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Book Review July 25, 2002
Skunk Prose: This Is Your Book On Pot
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 3 of 4
"They aren't."

That's it; that's all -- because Preston doesn't actually want to defend the Moroccans. In fact, Moroccans come across in Preston's account as much worse than the "lazy crew of citizens" Burroughs describes. Preston tells how his guide lied to him, tried to extort money, then ran off after shoving low-grade hash in Preston's hand just as the cops were about to pounce. Preston's Moroccans are vicious thieves. In defending them while showing their vileness, Preston foregrounds his own virtue; the reader is supposed to see that he, Brian Preston, is nobler and nicer than Burroughs -- and his drug is nicer than Burroughs's drug, too!

It's a shame pot-heads are such liars, because you can't write a decent travel book (and this is a travel book at heart) unless you're willing to tell a few hard truths about what you see. Preston simply cannot bring himself to do this. He's far too Christian. For example, his hosts in England are a couple of filthy, smelly nutters who run something called "The Universal Church of the Holy and Sacred Herb." They live in a pigsty; they're crazy as the day is long; they haven't washed since Thatcher was a other words, they're great material!

An honest writer like Burroughs would wallow in material like that, give you a savory paragraph or two about how totally filthy and crazy these people really are -- and you'd end up liking them. But Preston, ever the prim Canadian, simply can't tell the grimy truth. So he does with his English hosts exactly what he did with the Moroccans: he sketches them so that the reader can see how filthy they are, then distances himself from the truth with a pious denial:

"Jack and in tiny houses so cluttered with junk there's no place to sit. They are kind-hearted people, happy enough with their own level of squalor. I felt anal about being uncomfortable with their level of cleanliness."

Dullness, as we see, is the handmaiden of virtue. Instead of lovingly detailing the grime, Preston resorts to the diction of social workers, then squirms at his own squeamishness in language equally feeble: "I felt anal..." The result is that you end up really feeling shame on behalf of "Jack and Tina" -- when a truly loving description of their filth such as Hunter S. Thompson (or even that hack Tom Wolfe) would have provided would make them delightful.

And what is this about feeling "anal"? No wonder the poor bastard dislikes Burroughs, and admits he couldn't read Naked Lunch in two tries! He's exactly the kind of halfassed collaborator Burroughs loved to taunt. Naked Lunch was written to, or rather at, people like Preston.

Just as he can't just say his hosts are dirty, Preston can't say their "church" is a comic druggie farce. Or perhaps he truly can't see that. (There's a scary thought.) Decide for yourself -- here's the passage in which he attempts to summarize the crackpot scripture on which the Hash-smokers' church is based:

"Much of the book is hopeful in a way the godless cynic in me finds hard to swallow. [The author] believes humankind will replace alcohol with cannabis, that our 'diet of putrefying dead animals' will give way to 'pure organically grown, unrefined vegetable matter,' and that these changes will allow us to 'return to a state of consciousness we knew in Paradise.'

"Dream on, dreamer."

That last sentence, "Dream on, dreamer," is Preston's comment. I guess it's "the godless cynic in me" which finds this "hard to swallow." Hard not to puke up, in fact. Preston can't just say, "The hash-smokers' Bible was very funny in a braindead way." He has to be pious about their silly God, just as he has to disavow his awareness of their smelly dwellings. A Christian is a liar, and a pothead -- alas! -- seems to be nothing but a Christian with even more impaired cognition.

Preston comes closest to admitting his latent "anal" Christianity in his encounter with the inevitable Rastafarians. Interestingly, he only meets Rastas in England; his world pot tour never gets to Jamaica, spiritual homeland of his precious herb. I suspect that Preston was a little too cautious, a little too Canadian, to put his lily ass in danger of getting all shot up, as it surely would've been if he'd visited Jamaica. The Rastafarians get pretty frisky on their home turf, and manage to do a whole lotta killin' when not lighting up. (So much for the much-praised peacebringing quality of da sacred Ganja.)

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