(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.