The Road to Excess Part 1: The Formative Years

When one is about four bottles of red wine deep, there are certain questions that begin to formulate within the mind, shortly before passing out. Most commonly it begins with “Did I need that 4th bottle?” which is swiftly answered with a resounding “definitely” but then followed with “but why?” This gets me thinking back to the roots of my behavioral tendencies, and in the interest of being wildly self-indulgent I began to lay out an autobiography of sorts, revolving specifically around the fledgling stages of my most pronounced vices.

These translate quite simply to an insatiable lust for food, alcohol, and at times drugs that can actually trigger a fear deep down inside my brain that if I don’t manage to consume everything in front of me at that very second, I may never be afforded a second chance. Obviously I enjoy sex as much as the next person, but there is a certain appeal to being all-alone while indulging the demons and embarking on what Pantera’s Phil Anselmo would refer to as a “psycho holiday.” This, of course, is not to say that I don’t truly love and continue to relish all of the things I have mentioned, but rather to conclude that anything and everything can be over-indulged in to the point where it no longer feels good. This margin shrinks with each passing year after a certain point, and although I am perfectly fine with referring to my 20’s as “throw-away years” I could undoubtedly benefit from a bit of that missing constitution.

When analyzing my own background, it is apparent that overeating was my first infatuation. I recollect being on vacation with my family in Orlando as a young child and going to a Sizzler Steakhouse for dinner. Celebrated for its far-reaching all-you-can-eat buffet, it was an enchanted place where I could help myself to all manners of mediocre food in whatever quantities I desired. On this particular visit, for some reason, I also opt to order an additional basket of all-you-can-eat fried shrimp. In retrospect, I really can’t fault my dad for informing me that I was going to “turn into a goddamn balloon and float away,” though in retrospect I could have reminded him that balloons were generally filled with either helium or hydrogen, and even water or piss in some instances, rather than colossal amounts of delectable golden crispy shrimp.

This is not to say that “family mealtime” each night revolved around “spa food” by any stretch of the imagination. There was always the prerequisite mountain of dinner rolls with a tub of Country Crock Shedd’s Spread, and a squeeze bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch was constantly at hand to safely annihilate any possibility of a salad imparting any kind of nutritional value. After school snack time found me left to my own culinary devices, and during a particularly rousing episode of Chip N’ Dales Rescue Rangers I accidentally stumble upon one of life’s great pleasures, the combination of salty and sweet, in the form of pastel-colored mini-marshmallows and oyster crackers. Not only are these the ultimate petite fours when stacked into mini-sandwiches, but they are also delicious when washed down with an ice-cold pitcher of Country Time Lemonade. Really though, it tasted pretty fucking great, and I will stand by my gastronomic inventions until the day that I expire.

Though I definitely rocked “Husky” sized lightning-washed jeans, I managed to take frequent breaks from my sedentary, Mountain Dew-swilling role as Dungeon Master to play, and excel at I might add, several different sports, the primary of which was baseball. As an even younger child I was obsessed with the game, being an avid collector of trading cards (and unknowingly setting up a trust fund for my drug habits in my mid-late teens, allowing me to pawn such treasures as a Sandy Koufax rookie card for 3 hits of acid) and attending games for reasons other than getting shitfaced and tearing up several hot dogs. Sure, I was lacking in the self-confidence department, but with no girlfriend prospects anyway I was perfectly content to spend long hours sitting in front of my Mac Plus fucking around on Hypercard and playing Dark Castle.

No matter how comfortable I perceived myself to be at 12, complacency inevitably set in and led me down a path looking for more. The first beacon of light presented itself on one balmy summer day, as a friend and I navigated our way into town by way of the train tracks. He produced a tin of Skoal Bandits, which are definitely know as the “pussy dip” of the smokeless tobacco world, and offered me one. I helped myself to two, promptly jamming them between my lips and gums without so much as a second thought, though I really had no idea what to expect. As the strangely pleasurable waves of nausea rushed over me, my first thought was “how can I take this too far?” A few days later we found ourselves puffing on cigarettes stolen from senior citizens, Vantage brand if my memory serves, challenging each other to see who could smoke the most (though admittedly it took us a few tries to realize that you were actually supposed to inhale rather than just hold it in and blow it out). There are some who maintain that the sexiest phrase in the English language is “We really shouldn’t be doing this,” and by that token I had stumbled on to a whole new realm of thrill seeking and rule-breaking. What next?

Towards the end of my middle school tenure, things began to ramp up. Though I had attended University of Maine Baseball Camp the previous summer, this time was different as I smuggled several packs of cigarettes and tins of dip with me, making me a hero of sorts among my peers. Though I had certainly choked down a few beers at this point, I had yet to actually feel drunk, so when one of my fellow campers was loudly pontificating about the merits of drinking copious amounts of Yukon Jack, I found myself intrigued.

“Yeah man, any time I’m in Canada I stop at a store and pick up a few bottles of Yukon Jack. They sell shit to fucking anybody up there,” he resumes, “Yeah, Yukon Jack – that’s the best shit man. Fuckin’ A (he was from Monmouth, if I remember correctly)!” I am fairly certain that by “the best shit” he most likely meant “the only shit” he had ever tasted, but nonetheless it sounded appealing and I vowed to acquire myself a bottle the next time I was “driving through Canada without my parents.” In the meantime, I continued to struggle through the warm Dos Equis I kept stashed in the shelf of my closet.

At the commencement of my freshman year, I took it upon myself to establish my individuality through the brand of cigarettes that I smoked. It was perplexing to me that no one else preferred Camel Wide Lights, so I happily laid claim to the brand, proudly placing my order that was both irritating and esoteric to my friend that looked 23, before he went on a “run to the Mobil station.” Of course, when times were rough and you realized that you had accumulated far more useless Camel Cash than real cash, one could always fall back on an inexpensive pack of Gunsmokes, as you simply cannot go wrong with a denim-clad cowgirl holding a bullwhip on the package.

My introduction to the wonders of getting stoned came at the hands of Pablo and Fernando, two burnout Spanish exchange students that would hang with us “out back” at the high school, where all the smokers would congregate before and after class. Though he smoked a fair amount of weed, Fernando was as high-strung as they come, freely interchanging between English and Spanish when he got fired up on a rant about something – plus he sort of resembled like Magua from the film Last of the Mohicans. We smoked dirt shake out of a corncob pipe, which as it turns out burns the fuck out of your lungs. Regardless of any kind of chest pains, I have never laughed so much and so hard whilst riding the 4:00 bus home that afternoon. The beauty of being really young, especially in the early 90’s, is that you can behave like as much of a fucktard as you want and most people would simply assume that it was because you were an actual fucktard – no more, no less. It didn’t take long for getting baked before 1st period Latin class to become a morning ritual, and I recall not being able to resist placing my packed lunch (usually consisting of one sandwich, one bag of chips, one Rice Krispy treat, and one fruit punch of sorts) on the desk and devouring it before 9:30AM, completely oblivious to my surroundings. All I had to do was occasionally stumble through the declination of the Latin word for “shield” or “horse” every now and again and I was golden.

There was really nothing superior to getting all torn up and sauntering down the railroad tracks at night, smoking butts and listening to Cypress Hill’s Black Sunday on my headphones, usually en route to score $1 french fries from the local Chinese dive, Blue Island 2. It was about this time that I, inspired by my idols, began guzzling 40’s of Colt 45 on a regular basis, priding myself on how many I could knock down in a short period of time yet never quite getting used to the gag-inducing “ass-end” of the bottle. It’s interesting when you think back to the early stages of your drinking, when the purpose was to get drunk and subsequently enjoy being drunk without the urges for constant maintenance. Running out of booze then didn’t mean that the party was over, but rather that it was time to go out and fuck shit up for no particular reason outside of that it was something to do.

Because I was having such a great time, I failed to notice that I was beginning to get a bit brash, liberally consuming whatever came my way without really giving it any consideration. There are two pronounced experiences that would take me down a peg or two though, beginning with trucker-style caffeine pills that were basically like No Doze but had some fucked up, gun-related name. A friend was toting a hefty sack of them out back before school, and after popping a couple I started to, predictably, get all riled-up. Before long, I decided to take three more, and then more. Around third period I was feeling a bit out of my mind, which for some reason inspires me to take about 4 more. I began to crash around fifth period, so I popped two more, finishing with my last two as classes came to an end around 2:30. By the time I got off the bus to walk home I felt like my skin was vibrating beneath the surface, coupled with tidal waves of nausea and disorientation. Sensing that this may not be good, I tried to play it off and simply lay down in bed when I got home, but before long I was dry heaving like crazy. This attracts unwanted parental attention, and I am forced to fabricate a story on the fly about “drinking 14 cans of soda at school today.” When asked why I was not throwing up anything that resembled soda, I replied that it was because I drank Seven Up (which as it turns out is actually caffeine-free). I manage to be convincing even in my state of panic, and after about 4 hours and countless replays of Siamese Dream on my headphones, I am able to finally calm down and have a bite of a leftover Subway Barbeque Rib sandwich. I decided that it may be a good idea to chill out on the stimulants for the time being, until I discovered cocaine a few years later but that story is forthcoming.

The second “incident” materializes when I have my first experience drinking hard liquor, towards the end of freshman year. I recall two of my friends showing up at Royal River Park (with it’s many hideouts among various woodland paths) with a two-liter bottle brimming with rum, gin, vodka, and whiskey, all pinched from “mom’s liquor cabinet.” We decided to pass it around, chasing the jungle juice with a large plastic jug of 99 cent Cott brand fruit punch. I’ll be honest, it didn’t really taste that bad! We finish the entire bottle in about 45 minutes, and head back down the path from which we came, towards the “general population” of people hanging out in the park around “the picnic table.” On the way, I fling what remains of the fruit punch into the air, only to have it get caught up in tree branches and land right back down on me, splattering all over my white “Absolut Italian” tee-shirt and faintly resembling a gunshot wound that didn’t come all the way out in the washing machine. Initially, I am merely loud and obnoxious, doling out my usual regimen of Camel Wide Lights at an alarming pace. Though I am clearly a mess, it is the large, ill-advised haul off of a bowl that was being passed around that really gets me “off to the races.” I remember laughing and spinning around and then nothing. The rest of the incident is told through the eyes of onlookers, who watched me pass out on a large tree root, only to be woken up when our little party was raided by cops on bicycles. After being slapped in the head and instructed to wake up, I turned over and proceeded to vomit bright pink stuff all over the ground. I am told that I struggled to my feet and mumbled to the police that I “must have drank bad lemonade,” to which they replied “Looks like that lemonade was about 90 proof.” At the time I thought that them simply letting me go was an act of mercy, but looking back they probably didn’t want me within a mile of their cruiser. Luckily, my parents are not home and I am able to dispose of all of the evidence in a black trash bag, flung far over our back fence into a gully.

Now, armed with the knowledge that A. one should leave the trucker pills to truckers and B. it’s a good idea to smoke pot before you get drunk, I m ready to confront the rest of my high school years head-on. One particular event is the catalyst for what I would allow to define me throughout this experience, this first happening late in the summer before my sophomore year.

While hanging out in my friend Sean’s basement, which would be “THE” safe haven for the next two years due to the ease of convincing Sean’s mom that nothing was actually going on down there, we are faced with the predicament of being completely unable to track down anyone to buy us beer. After repeated efforts with older brothers, townies, and taxi drivers, it would appear that we were shit out of luck. This is before I allow my peers to talk me into the fundamental Hail Mary, donning on a thick, wooly flannel, tucking it into my jeans, slicking my hair back, and rolling my jeans into my boots before meandering into a store that was allegedly notorious for selling to minors. In retrospect, I looked far more like a child molester than an actual child, especially when I heightened my performance with a cheesy faux Brooklyn-style accent, hailing the shopkeep with a booming “HOW YA’ DOIN’ EH?” As I stacked three twelve packs of Red Dog onto the counter, I struggled to strike up a dialogue, inquiring as to if “he’d ah, ever ah, tried this fuckin’ shit” and wondering out-loud if it’s “this fuckin’ cheap for a reason?” The man hardly seems to notice my attempts to “blend in,” and rings the beer up without any questions. I am so excited that I nearly blow my “cover,” but hold it together long enough to get out of the store and stride triumphantly towards the car full of my friends. This was the beginning of what would be a storied high school legacy…