The past week has been a melancholy spell for the abuserinos. The first week of October brings us the birthdays of Larry Fine, John Lennon, Bud Abbott, Groucho Marx, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Ray Vaughan – all people who made us laugh or entertained us with fine music, as are the gifts of the Libran. The week also brought the death of Janis Joplin on October 4, for a little extra chill on the pumpkin.
Today, October 8, is my mom’s birthday. She died on April 16, 1999. She was a depression baby and money meant a lot to her. She hated paying taxes every year, so I was glad that she was able to escape the last payment in 1999. It was her little irony. Her name was Elizabeth Mary but most people called her ‘Betty’.
She helped set me along my way on the trail to substance using and abusing, quite unwittingly. People thought differently back in the 50s and were not armed with the information we have today. She quit smoking whenever she was pregnant but, as I was the last child, I always knew her as a smoker. It is what killed her, in the end.
She and my grandmother would sit in the front seat of the car. I forget what my mom smoked back then but her mom always smoked ‘Larks’. We would drive from store to store and the car would fill with smoke like a balloon is filled with helium. After breathing that in a few times, my neurotransmitters flipped a switch in my noggin and opened up the pathways for the dopamine to flow. I was in trouble already and I was only two. For awhile we had two houses and I could always count on a car full of smoke from the four hour drive to leave me puking at the side of the road, midway. They always said I was ‘carsick’ but I am sure I would puke again today, under the same situation.
Our second home could not be accessed by auto. We had to park at Dunn’s Boat Livery on Big Moose Lake in New York. There we uncovered our boat and loaded it with provisions (I say we, collectively – as in a family) and skipped across the wild waters to our place in the South Bay. Once there, you were stuck. I guess there was always plenty of beer but milk and/or baby formula ran dry, eventually. That is when my baby bottle would be filled with beer and, thanks to still more brain cells, I would drink to blissful slumber, never knowing that the dopamine seeking beasts of nicotine and alcohol had already made their homes in my impressionable little skull. Below is my mom at our place on Big Moose.
That is why I am able to celebrate 50 years of substance abuse, actually more. My birthday was recently, which dropped me into my 54th year. I turned 53 a few weeks ago but only realized that I am in my 54th year yesterday. All those years to figure out that you are really older than you sound. In my fourteenth year, I tried everything that kids do…smoking and drinking had been there all through childhood, so I don’t even count the babybottles or the drinks my cousin and I drank from at the adult parties. At fourteen, I was smoking pot, tripping, trying any new substance I could and in the early to mid-70s, there were a ton of them.
In my 54th year, I have taken pot and LSD, K2 and legal drugs like codeine, amphetamine, barbituric acid and valium. Those were was taken consciously, as it was in my fourteenth year, so I can now lay claim to tripping and smoking for 40 years. I have not tripped every year but some of the years inbetween made up for that in sheer quantity consumed.
Mom didn’t much like me and my substance abuse but she put up with it. She knew where all my pot was hidden, almost preturnaturally. Once I bought a half an ounce of Jamaican that was so good that I actually went blind from it for five minutes. We smoked two bones between four of us and it hit me and the lights went out. I was scared as hell that I would never see again. My sight came back slowly and I calmed down. I hid the pot inside a pillow, inside a pillowcase, on my sister’s bed. My mom found it.
She always had a soft heart for me, though. Once, I had hollowed out a book and stuffed it with a couple bags of reefer and a half an ounce of PCP, cut into gram and half-gram packets. When I returned to the book, the pot was missing but the plasticine packets of white powder remained. That puzzled me and I questioned her about it at some later date. She told me, “I know you smoke that crap but I know you would never take that other stuff.” What a great explanation. Go sell the white powder but don’t smoke the green stuff.
I got caught smoking pot in my room on the day my sister got married. My old man punched me in the jaw and I ran out of the house. My friends and cousins, frozen in fear with my father raging in the room, told me that my mom came into the room and said, ‘”Sure, he smokes it. He hides it here…and here…and here…”, as she went from stash to stash and proved that she was no dummy.
In later years we drank together, usually after meals. She taught me how to hide the empties. Once, at our NY home, my old man was putting in a new oil burner and getting rid of the old wood stove that had kept the place warm for years. When the stove pipe to the ceiling was removed, countless scores of stashed empties fell out. She would also open at a time two beers and drink one, leaving the other sit like it was empty. Good trick. My dad didn’t like anybody having more fun than him but she found her way around it.
In high school, she would buy cases of beer for me because she said I would just get in trouble if I tried to buy it by myself. She would be in jail for that today but it was a caring gesture, from one enabler to another.
There are a lot of good stories about my mom, which will turn up in my novel, Egypt Cemetery. I could write a lot more but the blog is full and I am on my way to visit her grave.
Happy Birthday, Mom!