The Ayatollah of Rock 'n Rollah
Get Down With This Sound

Only The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Guilty

I filed for divorce, pro se, in the late 'teens one Valentine's Day morning at the county seat court house and set off on the hunt for a new vocation. I aimed high, non-profits that would have certainly benefited what meager functionality I had to offer (Planned Parenthood saved my life, surely they want my gratitude and talent with that 4 year gap in employment and no previous experience!), but only during the hours that my daughter was in school, thankyouverymuchforyourconsideration. One afternoon while Lucy was in class, I walked into a local recreational dispensary and dropped off my resume. The gloating from finally completing that 10-year-old uphill battle for a Bachelor's Degree (at least it wasn't poli-sci, I kept telling myself as I typed “Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy and Religious Studies focus, Dean's List last quarters”) transferred its reek of self-satisfaction from the resume onto the back of the cover letter. They took a chance on me- some weird midwesterner foot-out-the-door Navy wife in a cardigan and shorn-off mohawk come awkward Jew fro- and got a dedicated worker who didn't hate her job at first. The owners of Kalakit Cannabis, Querida and Jeff, took interest in bringing a woman with a degree into the store.

Jeff was the kinder, far more intelligent grown-up version of the 1980s jock villain from your favorite Rodney Dangerfield movie without the capacity to be an asshole. He was Chas Osborn with a Dudley Dooright chin, darker hair, muscles on muscles, who previously fronted an AC/DC cover band and occasionally still dipped into booger sugar for funsies and steroids (allegedly! shh!) for bigger gains. Intelligent but unfortunately susceptible to any grifter who took advantage of his big heart, open ears & open wallet, his wife cut an even more impressive figure. She was Kelly LeBrock fit, Brazilian blowouts and Restylane, Botox and fillers with yoga and schvitzes and the kind of bougie wine-and-crafting habit too many SAHM Pinterest users yearn for. Smart as a whip but reactive to a fault, we got on like gangbusters. Having bosses not much older than my siblings made a natural, familial sense of camaraderie bloom (they still receive Christmas cards from me every year). Querida and I sat next to each other at every holiday party, team dinner and all-hands meetings, a cuntier, saltier Stadler and Waldorf mocking some of the more dipshit moves made by others on payroll, the town at large and its politics, the Navy under our breaths.

I got a schedule that would make any struggling single parent pledge their undying loyalty to The Business- only on shift during kindergarten school hours, weekends free. I got nothing but leeway and kindness, bosses who bent over backward to accommodate my small family, read over my legal paperwork as I struggled to conduct a divorce pro se, and gave me room to learn the business without any egomaniacal hoovering or helicopter parenting. I excused their Alex P Keaton political leanings and lack of class consciousness/touchstone to any aspect of The Struggle as I was made to feel like an integral part of a business. I made enough through tips & hourly that the sting of helping the store earn the full amount of my student loan debt in the matter of 30 fucking days softened the blow just enough to keep clocking in. Our best month at that time? Over $100,000 worth of marijuana/marijuana paraphernalia sold that July. I still cringed occasionally as I watched myself selling the equivalent of my tuition in gram and eighth increments. Jeff and Querida were great to me, but not everyone honored their kindness and opportunity with the same respect.

They picked the wrong horses when it came to their management choices. Doug, the operation's manager, was a blonde and balding, snow-white bush-league PT Barnum with hood affectations. Born in Western Washington, he had perfected a line slicker than cat shit on linoleum to tout his 'business prowess' and silver tongued huckster capabilities. His boasts were either condescending word-a-day calendar diatribes long enough to keep people from asking for more info, or they were pumped up with about 40ccs of bullshit. He benefited from elder women in his family doing the hard work- his maternal grandmother owned a bar somewhere in BFE Washington, who had managerial and bookkeeping assistance from her daughter, Doug's mother. Both women bankrolled his incomplete undergrad degree that he dropped out to “go back to the calling of the family business”-- he called it business ownership/managerial leadership to Jeff, when it really amounted to having been the rolypoly barback who got a photo-op blessing from Nana to snap one of him pouring shots of butterscotch Shnapps to chicks in western wear on Facebook. He kept his wife pregnant and under his thumb at home, bragging often about how he had even become master and commander of all aspects of her life, including her current third pregnancy to the point of forbidding her from membrane sweeps while 2 weeks overdue and disallowing vaccination of that child upon birth. His stupidity was never reigned in, and so many 15 minute intervals of my life were lost to his uneducated opining on whatever chemtrail vaccination conspiracy theory-babble bullshit he was on about that day. They were words that weren't words; strings of pseudointellectual syllables I learned not to call out quickly just to be able to get through the day. Learning to be ok with and live through so much mediocre white male condescension was the toughest lesson at Kalakit, and it sucked the goddamn joy out of the room.
Their GM was no better. Dominic was another native Washingtonian, a recovering addict who looked like a dead ringer for Frank Sinatra's youth mugshot, dressed in nothing less than Armani Outlet suits while on the clock. He oozed a vile heterosexuality that said, “I love my wife, but I could love you, too if you kept your mouth shut”, and his come-hither lecherous bullshit was only rivaled by an unhealthy reverence of Wu-Tang Clan. The staff wasn't all horrible; the office manager, Katia, was a stylish blonde woman with a sharp, acerbic wit and laugh that sounded like the most melodic, mean music on earth. She had no need to be on the floor budtending, so I went out of my way looking for reasons to hit the office and shoot the shit with her. The budtenders all came from different walks of life. Hugh was the eldest of three sons of a retired Navy Chief and his wife, immigrants from the Philippines. His mother is a fixture in the local community as the owner of Nanay's Kitchen, specializing in making lumpia that could bring you to tears of joy. Randall was a diminutive backyard pit bull breeder with a blended family and distaste for facewashing and showering. There was little to know there, as our age gap and lack of commonalities didn't make Randy and I anymore than ambivalent to one another. Pete was retired Navy with a young son under 1 and a wife still serving active duty, another too-smart-for-his-own-good specimen. Julia was soft spoken and a bubbly, jovial young woman (on the edge of...22?) from Oak Harbor who ended up coupling up with Hugh. Eddie was an over 6 foot tall bearded metal head former bouncer. Ozzfest's target market, he exclusively wore black tshirts, and sported Scott Ian-approved facial hair he stroked with hands emblazoned with either the word “pain” or Norse runes. Hired after I had gained some seniority, Louie was Dominic's half brother who was brought in thanks to nepotism, and Tanja was the brace-faced tart that took both Dominic and Louie up on shenanigans in the supply closet.

Clandestine crotch grabs, rampant marijuana use-come-dick measuring contests (“Bruh, slam this 100mg soda and see if you can still finish your shift.”), getting busy looking busy and watching the place seemingly print it's own fucking currency was normal. The patrons were an entirely different, unreadable mixed bag. If I had to guess, 4 out of 5 patrons who walked through the door were already intoxicated by the time I greeted them. We had regulars who came in 3, 4 times a day to spend upwards of $40/day for dried plant matter. Most were benign, lots of old heads who would show up more frequently around the 1st and the 15th of the month. Long grey hair and leather jackets abounded, asking if they knew what they had to do back in the day to get their pakalolo, sharing felonious pasts and stories of shifty men with personal air crafts and times of triumph against the police. There were others than just took it too far- frequent bulk buys of at least a half ounce twice a week left some patrons with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome- severe stomach discomfort, nausea and vomiting associated with the heaviest of users. Even CHS wasn't enough of a deterrent to stop smoking dope.

We watched medical patients work against crippling side effects of cancer medications, Parkinson's disease, PTSD. Men and women in opioid recovery came and went with such frequency that we could tell when they relapsed, tell when they went dry, tell when they were trying their best but feeling their worst. You became someone's dealer AND their counselor, their pastor/priest, their exorcist, their plug and their hype man. Most often, it was normal noninvasive visits- quick ins-and-outs of our regular service industry people, tourists who start to pour in at the end of April. They were the ones bringing loads of cash and tastes for the expensive leaf and treats- open to upselling and suggestion (and bigger tips). Those were the easiest to appease; quick jovial conversation, a couple questions, some recommendations and a purchase and done. Regulars who considered themselves connoisseurs or just high falutin cocksuckers rarely wanted your input; they just wanted the highest percentage points (THC, CDB, THCa, CBDa, CBG, CBN...), the equivalents to the big box brand names with flashy packaging and potentially massaged test numbers.

Other people were far more intense, their requests and needs so much more than some trivial schmo on his lunch break looking for the cheapest preroll. Terminal patients were the hardest; you know you aren't selling a panacea, you're helping put a bandaid on an arterial bleed, but you still hold hope for a modicum of comfort found in weed. There was the time we sold a bowl and downstem to a shifty character who immediately asked for the bathroom, and left the bowl sullied on the sink after being unable to smoke heroin effectively out of the glass and left in a pissy storm-off. The one that hit me like a sucker punch that still feels like the fist hasn't left me could have happened yesterday, the memory's so vivid. A hurried woman came in wearing service industry working class attire- black pocketless pants, clean white sneakers, button-up blouse. Other budtenders were engaged with other patrons, or their cell phones, leaving her to look at the the joint display with brows furrowed intensely. I made my way down to her, behind the cases, badged up and available. “Good afternoon. What kind of buzz from our preroll case would you like today?” She seemed shocked by my greeting, making eye contact and wincing. “I need...” she stopped. She inhaled deeply, and gathered her thoughts. “I need the kind of joint you smoke when you have to bury your first grandbaby.” She didn't cry immediately, but kept looking into my eyes for an answer, some answer, some direction. I pulled my badge off, engaging the safety break on the lanyard and heard it hit the ground as I rounded the barrier to unlock it. We stood on the salesfloor and sobbed; I just held her while her body heaved and her face burrowed deeper into my shoulder with each exhale.

What most people (not all, but a majority) on payroll who worked the salesfloor missed was the call to service the job required. You needed to make space to care for your community as you served them, and it had to be genuine. Without empathy and a desire to provide the best possible 'health care' or 'self care' or whatever kind of guidance you'd call it we could with the knowledge we'd gleamed, you were no better than a snake oil peddling charlatan. People took a budtender's word as gospel, out of hope for functionality, even with every caveat repeated- "I'm not an RN/LNP/MD, these aren't health care directives, you must tell your GP what you're doing, because this won't replace THEIR learned advice". They wanted to believe, which made YOU want to believe, but there were more times that it all felt like one big lie agreed upon.

The state of Washington implemented new requirements to attain medical certification for budtenders and shops themselves. Budtenders were asked to take college-level distance learning courses through accredited institutions to the tune of a couple hundred dollars per person. Jeff footed the bill for all budtenders to gain the accreditation, gave us a month to complete the task, and off we went. My heart broke as I blew through the course in less than 8 hours at my boyfriend Ken's desktop computer one Saturday afternoon. I missed learning. I missed exercising my brain and adding new conditions and discoveries. The reality of my economic status- deferred tuition costs due to my socioeconomic status ($70,000 on pause with the federal government)- hammered home that I would never be able to continue learning for another sheepskin, unless I managed to amass the kind of wealth I saw in the retirees I served from the hippie-dippie part of the south end of Whidbey Island. I felt stuck, shackled, and relegated to indentured servitude until I either died and they wrote off my costs of education as a wash or they squeezed all the blood from my stone. I won't be owning a house. I won't be owning any land. I will be lighting my degree on fire some day to keep the box warm, because I bought into the garbage idea of doors opening to a promising financial future upon graduation and the fulfillment of the bullshit dream of Mom's bragging rights of having three kids who finished college. I should take what little learning I can get and just be satisfied. Visions of Palahniuk danced in my head- but instead of the Chase Banks, the Capital Ones, the JP Morgans, I saw Fanny, FAFSA, and the Treasury dancing in the flames.

The swiftness of my completion chapped the asses of the men I worked with, who started comparing times of course completion with one another when I walked in one morning. Doug and Dominic were flexing their intellectual prowess to an ambivalent Hugh when I clocked in, badged up and stepped behind the counter. “It only took me Friday and Saturday to get my completion certificate,” Doug brayed, one-upping Dominic's three days. He turned his gaze to me. “Are you done yet, Doom? How much more do you have to do?” “Finished Saturday evening,” I said, keeping it vague. “When did you start?” “Saturday morning.” Both men stopped what they were doing to give me a look of disdain, like I got caught pantsless with a jar of peanut butter and their non-famished cat. I never flexed my intellectual muscle to solidify what a threat I was to them- engaging in one-upmanship would have been masturbatory. I simply wanted to be left alone to do my job and live comfortably without too much effort exerted. The forces around that store just wouldn't allow that to happen.

Human error, human greed, and the Liquor Control Board started sounding the death knell for my Kalakit Cannabis employment stint. The greed came from another partner in the business. Working behind the scenes and appearing so infrequently I had mistaken him for a patron at first, Roger was the other half of the ownership equation. Short, hairy and seedy, he was the kind of man that struck me as a career subway flasher if he hadn't come from a cache of Daddy's Money. You could look at him and smell the stripper glitter on his lapel. He didn't just rub me the wrong way- Querida never hid her disgust for him, sharing harrowing stories of his tumultuous family life that only served as insubordination fuel. Of all the people in that company, Roger was the only one I manipulated, and benignly. Acting like His Gal Friday kept him at arm's length and kept the focus business-only when we interacted. This was the guy who bought the IT guy's first sexual experience in Mexico just because he thought “it was time Gerry popped that cherry!” I pictured 6 kinds of sludge oozing from his gob every time he spoke. The Liquor Control Board was delighted by recreational marijuana coming to Washington. Rebranding themselves the Liquor AND Cannabis Control Board, we still referred to it as the Ell-Cee-Bee, and could pick our designated officer Andrea out from 90 paces. A consummate professional woman dressed sharply in Dickies work wear and button ups who often donned a baseball cap emblazoned with the state seal, she was a great resource who taught us how to truly spot a fake ID, and clarified laws in ways that laypeople even appreciated. But she also sent in juvenile sting operations with regular, irregular frequency.

We got popped on Julia's first day- she accidentally sold to a minor under 21, and earned us a ticket. Fees were paid, Julia was given only a warning and her job remained intact, and we tightened up our ID checks- one at the door, one at the register every sale. We got electronic readers to do the math when others were too stoned to remember “this date or before in 1996”. Human error got us fucked again, when, during a lapse in judgment, Eddie grabbed the ID, didn't do the math right, and sold to another minor under 21. I felt my stomach hit my feet as Ell-Cee-Bee Andrea walked through the door with handcuffs in her hand, and the just-purchased bag of weed in the other to begin the shitty comedy of errors. Eddie broke, crying behind the partition that separated the sales floor from the inventory room- his position was immediately terminated, and we all felt the heft of the 2nd strike albatross around our necks. Jeff and Querida attempted to put our fears at ease- “The legal team has this, they'll get the paperwork in, we promise no disruption in your ability to serve patrons or keep the door open.” The lawyers never sent the proper paperwork in. We came up to the building one morning to a shutdown notice scotch-taped to the front door- 30 days, no product in, no product out, no work. “We'll still provide wages. Don't worry.” “We can do two weeks of wages.” “We can't pay your weekly wages unless you're here working during the shutdown during normally scheduled shifts.” I was flabbergasted. I knew how much they made, how much in taxes and purchasing and payroll left the shop on a monthly basis, and how cushioned management was at salaried or owner status, and budtender labor being exploited for the greater good of the upwardly mobile smacked hard.

I walked into work during one shutdown morning with Katia in the office doing back-end tasks, Dominic and Doug circling one another like sharks with the scent of blood in the water while I hate-cleaned the bathroom for the 4th time in two days. Then I heard it- the escalating volume of hoarse, terse male shouting. My phone vibrated- Katia sent a text. “I'm having a panic attack, and I think they're going to start throwing punches.” The squabble was just a climax of the building tensions the two had for months as they called out one another's incompetence with cries of “faggot” and “fuck you” peppered in for good measure. I stopped bystanding and walked up the stairs toward the office to physically get between them and guide Katia outside. They stood like shitty alley toms, backs arched and hissing millimeters away from noses touching, impotently homoerotic. I marched between the two wordlessly, casting disgusted glances and taking Katia's hand. They moved backward from one another, the fight not coming to blows or any discernible decent conclusion. Katia frantically called her husband on the way down the stairs to the outside as I huffed back to the supply closet, disgusted. Dominic slithered up behind me, practically snaking a tongue in my ear as he hissed, “Yeah, you liked how I handled that, huh? I fucking HANDLED him.” Couldn't hold it in anymore- now I'm pulled in to some wafer-thin douchebag's psychosexual issues? “You're both disgusting. Stay the fuck away from me.” I sent an abundance of texts to Jeff and Querida, begging them to remove these idiots from positions of authority, as now two of their workers were visibly shaken and disturbed by their bullshit behavior. The owners only furrowed their brows and moved to call an all-hands staff meeting.

I knew I was done. It was now time to figure out when and how to quit. I had moved into Ken's South Whidbey stronghold, located in the woods, miles from the main drag and secluded. Lucy was still enrolled in school up north, an hour drive one way. We commuted together every weekday for the last two weeks of school, her going to class and me to a shut-down, broken dispensary. This was the first time in a LONG time that I cohabited with a partner before tying the knot, and it was delightful. The community seemed fresh and new, and we were the youngest people in our cul-de-sac who had just grabbed the world by the short hairs. We romped on beaches, played our instruments, carefully integrating our lives into each other's, and acted like we had invented sex as soon as we knew the kiddo was deep asleep. Lucy was thriving, having a mother not decimated by the destruction of her marriage constantly, and coming into her own as a force to be reckoned with, earning her first note home for subversive behavior related to owning her bodily autonomy. Rebuking peer Victor's insistence in putting his body on her, she cocked her head to the side and declared, “You're a little fucker, aren't you?!” (the note home was framed and sent to my mother posthaste; “Called another student a f**ker- Have a great weekend! :D”) The discord between thriving home life and dying employed existence had me miserable.

It was during that last all-hands shutdown staff meeting that Querida said the phrase that gave me the moment to say, “Out.” Shutdown days were inventory days, 2½ gallon Ziplock bags filled of individually wrapped grams/eighth/half/ounce bags of usable leaf marijuana, segregated by producer/processor & strain, were counted by hand and sorted into proper lots. The floor looked like a ballpit. No one said a damn word; everyone was silently, collectively miserable at the broken promise of wage coverage without necessity for bullshit busywork. The inactivity of the owners and lack of leadership put every worker at risk of being unable to provide for their families. This was a travesty- and knowing we were expendable, replaceable and not worth a half-assed layoff at a lesser hourly rate on temporary unemployment at the least laid waste to employee morale. The floor was cleared, inventory processed & recorded again, and everyone gathered around the cash registers to hear what El Jefe had to say. “We have faith in our current structure here, and we believe in continuing how it's always been when this shutdown ends. We still want you to follow the leadership in place, and Doug is still your operation's manager.” I felt the red flush up my face. I looked at my coworkers, most who were staring at their shoes with despondent looks, except for Doug, with an upturned face beaming with smug self-satisfaction.

This guy was an asshole with no social redeeming qualities, a bully and a blowhard without the brainpower to back it up and I was done watching this failed experiment of his leadership. I quit immediately, laying my badge on the counter and taking Querida outside to not make a scene and embarrass either one of us in front of other employees. I started by apologizing to Querida for leaving without notice. “I can't believe you're still keeping him in a position of authority. It's fucking crazy to trust your livelihood with that slack jawed dipfuck. I can't be part of it anymore. The second hand embarrassment is unlivable. I'm sorry, and I'm out.” Her face fell. “If you could just stick around just a little longer...” The hour long commute one way for a job with diminishing personal returns wasn't tenable for me. I hugged her, and told her she wasn't going to lose me forever, just lose me on payroll. I had no job lined up, no prospects for qualifying for unemployment, no savings and no plan whatsoever but I finally felt like I could take a deep breath again without feeling despair crush my windpipe. Not my circus anymore. Never my monkeys.

10:26 p.m. ::
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