In the 1970s, Barry Obama would shout “Interception!” to them as he took a hit off a joint out of turn. This weekend, he shouts “fore!” with the reunited members of the Choom Gang.
The president spends his birthday weekend like so many other weekends of his presidency: playing golf. Mike Ramos, Bobby Titcomb, and Greg Orme–friends from Obama’s high school daze in Hawaii–joined the president for a round on the links at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Saturday morning. The foursome, according to the Associated Press, teed off with another eight players.
The president turns 53 on Monday.
As Israel exchanges fire with Hamas, a crisis continues to envelope the southern border, and the House of Representatives votes to sue the president for overreach, golf outings increasingly wear thin on the public even if they reinvigorate the president. A website dedicated to documenting presidential rounds of golf marks Obama’s count as approaching 200. But Obama hardly stands alone among the other leaders to occupy the White House in finding a respite from the demands of office on the fairways.
Far more unique is the president’s high school associations, brought together so much by marijuana that they named their group the “Choom Gang” in honor of the intoxicating plant. Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and Bill Clinton shared a love of golfing. Who among the previous 42 men to hold the office came together with boyhood chums over a shared interest in burning dried hemp plants?
“As a member of the Choom Gang,” David Maraniss explains in his presidential biography, “Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends.” These included “roof hits,” rolling the windows up and inhaling the last trails of smoke remaining in the Volkswagen van, and “total absorption,” or “TA” for short. “TA was the opposite of Bill Clinton’s claim that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford he smoked dope but never inhaled,” Maraniss tells. In their pot circle, smokers exhaling too soon “were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around.” Obama, a critic of football as president, imitated the elements of the game while pursuing his marijuana pastimes with his Punahou School friends. “When a joint was making the rounds,” Maraniss explains, “he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted ‘Intercepted!,’ and took an extra hit.”
More than three decades later, a grayer, paunchier Choom Gang reunites to play a sport instead of spark up a joint. And to listen to one Choom Gang gang-banger tell it, the group always centered more around athletics than herb. Mike Ramos maintained in a conversation with the New York Times earlier this year that “we played a lot more basketball than we smoked pot.”
And Bill Clinton never inhaled.