4 Unexpected Things I Learned Smoking Crack Cocaine
I'm sure you remember that, on this exact date last year, I helped our nation celebrate its independence with an American-as-apple-pie tale about my years spent hopelessly addicted to over-the-counter cough syrup.
It's a psychologically terrifying party in a box!
As we all know, summer is the season for sequels, and who am I to disappoint? Of course, a completely faithful sequel to last year's triumph of projectile vomiting and passing out in bathrooms would require a renewed addiction to dextromethorphan, which I don't currently have the stomach or available public restroom space at work to accommodate. Instead, you'll have to settle for the next best thing. Let's talk about what it's like to smoke crack.
I touch on that very subject on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Greg Santos, one half of the adorable comedy duo Tunguska Yacht Club; and Brett Rader, the Mayor of Podcast City and frequent attendee of drug-fueled jam band orgies in the woods of Tennessee. We tackle one of the bigger myths first.
You Don't Always Have to Find Crack, Sometimes It Just Finds You
I'm sure the main detail on everyone's mind is how, exactly, I ended up smoking crack in the first place. I mean, this is the kind of drug that requires a trip to the Rob Ford side of town, right? Unless you live there, avoiding open air crack dens can be quite simple. The story starts, like so many others, at a shitty job.
Specifically, I was working overnights at a grocery store, smashing boxes in a human-sized trash compactor. Easily the most boring job I ever loved. Anyone who gripes about making a living throwing boxes in a machine that eats them isn't living life at all.
Well, I was indoors, so ...
Sure, I was broke, but the work was easy and the co-workers at any overnight job are always good for expert-level people watching, if nothing else. My kooky journey into retail foodstuffs went awry when I met Neil, which is probably not his real name, but no one's ever gonna know for sure outside of myself and Neil, huh?
Anyway, I lived in Madison, Wisconsin at the time. A quirky town notable for having the most problematically named automatic teller machines in the nation.
I'd recently relocated there from my hometown of Peoria, Illinois, which is about a three-hour drive from Madison. It was a culture shock only in that their main college had a football team and ours did not.
But we had Hersey Hawkins, motherfuckers!
For Neil, it was a different story. He moved from somewhere in Connecticut, and not small town Connecticut. Nor was it A Haunting In Connecticut Connecticut, and certainly not A Haunting In Connecticut 2 Connecticut, because that Connecticut was actually Georgia.
Relive my beloved "50 States of A Haunting In Connecticut Sequels" tweet series today!
No, he moved from the part of Connecticut that sometimes pops up in episodes of The Wire or Sopranos, because out-of-state killings are the "sitcom family takes a road trip to Six Flags" of gritty crime dramas.
So, that's where Neil lived before relocating -- not to Madison, but to a tiny town about 30 minutes away that will remain nameless. It was there that poor Neil promptly lost his mind. Don't get me wrong, there wasn't much to lose in the first place. Neil was a character. He was Italian. Very Italian. Famous video game franchise Italian. Or Saturday Night Fever if everyone dressed sloppy and no one could dance. I'm doing a lot of painting here, I hope it's doing something for you. Jersey Shore without the abs. Can we move on?
Chef Boyardee if he never sold out.
Neil moved to Wisconsin for love. He met a girl who, for reasons we'll probably never understand, was vacationing in the very shithole section of Connecticut he called home when, inexplicably, the two hit it off. In short order, he picked up his belongings and moved to Wisconsin and in with her family. It's at this point that Neil realized something unsettling. His new wife's family was religious. Super religious. Not church-every-Sunday religious; church-every-day religious. Neil, as you might have already gathered, was not. As a result, he treated his 40 hours per week away from home more like a prisoner on work release than anything.
"Dude, this floor is softer than my bunk!"
He loved being at work, because it meant he was free of the shackles of faith. Also, working overnights in a grocery store with a vast, empty parking lot attached to it allows for plenty of opportunities to get away with shit, and by that I mean smoke drugs. Marijuana, actually, back in the days when doing that in public in the Midwest was neither more nor less frowned upon than smash and grab jewelry store robbery.
Because Neil treated every Sunday as an excuse to cook his borderline-Quaker family a gigantic Italian feast, I'd often accompany him to church, always stoned. One week, the sermon was about drugs. I got saved the next week. It was a nondenominational church that believes that once you're saved, nothing can undo it. So I'm going to heaven, and I'm killing every one of you motherfuckers that disagrees with me. "It's in the book," as the church would say, not knowing that Neil and I would use that same answer when one asked the other if they'd like to go smoke a cigarette.
"C'mon, we'll be doing God's work!"
It didn't take long for this tale of bromance, like so many others, to get really fucking weird. One morning after work, instead of driving home, Neil asked if I'd like to come hang out at a motel with him. Call it a product of my upbringing, but this did not trigger a single rape alarm in my head, because I knew Neil meant something else entirely. Neil wanted to smoke crack. I didn't, but Neil didn't want to be alone and offered to buy breakfast and weed. The motel room having cable was a bonus as well, which is an unspeakably sad thing to have to say, no matter what the decade.
Especially this one.
So, I went along, solely as moral support. If you've kept up with my output here at Cracked, you won't be at all surprised to know that curiosity got the better of me. I was soon inquiring as to how I could be a part of the festivities. The federal government should find a way to plaster Neil's initial response on the side of every crack vial in the nation:
"I wouldn't even be your bro if I shared this with you, bro."
Of course, people with the power to resist suggestion and people who smoke crack don't tend to run in the same circles, so soon enough I copped to a plea deal where Neil sprinkled a little bit of crack into a joint (that's a doobie to you, kids) for me. Neil, for the record, smoked his out of the empty carcass of an Absolut vodka mini bottle, outfitted with an aluminum foil screen.
This doesn't seem important, but it will be later. For now, let's get to what you really want to know: How did it feel?
To put it bluntly ... it felt great? That question mark is there because a lot of things in this world feel great, but crack is supposed to feel the greatest. It didn't, and as it turned out, that was because of how I smoked it. Discriminating crack smokers turn up their noses at such sophomoric tomfoolery. I'll get into this in a bit more detail shortly, but for now, let's circle back to a very important point.
As stated earlier, smoking crack for the first time still felt great. It's hard to put a sensation into words, but this might at least give you an idea of what I was dealing with.
Remember I said Neil bought food? I ordered a burger. We got to the room, Neil immediately set to preparing his crack machine, but only after hastily preparing my power joint and tossing it my way. Not wanting to be the only person not high on crack in the room, I immediately lit up. Again, I cannot put into words how good it felt. It wasn't overwhelming, but it was good, and that emphasis is there for a reason.
At least this good, but probably times ten.
I do, however, think I can explain how good it must have been. Stay with me.
Halfway through the joint, it occurred to me that Len Bias was my favorite basketball player until he underestimated crack's ability to kill a person who treated it lightly, so I figured half was fine for now. I put it out and decided to eat.
I definitely got the wrapper off the sandwich. I know that because I took at least three bites and not a one of them tasted like paper. I can't confirm, though, because not for one second did I allow the other half of that joint to leave my sight. I looked at it while I ate. Eventually, the allure was too much. After no more than five bites, I stopped eating to smoke the rest. I absolutely could not let that feeling sit there waiting to be inside me, hungry or not. It was right then and there that I made an important agreement with myself. Do not do this shit tomorrow. And you know, I didn't, and I lived a completely crack-free life for at least six months after that.
It IS the Best Fucking Feeling In the World
Again, another case of the crack just sort of finding me. I was working at a telemarketing place, back when those were still legal. It was a lot like working at a halfway house, except instead of everyone leaving for a few hours a day to work, they just got on the phone and committed more crimes. It was great money for a college student (or a person young enough but not quite motivated enough to be a college student). Beyond that, if you were working there at any point into adulthood, you probably fucked up somewhere along life's highway. Tom Cochrane would've exited your bullshit choice of road no matter how many hours were left in the night.
Coincidentally, if you get that joke, you've probably at least applied to work at a telemarketing place before. There but for the grace of God and parents who care, am I right? What I'm getting at is that there were more than a few crack smokers at my telemarketing job, and most of them looked exactly like telemarketers, including Slayer, whose name I truly don't remember, so the least I can do is give him something cool.
Slayer was a divorced (surprise!) dude in his late thirties who knew a lot about music and drank a lot of coffee. He was good on the phone. He dressed casual, but not sloppy. You could tell he cared about how he looked. He also smoked mountains of crack cocaine every single night.
What I'm getting at is that he didn't look like what you probably envision when you think of a crack addict, you racist piece of shit.
Fine, it's sort of accurate, probably.
Just because the CIA sold it to black people first doesn't mean white people didn't eventually latch onto it. Crack smokers are like the CIA agents of drug abusers. The ones who really smoke crack are nearly indistinguishable from the general population, while the ones who scare people downtown like some nightmare version of Dave Chappelle's "Tyrone" come to life are probably just CIA agents having too much fun with their cover.
The point is, Slayer looked normal as shit. There was nothing remarkable about him, and when he offered me a ride home one rainy evening after work, I thought nothing of it. We drove for a bit and he asked if he could make a stop. Again, not nearly as many "you're about to get murdered" alarms went off as my subsequent viewing of every show Investigation Discovery has to offer now reveal should have, but it was no matter -- murder was not the case I'd been given that night. I knew what I was in for when Slayer asked a final question before departing the car to run his errand: "Hey dude, mind if I buy you some weed?"
My approximate reaction.
This does not happen. People do not just up and offer to buy you drugs like they're making a point of sale ChapStick purchase. I of course said yes, but demanded to know what I was getting myself into as far as repayment of this favor. No biggie, Slayer just wanted to smoke some crack at my place. Why my place? Well, because his roommate also smoked crack and he didn't want to share with that bastard. With me? Any day, on any stage, mostly because I don't smoke crack regularly as a rule, so I'm rarely a threat to take him up on it. I found myself oddly intrigued on this night, though, because, unlike Neil and his improvised vodka device, Slayer showed up with the tools. Specifically, aluminum foil and Chore Boy.
Hey, remember that column I wrote about gas station items that are mostly used for crime? The story you're reading right now is why Chore Boy was on that list.
At any rate, here I was, once again faced with a decision: Should I smoke crack tonight? To quote Will Smith from the timeless classic "Parents Just Don't Understand," yeah, of course I should. This man was obviously a professional crack smoker, so passing on this opportunity would be like turning down an offer to smoke a blunt with Snoop Dogg. I was going to smoke crack, and I was going to do it right this time.
Slayer set up my first hit and walked me through the intricate heating process required to extract the maximum amount of enjoyment from your new pet rock.
I named mine George.
I inhaled deeply and held it in for a bit. Crack dealers should find a way to plaster what I said immediately upon exhaling on the side of every crack vial in the nation:
"Man, can we go get more of that?"
There was already more! So much more, you guys, we'd just started smoking it. From that initial feeling, though, I already knew it wasn't going to be enough. So we went back. Twice. I don't know if I can describe the feeling other than to say it is the single greatest feeling I've ever felt in my life. It was absolute euphoria. That said, it's a weird kind of euphoria. It's a good feeling you don't want to share with other people.
This is especially true of children, and as luck would have it, the woman I was dating at the time had one. Not only that, but she made a surprise visit to ask if I could watch him for a bit so she could take her mother to urgent care.
Being unspeakably high on crack, I had no choice but to decline. I didn't even open the door. If you look up the word "suspicious" in the dictionary, by now there's probably an animated GIF of that very scenario unfolding. I didn't feel great about myself, but that sadness immediately subsided when I got back to smoking.
Still, the higher I got, the more aware I became of the fact that I definitely didn't want this other degenerate crack smoker in my living room while I enjoyed my new best friend. So I did something that, in retrospect, very well could have gotten me killed. I made Slayer leave with crack still left to be smoked. I bought it, I wanted to smoke it myself, I made a stand. It's a stand I'm very lucky didn't end with me getting choked to death with a length of Chore Boy. Ah, the folly of youth.
Slayer left unhappy, but he was otherwise calm about it. I think sadness would best describe his demeanor. As for me, I finished up my night with crack in peace, all the while thanking my lucky stars I didn't have to babysit a kid or win a Super Bowl the next morning.
I also came up with an important rule for crack smoking that night.
Observe the One Day Rule
As much as I've been struggling to describe the exact feeling a person gets when smoking crack, I can say this -- I knew immediately that it was something I could not do the next day. When people say they were addicted the very first time they tried it, I totally understand why. I'd actually had this thought swishing around in my head the first time I tried it, and because of that, I vowed that no matter how enjoyable it may be, I would not wake up the next day and buy more.
Fortunately, I didn't. I very nearly did, and doing so probably would have altered the course of my life significantly. If you've learned nothing else from my columns, you should at least know that daddy needs his medicine, and it doesn't really matter what kind of medicine it is.
I would definitely have become a full-blown crackhead if not for that vow to not do it the next day. I knew people who sold it and they lived in close proximity to my apartment. All of the ingredients were in the pot, I just never lit the burner.
Be advised, though -- I'm not saying this to imply that everyone should go out and try crack one time just to see how it feels. No one, under any circumstances, should smoke crack. I was able to fight off becoming a full-on crack addict only because I was able to say no that next day. You might not be so lucky. The thing is, I've never had a problem quitting anything, but only because I've always replaced that something with something else.
Mostly just coffee for this old geezer, these days.
I don't need the next bigger or better high. I just need the wheel in my head to stop spinning long enough for me to focus. Weed and an assortment of prescriptions do that trick just fine.
Not everyone "parties" that way. More often than not, if you're inclined to try crack in the first place, you're going to get addicted to it. So, you know, don't. If you need another reason, consider this ...
Crackheads Attract Chaos
It dawned on me, literally as I was writing this column, that of the three or four major moves in my life, two of them have been at least indirectly caused by crack cocaine. Well the cause of the first, technically speaking, was a house fire.
I was sharing a house with my sister at time, who's no stranger to crack smokers herself. In fact, one of them was sleeping on our couch at the time. Crackhead Kenny, we called him, because he smoked crack and his name was Kenny. One day, Crackhead Kenny borrowed my sister's car, our household's only means of transportation, so he could find drugs. He found drugs. He traded the car for them.
"Here I come, crack!"
Kenny was that kind of guy.
But somehow, Kenny heroically recovered from the car drama by recovering the vehicle, and was allowed the continued use of our couch for crashing purposes. At least he had a job and somewhat helped with the bills, amazingly. That job part will be super important a few paragraphs from now, by the way. Keep reading.
One day, I'd woken up early to drive my sister to her job at a gas station a few miles away. It was payday, but I didn't have my check yet. With approximately four dollars to my name, I had a choice: buy cigarettes or buy breakfast. Shockingly, I opted for breakfast and, on top of that, did something I never do, which is hang around to drink coffee and read the newspaper for a bit. I did this time, though, and it's a good thing, too.
Lots of great coverage of the O.J. trial, for one thing!
As soon as I arrived home, I decided I was going to take a nap, with a brief stop at the bathroom to honor the gods of fast food breakfast in the only way they accept. While doing that, I noticed black smoke pouring in through a vent above my head. Because I'm not disgusting, I got properly cleaned up and then immediately went out into the living room to investigate. All I could see was the couch, the back of which was glowing orange, for some reason. It then dawned on me that on the other side of that couch was a vent leading to a utility room where the washer, dryer and water heater were all kept. I didn't have much more time to think before the smoke was so thick that my only option was to head out the door, which, fortunately, was just a few steps away.
I made it out unscathed, but a lot of things certainly could have gone wrong. For one thing, if I'd opted to buy those cigarettes instead of breakfast, or even if I hadn't decided to bullshit around and read the newspaper after, I most certainly would have been fast asleep when that fire started. I'll give you all a second to solemnly reflect on all the comedy you might have missed if that had been the case.
What's this thing for?
I added that caption up there for you, the sourpuss who assures me that smoke detectors would have woken me well before smoke inhalation killed me. To that, I say, "Yes, we did have smoke detectors, but we also had a freezer full of Tombstone pizza at all times." Fuck the old west, Tombstone pizzas earned their name by killing functioning smoke detectors. We were probably using ours for a change dish by that point.
So, yes, I very well could have died, thank you very much. Also, I was selling weed at the time, a fact that dawned on me only when firefighters and police officers had arrived to put out the fire and randomly stroll around the house to assess the damage. An arrest is the last thing you want to chase a house fire with, so I made an excuse about having money and a jacket inside that I'd like to grab if they wouldn't mind. This was all true. The money was profit from having just sold an ounce of weed and the jacket had another one ready to be sold in the left pocket.
"Uhhhhh, nooo, you probably wouldn't recognize it, even if I described it to you. Best to grab it myself, officer."
I recovered all of those things, so if nothing else, I had plenty of party supplies. Also, rent was due that day, and it should go without saying that I decided to forego writing the check. So hello way more cash than I usually have! On top of all this, in any house fire, the Salvation Army gives you vouchers for clothes, meals, and hotels. So, still covered in soot, my sister and I spent the next day shopping at shitty department stores and eating a turkey dinner at Perkins. I mentioned that this was Thanksgiving Day, right?
"Ohhhh, come on, at least the thing about Tombstones killing smoke detectors was funny, right?"
If you're wondering what all of this has to do with Crackhead Kenny, it's simple. Remember that job of his I mentioned? He came home from it and, as one does, immediately placed his work clothes in a Coleman cooler. He then placed that cooler on top of the dryer, at which point it promptly fell behind the appliance. Kenny paid this no mind and went about his day. Eventually, the pilot light on the water heater ignited the clothing inside the cooler, which then itself ignited. We lost everything, thanks to Crackhead Kenny.
Taking this as a sign that a change of environment may be in order, rather than find another place to live in Peoria, my sister and I decided to move to Madison, Wisconsin, where we could stay with mom until we found something else.
And that's the story of how crack chased me out of Illinois.
Adam would like it a whole lot if you'd download the latest episode of his podcast and/or watch him tell jokes at Rooftop Comedy. Then come see him do that in person the first and third Tuesday of every month at Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. Once you have all of that out of your system, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.