I live in a rural part of Nevada where meth is considered something of a national pastime. Most people around these parts have family, friends or acquaintances who have taken up that pastime and then vanished away into their fates, winding up dead, in jail, or just toothless and looking like their heads had been deflated.
Theirs is a sad, dark world. In the 80’s, I knew several druggies, was affected by them, and because of that experience, I won’t allow one into my life and prefer to keep them away, out there, on the peripheral edge of my reality. During all the years I lived in Sacramento, my only contact with these people was during the annual neighborhood cleanup day when the city did a free pickup of everyone’s rubbish accumulation.
We lived in a pretty nice neighborhood. It was middle-class, nothing too fancy, but clean, quiet and safe. Just like everyone else on the street, we took the requirements of neatly arranging our junk just outside the sidewalks seriously. I carefully stacked everything within carefully measured dimensions, because if I didn‘t, the city wouldn‘t pick it up.
But then, during the night, the vultures would descend. These dope-fiends would suddenly crawl out of hedges, scrabbling out of drains, emerging from shadowy, recessed corners, just like they’d been waiting for the moment they could sift through our piles looking for something that might have scrap metal in it.
In the morning, the entire contents of everybody’s debris would be strewn across the streets. We‘d get out there and clean up the mess, and then for the rest of the day until it finally got picked up, dudes with mouth-scars drove by in vehicles straight out of Road Warrior asking if we “got any metal in there.” They walked into my yard, picked at my belongings, all while hungrily eyeballing anything made of aluminum.
These people were the invisible, the losers, the homeless, the urban vampires, all doing their pitiful thing and swarming our ready supplies for any scrap value they could cash in, usually for around a dollar per pound. But they didn’t do it for noble reasons. They weren’t trying to put their kids through college or pay off their household debts with the money they got.
No, they were trying to support drug habits, usually meth.
I hated cleaning up the mess they made, and I hated their darkness being in the general proximity of my sunshine, but I figured our metal was society’s sacrificial victim. It’s a temporary delaying tactic. Every piece of aluminum, spool of copper wire, or pipe taken was a car stereo not stolen, a purse not snatched, a house not robbed to feed someone’s habit.
Meth addiction is a dirty, dirty bitch folks. Period.
It’s kinda like that hot, slutty, batshit crazy ex-girlfriend that you keep hitting up for 3am booty calls. You know the outcome will be a disaster, but you just keep going back for more.
That’s an analogy of addiction, of course. In reality, you’re hooked deep, both physically and emotionally, a slave to a shitty drug that‘s already triggered your descent into the psychotic by altering the dopamine in your brain, permanently changing your decision-making system. Maybe you realize it when you’re actually boffing that hot ex-girlfriend, only she’s addicted too, and then you notice the meth has turned her into something that now resembles that shambling old bathtub lady in The Shining. Maybe you realize it when her current boyfriend, the guy with a shrunken face trying to wrap up a sentence he started two days ago, is watching you nail his girlfriend from the couch and its cool with him because you gave a him a few bucks.
There’s a reason they call meth a “trailer trash drug.”
That shit pulls you right down into the gutter.
For most of us, our first clue that someone might be addicted to meth is when they smile. In my mind’s eye, I always sadly envision these people as bright-eyed children in their school photos, back when they dreamed of being astronauts or movie stars. But now they’re a meth addict with a smile that causes people to turn white and flee in horror. That’s because meth dries out your mouth so bad, it essentially destroys your gums. And then it makes you clench and grind your teeth so much they crack away and begin to fall out. Yep, as tooth-destruction methods go, smoking meth ranks right below “a hammer” and just above that Edward Norton curb stomp in American History X.
I see these people everywhere now. Part of the reason is my location. This is meth utopia, a rural area with few job opportunities and even less cultural stimulation. Plus, it’s easy to steal fertilizer, one of the main ingredients in the drug, and because of the stink in manufacturing it, we’ve got lots of big sky country and wide open spaces.
The other reason is that I’m now involved with law enforcement. From that perspective, I’m immersed in meth’s ripple effect on the community. I see all the violent rages, assaults, burglaries, disturbing the peace, destruction of property. I see criminal records growing, the fried brains of people taking a path to degradation and dereliction and becoming low-life junkies.
The chemicals in meth pull off a neat little trick. They go right into the part of the brain where schizophrenia manifests itself and flips it on like a light. Then, it promptly breaks off the switch and throws it into a nearby lake so you can’t turn it back off. This symptom can last a year or more, even after you’ve quit using the drug.
That’s right. Meth can chase your ass right through the whole inspirational “getting clean” story.
And we’re not talking about simple nervous paranoia here, where you’re afraid that the cops are everywhere. We’re talking about full on hallucinations, hearing voices in the walls, constant feelings of being watched or chased. Oh, yeah, and that shit is pretty much untreatable.
An addict once told me that the paranoia is a good thing because it kept him on his toes. He needed to be constantly in that state of mind if he was going to avoid prison.
He proved his point a few months later when he killed himself in his garage before the cops could bust him.
I don’t want to mislead you. There were other factors. But there‘s no doubt that meth helped him get there. Or rather, I should say quitting meth helped him get there. The drug had burned out the system that produces happiness, making it impossible for him to feel any sort of pleasure unless he was using. So when he attempted to quit, and crushing depression washed over him, he felt it was just better to check out early than to live with that monster.
Sitting here tonight, I’m full of hope for the new year. That’s my way. It’s how I face the world, with an easy laugh and the cultured brain of an optimist. Yet, my new year is already touched with a gray sort of emptiness and feelings of anger.
In 2011, it was my sad misfortune to witness the slow, disappearing act of a close friend to drugs. And not to the harmless stuff either. If it had been just smoking an occasional blunt and tossing on The Big Lebowski kind of thing, well, I could have lived with that. It’s not my cup of tea, but I spent 20 years in California where you can’t go a day without someone thrusting a pack of weed-laced Animal Crackers or Jolly Ranchers at you.
I don’t approve of it, but I have a minor tolerance for pot. My buddy was depressed and had high blood pressure so he probably could’ve gotten a subscription for medical marijuana if he lived in California. But we don’t live in California. This is Nevada. Highfalutin stuff like medical marijuana cards don‘t exist here. We barely have buildings. So I would have chastised my friend for being a pot head and moving slow like he was in a cartoon time machine, stole his Doritos, and then wondered how the hell he tracked down an actual weed dealer. That sort of thing requires you have friends which, in rural Nevada, requires someone to be really into hunting and NASCAR and being scared of gay people. To my knowledge, he didn’t participate in any of those things.
But no, he had to get into the harder stuff.
And somewhere in the last few months, I lost him without even knowing it. We all did. He was becoming somebody else, somebody we’d never met, a whole different person. That’s how drugs make the addict helpless. It turns you into security guard with a really simple mission, and that mission is to protect the addiction from any threats of the truth.
Meth is the scariest fucking thing that’s ever been unleashed on mankind.
That’s the truth.
The road to hell is paved with this shit. You make a few stops at jail, then you rummage through garbage for scrap metal, then you start stealing, then you go to prison, and you finally end up in hell, drowned in boiling rivers of blood or something with all the other drug addicts, lawyers, politicians and souls of the damned.
For future reference, folks, if someone ever offers you meth, the only proper response is to scream “NO!”, hit them in the face with a lamp, start running, and never ever stop.
Anyway, the whole situation just makes me sad. He had it all, and he lost it all. That’s what meth does. It takes everything away from you. But this isn’t my first dance with an addict. So he’ll have to come out of it on his own because there’s no way I’m going in after him.
I won’t get pulled into that world. I won’t lecture, moralize, scold, blame, make excuses for, suffer, argue with, or protect my friend. I won’t rescue him. He’s a grown man who needs to clean up his own mistakes and take responsibility for the consequences of his behavior. Nor will I believe anything he says or accept his promises. The nature of his addiction prevents him from keeping promises anyway, even if he means them at the time.
Anyway, it’s a new year. Outside, we’ve got a brand new sky to hang the stars on tonight. My resolution is too look forward and relegate this sad subject to the past. I wish him luck because breaking addiction is an ass-kicking misery and quitting for good means the only finish line is death.
I’m closing the issue with the last scene from 1932’s I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. This just seems like the appropriate vision. Our once heroic character is on the run, virtually banished from happiness, even when he comes face to face with it at the end of the movie. When he sees his past love, who pleads with him to allow her to help, he resists like the walking dead, pacing backward with haunted eyes, until he finally disappears into the dark abyss of shadows.
In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
I’m looking forward, that’s my only new year’s resolution. Nothing more. I’m not foolish enough to believe I’ll accomplish any major life improvements because that kind of thinking has always been doomed from the beginning.
How many times in your life have you seen some drunken dumbass stand up on a table at 11:59 on December 31, and proudly proclaim to the world, “This is my last cigarette!” And you’re all like, “Get down from there, dude! And that’s a dildo.”
But they don’t hear you and they’re not done. “And I’m jogging two miles every morning, and learning to read Latin! I’m going to be a brand new person next year!”
I’ve done that. We all have. And then you wake up the next morning and start kicking your old life’s ass. You can almost hear the Rocky music in your head as you soak all the cigarettes in the sink and go shopping for running shoes. You pack the fridge with greens and diet shakes, boasting every 10 seconds about how amazingly great you feel. Then your body freaks the hell out because it’s used to a certain diet and lifestyle. Suddenly, you don’t have any energy. You’re shitting gravel, fighting a migraine and living with constant heartburn. Then the cold reality hits: This is forever. Quitting smoking means I will never light up a another cigarette for the rest of eternity. There is no finish line, no reward, just a seemingly infinite expanse of grim, pleasure-free existence. If you’re quitting for good, the only finish line is death.
Yep, I’ve stormed into the ring too many times, ready to knock out all of my vices in the first round, but ended up immediately punching myself out.
Nope, not this year.
I’m just casually looking forward, that’s it. Whatever that means.
Maybe it means spending more time with my wife, watching her blue eyes sparkle in the sun, enjoying a road trip, just packing up the jeep and putting the top down, then driving off into the sunset, blasting some Frank Sinatra CD. We could explore the desert near Area 51 and look for little green aliens. I’m smiling now at the comical image of my wife stumbling through the sagebrush with her eyes frantically searching the dirt, thinking every stick was a rattlesnake.
Yeah, that probably won’t happen but I‘d love it all the same.
My wife has always been the unexpected blossom in the nuclear wasteland. She’s my atomic flower.
Happy new year, world.