I've never even thought twice about the meaning of the word, "dank." That's just one of the many things that makes me different from Mark Haskell Smith, the novelist behind such books as "Baked," "Salty" and "Moist." (Other things that make us different include height, number of children and the fact that I never have seen him wearing any of my shirts.) However, in his latest journey amid the keyboard keys, Mark takes a turn to the non-fiction realm and goes on the search to find the meaning of "dank" in "Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers and the Race for the Cannabis Cup" that Random House releases on April 3rd under its Broadway Paperbacks imprint.
I met Mark at Golden Road Brewing in Glendale to talk about the upcoming book, good food, munchies and marijuana.
Jason: So, how did you find the Golden Road Brewery?
Mark: Because of my book I'm going to be on TV in Canada on five different shows. Legalization is a really big issue there. So, I was thinking I got to get some new shirts. I went to Americana with my daughter who is 23 and she said we have to go to this place. She had been here a couple times before. So she took me here and I just really loved it. The food's good. The beer's good. You don't get this kind of vibe anywhere in L.A., I don't think. A kind of roadhouse. It reminds me of somewhere in the middle of Texas, outside of Austin. My wife's a vegetarian and I'm mostly vegetarian so we can eat here.
Jason: Why did you become mostly vegetarian?
Mark: Well, it's better for your body; it's better for the planet. I was never a huge meat eater anyway, so it was a pretty easy transition for me. I really like seafood, so, sometimes I have to go get a shrimp burrito.
Jason: I noticed this in "Baked," the character said that a burrito here in Los Angeles is much different from a burrito in Idaho. You also mention in "Heart of Dankness" the one thing you miss was Mexican food when you're talking to, was it the DNA guys?
Mark: Yeah, Aaron from DNA. [DNA Genetics, a seed seller located in Amsterdam run by two Californians. They took 3rd place at the 2004 Cannabis Cup for best indica and 1st place for best sativa, among other awards.] He said the one thing he misses about L.A. is the Mexican food. He just can't find it in Holland.
Jason: Do you get the munchies whenever you get high?
Mark: I have a secret to avoid the munchies. My theory is that you smoke weed and all of your senses get enhanced or stimulated. Your eyes and your ears and you've got dry mouth and your tongue gets bored. You want to eat something. So I eat Armenian pickled turnips or something with a lot of flavor that will blast your mouth. You don't need to eat a lot of it and you're perfectly cool. Eating Armenian food when you're high is fantastic. A good baba ganoush is unbelievable. I'm not into eating a whole bunch of ice cream ... oh our food is ready.
Jason: I'll go pick it up. Well, we may need a couple of hands.
Mark: It looks pretty good.
Jason: What is a Banh Mi sandwich?
Mark: It's a Vietnamese version of a French sandwich. A traditional Banh Mi, they use pate on a baguette and they add all these vegetables, herbs and chilies and spicy sauces. It's really like the best of both worlds. I've heard that this Vegan Banh Mi was really good so I thought I'd try it. And it is really good.
Jason: I have to say I'm impressed with the Sloppy Joseph as well. How long were you in Amsterdam?
Mark: I made three trips. The longest I was there was a little bit longer than a month. I rented an apartment. Lived in this really nice neighborhood. The city is beautiful. I mean it's really, really pretty. I fulfilled my European fantasy of living there. I was friends with the green grocer, the people at the cheese store and the people at the wine store. It was nice.
Jason: You also went to the Sierras and two things struck me as I was reading that part of the book before meeting with you. First of all, can you recognize poison oak effectively now?
Mark: I could recognize it when I fell into it. It was just everywhere. I knew it was poison oak; there was nothing I could do about it.
Jason: I hiked with some people and they were spreading sanitizer all over themselves after we hiked in hopes that it staved off the poison oak. I'm not sure that it would work at all, but I was just kind of giggling at them.
Mark: According to one of the guys I was with, he had soap from nuclear submarines they'd use when they were exposed to radiation. He washes himself with that and that works. Great, I'll just go to the store and pick up a bar of that.
Jason: The other thing that struck me about that, you convey a sense of worry in the book, but how scary was it to go into the Mexican cartel grow areas?
Mark: It was scarier then. In retrospect, I was like, what are we worried about? But at the time, we weren't sure what we'd find. We knew the Mexican cartel had been there. We knew their site had been busted. But, sometimes they'll bust a site and the next year they'll go back because it's all pre-laid, right? So, we really didn't know and it was so dense and so overgrown we're crawling on this cliff that you really couldn't see twenty feet ahead of you. We found laundry still hanging on trees. We found all this fertilizer, all these supplies, shovels and stuff, just abandoned. The guys I was with, I don't think they were putting on a show for me. They took it really seriously. We don't want to piss off the cartel. We don't want to let the feds know we're here. The feds were all over the place too. They're trying to bust the cartel. The cartel's trying to avoid the feds and here we were, "Yahoo," and piling down the hill.
Jason: How did the search for "dank" come about for your book?
Mark: It was sort of one of the first inspirational points of the whole thing. What does "dank" mean? When someone says something is "dank" I understand they think it's really good, or really, really good. But, let's unpack "dank." What are the components that make something "dank?" Just really strong? Just really stinky? What is it? I almost started it as a joke, right? "Dude, what's dank?" The more people I asked and the people like the botanists and really serious farmers up in the Sierras, you start asking those people what "dank" means and you get a really complicated answer. For some people you start with the really great genetics of an amazing strain of cannabis and you grow it to perfection in organic soil or outdoors at the right altitude because altitude plays a part. Like terroir. Then for other people, you get all that and you get the best possible bud and then it's still not dank unless you're with your friends at a nice bar or at someone's house and you're having a party or it's a beautiful day and you're at the beach. Then you get to other people and "dank" is a relationship to the plant. It becomes this whole underground movement that is dankness. It's a cultural thing. A lot of people feel that way too, dankness is a way that people relate to each other through the plant. It almost takes on a mystical quality for some people.
Jason: The Church of...
Mark: Ungodly Dank or something.
Golden Road Brewing
5430 West San Fernando Road, 213.373.4677
[Photos by Hagop Kalaidjian]