Ever-Changing Face Of Drug Abuse

Doctor Cigarettes

Those of us who labor in the heavily intoxicated vineyards of mental illness, mental health, and recovery – those of us who gaze in wonder at the never-ending inventiveness demonstrated by tormented souls scouring the landscape for new mechanisms of self-injury – those of us who chase the lighthouse beacon of serenity as we pitch and toss on a cultural sea of hazards, pitfalls, and demons – those of us who marvel at a world gone mad, a world intent on sabotaging health, moderation, and self-care at every step – those of us who, wracked by ADHD and overburdened by flashy, empty distractions – are united by one profound bit of good news – this sentence is about to come to an end.

Those who followed the recent election probably noticed that pot – also known as grass, weed, reefer, marijuana, and wacky tabacky – is, like the camel that sneaks into a tent one inch at a time – making an impressive play for respectability. Legalization on a state-by-state basis will lead, inevitably, to a national referendum and, with wet finger waving in the wind, one takes the national temperature and concludes that soon Uncle Sam will be dealing dope, elbowing Mexican drug lords off American playgrounds. Thus, an era will end and I, as one who has explored the narrow alleyways of drug abuse in search of happiness, or at least relief, will miss it.

When I was a lad there was really only one way to tell which side of the barricades you were on; did you get high? Pot was our secret handshake, it was more than a mechanism for pretending Grateful Dead music wasn’t appalling, one’s determination to become THC-stupid demonstrated a commitment to outsider status, we showed our determination to undermine the system by rendering ourselves unconscious – it was a sophisticated strategy to say the least. The illegality gave it the whiff of subversion, defiance – we were fearless rebels in the recreation rooms of suburban homes sporting shag carpeting of unimaginable vulgarity.

Ultimately the government always finds a way to ruin fun and such is the case here. Truth be told, pot is really not that interesting, it makes passive, withdrawn people even more passive and withdrawn. Removing the illegality strips it of its most exciting quality. Once it actually becomes legal only the most hopelessly un-cool people will consume it. Can you imagine how dreadfully dull, ordinary and square it would be to line up at the government pot stand so you could get your weed, buy stamps, and renew your passport?

Today’s society is so homogenized that I can only feel sadness for kids who want to be cool because, since their phones do everything for them, the closest they will ever get is by having a cool phone. But there is hope. While pot is doomed to become the exclusive province of the hopelessly uninteresting; you can turn to another weed for the danger and excitement pot once offered. Tobacco.

When I was a kid, if you didn’t smoke cigarettes there was a zero percent chance of you being cool. But the PC police have scared this unattractive habit back to the hinterlands – it now has about as much glamour as leprosy.

Those who crave a taboo drug that says – society, I hold you in contempt – should look no further than the nearest pack of cigarettes, assuming they can find one.

Imprisoned Primates Escape Into Addiction

gorilla

When I was a very young lad living in Edinburgh, I would go on perambulations with my mother. Edinburgh is a grand city for walking, and we explored it at length. (As a Dutch woman recently transplanted from Amsterdam I think she found it as exotic as I did.) Edinburgh Castle, with its steep, cobblestone ascent, was a regular haunt. I loved the expansive train station, spewing steam as if the arched glass roof concealed a nest of restless dragons. And then there was the zoo.

It was at the Edinburgh Zoo that I rode my first elephant; and one never forgets one’s first pachyderm; nor do they forget you for that matter. There was no shortage of star attractions, but by far the most popular was Charlie the Gorilla, so named in honor of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Charlie was a 400-pound, silverback gorilla from the Congo. Even as a small child I was moved by his soulful face, power, and imprisonment. But crowds did not gather to marvel at his size and strength; they came to see him smoke.

In post-war Scotland, cigarettes were a scarce and expensive luxury. Even so, working class types would toss lit cigarettes into the cage and Charlie would puff on them furtively, carefully secreting them behind his back when his keeper arrived. (This Heckle and Jeckle routine was as ancient as vaudeville itself. Charlie would exhale clouds flamboyantly, exhibiting satisfaction Bob Marley might have envied. Then, when his keeper looked over, the cigarette vanished into a large, furry hand. The act never got old, and when the keeper knitted his eyebrows in disapproval, the kids howled with delight.)

In those days my parents were barely scraping by, even so, cigarettes were a line item in the family budget. My dad bought them in packs of 5. Later, he smoked the way waitresses chew gum, obsessively, constantly, thoughtlessly. As a youth I quickly came to understand that smoking was something cool people did, and I was physically and psychologically addicted well before leaving high school. Cigarettes were my one, true friend through it all. I smoked in prison and in mental hospitals, on the desolate streets of North Philadelphia at midnight; I even smoked at The White House.

Education, mercilessly delivered at the business end of a Louisville Slugger, pushed vices away from my grasp, as a ship gradually drifts away from the dock. Alcohol and drugs, abandoned over a decade ago, now seem foreign and counter-productive. But smoking clung to me like a tick, it was the last to leave, just a little over two years ago.

I’d like to go back to Edinburgh and tell Charlie, “You’re a 400 pound silverback gorilla from the Congo. You’re fabulous. You don’t need cigarettes to be cool. You’re already pretty damn cool.”