High Maintenance

Between HBO, AMC, and Netflix, I’ve apparently been missing out on a whole world of web series. But thankfully, I’ve finally been turned onto one good enough to recommend. High Maintenance is a short web series based loosely around a pot dealer in New York, and it brings a refreshing, masterful touch to a “genre” that suffers from, for lack of a better word, stupidity.

After getting up to date with their 15 short episodes (between 5 and 15 minutes each, with more episodes to come), I browsed a few reviews of the series online. While most reviews were absolutely glowing, I noticed a striking similarity with respect to the authors’ (and presumably society’s) preconceived notions; almost all the reviewers had low expectations.

Pop culture has fed us a consistent diet of stoner stereotypes; from the indelibly bad stoner-face of Jim Breuer in Half Baked, to the inept goof-off James Franco played in Pineapple Express, the popular opinion of pot enthusiasts is that they’re inevitably lazy and incompetent.

Being inundated with these stereotypes seems to have paralyzed people into an Anslinger-era position on the evils of cannabis. Take this ridiculous opinion piece from The Windsor Star, for example. Devoid of facts (or any relevant information, for that matter), this article is full of nonsense and media-fed stereotypes. The article’s author reinforces the outdated and false picture of pot smokers with a confidence only ignorance can provide.

I’m so bored of clichés, as we all should be. I don’t want to watch a show about black people “acting black,” or gay people “acting gay.” There is more fodder for storytelling in treating black people, white people, gay people, pot smokers, etc. as real people who have more going on than what gets dreamt up by lazy writers.

Which is what makes High Maintenance so great. It’s hilarious, moving, awkward, and irreverent because it focuses on the various individuals that cross paths with this pot dealer (who is himself so likeable I’m thinking of calling him up). Each episode is a little slice of life, brimming with authenticity and originality. Creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld step outside the expected tropes and in each episode round out a great narrative.

Watch High Maintenance on Vimeo.

Unconscious Dominoes

In 2010 Thomas Pynchon released Inherent Vice, one of his shortest, funniest novels. This was on the heels on his 1100-page sprawling masterwork Against The Day. Inherent Vice made me laugh out loud regularly, which is a feat novels rarely accomplish. It’s The Big Lebowski as written by Raymond Chandler. Lebowski, I know. It’s one of the funniest movies ever. But I realized that I had somehow never read Raymond Chandler.

I read The Big Sleep right away and was thoroughly impressed. Here was a guy who obviously discovered what he was meant to do.

Around that time I heard an interesting story about Freemasons. They had given some jewelry to one of their members, and when that member died, they asked for the jewelry back. I thought that was interesting. Who doesn’t love a good Freemason conspiracy-theory?

Shortly thereafter, I read a short story by Raymond Chandler called Pearls Are a Nuissance. It’s a classic Chandler first-person mystery. In the story a man tries to find a stolen string of pearls to impress his girlfriend. She asks him not to drink whiskey, but of course the case demands that he does. He gets more and more drunk as the story goes on and things get more and more hilarious. Chandler had me busting the proverbial gut, with gems like this:

 “A wise guy,” the fat man sneered again. “Down the hall, bud. Two-eighteen.” He waved a thumb the color and almost the size of a burnt baked potato.

A plan was forming in my mind even though I didn’t know it. When a few friends and I got together to experiment with a writing group, things aligned and I decided to write a short story based on these elements.

I decided I’d write a mystery in the first person about a piece of missing Masonic jewelry. This was intended as an experiment to get me writing in different styles, so I didn’t feel bad about loosely following the existing plot in Chandler’s story. But instead of whiskey, I went Lebowski’s route and had him smoking more and more cannabis.

Because I borrowed from Chandler’s original, I don’t intend to sell the story as my own. Instead I’m posting it here. Click below to download the PDF. Comments and criticisms welcome.

Freemasons Are a Drag