Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The chemical pursuit of happiness

I recall the first time I was exposed to drugs at parties. It was at a school friend’s house while his folks were away, we’d all had a few beers and were laughing and joking, and then our host, P (not his real name, Hee Haw) pulled out his brand new, homemade bong. Made from a Spring Valley fruit juice bottle, it was painted a glossy black with orange flames down the side, and had a big HSV Holden badge welded to the front of it. It was truly a piece of modern art, and a definite labour of love requiring a painstaking commitment of time and effort; the kind of which P was unfortunately never able to apply to his studies.

Anyway, at this stage I was 17 years old, which I think you’ll agree is pretty old for a first drug experience, and to be honest, while I knew about crack (thanks to sensationalist reports on 60 Minutes), heroin (ditto) and joints of marijuana (give me a bit of credit, I had seen plenty of these), exactly what one was supposed to do with this glorified vase was a bit beyond me.

Brandishing his new masterpiece like King Arthur’s sword, P, whom we’d all respected as having been “into the green” for a couple of years by this time, offered us a chuff. To P’s credit, mind, never once then, nor any time thereafter, did he ever pressure anyone into smoking – he was a good, genuine guy who, in terms of his smoking and chuffing, was very comfortable with his way of life, and unlike many of his peers, was never out to prove anything to anyone.

As it happened, like many times thereafter, I declined P’s offer that night, and as the bong was passed around the room, the camaraderie continued for about a half hour or so, until it became clear that only Donkey and maybe one or two others were actually saying anything. Now, I’ll be the first to admit (because no one else is likely to) that I’m an incredibly funny guy, and get a few beers into me, I’ll have the crowd rolling in the aisles (again, you might have trouble getting anyone else to admit this), but on that night, even I had got sick of laughing at my own jokes while everyone else just sat around smiling and dozing. I think it was this event that put me off trying marijuana for a few years thereafter – the fact that the drug seemed so antisocial really made me wonder why anyone would bother.

So, a couple of years later, I hit the streets in search of the right drug for me – something that was a good mix of a fantastic trip, and yet still enabled me to be the life of the party. I tried heroin for a year or so, but no one was laughing. Crack just made me a bit too wired, and I kept convulsing on the bus. I had a go at cocaine but there’s nothing funny about a bloody nose. Acid had me all paranoid about a gremlin on my shoulder telling me I wasn’t funny (or maybe that was just my girlfriend at the time). Finally, I dropped a few Es at a rave one night, and woke up the next afternoon in bed with two girls, a sailor and a goat … and have had a nasty rash ever since. I really didn’t have much luck finding myself a good, social drug, and after three lost years, I pretty well gave up the search.

A couple of years later, fully detoxed, a mouth full of breath freshener and dressed in a sharp suit, some fool gave me a job, and I was sent off to a small, provincial outpost in the Solomon Islands. Here, while meandering into town one night, I was drawn towards a collection of lights from the docks, which to me looked like some kind of festival. I wandered over to investigate, feeling a bit dejected that no one had let me know that this no-pub town was having a party, but as I approached the crowd that was milling around, I saw no signs of any wild celebrations.

What I did see were men and women of all ages - just about everyone in the town – wandering amongst hastily-erected stalls made from wooden fruit crates. Each stall was lit-up with a dull hurricane lamp which cast an atmospheric glow over the proceedings. People were talking happily in hushed tones, and there was an occasional, jovial laugh above the low murmur.

“What was going on here?” I wondered, and approached the crowd to see thousands of the green, golf-ball sized pods known as betelnuts, all lined up in rows along the stalls. Next to them were the triangular green leaves which are rolled up and dipped into a jar of powdered lime (also known as calcium oxide, or quick lime - very caustic), and then placed in your mouth, along with the betelnut, to be chewed for the next hour or so, as you are slowly lulled into a state of extreme, semi-comatosed relaxation.

My neighbour, who had been standing nearby, encouraged me with a red, betelnut juice smile to take one of his betelnuts, and offered to share his lime with me. Never shy to have a go at something new, before long I was chewing away on the bitter concoction, spitting bright red liquid on the ground along with everyone else, and happily succumbing to my companion’s laughter as the front of my t-shirt became soaked in red juice. I eventually got the hang of projectile spit and had one of the most pleasant, social evenings I’ve ever experienced, wandering around the market in the wan light, chatting and laughing and gazing at the stars.

Needless to say, weekend nights at the market became a regular activity, and I even started to get into the betelnut during the day. It carried the dual bonus of making the time pass quickly, and was a great hunger suppressant, so I lost more weight than a chronic ecstasy user.

After about six months of wondering why Mrs Donkey kept demanding that I clean my teeth before kissing her, I was in town one Saturday morning waiting for a friend who was arriving from the capital by boat. There were people everywhere, and I was standing on the dock as the first passengers disembarked. One of the lead passengers was a very attractive young woman, and she walked towards me on her way into town. Now, I’m not a lecherous old bastard or anything, but it suits this pile of steaming fiction to mention that this woman was absolutely gorgeous; she had flawless, bronzed skin, taught, long legs, an attractive, tight, sleeveless top which exposed her slim figure and accentuated her large, buoyant breasts, and she had long, curly copper hair flowing down her shoulders and back, which caught the breeze as she seemed to float towards me in slow motion.

“Struth!”, thought I as I glanced around to make sure that Mrs Donkey wasn’t anywhere close. Just as this goddess was passing me, I smiled and said “Hi”. She didn’t reply, but she did smile, and instead of seeing the gorgeous set of pearly-whites that I’d expected, I clocked a single, black, rotted tooth protruding from putrid, red, decaying gums. Even though I’m sure it could not have been the case, I still believe to this day that I could smell the stench of rotting flesh from where I was standing, about five feet away!

It was at about that time that I gave up betelnuts, and about then that I resigned myself to never being able to find a social drug that fulfilled all of my needs. No pleasure without pain? Perhaps, but I’m a reformed Donkey from now on.

The betelnut smile. Pic: Hagas.


Mrs Donkey said...

Youre a lonely donkey too, as of now, consider yourself a solo ass.

sabrina said...

Believe it or not, my grandmother used to eat that beetlenut thingy!

I used to love watching her 'prepare' the she would slowly put the ingredients in the leave and wrap it up.

In fact, most Indian old ladies here eat it....of course they claim it's supposed to be good for cleaning the teeth :p

DonkeyBlog said...

Sabrina: Yeah ... I guess you won't need a toothbrush for much longer after you start chewing the stuff - but that's not necessarily because your teeth are clean! Te Hee

sabrina said...

Also, would be great if you could start writing book reviews la, Donkey since you read sooo much. Would love to hear your opinion(s)

DonkeyBlog said...

Sabrina: I'll think about it, but I've never written a book review and wouldn't even know where to start. I should say, though, that the featured book at the moment, Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, is my favourite of all time.