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Pot Parlor Tricks

Milton Bradley, beware! A new role-playing board game is out for the holidays, and the plotline is a tad racier than finding Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with the rope. Called Trafficking, the game pits characters like Reefer T. Johnstone III, Fast Eddie Toke and Zerox Roachoid against narcotics officer Lieutenant Dick Gumshoe in a race to sell a kilo of marijuana.

First player to unload his or her shit wins, unless Gumshoe makes a collar, in which case law enforcement gets the medal. Spliffs not included (damn!). The game is currently on sale at Blues Smoke Shop in North Hollywood, sticker price $29.99.

Actually, Trafficking is not a new game, just new to the U.S. Back in the 1970s, then–Toronto teen Gary Lane developed the pastime for his toker buddies.

“In high school there was a crowd of people who would indulge, and I was always the organizer, so this was just one more activity that allowed us to have fun,” says Lane, now an L.A. resident involved in the ice-rink business.

Lane soon found a wider market, moving 10,000 copies of Trafficking, mostly out of Canadian record stores. In the early ’80s, he decided to expand sales south of the border. But no dice. With the U.S. War on Drugs at its propagandistic height, American sales reps wouldn’t touch the game. Only one store, in Riverside, California, picked up Trafficking, but its reign was short-lived. Neighbors and customers began picketing, and the owner pulled the games off the shelves only a week after they had arrived, Lane remembers.

“At the time, there wasn’t this Nancy Reagan ‘Just Say No to Drugs’ thing happening in Canada,” says Lane. “I didn’t think it would be an element I would have to deal with. I was terribly shocked.”

But it’s another day, and Lane thinks L.A. is ready for Trafficking. After all, California voters last week chose a more tolerant, treatment-oriented approach to first-time drug offenders. “It is compelling to traditional game players, and to your marijuana user it would have an element of familiarity,” Lane laughs.

California Attorney General spokesperson Nathan Barankin says his agency isn’t worried — at least not yet. “Most of the major drug traffickers in California don’t shop at head shops,” said Barankin. “But I think it will be different if it catches on.”

So, Santa, if you’re making a list, check OffBeat’s twice for a copy of Trafficking. We’ve got dibs on D.J. Stoner! —Christine Pelisek

NEXT ELECTION: DUMP THE BAR

History was in the making at the Regal Biltmore Hotel as the clock ticked past 12 on election night last week. Following recent tradition, the Democratic Party had chosen the venerable Biltmore to host its cheers-or-jeers election-night party, and as returns from across the country flashed on television monitors at the gilt hotel bar, a throng of partisan patrons kept pace with rounds of exorbitantly priced drinks — 5 bucks for a beer, 8 for a mixed drink.

Nobody seemed to mind the prices. This was, after all, a night to remember, as the major networks declared Bush the winner and then, as midnight came and went, retracted their premature projections, and then mocked the print media that had made the same mistake and published erroneous headlines à la Dewey/Truman. What better way to drown sorrows, and then celebrate reprieve, than with spirits poured by uniformed staff at a turn-of-the-century, mahogany bar?

Until about 1:20 a.m., that is. At that point, without a word to the thirsty patrons, and at least a half-hour before the legal limit, the Biltmore closed the bar. No warning, no last call. Unmoved by a chorus of anguished cries, the Biltmore crew calmly rounded up the glasses, tallied the tabs and shrugged off entreaties for special dispensation. Now, OffBeat is aware that state party chairman Art Torres has put his days of wine and more wine behind him, but this seemed a matter of taking the new sobriety a bit too far. Next election, whoever the candidates might be, OffBeat votes that the Dems find a new venue to watch the returns roll in. —Charles Rappleye

THE CARTOON NETWORK VOTING FACTOR

Palm Beach County, we feel your pain. OffBeat had our own run-in with a presidential ballot “irregularity.” And while the leadership of the Free World may not have been at stake, the snafu did skew the all-important cartoon vote. Faced with the choice between Bush or Gore, we had planned to pick Yosemite Sam for president. But we were thwarted by California’s own Ballotgate.

Sam was not an ideal candidate: His denunciations of “varmints” seemed unnecessarily divisive, and we were a little disturbed to stumble on an old cartoon, titled Ballot Box Bunny, in which he ran for office on a platform of “rabbit genocide.” But just as Pat Buchanan quieted suspicions that he was a racist by selecting Ezola Foster as his running mate, we figured we could balance Sam’s ticket by writing in the Easter Bunny for veep. Besides, for all his rough talk, Sam — unlike Bush and Gore — hadn’t endorsed the sanctions against Iraq, which have killed more than half a million human children. How bad could he be?

Alas, this was our first encounter with punch-card voting, and we couldn’t find a line on which to write our candidate’s name. We considered simply spoiling our ballot, but that wasn’t as satisfying as writing in a cartoon character. Depressed, we bit our tongue, swallowed our pride and voted Libertarian.

But the worst blow came later in the day, when we related our troubles to a co-worker. “There is a write-in spot,” he told us. “It’s on the bottom. Or the back. Or somewhere. But I know it’s there — I used it once.”

Taken aback, we called the Secretary of State’s Office. A friendly woman listened to our question and fished a sample ballot out of her desk. It’s a little hard to find, she explained, and you have to write down the office as well as the candidate, but it’s there.

We’re not surprised that the government would make it difficult and confusing to cast a write-in vote. Someone has to count these things. But that doesn’t mean we should let them get away with it. The ridiculous write-in is our last line of defense against tyranny, or maybe against apathy, or — at any rate — against attaching one’s wagon to someone as awful as Gore or Bush. Sure, we can still vote for third-party candidates, and we wouldn’t discount the pleasures of just staying home. But write-ins add a personal touch. You can be the only person — the only one — voting for Daffy Duck, Shoeless Joe Jackson or the Edsel.

So, let’s have a nationally televised news conference in which the California secretary of state is called to task for our bollixed ballot. And Bill Jones, we implore you: Stop hiding the write-in line. Allow us this tiny means of dissent. —Jesse Walker

ABSOLUT LACK OF IRONY

Michael Sakamoto describes himself as your basic starving artist, getting by on less than $30,000 a year in the intersecting worlds of dance theater, butoh performance/installation art and graphic design. So the 33-year-old Venice man was surprised, even flabbergasted, when his summer show in Santa Monica drew the attention of vodka maker Absolut.

Specifically, Sakamoto’s “Extrem Sake,” an entirely fictional libation that was part of a show satirizing modern “anti-advertising” marketing culture, was the target of a “cease and desist” letter from Absolut’s intellectual-property law firm, McDermott, Will & Emery of Washington, D.C. The letter, signed by lawyer Joanne Ludovici-Lint, accused Sakamoto of willfully trading on the “fame” of Absolut’s trademark vodka, clothing and “entertainment services.”

What Sakamoto finds absurd about Absolut’s charge is that he has failed utterly to profit from the Extrem Sake design — there was no admission charge for the show, and he sold none of the art. Even more galling, Absolut, both in its corporate sponsorship of art and art samplings (current models include Julian Schnabel) and in its edgy, self-mocking ad campaign, is drawing from the same subversive vein that Sakamoto mined for his art, he said.

“Absolut is putting out ‘We’re cool, hip, trendy and subversive, and we can joke about it all,’ but [then says], ‘God forbid that anybody be that way about us,’” he added.

Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco, director of public relations for Absolut Vodka, North America, said in an e-mail response: “Absolut has indeed worked with artists around the world and has supported creative communities. This does not alter the company’s obligation to protect its trademarks — regardless of whether it agrees.”

Sakamoto wrote back to Absolut, claiming an artistic fair-use exemption for Extrem Sake. He also altered the bottle design. Absolut has not yet responded, he said.

There’s precedent for the fair-use defense. Attorney Greg Victoroff, who specializes in intellectual-property art issues, said Martin Lawrence Limited Editions Inc. beat a legal challenge by Hard Rock Café against the painter Hiromichi Yamagata’s use of the restaurant’s trademarked façade in a serigraph series.

“Someone like me, in terms of scale in their world, I’m just an ant. What can Absolut hope to get out of this, except bad press?” Sakamoto asked.

Edited by Gale Holland


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