Last week I found myself in front of the television-- not just once but twice-- watching the film "Traffic". This is a hefty investment of late-night time… and it's not the first time I have re-viewed it. It is not the acting or the story per se, although the treatment is intriguing and Benicio del Toro has always been one of my favorites (ditto the Brian Eno soundtrack choices). I have to be honest-- my favorite scenes are those of Erika Christensen and her friends getting high, getting fucked up, in that sort of innocent high-school way you discover drugs…and it is not just a world you enter, but a kind of baptism-- a conversion.
Sex in high school can be awkward and ambivalent and there was the threat of pregnancy or commitment or infuriating your best friend by hooking up with the boy she loves who really loves you even though you love some college boy who is unattainable. The temptation of letting someone's passion spill over you is irresistible and you let it happen. But drugs… it's the ultimate Hall Pass. No guilt, no fear, no lines to blur. You push a button or pop a pill, and you are inter-planetary. You can fly… you can float-- you can dance-- you are your own future-- you are everywhere and everything. Music is 3-D, 3-D is 4-D. Boys are sexy and sex is slow and loose the way you dream it.
Drugs when you are young are like freedom. They are recess, they are unlocked doors and windows and no rules. But most of all--- they let you love yourself, or they let you let someone else love you in the way you can't in regular teenage life because you hate looking at yourself in the mirror some days. You hate your life and especially your parents and you haven't yet realized this will have absolutely nothing to do with your adult life if you are smart and brave. But when you are high, for just a minute, your room is not your world and your face is so not your face.
And I apologize to my niece and my son and all the kids and adults I have seen struggle to manage the massive attraction of substances, and I have not used anything for decades and do not necessarily have the desire. But watching this film-- -and others-- does not leave me with a message of relief or wisdom. And of course, like a permanent vacation, Cancun or Paradise gets boring; witness Adam and Eve and just about every fairytale and Biblical parable where reality wins. Even Hollywood angels have chosen to return to earth and suffer mortal torments. Not to mention that the mechanism of addiction leaves a user little choice; it is get high or be sick.
Some days the pain of sobriety-- if you happen to be a sensitive person--- is brutal. I am one of those people who get flagged by Seventh Day Adventists and street hustlers. Beggars smell me coming. I can't refuse them. I feel pricked and guilty and sheepish and human. I curse my good fortune even though I can scarcely fill my pantry these days, have gaffers tape on my boots. I come home from a 4 AM train ride feeling smaller-- a little beaten up and with that teenage mirror-angst. Who the fuck am I and why should I give money for food to people who smell like alcohol and body rot? Is it superstition? A test? Fear of meeting the Indian goddess of luck who stalks the earth in various disguises and should you refuse her will curse you with bad fortune until you die?
As an adult, Love was maybe my drug of choice. Music--- playing at a volume that challenges all your senses-- almost pushes you across the border… but not quite. The song ends, and you return. You are left with a little aura-- maybe a little more attitude-- that Fuck You thing if you play rock and roll. You jump off a stage and feel no pain. But it's not the same kind of high.
So I watch this film and the teenage daughter getting fucked up with what I confess is a kind of fascination or envy. Of course former users or addicts will never recreate their first innocent experiences, no matter how much we fantasize. And the fictional girl in the film doesn't have to worry about college loans or car insurance or parents that don't love her, like most of us… and on the surface, she hasn't really ruined her life the way some of us have.
Walking down the street today it seemed the scent of marijuana is everywhere… even in Central Park in the secluded little uptown copse where I write songs occasionally. Smoke always made me dull-- not my drug of choice. Thinking about the exits and near-exits I've witnessed this year-- inconclusive suicide, self-euthanising, and then the ones desperate to hang on who were just dropped by the universe… and passing my local junkie 'clique' enjoying their late-afternoon 'nod', one of them hovering on the curb like he's about to dive off-- eyes closed, mouth open… I'm more than middle-aged…I'm lucky to have a couple of quarters to give the guy who sleeps on the church steps… my local homeless guy knows where I shop and what I buy and he stopped hitting me up long ago. His hair is perfect, by the way; he could play himself in a film. He shows me a wrinkled tabloid photo of the new Wonder Woman. She's dressed in black now. Even the name doesn't sound right anymore… Wonder Bread, Wonder Boys, Wonder Wheel. Heroin(e).