Thursday, November 08, 2007

Just say no

P.J. O’Rourke is up there in that special part of my brain, along with idle fantasies about fighter jocks and a wish to own a very, very fast car. It's the part of my brain that encourages me to eat very rare steak, cut people dead in the street, and sneer at Jane Austen. The part of my brain that sees itself as Grace Slick meets Genghis Khan, and the part that the other parts of my brain consider to be more a rather scary combination of Patrick Bateman and Sylvia Plath. Eugh.

Ah well. Who cares? Where’s that steak?

I do like P.J. O’Rourke, though. Not his political intuitions: his genius pen. And I'm talking about pretty much only his early stuff. The essays in Republican Party Reptile are works of genius. This man writes like the mad, bad, older brother of Dave Foster Wallace. You can just see the family dynamics: youngest son Wallace off on pro bono work for charities, worrying about his caffeine intake, and O'Rourke running red lights to get to a cocaine binge at a lap-dancing club.

Both Wallace and O'Rourke are exceptional journalists. And both come a cropper as soon as they drop the arch humour and start taking themselves seriously as Great Authors or Social Commentators. O’Rourke! Leave your bloody free-market think-tank and return to dispensing advice on how to drive fast on drugs while having your wing-wang squeezed and not spilling your drink. Wallace! Enough with the torturous short stories. Get back to writing about how much you hate Balthazar Getty, or how it feels to be being beaten at chess by a malevolent twelve-year old on a luxury cruise liner.

Rourke, hell-raiser, wrote an essay in the 1980s on a new drug doing the rounds. It was called Ecstasy. True to his gonzo principles, decided that in the interests of reportage, he should try it. He did. He thought it was...nice. Jolly nice. That's about all. A yuppie drug. A wussy drug. A drug whose come-down wasn't worth the high. He breaks into full-on soliliquy:

Man, I came from the days when drugs were drugs. We had dope where one toke would turn your hair long and your folks into raving maniacs at the dinner table. Some of that stuff, why, a single hit could transform a Catholic schoolgirl into Gomorrah on all fours, snuff your ego like a light, rotate the tires on the Great Wheel of Being, and make your eyes lay eggs. See God? Shit, you could get Him down in the hot tub and wash His mouth out with herbal soap. And that was if you split the blotter paper four ways. As for insights, try yage and psilocybin mushrooms mixed with mescaline and Anchor steam beer. Gautama Buddha his own bad self comes over to your house and writes out the Eightfold Path in lipstick on your bathroom mirror. We had drugs that would give you immortal life for up to thirty-six hours. And what about the time the nine-assed peyote demon peeled the top of my head like an orange and vomited the Encyclopedia Britannica into my empty skull? That's what we meant when we said high in the old days.
It is in this spirit that I have a bone to pick with GlaxoSmithKline.

First, in GSK's defence, I realise they're on a loser here. Not a financial loser, clearly. But they're on a hiding to nothing as far as public relations go. Because if you produce drugs for people who are miserable, damaged, and/or desperate for help, you’ve got to expect that quite a lot of the desperation and self-absorption will be immediately displaced onto the drugs themselves, and produce, like vast amounts of silly string, internet discussion groups with threads from here to eternity obsessing about medication, as if there's nothing else in the world to talk about but whether 10mg of x is better than 20mg of y, or whether taking y at night or for six months or three years is better than taking x at all or not at all. And because, hooray, people's responses to these drugs vary — and vastly; read the papers, guys — everyone's on a massive search for reassurance while experiencing all sorts of different effects; no wonder it's a self-perpetuating discourse; everyone wants to agree about the drugs, but everyone can't, because they're all different. Ah, the irony.

But the worst thing is this: when you read these discussions, you slowly, with a sort of numbing, annihilating horror, realise that the most critical thing about this discourse, the thing that underlies all the posts about dosage, or whether the doctor is right, or whether you can take analgesics, or not, or maybe, or God knows what, is the assumption that this is undeniably fascinating for everyone.

It's not. But ah, you might say. The reason you are so anti-community is that you are depressed. Got me! Got me all over like Orwell!

I must say, however, thereby being hoist into small pieces on my own petard, that these drugs are lame. Pace O'Rourke, I speak with experience. I can't see why these drugs are so popular. Shouldn't drugs make you happy and awake? Isn't that what drugs are for? Yes, I'm feeling less sad. But that's because I've not got the energy to even think about being sad. Or indeed, think at all. I'm incredibly nauseated and tired. I'm so tired I suspect I might have become a zombie, although am reassured because the nausea is clearly going to preclude me from cannibalism.

If I were a hardcore evolutionary psychologist with a penchant for stupid counterfactuals, I’d say that had these drugs been around in the past, they’d have been seriously maladaptive. They might be adaptive to going out and seeing your friends in the evening, or adaptive in the sense that they might improve your chances of getting laid, but they’re going to be pretty damn maladaptive to not being eaten by tigers or washed away by rivers or dying of exposure.

Ths morning I sank a couple of double espressos and some powerful cold-cure caps in the hope that the caffeine and pseudoephedrine would cut the tiredness.

It does, but only to the point where I just about trust myself to drive. And not walk into doorframes.

So here is all I have to say, and all I will say, about medication:

Damn you, GlaxoSmithKline, for being such wusses.



dr. hypercube said...

You know, I was tempted to comment on your Damn these goddamn post - now I can't resist...

1) regardless of current state of brain chemistry - you write brilliantly. AND I'd love to take the Slick/Khan pluve out for a night on the town - there's absolutely no percentage in being boring. Kick ass. Take names.

2) I'll probably get lambasted for suggesting it, but stimulants (caffeine!) and perhaps herbal supplements (marihuana) for the nausea sound like a winner to me. I refuse to turn the keys completely over to the medical professionals. That being said, it's been a while since I did much in the way of self medication (caffeine excluded) so I may not be the best guide.

3) keep me the hell away from old PJ (he of the 'Pants Down Republicans'). Current PJ is pretty much contemptible, but too much of the old one, and I'll throw it all over for time in Copper Canyon w/ the Tarahumara and then to Mexico City w/ the ghost of Bill B. ;-).

Steve Bodio said...

Why is it that (we) excitable people like stimulants that make us-- more excitable?

Re PJ-- never can tell-- he may be a fan. I happen to know he has read Rage for Falcons.

Heidi the Hick said...

IN MY BRAIN! IN MY BRAIN! How did you get in there so easily????

Apparently, according to my other half, I quite often said thing like, "If I have to be on drugs, why can't it be FUN?"

And this is me- me who could not do any kind of drugs for fun without having some awful side effects, front effects and upside down effects.

I am not the person to be recommending any kind of might remember where I was at when we first met here in blogland. But I also believe that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get through. Walking into doorframes is actually better than throwing yourself in front of a train.

(that PJ drug soliloquy is incredible and I thank you, because it was so well done that I don't feel I need to try it myself!)

Reid Farmer said...

Pluvi dear,
You must march in to your medico TODAY and demand a different prescription. There are too many treatment options for you to put up with side-affects this severe.

As far as PJ goes, he's impossible to beat when he's on top of his game. IIRC Steve and I had a discussion about him a while back where we agreed he's one of those people who probably writes too much.

My favorite PJ was a review of a history of (that American holy of holies) the Kennedy family. He said he could not understand why the American people seemed to have fallen in love with this family of priapic, rum-smuggling, shanty-Irish sewer trout. He also had a riff about their tartuffian relationship with the Roman Catholic church. It was teh awesome.

indigoGlyph said...

One of the few writers who can make me laugh until I run out of breath. Got drunk with brother and sister-in-law once a few years ago, and spent an evening taking turns reading from one of the books of essays. Christ, how geeky was that?

The one that truly flattened us was his description of watching his friend setting off explosives in the back yard while severely stoned, and the resultant time dilation as he watched the man responsible sauntering away from the imminent explosion.

In the end, I think he's saved by his realisation that his own idiocy and incompetence is far funnier than anyone else's. Oh, for descriptions like 'boom-squeal-boom-squeal-yipyipyip'. And 'euro-weenies'.

Anonymous Fretmarketeer said...

And today is PJ's sixtieth birthday.

"I have often been called a Nazi, and, although it is unfair, I don't let it bother me. I don't let it bother me for one simple reason. No one has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed an sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal"

indigoGlyph said...

Just remembered: the only other thing to bear in mind, as I'm sure you know, is that it can take four weeks (!) for your body to adapt to the drugs, and for there to be any appreciable effect (other than side-effects). Imagine one of PJ's favourites taking that long - damn, the thing just wouldn't sell.