn't want to admit might be a novel.