On Drugs

On Drugs. No two words ever struck such terror into the heart of a youth as these, when placed side by side. On Drugs. To hear our well intentioned mothers and schoolteachers tell it, the menace was lurking around every street corner, even in a tiny Midwestern village of three thousand people. On. Drugs. You would just be walking along minding your own business one day, strolling perhaps to the convenience store to purchase comic books, and a shady character who was On Drugs would emerge from the shadows of this sunny day and hustle his evil wares upon thee.

So quickly did we dismiss this phrase from our memory banks, in our adult years, that we forgot how terrifying and all consuming it was to us as children. By the age of approximately nineteen and a half you realized how preposterous this notion was and promptly forgot about it entirely. Because depending upon the interpretation, either everyone you had ever known was On Drugs, or virtually no one you had ever known was, and in each instance there was no reason to worry about it. Peer pressure was a myth. In the corridors of your high school, you had spent four years looking over your shoulder with a cold sweat, afraid that somebody who was On Drugs would overtake you. Only upon further reflection, somewhere in your mid twenties, did you realize that nobody ever really cares what anybody else is doing and is rarely, if ever, making the effort to talk somebody into something. Anybody who ever ended up On Drugs in life had always really wanted to be On Drugs.

But you have no concept of this as a child or a teen! You stare for endless hours at various posters of your rock star heroes, trying to determine which of them are On Drugs. I also remember being a second grader on the school bus in a brand new district, and being approached by one of the nefarious sixth graders lurking in the back, because the bus always sorted it out by grade. He had a round plastic container filled with bright red granules, and offered them to me, asking if I wanted some “speed.” His lips and the flesh beyond them were colored by the stuff, I was convinced that he was On Drugs. When I adamantly refused he cackled mightily, which only furthered my suspicions. Only much later in life would I recall this incident and suspect that what he actually had was some kind of berry flavored Jell-O.

The greatest fear, of course, is that all perspective is misplaced in our senior years and we revert to these same paranoid horrors. Lapsing back into our childhood reveries and wondering what the difference is between doing some drugs and being On Drugs. Because in the former instance there was at least some hope of redemption, but in the latter, if you were On Drugs, all was lost. You would be the sketchy addict lurking behind convenience stores in tiny Midwestern towns, convincing kids that their four dollars and fifty cents would be better spent On Drugs than some silly comic book or a few packs of baseball cards. From this a life of crime would follow, outrunning the cops in a coast to coast spree after you knocked off one bank after the next to support your habit. All directly attributable to that dude behind the IGA, that Metallica fan who was On Drugs and materialized out of nowhere, who completely ruined your life. So beware, my children, beware.

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