I have never been the world’s greatest devotee of drugs or alcohol, but I do have experience with both. In my later teen years I was quite an obnoxious little prude about not drinking. And I have never understood the appeal of the more extreme recreational drugs. I define myself very much by my intellect. To mess with that intellect is to mess with the core of me. The thought that I can be turned off is terrifying. I was lucky with cigarettes. When I was eight or so I swiped a couple of my brother’s cigarettes and stole away with them to the Henderson Woods for a furtive smoke. Eight is too young. I hacked and gagged and coughed. They were horrible. I went home and used a thumbtack to poke holes in the rest of my brother’s cigarettes. (Does he know about this blog? I can’t remember.) That experience put me off ever wanting to try cigarettes again, so I never picked up the habit. It helped I knew I was so far from cool that any claims smoking behind the school would make me cool were blatantly specious.
As a teenager I had terrible migraines. I took codeine related drugs to relieve the pain. They incapacitated me just as much as the migraines. I’d lie in bed with the blinds drawn and watch black cats dance across the ceiling and shimmy down the walls. I think it was this experience that put me off recreational drugs and, by extension, alcohol. It just wasn’t fun. I prefer to stay in my head and cats to stay off the ceiling. Besides, as far as alcohol goes, North American big brand beer (the booze of choice for the underage) tastes like someone has passed it already. Once of age, I was partial to a very occasional screwdriver. This led, in Japan, to my invention of the hammer. The day we finished our teacher training I bought a bottle of pineapple juice and a bottle of 120 proof vodka on the way home. Mixed half and half, I finished off both bottles that night. This marked not only the invention of a tasty new way to kill brain cells but the one and only time in my life I have had a hangover. I don’t get hangovers. Not at all. Doesn’t matter what I’m drinking, I don’t get them. Except this time. A few of us had to postpone our sample lesson to the teacher trainers because someone was unavailable. I gave my passing out lesson the morning after my celebration. The trainers’ evaluation of my lesson was favourable, and included the phrase, “Very focused, but did not use the board much.” To this day I have no recollection of there being a board in that room.
What alcohol does do is make me wake up early the next morning. At a university conference in Lethbridge, the host faculty led everyone on a pub crawl the final night. Being overly polite letting people pass by to enter one bar as we were leaving, I lost contact with the group. Out on the street I caught a glimpse of what looked like the tail end of a large group entering a bar down the road. I hurried to catch up. It wasn’t my group. I am told that around 2 a.m. or so, the other people in my hotel room were sitting around wondering what had happened to me and if they should do anything when there was a knock on the door. They opened it to find two huge bikers holding a drunken me up between them. The bikers asked if I belonged to the group in the hotel room and, getting an affirmative answer, deposited me on the floor. Much to the disgust of everyone else in the room, I was up at six o’clock in the early, chivvying everyone to get packed for the drive back over the mountains. Obviously I overcame my snobbery about beer. In Japan I had discovered beer can have taste. I have since made friends with many fine local and micro-brews here at home. You can keep the stuff advertised on televised sports.
Although I have a couple of pints every six to ten weeks and like a traditional cider, I still do not understand the appeal of other recreational drugs. I live in an area where marijuana use is widespread and mostly accepted, but not legal. I’ve been handed joints being passed around conversation circles at parties and taken drags to be sociable. I even inhaled. Nothing amazing. Nothing special. What’s the fuss about? The War On Drugs is ridiculous and counter-productive. It doesn’t significantly reduce drug use. It makes harm reduction very difficult. It gets people killed. It makes drug lords and prison owners rich. Prohibition didn’t work on either side of the border. The War On Drugs isn’t working either. Let’s try regulation like our other recreational drugs and make businessmen rich instead—with less gunplay. Marijuana doesn’t turn people into crazed maniacs with one puff. Of course, many of the pro-marijuana people are blowing smoke, too. It is a drug that can be abused and can ruin people’s lives. I hear a lot of people say marijuana doesn’t make you violent, but people vary in their reactions to different substances and I’ve seen people become violent on marijuana. To be fair, as a seasonal Customs office for two years, I’ve seen a lot of people on marijuana and only one or two violent ones. At least a couple of times a week someone would roll up to the border with bloodshot eyes, giggling, and reeking of marijuana. As their cars were being searched, quite a few explained there wasn’t any marijuana in the car because when they realized they were about to cross a border they smoked their whole stash so they wouldn’t get caught with it. Good evidence that marijuana use impairs judgement.
I arrested several people for carrying hard drugs across the border, but didn’t see much, if any, use of hard drugs while a Customs officer. People using them were too impaired to get to the border. Later I drove a patrol car for the Commissionaires and saw a lot of hard drug use around the harbour, in parkades, under bridges, and in city parks. I found one wretched soul cowering in the doorway of the Mustard Seed Street Church, half a dozen used needles and the remains of a bundt cake strewn around him. I asked if he wanted an ambulance. He started cursing and swearing and threatening me. I was trying to kill him. They knew he was stealing cakes, so they had poisoned the cake to kill him. The bakery was trying to kill him. The Mustard Seed was trying to kill him. I was trying to kill him. I wasn’t clear on which of us was supposed to have poisoned the cake, but it was tearing his stomach out. He was going to die. He didn’t want an ambulance, though. They would kill him. He told me he was going to crawl over and vomit on me, because I was trying to kill him. During all this he was trying very hard to crawl towards me, a last needle still stuck in his arm, but he couldn’t lift himself to his hands and knees or drag himself along prone. He just thrashed and twitched on the ground.
This behaviour is not stopped by making usage illegal, nor is it confined to illegal drugs. Every night at bar closing, I joined another Commissionaire assigned to a hotel surrounded by nightclubs. Our job was to shoo people away from using the hotel garden as a toilet. It sounds petty, but several dozen people urinating and defecating every night in the gardens would not only kill the gardens, but be a major public health hazard. There was a pita place and a pizza place across the street. As they were turfed out of the clubs, the drunk girls would stagger towards the fast food on their six inch platform heels, in their sequined ultra-mini skirts, teased hair and Tammy Faye make up. Screeching at each other they would get their pita or pizza and struggle to get it into their mouths. Some of them would drop their food in the gutter at the side of the road. They would look at it, cry a little, then pick it up and eat it along with the detritus it had collected in the gutter. The same girls were there every night of the week. Every week.
I never had the chance to become addicted like Mr Bundt Cake, the club girls, or so many others, because I do not like being out of my head. I was prescribed narcotics when I broke my shoulder and elbow. One of the possible side effects listed was hallucinations. My best friend from high school came to visit me as I was recuperating. (Girlfriend? She might be reading this, so let’s stick with best friend.) It was very kind of her, but I was suspicious. She was still only sixteen while I was nearly forty. I also hallucinated that my injury was a hallucination and I was fine. Fortunately, I was so banged up I couldn’t act on this and do myself more damage by getting out of bed. I never took that drug again and put up with the pain. Still, pain-relief drugs are a part of my life. I took Tegretol for my neck for several years. I gained fifty pounds and have never taken it off. I’m not trying to claim that of the sixty extra pounds I carry now, fifty are Tegretol and ten are bad habits, but I’ve just been prescribed a relative which also lists weight gain as a side effect. I’m going to have to find something my battered and twisted body can do. Maybe a rowing machine. And I need to find out if the rather confused advice in the drug sheet to avoid alcohol means, “Not a good idea,” or “Oh hell, no!!!”