Despite admirable efforts in my youth, I never became a drug addict. Things kept interfering. Like college tuition. I remember when I made the choice—and it did come down to one—to pick education over cocaine. I was one ATM withdrawal away from emptying my account to party all weekend, when suddenly I could not hork a single sliver more of drugs ever again. Evidently it was time to study.
Which is funny, because I never liked school. I used to be fond of reminding my mother that Bill Gates was a college dropout. “Quit college yourself then,” she’d say through the smoke of the menthol hanging from her lower lip. I should have known better, because between the two of my parents, it was my dad who always pressed me to get a degree. He was also the one to become an alcoholic, and to die because of it before I started my freshman year. I hear there is a gene that makes you more susceptible to addiction, but over time I began to doubt that I’d inherited it. I just didn’t get addiction. It entailed a huge commitment, for one, plus all the effort that went into preparation. I was hard-pressed to just push the popcorn button on my microwave, let alone cook a bottle cap every time I wanted a hit of heroin.
My friend Lary is the most productively functioning drug horker I have ever met, and he once tried to explain to me the effects of certain narcotics on the human mind. “Remember that time I called you about my breakthrough discovery that cats can’t see orange? And to prove it I put on a prison jumpsuit and spent the whole day being ignored by the litter of kittens in my driveway? Or when I discovered that everything in the world was shrinking? Even measuring tapes? So nothing could be trusted to measure anything anymore? It’s like that.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“You will,” he said. He knew I was due for a visit to the dentist, on account of how I have approximately 7 million fillings in my mouth due to the fact that when I was a kid, my main food group was the candy aisle at the local liquor store. Each of my molars had been packed with that black, mind-killing, mercury-laden Bondo they used back then for fillings. Lately I had been self-conscious about these teeth. They reminded me of that old sociology reel I saw in seventh grade depicting pygmies eating big black beetles inside banana skins. When they smiled mid-feast, you could see large bug pieces stuck in their teeth.
“I have beetle teeth,” I complained to my dentist. “Seriously, look at my teeth.”
“Well, let’s replace those grotty old fillings with pretty porcelain ones,” said Dr. Drescher. Then he hooked me up to the laughing gas. It was my first time on nitrous oxide, and all I can say is now I know why Lary’s teeth are so perfect, because I sincerely think he invents reasons to go to the dentist just so he can snort the gas. Personally what I liked most about the stuff was how brilliant it made me. How everything in my life suddenly made sense: all the finished and unfinished manuscripts, all the spoken and unspoken words, all the unrequited loves coalesced into one lovely, harmonious, personal little ocean of ebbs and tides. I was so brilliant that I insisted they give me something to write on so I would remember all the brilliance, all the genius ideas for columns I planned to write and whatnot. But when I got home and pulled the paper out of my pocket, it was just one sentence: “It all makes sense.”
Huh. Maybe I’d have to wait for my next appointment to huff some more nitrous in order to understand the big picture. But when I returned, the nitrous hose was defective or something, because I only felt about half as brilliant as I did the first time. “It’s dialed down too low or something,” I insisted. “No, it’s the same,” they insisted back. But it wasn’t. There was no ebb, no flow, and only a little harmony. It was not the same. It was only a shadow of the same. “I’m not feeling it,” I said, snorking mightily through my nose mask. “Yes, you are,” they responded, smiling through the fifteen minutes it took me to fumble for my cellphone.
“I get it now,” I texted Lary, only I had texted my other friend Grant instead.
“Get what?” he answered.
Illustration by Peter Arkle. This article originally appeared in our January 2013 issue.