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A Stoner on Local Cable TV

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The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte]

The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte] (Photo credit: [ piXo ])

One of the worst things about drug addiction is the tolerance factor.  When one uses drugs frequently they need more and more of them to get the effects they once experienced.  This was the case for me as April and May of 1998 rolled around.  I had been using harder drugs like psychedelics and prescription speed.  My marijuana use was through the roof.  To get any effect from using pot I would have to do 4 or 5 times the amount that I normally did to even feel it, and at times I didn’t even enjoy it any longer.  This did a number on my lungs.  There were times at the end of a dope smoking session that I would feel as if I could barely breathe.

It’s amazing the illusion one cultivates in the midst of addiction.  Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.  (Proverbs 10:23)  It’s a horrible thing to have your health deteriorating at the age of 16, but when you’re high you almost don’t care.  As time rolls forward you convince yourself that committing slow suicide is the way to go.  People used to ask me at the age of 16, “So Ben, what do you see yourself doing with your life?”  I would answer, “I don’t know man.  I might not even make it past 20…  But I’m going to party as hard as I can until then.”  Drugs had become my god.  I even believed that my destiny was destruction, and my glory was in their shame, because my mind was set on earthly things.  (Phil. 3:19)  I was even willing to die because of drugs and for drugs, because they seemed to give me my only moments of manufactured happiness amidst the desperation and brokenness of the social order I observed around me.  On the outside I was the court jester, a king of fools, a peace-child wanna-be sixties hippie, and on the inside I was growing more cynical and angry every day.  The alienation that one experiences in the midst of chronic drug use is profound and deeply devitalizing.

Despite the popular music of 1998, early 90’s bands like Alice in Chains began to sing the lyrics of my existence.

Down in a hole, feelin’ so small

Down in a hole, losin’ my soul

Down in a hole, outta control

I’d like to fly but my

Wings have been so denied

In moments alone, stark moments of sobriety which lasted only minutes and hours, I was buried in a hole.  I was lying to everyone I really cared about- my girlfriend Harmony, my parents, and even some of my friends.  In fact, many of my friends were becoming afraid of me.  I began to identify more with people who I once thought were too crazy or too criminal to associate with.  There were strange moments when I longed for my childhood again…  days when I felt untainted and more innocent.

Where was my soul in all of this?  I suppose I had buried it beneath the mounds of drugs, alcohol, and lapsed memories.  My conscience had been hardened in so many ways.  I didn’t care if I turned in homework at all, and I had no problem lying all of the time.  It didn’t matter to me if everything around me crumbled.  “These are all things that society just expects me to do man…”  I would reason to myself.  I may have kept a calm exterior because I was self-medicated all of the time.  But deep inside my world was spinning out of control.  “If there is a God out there he definitely wouldn’t want anything to do with me”, I often thought in my darkest moments.  I would just do another shot, smoke another bowl, pop another pill or drop another tab to try and forget about my deeper thoughts.  To me, God was a distant memory, a figment of my childhood imagination.  “Maybe God doesn’t really exist”, I thought.  “Maybe just the moral, do-gooders of the world made him up to feel like they’re better than everybody”.  These were the honest reflections of my mind as I became more marginalized by the mainstream people of my little microcosm of culture.  “No one will ever really love me”, I thought.  “Nobody really wants to understand me or know me”.  “I’m all alone in this world…  in my addiction and misery”.  I would’ve mustered the strength to pray if I thought someone was listening, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.  How was I even sure that anyone was there?  Nobody really cared anyways, I thought to myself.

Even music had become an afterthought for me.  It was ironic, because I had originally thought that drugs would enhance my music.  Quite the opposite was true.  In years before, I had written between thirty and fifty songs a year.  In the year of 1997, I had only written about twenty songs, which were getting increasingly weird.  The recordings I made contained more mistakes than ever, and my vocals were out of key at times.  Even the sound of my voice deteriorated as I assaulted it daily with a variety of smoke, sleepless nights and hard living.  Throughout the winter and spring of 1998, and all the way into summer, I continually worked on the recording of one eight-minute song, and kept scrapping parts because I was too constantly intoxicated to produce anything of musical value.  I certainly hadn’t found the inspiration that I thought would come from LSD…  Lucy was so far away in the sky with diamonds that I couldn’t make out her distorted face in the clouds.  The only happiness I experienced was chemical… fake… and I began to view everyone and everything through that lens.  ”What a bunch of fakes and phonies” I thought about the world and society around me.

In Ohio, at Hudson High School, during the spring of 1998, the teachers had gotten tired of a bad contract and decided to go on strike.  This meant that we would get a lot of press from the local news stations.  This also meant that they would try to set up a system to keep us in school.  They sent teachers in to substitute and pick up where the others had left off.  But because of the strike we knew there was no legal requirement for us to attend.

I remember when the cameras from the local news showed up at our institution.  All the students had decided to march out of the building and skip at 10am.  There was nothing anyone could do about it- not the school board, not the cops.  When 10am arrived, we all marched our way out of the temple of learning in great defiance.  I felt like I was part of the late 1960’s.  The cameras from the news station were there as we walked out.  I was definitely out of my mind when I saw them, and was yelling expletives as they passed by…  I was shocked that I didn’t make it on the local news that night at 11pm.  Looking back I realize how silly I was to think that they’d put a loudmouth kid swearing at the camera on TV.

This began 18 days of freedom from responsibility.  It was like summer vacation.  We never went to school.  Of course I started to go completely out of control.  I was using more than I ever had before.  I honestly don’t even remember one detail about those 18 days.  I just know that I was let loose like a wild, untamed golden retriever in a vacant candy store.  I was bound to leave a trail of devastation behind…  and have no idea exactly what that devastation even looked like.

I do know that we had RockFest for our Junior year of High School after the strike was over.  I was playing bass in a psychedelic cover band with mostly guys that were older than me at the show, and was invited to play one acoustic tune on my own.  The Hudson local channel had come to film the performance and interview the performers.  I only heard about this afterwards, because they had supposedly interviewed me and I had absolutely no recollection of even talking to them.  But there I was, on local TV for all the parents of Hudson students and local authorities to see me.  I never watched what I said, but people told me that I acted completely insane and babbled in incoherent riddles.  I do also know that I played the song “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd acoustically when I had my solo spot.  I invited an older friend, Willie Martin, to sing with me.  At one point I was addressing the audience;

“Hey man…  is Willie Martin out there?” I said into the microphone before an audience of about 300 kids.  “I need him to come up and sing with me…  Yo Willie, where are you brotha?  Haha…”

I was told later that I kept asking for Willie to come up, for about 3 minutes.  He had been right next to me on the microphone to my left for about 2 of those minutes.  I do remember only the moment when I looked over and saw him.  I exclaimed,  “Oh man, there you are!”  and everyone was laughing at me.  I officially had the reputation of being a complete stoner.

The summer of 1998 was about to unleash me into a wild realm of reckless existence.  My friend Mitchell began to become afraid of doing harder drugs.  He backed away from my pursuit of deeper aberration.  I was beginning to hang out in the haunts of my town with the freaks, drop-outs and super bohemians.  I had friends in their twenties who dealt drugs.  I was stepping into a world of danger that I knew nothing about, but I didn’t care where it led me…  whether it be insanity, prison, or even death.  I know that my parents were afraid for me, but I didn’t care what they thought anymore.  I didn’t want to follow any rules except the voice of id.

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Doing Mushrooms at Prom

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Nathan Hale HS Prom, 1983

Nathan Hale HS Prom, 1983 (Photo credit: litlnemo)

As the year slid into the summer of 1999, I wanted my world to be freer than ever.  I had stayed sober from psychedelic and harder drugs for 3 months in order to attempt graduating high school.  I had succeeded by the skin of my teeth, and my marginal success had dumped me back into libertine freedom.  I had used self-control to avoid the humiliation of staying back a grade in my senior year and joining the class of 2000.  As soon as I accomplished what I had to, I let my inhibitions go once again.

There is no institutional moment that a typical high-school student longs for more than their senior prom.  Mine was on its’ way.  My girlfriend Jamie had been away at an all-girls school in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, for almost the entire spring semester of that year.  She was to return back to the town of Hudson, Ohio, and back into my life.  She had made a few friends during her stint at the school who were partiers, but she swore up and down that her sobriety had remained in tact.  She had only continued to smoke Camel Red Lights daily, drink coffee, and study, or so she said.  Of course, our MDMA fueled romance led me to believe what I wanted to believe- that she was completely faithful to her word and to me.  To this day, I’m unsure of details as to how many lies were flying around, but I was equally guilty of living in a fantasy world.

Jamie was to be my prom date at the senior prom of 1999.  Hudson High School was a wealthy school fueled by stinking rich, Upper-Middle class taxpayers.  We were to have our senior prom at the newly built Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland Ohio.  This should have been a dream come true for me, as my life was fueled by the inductees who did and were to line the halls…  people like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Sting, Jim Morrison, Bono, Eddie Van Halen, Kurt Cobain and Lars Ulrich.  But by this point, drugs and their subsequent selfish pursuits had pulled me far away from pursuing the heights with playing music.  I hadn’t been in a well functioning band in years, and my efforts at making music were very secluded and personal.  I made songs for Jaime and myself instead of sharing them with my peers.  To make it worse, the rival high-school band, who went by the name “Discordant”, had become far more popular than me and my friends.  They were going to play live on the Rock Hall’s prestigious stage during our prom.  I hated them passionately for this.  Joni Mitchell, the great folk songwriter who began her career in the late sixties once wrote;

Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling

It’s the unraveling

And it undoes all the joy that could be

When James, the brother of Jesus, spoke of the jealousy that was among Jesus’ early followers, he said that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16), and he was speaking to people who were supposed to have known better.  I suppose in a way, I should’ve known better as well.  But just like Joni Mitchell and James the brother of Jesus collaboratively pointed out nineteen centuries apart, my jealousy was unraveling my soul and leading me down a road of bitterness and stagnant soul-eradication.

This is the downward spiral of the drug user.  One who uses drugs to cope with life becomes more and more disabled within reality.  Deep inside I hated most everyone, especially those who were “succeeding” in life, I loathed myself for my disinclined suicidal tendencies and instead of rightfully blaming myself and beginning to deal with the problems that plagued me, I blamed everyone else.  I was the victim in their cruel game.  As long as I stayed high or drunk, everything would at least seem serene.

The High School prom of Hudson High in 1999 was an amazing party that only the most privileged would have attended, relishing the memory for years beyond.  Jamie and I went and had dinner with another couple, my friend Duane and his date Kali, we attended the prom, fueled by an over-load of caffeine and nicotine.  We slow danced a few times and I sat in rage and sweaty bitterness as Discordant played through their pop rock set, complaining to Jamie about how much they were sell-outs that sucked, though inwardly I wished I was in their place.  In my mind were delusions of grandeur, the way life should have been.  Me up there on the Rock Hall stage playing solo with my back up band…  “Ben White and the Misfits of Love”, singing original tunes that made people cry and ponder the deep things of life.  Instead, I was a washed up drug addict that had barely made it out of High School, with his drug addict girlfriend who was two years younger than him.

During the “after-prom”, they had decked out the Hudson High School gymnasium with inflatable obstacle courses, games, photo booths, memories, and other joyous moments of the past four years that our entire class could share together.

Jamie and I ditched the after-prom, and headed to the backyard of my parents’ house.  It was 1 a.m. and they were asleep.  I had a half ounce of psilocybin mushrooms, and we were going to take a small dose and trip the night away.  Forget our peers.  Forget meaningful social ties.  We were wanna-be hippies and just wanted to do what we always did best; hide in a vacuum and waste our lives away.

We each took a small dose of psilocybin mushrooms and sat in my parents’ backyard, staring at the canopy of the trees above us as it merged and twisted like a kaleidoscope.  Our peers were at the all night lock-in at my High School, which was a couple of miles away from my parents’ house.  There we were, alone and tripping, the dissenters continuing their lone escapade.  We stayed up all night, most of which I don’t recall, and the morning brought in a new summer that would certainly be filled with wanton hedonism.

We had purchased these mushrooms at a large reenactment of the 1969 Woodstock concert aptly named “Hookahville” somewhere in the middle of nowhere in central Ohio.  Jamie and I had paid about $50 apiece to enter the concert for one day, even though we paid for the three day event.  We couldn’t come up with lies to stay all three days together, because we knew our parents would figure out we were both gone.

Hookahville was a wild array of hippies, and proved that even in the year 1999, the Grateful Dead’s anthem “Golden road to unlimited devotion”, written in 1967, was still being lived out;

Well everybody’s dancin’ in a ring around the sun

Nobody’s finished, we ain’t even begun.

So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.

Try on your wings and find out where it’s at.

This place was a huge collection of hippies.  There were people with long hair and beards that walked around in a thick haze of psychedelic craziness.  Many people were wearing tie-dyes and bell bottoms, and the air smelled of dope smoke and patchouli incense.  These were happenings where somehow the cops couldn’t come, either.  So there were literally little stands that sold balls of peanut butter and marijuana for $10 and called them “Dank Goo-Balls”.  For me at the time, I felt that I had stepped into a utopian dream, though really, it was a disturbing place full of darkness and people wandering around on an imaginary lost planet.

But being the gregarious one I was, I knew what Jamie and I had come for.  I wanted to find a bag of psilocybin mushrooms.  I literally walked around just yelling; “Shrooms!  Does anybody have shrooms?”  Even Jamie thought I was totally crazy.

A wild cat heard me.  He had black opal dilated pupils, and was thin as a rail with a huge beard, long hair, and a tall hat that belonged on the head of the Mad Hatter of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  “Hey man, you need shrooms?”  He said, obviously tripping on them himself.  “Yeah that’d be great man.”  I responded, trying my best at the age of seventeen to appear like an experienced hippie.

That was where we scored our half ounce of mushrooms for prom.  We didn’t stick around long for Hookahville after, even though the Grateful Dead spin-off band “Ratdog” led by ex-Dead guitarist and singer Bob Weir, were on the stage, making all the hippies dance like it was the summer of love.  We needed to get back home before curfew.

Fast-forward to the day after prom, after the first dose of those shrooms had been consumed.  Jaime had to head back to her boarding school in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania to take her finals.  We had only taken a very small amount of these mushrooms, and I was left with more than three-eighths of an ounce of them to myself.  When Jaime headed back for her finals, she made me promise her something.  She pleaded with me; “Ben, please save these for me so we can do them together again.”  Of course I agreed.  But I was a drug-head with an insatiable hunger to do stupid things.  I hadn’t yet tasted the sweet honey of wisdom, the “drippings of the honeycomb sweet to the taste, such could wisdom have been to my soul; where if I had found it, there would be a future, and my hope would not be cut off.” (Prov. 24:13-14)  Instead, I was often tasting the bitter gall of sin and self-loathing.  Leaving a huge bag of mushrooms in the hands of such a young man was a bad thing to do…