The Season of Liars and Thieves
Codger was experiencing a simply dreadful season. Two months past "Croptober" the high plateau was still awash in weed, and prices had plummeted all the way to the bottom feeders who were scoffed at during years past. Now, they struck back with a vengeance and seemed to thoroughly enjoy grinding down the top growers with the best strains. Money talked and bullshit walked during a financial bloodletting that was mean-spirited at best and sadistic at worst. Codger didn't understand the plague of miserliness that had befallen him. If anything, with recent law enforcement crackdowns, spurred forward by mid-season changes to the county zoning ordinance, there should have been a leaner area-wide harvest than last year, but such was obviously not the case. The back country roads were teeming with U-Haul trucks loaded to the gills with suspicious contents because the area had been consistently losing in population since the 08' financial meltdown. They can't all be moving in he thought to himself as the telltale dust persistently hovered above the dirt road that accessed his property and ran like a lifeline to other beleaguered growers in the neighborhood. They were moms and pops mostly, trying to support a gaggle of grandchildren dumped on them by their millennial children so hopelessly addicted to crystal meth that they no longer cared what became of their progeny as they compulsively indulged in an endless quest to party on despite the collateral damage they inflicted upon anyone that stood in their way. Codger was among those gray panther numbers and was looking forward to turning 65 in the spring thus kicking off his Medicare allowance so as to get some work done. New teeth and a restrained prostrate would be godsends if he could afford the deductibles, bridge the gaps in coverage, and withstand the inevitable accusations of preexisting conditions. Or, he just might go ahead and die; and given the season he was experiencing, that didn't seem like such a bad thing as he oftentimes felt like a dead man walking.
Santa Clause's Christmas was coming, and sleep was elusive as Codger incessantly stressed over what he could afford to spend on the three grandchildren living in his home as they lie safe and warm in their beds. Because of recent events he didn't know how he could guide his dysfunctional family through the next year until the promise of a new harvest was upon him. And, he was overwhelmed with misgivings as to what could go wrong next year. This had been the season of liars and thieves, and once they establish a foothold years can pass before their rapaciousness can be rooted out. Any old school stoner knew that they must be eradicated in order for marijuana to become reacquainted with its original premise of being the drug of peace and love, of being the only drug that users willingly and generously share, of being the harmless and good-natured trickster that laughs in the faces of all its oppressors and joins in the mirth of all its proponents.
His stepchildren, friends of his stepchildren, friends of their friends, and even his friends had taken advantage of him with impunity. They had gnawed the financial and emotional flesh from his bones and now seemed intent to pick the carcass clean. Any generosity or trust that Codger had extended towards them was met with swift and unrelenting cruelty. Desperation had swept across the high plateau turning otherwise decent caring folks into greedy animals and those of suspect morality into degenerate shysters. Codger had had his fill of them, had wanted out, had wanted a better life, and had come to the realization that he would never get out and that this was the last crack at a decent life that he was ever going to get.
He was so disrespected by the local millennials that some had become blatant enough to not even bother to drop the "Old" in front of his nickname. He knew that most of them involved in the local weed trade looked upon him as a sentimental old fool too stuck in his ways to embrace wax and shatter. He also knew that back in the day he would have banged their heads together to see if any cranial matter dropped out which was something he sincerely doubted because it had become evident that their infatuation with the butane processed cannabis byproducts was destined to fuck everything up. While the kids claimed that wax and shatter were purer forms of THC and required less to produce a stronger high, he lamented that the drug of peace and love had come to requiring a blow torch for ignition in much the same manner as crack cocaine. And as for requiring less, how would these kids really know? because all Codger had ever seen them do was hit on all of it until it was completely gone.
Marijuana was now being sold by the gram, and the recent staunchest proponents of the new "green rush" were cross-over corporate douche-bags so naive of the causalities of a national seventy-nine year marijuana probation that they didn't seem to realize that all the advances in quasi-legalization could all be taken away with the slightest shift in federal politics. Their false sense of security irritated him to no end and he took to referring to their new industry standards as, "amateur hour." And, the new paradigm they imposed was gaining inertia with no end in sight.
This season had been an ordeal of gargantuan proportions, and its ongoing cavalcade of horrors hadn't played themselves out yet. Everything started out innocently enough. At planting time in the spring hope and a spirit of generosity reign supreme. Growers are keen on committing to giving a little of the harvest to this guy and that gal. Everyone looks upon the eventual crop as limitless and the solution to all their financial problems. They diligently fertilize and tie the plants eagerly awaiting the summer solstice which is the first indication that the final reward is within reach. Each day brings a little less daylight, with the increasing amount of darkness signaling the plants to get on with their efforts of procreation. To perpetuate the species is the goal of all organisms in nature, and marijuana is no different. The physically demanding pre-spring soil preparation work prior to planting leaves grower's hands raw and their muscles stiff and aching. It's a rewarding pain mixed with equal measures of humility and satisfaction.
Entering his seventh season at what law enforcement would classify as a "commercial grower" he was up for trying something new. He never grew more than 99 individual plants knowing full well that the difference between 99 and 100 is one year versus five years in the federal pen if the feds decided to ignore states rights and make an example out of him. Previous harvests had proved aggravating and exhausting by requiring up to three solid months of 14 hour days, seven days a week, to get it all in and trimmed, processed, bagged, and ultimately sold. Three months with his fingers stuck together with gooey resin, with his clothes reeking, and avoiding being seen in public before the harvest would wind down and he could once again rejoin the human race. Hiring help was always a risky proposition because loose lips sink ships, and any aggrieved helper could turn on him causing Codger more problems than he could ever cause them. Not that he wanted to cause anyone any harm. "Live and let live," was the credo he had lived by his entire life, although he had to admit that his lifetime had been filled with mooches, tools, con men, shysters, and out and out thieves. Oftentimes he felt that there must be a bright red "S" standing for sucker emblazoned across his forehead. He must give off a vibe that invited mistreatment. He didn't know what it was but he didn't doubt it for a minute. The preponderance of the evidence was that he was a sap, and seemingly unable to change or otherwise escape his lot in life, the only thing he could do was to avoid contact with the rest of mankind. Most marijuana growers live a lonely existence, anyway. It's a strange business because the only guarantee of an innocuous lifestyle is secrecy concerning that lifestyle. The less people that know anything about the business the greater the chances that there will continue to be a business, but somebody has to know something about the business or there would be no need to be in business. Anybody who doesn't believe that cops routinely visit the popular marijuana procurement web site "Weed Maps" is a fool in waiting. The grower's thread of commonality with any other form of business, however, is that nothing happens until there is a sale. Sales are paramount, and an affinity for salesmanship is king. He realized that he was limiting his opportunities by preferring to fly under the radar and find buyers through referrals and relationships built up over time, but he also realized that slow and steady also served to limit his exposure.
No matter what, his primary desire was to limit the drudgery of the harvest in any way he could. To that end, Codger agreed to devote 24 of his 99 planting spaces to growing another man's crop. It was a basic grow contract type of arrangement. The other guy provided the clones from a strain of his choosing, while Codger incurred all expenses and provided all of the labor associated with bringing the plants to harvest. At harvest time, the other guy could choose any or all of the plants for a per unit price of $1,500, or he could decline them all. The selected plants would be chopped and removed from the site while any unselected plants would become the sole property of Codger. Everything went splendidly well at first. An indoor strain of OG Kush reached five feet in height by early August and expectations ran extremely high. Then, unexpectedly, disaster struck in the form of an infestation of botrytis, a fungal infection that Coder had never experienced before. The coddled indoor strain simply didn't possess the genetic proclivity to resist what all his other outdoor strains had never fallen prey to. A growing program which stressed fast growth and rapid turnover of as many as six crops a year under indoor lighting conditions with an emphasis on the mainlining of readily available nutrients had produced weak tissued plants that couldn't withstand outdoor conditions. It was a hard pill to swallow. First was the loss of a potential $36,000 in income, and second was the admission of the other guy that this had happened to him before. That would have been useful information for Codger to consider before agreeing to the arrangement, and Codger was left with the overwhelming feeling that withholding information is about as close a cousin to lying as it gets. The botrytis spread through the OG Kush like wildfire, and he was forced to pull them all and remove them from the garden as quickly as possible or risk losing his entire crop. Once the disease got a foothold, it didn't want to be eradicated, and he engaged is a season long fight of removing it from his previously resistant strains which equated to a ten percent loss of what he had left.
Codger took it on the chin. Perhaps he should have been wiser and performed a more thorough due diligence. Perhaps he was blinded by thoughts of what the other guy had to gain without so much as a passing notion that he most certainly didn't have nearly as much to lose as Codger did. The old man cursed his naivety and stupidity but took heart in the fact that two thirds of the crop could still save his season with any luck at all. Events to unfold would soon prove that such was is short supply.
It had been a long hot summer that caused the plants to steal more time in the maturation process. When an organism only gets one season to live, who can blame it for dragging its feet in the inevitable march towards death? Strains that had previously hit peak bud hardness and THC content by mid-September plodded along into mid-October. Codger began trimming operations with a sense of urgency. An early season frost could spell disaster, and one could occur as early as the beginning of November or not until well after Thanksgiving. The safe thing to do would be to pick up the pace as if it wasn't blistering to begin with. Although green trimming was far easier than dry trimming the slightest hint of freezing weather would dictate bringing in the entire crop within a day, hanging it, and struggling through a dry trim. Codger hoped for the best, but at the start of the second week of November, the frost came signaling the onslaught of winter cold that descended with a vengeance. All the hang rooms were filled to the gills, the wood stove perpetually stoked, the complaints of cold hands on the part of his helpers thoroughly ignored. Slowly the one pound bags began to accumulate on the finished product table, and slower still the buyers drifted in. They were pickier and cheaper than ever before and they weren't shy about walking away to visit those growers willing to be beaten down. Codger determined to wait them out. They could lie all they wanted to about the quality of the other guy's weed but he knew what he had, and that eventually they would be back. To keep the price up he turned to fronting smaller amounts of five pounds or less to an out-of-state dealer; a kid in his mid-twenties who he had shaky experiences with in the past. The kid came back within a week of his last visit, threw half of the cash on the table and attested that the marijuana was moldy. He had a sample of moist weed, about two ounces in all, in which there was no mold. Codger suspected that the kid had let the bags get super hot in the trunk of his car causing condensation to occur and the product to thus moisten - an amateur move to be sure. Live and learn, send this fool on his way, and chalk it up to experience; no real harm, no foul. The old man was soon to discover that the kid had neglected to bring back all of the remaining weed that he was complaining about claiming that he didn't want to risk crossing state lines with such an inferior product. The kid stated that he felt entitled to it because of the inconvenience he had suffered, and that he might pay up if his arm was twisted. Between him and his larger twenty something companion Codger knew the odds of a physical confrontation were against him, and that even if he prevailed that he would never see his money; that this lying thief had decided that there was no more that could be squeezed out of the old man, and that he most certainly would not be coming back. Codger had a stun gun within reach as well as a 357 caliber rifle hidden in the next room, but decided to let it go. He threw the bastards out knowing that he was $2,500 worse for wear. He hoped for better dealings to come, but all that would actually come would be the crippling blow that would be the defining moment in the season of liars and thieves.
Thanksgiving was coming. He wanted to visit friends over in Phoenix. He grew weary of the toiling harvest. Again, he let down his guard by rationalizing that a big score was what he needed. A big score to right this listing ship. A big sore as the payoff for all the work and worry he had endured during this trying season. He felt he deserved it, that it was due to him. And then, as if by magic or miracle, take your pick, a big score presented itself, and the old fool jumped at it.
Young Dickey had been frequenting Codger's property more or less for the past decade. A friend of his three stepdaughters, he and his girlfriend had even lived in the guest house with the youngest stepdaughter for half a year. As usual, none of them saw the need to pay any rent, despite the dictates of their signed lease, and in disgust Codger eventually evicted them all. A few years passed as Dickey rose in the ranks amongst local pot brokers and slowly started to regain Codger's trust by cutting him favorable deals, and by keeping the price up for him. Codger taught Dickey how to grow and advised him that with his recent penchant for hard work that he had everything he needed to make it in this business, if he could curb his cockiness. At first Dickey seemed to take this to heart. Now a father of three children, he displayed what Codger felt was a maturing responsibility by working a job in construction during the summer months as the crops swelled in the soil and growers clung to the promise of a fruitful season on the cusp of realization. Codger had even bought Christmas gifts for Dickey's children over the last two years. Any generational or other differences between the two men were apparently kept in check, at least at harvest time. Any beefs between growers and buyers are put on hiatus when the weed is flowing from the field to the end toker. They could always be reignited during the dog days of summer when the plants were seemingly set on automatic pilot and all that can be heard in the gardens is the faint but vibrant hum of cannabis growth heralding the insatiable march towards flowering and the rich robust hardening of the nugget-like buds. It's a peaceful restful time, and most of those beefs waft away on gentle summer breezes. In actuality it's the calm before the storm, portending: take your rest now all ye growers because sleep will be evasive once the trimming begins in earnest.
Come November Dickey had orchestrated a few smaller scale deals, always with the hint that something really big was in the works. Codger knew that more deals are eluded to than are ever realized; it's just the nature of the business. In fact, lies are frequently told by potential buyers in hopes of holding their place in line. Experienced growers would take all the scuttlebutt in stride as they sold as much as they could to whoever they could as soon as they could - first come, first served, in other words, with all sales being final. The third Sunday of November Codger's trimming and watching of football was interrupted by Dickey and three associates consisting of two men and a woman. Codger didn't like strangers at the trim house, especially during the season, but Dickey vouched for them and further intimated that they were the driving force behind the previously alluded to big score, a megadeal involving a hundred pounds. They bought one pound each of Codger's four remaining available strains and left. Dickey stayed behind to explain that the deal was going down on Tuesday, and inquired as to how much Codger could contribute to it? Thirty pounds was what Codger could have ready by then. Dickey would pick it up Tuesday afternoon and pay on Wednesday. In past dealings Codger had frequently fronted Dickey five to ten pounds, and given the stature of this megadeal, thirty seemed like a drop in the bucket. Codger was about to receive his big score for the season, $30,000, and he was sure that Dickey had built his cut into his negotiations with the buyers; at least he said he had. Codger marveled at Dickey's drive and organizational abilities, because to get a hundred pounds cobbled together amongst the local mom and pops in two days time was no small feat. The young man had certainly grown up and was now poised to rise amongst the ranks of big buyers and in the annals of local weed lore. Fast becoming a legend, he probably wouldn't be working summer construction any more. Codger was happy for Dickey and happier still to see the season ending on a high note. Dickey made the pickup on Tuesday and called early Wednesday to advise Codger that the buy had been delayed by a day. He volunteered to bring the pot back if Codger was nervous or upset by this. Codger was nervous, but saw little advantage in having thirty pounds coming in and going back out in the span of a day. He always tried to keep traffic to a minimum and not draw attention to his place of operation. He trusted Dickey for they had a relationship that had seen the test of time, that had weathered the trials of resolving generational differences, that was now poised to prove to be extremely lucrative in the future. Furthermore, he knew some of the moms and pops that had thrown into the deal. Most were cautious and experienced and had been in the game for years. He would have his money early Thursday morning, none the worse for wear.
Con men are more frequently referred to as con artists because there is an art in getting otherwise intelligent people to believe in their yarns. Codger got that sick sinking feeling midmorning Thursday when his calls to Dickey went unanswered. Then came that fateful call from another grower, a friend who stated that he was standing amidst the chaos of what was formally Dickey's family's living room. They had obviously cleared out in a rush, and there was nothing of value, absolutely nothing, left behind. Codger sank to his knees and rolled his throbbing head against the cold concrete floor. He couldn't cry. He was too stunned to cry. What a fool he was. What a sap. What a patently stupid old man. His family would suffer; he would suffer; his friends would suffer at the hands of Dickey's betrayal.
There was precious little sympathy for an obvious fool. Friends and family asserted that he certainly should have known better. A few said they felt sorry for Codger but there was an underlying air of disbelief and false pity bordering on contempt. Codger couldn't even summon up a spiteful hate for Dickey from the depths of his being. When someone gets hit for thirty large the overwhelming emotion amongst them self and others is that they somehow had it coming. Codger didn't have it within himself to seriously contemplate killing Dickey if he ever came across him again. Someone capable of that most definitely wouldn't be growing the drug of peace and love as a means to survival. Codger asked himself how would he feel if he were to mysteriously receive a photo of Dickey through the mail with a bullet hole through his head, and he had to admit that he wouldn't want that to happen. He had been duped, outmaneuvered, and made a complete fool of, and he would have to live with that knowledge through the next trying growing season with its requisite perilous harvest. Who could he turn to? Certainly not the police. Dickey knew this when he cooked up his treachery and picked out his marks. Codger had to wonder what Dickey could have accomplished if only he had used his considerable intellect for good. Both men would have to live with the parts they played in this fiasco of greed and gullibility, and unless someone did avenge the wrong Dickey had done them, he most certainly would have to live with it longer.
Codger was shaken. Codger was numb. Codger no longer cared if anyone reinserted the "Old" in front of his nickname once the gossip spread like wildfire throughout the small community where nothing is kept secret for very long. Let them laugh. Let them choke on their laughter. Most didn't have the balls to do what he did to survive, and most wouldn't be able to pick themselves up and get back in the game. The depression started to begrudgingly lift as life wore on, and Codger accepted the shortcomings of his age.
While chewing on a slice of pizza, one of his front teeth broke free from previous dental work, dropped to the table, and rolled onto the floor. There was an ugly gap left behind with just a stub of previous cement protruding below the gum line. Nothing bespeaks poverty more than missing teeth, and Codger had been losing many of them over the course of the last four years. Up until now they were to the sides of his mouth, and he at least had a presentable smile. Trying to preserve some semblance of dignity he glued it back in. The tooth hung on precariously for three weeks before breaking loose again. He saved it in a jar of mouthwash so that he might be able to reuse it in the event of a job interview or an important meeting, as if any such thing was ever going to happen again. He practiced speaking in front of the bathroom mirror with his lips covering all his remaining teeth to see if he could pull it off without detection. He couldn't. Watching television, he couldn't help but notice the gleaming smiles on everyone else, in particularly talk show authors hawking their most recent titles. He had dreamed for years that he would be among their company, and now that dream was gone, at least for three or four months, but most likely for the remainder of his life.
The process of aging, that great buzz kill that eventually afflicts us all, was now forefront in his thoughts. How many years did he have left? And, more importantly, what would his quality of life be during those years? He had been turned down for a $250,000 life insurance policy, and had lowered his sights to a run-of-the-mill burial insurance policy. An even deeper depression overtook him once again. He didn't want to go to bed at night, and he most certainly didn't want to get up in the morning. He forced himself to perform the most basic of tasks: cook, clean, get the kids to school, but the thought of doing any meaningful projects simply exhausted him. From experience, he knew that he would be forced from this numbing slumber come planting season, that motivation comes from action and not the other way around, that the warmth and vibrant activity of spring would snap him out of it. But for today, right here and right now, all he wanted to do was lay his head on his pillow and go to sleep.
He felt an occasional tightness in his chest and pain between his shoulder blades when he carried his granddaughter of two years about his property on his shoulders on the quarter mile hiking trail he had cut through the blanketing chaparral. He was determined that she would be a chip off the old block. She loved being outdoors and displayed genuine excitement and glee as she pointed out the rabbits and squirrels scurrying about for cover on the ground and the gliding ravens overhead. To be at peace amongst nature in the company of the one person who might carry on his environmental ethic gave him great solitude, so he ignored the pain. He would push on through, too tough and determined to concede to defeat. The liars and the thieves could wrong him no more for he would be sager, he would be more dilligent, he would be more stubborn. He would be what he had never before wanted to be - a bitter old man - who wouldn't trust anyone anymore, if that's what he needed to be. A new growing season was now upon him and things would turn out differently and most certainly for the better; if they were to turn out at all. This upcoming season would be the sweetest of the sweet seasons. They could still occur if he were wiser, if he were at all lucky, and he would be certain to make his luck this time around.
With the coming of March Codger bucked up and started preparing the garden for a mid-May planting. It would be wise to turn newly purchased manure and fertilizers, as well as other soil amendments, into the rows early so that they could mellow and blend together in anticipation of receiving the new seasons' root stock. He wouldn't get rich this year or any other year for that matter. To simply survive was an achievable goal, a truth that permeates the lives of other growers worldwide. It's true of the poppy farmers of Afghanistan, it's true of the coca leaf farmers of Peru, it's true of the migrant workers of America's southwest, and it's true of the mom and pop marijuana growers of California's interior plateaus; and that truth is that the person most closely tied to the soil always makes the least. While unfair in the extreme, this truth is the gateway to another truth, that being that what they get will be enough to survive. Usually not well, but to survive just the same. The heartbeat of any planting season is that not only will the plants be granted another year of life, but also will be the lives of those who plant the plants. The humming rhythm of all human life on earth starts with the planting season, and this season would be no different. Codger forgot all his troubles and worries if only for this brief moment in time. It was time to put the plants in the ground and start this humble yet majestic cycle anew. It lifted his spirits, it gave him fleeting hope, it renewed his life.
On Mother's Day the long awaited planting of his beloved marijuana clones commenced. Codger's heart soared at the thought of the plants taking hold and then taking off. Marijuana's will to first survive and then ultimately flourish is awe inspiring He was halfway done and pushing for the finish line when the inevitable happened - the culmination of one life even as others were about to begin. The ultimate cycle of nature being brought full circle. His fingers and toes started to tingle while the pain between his shoulder blades stabbed like a dagger. Then his heart wretched, sputtered, and wretched violently again. Codger could see the bright green flush of growth immediately coursing through the freshly planted marijuana that was not yet three minutes in the ground, and yet already urgently searching for the sun. What a beautiful thing he thought as his head rested gently upon the nutrient rich well prepared soil. And, it was a beautiful thing for his personal darkness to come as he gazed upon the plants while thinking of himself as fortunate indeed to be able to wish them well for the season.
There would be no more of these sweet seasons. There would be no more memories of his worst season. There would never again be a season of liars and thieves. There would be no more.