Yesterday afternoon my wife and I attended a luncheon at the parochial school where she teaches.  The event, which we helped to arrange, was to honor twelve distinguished former students and faculty members.  One of the honorees was a woman who had served at the school for thirty-four years and was beloved by both kids and adults.  However, I always think of her as Cheech’s mom – yes, Cheech Marin of the Cheech and Chong stoner films like Up In Smoke and Nice Dreams.


And there Cheech was, seated a couple of tables away from us, among his mother’s family and other guests, to watch her receive a plaque and other honors.  As I glanced over at Cheech, I thought about a night twenty-eight years ago.  My friends and I had traveled to Westwood, a neighborhood bordering UCLA and featuring some of the best movie theaters in Los Angeles, to attend the premiere screening of The Empire Strikes Back.


Make no mistake – my friends and I were total geeks.  Our idea of a good time was going to science-fiction films and conventions. In fact, one of the things I remember about that night was spotting filmmaker Mike Jittlov – famous to fans of the time for his short films The Wizard of Speed and Time and Animato, which were screened at every convention we attended – walking down the sidewalk in his trademark green jacket, and us all bursting out in applause.  And beyond being fans of anything remotely connected to science fiction and fantasy, we didn’t curse, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and certainly didn’t do drugs.


Now, another thing I remember about that night was that there was another movie showing at the same theater: Cheech & Chong’s Last Movie – a film that my friends and I wouldn’t see for a million Galactic Standard Credits.  As we were waiting in line for Empire, we geeks somehow got into an argument with the stoners waiting to see the Cheech & Chong film over which was a better movie.


It was just a light-hearted debate to pass the time, but it did get me thinking about how different my friends, the geeks, were from these Cheech & Chong fans, and how different I was from a stoner like Cheech Marin.  And yet, as I look back, I now see a number of similarities between us.  We both grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Cal State University Northridge, and in 1980, we were both at perhaps the most famous point of our careers, creating works about controversial topics.  His name was in the title of his films that celebrated the drug culture, and my name was on the boxes of the games I developed about various social issues.


Fast forward eight years, and we were both working for Disney, although our careers had somewhat changed.  Cheech had broken up his partnership with Tommy Chong and had become mainstream enough that he was doing voices for Disney animated feature films like Oliver & Company and The Lion King.  Similarly, I was a producer at Walt Disney Computer Software, making games about talking mice, ducks and rabbits.  And my own geeky, version of a “wild life” became tamed (very much for the better) when I got married at the end of my tenure at Disney.


Fast forward another twenty years, and hear Cheech and I were, in the same room, sitting at tables with nuns and priests, and talking about our respective familes.  And very much unlike my twenty-something teatotaller self, I was sipping a glass of scotch.  I don’t know what Cheech was drinking, but he certainly had distanced himself from his thirty-something dope-smoking self.


Cheech was no longer the stoner – and for that, I was as proud of him as I was for his mother who was receiving an award for her many years of service.  As for me, I was thinking about writing something about Cheech for my weekly CHUD blog instead of the article I had planned to write about comic  book films.  Despite thirty years of being an adult, I was still a geek – and somewhat proud of that.  That geek vs. stoner argument that started one outside the theater showing The Empire Strikes Back was finally over – and we geeks won.

Be seeing ewe.

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