Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Heroin In The Suburbs
When I was seventeen and, like many another seventeen year old, completely fucked up, a high school acquaintance hooked me up with an, ahem, "encounter group" at the local Youth Services Center. This dude, incidentally, eventually became a prominent Professor of Business who espoused some insane concept called "Hypercompetition", in which everyone everywhere must run around like a chicken with his head cut off to avoid going bankrupt or getting downsized. A friend, shall we say, of the banker-loving Right. But, back then, he was a long-haired and somewhat pompous young liberal whose SAT scores were significantly lower than mine (despite his pomposity) and whose favorite poet was Kahlil Gibran. Anyway, I joined the group - and virtually everyone in it, all kids in the 18 to 21 range, was a recovering heroin addict. There were two guys, very different. One was the Irish hockey player type whose hobby was getting into fights at Bruins games (in the stands, not the rink - he didn't play hockey with them), and who was annoyingly good-looking, sort of like a Viking with a Boston accent. The other guy was this narrow-shouldered, quasi-hunchbacked gimp who needed a cane to get around, but had liquid brown eyes and was reputedly loved by all the (loose) girls for the amplitude of his nether regions. And there were three girls. Two of them quite plump and frighteningly horny, and another one, the soulful daughter of an aerospace engineer from California who had the face of a thirty-five year old (she was only seventeen, too) and who liked to write poetry. Of course, I fell for her instead of the sluts. Idealistic fool that I was. But then, she was the only one who had never shot up. Eventually, she made up for that by getting arrested after her freshman year in college, when she and her buddies picked up an Arab hitchhiker in Casablanca who happened to have hashish on him, and the whole bunch of them ended up spending a month in an Algerian jail. Until their parents paid their ransom. (The hitchhiker had surely been a plant.)
The group was mediated by a perpetually tanned psychiatrist from Brookline with a Harvard education who claimed to still be a virgin at the age of thirty-one. Hmmm... Anyway, the Irish Viking hockey thug boasted about his conquests (in bed as well as in battle), the Gimp lamented his crippled state (but also boasted about his conquests in bed), and the plump girls - who had apparently slept with both the Viking and the Gimp - chortled merrily and boasted about how their guidance counselors thought they should have been getting all A's with their IQ's when, in fact, they were almost flunking out. We were later joined by another guy, also an ex-addict, very blond and prone to wearing hippy-dippy polka dot shirts, who resembled nothing so much as a miniature Don Stroud - or a straight Lance Loud. He was the miracle baby of parents who had finally conceived in their forties after decades of trying, and he had an adopted older brother. He told me I reminded him of his rather brainy older brother, which seemed flattering at the time. As it happened, just a few years later, this same brother shot a friend to death to prevent him from revealing that he (the brother) had cheated on his National Merit Scholarship exam to get into Stanford, and that his entire subsequent career as a San Francisco stock broker was a fraud. After the murder, the brother went on the lam for decades before he was finally apprehended.
Quite a crew, these folks. Outside of heroin and lively personalities, I cannot discern in retrospect what they had in common. At one point, I self-righteously told my mother that these Horrible Heroin Addicts seemed like "weak" people, that they did what they did because they were "weak", but I've had plenty of "weak" moments myself in the decades since, so that judgment seems totally bogus now. Everyone's "weak", I think. Heroin thrives, when it thrives, on two factors - its own availability, and how shitty and insecure your current life (and, by extension, everybody else's current life) seems in comparison to the nirvana of narcotics. Nothing makes bad habits like bad times.