A few minutes before this realization, I’m standing behind the barricades watching a thousand cheering fans dance on the ball-bearing floors that bounce in time with the funk that fills the century-old Crystal Ballroom. The pit seems narrow tonight, heaving as the fans lean toward the stage where I’ve spent the better part of two years as concert security. Behind me and up five feet are George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic singing, “Oww, we want the funk, give up the funk,” as they riff and trumpet, marching in place while a lone bandmate in back bangs on the cymbals in a beat-less rhythm.
George is holding the microphone with his right hand as his left grasps the stand, his leg tapping in time with the beat, swaying his head above the crowd as beads of sweat gather beneath his grey fedora and roll down his face onto the lapel of his baggy beige suit.
“George!” screams a middle-aged African American lady near the front. She is jumping up and down with an unlit joint pinched between her fingers, reaching between the heads of those in front of her.
The band is still playing as I notice her, but before I can act, I see George making a come-hither motion, looking expectantly at The Joint and in the direction of what I can only assume is my face. I glance back and forth at the gesturing funk god and the joint-bearing supplicant, weighing my options.
I should confiscate the joint—it’s my job—but I can feel the weight of a roomful of eyes on me, and I imagine (one), it is probably some kind of enormous Funkadelic faux pas to deny a man such as Mr. Clinton a completely appropriate gift brought by an adoring fan, and (two), it would be pretty cool to personally hand a joint to George Clinton, but (three), will this get me fired?
I step toward the bobbing woman and reach for the joint.
“You’re gonna give it to George?” she asks.
I nod, and she hands it over with a hesitant release of her fingers. I turn and walk two steps to the stage and hand George Clinton the joint. His heavily lidded right eye has a small spasm (or, was that a wink? I’m not sure, but I’m blushing) as he smiles down at me.
“Thank you, baby,” he says to the woman, giving her a big grin, then to the crowd, “Y’all gettin’ down?”
The audience roars back as a shirtless bandmate wearing a furry white pimp hat appears in front of George and ignites the cone-shaped joint emerging from his greying beard.
“Yeah, baby,” he says taking a deep pull. “That’s all right,” breathing out and enveloping the mic in a dense halo of smoke.
He turns and walks to the middle of the stage where a chair is set up for him to rest while the band continues to play, and there he sits, king-like on his throne smoking myrrh as I realize I probably should’ve let his shirtless pimp-hat wearing bandmate retrieve that joint because I’m pretty sure that may be his main purpose on this tour.
Five minutes later I see the lady who gave him the joint light up one of her own.
“Ma’am,” I say, taking the joint. “You’re not George Clinton.”