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My very own opium den 

And why I don't have one

I admit that I once tried to harvest an opium crop. This past spring, I happened to have access to a field of opium poppies. A small field, but true honest-to-god opium poppies nonetheless. I can't tell you where the poppies are, because I'm choosing to emphasize the "anonymous" in narcotics anonymous.

Due to unfortunate timing last year and the temperamental qualities of the delicate beauties, I had to wait a whole entire year for another chance to reap. My foray into foliage was more an act of science than some William S. Burroughs-inspired frenzy. True, I had visions of myself in a harem outfit hooked up to a hookah pipe, but really, and I can't emphasize this enough, it was a scientific inquiry. A scientific inquiry that I hoped would have me higher than a Chinaman during British occupation.

I'd like to thank the CIA website for its helpful opium harvesting tips: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/heroin/ flowers_to_heroin.htm. "From Flowers To Heroin" will take you on an amazing narcotic journey. It's a lot like the "I'm Just a Bill" Schoolhouse Rock segment, but you know, it's about a flower trying to become drugs. Well, there's no animation. And there's no catchy song. But just like that triumphant little bill, most opium poppies -- after a much more intricate process than the bill-into-law one -- do succeed in becoming opium, morphine or heroin. I find it odd that the CIA, which doesn't even have marked buildings in most cities, has a website, but whatever.

I was not trying to make heroin. I would have been happy with morphine. Heroin is bad news. Have you seen recovered addicts? I don't know what all else heroin does to you, but it definitely leaves the skin hideously pock-marked. I have enough problems. That's not a look I'm after.

You have a very short and specific window of time in which to harvest the opium from the poppies. Petals fall off, the pod starts going to seed and you have to strike. You have to hand score each poppy pod with a small blade. Then the juice or sap or gum or whatever comes out.

Did you hear me? You have to hand score each poppy pod. And each poppy pod only squeaks out a little bit of juice, which you then have to wait about a day for it to become sticky. Then you have to scrape that off and re-score. You can end up re-scoring a poppy like four times.

It is painstaking, tedious, back-aching, time-consuming bullshit work. That is why it's only grown and harvested in Third World nations. Who else are you going to get to do this kind of work?

Not to mention that, in my case, something went horribly, horribly wrong. Maybe I was too late. Maybe the flowers had already gotten too dry. Maybe I scored too deep, or too shallow, or who knows?

I tried fork tines, I tried a Swiss Army knife, I tried poking with a pin. I tried any number of implements and scoring styles to find one that would work. The pods promisingly squeaked out a little bit of juice, but then that juice evaporated. Evaporated! After all my hard work. There were just faint sticky marks down the sides of the poppy pods, like starch streaks on a badly pressed shirt. And it was at this point that I realized I didn't have enough poppies to do squat. My harvest was a big fat bust. I also realized I hadn't even made it to the harder part, the refining process. I needed many acres of poppies and a tribe of peasants to help with the harvest.

Unfortunately, the CIA doesn't tell you how to score First World peasants. I'm sure it has something to do with football and "Seinfeld" re-runs, but the government seems to want to keep that information all to itself.

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