by Cliff Mazer, Ph.D.
Once when I was 17 years old and a senior in high school I grew a pot plant in my backyard just about 10 feet off the circular concrete patio that our breakfast table faced in Highland Park, Illinois. I really didn’t know what I was doing and I never had much of a green thumb gardening wise (and still dont). I figured the germinating pot seed I had put between wet paper towels and stuck in a drawer would either just dry up and die or wither into nothingness once I stuck it in the ground. Probably it was part adolescent rebellion back in 1971, part curiosity, and part high school science experiment. The thing is…it didn’t die and I noticed one day a tiny little sprout with baby leaves sticking out of the mound of earth where I had planted the seedling. The leaves had that zig-zaggy look that distinguished it from all the other well-tended shrubs and plants. I have to admit I was surprised as hell and my first thought was, “Shit, could I get in big trouble for this?” I wasn’t so worried about the H.P. police or our neighbors since our yard was moderately secluded, but I pretty much figured my parents would not exactly be in support of an illegal substance merrily growing amid the landscaped hydrangeas and the tulips. Again I rationalized (a popular psychological defense mechanism) that the cute little pot plant wouldn’t survive the intense heat and humidity of a typical suburban Chicago summer. I was wrong again. Within four months that little sucker grew like, well, a weed, and by then it was clearly a “stranger in a strange land” amid the well manicured lawn, aggregate pebble patio and matching outdoor furniture. Every morning at breakfast with my family I would look out the large sliding glass doors in front of me (and everyone elses direct line of sight) and see my by now robust looking marijuana plant. I expected SOMEBODY to say at any time, “Hey, what is that weird looking plant or overgrown weed thing doing there? What is that?” Amazingly nobody said anything, not even my goody-two-shoes older brother Neal who clearly enjoyed getting me in trouble, especially if it involved something that could easily be labeled as “bad” behavior. I think he thought he was protecting me (from my ADHD self) but I just thought he was a pain in my ass and way too “square” or “straight”. Once I remember actually pointed at an interesting bird in the backyard right next to my marijuana plant and everyone squinted to identify it (the bird that is) not the plant. Somehow they didn’t see it right in front of their eyes!! I was astonished.
Fast forward: At some point, maybe by late in the summer, I sort of forgot about the by now gargantuan pot plant and was busy getting ready to go to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was excited about moving on to the next stage of my life and my much anticipated independence. I didn’t even think twice about my “magic” plant or the fact that it now pretty much towered over its horticultural surroundings. I still figured it would die on its own, especially without additional watering and maintenance. By now all my friends had their own little baggies of “weed” and Boulder was well known as a hippie haven and extreme party school for college kids. I remember reading the practical “Underground Guide for Colleges” and in the specific section about UC Boulder it said, and I quote…. “Entertainment is balling”. I knew they weren’t talking about soccer or baseball. I split for college and didn’t look back or even kiss my unusual science experiment goodbye. I did kiss my parents goodbye and told them I would see them soon, which meant at Thanksgiving vacation.
The Punchline: I was always interested in Psychology and immediately signed up for freshman courses like Psych 101: Intro to Psychology, etc. One of the first things I learned in class was about psychological defense mechanisms, the various mental strategies people use (both functional and dysfunctional) to protect their egos, minimize internal conflict, and maintain a state of repression which basically means keeping things unconscious or subconscious rather then conscious. Kind of like being able to NOT see a giant pot plant right in front of the breakfast, lunch and dinner table. I found out that some people are better at complete denial (and other more primitive defense mechanisms) than others and can literally choose to not see or not acknowledge what is right in front of their face. Anyway, in early October my parents called me to wish me a Happy Birthday. That was nice of them and they are very good about remembering such things. Before my mom got off the phone (my Dad always gets off first because, like me, he’s not a big phone talker) she said, “Oh Cliff, you know that plant in the backyard, the big one? Well, after you left I noticed it started to flower and had rather large buds on it.” I started to panic a little but kept my composure while she continued. “I’m not 100% sure about this but I think it might be a marijuana plant.” I hemmed and hawwed a bit before asking, “How do you know that Mom?” This is what she then said word for word (I know because it was so classic that I immediately wrote it down and kept the exact quote in my dresser drawer for years). My mom said, “Well I asked the Mexican gardeners and they said it was a female pot plant and have been watering it all summer. I cut it down before it got too cold outside and hung it up in the basement upside down. I saw something about the subject on television and I think it might be worth alot of money! Don’t worry about your father. He has no idea what it is”
Anyway, if you ever think people lack the incredible ability to see what they want to see and not see what they dont want to see or believe, also check out this bizarre story (below) about a lady who is a “do or die” supporter of Jerry Sandusky (the “tickle monster” at Penn State) and goes to court everyday because she believes in his total innocence no matter how many kids he has lathered up in the shower or played “Hide and Go Touch my Genitals”.