What I Learned Growing Weed & Playing Nintendo

What I Learned Growing Weed & Playing Nintendo

The year was 1989 and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign was in full effect. Weed was getting harder and harder to find and becoming a lot more expensive.

I had just started supporting myself doing standup fulltime and since I only had to work an hour a day (plus another hour or two writing new material and taking care of the business side), I decided I would grow my own.

Be careful what you wish for.

Like most things I do, I either get discouraged immediately and quit, or see a ray of light and go full bore. For some reason, I believed I could grow my own pot. Not sure why my self-confidence chose an illegal activity to make a rare appearance, but I was glad to feel inspired.

I tried using a fluorescent grow light that couldn’t have been more than about 50 watts. I’m not sure what that light was equipped to grow but it wasn’t weed. The seeds I had planted in Styrofoam cups barely sprouted then quickly died.

I was in Barbara’s Bookstore on Wells in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood and found a book on how to grow pot. I soon discovered I needed better equipment; much better equipment.

My wife – at that time my girlfriend– was a little nervous, but I assured her everything would be okay. She reminded me that with the new harsher drug sentencing laws in addition to doing jail time, they could confiscate everything we owned. I reminded her that we didn’t own anything. That’s not entirely true. In about four days we would own a valuable light that made free pot.

I also felt that being a white, college-educated male from the suburbs with no criminal record even if I was caught I probably wouldn’t see much, if any, jail time.

The book suggested buying anywhere from a 250 to a 500 watt metal-halide or sodium-vapor light. Which do you think I bought?

The 1000 watt metal-halide light arrived. It could easily have been mistaken for the sun. It was gigantic. The bulb alone was the size of a basketball. It gave off so much heat it would roast the plants if they grew too close to it, so I attended to their height by pruning them daily.

I set it up on a timer to simulate the shortening of the seasons, which is what triggers the female pot plants to bud and release their sticky THC (the part that gets you high), and the male plants to release their undesirable pollen, which creates seeds when it lands on the sticky female buds.

With the new light, I was shocked at how easy it was to now grow pot and soon our spare bedroom had a half dozen foot-high plants.

My wife was cautiously happy. I was giddy. I had two things rarely found together; weed and a sense of accomplishment. I set out to do something I knew nothing about and did it. I had made and completed my first adult to-do list! And committed my first felony! I was on a roll.

The seeds I had planted came from two different strains of pot; some high-end Hawaiian and some low-grade Mexican.

For some reason the Hawaiian didn’t grow indoors very well, but the Mexican seeds were thriving and were no longer looking low-grade.

But when I cut their light cycle back and they began to bud, I was disappointed. The buds didn’t look like the pictures in the book. So I reread the book.

The author had stressed that a plant will only be as healthy as it’s weakest link (light, water, air, soil/nutrients). Well I knew I had plenty of light, water and vitamins. The weak link must have been the air it was breathing.

CO2 is to plants what oxygen is to us. It’s also the bubbles in drinks, so it’s widely available, but I still felt nervous buying a tank of it in person.


Salesman: That’s a lot of CO2.

Me: I love soda.


I was sure he knew why I was buying the tank of CO2. I used a fake name and paid cash. Driving home I checked my rear-view mirror.

I got the tank home and hooked it up to a timer and a loop of plastic tubing with holes poked in it to disperse the CO2 around the room.

My wife didn’t like it. It looked like a huge bomb. She was sure it would explode, killing us. I assured her it was safe and then casually mentioned to not spend too much time in there when it’s putting out CO2 because you could suffocate.

I went to bed.

I woke up to something out of a comic book. It was like a magic wand had been waved over the plants. They grew more overnight than they had in an entire week.

Within three or four days, the buds exploded in size, color and thickness. They looked like the pictures in the book. The buds were the size of the erection I had looking at them. I inspected the buds through a magnifying glass marveling at the colored hairs and especially the ridiculous amount of THC, which could be seen in the clear, tiny bubble-topped stalks that held it.

By then it was obvious which plants were male and which were female and I got rid of the males, since all they produce is pollen which makes seeds, and I wanted to grow seedless pot, also known as sinsemillia, the most highly sought-after kind.

Harvesting the buds was comical. It was like I had dipped my hands in glue. I could literally press down on a bud with my open palm and pick it up. I hung the branches upside down in our pantry to dry.

I must have opened that pantry door a thousand times, and just gazed in admiration at my accomplishment. I got a kind of a high just looking at them.

The first harvest was probably ¼ pound of the highest-grade pot I had ever seen. I would repeat the process every three to four months for the next year.

In case I needed more reasons to never leave my apartment, Nintendo became popular that year. I would tend to my plants, smoke weed and play Nintendo, only leaving the apartment to do standup, rollerblade with the dog or get food.

I remember looking at the bags of weed in my fridge. I would pull them out and smell them, examine them. I laughed out loud. I would never run out of pot. Ever. And never pay another dime for it. That thought boggled my mind. I knew I could escape any time. forever I felt at peace. I felt safe.

I loved the look on friend’s faces when they’d see the plants and the bags of incredibly potent pot they produced. I would open up our crisper drawer and show them the bounty. Their jaws would hit the floor. I felt smart. I felt tough. I got high from the weed but I also got a high from feeling I was impressing people and that they looked at me as kind of an outlaw. I felt dangerous and clever.

I had decided early on that I would never sell any of it. I knew with my addictive personality that if I started to, I would always be trying to outdo my previous sales and that would get me busted. I also knew that if I were caught, the fact that I had never sold it would lessen my sentence.

I gave away a LOT of pot. You can’t imagine the look on a stoned person’s face when you hand them a free ounce of really good pot in a bone-dry market. I wish I had taken pictures.

Needless to say, I became popular; too popular. It got hard to get people to leave our apartment. I guess they didn’t want it to look like they were just coming by to get free pot, which most of them were, but I didn’t care, I could only smoke so much, and I didn’t know what to do with the rest. I just wanted them to leave so I could retreat into the cocoon of weed and Nintendo I had created.

We lived in a four-unit apartment building in Chicago’s Lakeview Central neighborhood. Fortunately I knew the people in the other three units and they all smoked. If they hadn’t, I surely would have been busted from the smell.

The potency of the pot was so great that one or two hits of it equaled ten or twenty hits of regular pot. When the plants were budding, you could smell the unmistakable skunky scent the second you walked in the door to the apartment building on the floor BELOW us.

Bees even started hanging around me. One day I opened the door to the grow room and there were 50 bees swarming around the plants. To this day I have no idea how they got into a completely sealed room.

My favorite Nintendo games were Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda.

I would play for hours, not getting up to eat, shower or even pee, just holding it in, wasted out my mind, intent on finding Zelda’s next hidden treasure, hoping to not be killed by a dragon.

I remember one night my wife left around dinnertime, did three shows and came home to me in the exact same spot. I hadn’t budged in eight hours. She gently tried to point out how unhealthy this was. I pretended to hear her.

My health started to suffer. My back started going out, I’m sure triggered by sitting paranoid and full of pee for hours on end, too focused on Zelda to move. My bladder must look like a weather balloon.

I remember the moment I realized I had a problem.. I was on the phone with my brother, who was annoyed with me about something, and my wife was in the kitchen disappointed about something else, both were talking to me at the same time, and I suddenly broken down. I hung up the phone with my brother and started to cry.

I couldn’t take it anymore. The blunt tool of escaping wasn’t working any more. It worked great for a couple months, then like all addictions it stopped working and made things worse.

It would be years before I would call myself an addict and get help, but I quit smoking pot that day and gave away all my equipment. Years later I would start smoking pot again, but it was the first time I realized getting something you really, really want isn’t always good.

Months later I started going to therapy, and soon discovered the relief of a tool that didn’t have side effects.

It’s ironic I was playing Zelda, which involved exploring a darkened map, square by square, illuminating each one, sometimes finding treasure, sometimes something awful, like a dragon.

I wasn’t ready to explore my own dark squares in 1989. When I finally did, I discovered huge amounts of pain, rage, guilt, fear, sadness and despair; an Irish Catholic casserole. Many, many times I wanted to die, because I truly didn’t believe I would ever get through it.

Nothing presents the opportunity for growth like pain, and if we avoid getting stuck in its two major trappings, self-pity and self-righteous anger, pain can leave some great things in its wake, clarity, compassion, humility, vulnerability, trust and even joy.

We wouldn’t have a word or even a concept for what light is if we didn’t experience darkness.

Most of our actions in life are driven by the feelings at our core, the ones we can’t even put into words; the ones that run the show. If we don’t go in there and identify them and process them we will be unconscious slaves to them for the rest of our lives.

I have lived in that prison. My core belief was that I don’t matter. If you had stopped me on the street and asked me if I thought I mattered, I would have said yes, and thought it was a ridiculous question. But at my core, I didn’t FEEL it. My actions proved it. I had spent my life trying to stand out. I was constantly trying to impress you. I had trouble speaking up for myself, and I didn’t think I deserved a better childhood.

I began to hang out with people who treated me like I did matter, (mostly friends from support groups) and I began to avoid people who didn’t. I began to heal.

I ran around for years thinking the right achievements would bring me love and then I would be able to relax and turn my spinning brain off. Turns out what I needed to relax, was to just give myself permission to do it. But to give myself permission, I had to believe I’m okay exactly as I am. And to believe I’m okay I had to EXPERIENCE living through something terrifying, like processing my past, and coming out the other side okay. And that could only happen by asking for help.

There is no place in the future that is safe from pain.

All we have is here; this moment, this little Zelda square. Explore it. It’s your map. The universe gave it to you.

We all have great things to discover inside ourselves and most of it is guarded by dragons. I have wanted to turn and run hundreds of times, and I often did, but I kept coming back for help. I don’t know why that is. Maybe deep down there was still a tiny part of me that believed I matter.

Ask yourself, “Am I worth working on?” If the answer is “yes”, start doing it tomorrow. If the answer is “no”, start doing it right now. If money is tight, Google “low fee therapy” and the name of your town/city. And most support groups are free. A great resource for any questions is www.helpguide.org.

Break out that broadsword and start exploring. Holy fuck is it an adventure. I’m not bullshitting. Like my support group friend Tim says, “We have no reason to lie to you, you’re not that important.”

You’ll be amazed what you’ll find if you can let go of where you think you should be, what you think you should have, and who you think you should be.