You Have No Idea How High I Am

Columnist grows to appreciate another kind of weed

Him: Wanna get high?

Me: Not now, I'm swamped. I need to read the papers, listen to talk radio, and slap my car with this new bumper sticker, "If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention."

Him: Relax. We can do all that and get high at the same time. Close your eyes and inhale.

James O'Brien

Me: Okay. I suppose I can take a break for a...whoa. This is good shit. What is it? Acapulco Gold? Maui Wauwie? I can't believe I just said "Acapulco Gold."

Him: I call it "Purple Reign." You can only get it around these parts, this time of year.

Me: God, everything is so beautiful. Colors. Fragrance. I hear Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley singing, "Lilac wine is sweet and heady, like my love/Lilac wine, I feel unsteady, like my love."

Him: Very astute. Welcome to paradise, my brother. What you are experiencing is smell--the strongest of all the senses (you can look it up)--and the inimitable intoxication of lilacs in full bloom.

Me: Lilacs? And here I thought it was some miracle drug, a cure-all for the planet's ills.

Him: It is. The medicinal qualities of lilacs are taken for granted, but not by us. Not today. Smell that? C'est perfumia. Not for nothing are lilacs known as "the mother of memory."

Me: When I was but a wee boy, Mama would send me to the bus stop with lilacs wrapped in tinfoil and a damp paper towel.

Him: Breathe deep the gathering groove, my man!

Me: You have given me the key to the universe, my sweet soul brother! But isn't it a drag to think that it's just us, a couple of lilac stoners, who appreciate the buds? How can anyone care about lilacs when we're faced with so many problems?

Him: Listen. The same gods who made war and cop killers and the stadium debates and Ann Coulter made lilacs and the magical musty aroma that hangs in the air long after they've lost their bloom. Besides, Van Gogh painted his Lilacs in 1889, the year after he maimed his ear, the year madness finally kicked his ass, the year before he shot himself in the heart. Marc Chagall painted his lovers in the lilacs in 1930, the same year that the stock market crashed on Wall Street and the Nazi Party took power in Germany. The Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel painted his Lilacs in 1900, at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, and Rachmaninoff composed his Lilacs, opus 21, the same year. Lilacs. Revolution.

Me: Coincidence?

Him: We think not.

Me: But that's ancient history. We've got a responsibility to change things now. You know, fix what Joyce called "this stinking dunghill of a world."

Him: Speaking of which, ancient Egyptians worshipped the dung beetle as a holy animal and a symbol of immortality, because they made beauty out of shit. Lilacs do the same thing. They're little flecks of color in a black-and-white picture. They're the hardiest flowers around. Even when ignored, they survive and bloom. And every spring, there they are so sweet and aromatic they can truly change how you view things. Even the purple prose of James Lileks.

Me: Far out.

Him: Not to get all bookwormy on your buzz, but lilacs are edible. They originated in Europe and Asia and first bloomed in the United States in 1755. There are lilac festivals all over the country. There are 20 species--one is called "Martha Stewart"--and lilacs belong to the genus syringa, which is the root of "syringe," which is what you and I should be filling up with lilac juice and mainlining.

Me: Not listening. I'm picnicking with Kate Winslet in a grove in Versailles. She's wearing a bonnet and a cleavage-caressing dress, and holding a parasol. I have undone her corset and deflowered her. My head is in her lap. A unicorn nibbles at the dew-dappled carpet of lilacs beneath our bare feet. We are listening to Tori Amos singing Evan Dando's "In the Grass All Wine Colored." She is reading me the naughty bits of Lolita; I'm penning gay erotica with a quill. Cotton balls flutter about, like snow. Her British accent harmonizes with the birds; fairies flutter on the breeze; her breasts are full, and they taste of--can it be?--lilacs.

Him: Truman Capote said, "The true beloveds of this world are in their lover's eyes lilacs opening."

Me: Oh! Joy! Why can't we feel this way all the time?

Him: Because the lilac's job is to announce spring and then die. Make haste! We must devour them whilst we can, for the buds opened three weeks ago. The good news is that the cool spell we've been having ensures that we'll have at least a couple more weeks of lilac time.

Me: Isn't that the name of a band? The Lilac Time?

Him: Good '80s pop-rock memory. Stephen Duffy's crew. And they're not alone. Lots of music has been inspired by the little buds, including Ivor Novello's "We'll Gather Lilacs," Carmen McRae's "Lilacs in the Rain," Marc Bolan's "The Lilac Hand of Menthol Dan," and Louis Armstrong's "Jeannine (I Dream of Lilac Time)." There have been films (Errol Flynn's Lilacs in the Spring) and books (Louisa May Alcott's Under the Lilacs), and tons of poems, including Wallace Stevens's "Last Looks at the Lilacs," Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Thou Art Not Lovelier Than Lilacs," and, of course, Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed."

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