That 70's Blow!

Illustration by Bob AulThis may come as a surprise to my many friends who have heard me inveigh against cocaine for years; who've heard me echo Bob Marley in calling it "the Devil's Dandruff," or deride it as "instant asshole" and "powdered Don Henley"; who have heard me tell coke-snorting acquaintances, "Why not rub dog shit in your hair? It's just as stupid, and you'll save money." This will be even more of a surprise to the people who know that I've lost gifted friends to coke:

I just did me a big fat line of it the other night. And this wasn't just any coke: it was presidential-grade. Whooey!

This started innocently enough, with me spotting a friend at a party. "What have you been up to lately?" I asked.

"Doing coke with strippers," he said.

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Well, better that than watching Survivor with your pet rat, I figured. Actually, what I figured was that he was joking. Who the hell does cocaine anymore?

Not an hour later, though, I saw two young women—not strippers, mind you—follow him into the bathroom. Having lived through the '70s, I am aware that usually when you see this at a party, it isn't because the women have been asked, "Hey, have you ever seen a guy pee before?"

I queried my friend a while later, and he confirmed that he had indeed been dispensing the Peruvian marching powder. He asked if I'd like some. People on coke think that everyone wants to be on coke, and he probably thought I was hinting in that direction. He was right.

So we went in and snorted some, my first since 1978. You'll be pleased to know that the new hundreds work just like the old ones.

"Why am I doing this?" I asked myself. "I don't have any Billy Squier albums."

Why, indeed? Maybe it's because I don't like moral absolutists, and I've been one for decades in regard to coke. Maybe I thought I could get a column out of it—I snorted for you, dear readers. And maybe I'm just generally curious about different experiences. I figure I'll even try heroin, once I'm in my 80s and am willing to risk becoming as boring as Lou Reed.

And maybe I just wanted to get high. Man used to be called the animal that laughs; then one of those college-required-reading guys, John Huizinga, decided that we're Homo ludens, the animal that plays. We are also most certainly Homo likum ludes, the animal that will take nearly anything to alter its consciousness.

Civilization, some have theorized, only began those thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia because people had to stay in one place in order to grow hops to make beer. Since then, every culture has found ways of getting wiggy. Bonded scotch, Jell-O shooters, model glue—we are not what you would call particular. There is one Brazilian tribe in which the women masticate some root, spit the goop into a dugout canoe and let their saliva act as a fermenting agent for a goodsome while, and then they have a blindingly festive time quaffing it. For a species to do that, it takes a pretty hefty predilection.

Whatever human trait it was that set us wandering the globe is, I suspect, the same one that fuels our inward explorations. The peyote cults of Native Americans only flourished after they were stuck on reservations, cut off from their physical roaming. Maybe something like that happened in the 1970s, when we'd reached the then-limits of our explorations. It was as if the whole human race suddenly said, "Well, we put a man on the moon. Let's do some cocaine."

Did George W. Bush partake? Hell, who didn't? By the time the Stones brought their Some Girls tour to Angel Stadium in 1978, I'd swear everyone was on it—Mick, the hot dog vendors, me. There wasn't that much cocaine in a baseball stadium again until Darryl Strawberry came along. What an antsy show that was!

With the coke coursing through my head the other night, those old memories came flooding back, along with the postnasal drip.

I did coke only a handful of times in the '70s. When I first tried it, I thought, "Wow, this is the missing vitamin! This is how humans are supposed to feel all the time! No wonder racecar drivers and Sherlock Holmes did coke! What phenomenal powers of focus and concentration I possess!" Only later, if ever, do you notice that your acute new powers are focused entirely upon chopping that next line as fine as humanly possible. If powder-chopping had been art, the 1970s would have been a second Renaissance.

My personal coke career was short-lived, both because I didn't like that bath-water's-getting-cold craving for the next line and because, combined with a minor heart condition I was then toying with, coke gave me what I referred to as an Oodlie. That was my abbreviation for Unpleasant Death-Like Experience. So I left it to others to have the full-on coke adventure.

I got to miss all the funny stories I can only tell secondhand now, like the time you snorted the blow right where you'd dropped it on the toilet-stall floor. Or the time you were in a bar with a pair of women you knew, only to see a Newport guy stroll up and tell them, "You girls look like a couple of coke whores," then only to see them compliment his powers of observation and follow him to his fully carpeted hump-o-van. (Incidentally, guys, women have assured me that coke doesn't get them horny. They just do you to get the coke. Like you care.)

It was a strange time for California consciousness. The heaviest cokehead I knew was also the first health-food nut I knew, always going on about organic this and that, while packing his nasal passages with a substance processed with toxic benzene. I lost touch with him after he drove his car through some home's plate-glass window. The cops charged him with all manner of malicious intent, when probably all he was after was a horizontal glass surface.

Some people had a lot of fun on coke, with no downside. Some people wrote some really pompous music (anyone else remember members of the Eagles bristling at interviewers over "Hotel California"? "You don't get it. It's not just a metaphor for California. It's about everything, man!"). Some other people had Poodlies—Permanent Unpleasant Death-Like Experiences.

Eventually, a lot of folks realized that, when the CIA is your pusher, you're probably doing the wrong drug. They stopped, or made coke an occasional treat. If you did keep doing it heavily, that wasn't the pioneer spirit at work; rather, your soul was hunkering down in the drabbest of mental condo tracts.

Crack didn't brighten the prospect. One friend, after kicking a coke habit, started doing it again "to prove to myself I can handle it." Uh-huh. Within a year, her car was repossessed, she was getting evicted, her fiance was in the hospital after a suicide attempt, and she was vividly hallucinating that crack was setting her flesh on fire. Her response to that? Smoke more crack! Another friend quit her public-health job after crack came along, telling me, "It's stronger than the maternal instinct. Mothers are abandoning their babies to look for crack. How do you fight that?"

With such a legacy, you'd think coke would be a dead issue by now. But it's a generational thing: each successive one wants at least the same opportunities to screw up that we had. And it probably doesn't help that since the '70s, the billions spent yearly on the "war on drugs" has only resulted in the price of an 8-ball of coke dropping from $300 to $150, and that's without adjusting for inflation. Sort of makes you think they should declare a war on gasoline, huh?

While my friend at the party was straightening my line with a credit card, he said something to the effect of, "You know how they give credit cards to college kids so they get hooked on immediate gratification they have to pay and pay for later? That's what coke is." Of course, he was much more eloquent because we were on coke.

I could go on at length about individual rights and responsibility and how doing blow is about as moral as supporting Philip Morris or the Guatemalan death squads. I probably will in a future column. But right now, I just spotted this clump of dust on the floor that looks like it might be coke. Whooey, come to Poppa!!

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