Coming Down

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:09

    GANGBANG PORN GURGLES from the TV. I raise my head to look at it, and my vision is still so fucked up from the ecstasy someone handed me that I can’t make out individual bodies on the screen, just multiple waving limbs like some corny monster from a ’50s alien movie. On the other bed, Doug Stanhope is quietly going down on his girlfriend, the lovely Amy Bingaman. There is a girl lying next to me. In the lonely blue-ish glow of the TV, she looks like a higher-mileage version of Scarlett Johansson, beautiful but somehow damaged (or about to be damaged), which I find incredibly attractive.

    A friend of mine is eating her pussy so vigorously that it sounds like someone is stirring a pot of macaroni and cheese. I feel like I ought to be horny, and I reach down to see if there are any signs of life after the hurricane of blow that descended on us early in the evening. My dick is impossibly small, like a fucking cashew; a miniscule, fetal cock ready for a tiny jar of formaldehyde. It’s shriveled like a dried seahorse in a shitty Florida gift shop and about as useful. It’s 6 a.m. Good morning, Houston.

    One Thursday this spring, my boss let me know that the job I’d somehow managed to hold down for two years would be ending the next day. Friday, I got high. On Saturday, Beat the Devil, the band I’d devoted the last two-and-a-half years to, played what was to be our last show, a sold-out night with Holy Fuck and A Place to Bury Strangers.

    I don’t remember playing, but I do remember nodding out while the cordial club manager was trying to coax me to write down my social security number so he could pay us: “OK, man, let’s see… now you’ve got five numbers down. Just four more and we’re done.” I’d already been having an iffy year. A parttime girlfriend and full-time drug nexus revealed to me over the winter that not one, but two, of my oldest friends in New York had told her she shouldn’t hang out with me because I was a druggie— an interesting nugget of information that she chose to drop on me when we were out of our heads on her morphine at 5 a.m. on a school night. With the loss of my job and my band in one weekend, I felt like an astronaut who’d had his umbilical cord to the mothership severed.

    Maybe 10 days later, the comedian Doug Stanhope called me while I was eating dinner with a friend and trying not to drink. My friend Alex, who runs the label that puts out my solo records, was a big fan of Doug’s and had stalked him until Doug had finally listened to my solo stuff, which I had almost completely given up on. Doug liked it and we had become friends, drunk-dialing each other over the winter. “Faghole,” he said. “Dad?” I said, “is that you?” “What are you doing this weekend?” “Doug…as little as possible, man.” “You wanna do the Midwest with me? Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”

    “Um… yes?” Ten minutes later, my phone chimed: my airline and hotel reservations had arrived. And with that tentative little affirmative, I finally tipped headlong into the moral vacuum I’ve narrowly skirted for the last couple of years, with Stanhope as my tour guide. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, some of Doug’s subjects include cock-sucking Siamese twins with 44 orifices, talking abortions in heaven, the defense of child pornography, addiction, despair and the suicide of one of his fans who postponed it until after one of Doug’s shows—a show Doug had thrown in the toilet because he was too fucked-up after four straight days of alcohol and drug abuse. I’ve found him to be a kind and generous man and a good and treacherous friend. Apparently, my idiocy on that first outing endeared me to him and he proceeded to drag me around the country with him as opening act/whipping boy/drunken liability.

    I should clarify here that I’ve toured a lot. I lived out of my van for a year, racking up 65,000 miles and only ponying up for a motel room once, in Mobile, Alabama. About 90 percent of it has been shitty-to-dangerous, and most of the remaining 10 percent was only good because it sucked in an interesting new way. When I was touring with Doug, we flew in airplanes and Doug paid for hotels for us every single night.

    That first glorious night, I had not just my own bed but my own room in a four-star hotel. The concierge looked as alarmed as I was elated.

    In every band, there is some asshole who openly solicits drugs from the stage. I am that asshole. Except suddenly it worked. Not just whiskey and blow but ecstasy, Percocet, Vicodin, Opana, Oxycontin, Adderall, Dexedrine, Ritalin, Viagra, pot cookies, mushrooms, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, even moonshine in tiny plastic bottles.

    My heart goes out to you poor suckers enduring invasions of privacy in the corporate grind: “random drug testing” to me meant looking at the handful of proffered pills (or even the one found in a tiny plastic bag on the floor) and then down the hatch, no questions asked. I didn’t say no to anything. My medicated state and the absence of anything or anyone holding me back contributed to some bizarre, triumphant and wretched scenes.

    Waking from a blackout in my hotel room to a mirror with an orange line as fat as a nightcrawler held shakily in front of my nose and two girls crawling up the bed saying “You don’t know who we are, but we know who you are.” A pal carving lines of coke off a huge rock, yellow-gray like a rotting tooth, then slipping me a pill that made me sit down fast. Fucking quietly on a bathroom floor in Death Valley, six people sleeping in the next room. Struggling to sign the floppy tit of a forty-something dominatrix with a ballpoint pen in a packed club. Waking with night terrors, weeping openly and begging the girl I was with to touch my face because I could have sworn Death was in the room. Coughing up something that looked like a child’s bloody, severed finger on the sidewalk one morning in front of some young parents who quickly diverted their stroller in quiet horror, giving me a wide berth.

    Somehow luring a girl nicknamed “The Body” back to my room to find that despite her best efforts, not only could I not complete the sexual act, I couldn’t even commence it: Persistence is futile! Trying my damnedest not to but still pitching such a tantrum when my mom accidentally threw away my hoarded Xanax that she not only went through the trash looking for it, she then begged some Valium off a girl at work for me the next day. At some point I began to feel bad. I felt guilty about all the old friends, new friends and strangers whose kindness I relied on and took for granted, from transferring my sleeping body from the hallway to my bed to driving 10 hours in the middle of the night to talking me down from the ledge. This was a vaguely familiar strain of shame, not unnamable, just unnamed. Soon it shadowed me everywhere. It was like one of those campy themed cookbooks from the 1950s: Shame in the Airport Bar, Shame in the Bushwick Free Clinic, Shame on the Back Stairs of a Bar in Tacoma, Shame With or Without Late Checkout at the La Quinta Inn. One morning, I found a note in my handwriting on the Motel 6 notepad: My life is like a chocolate Easter bunny—sweet on the outside and hollow on the inside.

    When I was out in California helping my mother liquidate her belongings in advance of her second impending foreclosure, I couldn’t help myself from delving into that gulag of memory, the family photo albums, in hopes of possibly finding some childhood trauma that could explain why I was compelled to act like such an asshole, inflicting my hideousness on the public and drawing comfort from only the basest of sources.

    Dad had a mustache, Mom had long hair, we had dogs—I found only the essential ingredients of your basic idyllic suburban childhood. But man, what a faggoty little kid I was! Looking at a picture from my 11th birthday party, I was horrified and enraged by my soft white hands, my fingerless gloves, Vision Street Wear skate shoes (I couldn’t even ollie), backwards baseball hat and JIMMY’Z T-shirt. And no, those aren’t shorts and those aren’t pants, those are jams, the attire of choice for idiot little fake-Californian poser kids around the country. I finally felt sympathy for my childhood torturers as I strongly felt the need to travel back in time not to erase myself and spare all of us this ugliness, but just to hold my 11year-old self down, kneel on his chest and hit him repeatedly on the forehead until it turned red just because I knew the little fucker would cry. I mean, come on, I was into animals. The only tragedy in my life, it seems, is that I’m a pussy.

    The revelation I’d been evading for months cornered me in Atlanta. The comic Jason Barnes mocked me from the stage (something I’d gotten used to) for going overboard with the nitrous at Doug’s annual desert drug-a-thon. “Man, we were laughing at him, like, ‘Look his lips are turning blue.’ And then I realized what if he stops breathing? We’re hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital.”

    It was an evening so absent from my memory that I swore it couldn’t have happened. But I sent that faulty old reference librarian back to the mildewed, flood-damaged stacks again and again until I was finally presented with one lone image devoid of any narrative, like a Polaroid: a young man, eyes closed, face slack, laying at the base of a hotel bed wearing only frayed cut-offs, clutching the comforter loosely in one hand and a deflated yellow balloon in the other. I am lonely and sad and angry; but man, I do not want to die. I’m Skyping with my older sister while her three children clamber over her lap. Her tired, beautiful face is reflected in each of theirs. My puffy, uncertain face hangs in a dim square in the corner of the screen like a decapitated head floating in a jar of dark fluid.

    Somehow motherhood has reversed our roles, and it is now she who is younger and braver. No rehab, no arrests, no STDs, and even gainfully employed. You should imagine Stanhope as some foulmouthed, mushroom-gobbling Tinkerbell from Worcester, Mass., sprinkling some powder of indeterminate origin on my sleeping form hunched over a desk, whisking me off for debauched months in Neverland and then neatly depositing me back in front of my hated monitor, my pen caddy, my monthly desk calendar. One of my many cherished memories of my travels with Doug is getting booed at the end of my set in Seattle, only to have the comic Brendon Walsh, who I’d known for less than 24 hours, bound up on stage and come to my defense: “Hey Fatty! Yeah, you, the date rapist in the back. Booing my friend? What do you do for a living, file shit? Mishka’s a fucking artist, man.” I cornered Walsh all coked up the next night to thank him for sticking up for me and he looked puzzled, then grinned: He couldn’t remember it. Now I’m back at work as a permanent temp, filing shit. So it goes. After performing this autopsy of the last few months, it’s impossible not to admit that my drug Olympics did eventually get worse than this walking death, the sober working life. Still, I learned a few things from it: “Needing a Vicodin” is not a legitimate emotion. In addition to all the other melodramatic James Frey bullshit, dying young means less time you can hang out and get fucked up with your awesome loser buddies. All you have to do in order to let your life get completely out of control is just to let go. And one of the drawbacks of leading a charmed life is that you never learn your lesson.

    I know I’ve been redlining, just on the near side of completely out of control. It’s been exhausting and nerve-wracking, like touring in a van with a leaking radiator in July—you crank up the heat, add coolant every chance you get and keep an obsessive eye glued to that creeping red needle knowing that one day, despite your best efforts, the fucker is finally going to boil over. But I don’t need you to create a fake MySpace profile just so you can blurt out a couple of cautionary tales and point me to AA. Or tell me that I’m not an artist, just a drunk barely squeaking by on charm, undeserving and incapable of real love (ah-hah, but I’m not just a drunk, I am also a druggie!) and then leave me your cell number? And then delete your bogus profile before I can program the fax machine to dial your number repeatedly in the middle of the night? If anything, the last couple of months have been devastating, not just because I’ve had to confront my own weakness but also because I haven’t been able to blind myself to it in others.

    I woke up the middle of the night last night, my heart gasping. The skeleton of a child, maybe 8 or 9 years old, was suspended from my ceiling.

    I sat up and it turned into the shadow of my beleaguered jade tree cast onto the painted tin ceiling and bulbous white light fixture. I lay back down and it turned back into a skeleton. Yes, all signs point to me eventually bottoming out, winding up in rehab and joining the dull, preachy ranks of The Recovering. At an age where my friends are all getting successful, dying or getting married (which I consider to be equal parts death and success), I’m clinging desperately to the ass-end of a prolapsed adolescence and dodging all three.

    Fuck it: I’m pretty sure I’ve still got a few good years of boozing and abusing left. But it’s clear that I can’t carry on the way I have, at least not without a significant break, enough time to zero the scales again. So I guess the plan is to take my lead from the insurgents in Iraq, gather my strength and lay low. For now.