Friends we havent met yet

Compassion and tolerance are necessary ingredients to hold together a diverse community. My weekend offered me a strange mixture of tolerance and intolerance, of compassion and careless distain, as I floundered in a community of my friends divided. On a personal level, I felt strengthened, but I felt fearful for the community as a whole.

On Saturday, I was hunkered down over the plate at Albert Park calling my first game of baseball in 25 years. My last game as the central umpire was in 1982. I was 17 years old. Amazingly, it seemed many of the players I umpired on Saturday were the same people I umpired a quarter of a century ago. Weve got brilliant facilities at Albert Park now; theyre just missing another generation of kids to use them.

I did a shoddy job, but I was grateful the players, who were disappointed with my calls, didnt spend too long scoffing at my efforts. The other umpire, who was mentoring me, was also tolerant of my appalling mechanics. What was sad was the array of anti-MardiGrass opinions among the baseball crowd. Many of them are big drinkers and some of them chew tobacco. Two strong and addictive drugs. One bloke, a proud drinker and chewer said, if he was a cop hed arrest anyone who went to MardiGrass. After contemplation, I thought maybe hes got the right idea. If every one of the millions of pot smokers in Australia the judges, the nurses, the journalists and the labourers all woke up one day and said Im sick of being considered a criminal and took themselves off to be arrested en masse, the legal system would be flooded and the laws would be changed overnight.

I went to MardiGrass. I think Indian Hemp is a fantastic plant. It can provide fibre, fuel, food, and, as an analgesic that doesnt create constipation, it is a vital part of our pharmacy. I dont really enjoy taking it as a recreational drug. Im slow enough without sedating my nervous system any further, but each to their own.

I even took part in the Hemp Olympix, the blindfolded joint-rolling event, and came away with a second place medal. I attribute my success to my opponents being on performance debilitating drugs. The crowd that watched the event, which was full of young people, seemed a little bemused by the clean-cut tosser from the local paper but they tolerated me.

Not that the law-reform crowd was particularly tolerant. One of the rumours going around on Saturday was that the police were trying to stop people from driving to the rally and had blockaded the road from Lismore. Police were actually dealing with a fatal accident on the road.

No matter where I went, people were keen to encourage me, but my community is divided and the division is growing deeper and the black market it creates ever more powerful. It troubles me because, from where I stand, theyre all just friends of mine.


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