If you don't already know, the issue of The Stranger featuring this column celebrates the alternative newsweekly's 25th anniversary. What does it mean to be 25? In marriage, the 25th year marks the silver anniversary, symbolizing worth and strength and repped by the gemstone tsavorite. In manhood, it marks the age males have hit their peak and begin ever-so-slowly receding to the rest of their lesser (in terms of biological vitality, at least) lives. And in the lifespan of the Rolling Stones, it marks the run-up to Steel Wheels, a serviceable collection of songs the Stones sprinkled amidst hits on a world tour fueled by nostalgia but not without its late-stage triumphs.
Of course, a more fitting subject is the Village Voice, the standard-bearing alternative newsweekly that turned 25 in 1980, when London Calling topped Pazz & Jop and a year before the Voice won its first Pulitzer. (So by at least one metric, The Stranger is lapping the Voice, having earned its first Pulitzer five years faster.) (Also, forgive my Pulitzer fixation, but the day Eli Sanders's win was announced was easily one of the best days of my life. Everyone who read that story was taken somewhere almost sacredly terrifying, and to have Eli's humane summation of this extreme local horror resonate beyond our city made my heart explode.)
Anyway, happy birthday, Stranger! I landed on the streets of Seattle at almost the exact same time as you. You were a folded-in-half pamphlet that was mostly cartoons and Dan Savage yelling at straight people. I was a just-out-of-the-closet drama-school grad working at an LGBT bookstore and ripe for the righteous fulmination of "Hey, Faggot!"—but, weirdly, my most profound experience reading Savage came not in The Stranger but in the Seattle Gay News, which in '91 or early '92 ran an interview where Dan came down hard on queers who'd participate in pride parades and Queer Nation actions while remaining closeted to their friends and families. His point: Owning your queerness before crowds of strangers was nothing compared to owning it before people you had an emotional investment with, whose antigay biases you'd naturally challenge and perhaps change with your mere queer presence. It's the same thing Harvey Milk called for—"Come out!"—but it was Dan's reiteration that caught me at the right time and drove me to burn down any lingering scraps of the closet. (You never forget the person who first punches you in the face with the message of Harvey Milk, just like you never forget the person who first plays you Led Zeppelin IV or Nina Simone's "Pirate Jenny.")
Fun fact or at least fact: I started writing for The Stranger when I was 25. I'd written a solo play/stage essay about coming out and my fixation on a homophobic rock star, and The Stranger ran part of it as a feature. My next two works started as Stranger essays (edited by Dan Savage) before becoming theater pieces (directed by Dan Savage). In 1998, the paper hired me to write the column "Last Days: The Week in Review," which I did for the next 17 years, and in 1999, I joined the staff as an editor and writer, where I stayed till 2015.
Then I quit to write a book about weed—Weed: The User's Guide, available everywhere now!—and now I'm back as a goddamned weed columnist. This is fitting, as The Stranger was always supportive* of my writing about my real-life use of weed—as an antidote to particularly horrific "Last Days" items, as a supporting character in a movie review—even when this use broke the law. Now that it's legal, I'm happy to continue my role as spokesmodel for life-enhancing adult weed use.
Also, now that it's legal, I'm free to share hilarious and/or sweet stories involving Stranger stonedness, including the time I got the famously asthmatic Dan Savage to take his first puff of weed and he passed out in my kitchen; the several dozen times in the '90s I bought weed from Stranger distro guys; and the existence of the Brass Elephant, a small, elephant-shaped locket that hung on a nail on a wall in the editorial office throughout the aughts and always held a gram of weed, there for the taking for whoever needed it, with the understanding that the taker would later replenish it. It always worked.
*By "supportive," I mean they never called the cops and sometimes asked me to help them get eighths.