Hookah Big One

Take a toke, but don't tell 'em what's inside.

With a long plastic tube, a Swiss Army knife, and a highlighter, a six-foot five-inch 19-year-old named Big Fern can produce an apparatus that not only yields euphoria but also has the potential to do something truly miraculous: make a bag of Funyuns taste delicious.

"Building a bong is easy," says the DIY extraordinaire. "Take the tube, cover the bottom, and then dig a hole in the middle. Poke a small hole in the tip of the highlighter cap, fill it with bud, stick it into the hole in the tube, spark up, and toke."

Fancy.

"But sometimes the plastic from the cap melts when you light it, so I also like to use the metal screw from a TV cable as a bowl."

And very 305.

"The best part is that it's free. I have friends who spend all this money on nice pieces, saying they're investments, pero someone else always breaks them. Potheads shouldn't invest in glass."

Then what should they spend their money on?

"Fluffy, puffy, purple crippy," he says with a mustached yet childlike smile. "Cash is tight nowadays, so fuck the glass and buy some grass. Spend it on the stuff you need."

Big Fern wears a thin wifebeater, Adidas sandals, and black nylon socks. He hitches up his pants, which are cinched with a belt fashioned from Sedano's grocery bags, as he takes an occasional hit off a hookah filled with mango shisha. Nearby is his friend Lily, a Venezuelan with Bettie Page bangs and an arm full of tattoos. They're sitting in front of D'Vine (445 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach), one of a handful of local hookah lounges that offer flavored tobacco while you munch and booze.

It's places like these that people have begun to hit up to sooth the eco-blues. And why not? A bowl of shisha or maassel (shredded tobacco leaves that have been soaked and sweetened with molasses, semi-dried fruit, or honey) usually goes for $15 to $25 and can easily give a group of four cantankerous co-workers a nice, loopy head buzz while they bitch about salary cuts.

Though this mellow high is perfectly legal, let's be real. Times are difficult and surely these hookah huffers — in the privacy of their own (cars, stairways, public parks, beaches, rooftops, broom closets, nursery schools, church parking lots, or) homes sometimes indulge in something a bit more, um, potent.

So I ask Lily: "What's the most ingenious thing you've ever done for the sake of getting high?"

"I've smoked from a potato before," she says.

I reach into my bag and pull out a green apple. "Can you make a pipe out of this?"

She smiles nervously.

"Well, I didn't make it. I just used it."

"How do you smoke out of that?" asks Big Fern, picking up the fruit and examining it.

I shrug.

"Don't worry. I'll figure it out," he says.

"I did make a pipe out of a tampon once or twice," Lily says. "You have to use an old-school tampon, though, because you need a plain cardboard applicator. You cover the whole thing with foil and twist one end into a mouthpiece... The first time I smoked, I smoked from that."

As Big Fern becomes engrossed with the apple, I move on to a table of men with backward caps, long khaki shorts, and glazed eyes. They look like they've seen their fair share of black-light posters, sexy High Times centerfolds, and Wendy's late-night drive-thru windows.

Any of you ever make a homemade bong?

"My brother had this pretty big Godzilla toy, and after he left for college, it just sat in my parents' garage forever," peeps Ana, a tomboy (whoops!) in a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. "While my parents were out of town once, a friend of mine had the idea of making a bong out of it. We laid it on its stomach, cut a hole in the mouth, put a little pipe in it, and then cut off the tip of the tail to use as a mouthpiece. It actually worked pretty well."

Maybe too well.

"Afterward, my friend thought it'd be funny to try to attach his nose ring to his penis piercing. He wasn't very flexible and we ended up going to the hospital...and getting in trouble...and losing the bong... I would've been happy with a little bowl and then a box of Lucky Charms."

Although D'Vine is mighty fine, I decide to head to another destination filled with sweet-smelling smoke: the Ritz-Carlton's DiLido Beach Club (1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach), an oceanfront restaurant heavy on the tapas and the smokage thanks to the chef de cuisine and Top Chef contestant Jeff McInnis, who hosts Hookah Happy Hour every Thursday and Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. Fifteen-dollar drinks are discounted to seven bucks, and hookahs are free.

Sitting in a cabana facing the starlit ocean is Lucy, a classy-looking blonde with a Coach purse. "I don't like pipes," she says, taking a Clinique compact out of her purse and dabbing her nose. "If someone hands me a bowl, I don't care if it's super-kush — I love the art and ritual of rolling my weed."

Okay, so has she rolled a James Franco cross joint full of pineapple express?

"No, but as a teen I was working at Dairy Queen and discovered that if you roll their thin paper to-go bags in honey, it can make a tasty blunt."

Kevin, a husky, drunk, and loudmouthed freckle-faced redhead sitting nearby, chimes in that he doesn't smoke anything illegal. But his friend Wes, back in college, sold plenty of black-market goods. "He was the biggest dealer on campus," says Kevin, proudly grabbing a hose and taking a long draw of some apple-smelling goodness. "He even sold to celebrities when they came into town. Once, when Lil' Jon came to his place, he saw all these bongs everywhere and thought they were crack pipes. He didn't know what they were."

So skeet-skeet-pimp-cupful-of-Hennessy Lil' Jon had no idea what a bong was?

"Seriously," Kevin says as our waiter, a gregarious, good-looking guy with a penchant for taking hits from customers' hookahs, comes by to ask if we need anything else. And, well, to smoke.

As waiter man takes a long draw, I notice the liquid in the base of the bong looks a little off-color.

"Is there alcohol in there?" I ask.

"No," he says, flashing a smile, "but I've heard of people filling the base with vodka or cognac and then drinking it."

Gross. But not as gross as Kevin: "My freshmen year, I was going to a football game but was too young to buy beer. So I poured a whole bottle of Seagram's into a bunch of Ziploc bags and hid them between my fat rolls. Once I got inside the stadium, I couldn't figure out how to discreetly drink it, so I got a Sprite from a vendor and went to the bathroom, poured most of the soda out, and poured in the gin. When I came out, I had this weird brownish off-color drink in my hand, and a security officer noticed it. When he asked what it was, I freaked and said, 'Sprite, no, watered-down Coke,' dropped the cup, and ran, while all the bags of Seagram's fell to the floor. I got kicked out of the game, but luckily I didn't get kicked out of school."

Next I ask the waiter the question everyone wants to know about these hookah joints: Has anyone tried to smoke weed from one of these things?

"A DJ from Mynt once tried. I couldn't believe it. As soon as I smelled it, I ran over and asked him to put it away. He wouldn't. So I had to ask him to leave."

I voluntarily make the decision. A few minutes later, I run into Big Fern.

"Yo-o-o-o, I did it!" he says, marching toward me with a desecrated apple in hand. "I made it into a pipe!"

"How MacGyver of you," I say before grabbing the apple and taking a bite. All of this talk about bongs has given me a serious case of the munchies.

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