Before you pass your final judgment on me, I feel it’s only fair that you let me elaborate on some of my darkest demons. I’ve actually tried to avoid the subject to this point, just as I tried to avoid those demons for half my life. I’d like to explain to you how I began to cook methamphetamine at the young and very impressionable age of 17. It was all unintentional, you see, and from the very beginning it’s not what I set myself up to do.
I should probably begin by saying my stepfather was a convict. My mother met her second husband after my biological father by writing letters back and forth in prison. Anyway, he was released when I was 15 years old and he moved into our house (our trailer) that we — my brother and mother — lived in at the time in Clearlake, Mendocino county, northern California.. His number one obsession was to cook a batch of dope or meth. He paroled with so many recipes it was crazy. At the time I thought, There’s no way you can make dope out of that stuff and for the most part I was right. To my knowledge he was never able to cook a batch successfully and not for lack of trying. At one point I even remember him expressing pride in my success and the quality of the dope that I was producing. It went something like, “I’m proud of you son, that ‘s some screaming shit you got there.”
It’s probably hard to imagine, but this is all normal if you ask me when you live in a town like I do and did during my youth. Clearlake, California, has a population of about 15,000 people struggling to make ends meet with no jobs to speak of. It’s made up mostly of mobile homes on dirt roads surrounding a polluted lake that used to be beautiful. I’m told that at one time this was once a booming community. But all I’d ever seen was a bunch of tweakers chasing a sack, living month-to-month off of welfare and Social Security. I swear everyone was running the local streets at all hours of the night dodging the local police. It feels like there’s no other place like it on Earth, but I’m sure there are thousands of Clearlakes across America. If you asked anyone from there, I’m sure they would tell you how bad it really is.
Since the 10th grade when I moved there from Sacramento the drug was readily available and easy to come by. My junior year in high school I was cooking meth at my girlfriend’s best friend’s house. Her father, who I had known for two years by then, had become a friend of the family. He did maintenance on my parents’ cars and I was either always at his house or his daughter was at mine. One night he asked me if I wanted to do some work for him which I figured to be the normal job of cleaning out his garage or maybe a dump run in the morning. I said, “Sure, Captain, no problem. What do you need me to do?” (I called him Captain Kirk.) He always paid me well with dope (meth), weed, or cash, whatever I preferred.
Anyway, he led me upstairs and said, “We need to talk.” Up to this point I had never been allowed upstairs. That’s not to say I didn’t know what was going on up there or had never snuck up their with his daughter while he was gone. I knew enough to know that something was up when we were headed up the stairs and he asked me what the girls were doing. I told him they were in the bedroom on the computer.
Normally the subsequent room to his bedroom was always padlocked shut, but the door now stood ajar and he led me into the room. It was tiny really, with only enough room for the two chairs, small table and dresser in the corner. It looked like a workshop without the tools. There was a hot plate on the table and mason jars and other glassware I didn’t recognize at the time stacked on the dresser. I didn’t realize initially that I had just stepped into a meth lab, but the reality of it all hit me pretty quickly. He started explaining to me that what he was showing me was private and I couldn’t tell anyone. Not my mom’s old man who he had referred to by name because at this point they had become friends. Not my girl, his daughter, or even his wife who I believe was separated at the time, living in Santa Rosa near her job.
He proceeded to show me a 50-gallon black hefty bag full of sudafed pills still in the bubble wrap. As we continued to smoke dope he explained that he needed me to pop all the pills out and put them in this very large mason jar in front of us on the table. But that was secondary. First he told me he needed me to extract the ephedrine that was already in the jar. This was 4 inches of clear white substance at the top of the jar. Then he proceeded to show me how easy it was and explained that he would be in the shop in the backyard and left me to my task at hand.
I was either a natural or it is just too damn easy because I never had any difficulties whatsoever. From that moment on he had me helping him three or four nights a week. At first I was reluctant to learn the whole process. I didn’t want to possess that much power. Honestly, I didn’t think I would ever be able to stop. Believe me when I tell you making meth is more addictive than actually doing the drug. It’s something I can never escape from. That’s why Hitler was spinning a flask on my back. I got the tattoo to signify leaving it behind me. They call it “spinning the dragon,” which I think is a good analogy because you are truly creating a monster when you mess with it.
Before long I had become his apprentice and he taught me everything he knew. His sons who lived elsewhere hated me because he wouldn’t involve them. Even his daughter who previously had been my best friend and was like a sister to me, began to despise me. They were all jealous because he wouldn’t corrupt them with the knowledge or involvement that I was privileged with. I understand his reasoning more now than I did then and I still don’t hate him for it. I clutched on to our relationship like a son with his father because it’s the closest thing I ever had to a real one. He called me son and treated me as such, although he never corrupted his actual offspring as completely as he did me. I still have love for him and his family to this day, even after our falling out and everything went bad.
I was arrested at my house and sat in jail for under the influence of meth which is commonly known as 11550 for 30 days before Proposition 36 came into effect and I was the second person in Lake County to plead guilty under that new law. I received a drug diversion program and was back on the streets quickly.
Upon my release I found out that he had simultaneously been raided and arrested at a local restaurant a couple of weeks after I was. He ended up going down for six years for the manufacture of methamphetamine.
His family had started a vicious rumor that I had ratted him out. From that moment on my reputation has been questioned on the street. For me to have actually told on him would have been unthinkable. He was like a father to me and his family was my family. To this day I still have nothing but the utmost respect and love in my heart for Captain Kirk.
Now that you see how easily I fell into such a lifestyle at an early age, maybe you’ll have some sympathy when passing judgment on me and how I lead my life. Although which end of the asshole spectrum I end up on is entirely up to you. I want you to realize I didn’t set out to lead the life that I have. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up as a kid, the answer was never this convict that I’ve become. I never set out to be this unproductive member of society, but ultimately that’s what I am. Even when I was generally perceived as being productive, I wasn’t. At least not for the most part.
I’ve been a functioning tweaker since my sophomore year in high school, with only a select few people knowing my business and what it was like growing up in the type of environment I did. From the very first time I tried the drug I was addicted and very quickly became a closet tweaker. I was still attending school, although not as regularly, all the way through my senior year. I was on the drug and high almost every day and began selling it almost immediately — nothing to get rich over, just enough to pay for my habit and have a little pocket money. I didn’t really sell it at school except to my select circle of friends who were few and far between. I hung out with an older crowd and was always the baby of the crew, trying to prove myself and acting like a bad-ass to earn my stripes. I started ditching class after third period to drive around the Lake with friends and hustle crank. During these high school years I believe I went around the lake — an hour and a half drive — more times than in all the years I’ve lived in Lake County. I would have a homeboy pick me up from school and we would smash off for days at a time selling dope all over the lake. We knew tweakers in every town in the county, even in the gated communities that thought they were keeping tweakers out.
I’m telling you, contrary to popular belief, that functioning tweakers do exist in society. You know the saying, “It takes one to know one”? Well, I will be the first to tell you we were not mythical creatures like leprechauns or wizards. And certainly we were not as far-fetched as vampires or werewolves. We do exist. We are your doctors, your lawyers, your bus drivers, even your peace officers. We are everywhere. We are in all walks of life. We may be weekend warriors or we may use the drug daily, but what we have in common is the fact that we have control over the drug. We are able to maintain our daily activities without letting the drug interfere with our lives. When asked by other tweakers how I was able to maintain my job, place of residence and being a parent and so forth, my answer is simple: “I don’t shoot dope, I smoke it.” (Shoot or slam equals intravenous injections, i.e., needles.) “I’m cool. I am faithful to my pipe.” Besides, I’ve seen what it does to my friends and believe me when I tell you it will change your life — but not for the better. I know what you are thinking: How can I qualify as a functioning tweaker while I’m sitting in prison?
Like the transformers, sometimes there’s more than meets the eye. Other times it’s more fun to drop the functioning and just be a tweaker. If you’ve never tweaked yourself or especially if you are a reformed tweaker, I imagine you probably frown on tweakers in general which is more than understandable because generally speaking our population (of tweakers) is made up of sheisty-ass, shifty individuals who had any given hour (that’s right, because sleep is the enemy and only for the weak) is capable of, well, anything. I mean really — from stealing your car battery to siphoning your gas, all the way to ripping off our fellow tweakers by dumping out the bowl of crank on our shoe before passing back the pipe. Some tweakers will do almost anything to get high. I swear that some go to such lengths it still shocks me today and I’ve seen it all — or so I thought.
Look at this one tweaker I recently met who gave me a great deal on gas the last time I ran out. In his garage he had barrels of the shit just sitting there. I asked him, “What the hell, man? How did you get all this?” I was looking at four 50-gallon barrels full and I tried to do the math. At $4 a gallon — it’s a god-damned fortune. He proceeded to take me back to my car in his vehicle and showed me the trapdoor attached to the floorboard of his ride. He said his vehicle was filled with gas cans and hoses. He had some pump contraption he used to steal gas at the station. He was able to pull off this sheisty maneuver in broad daylight while his old lady parked over the manhole cover and ran in for a pack of smokes. Apparently, he hadn’t paid for gas in over three years and neither should I. He told me to stop by anytime I needed to fill my tank. I know, ingenious, right? Honestly, I’m just surprised these guys are smart enough to not light up a cigarette after leaving the scene.
But I still promise you that not all legal tweakers are evil. Some of us can be trusted. We can use and still possess our morals at the same time. I guarantee someone you know — maybe a coworker, family member or friend — is a functioning closet tweaker and you may never know it. I know wives who tweak and their husbands don’t know. I know husbands who tweak and their wives don’t know. I know teachers who tweak and their students don’t know. I know attorneys who tweak and their clients don’t know. I even know doctors who tweak and their patients don’t know. I could go on forever and still some of you would never believe me.
You always see the world as black and white, good and evil, right or wrong. You never see the gray area right in front of you and I guess that’s okay because the reality of it I’ve been breaking all the rules, telling you the way it is, how deep the rabbit hole really goes. Honestly you should thank me, Alice, because I put myself in danger telling you as much as I have here. The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t tell anyone else about Fight Club. That’s why society remains in the dark. But where it’s dark I bring light. (Note: All tweakers have flashlights, it’s mandatory.) Whether or not you choose to see it is up to you.
Also for your information it’s not like I’ve been using all my life, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it’s been going on for most of my life. I’m just trying to keep it real and where I’m from that what’s going on. I know there are probably a million people out there who can relate and still millions more who hate my guts and want me to burn in hell for saying and doing the things that I have. What you probably all have in common right now is you are asking yourself why I would put it all out there the way that I have. The answer is simple: it’s the truth.
Signed, The Boy with the Dragon Tattoo. Get it? Spinning the Dragon. Questions or comments can be sent to me, “Cheddar Bob” aka Ronald Rhea AG0515, CCI Facility D-6-1-UP, PO Box 608, Tehachapi, CA 93581. All correspondence greatly appreciated. Let me know if you look forward to the book.
This piece first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, Boonville, CA. www.theava.com.