May 29, 2018
My Night With The Wolf Of Wall Street
Cocaine seems like an amazing drug until it’s suddenly terrifying. It gives you the focus, energy, and self-confidence that are key to success and totally alien to humans as a species. Then it kills you. My dad likes to tell a story about his old manager at a hardware store in Kansas City. The store was struggling, and the boss was about to pack it all up and go home. Then he discovered cocaine. Suddenly he was pulling 18 hour shifts. He slept on a cot in his office and was hellbent on turning everything around. Within a year the store had miraculously doubled its business. Everybody got raises. Then he started skimming profits for coke. Then he got arrested. Then he went to rehab. Another year passed and the store closed.
I never gave much regard to the story. It sounded too much like a parable, or one of those “a friend of a friend said” debunkings that Snopes does. And I’d never met somebody who did coke — it was an idea I only knew as a Hollywood abstraction. It was too simple a story besides, too hazy and distant. I had no use for it and so I never took it to heart. But I never forgot it.
Awhile later, after college, I was having one of those lonely nights where it becomes a psychological necessity to leave the house, regardless of how much money that costs. So I hopped the subway to Hollywood and walked around until I found a sufficiently seedy dive bar. I ordered a double Wild Turkey I couldn’t afford, because that seemed like something authentic loners do. “Wow, you don’t fuck around,” said the guy sitting next to me, who had committed a grievous error by validating my authenticity fetish.
He was in from New York. “Scouting talent.” Also, he was on coke. I’d never seen such a phenomenon in person before, but two details tipped me off. The first clue was that he had an unnatural chemical swagger and self-confidence but didn’t slur a single word. The second clue was something he said: “wow, I did so much coke on the way over.”
I told him I was a writer and name-checked a couple needlessly obscure influences, because I was 23 and therefore useless. He confused my name-checking for legitimacy and started buying drinks with one of those black credit cards. “Go ahead and get wasted on whatever shit is most expensive,” he said, explaining that wasting money when you have too much of it is “almost as good as pre-AIDS sex.”
Has very insistent that he was friends with “the guy who wrote Children of Men” and would get me in touch with his agent, because I’m real, and drink Wild Turkey, and name-checked some needlessly obscure influences. I didn’t do much talking. I was just amused by the fire burning around him – the remarkable, unrelenting intensity and intellectual anarchism that I was young enough to confuse with fun. He kept violating laws of personal space and calling out strangers and he tried to smoke indoors. He was completely obnoxious, and likely a sociopath, but it was impossible to look away. How can you ignore someone who thinks laws don’t apply to him? As the night progressed, he implicated the majority of A-list celebrities in various prostitution or drug crimes, so secure was he in his black credit card.
Nothing he said struck me as particularly true, but cocaine gives you the power to believe your own lies. It was increasingly obvious that he was passing off secondhand anecdotes as his own, and making stuff up outright for validation, but right after the words exited his mouth, he was positive that everything he said was righteous and true. And that was all fine by me. I had nothing better to do with my time, because I was 23, and his mission of self-destruction demanded to be seen. He was loud and aggressive and told exciting stories about the sinfulness of high society. He lived in a heightened reality that was cinematic, dangerous, and intoxicating.
But after awhile it stopped being fun. His twitchiness took on a violent undertone, as if he might reach for a knife instead of a flask and accuse me of stealing from him. He quickly became paranoid and conspiratorial. “The Hollywood hills are amazing because you get to tower over everybody. You get to actually be better than them!” he told me with a sense of disgust, a sense that nobody deserved his uncompromising intellect and robust personality. It was obvious that he feared silence, he feared being alone with his thoughts – he feared the boring routine of real life. Everything had to be cinematic. Movie stars had to be drug addicts or murderers. Producers had to be crooks. Catering guys had to be in the mob. It was impossible to imagine him existing with a cup of coffee at a kitchen table in the morning. He was exhausting. At about 1 in the morning he said “hey, you want your first cocaine?” and I politely declined and left.
We kept in touch sporadically after that, because I enjoyed the novelty of knowing, from the low-stakes safety of a computer in another town, a coke fiend with a black credit card. He wasn’t online much. Every once in awhile he’d post a picture on facebook of him backstage at a rock show, to prove he was backstage at a rock show. But his lucidity rapidly declined.
He’d start posting statuses to the effect of “lethal weapon is awesome” and I unfriended him when I realized I had no business knowing him in the first place, not even as a novelty. I eventually checked his twitter, and he had given his cell phone number to a porn star whose username he misspelled. Six months later he was dead.