Thursday, February 06, 2014

Oh And I Guess That I Just Don't Know

 (Still from Twin Peaks)

The recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman made me think about heroin. Now, I did my fair share of experimentation in my youth, but never with heroin, because it always scared the hell out of me, and also because I know I've got a bit of a obsessive/compulsive nature. Best leave well enough alone! Also, if you came of age in the late 70s/early 80s punk/underground art scene, you ended up seeing a lot of anti-role models. Indeed, I've known a few people who dallied with the White Horse, and let's just say that the dallying never stayed just dallying. Here's one story! All the names have been changed to protect the... unfortunate.

When I worked for the Festival of Animation in the early 90s, there were three groups of producers who bicycled the show around to their respective territories; let's call them groups A, B, and C. At first I primarily worked for group A, Spike and Mike's original troupe (until I couldn't take it anymore). After that, I worked mostly for group B, based in Sacramento, but at the same time, one of the two heads of group C was my housemate, and most of that group's employees were good friends of mine, though I never worked with them. The other head of group C was this absolutely ridiculous rock 'n' roll idiot who basically lived his life as though he were attending a never-ending masquerade party as Slash from Guns 'n' Roses. So LA. Gross. I heard that he flirted with heroin use ("only on weekends"), and I thought, "Typical."

One time I was putting on the show in Ann Arbor, MI for group B, and the group C guys asked me if I could possibly go to help them in Madison, WI when my run was finished. I'd be joining Fritz and Bill for five weeks, and since I really liked them both, and had never collaborated with them before, I jumped at the chance. Fun!

Immediately after joining Fritz and Bill in Wisconsin, I could tell something was up with them. Bill kept going off to do vaguely-defined "errands" which didn't make a lot of sense to me. He was trying to get some kind of supplies, and when he'd return, he and Fritz would kind of whisper together about not being able to find what they were looking for (insert terrible U2 song here). Meanwhile, we seemed to be going from one end of town to another for reasons that didn't add up. I was confused, but figured, well, they must do things differently in this group. What did I know? It didn't seem like it had anything to do with preparing for the film festival.

Finally they seemed to be satisfied and happy, and we made our way to our corporate rental apartment for the night. I settled into the couch to relax, watch TV, look over our schedules and strategies, etc. Fritz and Bill settled into the adjoining kitchen to unwind in a different way. Out came the weirdly bent spoons, lighters, tourniquets, and a brand-new box of hypodermic needles. It turns out that the final item was what they had been chasing all over town (they had already flown cross-country with their supply of heroin!). It took a couple of beats for me to realize what was happening, and I was shocked. I knew about their boss's occasional junk use, but this seemed way more than casual. My eyes widened. Oh no. What had I gotten myself into? I was stuck in an unfamiliar city with two junkies, totally at their mercy (they had the rental car, for instance, not me) for over a month. Great.

They realized I was... unsettled. "Oh," said Fritz, "Does it freak you out that we're doing this?"

"Yes," I replied quickly.

"We can go into the bedroom to do it, if you want."

"That won't freak me out any less," I replied, resigned.

"Great!" Fritz said, happily, instantly forgetting my discomfort, and they were off to the races.

And that pretty much set the tone for my visit to Madison, working with and being driven around by a couple of junkies. To top it off, I ended up hating the city (sorry!), which struck me as being an awful lot like a Midwest Berkeley. My only respite was visiting my friend Milo Aukerman, an erstwhile college buddy who had relocated to Madison to be a research scientist at the university. He sympathized with my plight, but said, "Yeah, don't bring them around."

What ever happened to those guys? I have no idea how Fritz ended up, because he eventually moved back to the East Coast to get clean, but Bill? Oh, dear. That didn't turn out well at all.

One day, only about a year after my unpleasant business trip, Bill, desperate, slouched into a La Jolla ice cream parlor in broad daylight with a pathetic plan. He needed money, so he thought he'd simply strong-arm their cash register (no weapons) by walking behind the counter, opening the till, and helping himself to its contents... right in front of a store full of nonplussed customers and staff. He was quickly subdued, the police were summoned, and he was carted away.

It turns out that the police were accompanied by a video crew for a local TV station for a "Cops" style news feature. Bill was processed and taken to jail. Eventually he joined his fellow prisoners in the lounge that evening just in time to see the report of his arrest playing on the communal television. Apparently he came in the room and all the other men turned around and saw him, immediately jeering, "Hey, look! It's Ice Cream Guy!"

So, yeah, not all "occasional users" of heroin end up being Chris Farley (RIP) or Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP). Some of them end up being Ice Cream Guy.

If they're lucky.

UPDATE: Super-depressing update in the comments section from Pony Pal Mr. Bad Trash, who worked with group C. Both Hans and Tom –oops, I mean Fritz and Bill– are now dead. Such sadness.

UPDATE: I realized there were some errors with the "group B" and "group C" stuff in the second paragraph, which probably made that completely incoherent. This has been fixed.


Michael Strickland said...

Great heroin story with a perfect punchline. I tried it once at a party in the late 1970s by smoking it, then woke up in a San Francisco penthouse naked with a couple of strangers three hours later, and to this day still have no idea how I got there or what transpired. Thank the heavens for guardian angels.

Speaking of which, I had a softball teammate who started "experimenting" with the drug with a boyfriend back in the 90s and then I didn't see either one of them for the next 15 years so I simply imagined the worst. Two weeks ago, I ran into the now-ex-boyfriend and he said they both survived the experience, barely. Let's hope Ice Cream Guy had some of the same luck.

dinthebeast said...

A co-worker named Brian once told me:
You never hear any really good stories that start out "First we did a bunch of heroin..."
I always thought it was because I made an effort to stay away from it that I never saw that aspect of it.
Then I had a couple of room mates who started using it and I was like
Are you really going to take up every stereotypical junkie behavior right down to stealing copper and standing in line at the metal scrappers before they open to sell it? Must be a powerful high. I've done a whole lot of drugs in my life, never wanted any heroin.

-Doug in Oakland

dianegsocialist said...

It took me a few experiences to get this way (none of them involving heroin) but I am firmly convinced that if there is any such thing as a "good" recreational drug, none of them come in a refined powder.

MrBadTrash said...

Wow, Sparkles, that brings back a lot memories, most of them bad. I can tell you how "Fritz" and "Bill" ended up: They're both dead from riding the white horse. "Fritz" apparently od'd in Bala Baltimore motel room, presumably after he gone back east to "clean up". It was suspected that it may have been intentional. I was informed in terse email from a mutual acquaintance of "Bill's" that he had died. I was sure she had confused him with "Fritz" who had recently died, but later I realized she was right, and was never able to get in touch with her again. The last time I saw "Bill" he was all smacked out, I was visiting LA from Europe with my pregnant girlfriend and we stayed a night or two with that French girl "V" who worked with the Festival.
I remember "Fritz" trying to get me to inject him. Nope. He admired my own veins and said, "you got good veins, you should shoot up."

Peteykins said...

Ugh. Such a bummer. I really liked those guys. Both dead! I thought "Fritz" at least had a chance.

Peteykins said...

Also, it wasn't an ice cream shop, was it? Was it a doughnut shop? A bagel shop? Something like that.

Lulu, the Dewey Dame said...

I remember a conversation I had with a junkie in the 80s. I asked him the appeal of the drug: he said, "Everything is just perfect."

Beware of perfect, I guess.

MrBadTrash said...

Yeah, I agree, Hans seemed like he had a chance, whereas Tom was just for too enamored of the high, and convinced he would always have the wild horse under control. But it dragged him away. That Dandy Warhols song always made me think of Tom: "Shouldn't you have got a couple piercings and decided maybe that you were gay. I never thought you'd be a junkie because heroin is so passé."

And I'd been racking my brains but couldn't quite put my finger on it. I think maybe it was bagels.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Dianegsocialist's comment, I'd say that any drug that has to be "injected" via nostrils or lungs are not that good for you either. These delicate parts of our bodies are, after all, not overly resistant to abuse.

Anonymous said...

My Best Friend died of a heroin overdose. He died like many addicts. He was off being physically addicted to heroin, and was going to Narcotics Anonymous. He most likely scored some heroin at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, or to his regular dealer as a present and a reward for being clean for a couple months.

Because he was no longer physically addicted, and he took his regular dose, he overdosed, combine he did what makes death inevitable for an overdose, a locked bathroom door. When they busted open the door, he was already blue and dead.

The problems with any opiates is that there needs to a constant supply for the physically addicted. It is just a terrifying time for the loved ones of those who are heroin addicts, given the stealing, the lying, the neglect they put themselves and everyone through..