The I Chong: Meditations from the Jointby Tommy Chong
On the morning of February 24, 2003, agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration launched a sting called Operation Pipe Dreams and forced themselves through the door of Tommy's California home, with automatic weapons drawn. As a result of the raid on his home;/b>
Beloved stoner comedian TOMMY CHONG is now older, wiser, and officially an EX-CON.
On the morning of February 24, 2003, agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration launched a sting called Operation Pipe Dreams and forced themselves through the door of Tommy's California home, with automatic weapons drawn. As a result of the raid on his home; the simultaneous ransacking of his son's company, Chong Glass; and the Bush administration's determination to make an example out of the "Pope of Pot;" he was sentenced to nine months in prison because his company shipped bongs to a head shop in Pennsylvania that was a front for the DEA.
Well . . . now it's Tommy Chong's turn to fight back and tell his side of the story.
Beginning with Tommy's experiences growing up in Canada in the forties and fifties as a mixed-race kid and going on to become a comedy legend, The I Chong is at once a memoir, a spiritual exploration of his time in prison, and a political indictment of the eroding civil liberties in post-9/11 American society. He tells the unbelievable story of his trip down the rabbit hole of America's war on drugs and of his experiences in the federal prison system, and he offers up timely observations on combating the conservative political forces at work in this country. Introspective, inspiring, and incendiary, The I Chong is a unique chronicle of one man's life and how his humorous and spiritual point of view saved him during his wrongful incarceration at the hands of an administration without boundaries.
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The I ChongMeditations from the Joint
By Tommy Chong
Simon Spotlight EntertainmentCopyright © 2006 Tommy Chong
All right reserved.
Shih / The Army
K'un / K'an
Prepare for a "war" --
a test about to take place.
The morning of February 24, 2003, at 5:30 a.m. in my home in the Pacific Palisades, California, an event happened that changed my life forever. I was asleep at the time, having a wonderfully weird dream -- the kind that makes you want to sleep long enough to find out how it ends. I dreamt that I was with beautiful naked women, who were all trying to attack me sexually, and more naked women were outside banging on the glass door demanding to be let in. My wife nudged me awake with her foot and whispered softly, "There's someone banging at the door."
Unsure if I was awake and responding to my wife's words or still dreaming and answering the call of the naked ladies, I got out of bed and made my way down the stairs. I crossed over to the glass front door where I could see a group of armed men wearing helmets and visors standing on the landing. They looked like a group of oversize trick-or-treaters in alien costumes.
One of the men yelled at me to open the door.For a brief moment, I thought, They must be going from door to door warning people of some impending disaster, or maybe an Enron executive has escaped and is running wild, so I opened the door. And as I did the armed men rushed into my house and started going from room to room shouting orders at each other.
The leader handed me a piece of paper and informed me, "This is a raid. And this is a search warrant giving us the right to seize what is listed on the warrant."
I took the paper and tried to read it, but without my reading glasses it was just a blur. In fact, the whole raid was a blur!
One of the men yelled at me, "Is there anyone else in the house?"
I answered, "My wife is upstairs." By this time my wife had slipped on a robe and was coming down the stairs, asking me what was going on.
"I think we are being raided."
"What for?" She replied halfway down the stairs.
"I don't know. They won't tell me," I answered back.
"We will tell you in a minute," the leader replied.
Shelby joined me at the bottom of the stairs, and we watched the armed men run from room to room yelling "clear."
"This is just like a movie," Shelby said. I looked at her and saw excitement in her face. My wife always amazes me with the absolute cool with which she handles everything. She even gave birth to our three children in a very cool way. She is always under control in panic situations. Little things like losing her favorite sweater will send her to therapy immediately, but a situation like having her house raided by twenty or so armed men was really no big deal.
"This is not a movie! This is the real thing!" the leader shouted. He seemed to be sticking close to us to see how we were reacting.
"So, are we under arrest?" my fearless wife shot back.
"No, you are not under arrest," the leader replied.
"So what's going on?" asked Shelby, not the least bit afraid.
I was standing there shivering in my shorts, but I tried to regain my composure and act like the man of the house. "Uh, yeah! What is going on?" I asked.
"We'll tell you soon enough," the leader replied. He hovered around us, directing his men as they searched the house. Shelby went back upstairs to get dressed, while I stood and shivered next to the leader.
"Do you have any drugs?" he asked.
I looked at him for a beat, thinking, This can't be about drugs, can it?
"Yeah, I have some pot," I answered, still shaking like a wet puppy, while thinking, Of course I have pot in the house. I'm Tommy Chong!
"If you tell us where the drugs are it will go faster."
"Let me think." Well, I know I have a big bud in the basement and some homegrown up in my office and a taste in the kitchen, now where else? The cop looked at me with a big smirk on his face. I could see I was making his day.
"I better call a lawyer," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"You don't need a lawyer," he answered back.
I don't need a lawyer? I thought to myself. I was a bit amazed by his response, because in every movie I've ever seen, the perp always refuses to talk to the cops until he sees his lawyer.
"You are not under arrest," he answered back, still smirking. "We will tell you when you can call your lawyer."
I felt weird. Something is not right here, I thought. I'm not under arrest, yet armed men and women in uniform are ransacking my home like World War II Nazi storm troopers. Dressed in military gear with automatic weapons strapped to their sides, they were running from room to room, carrying armfuls of computers to a vehicle outside, while helicopters hovered in the sky over our house. Was I dreaming? Or had I somehow been transported to Iraq, where this identical scene was being played out repeatedly as America attacked the tiny Arab country with full military force?
"Take Mr. Chong upstairs and have him put on some clothes," the leader ordered one of his men. I guess he was tired of looking at my morning hard-on. I was escorted upstairs and walked into the closet, where my clothes from the previous night awaited me. As I reached for my blue jeans, the armed guard took the clothes from my hands and expertly searched the pockets. He found my pocket knife and laid it on the dresser.
"Sorry, I'm just doing my job," he muttered, almost to himself.
I noticed that many of the armed raiders were embarrassed and would not make eye contact with me. They seemed puzzled and embarrassed as the raid progressed. They all knew me as one half of the comedy team Cheech and Chong, America's favorite stoner comedians. We had entertained them with our records and movies dating back to 1971. Some if not all of the raiders had grown up with our crazy stoner comedy that made what they were doing totally ridiculous.
As I slipped on my pants and shirt the guard casually asked if I had any weapons. Of course, I told him the truth: "No, I do not have any weapons! I don't believe in violence."
My answer did not seem to satisfy him, so he continued to rummage around the closet until he found our small cash box. He asked me for the key. I dug it out of our secret hiding place and handed it to him. He then ushered me downstairs where he reported to the leader.
"I found it," he said quietly. The leader and the guard made eye contact. They were quite pleased with themselves until they opened it and found cash and jewelry but no weapons. Thinking back, I now realize how badly they wanted to find a weapon, any weapon! They were happy to find the cash, but it was the weapon that could have gotten me a substantial jail sentence. I could have and probably would have received ten years in jail had I been in possession of a gun that day, even if it was properly registered.
Thank God I don't believe in guns. They scare the shit out of me. I believe that guns have a vibe of their own and will attack you when you least expect it. The three years I spent in the Canadian Army Cadets taught me all I needed to know about weapons of human destruction. I've seen what guns can do to people, especially when they think they are not loaded. And it's always the stupid people (Dick Cheney) who get hurt or hurt someone else by not respecting guns. Like one idiot in the army cadets who held a match to a live round to see what would happen. He lost his thumb and finger finding out. Now that was stupid.
The beautiful thing about comedy is that no matter what happens we comics always see the funny side. In the middle of the raid I had to take a shit, but when I started for the toilet, the guard told me to halt. I let him in on my predicament and he told me I'd have to wait until his boss gave me the okay. Luckily for all concerned, the boss told him to let me do my business but to go with me. I told him I didn't think that would be such a good idea. I'm sixty-six years old, and being anywhere near an old man when he takes a morning shit could ruin a man forever. They took my word for it and I was allowed a private dump.
As I stood in my own foyer surrounded by all these gun-toting agents, my initial shock subsided and I was no longer the least bit frightened. I knew we had done nothing illegal. Our glass factory in Gardena, California, was a legal operation. We were an incorporated company paying our fair share of state and federal taxes. In fact, the company was undergoing an audit the day of the raid.
So what was the problem? Weed? Oh, that. Yes, they did find almost a pound of grass that morning. It took them a couple of hours, but they found the weed that was given to me by my fans and for which I had a legal prescription from my doctor. The prescription was for my own personal medical problem, which was . . . stress brought on by shit like this!
Ironically, weed was never listed on the Feds' search warrant. The DEA raid captain had to hand write an addendum to the warrant that he had me sign. The whole operation was strange indeed. So the question of the day that had yet to be answered: What horrendous crime had I committed that took all these guys with the helicopters and the flack jackets and the automatic weapons and God knows what else to terrorize my wife and me? The leader, sensing the time was right, announced the reason for the raid.
"Bongs," he said.
"Bongs?" I repeated.
The DEA leader looked at me, his smirk getting bigger. He cleared his throat and announced in a rehearsed manner, much like a wimpy news anchorman, "Chong Glass and Nice Dreams Enterprises are the targets of this expensive and dangerous early morning raid, which was part of a nationwide raid on bong companies across America, called Operation Pipe Dreams."
This "crime-stopping" event that was being filmed by all the major television networks was the "brainchild" of the attorney general of the United States, who was announcing the details as the raids were being conducted.
"Bongs?" I repeated. I really must have been dreaming. "You mean all this is about bongs?"
The leader had a look on his face that really pissed me off. He had that shit-eating grin that you see in movies when the bad guy announces to the world that it was he all along.
"You motherfucker!" I spit out the words automatically. The armed narcs moved in on me, expecting violence. "You motherfucker," I said quietly to the leader, who now sported a huge grin on his white hillbilly face. One of his men started moving objects from the glass coffee table, anticipating a brawl or some sort of altercation. I noticed the guy was Chinese and that the raiding party was mixed racially and otherwise. Black, white, Asian, female, gay. It was a politically correct raiding party. Of course! It was beginning to make sense! This was really a "political raid." The U.S. government was in fact continuing its policy of "war" on its own people. The thinly disguised War on Drugs is, in fact, a war on the hippie culture and on the poor, black, and brown people of America.
The events of 9/11 suddenly gave the "devil worshipping" Christian Right a reason to attack and imprison anyone and everyone who did not subscribe to their narrow racist neo-Nazi Christian beliefs. The Chinese guy dressed in the DEA raiding outfit was the poster boy for the repressive Republican society that now ruled America. All those dire warnings about Big Brother that we were given repeatedly during the sixties, seventies, and eighties had become reality. The question in my mind now is, did we create these events by worrying about them, or did we predict them and that made them happen?
"You can call your lawyer now," the leader said, breaking the tension in the room.
My wife and I looked at each other. Who should we call? My mind was blank. I couldn't think of a single person to call. Ironically, almost all our neighbors in the Palisades are lawyers, and Shelby's friend's husband is probably the best entertainment lawyer in Hollywood, yet we couldn't think of anyone to call.
"I guess we better call Joe Mannis," I said finally.
Joe was a divorce lawyer, who also represented me with the movie studios when Cheech and I did the movies during the early eighties. We got Joe on the telephone, and the DEA leader talked to him for about ten minutes before handing me the phone.
"How are you doing?" was Joe's first question. Without waiting for a reply, he continued, "Okay, here is what is happening. They are raiding you because of Chong Glass. They're going to offer you a deal. And they are not going to arrest you, although they could. Actually, they can do anything they want -- they're the federal government." Joe continued talking, but his words just faded into the background as I began to realize the extent and scope of the situation.
I handed the telephone to my wife and started talking to the leader of the pack, who was suddenly acting very chummy. Soon we were chatting away like old friends. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. But since I believed that I had done nothing wrong, I didn't feel the need to censor myself . . . even with the guy in riot gear who'd just finished ransacking my house. Man, was I stupid!
I talked and talked, telling him (and anyone else within ear shot) how the weed laws were unconstitutional and how hemp will save the world some day. I spouted the same hippie logic that I had been espousing for almost forty years. "Blah, blah, blah, should be legal, blah, blah, it helps people with AIDS and MS, blah, blah, it's way safer than alcohol or tobacco, blah, blah."
Looking back now I see how incredibly out of touch I was. There I was doing my stoner act for a guy who seemed to think every doper, hippie bastard was the son of the devil and should be rounded up and exterminated as soon as possible. I was Anne Frank talking to Herr Mengele. He let me go on and on, looking at me with that concerned I know what you mean look on his face, while I dug my grave deeper and deeper.
Eventually, Shelby got fed up and announced that she was ready for her morning coffee. One of the cops actually told her, "Well, there's the kitchen. Go make some." I winced when I heard him talk to her that way -- not just because of the sexist overtones, but because Shelby has a very low tolerance for this kind of bullshit, especially coming from a cop who was in the middle of raiding her home. Here we go, I thought.
But to my surprise, her response was mild. "Excuse me, there is a princess on board here. I need my Starbucks," she replied lightheartedly.
"Well, you will have to wait until we are finished here," the cop responded.
"Does that mean we are under arrest?" she countered.
"No, you are not under arrest. You can leave, but you can't come back until we are finished," he said, getting a little pissed at being challenged.
"Well, then, can you move your cars? I don't want you to scare off my housekeeper," replied the princess.
The cop looked to his boss for direction. The leader sensed he was losing control over the situation and was about to say something when one of the cops appeared from the basement with a box of bamboo pipes. They were part of the collection of pipes that I had on display at an art show a few months earlier. I mentioned the highly publicized show to the leader, who informed me that he had attended it and was amazed at some of the prices the art was fetching.
"You were at the show?" I asked, flattered.
"We have been following you around for a year now," he replied.
"You guys were at the head shop in Arlington, Texas," I almost shouted. "I remember talking to you."
The leader smiled almost sheepishly. I remembered them because they looked like big, clumsy, undercover DEA agents. And one of the girls who worked at the store had followed them around wearing a DEA T-shirt! Of course, none of the folks who worked at the head shop thought anything of the five jocks wearing backpacks carrying hidden cameras and microphones.
I had stopped by to sign Chong bongs for the customers. The leader, posing as a fan, and I went outside for a little private chat. He asked me if my bongs were really used for smoking pot and why my bongs or any bongs were superior to other pipes. Of course, I was honest and told him everything. I wasn't worried about speaking so freely because I hadn't been mirandized, nor had I done anything wrong. Pro that I am, I spoke directly into the hidden camera/recorder in his backpack. You see what smoking pot will do to you?
The DEA finally wrapped up the raid at our house at around ten a.m. They had been playing cops and plunderers for almost five hours now and everyone was tired. Joe Mannis arrived and informed me he had contacted Richard Hirsch, a famous criminal lawyer, who I knew from World Gym. I felt good knowing that I had a top lawyer and a friend working on my behalf. Hey, they can't do this to me, I thought. I'll smoke them in court. As popular as I am, people will pay money to be on the jury. Chong on trial for selling bongs? This will be a slam dunk. No jury in America would dare convict me, not for bongs. . . . Yeah, right!
We contacted our son Paris, who was aware of the raid because the federal agents were busy raiding the factory at the same time our house was being raided. They woke up Brian, the factory manager, and had him drive out to the factory to open the doors. Once inside, the agents confiscated some of the finished glass pipes and smashed the unfinished ones. They carted away all the computers and some office files, while trashing the rest of the place for no apparent reason. For the first time, I felt like I could really understand what the European Jews suffered under Hitler, and this was all happening in America in 2003.
The Bush people were on a mission, a crusade, ever since the events of 9/11. The terrorist acts suddenly gave the Bush administration carte blanche to act in any manner they wanted. The Republicans seized on the opportunity to forward their own agenda. The people of the United States lost more than the World Trade Center and countless loved ones that fateful day. We lost our freedom. That act of terrorism gave too much power to a group of right-wing Christian devil worshippers ready to demonize and destroy anyone standing in their way.
Now, lest you think I'm being hyperbolic, hear me out. I call these people devil worshippers for this reason: Their own Christian Bible states, "It shall be according to thy faith," meaning, if you believe in something -- even if it is not real -- it will become real to you because of your belief. So if you believe that the devil exists, this illusion that you create will stay with you until it is erased by the rebirth of your perception of the Truth! And the Truth is, God is real and everything made by God is good. Evil and the so-called devil are illusions created by organized religion to give them an enemy to protect their "sheep" from.
I find it interesting that hell is associated with eternal fire. How can that be bad? My version of hell would be darkness and cold. I like warmth! Like the Indian sweat lodge: Water is poured over hot stones to heat the hut with steam, and this is the Native American version of heaven. It is a place to commune with the Father -- an experience as spiritual, fulfilling, and as far from hell as one could get.
Hell, to me, is sitting in an uncomfortable pew being bored silly by some religious fanatic trying to justify his pedophilic activities in the name of Jesus Christ.
On that morning of the raid, I was made the enemy of the Republican Christian Right. In the interest of protecting their sheep, the government selected me -- Tommy Chong, dangerous stoner, comedian -- as the poster boy for their Big Brother campaign. It would be laughable if it weren't true. . . .
Copyright © 2006 by Tommy Chong
Excerpted from The I Chong by Tommy Chong Copyright © 2006 by Tommy Chong. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Tommy Chong is a sixty-eight-year-old writer and director, best known as half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech and Chong. The pair found a wide audience through their stand-up routines, comedy albums, and popular films about the hippie, free-love, and (especially) drug culture movement. A father of five, Chong lives with his wife, Shelby, in California and performs with her at comedy clubs across the country. This is his first book.
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