First Time: First High

I read again at the last First Time series. It had been awhile. For those of you who wished you had come, but couldn’t and for those of you who thought you were coming and didn’t, here’s what you missed. My song choice will come, like it does at the events, at the end.

Growing up in Wisconsin there was always some sort of party around. I am fond of telling people that I “grew up” in bars. But, it’s really not an exaggeration. My earliest memories are of being in bars, taverns, and bowling alleys. My father’s father owned a bar when we were small, and we’d go in on Saturdays and say hi to Grandpa and run behind the bar and pick out a candy bar. It was called the Penny Bar, because the whole length of the bar was … covered in pennies.

The Penny Bar no longer has my Grandfather’s original bar, but it’s still open, and still called the Penny Bar. The bar in our basement is covered in pennies in homage and seemingly as well stocked. I guess one of my first highs was from the polyurethane my dad used to seal the shiny, new 1988 pennies onto the bar – in the dead of winter as my sister and I sat downstairs and tried to conquer Super Mario World. A high that quickly turned into a headache after about 45 minutes, of course.

But drinking and music was part of how life was in small town Wisconsin. Bar leagues and jukeboxes. My little town had exactly two churches (Lutheran and Catholic), a beer depot (that’s a liquor store) and approximately 15 bars. To this day, the smell of stale beer, cigarettes and bar disinfectant smells like … home to me. It’s a feeling I can’t shake and I’ve stopped trying.

Oddly enough, I ended up to be a perfect candidate for Nancy Reagan and her “Just Say No” crew. I was convinced that I wouldn’t drink and I most certainly would NEVER do drugs. EVER. However, the mind is a strange thing, and its ability for paradoxical thought, is truly amazing.

For instance, I was also obsessed with the 60s. I loved the idea of peace and love and Woodstock. I loved the hippies protesting against the war and expanding your mind. And I was pretty sure that at some point, I’d want to check out smoking pot. I thought that it’d be a prerequisite to being an activist.

But as far as high school was concerned, I was busy hanging out with a fundamentalist Christian chick, so I was lucky to be able to mention watching MTV without disapproving looks coming from her direction. Really? – the shit you could see on MTV from 1984-1991 was fucking incredible. From The Cars to Whitney Houston to Peter Gabriel to Guns and Roses to Billy Joel to RATT to George Harrison to Madonna to Paul Simon to Duran Duran to Prince to Weird Al to Twisted Sister to Michael Jackson to RUN DMC to the Beastie Boys to whatthefuckever was on Top 40. Seriously.

Yet, I digress. Point being, I wasn’t doing shit toward advancing myself toward any sort of first high in high school. But, I really loved MTV. College was more of the same. I went to a small, liberal arts school in Naperville, and I hung with a lot of real straight shooters. Honestly, if I had ended up going to a huge party school like Madison, for instance, I don’t know what would have happened to me.

I made it two years in college before the combination of my first big breakup, lack of direction and a first major depression led me right out the doors of higher learning. By that point, I had made friends with some younger people who already had learned the finer arts of drinking, smoking and doing illicit drugs. When I first met them, I was still “straight edge” (according to the one who was a punk from Grand Rapids, South Dakota), and I felt bad for their wanton ways. One of them had already gotten into trouble a few times with the school, and so I decided to hang out with him on the weekends while his (my new) friends partied ass and he did his best to abstain.

We would borrow a friend’s car and drove around a lot. Spending all that time together, we inevitably started to fall for one another, and ended up dating. Eventually Scott decided he’d had enough of chemical abstinence and my new education began in earnest.

My first real drunk was when I moved into my very first apartment. In what was to set the stage for my future drinking career, I got wasted from the get. I was supposed to go to a concert with a friend, and I got brownout drunk on Jack Daniels. She didn’t want to go to the concert alone, so I was still companion on this trip down to the World Music Theater to see Neil Young. The long and short is that I sat down in my seat and closed my eyes, and woke up to hear what was at that time my favorite Neil Young song, “Rockin’ In The Free World.” This was amazing! Rockin’ In The Free World! Hell, yeah! I stood up excitedly and enjoyed the song – the best I could in my condition – only to find this was the last song of the encore. Needless to say, my friend was fucking PISSED about my lackluster performance as a concert companion and my karma was soon upon me as I spent the rest of the night fighting off throwing up and probably the worst case of the bed spins I ever had. I never drank brown liquor again.

On the contrary, I know that much like when I had sex for the first time, when I was ready to start smoking weed, I was ready. I started smoking cigarettes to learn how to inhale so I didn’t “waste anyone’s weed.” My logic was clearly rock-solid, and no one was challenging me on it. My first cigarette was a hand-rolled Drum, and I’m glad I was sitting on the ground, because it literally knocked me silly. I thought to myself, “THIS is why people smoke.” Needless to say, that fucked up dizzy doesn’t last forever.

I should note here that I came to learn years later that my personality is as addictive as the day is long, and then longer, because that’s how I roll. More, please. If there’s something that will alter the way that I feel about myself, I want to do that. Or anything else that will do that. To excess. The idea that there is a way to moderate these matters – matters of ecstacy and exuberance and excess – seems impossible. See, most people don’t even couch the idea of kissing or drinking or riding a rollercoaster in those terms, anyway. They don’t think like that – they think about having a beer or a day at a park or the distant memory of their first love. But not me; I just don’t know how to regulate these matters. It’s just how I’m hardwired. It’s a disease of perception, an allergy of the body; in layman’s terms, I don’t have “an off switch.”

Some people, they have a few drinks, they feel “buzzed,” and they decide they’ve had enough. Me, I feel it and I think, I need to keep this feeling going for as long as possible. Actually, I believe there’s something in my body that triggers that feeling without any conscious thought on my part, if you really want to know the truth. And, so I go until I pass out or feel sick or whatever. Some people are blackout drinkers, some people are pukers. I’m neither. I don’t blackout and I’d probably get sick, except for my vomit phobia. I’d probably be doing my liver a favor if I’d been a stick my finger down my throat kind of gal, that’s just not my style. It also means if you’re with me and you start in on the choaching, I’m not holding your hair. You’re on your own.

Back to college. Me and my merry band of boys, and all the boys to come – we had some really awesome times. I’m not going to lie. They were still beholden to college and trying to do the deal. Me, I had already failed at one stage of life. I now had a full-time job, which meant there was no more homework for me. There were no papers to write. When I was done with work, my time was my own. And like the “good girl” I was, I had waited to start this partying process until I was nearly 21, so now I had legal access to liquor and bars. This was the life, right? This was the new school.

They showed me what whippets were. I did acid with them for the first time and really, really tripped. Seeing diamonds in an ice slick is amazing and being alone in a winter graveyard while tripping is something else. Peaceful, calm, beautiful. I’ll never be sad that I’ve done any sort of psychedelic. Tripping in Wrigley Field on mushrooms and seeing 7 Scott Servaises at home plate while the outfield takes about a 35 degree slant towards the batter is truly a sight to behold.

But mostly, I was chasing my first high and my newfound love affair with marijuana. Cannabis. Mary Jane. Grass. Pot. Reefer. Smoke. Cookies. Whatever random nickname you have for it. It had the same wonderful pattern every time: Euphoria – laughing and talking and tons of things to say about all the intense thoughts and feelings I was having and then a slow come down, mellowing out, getting hungry, wanting to chill and possibly “get high” again. Lay around, take a nap, be a complete sloth. Not the key components for someone trying to make something of herself.

I was high a LOT. I also had to listen to a lot of music I hated. The guys were into Sisters of Mercy and Laibach and Skinny Puppy and Einsterzende Neubauten. But Scott loved the Rolling Stones. And he introduced me to Some Girls and Sticky Fingers …. and Exile on Main Street. Previously, my knowledge of the Stones came via whatever was on the Oldies station as a kid. Brown Sugar, Satisfaction, Get Off My Cloud. But Scott was minorly obsessed with this double album and was singing its praises from the rooftops.

Good thing, too, because this shit was good. I was instantly sold. There were horns and honky tonk songs and country numbers. It was as good as all the critics had acclaimed it. After we broke up, Scott and I didn’t talk for a long time. I went on to have other highs with other boyfriends – crazier, higher, weirder highs. I crossed every line I said I wouldn’t except for crack and heroin and meth. I had to figure out that despite all the good times I had and the memories I made, it’s best if I leave the highs to people younger and stronger than me; people better equipped to do one and leave it alone or actually only occasionally dip their toe into the well of madness. It wasn’t until after I surrendered to the fact that I am one of those people that will eventually end up along the lines of Kurt and Janis and Jimi and now Amy, if I don’t seek a different way of finding bliss and peace and serenity.

I did find a different way, and I haven’t seen a drink or a drug pass my lips for nearly 10 years. Saying that out loud seems insane. Only because drinking and doing drugs was such an integral part of who I was, what I did, who I hung out with. It defined me in every way possible for nearly a decade. But I got out of that game. I have talked to Scott since; he read at this series last September. And even if I hadn’t, I believe that if they leave you with nothing else, most romantic encounters leave you with some sort of musical gift. Some sort of new band or new way of looking at music that never leaves you. I got high on weed with Scott, and I got high on Exile on Main Street. One has left me and the other never will.


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