This true story was first published earlier this year in Strand Magazine, in a piece edited by Liz Alterman.
Years ago, when I was seventeen, I lived in a suburb of Cincinnati called Wyoming. One Friday night, a lot of us teenagers were at a keg party and became convinced there was a UFO in the sky.
So the next night, my friends Wade, Eric, and I got together in my back yard to get high and see if the UFO would return. I’d been smoking pot for years, but I mainly mooched off of other people. Tonight, for the first time, I had bought a decent-sized amount of pot myself. It was autumn and I wore a thin, light blue windbreaker. In my left pocket was the pot pipe. In my right pocket was the ounce I’d purchased for twenty-five dollars.
After we smoked a couple of bowls, we looked up in the sky for UFO’s and started laughing uncontrollably, pretending to see them everywhere, imagining that every star was an alien spaceship. Unbeknownst to us, our next door neighbors, the Fils, who had a teenage daughter, thought we were looking into their upstairs bedrooms. They didn’t recognize me. So they called the police.
We were at the height of our pot-fueled hilarity when we heard, over some sort of bullhorn, “This is the police. We are coming into the back yard.” Then we saw the bright lights of a police car.
We stopped laughing. Back then, in Cincinnati at least, pot possession was a serious crime.
A policeman came around one side of the house, and another policeman came around the other side. I jammed my hands into my shallow pockets, trying to keep the policemen from seeing the outlines of the pipe and the plastic bag containing the pot. The policemen stood in front of us. “What’s going on?” one of them said.
I was so terrified. I was positive they were looking straight at my hands. They knew I had pot in there. All I wanted to do was bring out my hands with the pipe and the pot and say, “Here they are.”
Wade, who was eighteen and cooler than Eric and me, pointed at me and said, “He lives here.”
I managed to say, “We’re looking for UFO’s.”
The policeman said, “UFO’s, huh?”
Wade said, “Yeah, we saw some strange lights last night and wondered if we’d see them again.”
The other policeman said, “The neighbors complained about the noise.”
“I’m sorry about that,” I said.
Both policemen looked us over. I could feel my hands gripping the pot and the pipe so tightly. Then the first policeman said, “Well, keep it down out here.”
“Yes, sir,” Eric said.
Then the policemen left. I took my shaky hands out of my pockets. The next day I sold my ounce of pot to someone else for fifteen bucks, just to get rid of it.
But I’ve often thought about that night, especially during the past couple of years. If I’d been a minority, or lived in the inner city, I believe strongly that I would have been searched, arrested, and put in jail. I would have gotten a police record that kept me from going to the school of my choice, Amherst College, and my whole life would have been altered.