A User’s Guide To Smoking Pot With Barack Obama

Barry was quite the accomplished marijuana enthusiast back in high school and college. Excerpts from David Maraniss’ Barack Obama: The Story dealing with the elaborate drug culture surrounding the president when he attended Punahou School in Honolulu and Occidental College in Los Angeles. He inhaled. A lot.

1. 1. The Choom Gang

A self-selected group of boys at Punahou School who loved basketball and good times called themselves the Choom Gang. Choom is a verb, meaning “to smoke marijuana.”

2. Total Absorption

As a member of the Choom Gang, Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends. The first was called “TA,” short for “total absorption.” To place this in the physical and political context of another young man who would grow up to be president, TA was the antithesis of Bill Clinton’s claim that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford he smoked dope but never inhaled.

4. 3. Roof Hits

Along with TA, Barry popularized the concept of “roof hits”: when they were chooming in the car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.

6. 4. Penalties

When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning “numbing tobacco”) instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around. “Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated,” explained one member of the Choom Gang, Tom Topolinski, the Chinese-looking kid with a Polish name who answered to Topo.

8. 5. The Choomwagon

[Choom Gang member] Mark Bendix’s Volkswagen bus, also known as the Choomwagon. … The other members considered Mark Bendix the glue, he was funny, creative, and uninhibited, with a penchant for Marvel Comics. He also had that VW bus and a house with a pool, a bong, and a Nerf basketball, all enticements for them to slip off midday for a few unauthorized hours of recreation…

6. Interceptions

Barry also had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted “Intercepted!,” and took an extra hit. No one seemed to mind.

11. 7. Slippers

Choom Gang members often made their way to Aku Ponds at the end of Manoa Stream, where they slipped past the liliko’i vines and the KAPU (keep out) signs, waded into waist-high cool mountain water, stood near the rock where water rushed overhead, and held up a slipper (what flip-flops are called in Hawaii) to create an air pocket canopy. It was a natural high, they said, stoned or not.

13. 8. Ray The Dealer

He was a long-haired haole hippie who worked at the Mama Mia Pizza Parlor not far from Punahou and lived in a dilapidated bus in an abandoned warehouse. … According to Topolinski, Ray the dealer was “freakin’ scary.” Many years later they learned that he had been killed with a ball-peen hammer by a scorned gay lover. But at the time he was useful because of his ability to “score quality weed.”

In another section of the [senior] yearbook, students were given a block of space to express thanks and define their high school experience. … Nestled below [Obama’s] photographs was one odd line of gratitude: “Thanks Tut, Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times.” … A hippie drug-dealer made his acknowledgments; his own mother did not.

15. 9. Pumping Stations

Their favorite hangout was a place they called Pumping Stations, a lush hideaway off an unmarked, roughly paved road partway up Mount Tantalus. They parked single file on the grassy edge, turned up their stereos playing Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, and Stevie Wonder, lit up some “sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds” and washed it down with “green bottle beer” (the Choom Gang preferred Heineken, Becks, and St. Pauli Girl).

10. Veto

One of the favorite words in their subculture revealed their democratic nature. The word was veto. Whenever an idea was broached, someone could hold up his hand in the V sign (a backward peace sign of that era) and indicate that the motion wash not approved. They later shortened the process so that you could just shout “V” to get the point across. In the Choom Gang, all V’s were created equal.

18. 11. Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud And Kona Gold:

In the Honolulu of Barry’s teenage years marijuana was flourishing up in the hills, out in the countryside, in covert greenhouses everywhere. It was sold and smoked right there in front of your nose; Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, Kona Gold, and other local variations of pakololo were readily available.

12. The Barf Couch

The Barf Couch earned its name early in the first trimester when a freshman across the hall from Obama [in the Haines Hall Annex dorm at Occidental College] drank himself into a stupor and threw up all over himself and the couch. In the manner of pallbearers hoisting a coffin, a line of Annexers lifted the tainted sofa with the freshman aboard and toted it out the back door and down four steps to the first concrete landing on the way to the parking lot. A day later, the couch remained outside in the sun, resting on its side with cushions off (someone had hosed it clean), and soon it was back in the hallway nook.

21. 13. The Annex Olympics

(The main hallway at Haines Hall was called the Annex,) home to the impromptu Annex Olympics: long-jumping onto a pile of mattresses, wrestling in underwear, hacking golf balls down the hallway toward the open back door, boxing while drunk. There were the non-Olympic sports of lighting farts and judging them by color, tipping over the Coke machine, breaking the glass fire extinguisher case, putting out cigarettes on the carpet, falling asleep on the carpet, flinging Frisbees at the ceiling-mounted alarm bell, tasting pizza boxes to the floor, and smoking pot from a three-foot crimson opaque bong, a two-man event involving the smoker and an accomplice standing ready to respond to the order “Hey, dude, light the bowl!”

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