Posted on June 10th, 2016
Lately I’ve been thinking about a dark side of consumption—addiction. Something might start innocuously enough (wow, this feels really good, if I have more if it, I’ll feel even better) and spirals to that malicious, delicious point where one is otherwise underwater without it. The glass of wine that becomes a bottle. The cigarette that becomes a pack. Drugs hidden from sight but very much present in the owners mind until that next sip, drag, hit and now the water parts, the mouth reaches the surface, and you can breathe again. As if every moment until this moment had been a deep dive act of breath-holding until that thing you most want is in your hands again—vaulted, exalted, exhalation.
I see addiction all around me. As a public school teacher in the South Bronx, I see the unswerving student commitment to Takis, Doritos, Sour Straws, Utz Chips, Cheese Doodles—each offering a chemical high for under a dollar, stuffed into black plastic bodega bags and parceled, assessed, and consumed throughout class. And the next class. And the next. And the following morning. Again, on Wednesday. Thursday. Every day of the week, hours a day, bag after bag, and no amount of cajoling, of “no eating in class” signs, of teacherly demand or love or any combination thereof will pry the goodies loose. A true exchange between a kid and me the other day:
Me: “What’s up, D? You have so many bags of chips in your hands. Is this seriously your breakfast?”
D: “Miss, don’t start with me.”
Me: “Okay, I’m just curious—when was the last time you started your morning without the redolent taste of honey-roasted barbeque cornstarch?”
D: “I don’t even know what that means.”
Me: “I mean, why you gotta eat this crap all the time, it’s so bad for you.”
D: “Miss the fuck you getting in my face for? I am not in the mood.”
Me: “Why not?”
D: “High as fuck, miss. I am high as. My head is not connected to my body right now in no way, shape, or form, trust and believe.”
D: “Yep. And when I be high as fuck like this, I be getting the munchies and you know how that goes. You do not want to be in Ms. L’s bum-ass fucking class without a good few bags of these, you know what I’m saying?”
Me: “But why even go at all then? How are you going to learn anything if you’re so high?”
D: “Miss! The fuck you think I’m ever learning anything anyway in this bum-ass school? I’m only here because I got to be here by law. Trust and believe, soon as I turn 18 I am out of here. But as long as I gotta be here, Imma have some fun.”
And then I go home and pour a gigantic glass of red wine and think—what’s the difference? As long as I gotta be here, Imma have some fun.
Lately I’ve been dating a man in that rapid, circuitous, pointless way that only online dating can so consistently deliver, while offering little else. No one looking for much of anything serious, everyone just having a laugh, taking their clothes off, walking away the next morning, texting vaguely after that or not at all. Or maybe that’s just the way I’ve gone about things. The other morning as I got ready for work, the radio host remarked on the fine quality of the day’s weather: “And if you’re just waking up from a one night stand, you are all set,” the host said. “The weather is perfect and it’s exactly the same as yesterday, so just put those same clothes back on and get out of there.”
This man I met online had been relatively candid with me from the start about his addictions: a recovering alcoholic, he didn’t drink. A sworn pothead, he lives in Colorado and there enjoys the legality of the substance to the point that several times he forgot, while I was visiting him, that he was having a conversation with me. “Wait, what were we just talking about?”
“I just prefer an altered state,” he explained. “I prefer that to the real way I feel, whatever that means.”
I don’t know what that means either. I’m not judging, not refuting that addiction is a disease, or that his voracious appetites do not challenge this man. Or that I don’t have problems of my own. He came to visit me in New York and flew with what could only be described as a “shit ton” of pot tucked into various pockets of his luggage. We found furtive places in nearby parks and greeted the few people that passed us with nods and smiles, me silently praying no one was an undercover cop and, seeing as nothing happened, I guess no one was.
Bourgeoning addiction is a lighthearted flirtation with an absolutely destructive force, something alive in the same people who chase tornadoes and stand, awestruck, by how close they can get to something so powerful without getting killed. I’m not bigger than Valium or wine or pot—smoked or eaten. I’m much, much smaller. And these things will not only continue to exist but thrive in minds and livers and bloodstreams long after I am gone—a dust so fine you could snort my remains. And if you believe the rumors, some people have. Is it true, for example, that Keith Richards rolled his father’s ashes into a joint and smoked before falling out of a coconut tree? Addiction can make people do funny things. But is addiction itself funny?
I laughed pretty much throughout Weiner, the new documentary on Anthony Weiner, a man clearly struggling with some variation of sex addiction that found easy, not-so-private expression through technology that consequently blew up both his private life and political career. “I did some pretty stupid things,” he tells the camera. “But I also did some pretty good things.” You can almost see him wishing—pining—to wrap his hands around some secret clock in the sky and reverse time and make it so that none of this was ever discovered. Not to turn back time so that he never did it, but to reverse, somehow, its discovery.
I don’t think I was laughing so much at Anthony as with him, in a way, for his trajectory outlines in the boldest possible strokes the same route that any of us could take with any number of vices if only we felt, somehow, that we could get away with it and never face the consequences. What feels fun and affordable—even cheap—at the time of rampant consumption becomes astronomically expensive at the moment of intervention. The moment of “Did you send these photos?” The moment of “Do you realize you called me eight times last night, sobbing and slurring your words?” The moment of “Ma’am, you can’t sleep here.”
While the guy in Colorado was pretty upfront about his smoking (off the charts) and his drinking (cold turkey) he was less candid about perhaps his biggest vice—sex. He scrambled innocuous questions about my day with explicit questions about my body. He demanded photos. He wanted details. He called me panting. He joked that he had been kicked off an online dating site “again”. And for one hot, deeply flawed minute, I took his attention as intense passion, just for me.
Then he invited me to his brother’s wedding and I attended, twirling on the dance floor with his father, listening to his mother retell stories of the man’s childhood. And I thought things like “Who am I to judge?” and “Maybe this could go somewhere” and “Nobody’s perfect.” Being a single, childless woman near 40 will easily allow such statements to seep into your mind just as spilled wine seeps into your couch on the night before you know you’re not going back to your South Bronx job tomorrow because you are going to call in “sick”, sick with a sickness of your own making.
Two days after the wedding, the man texted me:
Him: “Can I still seduce other gorgeous women if we are married?”
Me: “No. I’m happy to not be the right person for you and to let you be, but no I don’t want a marriage built on that kind of bedrock. No.”
Him: “Makes sense. I’m just still not able to commit because I don’t want to cheat and I am so tempted by so many beautiful women for pleasure. This partially why I have never been married, like we talked about.”
Me: “Got it. That’s not good enough for me but I wish you all the best.”
Him: “Wow, intense. You don’t fuck around. You have my shoes and I have your keys.”
Me: “Okay, let’s find a time this week to deal with all that.”
Him: “I love your decisiveness.”
But it wasn’t bye. There were still the logistical arrangements of handing off our possessions—something he did not want to do in person. And there was still the fact of his sex addiction, which kept coming up even as we tried to hammer out these logistics:
Him: “Thinking about you with other guys is hot, but probably not healthy.”
Him: “Dressing sexy for tonight?”
Me: “The fact you just sent me those two texts back to back cracks me up so hard. Literally read that. You can’t help yourself, babe!”
Him: “I am a sex addict and love seducing women. Mother Nature made a mistake with how I was designed.”
Me: “Do you honestly identify as a sex addict?”
Him: “Dude, labels are odd but quite possibly.”
Me: “Would you be open to answering a couple anonymous questions for a piece I am writing on addiction?”
Him: “Now I’m your guinea pig, not sure I’m into that. But I hope you cum so hard Friday that you are like, who was that sex addict guy again?”
Me: “Just looking for insight.”
Him: “Google it.”
Me: “Are you ashamed?”
Him: “Nope. But I have big goals and sex is fun but doesn’t feel productive after I cum.”
Me: “You mean big professional goals or big sexual goals?”
Him: “Professional, social. I’ll drop your stuff off tomorrow.”
Me: “Cool, I appreciate it. By the way, do you think your parents and bro will think it was weird that I attended the wedding, or are they used to this kind of thing?”
Him: “Who cares.”
Him: “I can’t live my life for how they think I should be. Have a fun date!!”
A few days later he wrote me again.
Him: “Even though it never feels good to have a woman happy with a new guy, hurts a mans ego a bit, but I actually can’t help but respect you based on how you have treated me. Have the best life!!!!”
A couple days later I found my response, a photograph of text from Louis de Bernieres’ 2002 introduction to Chekhov’s “The Story of a Nobody”, analyzing the character Orlov:
He does have ideals, but he knows that he wouldn’t be able to sustain the inconvenience of pursuing them. He despises all classes of men, but would rather be in his own class than any other. He knows his job is a waste of his life, but he quite enjoys the manner of its wasting. He knows that he is intelligent and talented enough to achieve a great deal, but he happily spends all his spare time reading unsystematically, and playing cards. He knows that he just wants a mistress with whom he can have fun when they are both on top form, and he knows that he couldn’t be bothered with the proper relationship that he is conventionally supposed to want…He seems to have achieved the imperturbable indifference of an eastern monk.
Perhaps in sending this text, I indulged one of my own biggest addictions: the pretentious use of academic texts to achieve a dual sense of self-righteous insight while delivering a backhanded insult.
The man did not respond.