My late friend Mr B was a pharmacist’s mate during WWII. Working at a stateside base he called his job “chancre mechanic.” Which means he supplied gonorrheal servicemen with penicillin. The rest of the time he was plying pilots with amphetamines. Hey, there was a war on. These guys were saving the world. What’s a few uppers in the grand scheme of things? Once we stopped being at war, amphetamines became just another street drug instead of a pharmaceutical solution to a vexing problem (long flights by worn-out flyers).
People seek out intoxication like they seek food or sex. At least they seek out altered states. Even the mystic, normally abstemious, is not content with everyday life and seeks a kind of meta-reality, that above-the-plane-of-existence sort of thing. In the 60s it became fashionable to eschew the lengthy discipline and self-abnegation of the searcher and simply eat acid. LSD is a great experience, I have to vouch for that, but I had no Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moments. Not that I was really looking for any. Seems like if you want to trip out on drugs, you should trip out on drugs. If you want to trip out on god, you should trip out on god. I hear the desert, prayer, and fasting work well for that.
Among other teetotalers and drug-free types are extreme athletes. They get high jumping off mountains or whatever. They tune their minds to achieve complete immersion in their activity. I get the same kind of buzz—much less intense, I suppose—when I’m skiing and conditions are perfect and I’m floating effortlessly in the snow and my only thoughts are the sensations of the turns and my breathing. I’m not really conscious of the rest of reality, just fully in the moment and enveloped in the experience. It’s a fleeting thing and I see why people chase it, it’s much like a drug high.
I think we ought to stop worrying about intoxication. In fact, I don’t like the word. What’s so toxic about it? There was a time when businessmen had three-martini lunches and then went back to work. (President Ford, a politically maladroit but otherwise intelligent man, once said “The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?” Pretty damn funny for a guy who often came across as clueless.) Sounds like a grand tradition that ought to be revived. Of course martinis are a hell of a lot fancier and more expensive today than they were then, what with all this small-batch micro-distilling going on. Everyone wants the coolest new spirit. No one in these high-dollar crowds worries about alcoholism. That’s strictly working-class woes. The mob can’t handle their Bud Light and Jack and they wreck their cars and beat their wives so we have to pass draconian laws to regulate the poor bastards. We retired civil servants can rest easy. Of course, I walk to my local watering hole so I don’t have to drive back. I learned that trick in Ireland where a town of Yreka’s size (7500 souls) would have 50 pubs.
Now that marijuana is on the brink of legalization in California we will see a whole new regulatory scheme. That ought to be fun. I remember the bleachers at Candlestick Park in the 70s where dope-smokers would be oohing and aahing over foul balls and getting booted for passing a joint while beer drinkers would be starting fights and the vendors would be racing over to sell them more Old Milwaukee. Hilarious! Seems like a weed section at sporting events might be a good idea. A pleasantly stoned crowd would not curse or throw things or run on the field. Hey, they might even cheer for the other team if they saw something cool. Imagine what FIFA could do with cannabis treats at some of these over-heated soccer matches where they have to police for hooliganism and keep the sections separated to avoid violence. (Sporting crowds in the States are milquetoasts compared to Europeans and South Americans.) Seems like there’s a pharmaceutical solution waiting to be tried.
Now there are many, the religiously scrupulous for example, who avoid poisoning their temples (er, bodies) because it’s seen as an affront to god. After all, we are made in the image of god. But all the intoxicants in the world were made by god, too. So that’s a weak argument by my reckoning. But to each his own, right? No doubt our pharmacopeia can be poisonous, but it’s important to remember the most important rule in medicine (teachers always double-down on ‘important’):
It’s the dose that makes the poison. (–Theophrastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus)
Yup. A little of something may be grand. A lot may not be. But it’s also important to remember another important lesson from life:
Everything in moderation, including moderation. (–Oscar Wilde)
I suppose now that I’m retired the orderly and the business-like and the scheduled are giving way to the chaotic and the impractical and the spontaneous. (I just made adjectives into things. You can only lose points for grammar violations in school, in real life it is called ‘creativity.’) The relentless ticking of the 9-to-5 capitalist clock will beat us all into submission eventually so we might as well dull the pain with a few mood-enhancing substances. Like I said I don’t like these things being described as intoxicants and I think we need some new words. Nutrients? God’s gifts? Wellness-icants? Help me out here.