Joelle and Too Much Fun (a 1980s story)
[Note: Huge props for Infinite Detox, who not only is using Infinite Jest to work through his graduated withdrawal from tramadol, the synthetic opiate to which he’s been addicted for years, but is also an extremely insightful commentator on issues emerging in the text itself. His analysis of some of the recurring words in IJ – scopophilia, halation, fitviavi – is fantastic, analytical and well-written but also deeply personal, as any reader of IJ knows that a relationship with a Substance, an addiction, is a combined physical, moral, religious, psychic, and intellectual journey. If there were a “Best of Infinite Summer” list, Infinite Detox would be at the top.]
On 7 November, Y.D.A.U., Joelle van Dyne stands in Molly Notkin’s bedroom, “a little under two deliberate minutes from Too Much Fun for anyone mortal to hope to endure” (238). The anticipation, for Joelle and reader alike, is staggering, palpable, shattering. This is not the mixed-up feeling that Erdedy gets from his hundreds of consecutive bong hits, mouth turned to cotton, lips raw, Unit sore, unable to leave his room or decide… about… anything… This is, instead, “to be watched for an instance by God” (235). Here is a story about having Too Much Fun.
M- and I opened the door to a guy about 25, vaguely familiar as the sometimes boyfriend of our down-the-hall neighbor. ” I’m Joe, Kirsten threw me out to get some homework done, said you guys are a place to hole up to party.” Since a puff of flavorful marijuana smoke, previously held back by a strategically-placed towel, had escaped the W. Residence Hall door, the answer was obvious. Turned out Joe was dealing free-base cocaine, and needed a place to work out of. ” Ever base before?” Joe asked, as our eyes widened greedily.
He busted out crack pipes and baking soda and lighters and foil and spoons [. The first few small hits were pretty much like a nice cocaine high topped by a “loaded” cigarette. We swooned, we laughed, we chain-smoked, we let the smooth, metallic phlegm climb up our throat and washed it down with more tobacco in a perfect combination. Everything was cool. When it was gone, M- and I showed some cash, but he told us to wait. Soon enough, a friend of his knocked at our door. Joe left the building, and was back in half-an-hour. ]
Joe was buying from someone else. He would take $250 bucks for an eight-ball [, go pay $150 for it, get an extra gram, and then significantly “lighten” the eight. When he came back, we would smoke with the eagerly waiting buyer – his rock, of course. And since Joe did all the prep, he could go heavy with someone else’s stash. When the buyer split, we would smoke the portion that Joe had lightened from the original buy, then what he’d bought out of the difference. A few hours later – next buyer, same deal. Buy, lighten, smoke, see the guy off, smoke the rest. Sometimes they came in twos and threes. ]
Only when smoking with the first buyer did M- and I begin to understand the true beauty of this Substance. Now the rocks were bigger. Before you’re done inhaling, your eyes are brimming with joy, your chest expands to fill the entire room, every muscle in your body tingles with pleasure, the music in the background lifts off the turntable [, takes your hand, and dances you into far off lands of coconut and lavender fragrance. You release the pipe, fall backwards, and float in a stretched-out timeless dream, hearing the muted voices of your loved ones surrounding you (“ok, who’s next?” & “Suck quick!”). No jealousy, no possessions – no worrying about what would happen when this feeling came to an end. You rise back up to sit, gaze numbly around the familiar room, bask in its soft edges. You draw a cigarette out of the pack, light it, and breathe in every ounce it has to offer, both through the filter and off the glowing end. And you watch, happily, as your best possible friends in the whole universe begin an experience just like the one you just had, overjoyed that they, too, could be so happy. ]
At 4:00 in the morning, customers long gone, our own stash cooked and smoked, the scraping began. Hours, hours, we could spend. Scraping the blackened resin of each spent pipe. Searching the floor and clothes for dropped flakes. Scraping filters and the blackened edges of tin foil. Collect, place in pipe. Repeat action. When 7:00 rolled around, I took a shower and headed off to the cafeteria and class. Back by 10:30, the slow, even march of customers began again. Money, pickup, smoke with buyer, smoke the extra. All day, all night, scrape in the wee hours. No class, smoke straight through. Leave only for burritos, beer, and fresh cartons of cigarettes. The Substance never slackened, never dulled, never misled, refused to abandon us, or us it.
By the morning after the third night, we all began to tire and to doze off. Joe took off to crash somewhere more comfortable, and M- and I each spent sixteen hours of ragged, dream-filled sleep [. Around 10:00 that night, we got up, went out to eat, returned to our dorm. And found our room absolutely filled with pipes, baggies, razors, spoons, tin foil packets. It seemed like there was Substance everywhere. In empty cigarette packets. On the counter in the bathroom. Under the bed. We pushed it all into a pile in the middle of the floor, and began to scrape, collect, and smoke. Unbelievable how many times you could re-use this Substance. It lasted all night. ]
The next afternoon, after more sleep, we begin again. This time, a few tabs of acid first, see what the combo is like. Search the room. Scrape the pipes… again. Break them open. Unroll the discarded tin foil balls and re-scrape.
The next morning, we got up, and looked at the pile on the floor. I idly grabbed a razor blade to see what could be done. Then I looked at M-. He looked at me. Nothing special was exchanged in that glance, but I grabbed a plastic trash bag, and we began to load everything in. Without a word, we cleaned that room from top to bottom, and took the bags out into the big trash container behind the W. Hall. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t have to.
Joe showed up a few more times, but never parked it in our room again. He’d invite us down to Kirsten’s to smoke, or drop by our room. Once I sat and watched during one of my occasional no-drug purges. For awhile, anyway.
Before overpaying Delphina for her “final” (possibly suicidal) experience of Too Much Fun, Joelle had cleansed her house of all paraphernalia, smoked her Chore Boys and panties (used as filters). The scene is ambiguous; this early in the novel, it is inconceivable that Madame Psychosis, star of Himself’s late masterpieces, the P.G.O.A.T., radio hero of Mario and oh-so-many others, the Entertainment Herself (or so the clues indicate), could succeed in killing herself, and I will surely believe that she did not until informed otherwise (no spoilers, please!). And why? Because I would love to be in the bathroom with her and her twenty perfect hits. Any reasonable person would, I think.
I am lucky that I never caught a Dis-ease. Whatever Substance I was having a relationship with was always a partially rocky one, and we split up before the going got too bad. Paranoid Marijuana. Bad acid trips. Worse acid trips. Bloody white-powdered noses and that truly dislikable but unavoidable specimen, the 3:00 a.m. joneser. Alcohol sickness that comes on fast, leaves incapacitating hangovers. Boring downers, jittery ups. X with its descending impact, never as x-static as the first few times. Freebase cocaine was pure, perfect, absolute, god.
My Dad, who has worked as a physician in a methadone clinic for like going on 20 years, says that heroin addiction is a mysterious thing. Four 12-year-old kids shoot up in a warehouse in the Bronx. One never does it again. Two may try it on and off for the next few years, no big deal. The fourth – well, the fourth is an addict that very day, gets the Dis-Ease. Nobody knows why. It ain’t chemistry, it ain’t personality, phobias, upbringing, ethnicity, education, poverty, depression. The Dis-Ease is in the Substance, and it’s in the person, and when the two meet, they are bonded for life.
I don’t know why the Substance didn’t take me when I had Too Much Fun. After all, I loved it like nothing – nothing – I’d ever had before. But dumping that plastic trash bag in the waste bin was actually one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.