Absolute bee’s knees, The Queen’s Gambit. Fictitious yet compelling. The brilliance of the scripting was you didn’t have to know how to play chess to enjoy the series. It was about chess but not only about chess.
Because I played a little chess as an undergraduate, I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit more. Playing chess made me look smart. And when you looked like a gangster, looking smart helped.
The bloke who taught me how to play always rhapsodised about ‘grandmasters’ and ‘gambits.’ He knew more about Bobby Fischer, Capablanca, Karpov and Gary Kasparov than he knew his Fortran. Heck, I knew the Sicilian Defence long before I knew Al Capone.
This dude tried to split my head open and stuff it with famous openings and defences. But I was selective about what went into my brain. I want nothing to do with treacherous knights terrorising pious bishops or castles moving up and down. Castles are buildings. Buildings do not move up and down. This is not Inception. I’ll not be part of such foolishness.
But I’m not here to talk about chess and The Queen’s Gambit. I’m here to talk about drugs and enhanced cognitive performance.
In The Queen’s Gambit, the fictitious tranquilliser xanzolam heightens Elizabeth Harmon’s already extraordinary chess brain. After ingesting it, she sees chess moves unravel on the ceiling of the room.
It reminded me of the movie Limitless. Bradley Cooper’s unremarkable intelligence shoots to the stratosphere after swallowing the NZT pill.
In creative circles, substance use is not as abhorrent as it is in the larger society. Because, as understanding goes, recreational drugs summon the muses and unlock creativity.
Which is a lot of bunkum. I’ve smoked weed. All it turned me into was a zebronkey. That’s a cross between a zebra and a donkey. Two ungifted animals, the scion of which can only be a jackass.
No sirs, I didn’t become a genius. Rather, I descended to the genus Homo Stupidus-Ineffabilis.
Even though I smoked marijuana more times than in curious enquiry, I never enjoyed it. It made me appear smarter than I was. Which was odd because marijuana should dull the senses. But how else could I have known who killed JFK?
In the circles I hung out, marijuana had a sham philosophical name: reason. Because when you light a joint, you tend to think or ‘reason’ a lot.
The problem was, the object and substance of the reasoning can be quite fantastical. Once I started contemplating the logic of square circles. And in another instance, I could count to one sextillion on my fingers. A very dodgy affair you will agree.
Well now, allow me to regale you with some of my ganja experience.
It was in the early 2000s. Three friends and I had gone to Kuramo Beach at night for some fun. Back in those days, Kuramo Beach at night was a jaunty place. Make-shift bars and bordellos sprang up on every square inch, a watering hole for both debauched and innocent fun-seekers.
The gusty winds of the Atlantic lent to the sense of thrill. That wind, along with the flaming leaves of the cannabis plant, and some liquor, made it easy to lose oneself in nature.
We promptly got high and slept off.
When we came to in the wee hours, we had been robbed. Phones, wallets and watches. We had our wallets and phones in our pockets. So the brigands must have lifted us up or turned us over in our chairs to get to our chattels. It was in the days when Nokia 3310 sold for N40,000 and a SIM card for N25,000. So, we had been robbed twice.
On the drive home, our embarrassment turned into laughter. We laughed at ourselves. How could we, street boys in our own right, be taken advantage of like so? Awa omo agbole ole (we who live in a hamlet of thieves).
As far as I remember, to this day, we never told anyone what happened.
Oh well, now they know.
One other time, still in the early 2000s, some friends and I went to Victoria Island for a bank aptitude test. In those days, the banks were the largest employers of graduates. Many of the banks conducted their aptitude tests at the Lagos Law School or the grounds of King’s College. So, we’d driven to Victoria Island that Saturday morning.
A large pool of unemployed graduates had turned up. So, the test was being conducted in batches. Our batch was to wait another one-half hour. To kill time, we drove to the beach.
I don’t understand why weed dealers hang around beaches when they know innocent children like us come over.
Again, we smoked some joints and got high.
We drove back to the venue of the test. We were on time. Our batch was in 20 minutes.
We knew something was wrong when other friends asked us what was funny. Everything and everyone sounded funny to us. If you called our mothers prostitutes, we’d laugh. If you asked us what the time was, we’d laugh. If we were at the guillotine being read our last rites, we’d still be laughing.
Boy, how the questions in the tests hated me! They wouldn’t answer me. But damn if I’ll let some arrogant questions mock me. In defiance, I wrote down whatever. Two can play.
I passed. How on earth that happened remains an eternal mystery. The bloke who marked my papers must have been stoned himself. I hope he didn’t go on to become a doctor.
On the last note, one other night, I had smoked a sizeable joint all by myself. The size called jumbo. Only Fela and Shaba Rank smoked jumbos. The 100 billion neurones in my brain all got into a Bugatti Chiron and hit the freeway. That night, I could hear the safety valves of my sanity popping.
I was transported to the beginning of creation. I had a front-row seat to the birth of the universe. I sat in the aisle when the proton married the neutron and the out-of-wedlock electron swirled around gleefully. I was too special to come from Earth. I should be hanging out with other life forms in other galaxies.
I could hear the crying of my mother in the recesses of my brain. She was sobbing about how to explain my sudden madness to everyone.
Her prayers must have brought me back. I was sleepy but scared to sleep. I feared that if I closed my eyes and slept, I would wake up into irredeemable madness. I had epiphanies of me walking to Kano naked, accumulating a wealth of trash.
Keeping my eyes open was a gruelling battle. I paced the room till morning. I recited the Shepherd Boy’s Psalm. I didn’t know I knew that psalm. I swore that if I survived the ordeal, I would never smoke marijuana again.
I survived it. And I never smoked it again.
I smoked it three or four more times after that.
But those were the last times.
Many ridiculous arguments have been given for smoking marijuana.
“The Bible didn’t say anything about smoking or marijuana.”
“It’s a herb, and God created all herbs for our use.”
“It’s healthier than cigarettes.”
“Some countries like the Netherlands allow it for recreational use. If they allow it, it can’t be that bad.”
“It relaxes me and makes me chill.”
Yada yada yada.
Yea, the Bible didn’t directly mention weed or any other illicit substance. But neither did it mention cocaine, heroin or ecstasy. Yet I do not see you chill out with those. Care to tell us why?
And God created all herbs for our use? Really? He told you that on a Zoom call? Well, you should try eating hemlock. It is also created by God.
You also need to read up, Jose. Marijuana is not less harmful than cigarettes. Smoking marijuana creates a more severe impact on the lungs. That’s because smokers tend to inhale more of the smoke and hold it longer in the mouth than they do cigarette. Also, a joint has no filter. So, one joint gives as much exposure to carcinogenic substances as smoking four to five cigarettes in a row.
Look, I like the Netherlands for a lot of things. Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Edwin Van Dar Sar. Cheese. Bitterballen. But the Dutch are also Poco Loco. Coffee Houses that sell no coffee and regulated prostitution. Nah, I’m not on board with their pragmatic harm reduction beliefs. A drug is a drug is a drug.
Funny how a drama series about chess leads to a spiel about illicit drug use. Blame Netflix. They are masters of twists and turns.