The frenzied crazed chopping of marijuana plants by the savagely deranged forces of Riverside County Sherriff Chad “El Choppo” Bianco continued on unimpeded into its third year. Raids were conducted on what the locals came to know as “Bust Thursdays.” Slowly but steadily the coffers of the corporate douchebags and the State of California started to fill. The small old school growers were virtually forced into extinction, and the remaining big boys, the true “black market,” had the financial backing and political connections that allowed them to grow massive quantities of substandard pot to be consumed by the “marijuana tourism” crowd who didn’t know any better. For sure, for anyone wanting organically grown high quality weed, things were looking down. The unrelenting swinging machetes not only destroyed these noble plants but cut the hearts out of what was once the peace and love crowd. Marijuana became like gold – too valuable to share, sold by the gram, and very cold to the touch.
Unc would not be planting for the 2021 growing season. He was done; not by choice but rather because of the unrelenting harassment that he had endured at the misguided hands of law enforcement. At the beginning of last October seven county sheriffs showed up at his home and informed him that they were there to arrest him on the basis of a “Failure to Appear” bench warrant, or what they referred to as a “FTA.”
Unc was in a state of shock, because he had never received any notice whatsoever to appear in court. That was something he would not have ignored. He thought the previous year’s raid had been shined on and chocked up to just so much police intimidation. The cops had gotten what they came for, after all, and left him destitute. Wasn’t that enough? Apparently not. As he was trying to explain this to the leading officer one young overzealous cop came up behind him and quickly handcuffed him. The severity of the circumstances rapidly dawned on him. He was most definitely going to jail. He was so surprised that he forgot to ask for his Covid mask, and when he did remember that he needed one, the cops informed him that they had none available beyond the ones that they all were wearing. He was put in the back of a cruiser, and the cops went to another property in the neighborhood and rounded up another grower who, as it turned out, was also accused of failing to appear. He also swore that he was never notified. They were taken to a police substation, put with four other growers, who all disputed that their failure to appear charges were accurate, and eventually leg-chained along with the rest of them before being stuffed in an old police van and taken to the county jail. Nobody was given any Covid masks until they arrived at the jail. Throughout this process the cops all insisted that there was probably some sort of mix-up that would probably be sorted out, but that wasn’t up to them to do. Their job was to drag everyone in on the strength of the bench warrants, and the courts would take it from there, which isolated the problem to its true creator because it had to come from the District Attorney’s Office. The cops probably knew this but they simply didn’t care. One might consider this something of a dirty trick.
Unc was booked, fingerprinted, and thrown in a holding cell that initially had three other people, but as the day went on, grew to 20 inmates. He was able to arrange bail after 21 hours, but the standard processing time was six hours, not that that was really necessary, but when they have you in the slammer they like to keep you in there; they like to make it as inconvenient for you as humanly possible. To that end, even when knowing that his bail was posted, they “housed” him meaning that he was sent to the incarcerated population’s cell block and put in a cell with a cellmate that was crazier than a shithouse rat. After 36 hours he was finally released at 1:00 in the morning and went to his bail company that was located less than a quarter-mile away. The nightman at the bail company filled him in on the fact that this happened all the time. In fact, he sincerely doubted that law enforcement ever mailed the notices to appear. Despite their excuses that things were mixed up, disorganized, and oftentimes delayed because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and that the recent republican meddling with the postal service probably made the mistake occur at their end, he was of the considered opinion that the phantom notices, if they were even ever printed out, were probably dropped in the circular file of some vigilante clerical worker’s office. The police loved this, of course, because it gave Unc a taste of jail time and cost him the $1,000.00 bond amount that a judge probably would have waived had he appeared as scheduled. When law enforcement lies and cheats in order to achieve their objectives Unc failed to see much difference between them and the criminals.
When he got back home he immediately set about chopping his crop knowing that the police had seen it firsthand and would be by soon to destroy it and lay as many trumped up charges on him that they could think of. He sold the plants green at an abysmally deep discount just to get them off his property. The next day that miserable green-tailed police helicopter flew over his now vacant garden eight times in the course of an hour apparently mystified as to where the marijuana plants had gone.
His arraignment date was set for early February in 2021. It was continued as were three successive court dates. They kept him twisting in the wind as he had to appear at the county courthouse on five separate occasions. As he frequented the courthouse he couldn’t help but notice that the cops working there were respectful and polite to all unlike the swinging dicks that were terrorizing his hometown. They probably had some form of sensitivity training because they were able to maintain their command presence without being intimidating. So he knew that cops could behave like human beings, and he rationalized that a person’s being poor must be what brings out the worst in cops. Unc got a court-appointed public defender who was distracted and overworked, but he sincerely doubted that he would fare any better with an expensive private attorney. Law enforcement were processing marijuana growing busts as if they were on an assembly line – they were going to do what they were going to do no matter how good or poor the representation was. He saw it as pretty much a rubber stamp operation and he was simply caught up in the grinding gears of the machine. Finally, in late August, the matter was settled when he pleaded guilty to growing more than six marijuana plants and his felony charge was dropped to a misdemeanor and a years’ conditional probation under his own recognizance with the annoying exceptions that any probation officer or cop could shake him down whenever they wanted to with no requirement for probable cause. They wouldn’t need a warrant to enter his home, they could just do it for the duration of the probation period. Unc had always believed that the police are in actuality a superior society. Once they get you down, they step on you. Their first objective is to disarm you and render you helpless, after that they just strive to harass you whenever they feel like it for as long as the courts allow. This is just too much power in the hands of the insatiably power-hungry. All this over a drug that has never killed anyone. Unc knew that his growing days were over. The cops could do a conga line through his house for all he cared. They had gutted him, and rubbed his nose in it to boot, but that’s all they could legally do. He was finally done with all of it. The only question that remained was: were El Choppo and his henchmen really done with him?
He decided to concentrate on raising the grandchildren, shaping up the property and possibly selling it, and figuring out how to go about the business of dying with any semblance of dignity. Dignified dying – isn’t that the ultimate oxymoron? He and his wife Betty had apparently survived the Conoravirus pandemic when they received their vaccinations, but he sincerely doubted if they were going to survive the police epidemic that plagued his town. Over three years of El Choppo’s inquisition with no end in sight. The cops were now routinely stopping vehicles and searching them with no probable cause. Who knew what other stunts they were pulling that no one would complain about out of fear of police reprisal. Intimidation had become El Choppo’s and his boys stock and trade. Coming home from the dump Unc was almost to his property gate when a string of eight police vehicles cut in front of him at a little-used intersection causing him to brake hard and swerve to the right. The first car drove past him but the cop in the second vehicle, a cruiser, turned on those detestable flashing blue and red lights and pulled in front of him. “Where you headed?” the cop shouted out the window, “Into that driveway over there, that’s my house,” Unc answered. The cop glared at him, and a brief standoff ensued. Breaking the tension, Unc said, “I live right there,” as he pointed at his property. The cop backed his vehicle up and then pulled up to Unc’s driver’s side window and said, “Well pull forward so that I can get by you.” The next cop had him blocked so Unc said, “I can’t, he’s blocking me.” Annoyed, the cop floored his vehicle saying a sarcastic, “Thank you!” as he swerved and drove off. The six remaining cops all kicked up dust as they proceeded past him; big shots belonging to a superior society too important to treat an ordinary citizen with any degree of civility. That was the rule rather than the exception up here on the high chaparral. The cops assumed that everyone was growing and they also assumed that the entire town was populated with incorrigible degenerates when the truth was that they acted more incorrigibly than anyone. They seemed to go out of their way to act like assholes. Unc had mellowed since his arrest and ultimate humiliation. He knew that he was busted more for the economic benefit of the rich and powerful than any real aversion that the cops had to pot. As usual, they were merely protecting the rich man’s interests; those people who they felt provided them with their badges and their toys and, most importantly, their salaries. He was no longer for completely defunding the police, but perhaps that big bossy cop should pay attention to that phrase and take it all in.
America had been at the crossroads ever since the Mad King told the biggest lie in our nation’s history, easily supplanting first federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner’s Harry Jacob Anslinger’s big lie before Congress in 1937 when he testified that marijuana was a narcotic and disruptive to the moral fiber of the youth of America thus getting the Marijuana Stamp Tax Act instituted. The cops have been goring themselves off of that lie for 86 years. Now that California had legalized, the state cops saw their traditional cash cow being slaughtered so enter glory mongers like El Choppo who drummed up fantastic lies about the deleterious effects of the “black market” when the truth was that by wiping out the traditional mom and pop growers it was him making the back market even blacker by reducing it to those who were rich and powerful enough to oppose him. Too many cops and not enough criminals always lead to preying upon the weak and defenseless.
To say that Unc was downtrodden and bitter would have been a gross understatement. He had to go on, however. During the summer months he concentrated on submitting a smattering of manuscripts to book agents and independent publishing houses in hopes of getting publishing contracts that would lead to royalties that would help Betty with the bills after he was gone. There was something after him, and it wasn’t just the cops. He could feel it in his bones. He knew that he didn’t have long to go. He would help Shade-leaf with his harvest in the fall, but even Shade-leaf was getting out of the business come next season and looking for other work. The best grower that this town had ever seen was feeling the pinch of John Law and throwing in the towel. Unc knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the kids when trimming, but someone had to pick up the groceries and the takeout orders. Someone had to buy the beer. And someone most definitely had to watch the less than loyal seasonal help when Shade-leaf had to go out on sales calls. But that job would only last all of two months, and Unc felt that he had to come up with something more permanent that would provide for his family in his absence. But what? What could he really accomplish while looking down the barrel of age 71?
His little granddaughter Joni entered kindergarten in late August. Her life was just going to the first of what he hoped would be many levels while his elevator had arrived at the ground floor. He had to project a positive image not only for her, but for the other grandkids, and for Betty. He had to keep it together even though deep down inside he felt that everything, especially his health, was falling apart.
And then the Delta variant hit. Unc thought: Jesus, God almighty. What now? And over half the people in this valley have refused the first vaccine. They still have their Trump signs out in their yards and they refuse to wear any masks claiming their rights to free choice when what they’re really choosing to do is die, but not before playing Russian roulette with everyone else’s life. Now we have to get a third shot, the doctors are saying that we should wait until everyone is vaccinated before doing that. Well…fuck that. These people have had all the opportunities in the world to get vaccinated and yet they refuse to do it. I’m not waiting around hoping that they’ll see the light. When we can, we are going to get another shot, and the sooner the better.
America was more divided than he had ever seen it, and that included the tumultuous sixties which wouldn’t hold a candle to what was going on today. He had watched the January 6th, 2021 Capitol Building riot with horror feeling that the police had made a critical tactical mistake by not unholstering their sidearms and firing warning shots in the air, and if that didn’t do the trick…well…then some lead should have been sent towards the rioters; it was just that simple. Our nation’s seat of government was under attack, a seditious act, and they were supposed to tolerate those rabid Trump rubes? Now Republican traitors in Congress are saying that the rioters were no different than peaceful tourists. That those who were subsequently arrested are political prisoners. That the one cop who did shoot someone to keep them from hurting the people he was sworn to protect was in fact a murderer. Had we gone completely mad?
As September begins, every liberal in America is super concerned about what the Taliban will do to woman’s rights in Afghanistan, but hardly anyone sees the irony inherent in our self-righteousness because women’s rights, and voting rights also, have been expunged by the Texas state legislature. We have enough stifling religious fundamentalism right here at home. We don’t need to criticize the other governments of the world when we can’t produce a democratic lifestyle for all our citizens and are in fact intent on taking a great many human rights away. We are worried about the women of Afghanistan? What about the women of Texas?
We brag about how we brought electricity to rural Afghanistan, but the lights are out again in New Orleans. Back in Washington, they are still talking of a Green New Deal, of finally federally legalizing marijuana, of passing effective gun control legislation, of protecting poor people’s right to vote, of a lot of things that would be great if they happened and will be a reaffirmation of the status quo of that place when they don’t. Talk, talk, talk, was all they ever did.
California was burning up north, there was a hurricane seemingly every other week in the Gulf, and the most recent one, Ida, knocked around the northeast with record rain after it practically leveled Louisiana. We can’t get an infrastructure package through Congress to mitigate these catastrophes in the future, but we can, once again, send the affected our thoughts and prayers. God helps those who help themselves, which is why these bastards don’t want the poor and disenfranchised and non-white citizens to vote – because that is the only way they could ever help themselves. While the bible thumpers, the gun nuts, the wackjobs, the AQAnon crazies, the antivacers, and the hard-core Trumpers all grind their own axes, the sparks from which fly across the television screen nightly on Fox News, none of them seem to notice that God is getting very angry.
Football season finally arrived, and Karl Marx be damned, Unc was happy to partake of the new opiate of the masses. Joni was adapting well to school life. Betty spent her days off somewhere hemorrhaging cash. The two other grandkids living there may or may not go back to their parents providing that said parents cleaned up their acts. Fall was here, the harvest was a month off, at least, and life buzzed and hummed along with relative complacency. The calm before the storm.
Halloween was an absolute blast as Betty and Unc took Joni and her two little friends Mary Jane and Sara into town to trick or treat amongst the shops and stores and businesses that generously offered up the motherload of all motherloads of candy. Unc loved this town when it was like this. An air of happiness hung over the entire community. The little girls had the jitters in their legs and were poised and ready to blast off to planet sugar. Betty gossiped with her usual gaggle of old biddies. The older kids went out of town with their parents to trick or treat in some of the richer neighborhoods down the hill. Disneyland Dad and Parttime Mom liked to be present in their lives on certain big days, but the regular days, the bulk of their kid’s lives, just weren’t all that important to them. When it came to the everyday, the mundane, the necessary things, the old geezers served a purpose, otherwise, it was always about them. They were so important and special that it was if they were doing the kids a favor in even taking the time to think of them at all. Unc learned to never expect anything of or from them but to appear eternally grateful when they contributed anything at all. A low bar, to be sure, but better than no bar at all. The hardest acceptance in life is accepting that everyone will not contribute equally but all must be treated equally. Some would always do more than others; that’s just the way it is. To resent those who do less is wasted energy, and hard on the heart.
Thanksgiving came and went. In accordance with their family tradition, Unc took Joni down the hill the very next day to pick out their Christmas tree. The lights were put up, and the Frosty the Snowman flag got hoisted to announce the arrival of the season. His friend Shade-leaf’s harvest wrapped up two weeks before Christmas because he wanted to spend time with his kids, and his daughter was driving home from college. They got through the harvest unscathed by law enforcement, and everyone was breathing easier. Unc would have money enough to put substantial presents under the tree. If it wasn’t joy, it was at least a warm feeling that permeated throughout his household. Betty referred to the general vibe as, “Christmas magic,” but she always laid it on thick when she was happy.
The situation with Congress was not getting better because it was hopelessly engaged in its usual gridlock. The Delta variant was lurking, and the numbers of deaths occurring on a daily basis rivaled the number of burgers sold daily at McDonalds. Unc and Betty adopted a stance of grave concern which put them at odds with their neighbors, especially the Trumpers. They wanted their third shot, and when a traveling clinic announced it would set up shop on a vacant lot in town, they signed up for theirs’. They were scheduled to get their shots on the clinic’s second day of operation.
The day that the clinic was to set up, the Trumpers and assorted antivacers held a protest to express their views, not that anyone could figure out just what they were as even they didn’t understand what they were ranting and raving about. But this didn’t keep them from doing it, anyway. They insulted and otherwise harassed anyone going into the clinic’s tent as cowardly, un-American, and disloyal to their grand leader. And were they ever upset. This was America, goddammit, and how dare you exercise your free will against what we feel you should do. Don’t you know that we are right simply because we said so? Wave your flag! Unc witnessed all the hubbub on his way to and from the post office and it angered him, and it sickened him, but most of all, it worried him. All he could think of were the people in Germany circa 1933-1934. That guy Hitler was just too much. Nobody was really taking him seriously, were they? Jews are just like the rest of us, aren’t they? This isn’t so bad. This can’t be happening, can it? It’s really starting to get bad. How bad is it? This is wrong. Who are we? Who am I? That was just it – who was he? How much was he willing to accept before speaking out? Who would listen to him, anyway? He was insignificant and had always been insignificant. He was just one man and all he had was just one vote, but that was the beauty of democratic elections because if they’re fair, everyone has just one vote. This was the ultimate level playing field. No man had any more than any other. No one’s vote was more important than anyone else’s. For just one brief moment in time, on election day, everyone who casts a ballot is equal.
Unc determined that he couldn’t let these people intimidate him. He needed that shot, and so too did Betty. The grandchildren needed them which meant they needed to stay alive. Family first, and that’s all there was to it. Their appointments were for 9:00 a.m. right after they dropped the kids at school and they were on time. The protestors were on them before they even got out of the car. Unc pushed his way over to Betty and steadied her. So this was unrest? This is what dissatisfaction looked like? The mob mentality emboldened them to become boisterous and bullying, Unc got Betty back in the car. They wouldn’t make it into the clinic. He would have to go to the police, wherever they were, and come back for their shots. The crowd was pushing and shoving him and he was wobbling like an unstable bowling pin. Then the two worst, who were the two town dipshits, aka Harley the Redneck and Peckerwood Pete started an argument with Unc. Their spittle flew into his eyes. Their eyes were explosive as red cherry bombs. Out of the corner of his eye, Unc focuses on Raymond who is amongst the younger crowd that is rapidly gathering around the nearest source of excitement. That young, strong, excitement-seeking crowd, with Raymond first among them, pushes him down and stomps on him. Bewildered, Harley and Pete look frantically around, and upon seeing no police, flee. Unc fights and kicks, but at 70, his energy soon wanes. So they lay into him until he lie silent, and Betty runs to him, and Raymond screams, “He’s dead!” Cattle in the midst of a stampede have more of a plan than this crowd did. Bumping into each other, falling over each other, stepping on each other, pushing, pulling, punching each other, they scattered to all points on the compass. The town cleared, the streets were silent, and Betty knelt weeping over her poor dead husband who did not die with any semblance of dignity. And as she lifted her head noticing that there were Christmas decorations all around, she bitterly sang, “Merry Christmas to me. Merry Christmas to me.” Then she slowly rose and walked into the clinic to see if she could still get her shot.
The police finally arrived, the firemen rushed in, the concerned returned to the scene of the crime, evidence was gathered, Raymond split town.
A funeral was planned.
The police questioned Betty as if she was the one who killed Unc. There was no good cop/bad cop routine as they dug for evidence with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Betty fingered Raymond, because that prick had had it coming for years, but she wouldn’t identify the other young people reasoning, in her mind at least, that they simply got swept up in something that they would live to deeply regret. She wasn’t going to be the one to ruin their lives. Turn the other cheek, because whatever punishment law enforcement were to throw at them would not exceed their own mental anguish when the depth of the evil they had wrought settled in with them. Somebody had to turn the temperature down. This town had gone crazy and the only antidote to crazy is calm. And forgiveness. But Betty did have a few words for the questioning officers saying: “Where the hell were you? Where were the police? Out busting mom and pops for growing weed while these violent men prance around on Main Street as if they own this town? There have been eight women disappeared from this area and you don’t even have a clue, but you sure as hell know what’s going on with marijuana farmers with your sneaky little helicopter and your reliable network of local snitches. Where were you? Where were you when we really needed you?” The cops seemed unaffected, and in anger she asked, “Can I go now? Are you done badgering me?” They didn’t acknowledge her questions one way or the other. Frustrated, she arose, shot a disparaging glance at each of them and said, “Well then, fuck you!” as she walked out.
The vaccination clinic was disassembled and moved on to the next town the day before Unc’s funeral. The protestors were nowhere to be found. The Christmas decorations on Main Street glistened and glowed. To a stranger passing through, this place looked like a quaint little community. To those who live here, however, there was a stain on this place that couldn’t be scrubbed off. It was the end of an era as the oldest of the old school growers was to go on to that great cannabis grow in the sky.
Unc’s funeral was well-attended, Many longtime residents got up to speak kind admiring words about his life and his times. Unc’s granddaughter Joni wept unconsolably as her two little friends hugged her and tried to calm her. He was cremated and his ashes were spread under the location signs at both ends of the valley in hopes of purifying and protecting the inhabitants within. A great sacrifice was necessary to bring this community back to its senses, and indeed that sacrifice had been made.
Shade-leaf was there with all his beautiful children. His oldest daughter was plastered against a handsome young man who had recently returned to the area. They looked to be inseparable, or at least hopelessly in love. When he got up to speak the crowd hushed knowing that this was going to be good: “Time was when this town was peaceful. If people disagreed with one another they simply stayed away from each other. Now, if you disagree with someone, they act like they want to bash in your head. What has happened to us? How did everything get so completely out of control? Time was when a lot of us had legal collectives, and peacefully grew our cannabis crops, and the money stayed in the community, and we gladly paid our taxes to the State Board of Equalization. Most of us voted for legalization back in 2016. We wanted legalization, but legalization did not want us. Then that cop El Choppo came and put most of us out of business. I really don’t know what a lot of us are going to do next, but I do know that life as we knew it is over, and we have to go off in a different direction. I always felt that Unc lived his life in hopes of being no man’s enemy, but he made them just the same because some people just take, take, take, and never give back, and when you tell them, ‘Enough,’ they turn on you with a vengeance. There’s an ugliness that has invaded our community, and only we can root it out by being good to each other, by accepting each other, by adopting a stance of live and let live. Peace and love is dead. We all know that. But can’t we at least be civil to one another?”
The season’s first snow was falling fast and hard as they all exited the building. As usual, it would probably melt away in three days’ time, but just for today the white blanket covered everything in a shroud of renewal. Just for today there was no unrest, no contention, no hatred.
Just for today, God was no longer angry.