Vern Smith’s “The Green Ghetto” is an urban western set in a fictional Detroit neighborhood where the protagonist, Mitchell Hosowich, freely grows and sells dope (ganja, weed, you name it) out of an abandoned drug-slinging paradise. His paradise is short-lived, as the year is 2002, marijuana is legal nowhere, and consequently the DEA has come to town to take Hosowich on the cross-border drug chase of his life. Vern Smith, a man who grew up with a close relationship to Detroit from across the river in Windsor, Ontario, will be visiting Literati this Thursday to do a reading from this humorously unadulterated look at life in post-9/11, war-on-drugs America and Canada.
Smith’s “Green Ghetto” was released to the public two weeks ago, and has since started his tour cross the the U.S. and Canada to publicize the book.
During a phone interview with The Daily, Smith spoke about preparing for his upcoming tour: “So far, so good,” he stated, remarking that he hadn’t yet left Chicago, his current place of residence, but was raring to hit bars across the country to hear how his book was being received.
Smith had previously worked at four newspapers and three magazines, as well as at CJAM 99.1, Windsor, Ontario’s local radio broadcast out of the University of Windsor. It was here that he became “something of an accidental musicologist.” Working both as a reporter and broadcaster had a strong influence on Smith as a fiction writer.
“I’m not coming at (the book) as an activist, but more as an old, hard-nosed reporter,” Smith said.
Having worked for years in the newspaper business (until 2002), Smith had little patience for the kind of hysteria-provoking government policy and subsequent mass media coverage that came about in the years following 9/11.
One uninvited effect of this was increased border security between the U.S. and Canada that would have likely rendered Smith’s secret trips over to Detroit to see the Tigers play when he was 11 impossible. Once he started making these trips, they hardly stopped until Smith moved out of Windsor for good.
“I found culture there, I had relationships there … I can’t tell you how many shows I saw there,” said Smith on Detroit in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And now more than ever hysteria reigns king.
This is why Smith chose to set the book when he did. 9/11 marked the beginnings of much of the illogical policy making and press hype that plague us today. Although the book doesn’t delve into detail on the war on terrorism, it’s understood that this war goes hand in hand with the war on drugs that the book so absurdly depicts. And, although it may seem that in recent years certain parties have come around to acknowledging this war’s failure with the advent of legal marijuana in several U.S. states and Canada, Smith remains insistent that both federal governments are irrational as ever about it.
“Everyone’s so high on access at home they don’t notice there are 100 new ways to get arrested for it,” Smith said, citing that a 19-year-old in Canada could by law see up to 14 years in prison for passing a joint to a 17-year-old. He also noted that just today on the front cover of the Canadian newspaper the National Post, a story broke on cannabis being the leading cause of road deaths in Canada. This was according to the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada.
Marijuana policy is far from the only issue on the table here. For Smith, it seems more a metaphor for the larger picture. Plus, it makes for a hell of a story: drug-slinging cowboy rides the high of failed city policy only to high-tail it out of, not just the city, but the country for fear of losing his life to federal agency cronies for growing ganja. How does it end? You’ll just have to be there on Thursday at 7 p.m.