My heroin addiction.

When I was thirteen, they showed a movie in morning assembly that fucked me up. We had moved to America less than a year before and I was clueless about virtually everything that wasn’t to be found on the shelves of my grandfather’s library in Lahore. I knew about hunting ocelots, excising neck tumors, and the pretenders to the Romanian throne, but nothing about rock ‘n’ roll, heroin or afro picks. This movie taught me about all three.

It was a black and white 16 mm, faux documentary about a young Puerto Rican boy’s short and tragic life. The movie opened in an alley as Chico and his homies squatted on an abandoned car, passing a joint. In the next scene, this gateway led Chico to a party where he and older pals sniffed white powder while a portable record player blasted a screeching guitar solo. Soon Chico was snorting, skin popping, then mainlining junk, dope, smack, skag, and horse. Various other madcap adventures ensued, leading to the final scene in which Chico ODs in a shower. The film closed with a slow iris down centering on Chico’s lifeless eyeball.

“What?!” he said and pushed me up against the wall. “Where are you getting the stuff? Give me names!”

That night I knocked on the door of my mother’s bedroom. My second stepfather opened it, looking bleary and irritated. I told him I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I was a heroin addict.


“What?!” he said and pushed me up against the wall. “Where are you getting the stuff? Give me names!” My mother joined us and my stepfather told her I was a dope fiend. “Names!” he hissed again. “Who’s your dealer?!”

“I don’t know,” I whined. “I don’t know where I get it. I don’t remember anything.” I told them about the movie and how insidious heroin addiction could be. “I think I’m such a junky I can’t remember anything about it. It’s like I must be leading a parallel life or something. Seriously.”

They looked at each other, eyes rolling. “Jesus! Go back to bed,” my stepfather groaned and turned on his heel. The door slammed.

The film had a long-term effect on me. A) It was very effective in deterring me from being a heroin addict. Forty years later, I am still clean.

B) It also left me with a life-time aversion to wailing guitar solos. Unlike all my normal friends who would air guitar to Zeppelin, who loved heavy metal, hair metal, death metal, Metallica, Megadeath, Motorhead, Maiden, Sabbath and Priest — metal freaks me out. That first whining shriek still seizes my bowels like Malcolm McDowell, making me anxious and tense and waiting for hell to break loose. It’s the thin edge of the wedge, man — a couple of Motley Crue tracks and next thing ya know, it’s mainlining and toe-injecting and selling my butt in the street.


I have no particular aesthetic reason not to like heavy metal. I love punk, after all, which is far more nihilistic and loud. I like abstraction. I like the blues. I even like spandex on men.

I can only attribute this aversion to a Pavlovian response wired into me back in the dark of the assembly hall in ’73, a reprogramming of my limbic system that still holds sway.

I have other long-seated childhood aversions that I still trip over. Sweet and sour pork. Shredded wet paper towels. Bitter-sweet chocolate. Trigonometry. Cilantro.

In my never-ending quest for mild self-improvement, I have begun to question these knee-jerk repulsions and am working on reprogramming myself. I refuse any longer to be haunted by these ancient specters, especially the one whose origins I know, origins that are absurd to be enslaved by when you are a man of my age and dwindling hair. So I am watching Dianne Wiest movies, eating Filets-o-Fish, even drawing with a soft pencil. And blasting Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” ’round the clock.

I am stronger than my weaknesses — and I shall prevail.


18 thoughts on “My heroin addiction.”

  1. There are no comments…. (Yay I’m first 😛 )

    As funny as this story is, I bet it was not so funny back in the 70’s. The 70’s… they were the best of times, the worst of times. I was always getting the Dickens for my shenanigans. ;).

    Great story Danny.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I laughed when I read this! II also was traumatized as a teenager by an anti-drug movie they showed us when I was in Junior High in the early seventies. As the movie progressed I became disoriented and desperately wanted to get out of there, but I couldn’t move because I felt as if I was paralyzed. After it was over, I was terrified to walk home alone, as if there were drug dealers hiding in the bushes waiting to drag me off and get me started on a life of addiction. Ironically, I grew up in a small Canadian city where I’m sure heroin wasn’t even available. I’m glad to know someone else was similarly affected!


  3. Danny, what a riot – but I get it……. In my teenage years case, the greatest fear was teenage pregnancy which would have had to involve immaculate conception since I wasn’t having sex. However, if this unlikely event did happen, I had invented in my mind an involved plan of getting on a bus to somewhere so that I wouldn’t bring shame and humiliation to my parents.

    Now about this aversion to pencil drawing that you have, I hope that you do give that a go – pencils have a good hand response to pressure and combine nicely with other media like ink and watercolor. I felt that way about dip pens (what is this, the 15th century?!) but your example got me to give it a try and I sort of get it now.

    Also, you were a very cute kid.


  4. An aversion to bittersweet chocolate is just sad! The aftermath of the movie is understandable – twelve is such a tender age. Whoever turned you off the chocolate though, did a bad deed.


  5. Too funny. And I was told this in Catholic grammar school……because my father was a Protestant and my mother a Catholic I was an illegitimate child. Should the Pope had blessed their marriage it would have been ok. But he didn’t. I walked around with that in my little head for some time until I, too, got the nerve to approach my parents. They probably still laugh about it!


  6. I hate the taste of cilantro and thought there was something very wrong because others loved it so much. Then I found out that there are people who lack/or have a certain enzyme that reacts with the chemicals in cilantro and results in those people tasting soap instead of cilantro. At least there is a reason and I’m not just a picky eater. Not being picky, of course, explains the type 2 diabetes. My brother loved his CB book! You are certainly talented in many ways. I saw Psycho when I was 13 and forty years later was unable to shower without my dog in the bathroom to warn me of danger. Those early teen years are difficult to get over.


  7. Great post. I met you at art unraveled. I am the chick with the purple in my hair. You signed my book! When I was 11 I lived in Miami and because of the Bay of Pigs everyone was building fall out shelters. The food shelves were empty in grocery stores and I remember asking my father if we were all going to die. When I was a freshman in college, 1969, we were required to view a movie about atomic bombs and what would happen if we were in the vicinity of them when they were dropped. Visions of these childhood memories still haunt me as well. But I’m fine with pencils.
    P.S. I also hate cilantro !


  8. You make me LOL. By #2 stepdad I assume there were more? He sounds unpleasant. I saw that film or one similar. It had a spiral line (when the heavy metal guitar played) that went round and round, and I thought that’s what being high felt like. (It wasn’t) But it left quite an impression and showed up in my (bad) dreams. We survived the seventies and lived to tell! You still look the same.


  9. If you eat enough cilantro you can eventually train your brain to stop processing it as dish soap. I can almost eat it now without tasting a soap flavor. And jealous of the people who love it! Haha!


  10. My dad died of cancer when I was very young, and I was so frightened that the cancer bogeyman would come and get me too. Kids try so hard to make sense of things that cannot be understood in a sensible way.


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