Cigarettes Pt. 1

Long before there were any notches on a beat-down headboard or a depraved selection of stories of how the notches got there, before jobs or deadlines, before past due notices and pleading no contest, there were cigarettes.

The second gateway drug after your friend’s mom and dad’s Kahlua and peppermint schnapps.

The daily dope of yellowing fingernails and raspy morning hacks, the hourly desire to tap the vein and choke the throat with that stinky, sweet tightening of every wonderful inhale…

6th grade. 1985. Metropolitan Learning Center. Northwest Portland, Oregon. Off-campus lunch hour. The Gypsy was a vast, dingy, dark neighborhood lounge where filthy day-drinkers and junkies hoping to escape the light of the afternoon often dwelled. In its doorway stood a cigarette machine that had a picture of a Marlboro cowboy corralling a herd of something while gripping a Full Flavor between his teeth. This was the notorious machine where the schoolkids would sneak into the bar’s entryway and stuff the machine with quarters and pull the knob that delivered those wonderful, brightly colored parcels of contraband.

One day it was Reed’s turn to get the smokes. Never having gone into The Gypsy or even began to fathom what a truly legendary dive bar it was, his introduction to such a venue was monumental. His eyes and mind were forever and beautifully wrecked for seeing such dimly lit debauchery thickly wallowing in a cloud of silent drinking and cigarette smoke.

As to not be spotted by the bartender, this child trembling, pushed what he hoped were enough coins into this towering machine. Frantic with nerves, he quickly saw the camel, that universal desert animal, dirty with gold and dust on its emblem and pulled the plastic, crystal knob that loudly delivered the cigarettes into the dispenser.

Reaching in, he snatched the smokes and booked it out the door, panting, dizzy, victorious.

Reed’s friends, standing across the street at the theater doorway, giggled and ran towards him as he swaggered down 21st Ave, the cock of the cigarette walk. He tossed the pack over his shoulder at the bunch and then watched his delinquent pals groan with disappointment. “C’mon, man, what the hell is this?”
“Whaddya mean,” Reed asked.
“Dude, these are straights.”
“Yeah. Straights. No filter. Tobacco in your mouth. Lung burn! Short and not sweet, have you ever tried them? How are we supposed to smoke these? Gross. You smoke ’em, they’re all yours,” throwing the pack back at Reed in disgust.

Be ready to sacrifice yourself to the gods of vice should you choose to live such a life of experience, excitement and excess. There will be a day when you’re compelled to ingest chemicals you’re not confident in. A day when you will be expected to finish off the rest of the drugs, a moment when, you alone, will have to reckon with the fact that your partners in crime will abruptly leave you high and dry the minute you think everything is great.


Unruly Universeo

Blackouts harbor troves of furious half-imagined images. Secrets forced down never to be spoken, unbelievable games where vile beauty and lunatic smiles flash and flee, room to room and street to street. Delicate yet deviant mouths flashing brilliance like untrained weapons, untaught in taut jeans, no need to convince the green to become black like the night. The willing will always follow the one who smiles and bites.


I can’t find the damn door. I think something fell in my drink. Is this vodka? Why do I not know anyone and why did the music change? This is insane. My pants aren’t skinny enough. My tattoos aren’t ironic enough. My watch isn’t big enough. The women are so young and perfect but I can’t make out what they’re saying so instead I’m just anxious and frightened. It sounds like everyone’s talking about how cool they are. Do I need eyeliner? I feel it really start to hit me as I finally hit the sidewalk. The warm summer air is going to beat me down and take my inhibitions, fears, comforts and money tonight and I’m totally OK with it. I think of my mother, my dog, and my old ’72 LTD that used to take me places bigger and faster than what’s imaginable. I smile and stroll, rain drizzling down my grin. I call an ex-girlfriend and she hangs up on me because all she hears is my excited and slurred gibberish, sentences ending in garbled nonsense. My clarity is pure, it is YOU that are all crazy, staring at me, whispering and pointing. I befriend a homeless kid and his gross fingernails and skin. He has a dog that is fatter than me and I think that in a pinch, this dude could grub that canine as if it were a juicy swine. We sit and watch the traffic that stream like rivers of light. Faces vaguely hanging in the current of car windows as they swim by, I once again realize that we truly rule our destinies. We own this world. This collective, beautiful universe we all have to love, to learn, experience and share. (Though this night of enlightenment involves me hanging my head off a curb and looking like a total wreck.) My blood sugar was unusually low.

Inhibit This

Aww, poor baby, the clouds cover the blue sky you know is back there, the rain is swooping in with a blanket of cold drizzle and wind, the window panes are drafty and the streets are wet and slick with leaves, and the depression hits with the heavy hand of dark autumn and all you can think about is holing up in the house and declaring war on the world. Waving the white flag, is more like it, wouldn’t you say?

I’m unsure what MAO inhibitors are or what an SSRI is (they sound strange and dangerous, like weapons or motorcycles), and I have never taken psychotropic or psychiatric drugs on any sort of rigid schedule. Schedule III, however, I may have smashed through my body once or twice on occasion on a purely experimental or recreational pursuit.

I am seriously considering lying on a couch and confessing how the rain makes me unable to perform simple tasks like trimming my nails or getting out of bed. Because something inside me often tells me not to move too quickly as to not wake the monsters in my soul that enjoy emerging just when my strength wanes. Deep seeded dirty spirits whose cagey and unrelenting chatter turns my confidence into mashed potatoes and douses my fiery desire to create and forge love into a withered, Charlie Brown Christmas tree of forgettable worthlessness. They haunt my dreams and make sleep a terrible venture each and every night.

So Doc…the weather’s got me down. How’s about some magic beans? Seriously. These mad mood swings are damning me to chocolate gorging meltdowns and no amount of alcohol in my cabinet will restrain this evil, enveloping animal for long.

Say Hello To Hydrocodone’s Little Friend

the early needle gets the voice
to somehow stop the stammer

warm salty itch
with soft television
never knowing which
sun has set or risen

the early needle poised and moist
delivers us from clamor

camphor and precision
moments tally years
round porcelain prisons

hand of doom whose noose is hoist
rises quiet like a hammer

mother comfort’s rapt decisions
only turns to damn her.

Gateway Drug

“Too Much Is Never Enough” was a tagline in the ’80’s that MTV used and a ridiculous philosophy that has done me wrong for a good 20 years barring a few choice yarns here and there.

Moderation comes with wisdom or watching those close to you engulf themselves until they’re unrecognizable. Maintaining is a skill, a knack for approaching the line of degradation and destruction without losing footing, temptations are like fruit from city trees and when ripe and ready to eat, our flesh and teeth gnash for its sweet reward.

Like a steaming pie on a window sill or pan of fresh brownies from the oven, like a pair of silk thighs or a frothing mug of black ale. Sometimes what seems like sanctuary becomes a sanitarium and the only thing that divides a few whiskies on the way home from work  from an all night bender with folks you’ll barely remember is that fourth glass of hooch.

Anyone who says that marijuana is “the gateway drug” should have a bottle of Old Crow crammed in places crows don’t go because I’ve wound up in far worse conditions because of drinkin’ than anything else because booze dresses up other vices in perfume and summer dresses so they look delicious and act carefree.

Then the regrets arrive in droves by daylight.

I used to teeter, not quite a teetotaler but I used to wander that fine line between sheer loneliness and a strange story in the morning. Nowadays my ability to moderate has kept me from drunk tanks and the clutches of angry husbands, honing my urban samurai’s skill of perpetual composure has saved me money, scars and god knows how many cars.

Though regardless of how slick I like to think I am, I knock on the wood of the bar because I know that some day that 4th drink with its devil horns and trident of beautiful misery might march down my gullet and give me a warm, wonderful throttling that involves much more glass tipping and less brain thinking which will inevitably lead to actions and reactions unconcerned with culpability or consequence.


Photo Albums and Missing Plants

Let me shake the Bushmills off my breath and exclaim my gratitude to all who expressed grand wishes to me for my birthday. Though mired in a busy work shift, the two double neats of blue-collar Irish Whiskey afterwards made the whole evening end with dreams of having more energy and youth to keep it going until the break of dawn.

In reality, I’ve no wish to be the hyperactive ignoramus I was in my teens or the brash, drug-addled joker in a big car in his twenties. Thinking of having to again surmount some of the weird obstacles or negotiate the bizarre situations that I somehow always found myself in…god, no.

Like when in 1989, my freshman year, I came home with a girl to her apartment. She would subsequently be sent away by her parents to a boarding school but before all that, that day we fooled around quite a bit. It was heated and wonderful until she got up and left the room for something, I don’t remember but what I do remember was a photo album on the bottom of her nightstand. Me being the curious monkey that I am, I opened it and found that it contained a number of polaroids of her and quite a few different dudes at different times and at the same time, up, down, and all around. My frosh jock went bananas with every new hormonal emotion it could muster and in my heightened state of dirty discovery, I totally lost it. Instead of approaching the situation as an interesting case study in the sexual advancement of adolescents or maybe realizing she could be an authority on certain deviant questions I’d been harboring since the 7th grade, I suddenly told her I had to go and ran all the way to my friend’s house who, after me rattling off my story, stood up and asked me exactly which apartment number was hers.

Like the time when I climbed the giant turning searchlight atop Rocky Butte like some lunatic ape or how I hopped fences to have drinking contests in a rock quarry with dangerous friends and equally unsavory fifths of Thunderbird.

Or the time I was told to “sit on the curb while we ask you and your friends questions” by Portland’s finest while just past peaking on blotter and wondering if those blazing lights were going to burn my already melting skin. The cop was looking for kids “stealing shrubs”. What we all heard was “kids dealing drugs” which made our acid sweat through our pores as we just looked up and shrugged and shook our heads in frantic innocence. We were just trying to get the car parked before one of us began clawing through the upholstery. After searching the car for some bushes they left us to chase their garden bandit. I will never forget the lesson of keeping my mouth shut regardless of how well-worded I usually am because drugs and alcohol will invariably make me feel far better than I will ever possibly sound.

Birthdays are good, survival is great, days are long but time is short and with everything that’s already happened, I don’t want to go back. Also, so much more is on the way. Yay.

Chocoholics Anonymous

Chocolata. Like dope or junk you pound into your veins or the pills you swallow with breakfast, like what you smoke and exhale or put into a glass with ice, chocolate is the savior of doldrums, that momentary friend that, with your eyes closed, can take you to dream states and foreign lands. While your mouth savors every delicate morsel of decadence, chocolate delivers you far from everything presently tangible. A place where for a few seconds nothing else matters except for the happy chemicals in your brain.

Throw in some peanut butter or ice cream and it’s all over.