Illustration by Jordin Isip
So, you’re thinking of becoming a celebrity dope fiend. You’re thinking, “Hey, I’ve lived through some pretty intense stuff — my own little Vietnam! — so, doggone it, why can’t I cash in and write about my festive narcotic nightmare for fun and profit? God knows, lesser talents than me have milked the tired teat of bad habits, fucked-up relationships and an awful childhood to get a leg up in the lit and movie rackets . . .”
Of course, I can’t give a whole lot of pointers on how to destroy your life. That’s something you either have a gift for or you don’t. (No one knows why some people are born with the Behind the Music gene and others aren’t. Some scientists claim it has to do with mothers who watched The Gene Krupa Story during pregnancy, but the jury’s still out.) However, once you’ve gone ahead and savaged your own reality and that of everyone around you with your drug-addled, by-the-numbers one-man asshole party, and managed to mold the experience into an appropriately humble and titillating toxic product — be it book, movie or after-school special — it’s time to get out there and work it. So this is for you, Mr. or Ms. Ex–Low Bottom Substance Abuser. You’ve made the decision to mine your own shame to make those cash registers ring. And, by way of giving a little something back, I’d like to help out with my own five-step program.
1. TAKE CARE OF YOUR TRACKS
Naively assuming that the worst scars left by drug addiction are external, talk-show hosts boast an epic fascination with tracks. While you might see your Braille-like flesh as fallout from a darker time, take heed! When you, the newly minted celebrity junkie, step out under the lights, these needle marks will be your greatest friends.
Sadly for your author, the B&O railroad that used to run north and south on my shooting arm pretty much healed once I stopped geezing. (I do remain fully sclerosed from shoulder to forearm, but, somehow, owning veins with the general give and consistency of No. 2 pencils does not pack the same brand of small-screen wallop as flesh with holes in it. Show biz can be very mysterious.)
Being overtly trackless has made for some tense and memorable talk-show moments on the PR trail. Once, on the U.K. leg of my own smack-lit extravaganza, a BBC chat-show host asked, with a truly salacious gleam in her Guinness-brown eyes, if I would roll up my sleeves and show “the folks at home” my tracks. I was, as they say, caught flat-footed. Until, in one of those rare bursts of verbiage that the Convo God sometimes bequeathes us, I turned to the lady, looked her dead in her glittery pupils and said, “Actually, most of the good ones are on my penis.”
Needless to say, by the time the producer (rather rudely, I thought) ushered me out the door during the sudden commercial break, I learned a valuable lesson.
Take care of your tracks, budding narco-professional, and they’ll take care of you.
2. IF YOU WRITE A MEMOIR ABOUT HOW YOU DID DRUGS AND THEN, AFTER A FEROCIOUS AND NOBLE DRAMA, MANAGED TO GET OFF THEM, TRY NOT TO RELAPSE BEFORE YOUR BOOK TOUR
This can be tricky! But trust me, having banged out my own little how-I-got-off-the-hard-stuff saga, then started using again before the ink dried on the manuscript, I can tell you, it’s no picnic when Oprah leans in to ask you how long you’ve been clean and you realize that, no matter how hard you pray, the studio floor is not going to open up and swallow you and your $73 TV suit. (Can you go to jail for lying on network television? I’ll let you know.)
If, like many a former fiend, you’ve felt like a loser for so long that sudden “success” is as weird as Ed McMahon showing up naked in your kitchen clutching a wad of 50s between his man-paps, be careful. Learn from my mortifying behavior. Having graduated from 38-year-old retard working at McDonald’s to 39-year-old author being feted by Esquire, I was thrown by the transition. It still hurts to remember . . .
There I was, sitting in my hotel room on Broadway after a Brooklyn literary soiree on my behalf, when suddenly the TV news launched into a story about “a plague of heroin on 48th and Eighth.”
“Well, gee,” I thought to myself, “I used to be a journalist, I better investigate!”
Suffice it to say, after managing to stay clean for nearly a year and a half, I found myself — imagine my surprise! — strung out like a lab rat and flying back to L.A. 48 hours later. Which, thanks for asking, opened up whole new vistas of self-loathing and dread for the three months it took me to stop driving to Fourth and Bonnie Brae every hour and a half and get my six-bag-a-day, sell-the-CDs-and-pawn-the-fax-machine act together again.
The lesson being, if you’re going to dine out on killing the monkey on your back, don’t keep feeding it scraps.
3. WHEN PEOPLE IN THE MEDIA ASK YOU HOW YOU DID IT, JUST SAY “OPRAH!” (See above)
Trust me, you don’t want to get spiritual with some ho-bag from E! who wants the lowdown on Glitzville needle jockeys. Remember the Eternal Rule of Media Whoredom: If you’re sincere, you’ll sound like a simp. If you’re ironic, you’ll come off like an obnoxious blowhard. Best to turn it around and ask whoever’s got a mike in your face if they ever came to mouth-down in a pool of vomit and Bromo Seltzer in the Health ’n’ Beauty Aisle at Vons . . . Make it about them, and you’re off the hook.
But back to Oprah. For me, quite frankly, she is an inspirational figure. Truth be told, I had a life-changing experience when, during a commercial break on my visit to the mother of all talk shows — a theme program, not to brag, titled “When Smart People Do Dumb Things!” — Oprah leaned in, took my clammy paw in hers, and whispered, “I tried crack!”
And then what? I wanted to ask, but the red light on Camera No. 1 flashed back on and the director gave the high sign before I had the chance. To this day, I wonder if the Big O was about to whip a pipe out of her pantsuit, or if she was just making between-segments chitchat.
4. GROUPIES: SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED IF YOU HAVE THEM?
Ask yourself this question, junk-stars: Having laid out the most vile, repulso, poo-butt gruesome details of your life in the black-tar trenches, do you really want to get smushy with some gal who finds the arcana of your stint perping mailmen in the Vignes Street Denny’s restroom “a real, like, turn-on”?
The bottom line: Be careful. If somebody knows who you used to be and still finds you attractive, she may have more problems than you do.
5. WHAT DO I DO NEXT? I CAN’T BE AN EX–DOPE FIEND FOREVER!
All true, my special clean-and-sober friend. So what can you do, when the fame meter starts ticking back to zero? My suggestion: Snag yourself another calamity. If you’re a man, try bulimia. The whole field of MBIPD (Male Body Image Perception Disorder) is wide-open. And legions of female readers, afflicted by this tragic syndrome for years and believing it to be gender-specific, will applaud your sensitivity and bravery for opening up what is, admittedly, a rare and unglamorous can of worms. The downside, of course: You’d better not show up wearing waist-54 men’s “husky” trousers, or your routine will be something less than believable.
Still, if spilling the beans is your path to glory, the odd finger down the throat is a small price to pay. You’ll be rich, you’ll be famous, and, unless you’re lying through your teeth, you’ll probably be thin.
Jerry Stahl is the author of the memoir Permanent Midnight and the novel Perv: A Love Story. His new novel, Plainclothes Naked, will be published this November by William Morrow.