(Photo courtesy of Rick Stiebel)

Rickter Scale: More smoke and secondhand hindsight

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

At the risk of being branded a racist, I can trace my tobacco addiction to the people of Afghanistan, Lebanon, Nepal and Kashmir.

They were the purveyors of an international buffet of hashish that steamed into Montreal’s port by the tons in 1968.

Brittle red and blond Leb, flaky Afghani and my personal favourite, a black Nepalese temple variety that was so sticky and pliable you could change its shape by rolling it in your hands.

I was the only one of the constantly changing gang of hippies that cluttered a three-bedroom apartment who didn’t smoke cigarettes.

Everyone I hung out with back then had an affinity for smoking hash after work by heating it up and crumbling it into an appropriate-sized pile of tobacco before rolling it into spliffs, which they finished off with a cardboard filter torn off of the flap of a pack of Zig Zag papers.

The only time we weren’t puffing on spliffs was during those exceedingly rare, short-lived situations when all of our dealers were out of town or out of product at the same time.

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By the time I moved to B.C. in 1974, I had become hooked on nicotine without even being aware of the hypnotic grip it held on me. Hash was either invisible in B.C. or hardly worth the effort considering the potency of what we left behind, so we all migrated to the cheap Mexican and occasional Colombian.

The pot that was available in Victoria at that time was cheap ground beef compared to the prime rib we were used to feasting upon, but we managed to grudgingly adapt once our postal link to hash oil mailed from Montreal eventually dried up for good.

Getting high for me became a glass half empty experience until an angel of a girlfriend from Philadelphia gifted me with a water pipe. It was close to two feet tall, appropriately tobacco clay in colour, and featured an old man’s face carved into the bark of the trunk of a tree.

It didn’t take long to figure out mixing my weed with a little tobacco soothed that itch I hadn’t been able to reach since I left Montreal.

I slept with the pipe my friends branded “the old man” always within easy reach and took it almost everywhere I went, with the exception of Royal Roads Military College, where I toiled in the kitchen as a cook for $6.61 an hour.

The pipe was a surefire source of laughs whenever we rocked that old brown house we shared at the corner of Bay and Prior with parties that didn’t begin until the Forge closed because that’s where many of my friends worked.

Sooner or later some stranger would beg for a puff from the pipe, despite my earnest warnings.

The results were invariably a convulsive cough accompanied by nausea, followed by a hacking desperation discharge into the toilet, depending on how much they had to drink that night.

Probably a good time as any to pause for a puff before sliding into next week’s Rickter Scale, and how impending parenthood helped me quit two times for the price of one during that particular time and space.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.


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