Among the Stoned Lab Rats

An experiment at the University of British Columbia found that tetrohydrocannabinol (THC), one of the active ingredients in marijuana, turned even hard-working rats into slackers.

                    The Wall Street Journal


It was Sunday night and me and Mikey and Ike were sitting in Bill’s Lounge–voted “Boston’s Worst Bar” for the sixth consecutive year!–when Mikey made the mistake of asking Bill for another bag of Andy Capp Pub Fries.

“You guys don’t got no more credit here,” Bill said as he wiped down the bar with a rag that came with the fixtures when he bought the place a decade ago.

“We don’t?” Ike asked, and he might as well have done it rhetorically.  When Bill says you can no longer run a tab, there’s no Supreme Court of Bud Lite Pitchers to appeal to.

“Nope.  I got a business to run here, even if it don’t look it.”

I felt like whackin’ the two of ’em upside the head.  “How many times have I got to tell you mooks!”

“What?” Mikey asked, all offended dignity.

“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that one now,” Ike said.

“You should,” I replied.  “I only said it like five minutes before the author chose to make us the subject of this here post.”

I could see their little heads spinning.  America’s best and brightest aren’t going in to the lab rat business these days.

I turned my little head to the right, towards the windows that looked out onto Park Square, and the lines of Auden’s September 1, 1939 came into my head from outta nowhere.

Faces along the bar,

I began, reciting from memory,

Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home.

“Did you just make that up?” Bill asked as he dunked a beer mug and an Old Fashioned glass in the sink of dirty water that looked like the Charles River before they cleaned it up.

“If I did, will you give us another bag of . . .”

Auden:  “On the whole, I’d rather be in an anthology.”


“Ix-nay on the ee-fray ack-snay,” he said, showing off his skills in Pig Latin.

“Okay, no need to get shirty about it,” I replied.  “Well boys,” I said to my two comprades, hitching up my little gut, “looks like it’s time for us to go out and earn our keep.  Maybe amble over to MIT and see what they’re . . .”

I looked at the two of them, and I noticed a certain lack of joie de vivre, get-up-and-go, moxie.

“Are you guys with me or not?” I asked them, a bit louder this time.  They were staring off into the middle distance whilst the soothing sounds of California soft rock oozed out of the black speakers up in the corners where the ceiling met the walls.

“Am I talking to myself here?” I finally had to shout at them to get their attention.

“Oh, sorry,” Mikey said.  “What was you sayin’?”

“I was saying like I was talking to myself that we have to go out and find a new experiment to be in.”

Again with the blank stares.  “Why?” Ike said after a pause that was so long it went beyond “thoughtful” into the realm of . . . stoned.

“Because we gotta EAT!”  Heads turned–it’s considered impolite to disturb someone’s dismal depression at Bill’s.

“Why is that?” Mikey asked.

“You know,” I said out of the side of my mouth, “I could take that one of two ways.”

I waited for them to ask me to explain, but again they just sat there, their eyes glowing red like little laser pointers.  “Either it’s a very deep existential question, the primordial ‘Why?’ with which we meet the absurdity of the universe and its complete and utter indifference to all our aspirations . . .”

“Umm?” Bill ummed audibly.  Like a lot of Boston bartenders, his degree from the Harvard School of Bartending is not the only sheepskin on his wall, so he sometimes joins in the highbrow palaver–I’m tempted to say “bullshit”–his patrons put out.


“Or, it’s the stupidest question anybody ever asked since ‘Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp.”

“I’m gonna go with the latter,” Bill said as he made his way down the bar to “freshen up” the chardonnay of a bottle blonde who looked like she needed a little freshening up herself.

Even with that insult slapping them in the face the two just sat there, like driveway gnomes.  And then it dawned on me:  my old buddies, who used to run through mazes all day, working up a healthy appetite while maintaining vital muscle tone, had turned into idle, apathetic stoners–without even going to college!

“Okay–I get it,” I said.  “You think that just because you’re high on pot the world revolves around you, like the guys I used to waste my time with in dank basements glowing with black lights and iridescent posters.”

“What kind of posters?” Mikey asked, at least at last showing some signs of life.

“Iridescent,” Ike said.  “They were a spin-off band from Genesis.”


I let him stand uncorrected.  I had some serious intervenin’ to do.  “Look, you lunkheads,” I said, growing alliterative, “If we don’t work, we got no money.  If we got no money, we can’t buy the things we need to survive.  If we don’t buy the things we need to survive, we won’t survive–got it?”

I looked at them, hoping to see some will to live.  But no–nothing there.  Again I was reminded of a poem, and began to recite from rueful memory The Lotos Eaters by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and why he’s got that comma in there I’ll never figure out.  Surely you know its doleful recitation of the perils of indolence:

How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes, ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream!

I don’t know if it was the verse that stirred them, but something did, because Mikey sat up and said “You may be right.”

I couldn’t believe my ears; after all, they were constantly ringing.

“Did I hear you correctly?” I asked, incredulous.

Tennyson, after a particularly long night of pot and Jethro Tull


“Yeah, me too,” Ike said.

“What’s got into you two all of a sudden?” I asked.

They looked at each other as if I was the one who was daft.

“We got the munchies, dinglebrain.”


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