Thursday, September 1, 2016
TWO FRIENDS OVER FOR DINNER, HOLD THE EXPECTATIONS
A life lived without expectation is a life freely lived. That's my new motto. Case in point: Yesterday I was expecting a friend of mine over, a guy I have known since we were twelve. This friend, let's call him D, is wild. He passes his time admittedly catering to the senses, which means as much food and sex as he can cram into his days, and drugs too. Until three days ago, which is when he decided to go sober. This is not the first time he's gone sober, but the first time since 2009. Before then he had had stints of 75 and 90 days without crystal meth, but for the last three years he has made a habit of smoking it three times a day every day, with or without his girlfriend, which if they keep it up will be his ex-girlfriend before long, because meth brings out the worst in everyone. It makes you lie, cheat and steal if it doesn't kill you.
D has been sober for 3 days. I wanted to do my part to further this. So I suggested he come over for a peaceful day by the pool and some healthy food. But as he was driving in from the desert, I had a hunch that after 2.5 hours on the road without the artificial stimulation of "glass," which he was coming down from, he'd be more than just a little bushed. And as he was due to show up at after 2 in the afternoon, he'd probably wind up spending the night. It was the least I could do to offer him the use of the couch. I mean after all that we have been through together. On the strength of this boy's arm alone our Little League baseball team had made it to the regionals. And that was one of the greatest summers of my life (1986). I always hold a special place in my heart for friends who were around during my life's highlights. And all the surfing we used to do. And tennis baseball in the cul-de-sac. Such fun! So great to be young!
But I was worried that once D came, he wouldn't leave. And that he would make a mess, and basically be his usual uncontrollable self. Here is a guy who when we used to shoot pool at his parents place would spit all over the floor, and while sitting in the back seat of his dad's car liked to spit sunflower seeds into his father's hair. Incorrigible. These antics make for a colorful character and interesting bar stories, but when you are both host and maid of your place you start worrying about the hygiene and habits of your guests.
And so I found myself already rehearsing my lines. "OK DJ," (says I), "I am willing to give you 24 hours here at my childhood home, place of so many memories, and only 24 hours, provided you behave. Behaving means that you stay off crystal meth and promise to smoke cigarettes only in your car." Would this be rude of me? In fact I was worried D would invite some crazies over, since he always ran with crazies. And that he'd be filthy. And shower in my pool. And walk all over the carpet I just shampooed. All the cares of the modern householder.
So D shows up looking like he just walked home from high school. Baggy jeans, faded T, baseball cap. Backpack. We chat at the door. He takes a dump in the toilet and clogs it. Not really. The tank didn't fill completely so there wasn't enough water pressure to fully flush. I fixed the problem, while becoming intimately familiar with the nature of D's turds. And while D jumps in the pool. I do too. Like when we were kids. We climb some stairs beside the yard and take in the scenery. The Stone Canyon Reservoir looks lovely this time of day. Then D does something that impresses me. Rather than raid my fridge for snacks, he eats the lunch he brought with him. Cauliflower and beans and kale, just like he read in the book that I wrote. I tell him over lunch that my mother's wish was that the gardener plant some jade in the walkway by the pool. So D, who is an amateur gardener and knows his way around a spade, proceeds to make her wish come true. While showing me how to weed and plant jade. I make him a frozen banana slathered in peanut butter. Another friend, Steve, is due over to help D with sobriety, since Steve has been 69 days sober, which is 66 days longer than D. As we lie by the pool after our second dip, D asks for some weed so I give him a hit of my mom's pharmacy-grade stash, in her personal bong. One hit makes him cough like an emphysematic and he refuses a second toke. That's a first for a guy who began blazing as a pre-teen. Since smoking meth he has become a lightweight as far as marijuana goes. I never thought I'd live long enough to see the day that I could outsmoke D. Could if I would, that is, but I'm a clean liver. Don't even drink coffee anymore.
Then D tells me about his favorite TV show, The Carbonaro Effect, acts out a few funny scenes. This goes on too long. I can't possibly manage another courtesy laugh! Thankfully we go inside where DJ, still mimicking the magician, helps himself to some tortilla chips and makes a big bowl of dip with anything he can find in the cupboards, including dijon mustard, hot sauce, cheese, broccoli. He eats a big glob of it although Steve is bringing 3 lbs of salmon for dinner. He offers me some but I don't eat dairy so I refuse. DJ is like a tornado in the kitchen and I try to sweep up cheddar cheese shards as quickly as they fall to the floor. He goes to his car to smoke and text his girlfriend, thankfully, because I alone can handle the mess. Then he crashes on the couch. Out like a light with Fox News on and Donald Trump haranguing us in the background. Meanwhile I steam some broccoli and beans and a side of sweet potato which I puree with coconut oil. When Steve arrives we elect not to wake D up and chat while I pan sear the salmon. We eat outside by the pool and then shake D out of his slumber. He and Steve enjoy a smoke outside and talk about getting sober in 17 days. This is Steve's new thing. He wants to open a sober living facility entitled just that. 17 Days. Like the Prince song. Prince who was himself an addict, if you believe the tabloids. Steve thinks D can kick his habit for good, if he really wants to of course. And I think they are a good match, D and Steve. MVPs of their respective sports (baseball and soccer), who plunged into substance abuse in their 20s and 30s, introduced their women to their breed of poison to watch their relationships crumble. Both were even involved in what could have been fatal car wrecks, but for D's seat belt which kept him in his vehicle as it rolled 6 times. Steve on the other hand was thrown from his car, catapulted down a cliff and broke his neck. He never regained full use of his right arm. But that didn't stop him from becoming a doctor. And now they are both getting sober. Maybe they can work together. D can manage Steve's facility-to-be. They'd make a good team. Athletes understand each other. Steve is late getting back to his wife but waits for D to finish dinner, which he eats with a gusto. They each compliment me on my seared salmon.
Afterwards D is back on the couch, and asks me my theory about addiction, but falls asleep snoring before I can finish my point. My point is that drug use continues as long as the pros outweigh the cons, as long as it is so fun that you deal with the downside, however bad the downside becomes. Even if you're jobless, practically on the streets, with your relationship on the rocks as you spend the wee hours jerking off to Internet porn. Not to point fingers. Because this scenario is common. Even Prince was an addict. I wonder aloud if D has gotten to this point, if he has hit rock bottom, if the lows are lower than the highs are high. I think he has. I hope he has. I have faith he has. And if he has had enough of the drug life, then this will be the last time he has to come down. And come downs suck. Meth is in your system for 5 days after your last high, and then comes the lethargy, depression, mood swings, irritation and weight gain. I wonder where he'll be when he hits the bottom. Here with me?
That night I manage to sleep rather soundly despite hearing D awaken twice to pee. At least he didn't leave. Because I would miss him if I got up and found him already gone. In the morning he fixes himself eggs and toast and I make him some really strong coffee with chocolate and coconut oil and stevia. He calls it mud. But it does the trick and livens him up. Back again at his sitcom imitations. This time in the kitchen there is less of a mess. D's body is breaking down. His lower back locks up. His toes are all crooked. And he wakes up hella stiff. He wonders aloud if he'll live to see 50. Not if you keep using, I tell him. If you kick it, you can be the success you'd otherwise have been had you not kept getting in your own way. By now he could have been a professional baseball player, rock star, disc jockey, were it not for that little drug that has so stifled the light. Maybe he'll start a podcast for addicts. He has the charisma of a star. Or maybe I'm just partial, because I knew him when he was one. I tell him to get a doctor through Medicaid, see about getting his toe fixed - even if they must break it to repair it. And for the lower back, massage the buttocks. That's a trick I learned in medical residency, though not in clinic. And while you're at it, I say, get your cholesterol and fasting glucose checked. That is, if you really want to live past 50. I say these things because I'm a fixer. And that's what friends are for. Or is it preachers?
I wonder if I will ever see D again, and he isn't even gone. He has a tendency to disappear. More than once I've called him to be told his number was disconnected. As if reading my mind he tells me he will be leaving after breakfast. And here I thought I'd have to be the one to shoo him! We chat on the driveway as he enjoys one last smoke before the road. As he putters away in his rickety old van I wave to him as if it will be the last time, until his car disappears around the bend. Before it does, he stops at a neighbor's property and unearths the "hen and chicks" plant he had been eyeing in my mother's backyard. It seems so appropriate. I hope the neighbors aren't watching. And I am sad to see him go. It's not fair! I wanted my 24 hours, and we got less than 20! None of our get-together went as expected. Except maybe the mess. So the moral is that it's good to greet situations openly and without expectation. And to be handy with a broom.