Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sprite, Vodka & Coke

That's not the original title of this. When I originally published it, I gave it the idiotic title of... well, why should I tell you that and ruin what little reputation I have left? Suffice to say, it was dumb.

Yes, this is a reprint. Coming on the heels of yesterday's revelations concerning drug usage and drug dealing, it feels right to me to put this out here again. I mentioned yesterday that I've clearly stated, in my writings, when I felt I was being an asshole while on drugs. This story delineates just such an instance, and a long-running instance it was, too. There's more to the story than I tell here - my heartbroken father trying desperately to keep me straight, eventually being my main source of strength and comfort and love when I went cold turkey; a few dangerous situations involving guns; sexual dalliances that could have done me more harm than the drugs did - but this will suffice for now.

It is long. It was originally published in two parts, but I'm giving it to you in one. I am not editing from the original - except to cut out a small part of it that referred to the original title and linked from part two to part one - so if you come upon any major errors in grammar or spelling, well, if you want to point them out to me, I'll clean them up for the book manuscript.

(No, I'm not really writing a manuscript. Yet.)

Enough. Here you go, and I hope you find it interesting reading. I'll be back in a day or two or three with something entirely non-drug-related, I assume.

Today, I am the tremendously polished writer you've come to know and love, earning upwards of $3.46 a month by blogging - not to mention saving tens of thousands a year by not having to have psychiatric sessions or the psychotropic drugs I would no doubt be severely abusing right at this very moment - but, in days of yore...

I was 27 years old and finally coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be a gazillionaire rock 'n roll star. Or a gazillionaire athlete. Or even a gazillionaire medical-study participant, which was where I had made my most recent buck by allowing myself to be injected with what they told me was a penicillin substitute but could just as easily have been nuclear waste that would sprout a third arm in the middle of my back, in which case I could have become a gazillionaire circus freak. However, that didn't happen, so I came to the painful realization that I needed to get an actual job.

Having no marketable skills other than the ability to be a paid human pincushion, I looked through the help wanted section of the Boston Globe. There were the usual assortment of driving jobs and janitorial positions which I had successfully filled at previous times in my life, but I was looking for a challenge; something to give me mental stimulation and make use of my marvelous Boston public schools education. And that's how I ended up applying for work as an order picker in the warehouse of Blake & Rebhan.

Blake & Rebhan (or B&R, as everybody who worked there called it) was located on D Street in South Boston. It was an office supply company in the days before Staples, which is to say back in the time when that type of business could actually turn a profit. Nowadays there are few such operations, Staples and their ilk having driven the great majority of them into the grave. That's pretty much what eventually became of B&R, but that was a year or two after I left the company. At the time of my employment there, it was a going concern with a hundred or so employees.

Anyway, I cut my hair, shaved, dressed up in a suit and tie, spoke intelligently, and got the job five minutes into the interview.

I started out as an order picker, but I moved up quickly. From order picker I moved into shipping. From shipping I was promoted to the purchasing department. From purchasing they shuffled me upstairs (literally upstairs) into customer service. Three promotions in fairly rapid succession. Finally, after having done all of that in less than two years, some bigwig in the front office saw the write-ups I had been doing concerning the company softball team (which I managed and played for, natch) and decided that I was the best person in the company to head up (read: be) the new catalogue publications department.


We will now take a short break from this Frank Merriwell story to flesh out some background details.

I first tried cocaine while working in the warehouse. It was such damned boring work, pulling pens and paper and cellophane tape and paper clips off of the shelves while compiling orders, that I welcomed any diversion. Somebody (well, I know who, but he may still be doing stuff, so I won't mention his name) asked me if I wanted go in with him on a quarter. Having no earthly idea at that time what constituted a quarter, I asked him what the hell he was talking about. He explained that it was a small packet of cocaine costing $25. Since I was never one to demur when the occasional mind-expanding opportunity presented itself, I said sure. So, he bought it during lunch and we went into the bathroom at B&R to do it.

Mind you, I was no virgin. I had done plenty of drugs before this. Cocaine, though, was always considered a "rich man's drug" in the neighborhood where I came from. So, all of my experience had been with things you either smoked or ingested in pill form. I didn't inject anything unless I was being paid to do so. This was the first thing I had ever been presented with that was supposed be put up your nose.

I watched my buddy lay out the white lines. He used a credit card to chop the powder finely, on the edge of the sink, and he rolled up a dollar bill to use as a straw. He stuck one end of the dollar bill up his nostril and, while dragging the other end along and through one of the lines, snorted mightily. He then handed me the dollar bill with the implication being that I should do the same with the other line.

OK. I did. And about five minutes later I realized that I was really really enjoying just about everything associated with order picking. And I was picking orders more quickly than I had ever previously done so. Conversation of any sort was engaging and fun. I felt like everything I said was tremendously witty and someone should be writing it down for posterity. Good stuff, this cocaine.

That was the beginning of about three years of blowing every last cent of what I earned up my nose.


So, here I was, almost two years into my three year sojourn in the land of blow, and I was being asked to write a stationery catalogue for the princely sum of $8.25 an hour. I said, sure, why not?

(I should note here that $8.25 an hour doesn't sound like much, but it was more than I had been making in customer service, so I had no complaints.)

I was given an actual office that I didn't have to share with anyone, complete with word processing equipment and a big bulky heat printer and a noisy fax machine and a typewriter and all sorts of other stuff that nobody uses these days. I was given another stationery company's catalogue as a template and given more-or-less free reign to design our new one. I would do all of the writing, pick the illustrations, do the layouts, take additional photos as needed - I was the one-man catalogue department.

I needed more coke.

I sat in the Catalog Publications office - my office - a can of Sprite in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It was 1988. Smoking in the office wasn't forbidden yet. Neither was drinking Sprite, of course, but while it was a Sprite can in my hand, that wasn't all that was in the can.

It was Friday afternoon. As was now my custom on Friday - payday - I had scored an eight ball at lunch. That is, I had acquired a decent amount of cocaine; enough to get me through the weekend if I showed some self-restraint. In other words, it was barely enough to get me into Saturday morning, where I would wake up around noontime with a vicious hangover and curse myself out for having blown my entire paycheck in one night. I had also purchased a pint of Smirnoff vodka, which I was mixing with the Sprite so that I could have a steady buzz while walking around the offices of Blake & Rebhan.

It all sounds extremely degenerate, doesn't it? It was, no doubt. However, I wasn't the only one at B&R who got through the workday with chemical enhancement. Out of the hundred or so who worked there, I'd estimate that at least one-quarter of them were on something. This included the four owners. One of them kept a bottle of Tanqeuray handy at all times.

(His office was right next to mine. Every so often I'd hear him open his desk drawer, pull out the bottle, and have a gulp. He no doubt heard me snuffling up the marching powder. Neither one of us ever said anything to the other.)

I'll grant you that I was on the high end (high end - hah!) of the scale when it came to ingestion of foreign substances, but I was far from alone. Three martini lunch? Kid stuff at B&R. One of the guys in the warehouse would buy a half-pint of root beer schnapps, every day at lunch, and down it in one gulp. Another, whose taste ran to vodka as mine did, had a quart hidden in the pile of pallets at the back of the warehouse and would pour himself a stiff one every half-hour or so. There were a good ten or twelve others who did lines at every available opportunity and if you couldn't find a joint anytime you wanted one, you were just lazy.

The amazing part of all this was that it was pretty much an accident-free workplace and the work got done on-time and correctly. We were substance abusers, but we were all functional. And it wasn't a stupid group of humans, either. I'd be willing to bet that the median IQ was quite high. We all had problems of one sort or another, and we were all self-medicating, but it wasn't just because of stupidity. A case study of that workplace would have been very interesting reading, I'm sure.

It was interesting how my own addictions worked. If I had the opportunity to do some blow, I'd do it. That is, if it was Monday and someone said, "Hey, Sully, you want a line?", I'd be on it like white on rice and wouldn't stop until the last tiny dot of it was gone. But, if nobody was offering me a freebie? I had no real itch to do the stuff, at least on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Thursday would roll around and I'd start to want it, but I could resist the temptation to buy on credit. Friday, though, was another story. I had money in my hands and I couldn't get rid of it fast enough.

Around 10:30 or 11:00, I'd put in a call to my dealer, to make sure she had a supply for me. At lunch, I'd drive over to her place and get it. On the way back to work, I'd stop at the liquor store and buy the vodka. After smuggling the bottle into work - either under my jacket or in my gym bag - I'd buy a can of Sprite from the vending machine in the warehouse and start my personal party, pouring out half the Sprite and replacing it with vodka and chopping a few lines on top of my desk.

Another thing I feel I should mention before I forget: I drank like a fish while I did coke, but I never became an alcoholic. I liked the combination, a lot, but alcohol by itself has never been something I'm tremendously fond of. I've always been able to take it or leave it, and I've usually left it. I probably have twenty drinks a year now, if that, mostly wine. And it never triggers a desire in me to have more. Just an oddity, all things considered.


I started writing this piece as something a bit more humorous than it's become. That's the way it goes sometimes.

This is the first time I've ever actually written about this in detail and I've got to tell you, it isn't easy. I've spoken about it before - a goodly portion of my broadcasting school valedictory was a recounting of what an ass I had been just prior to attending - and I've written bits of it in letters and whatnot, but this is actually knotting my stomach. I'm glad.

You see, nobody becomes addicted to something that just plain sucks. Cocaine was a lot of fun, as long as the money and the supply held out, but remembering what I felt like on Saturday morning (or any other "after" time) when the money was gone and my nose might be bleeding and I had a wicked headache, is what kept me from going back once I quit. It's good to know that I'm feeling sick when talking about the "good" times, too, never mind the bad. I'm way over it, thank God.


Well, the idea was to relate to you the details of my first writing gig - which is, to date, my only real one because what I'm doing here sure isn't bringing in the bucks and my time as a lyricist earned me about enough to buy a set of strings for my bass. So, let's get back to the subject.

Despite being wasted half the time, I did the job and that's why I didn't get fired - even though most everybody knew I was high. The Sprite can wasn't fooling anyone after a while. They weren't blind or deaf - or dumb. And, as I mentioned, there were a lot of "Sprite cans" in that office.

However, I knew that after the catalogue was actually published they had nothing else for me to do. I was being paid to write, but there would be nothing else they needed written. They would most assuredly scrap my one-man department and put me back into customer service.

And so they did, even though I tried to stretch it out as far as possible. Well, after you've had the kind of autonomy I had, that was a major bummer. I was expected to actually deal with people. I no longer had my own private den in which to drink and drug. And I had to report to somebody. This sucked mightily.

After two weeks or so of half-hearted effort on my part, the writing was on the wall. I had no desire to stay there and they had little choice but to let me go. I was laid off, so I went on unemployment for a couple of months. And that was the end of my true-actually-earning-something-for-putting-words-to-paper writing career.


I did have some fun writing that catalogue. Every chance I had to put my own personal touches on it, I did. For instance, we sold some briefcases. A photo needed to be taken of a briefcase for inclusion with the text concerning them. These briefcases came with a personalization kit of sorts - really just stickers with numbers and letters on them - so the photo had to show the dandy way you could make the briefcase your own. I made it my own. In the space provided for the owner's initials, I put "JSS". And that's how the briefcase appeared in the photo - with my initials. Similar touches appeared throughout the Blake & Rebhan catalogue.

That sort of stuff was just fun and I don't think anybody really cared if I did it. It didn't hurt anyone and nobody would really notice it. However, I did another thing that took a bit more planning and would never have been allowed if anyone knew what I was doing.

I mentioned before that, in addition to writing the text and taking the photos and choosing the illustrations, I was also responsible for the physical layout of the pages. I did the cut-and-paste on everything and delivered the proofs to the printer. For $8.25 an hour. Wow. No wonder I did drugs.

Anyway, this gave me an opportunity to play around with the layout of the text upon the page. Once I figured out that this would probably be my only published work, I decided to include something within the text. I don't have the original, but I rearranged the order of words within an introduction I had written and the result was something similar to this:

Everyone needs to know they can count upon their supplier to
adequately fill needs on a timely basis. What good is it to have
the stock, but not be able to deliver it when you need it?

So, B&R makes this promise to you. If you ever place an order
here that isn't delivered when we promise, you will receive
it absolutely free! That's right - on time or you don't have
to pay a single penny!

You'll like the way we do business! We don't beat around the bush
or give you a song-and-dance. We pride ourselves on honesty and
unwavering principles. Don't you deserve to be treated
royally? When it comes to business with us, you're the king!
Start an account today and see what we mean!

Turn to any page in this catalogue and you'll find some
remarkable bargains. We come through with pricing you need and
usually, if you order in bulk, we'll knock off a bit more. But
let us show you what we can do - don't just take our word for it.
You'll enjoy seeing what we mean by "the customer is king"!

Staples, paperclips, pens - these are the things that every
unremarkable company stocks - a dime-a-dozen;
lots more open every day; there isn't much difference between
doing business with them or us - if you consider
only the stock. What makes us different is the service
good employees provide.

Just boring copy, right? Try reading the first letter on the left of each sentence, going down.


That's about it for the job. I'll be the first to admit I was a total jerkwad. They treated me well, all things considered, and I repaid them by pulling an asshole move like the above.

As for the substance abuse, I could just say that I cleaned up and lived happily ever after, but that would be doing a disservice to you and to the people who helped me along the way. I'll pick up that part of my life on another day and go into detail.

Thanks for being my unpaid analyst. See you soon.


GreenJello said...

Thanks, Jim.

lime said...

ok, the anagram made me do a spit take. rude but funny. and i am very much looking forward to the rest of the story. as the big picture unfolds, i am seeing a very intriguing balance that i think few people achieve. i like that a lot and respect it tremendously.

MVD said...

Fantastic post, even if I'm catching it on rerun (although if memory serves, it's ranked among your "best of" list). Yes, cocaine certainly was the rich man's drug, given the relative price discrepancy between the white lady and her lesser subjects. Of course, one could've always delved into the wonderful world of crack for less strain on the wallet. But as a drugged-out Whitney Houston smartly opined on network television, "crack is wack."

Sniffles and Smiles said...

You are lucky that you were able to kick the coke habit...that's not generally the case...All the best to you! ~Janine

Janet said...

The anagram may have been rude, but it was also incredibly clever. This makes me wonder if your colleagues fared as well as you did in kicking their habits.

Jinksy said...

You surely have all the Piscean traits in abundance, including a fair amount of the Virgoan, opposite end of the spectrum. All power to you for sharing everything in this way - vertical reading and all!

Ananda girl said...

Okay, I'm terrible. I thought it was funny in retrospect. But in the long run, Suldog, this also shows your true character. That you recognize and accept responsibility, as you hint, to those who were inadvertently harmed by your actions... well that character is what brought you through. Hats off to you!

Suldog said...

Janet - The fellow I most often did stuff with... I have no idea where he is now or if he's even alive. Once I was let go - while he was still employed in customer service, as I recall - I didn't get together with him much because, while I still considered him a good friend, I just plain didn't want to expose myself to temptation I knew I couldn't resist.

Anyway, after I knew I could handle it, I dropped over his house in South Boston one afternoon, and he was wasted. I talked with him for a bit, and that's the last I ever saw of him. He's not at the same address, and I have no idea if he's actually ANYWHERE. I'd like to think he's OK, but I truly have no idea.

A few of the other folks I know are OK - or, at least, they were the last I heard from them, which in some cases is a few years now. So, yeah, some others got out clean and safe.

Suldog said...

Ananda Girl - It WAS funny in retrospect, so don't feel bad about seeing it that way! It wasn't three years of hell or anything, either. For the most part, it was damned good fun. You don't get hooked on something because it sucks - You get hooked because it's very enjoyable and you have laughs and the good times outweigh the bad by a wide margin. Later on, it gets to the other side of the equation, of course.

Chris said...

One of your many literary talents, Jim, is that ability to make the disturbing come off as entertaining. Not an easy task.

Great stuff, as usual.

Sandi McBride said...

Dark humor becomes you. On the high end...yep, you were that and more. Good thing you didn't burn up all that creativity (along with your nasal passages...they are still healthy, right?). Yes, good job on this. Talk about your cautionary tales...

Karen said...

I worked for a man who at 10am would get a soda from the machine, drink half of it, walk to his car and fill up the can with booze. He was a PIA until about 10:15 then he'd be the best boss in the world! He came in one day with his face looking like a truck ran over it. He'd tripped and fallen in the rocks. Ewww. You're lucky you could stop the stuff before something really bad happened.

La Belle Esplanade said...

This isn't the repentent memoir we've come to expect, and I appreciate that. You are older and wiser, but, as you say, that was the culture of the time. A three (or more) martini lunch was a business expense written off for tax purposes and it was routine. That ended under Reagan if I remember correctly. It was a big uproar.

I'm not advocating for workers self-medicating themselves to get through the toil of a day, but it was the standard at the time and everyone did it. No one blamed drugs if some accident happened, they blamed the negligent perpetrator. Even then, they accepted that accidents happened. We don't think that nowadays.

As you say, you and many co-workers enjoyed your work under the influence of something or other, but the job got done and competently enough apparently. The firm stayed in business and you did your job well enough to be dispensable since you did it so well. Freedom is a slippery slope and it's true that answering to no one opens the door to all sorts of mischief. That said, answering to no one opens a lot of independent creativity to solve tasks and make problems disappear. It's a fine line and one that needn't be discussed at the moment.

At least you are still writing. Don't spend your earnings all in one place. At least you've cut down on expenses. Don't take wooden nickels for salary.

Well done, Suldog. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This was very interesting, and told in your usual style of drawing the reader right in. I was disappointed you stopped it when you did. The lines:
"my heartbroken father trying desperately to keep me straight, eventually being my main source of strength and comfort and love when I went cold turkey"
had me really wanting to know more about your dad and how you got straight. said...

Awesome writing and some disclosure Sul...proud of you for running away from that life style.

Jeni said...

I've read, I think, most of your post backtracking through your wilder days and have found all of them quite interesting, sometimes dare I say that they even held me spellbound now and again too.
Probably a whole lot of us can also see a bit of ourselves in those confessional posts -like this one -maybe to a lesser degree, maybe not. I know I worked a whole lot of overtime many years ago so I could pay my telephone bill each month (along with other regular expenses) and still be able to buy a supply of pills that enabled me to work the hours I put in and then, still go drinking from 9 or 10 p.m. until the pubs closed and get up and do it all over again the next day. Ah, memories, huh? Sometimes, maybe we should thank our lucky stars too -after the things we've done -that we are still around and also, that we still have memories as well.

Anonymous said...

What a life,Jim. Obviously I am not clever because I didn't get the anagram. Makes me feel naive and dumb.

I am just so grateful that you survived.

Suldog said...

Sandi - Re: My Nose.

I have to use nasal spray daily to keep it open. Most of that is due to the damage I did with the coke, although some can certainly be attributed to smoking.

The most interesting thing that I lost due to the abuse was my ability to whistle. I used to whistle beautifully. I've retrained myself to whistle, but now I can only do about an octave and a half, and it's nowhere near as clear and with such good tonal qualities.

Considering what I could have lost, not a big deal, but it is a small pleasure I no longer have.

Suldog said...

The lines:
"my heartbroken father trying desperately to keep me straight, eventually being my main source of strength and comfort and love when I went cold turkey"
had me really wanting to know more about your dad and how you got straight.

Meredith - I will get to that, someday. For the short-term, I want to get off of the drug writing and back to something lighter. Perhaps in a couple of weeks...

Suldog said...

Jeni - Absolutely. There are a hundred different kinds of addiction, and not all of them involve substance abuse, either. The stuff I talk about could just as easily be pills for one person such as yourself, or booze for another, or being a workaholic or falling in love with the wrong people or having to have the latest combination cell phone blackberry i-pod whatever. It's all bad, but it can all become all good!

Jazz said...

Nice reading this again.

Michelle H. said...

Love ther reprints - it let's me see the most entertaining of the bunch (not that the rest isn't entertaining - it is!)

You were a functioning coke addict. I did't think people like that existed. Like everyone here, I'm glad nothing bad ever came of it. I couldn't think what this blogworld (or world in general) would be like without the Suldog!

Suldog said...

Michelle - Functioning addicts, of all stripes, are legion. That's one of the biggest reasons I can think of for changes in the drug laws. Most addicts aren't hurting anyone other than themselves, EXCEPT when they have to have a fix and the price is ginormous because of the illegality and they commit a REAL crime to afford their dose. If drugs were legally available, crime overall - not just those crimes wiped off the books by the elimination of the drug laws - would drop dramatically. Very few addicts would be robbing the 7-11, or stealing a poor old woman's purse, or gunning someone down for their gold chains, for the means to get a fix. Only the real, non-government-invented assholes would still be doing those things, not some poor junkie going out of his mind.

Buck said...

There were a LOT of functional alcoholics in the military back in the days before "deglamorization." I knew many more than a few guys who drank lunch at the NCO club and returned to work three sheets in the wind... and most everyone looked the other way. And there were a lot of other drugs, too, in the 70s and 80s before the military began random testing. Abuse was endemic in the culture at that time... it wasn't just YOUR workplace or environment, Jim.

Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung way too far the OTHER way. The military's clubs used to be the social centers of the base and were always a good time. But it's not so any longer, because of the draconian penalties for ANY sort of alcohol incident. People just don't go to the club nowadays, and that's a sad thing. Espirit suffers, IMHO. I've dropped into my local air plane patch's club immediately after duty hours (Happy Hour!) occasionally and have literally been the ONLY person in the bar. Great service, though.

Dang. That was a long comment. Sorry 'bout that.

Pat - Arkansas said...

I'm thankful you stayed alive through all that, didn't completely fry your brain and are here to tell the tale. Thank God for long suffering fathers and others who loved you.

Woman in a Window said...

The humour is there, to be sure, in spades, but there is more there, isn't there? There is always more there. (As noted by the left column read.) Makes me wonder what it's all about really, all the working and nonthinking-work that so many of us do. What exactly are we doing with our lives?

endangered coffee said...

One question. Do they still make root beer schnapps? That sounds like the balls.

While I also sampled a variety of drugs in my time, the myth of Len Bias dying the first time he tried coke kept me off the powder. So I guess his death was not in total vain. (I'm actually serious about that)

Sandy Kessler said...

I'm waiting to hear when it was that you decided to kick it Sk

Saz said...

I am amazed and confused. I am at a loss what to say or think.
let me tell you how, why if I can.
I have an addictive personality, so I stay clear of most things bar chocolate. I was addicted to cigs, big time, but stopped to have kids, you dont need the nitty gritty but nicotine and tar can prevent you conceiving believe ME!
I can't drink alchohol to sva emy life, pissed ont wo drink a really cheap date...stories of which I shan't relay, Moannie may tune in!!LOL

I only smoked weed once, loved the sensation..then fell asleep bigtime, so I decided I wouldnt touch anything.

I know something of alcoholism and that can be well difficult is a polite word.

so addiction I get. mor ethan I can actually say to respect their privacy. I have a problem with dealing though. I don't want to get into it. You stopped dealing and using. Hat off and all that. I know how hard it can be for some to kick an addiction. But dealing. well it hurts others. You can never be sure.
I'm at a loss to be lucid and succinct.

It so frightens me. As a Mum, I cannot detach from that.

I read with interest. But its like their is something caught in my throat and it irks me.

Stu said...

A favorite. There's a memoir in your future.

CSD Faux Finishing said...

Cocaine is a drug I never attempted but likely would have if it weren't for my age at the time that Lenny Bias died from an OD. I was in junior high at the time and it scared me so much to hear he OD'd on his first time with the drug that there was not a chance I ever would give it a go. Thanks for always sharing so honestly with all of us and I'll tell you, that anagram is so clever I am going back to reread all your stuff now just in case haha! Have a great weekend!

Hilary said...

I've done too many puzzles. I was looking for the layout message and actually found it. That's quite the story though. You're an interesting man, Suldog. Thanks for sharing.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Jim, your honesty is amazing, and you are such a wild and decent spirit, Sir...