Archive for the ‘Miami Vice’ Category

I tried crack when I was 11-years-old. I don’t blame my experimentation on negligent parents, a need to self-medicate, or even growing up on the mean streets of Jersey City at the height of the crack epidemic. I blame TV.

I was walking home from school, where littered crack vials were a common sight, and I picked one up out of curiosity, carrying it all the way home. Thanks to DARE presentations, it had been ingrained in me that certain drugs could cause instantaneous addiction. One snort of cocaine and I’d be stealing from friends and family in an effort to support my expensive drug habit, eventually being imprisoned and/or dying. My favorite television show, Miami Vice, only reinforced this belief, albeit with a slightly more glamorous spin. My drug addiction might force me to become a police informant, meeting a grisly end in the back seat of a limousine, my shirt torn open to reveal a wiretap. Or maybe my Italian sports car and I would succumb to a car bomb, while a loved one watched on, screaming in slow motion, “Nooooooooooo!” Whatever the outcome, and no matter how stylishly-dressed I was, I would surely come to rue that first snort, injection, or toke.

But there was something else I learned from Miami Vice. Something a bit more procedural. That you can confirm the identity of a controlled substance by licking your pinky, dipping it in the substance in question, and tasting it. A wry facial expression while executing the maneuver was optional. It was no great leap for me to assume that drugs must have a taste – one that was easily recognizable by the likes of Detectives Sonny Crockett, Ricardo Tubbs, and the drug dealers they were trying to keep off of the streets. I wanted to know what that taste was.

And so, within the safe confines of my bedroom, I eyed the discarded crack vial, determined to taste the drug residue inside. I paused before readying my pinky, truly frightened by the prospect of a full-blown crack addiction. But I reassured myself that if Crockett and Tubbs could do it on a nearly weekly basis, it must be safe.

I licked my pinky and made a couple of stabs at the crack vial, but it became clear to me that my finger was never going to fit inside. Instead, I decided to go the direct route. I crammed as much of my tongue in there as I could, employing a swirl technique.

The minute I pulled the tip of my tongue out of the crack vial I was filled with regret. In a matter of seconds my entire tongue passed from painful burning to numbness. While I sat in my room, praying for it to go away, I contemplated the horrible fate that awaited me: I would become a crackhead, but not before making a trip to the emergency room. The worst was that I would have to explain to my mom, my words slurred by my thick and heavy tongue, why I had licked the inside of a crack vial. “I thaw it on Miami Fithe.”

Thankfully it never came to that, and I managed to pass through puberty sans crack habit or speech impediment, developing into a nerd instead. As a teenager I wore a uniform of pleated pants, a turtleneck, a head band, and large black glasses. In high school I was always first to raise my hand in class, and during our breaks, when I wasn’t spouting off obscure bits of trivia or playing African board games with my teachers, I had my head buried in a book. None of this helped with my social life, and because my high school was so small – there were only about 80 students – I didn’t even have the option of bonding with other nerds.

There were other students, though, who were able to form a misfit clique. They were the druggies. They would stand outside of school smoking cigarettes, playing hacky sack, and talking about the Grateful Dead; they were mostly guys, and they had long hair with bleached streaks, black leather jackets, and converse high tops; they had sub-par acoustic guitar skills, the desire to be in a band, and they would make “sensitive guy” statements like, “I don’t have a problem with gay guys as long as they don’t hit on me.”

By this point, I was over the glamour of drugs. My mom was a pothead, and she had become more and more bold about her use as I had gotten older. She grew marijuana plants in the front window of our house, somehow deluded into thinking that no one would notice, taught me and my brother how to roll joints, and blew smoke in our mouths, yelling “shotgun!” She had once even tricked me into drinking a tea made from marijuana stems and seeds, telling me that it was “PMS tea.” Unlike the famous television commercial, where the father confronts his son about his drug use and the son blurts out, “I learned it from watching you,” I did not want to follow in my mother’s footsteps, mostly because I thought my mom was so uncool.

This left me with a weird dilemma. How could I rebel against my mom when almost everyone at school was getting high? It was a mixed blessing that I was never invited to parties, missing offers of drugs. But the subject came up sometimes, in conversations between classes, and I wanted to fit in. Because of my shotgun and PMS tea experiences, I could truthfully say that I had tried marijuana, skimming over the details. But I had to be far more creative when other drugs came up.

For LSD I blamed something akin to a bad trip. I had already hallucinated a few times before, sick in bed with fever and convulsing. The convulsions made it seem as if the walls were throbbing and the hallucinations made me think that they were talking to me, too. Whatever it was that they were saying, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. The first time it happened, I managed to crawl to my mother’s bedroom. She put me in a cool bath and gave me Tylenol and the voices went away. The second time it happened, I was in the hospital fighting an infection, and a nurse told me, unhelpfully, “The walls aren’t moving.” It happened one more time, at home, and once again my mom helped me into a cool bath. It was truly terrifying. For years after, whenever it got quiet and I could hear a slight steady rhythm – even just a faucet dripping – I would be struck with that same feeling of terror. Whenever I heard about bad trips or LCD flashbacks, I felt that I knew exactly what those must be. The idea of hallucinating on purpose was unfathomable to me, and I wasn’t shy about sharing that.

But my masterstroke was my cocaine excuse. When asked if I had ever tried it, I would affect a mock-solemn tone, saying, “No, I have a heart murmur.” I never had to say anything more than that, because most people responded with an understanding nod. One classmate, the son of a television executive, once replied in an equally solemn voice, “You don’t want to mess with that.”

I had stolen the heart murmur excuse from Sweet Valley High, mining the tragic end of Regina Morrow. The Sweet Valley High books were like a young adult version of Dynasty; Regina Morrow was both rich and beautiful, but thanks to the vanity of her mother, a model who took diet pills throughout her pregnancy, Regina had been born partially deaf and with heart defects. After falling in with the wrong crowd, she tried cocaine at a party – the first time she had ever done drugs – and she died of heart failure.

My mother liked to brag that she had had a “natural” pregnancy with me, never taking so much as Tylenol. Once I was outside of her body, though, she felt that she could do what she wanted. I remember a time, before I had ever seen a DARE presentation or an episode of Miami Vice, when I watched my mom as she snorted a white powdery substance. I had never seen anything like that before, but it looked like so much fun! She told me it was cold medicine when I asked what it was, and when I asked if I could try it, she replied, “No. You don’t have a cold.” At the time, it seemed so unfair! But now I know that she was just looking out for me. In her own fucked-up, deluded way.


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