Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Fernando and Jesus 1: The Deal

All names in this sucker are false.

The weeks after Burning Man are traditionally a difficult time for my liver. My method of decompressing involved as much alcohol and as many drugs as I can get my hands on, which isn't the smartest way of returning to the "real world," but it works for me. It's a lot easier to slip back into the workaday rhythms of my life if I'm suffering from a blinding headache.

Money was tight, as I recall, but in late October of 2001, I came across a lot of 10 or 11 tabs of MDMA. Those of you who've read "Sketchy Bill" will recognize MDMA, or "ecstasy," or just plain "(e)," as a very happy drug. In the years since my first ecstasy experience, I'd managed to go on several ecstasy fueled rampages--which ultimately led me to realize I had a problem. This problem is that if I carry around a bag full of (e), I will eventually eat all of it and do some pretty entertaining things, like speak in tongues and pierce my own nipple. Among other things. Hey, leave me some dignity, OK?

I solved my problem with this simple rule: never, ever take more than four hits of ecstasy with you, anywhere you go. It's around five tabs that I start thinking I'm James Brown and the clothes hamper is the Georgia State Police, so I just don't give myself the option anymore.

But honestly, those massive doses obscure what MDMA is all about: connectedness, love, and happiness. You can tell that someone's on (e) because they keep touching you, themselves, and anything else with texture. Their pupils are generally dilated, and they can't quit grinning. Many people have awoken to rather awkward social situations after a night on ecstasy, if you know what I mean and I think you do. There's such an overpowering feeling of goodness and confidence and optimism, in every single MDMA experience that I've ever had. Every experience save one.

Here's what Erowid has to say on the substance:

extreme mood lift
increased willingness to communicate
increase in energy (stimulation)
ego softening
feelings of comfort, belonging, and closeness to others
feelings of love and empathy
increased awareness & appreciation of music
increased awareness of senses. (eating, drinking, smell)
profound life-changing spiritual experiences
neurotically based fear dissolution
sensations bright and intense
urge to hug and kiss people

appetite loss
visual distortion
rapid, involuntary eye jiggling (nystagmus)
mild visual hallucinations (uncommon)
moderately increased heart rate and blood pressure (increases with dose)
restlessness, nervousness, shivering
change in body temperature regulation
strong desire to do or want more when coming down

NEGATIVE (see the MDMA Side Effects Profile)
(negative side effects increase with higher doses and frequent use)
inappropriate and/or unintended emotional bonding
tendency to say things you might feel uncomfortable about later
mild to extreme jaw clenching (trisma), tongue and cheek chewing, and teeth grinding (bruxia)
difficulty concentrating & problems with activities requiring linear focus
short-term memory scramble or loss & confusion
muscle tension
erectile disfunction and difficulty reaching orgasm
increase in body temperature, hyperthermia, dehydration (drink water)
hyponatremia (don't drink too much water)
nausea and vomiting
headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, and vertigo
post-trip Crash - unpleasantly harsh comedown from the peak effect
hangover the next day, lasting days to weeks
mild depression and fatigue for up to a week
severe depression and/or fatigue (uncommon)
possible strong urge to repeat the experience, though not physically addictive
possible psychological crisis requiring hospitalization (psychotic episodes, severe panic attacks, etc) (rare)
possible liver toxicity (rare)
possible neurotoxicity (controversial)
small risk of death. Approximately 2 per 100,000 users have extreme negative reactions resulting in death. (rare)

The last bit sounds pretty scary, but I'd taken the drug dozens of times with probably scores of people, and never had anyone freak out, pass out, or otherwise not have an extremely good time. In other words, my experience with it had been limited to the positive and neutral stuff listed above.

[Incidentally, my naivete w/r/t the negative effects I blame on the government's War on Drugs, which has caused me to completely disregard anything they say. I mean, I know the shit's bad for you, but so's freakin' coffee. Get some perspective, Ashcroft, and then we'll talk.]

My friend "Jim" was getting pretty heavy into cocaine at this point, to the degree that most of the guys he was buying from didn't speak very good english. They were nice guys, but tended to carry sidearms and dislike talking to strangers. But I was good, generally, because a) I speak enough spanish to make simple conversation (which goes a long, long way for most of the Central American dudes I've met), and b) I was plainly one of Jim's good friends. And yeah, probably because I'm a good guy, underneath it all.

Anyway, I had visited Jim's steadiest dealer, "Fernando," several times with Jim. Fernando ran an auto body shop in an area of town that bordered on bad, so we'd meet him there (never at home) to conduct their business. I liked Fernando, really. I could tell he had much the same problems we do (tryin' to live his life under the thumb of The Man), plus all the problems of being an illegal alien (not even being HUMAN in the eyes of The Man), plus all the problems of being in constant possession of blocks of white powder (which was his own lookout--I won't try and defend him on that). He never quit looking at me askance, even the last time I ever saw him, but eventually he accepted my presence. Much like a large vicious dog will accept someone's presence, but never takes his eyes off them. Think about it this way: the fewer people that saw him deal his shit, the better off he was. But he didn't want to scare Jim away, because Jim was helping him get some other stuff square, which doesn't really have any bearing on this story. In essence, I was tolerated because Jim wanted me tolerated.

For my part, I just kept my trap shut and watched the door. Truthfully, the whole situation made me nervous.

That's why I was surprised when Jim told me Fernando wanted to buy some ecstasy from me. Jim had been talking it up, and Fernando had never done it, so it seemed logical that we'd do a deal. Not a TRADE, mind you--I needed the money, and I really don't like to just have that stuff laying around. People tend to call late at night, beat on the door at all hours, and in general become less than human. And I like all you guys, dammit, so I don't want to see anyone debased by chemical cravings.

So the three of us met at Jim's place (oops, almost typed his real name) on a Saturday evening. Like most deals, this was slated to happen at around 7pm, but nothing actually coalesced til near 11pm. This drives true junkies nuts, but I didn't mind. It was Saturday night, we were watching boxing and drinking beer, and I had turned off my brain for the weekend.

I had violated my rule of no more than four hits, because I was going to sell four hits to Fernando, and Jim and I were going to each eat one. I was a little surprised when Fernando invited me back to his place to trip with him and his wife (and Jim, of course), but I just figured he'd been snorting coke and was feeling magnanimous. Really, for all he knew, I was the ecstasy king of Oklahoma, and I might be worth getting to know. For my part, I was still in Decompression mode, so I was game for anything.

One of these days, I'll learn.

We hit the road about 11:15, Fernando leading and Jim following in his car, with me shotgun. Bear in mind this was almost exactly a year after the Sketchy Bill Incident, but I trusted Jim, so I didn't insist on taking my own car. I had a cellphone, which I purchased less than a week after Sketchy Bill shot me with a bag of sugar. Plus, I knew I'd be taking my relatively nice clean car into pretty bad territory, where it would be parked all night, so I opted for the ride.

We drove about 10 blocks, into a seriously cracked out neighborhood, a few blocks deeper into the hood than I had ever lived. The house we parked in front of was dark, except for a television flashing inside. Jim warned me when we pulled up not to look at anyone across the street, because that was a crack house, and Fernando had been over there fairly recently threatening physical violence at some minor insult. I later found out that (not surprisingly) crackheads are to cocaine as they are to, well, just about everything else: a blight. Fernando did his level best to walk the straight and narrow paths of honor that being a "real" cocaine dealer involved, and apparently that included not selling to rock artists. I lived across the street from a crack house several years previous to this, so I was careful to keep my gaze neutral as we walked up the steps. We reached the front door with no incident.

I remember thinking about how I'd best retreat from the scene, should it go bad. There was no easy way. I was a white boy that wasn't obviously broke, and I'd most likely be walking home early in the morning. The cops were the best I could hope for.


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