Celebrating 4/20 When You Hate Being High

Lizzie and Kaitlyn honor the holiday that celebrates weed, though only one of them enjoys herself at all.

Four images: condiments at a restaurant, an iMessage conversation about weed, a hand holding a joint and matches, a pack of pineapple weed gummies.
The Atlantic

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Kaitlyn: I really hesitate to talk about weed on the internet. If I say I love the stuff, there are many who will mock me: Oh, you’re so COOL; you’re into DRUGS. If I say I hate it and have often wept because it makes me feel so bad, there are many who will mock me: nerd, cop. Well, these are the risks we take when we are being honest. I really do not like weed.

Until this past week, Lizzie and I had never celebrated 4/20 together before, for the simple reason that I had never celebrated 4/20 with anyone because I famously do not like being high. Regardless, we decided this would be the year to do it, because, first of all, weed is now legal in New York State, which eliminates some of the stress of procuring it, wandering around with it, talking about it on the internet, etc. (Not to say that I’m such a loser that I would have been really, really nervous before …) Second, the pandemic reportedly “created a new generation of stoners,” including our friend Claire, who pivoted her finstagram to stoner comedy for parts of 2020 and recently wrote a moving essay about hiding weed from her landlord. It seemed like it might be fun to celebrate if we did it with her, and if we made it into a whole thing. Also, I’m always wondering if basic facts of my personality and body might turn out to be figments of my imagination and therefore possible to randomly alter. If I tried weed just one more time, with Lizzie, on a holiday, would I love it?

Lizzie: I don’t think that “celebrating 4/20” is something anyone really does, except maybe brands, but we have a newsletter to write and we needed a theme. The first time I smoked weed was in junior high; we walked to some abandoned train tracks in our town and smoked out of a Coke can. Then we watched Clerks. Classic stuff! Later, my parents would grow weed behind our garage and use it as a stocking stuffer. This is all to say that now I feel about weed the same way I feel about, like, Ritz crackers: There’s probably a stale pouch around somewhere; it doesn’t matter if you have some or not; and no one should go to jail for it.

We were planning to eat and/or smoke weed for the purposes of this newsletter that you’re reading, and also because we were going to Brooklyn Hots, a recently opened BYOB restaurant in Clinton Hill that serves “garbage plates.” The garbage plate is a dish that originated in Kaitlyn’s birthplace of Rochester, New York, and consists of several food items (hot dogs, hamburgers, macaroni salad, baked beans, home fries, “meat sauce”) composed into a single wet, edible mound. Kind of a stoner’s smorgasbord.

Kaitlyn: To be clear, I was nervous about the weed and about the garbage plates—especially together. Are hometown nostalgia and mind-altering substances typically a great mix?

At 6 p.m. on 4/20, I walked to Lizzie’s apartment and she presented me with her “stash.” She had a pre-rolled joint we decided to take with us to dinner. She had two packs of gummies (pineapple flavor, raspberry-sorbet flavor) that we didn’t dare touch at all because each gummy contained 50 mg of THC. She didn’t know why those had even been invented or why she was in possession of them. She also had a chic little canister of lime and lemon 10 mg gummies, and we opted to split just one of those before leaving the house.

Lizzie: We were getting a base high, if you will. Not much happened between my apartment and Brooklyn Hots. On the walk there, we talked about weddings, because it’s wedding season and everyone is getting married. We of course said only nice things about the potential shelf life and happiness of those relationships. At some point, Kaitlyn felt lost even though we had basically walked in a straight line for 20 minutes. Maybe this should’ve been the first indication that the night wasn’t going to be a smooth one for her.

Kaitlyn: At Brooklyn Hots’ companion wine store, I marched in and demanded to know where they shelved the Finger Lakes wines. I have to admit I was not asking in good faith. My suspicion was that, despite being a wine store attached to a Western New York–themed hot-dog restaurant, this store—like, tragically, all wine stores in Brooklyn—would not have many Finger Lakes wines to choose from. Well, I wasn’t being nice but I was right, and the clerk said there were actually no Finger Lakes wines in stock at the moment. Mysteriously, seconds later, Lizzie found one anyway. It was from a family winery on Seneca Lake and it was a sparkling blend of several grapes that the Finger Lakes region is known for, not to be annoying—riesling, blaufränkisch, gewurztraminer, pinot noir. It was called “Brian’s Bright Idea.”

While we waited for Claire, we stood underneath the awning of a hideous new apartment building and took turns taking little puffs of the joint. It did not take me long to get to the point of not wanting any more, due to fear.

Lizzie: We had about 20 minutes to kill, because Claire was coming from a Pure Barre class and you can never tell how long those barre instructors are gonna keep you in there plié-ing for. The building next to us really was quite ugly—sort of a cross between a motel and a prison—and every now and then one of its inhabitants would walk up the outdoor stairs and stare down at us as we tried to light our Massachusetts dispensary joint with some old KGB Bar matches.

Claire showed up wearing a red sweatshirt from Opening Ceremony that had another tiny red sweatshirt sewn onto it. This sweatshirt sweatshirt was a sort of design homage to a denim “pants jacket” with a similar clothing-on-clothing composition that Claire has been hunting for for years. Claire apologized profusely for the Pure Barre–induced delay, but no need: A table was still open inside Brooklyn Hots, waiting for us.

Glasses of wine on a table, a woman wearing a sweatshirt with a tiny sweatshirt sewn onto it.
A sweatshirt on a sweatshirt. (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Kaitlyn: The interior of Brooklyn Hots was cozy and familiar, with romantic lighting and lots of those metal-and-fiberboard stools from art class. As we looked over the menu, I felt obligated to explain the difference between a “white hot” and a “red hot.” The problem was that I didn’t know the difference—all I knew was that, during my childhood, at any backyard party or high-school soccer game, I would approach the grill and be asked “Red or white?” And because I like both red hot dogs and white hot dogs, I would answer depending on my mood.

“White hots are … sweeter?” I offered. Horribly, we ended up having to ask our waitress for help. (A white hot dog has veal in it and the meat is not cured or smoked; a red hot dog does not typically have veal in it and the meat is cured and smoked.) Embarrassed and high, I then hurried to share all of my other information about Rochester’s incredible hot dogs and its famous garbage plates. For example, when President Obama came to Rochester, in 2013, there was local uproar because he did not go to Nick Tahou’s, home of the original garbage plate, which is located near the bus station, a.k.a not the most beautiful part of town; instead, he ate half of a grilled-cheese sandwich and some soup at a boring café on Rochester’s Park Avenue. (People were right to be mad.) Not long after that, when my college boyfriend came to town, he sampled a garbage plate and later asked to be driven to the hospital, thinking he had appendicitis. Instead I drove him to the house of my aunt who is a nurse and she determined the problem to be gas. (I wish him well.) I should note that, though I have no shame about my heritage, I feel it is obvious why Western New York food culture has not previously been exported.

Brooklyn Hots offered the option of swapping in broccolini for one of the traditional brown or off-white components, which Claire and I both did, for color. The garbage plates there were called “trash plates” because of copyright, and they cost $28.

Lizzie: I ordered the red and the white hot with macaroni salad and fries. If you’re thinking That doesn’t sound like something that should be $28, I don’t disagree with you. The servings were huge though, in kind of an unmanageable way. The mass of food went right up to the edge of the plate and had an impressive height of about two inches. Any structural integrity in the dish came solely from the french fries, so it was impossible to move anything around without risking toppling the whole thing.

The last time we had garbage plates together was two summers ago at the aforementioned Nick Tahou’s in Rochester, during a week-long vacation in Kaitlyn’s home territory. We opened the hatchback of Ashley’s Honda Fit and tried to use it as both a table and chairs as we ate in the 90-degree parking lot. No offense to Nick, but those garbage plates were essentially tasteless. The Brooklyn Hots version may have tasted slightly better, but again they were $28 and lukewarm, even though our table was maybe 10 feet from the kitchen.

Kaitlyn: It was the honor of my life to take Lizzie and Ashley to the Nick Tahou’s parking lot! (Obviously there were limited options for fun during those early months of the pandemic.) They did not need medical care after their first garbage plates, but I think we did all take naps.

If you’ve almost forgotten about the 4/20 element of this evening, let me assure you that I never did. At all times, I was aware that I had no control over my body and was acting like a freak. I tried to execute a simple iMessage exchange with Nathan and realized I sounded high. I tried to cut my white hot into smaller pieces with the side of my fork and realized I looked high. I tried to explain to Claire that Lizzie was misunderstanding something she was saying because she was using a confusing double negative and realized I was totally high.

At some point, we started talking about the bar in Manhattan where all the bartenders dress as monks. Claire said, erroneously (sorry, Claire), that it was “abbey-themed.” Surprisingly, Lizzie then said “abby normal,” and I laughed so hard. She was doing Young Frankenstein. Claire had never seen it, so Lizzie and I tried to fill her in. I realized I sounded so high. I would pause and then try again to speak normally, but then I would only sound even higher than before. I wanted to cry. Claire was like, “I thought you were talking about Classically Abby,” which is the influencer moniker of Abigail Roth, sister to nightmare Ben Shapiro. Again I laughed too hard. I tried to concentrate. I took out my phone and typed into the notes app, “abbey, abby, Abby.” Then I became obsessed with getting the hell out of Brooklyn Hots, and public, as soon as possible.

Lizzie: We had fun with abby and fun with niche: Is it pronounced “niche” like “Niche Tahou’s” or “niche” like “niches and nephews”? Do you know what I mean? It really was time to leave though, because Kaitlyn was rapidly losing touch with reality and because we had been there for almost an hour and a half.

I was going to suggest that Kait and I split a car home, because I live on the way to where she lives. But before I knew it she was gone, ducking swiftly and soundlessly into an Uber like a celebrity trying to weather a scandal. Five minutes later she texted me and Claire, “Wait I’m so stupid, my car just passed Lizzie’s house.” Claire also tried to put me in her car, but her app was malfunctioning. It’s not like I couldn’t find my own way home though, and I did.

Kaitlyn: From the Uber, I texted Claire and Lizzie that I was high and unhappy and that I didn’t think I would ever want to go back to Brooklyn Hots. I was struggling. I really got to a dark place … And I’m going to share what honestly went through my mind.

The night before, I had rewatched the episode of The Sopranos in which mob boss Tony Soprano and his terrifying subordinate Paulie Walnuts have to lam it to Miami because New Jersey is hot with the possibility of murder charges. At the midpoint of their road trip, they stop at a Virginia hotel and enter with visions of room-service steak and cocktails like they’d had during the criminal misadventures of years past, but are informed that the hotel can provide only “cold wraps and salads.” Their faces go slack. They are amazed. This is not the way the world should be, and it is unbelievable. Even knowing what we know about Tony and Paulie—the state of their souls, the things they’ve done, how much they’ve mercilessly extracted from God’s creation—a viewer can’t help but agree. Cold wraps and salads? Have you ever heard four words so awful? The situation is probably thanks to global capitalism, somehow, or maybe life just gets worse as we get older and that’s all it does. High, looking at my receipt from Brooklyn Hots, I felt that I was having the same experience, albeit separated by space and time and the barrier between fiction and reality. Even knowing the state of my soul, the things I’ve done, how much I’ve mercilessly extracted from God’s creation, can it really be true that I must now pay $36, including tax and tip, for hot dogs? I got so sad. When I was a child I never had to think about where my next hot dog was coming from. Hot dogs were just around, like corn fields or roads. “Red or white?”

I should be grateful that there are hot dogs in the world at all, I told myself. I should give thanks that I still have half of a hot dog for later, wrapped up in my tote bag. But I couldn’t. I was too sad. I really hate weed and as you can see, it is not for me.

Lizzie: Me? I drank an orange tea and went to bed, thinking, What will we write about? Did anything even happen?