One of the things I love about writing, and being a writer, is the ability and opportunity I have of shaping and solidifying my persona via the written word. Certain fundamental limitations in my personal disposition and development prevent me being the sort of bloke I actually am unless well-lubricated with the kind of personality-enhancers and fear-eradicators that have gotten me into so much hot water, deep shit, and cracks for my ass. I therefore perforce project an image entirely at odds with the person inside, appearing to the casual observer to be, at best, sullen and uncommunicative and perhaps dangerously unbalanced.
Not that my behavior (while sober) is in any way aberrant or eccentric, but my tendency to isolate from every situation, to appear utterly disinterested in the sort of offhand persiflage employed by folks to pass the time and maintain human connections, and possession of a face on which smiles can gain no purchase lead people to assume my quietude and lonerism indicate possible serial-killer or molester tendencies—someone with a big-ass, crowded closet.
In truth, I am inside fizzing with good cheer, most of the time, well-supplied with concern for my fellow man, and have plenty to say about a lot of things but I usually just end up saying them to myself, because on the rare occasions I’m able to chime in it generally comes out wrong.
It takes me, on average, several months of fairly regular contact with someone before I feel comfortable with being “myself” and exposing what I fear is a genuinely deficient personality, though people I do get to know always say the same thing, something along the lines of “Man, when I first met you I thought you were a complete asshole, but you’re actually pretty cool.”
Believing that I am, sans drugs and alcohol, a person other interesting people might want to hang out with flies in the face of my personal cosmology, which asserts that without those things I am woefully incomplete. When I write, though, I can take the time to craft and polish my ideas, explore avenues of intellectual curiosity and take the reader with me, and demonstrate, with clarity and humor, the type of man that I am.
The people who read me, those who don’t know me personally, if you have formed any idea of my character from my work are probably right on the button. Cynical, critical, and acerbic, yes, but also optimistic, reasonable, compassionate, thoughtful, and able to extract and refine humor from any situation. I try to convey, if not always directly, my beliefs and opinions about the world at large and I think they fall pretty solidly on the side of decency and sensibleness.
Jerry Philbrick may disagree, may in fact have me on his list along with the rest of the liberal socialist scum, but I think I have managed to construct a worldview I could justify to any deity come the judgment day.
Note: re: Philbrick — everyone I’ve spoken to who knows the man swears he’s nothing like his letters, is in fact a real stand-up salt-of-the earth type guy, a good neighbor and friend and a relic of the old Mendocino County. I believe this and hope to confirm it one day, because if so that means he’s doing the exact opposite of what I’m doing—masking his decency behind a facade of vitriol and hatred.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention to my output lo these several years, you’ve noticed a fairly dominant theme woven through most every piece, regardless of its subject—my longtime addiction to methamphetamine, the havoc it wrought in my life, and especially the bizarre behavior attendant to dependence on that chemical. It was humor fodder, certainly, but it was also therapeutic as the time passed and the last vestiges of my long nightmare faded. Writing and laughing about it strengthened my resolve and helped to underscore the absurdity of a rational man deliberately choosing a path of measured self-destruction. As I mockingly detailed the tragically insane habits of the tweaker I did so from a place of safety and superiority, well outside that chaotic, fetid sphere. I felt pretty damn good about having gotten out with enough of my faculties intact to pass for sane and a moiety of teeth, something many former speedfreaks can’t say.
When I got out of prison in May of last year, I hit the ground running and in short order had reassembled something of the upright citizen where once stood a hopeless, hapless energy-suck. I got a shitty job and through a program of concerted bustin’ ass, turned it into a decent one in a few months. I took a credit score of 0 up to 650 in six months and hit the road in a paid-up, insured, registered, fully legal vehicle in seven, and I haven’t driven legally since 1990. I saved enough money for a cushion in the event of catastrophe, something I have never done in my life. I earned the respect of a lot of people, including the chief parole officer, Ken Garcia, who came into my work and fist-bumped me in congratulation of my promotion. This may not seem a big deal, but their policy about touching parolees is strictly gloves on and cuffing and manhandling only. Offer them a hand to shake and they will regard it as something inherently offensive.
I was coming down to my last six weeks or so of time there at the SLE (sober living environment) and both nervous and excited about making my own way in the world after so many years of dependence upon institutions, friends and family, anyone or thing but my own wherewithal, but I was pretty well prepared with funds and a good solid five-year plan.
Then, at the beginning of December, I came out of the Safeway and instead of marching blithely past the rabble that congregates around the doors, I stopped and engaged one of them. Wouldn’t you know, the conversation shortly turned to the fact that he had a quantity of meth for sale and that I happened to have not only sufficient of the necessary to relieve him of it, but also a curious lack of memory, sense, will, and judgment. I—and even as I sold myself the bill of goods, I knew it wouldn’t wash— assuaged my faintly buzzing conscience with the assurance that I could just do a little, one time, get it out of my system for good and all. No problem. Purely recreational. I shoved over fifty clams and got in return what I would’ve paid at least $200 for back when I was active—prices have gone way down. Again, no problem, I said. I’ll just do a little and sell the rest.
Twelve hours later, I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot at Pear Tree twenty minutes before I’m supposed to punch in, sweating, gnashing my teeth, and constitutionally unprepared for the rigors of a Chipotle workday. I call in sick, hating myself after six straight months perfect attendance, punctuality and picking up the slack of those not so conscientious. I spend the day shoving more poison into my body and do go into work the next day where my performance and demeanor are visibly altered and I feel heartily ashamed at repaying their faith and trust in my worth and ability with this substandard facsimile of a manager. I even pull a little classic tweaker mischief before I leave, ruining half the tools in the box trying to dislodge a stuck screw from a grill-scraper.
Naturally, the only balm for an awakening sense of responsibility was further application of the very same disruptive agent that embroiled me in that mess. It is genuinely possible to believe, under the influence of meth, that all laws of probability, likelihood and even physics will somehow reorganize themselves to your benefit. I continued getting spun through my day off the next day, which also brought an unwelcome surprise (not really—I knew it was a good possibility)—Agent Whittaker from Parole come to collect specimens from his flock. The jig, as they say, was up, my goose was cooked, and the goddamn chickens had come home to roost.
The initial decision of the staff was to bounce me without succor or ceremony, but on further consideration they deemed me worthy of another chance and I was to complete another 30 days in-house treatment. I wouldn’t be able to work but Chipotle was completely understanding about it and allowed me a leave of absence. I toughed out a couple days of feeling miserable and then set my jaw and vowed to forge ahead, thankful things hadn’t come to a worse pass. And I lived happily ever after, The End.
That there above was like one of those false endings you sometimes hear in pop songs, only it’s not so effective in print being as you can see more words right there below it. It wasn’t the end, and just prior to getting nailed I had purchased a largish quantity of the stuff for someone else and hadn’t had a chance to get it to them. So I wrapped it up beyond recognition and buried it and my pipe out by the fence, thinking I’d get it to them and get my money back when my month was up.
Funny thing, though, that sack kept preying on my mind. Sometimes in a sensible way, as in I need to dig that shit up and flush it. Other times not so much. After two weeks I actually told myself I was going to get rid of it and went and retrieved it. Somewhere along the way I made the decision to just smoke what was left in the pipe. Twelve hours later I’m in my bed sweating and gnashing my teeth, fundamentally incapable of presenting as an addict in recovery, so I panic, throw all my belongings into the Explorer, and hie off into that same goddamn cesspool I took such joy and pride in leaving behind.
On my next visit to parole, I test positive and am given a warning to clean my ass up and get my shit straight. The following week, my urine is equally damning but instead of giving them a chance to punish me for it, I figure to substitute a less tainted vintage for my own telltale stuff. Luckily I have friends in the program with pristine pee to help me out, and I took in a small plastic bottle of the good stuff tucked up into my armpit to maintain temperature. Now, my parole officer is a woman, and as such doesn’t come in with me when I provide a sample so such a deception I figured would be a walk in the park, but Ms. Weathers wasn’t there that day and Whittaker—decidedly male and professionally observant—did the duty, and he kept an eye on me. I acted as if I couldn’t go, hoping he’d tire of watching and let me get on with it. Eventually he had me go sit in the lobby and drink water.
Twenty minutes later he called me back in and I figured well, there goes that damned jig again. Might as well face the music. However, this time he left me alone with the door closed. I wasted a minute or so, scared to retrieve my bottle for fear he’d come in, but finally pulled it out and filled the specimen cup. I’d no sooner emptied it when the door opened. I had both the full cup and the empty bottle in my hands. “Let me see what you got there,” he said.
I managed to tuck the bottle into my waistband and handed him the cup. He looked at it, swirled it around, capped it and said “How long have you had this piss?”
I feigned ignorance. “What do you mean?” Fresh urine has air in it, evinced by a head not unlike that of a beer. Old urine is flat.
He waited until the readings were clear and said, “You know what? I’m gonna let this one fly. You got lucky.”
I took the pee back into the head to flush it and when I turned back around, he said, “What’s that in your pocket there?”
“Huh? Nothin’. My phone.” Keep in mind that I am not only spun out of my gourd but mortally terrified, so by this time I’m shaking like a Parkinson’s patient in a massage chair.
“No, in the middle. Lift up your shirt.”
I do and he orders me to remove the evidence. The lid catches on the waistband of my underwear and flips up, propelling the last few errant drops of pee into the air and directly onto the person of Agent Whittaker. Now, you or I care nothing for the odd pee splash now and then. Just one of those mildly unpleasant facts of life that occur from time to time. Correctional officers take a dimmer view, bodily fluids being one of the weapons employed against them in the prisons. The deliberate use of urine in this manner has therefore become punishable as a violent felony, and as a two-striker I am fresh out of room for another one of those. My life and future pass before my eyes in a flash and he says, incredulously, “Was that PISS?”
“Y-yes…” I croak weakly.
The shitstorm that followed was verbal only, but still unnerving. I was back in perp mode, legs spread and up against the wall. Cuffed and frogmarched into a conference room, I sat bleakly pondering the senseless calculus leading me to surmise that a few days of hummingbird-grade metabolic activity and obsessively surfing porn was worth tossing, with barely a backward glance, all I’d worked for and been so proud of.
The assembled strength of the Parole Dept. looked on my miserable countenance with weary contempt; disappointment clearly would’ve signified a degree of optimism at some point and the accretion of jade born of grim satisfaction at expectations of failure being met yet again hammered home the clear and welcome message: you, sir, are a piece of shit, if not the whole damn turd. You think you’re so damn special because you’ve read a few books and attained a respectable degree of cultural literacy, but if you behave in exactly the same manner as the ravaged garbageheads out there patrolling the shadows, shedding body and brain mass in a hopeless war of attrition, then you are as they, no better, no worse, just another hapless sucker chained to a pernicious notion and too damned stupid and/or stubborn to do the work necessary to subdue it.
Regard for my personal worth was plummeting rapidly and approaching bottom, so much so that jail was looking like the best option in a set of equally untenable ones. I’d be protected from myself and get some sleep, anyway. If it weren’t for the medieval nightmare that is the pre-booking holding tank, I’d have positively welcomed the change.
Sleep I did, deep and dreamless in the manner of one critically deprived of it, for three days straight, arising only to shovel in the chow and sluice off the oily, mephitic stank oozing from my pores. Day Four had me up and taking stock, wondering if this was to be a helpful prophylaxis à la Scared Straight or a full-on washing-hands-of-you punitive measure.
Monday morning the in-house parole guy came in the pod door, the one who comes to read you your charges and book your seat on the San Quentin Express. He yelled my name and I knew I was sunk but when he got to the cell door and said, “When they let you out this afternoon make sure you stop in at parole,” I about plotzed in delighted surprise. A break I did not expect and an opportunity to perhaps apply the binders to this runaway truck that is the current course of my life.
They released me well after five, too late to go to parole where my keys, wallet, and phone were, without a coat in the evening chill. I went first to parole to see if my car’d been towed— thankfully, not— and then walked up to the motel I’d been staying at to see about my belongings. The manager not only had my things packed up but allowed me, after hearing my story, a room for the night. Second undeserved blessing of the day. I took my bags up to the room, opened my big duffel and there, right on top, was my pipe and dope sack.
God-damnit. Points to the manager for honesty and laissez-faire but shame on the capricious skylarking of whatever malevolent agent of fate was shuffling my cards. I could no more not pick up that pipe— five days out and fully replenished with food and sleep, effectively resetting the meter— than I could play a Highland air on it. I smoked it all and called parole the following morning, leaving a message saying I won’t be checking in today because I’m in the condition you threatened would result in my return to custody should I be in it, so come get me if you want me. I provided my coordinates and waited for the knock, but it’s yet to come.
Agent Weathers has bounced me from her caseload and I am now under the questionable aegis of Whittaker, the very same gent blessed by my micturate baptismal. He asked me flat-out was I dirty, I confessed, and he wondered aloud what exactly I needed to stop this madness.
I said that perhaps some more treatment was in order— I am definitely on the side of curbing the disturbing trend and returning to sanity. Things are currently unresolved and up in the air except for three salient and critical details, that I am now homeless, jobless, and have burned through my savings. Funny how a few grams of artfully admixed and heated corrosives can burn through a life like napalm, fast, hot, and devastating.
And now here I sit, no longer high but not clear of the effects, writing nonetheless but not with pleasure and pride. More a compelling need to lay it all out on the table after weeks of deception and decay. Clearly announcing my return to dirtbag status to the world at large is not the way I wish to exercise my craft. I am not William Freakin’ Burroughs and have no desire to be, harbor no illusions about the romance of the drugging life, and want only to write in my natural state, adorning my modest self with words enough to make me presentable and maybe, occasionally, tarted up a bit. Not this forced, turgid drama I’ve been barfing out. Not my style and wouldn’t want it to be.