Saturday, November 24, 2007

That conversation about childhood but something would always happen

Less Than Zero was supposed to be an anti-drug movie, but for weeks after I saw it all I could think about was cocaine -- Robert Downey Jr. lighting up in the car oh that was me, lighting up that act of desperation I knew that feeling so well. You can take it further, that's what the movie was saying to me -- it all ends when they catch Robert Downey Jr. in bed with some guy and someone scrawls FAGGOT on the walls of his apartment no I think house of course I knew all about that too. He looked so hot in the bed with everything strewn around, I couldn't say that. I wanted to make sure no one was looking at me, but I didn't want to look like I was looking. We were at home -- me and Lauren and Scott and Carrie -- Scott and Carrie were the Philips’ kids, Dave Philips was my father's best friend from childhood.

Afterwards we went to dinner at a Szechuan restaurant, I can't imagine what I ate since back then I didn't eat much but I remember there were a lot of mirrors like in the movie, mirrors meant cocaine I need that now. And we were by ourselves, without our parents, or maybe they had a separate table. Scott, who was the oldest -- maybe 15 -- said something about ice, ice was in the news right then -- a designer drug destructive like none other, you did it once and it took over your life, worse than crack because it was rich people who did it. Scott had seen people doing ice, it didn't ruin their lives or at least he didn't think so -- drugs weren't as dangerous as people said. But did it really look like ice?

I didn't ask that question -- I was way too concerned with appearing worldly. Anyway, I'd seen an article in Time Magazine and ice looked like diamonds in a plastic case. After we watched Less Than Zero, I knew I could never do cocaine because otherwise I would never be able to do anything else. Alcohol and pot still worked well enough for me to get to the ceiling, I could smoke a cigarette like Robert Downey Jr.'s crack pipe, thinking about those eyes. Don't get me wrong -- I really didn't think about Robert Downey Jr. that much after that, even though I was already going to bathrooms every day after school, where older men would suck my dick I would try to disappear. Although I did wonder how much Robert Kennedy Jr.'s character in the movie blended into his life, soon he was in rehab the tabloids were talking.

This was a period where drugs saved my life, it was as simple as that. Those weekends when I could float away, how else would I have possibly been able to stay around I mean alive? Weekdays it was only a little bit of Vivarin or NoDoz I didn't want to get messy except on weekends, a few cigarettes to keep things even. It helped that I didn't eat because otherwise I wouldn't have any energy, I knew that because when I ate a bagel or a salad I already felt worse. Weekends were for dancing and passing out, adventures in world we were not supposed to enter oh how I loved those moments when I could lean back without even leaning, my head another constellation in the stars.

Later in high school, after I ate a little more and drank more too, I thought of all of this as Sadly Beautiful like the Replacements song, no actually that's how I saw my friendships. We were all privileged overachiever kids who felt hopeless under the weight of our parents, the weight of expectations their rage and violence we hated our parents we hated our drive to beat them to win to do better we wanted collapse we would never have it. We dreamed of something else we didn't know what it was, we fetishized addiction we believed in its power to help us we didn't know what to believe. We believed in our lives away from our parents, even if this just meant Friday night through Sunday evening -- the later we stayed out, the better. We discovered noise and laughter, warehouse parties and clubs, elaborate strategies to get fake IDs or just to get inside, rides from people we didn't know, trips through areas of the city we could barely imagine, waking up in houses we'd never been to before, waking up and going somewhere to get something to eat, maybe a bagel and cream cheese and a cigarette.

Drugs became a world to hold onto, a world where getting up the stairs was an adventure, and everyone carried secrets in their eyes. Ecstasy revealed hidden layers of light beyond darkness, softness in yearning, a lifetime of hope in a Michael Jackson song. I grew up in a world of sadness and longing, and drugs brought me somewhere I could crash from. Mushrooms made me lean out the window and scream I couldn't find myself -- almost literally, I called my own answering machine to find me but still I did them again I appreciated the new landscape. Back then pot would still get me so high I’d almost have visions, passing out in the back of the 24-hour Dunkin Donuts, this was college. I woke up and then I actually did escape, all the way across the country to San Francisco which was lonelier and more desperate and filled with possibilities so explosive I could feel myself changing every day. The first time I did crystal it was just something someone offered me at a club in exchange for pot. It made me laugh a lot and almost fall down at Safeway while I was eating muffins out of the bulk bins. Later I tried it again because the music wouldn’t get good at clubs until 4 a.m., but especially at 6 a.m. when the EndUp opened -- by then I was fading even with lots of soy lattes and chocolate covered espresso beans. So the second time I did crystal the world opened up -- just a few bumps and I could dance until noon.

The problem was the crash -- everything became the crash and it was hard to even conceptualize pleasure without a bump, this would happen every time and I would try to go as long as possible without, just when maybe the crash was fading I’d do another bump. This was when I learned to hate drugs, or at least to hate crystal I kept trying to find coke -- with coke you did a few bumps and then went to bed, that was all. This was 1993 and the only people with coke were old-school tricks and yuppies in North Beach. But everyone had crystal, this was speed but not the ice from Time Magazine -- no display case, a drug dealer could roll a quarter gram into the wrapper where a stick of chewing gum used to be. Juicyfruit, if the drug dealer was feeling sassy. Who wouldn’t want a stick of Juicyfruit, late at night in an after-hours club? Except for the crash, oh the crash -- this was when I became a bad druggie because I was always trying to take care of myself -- chamomile tea at the club, trying to eat afterwards, staying awake all day so that my sleep pattern wouldn't be disrupted. I always crashed harder than anyone else. Coke was like candy, I did coke to quick coffee. Literally.

I fled crystal, cross-country even arriving in Boston for a couple of cocktails, maybe a few bumps of coke to get things started, Xanax to take off the edge, Special K to bring it all out of focus, ecstasy to get that feeling of moving diagonally upwards and back. It was all about the eyes—you know what I mean. After-hours meant taking e just before sunrise, then smoking pot until the world vanished.

In New York, coke was everywhere, people did so much that their eyes popped out and then they went to work. I hated New York, this was 1998 Giuliani time consumer culture unquestioned even in counterculture -- by this point I hated drugs too, drugs just made me sad I was always trying not to do them until the third cocktail and then I’d do anything to get white powder up my nose. This is when I developed the fantasy of being strung out with my sister. It wasn't a fantasy out of nowhere – I’d go over my sister's apartment and there would be a mirror on the table with a pile of white powder almost like in Less Than Zero but the apartment was much smaller, a pile of white powder but I was always trying not to do drugs.

Later at night or later in the week, after the third cocktail I’d call Lauren and say do you want to meet up? It was always too late at night, she had to go to work but she wasn't like the 4 a.m. bar crowd at least not on weekdays, weekends were busier for both of us. Once I went out with her and her friends, maybe it was her birthday we were at one of the bars in the East Village that I’d never dreamt of going inside, she and her friends kept heading to the bathroom with the vial and I thought why not? She handed it to me and I did a huge bump out of the lid and wow this was the good stuff, when they all went to bed I was still so wired I remember sitting in Union Square after the sun had come up, this was hours and hours later after doing way more of the terrible stuff too, the stuff with too much laxative that I usually did. The problem with coke was that only the first bump was fun, but the worse it got after that the harder it was to stop.

But I want to tell you more about this fantasy, it's a fantasy of collapse but also care. You see, it's the two of us alone in all of our terror and rage and desperation but there’s hope because we have each other the way drug addicts take care of one another, adding on the fact that we’re a brother and sister team. Even if it's just so that we can do another bump and then talk about childhood when we're crashing and holding one another. Sadly beautiful.

When we both lived in New York, we always planned to have that conversation, that conversation about childhood but something would always happen, we’d talk about something else and then just when we got to the deep and scary parts, Lauren would have to go. Or she wouldn't show up, trapped in her apartment with only the best cocaine, she could order in groceries. It's a fantasy I still hold onto, the conversation-about-childhood part, neither of us does drugs anymore. It was so hard to see her when my father was dying, I mean our father -- I'm so used to saying my father, even though I don't want him. Or I didn't want him, before he was dead.

It was so hard to see Lauren then, because my fantasy is about us against the world, just like when we were kids, but seeing her in that house where we grew up she was with them. I'm still getting over that.

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