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Rubbers, Rubbers Everywhere but Not a Joint in Sight

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Actually my name is not Neil Allen. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a major league pitcher. Instead I work for an organization that distributes free condoms around Chicago. Business is booming.

Not long ago, while on a rubber run at a seedy bar in the South Loop (a scene of dangerous sex and safe drugs), I was approached on the sidewalk by a guy selling dime bags of reefer. This has been the most difficult year ever to buy marijuana; ounces that would have gone into the brownie mix a year ago are selling out in minutes at $240 apiece. So I checked out the guy's product. His "dime bag" was about the size of my fingernail and only slightly greener, but I would have bought it anyway if I'd had the ten. Depressed, I offered him a trade--ten condoms for the bag, even up. He laughed in my face and moved on to a growing horde of customers. "Rubbers I can get anywhere, you pathetic fool," he said. "Where's the weed?" I mumbled, as I took a case of condoms into the bar.

With the end of the drug war and the last faint moans of the sexual revolution being heard throughout the land, these two related trends reached a kind of climax in 1990, though both have remained largely unreported and uncommented upon: Condoms, once the sexual protection of last resort, became available everywhere. And marijuana, once America's first choice in illegal drugs, became more difficult to find and more expensive than ever.

Marijuana use went way down in the 80s among the middle-class people who had smoked their way through the 70s. Its effects thwart ambition and promote self-consciousness, two undesirable feelings for those on the fast track. But lately, with the slower economy and the hollow defeat of smokers who switched to coke as they went for "it" in the 80s, many are returning to reefer. Perhaps production cannot meet the new demand.

I quit pot about ten years ago and started doing coke and drinking. It was good for my social life, and it was the fuel for the business engine too. I had the money and pot made me paranoid, though ultimately not as paranoid as coke did. When I quit coke I leaned more heavily on drink as my drug of choice, and without the coke to keep me alert I started waking up sick, in bed with people I might have met at the bar in Star Wars. With the real possibility of AIDS, this was too dangerous, but what are you going to do if you're drunk, you don't have a condom, and there aren't any at the bar? I stopped playing the field and now I stay home and watch a lot of TV. But watching TV without some extra stimulant is just too boring, so I've started smoking dope again, when I can find it.

I started using rubbers because I had to. Like many others, I hated them. I'd used one once when I was 17 and almost immediately lost my erection, so I refused to wear them afterward. But I'd never learned how to use them (you're supposed to just "know"), and after I did I found they weren't so bad after all. I last longer. It's a little like having a new foreskin. Even David Byrne said the other day that he thinks sex feels better with a condom. Of course, he's a little weird. Anyway, I've got a bucketful of condoms, and so do many people I know. (Actually, I'm the only one with a bucket; others have baskets, boxes, etc.) Once found only in hidden corners behind the counters of drugstores and in the men's toilets of marginal bars, they are now available almost everywhere, frequently for free. You can't get one in church, but you can find them at such unlikely places as cocktail parties and women's bars. The free distribution is frequently supported by federal subsidies.

Why have the disappearance of marijuana and the ubiquity of condoms gone unreported in 1990? The answer, as with almost everything else in America, can be found in a casual scan of commercial television. While ads that depict smiling senior citizens pushing the limit of diaper absorbency are run in prime time, condom advertising is taboo. And no treatment center has yet come forward to promise (for a fee) to remove the marijuana monkey from the addict's back.

TV is always slow to pick up on new trends, but when the government spends large sums to fight a problem, TV eventually notices. And the problem usually grows proportionately with the amount of money spent to end it. Our government has left the cocaine business (too potentially embarrassing and difficult to control), and is quietly putting money into rubbers. We'll see ads promoting them in 1991. And with the end of U.S. support for (or "war against," if you prefer) the coke trade, South American farmers will go back to growing marijuana. The domestic product that has dominated the market in recent years will have to offer incentives (like Detroit car makers) to stave off the foreign competition. Hashish will reappear, brought back from the Middle East by soldiers on leave. We'll see antimarijuana ads. With the nation spending more quiet evenings at home in front of the TV, using safe drugs and practicing safe sex, this will be a less violent land, a land where dreams come true again. At least if you're high. At least I hope so.

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