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Vignette: Cigarettes in the City

images (22)Everyone in the city smoked cigarettes, the orange-bright ends illuminating every stoop, park bench, and window. If we shut out the lights, cut the electrical lines, we might still be able to read by the glare of a million burning cigarettes, their ashes spilling into the crease between the pages. Many treated their cigarettes with ritual superstition—practicing traditions passed down from the Great War, from the Native Americans, and from the study-abroad semesters in Bulgaria. Each secreted upside down sticks in their packs—the lucky cigarette—absconding white lighters and lighting up with the ends of each others’ cigarettes. When finished, they tapped out the cigarettes in overflowing ash trays, some plastic, others glass.

The smoke, meanwhile, floated above their heads in lazy spirals—smoke took on a life of its own, an animated beast rising and swaying like a drunk ballerina in flats not yet broken in. The bearded man with glasses, reading Kant with a mix of pretentiousness and a sincere desire to understand, the freckled girl with a glinting nose ring—hell, the Catholic Father with his black shirt unbuttoned in the simmering summer heat. Here they sat, sharing communion: rather than a reminder of life, they acknowledged death, welcomed it into their lungs with breaths deep as love.

The priest took a drag on his cigarette, and I wonder why he smokes, if there is reason at all or if it seemed something to do when there was nothing else to do. Some of the people in the city, they rolled their cigarettes. The heathens of the Holy City smoked everything they could stuff into rolling papers, fitting their filters sloppily to the end.

Perhaps he liked smoking for its symbolism, its thematic properties. Cigarettes reflected the American desire for death, the necessity of it with our lives, because without death, we would not be able to justify our wasteful lives. If we were to live forever, then we would be forced to do something, but death had become our ultimate cop-out, our greatest excuse for failure. We could try, try to do something good and impactful, but then too late—you died too soon, oh well.

The embers died out, crackling like a campfire in the jumble of ash trays, and the city grew dark as the smokers fell one by one to sleep.

Why “I Love It (I Don’t Care)” May Have Redeeming Cultural Value

Like English teachers who labor to drain the meaning out of every sentence in a novel, I want to try to deconstruct and explicate the simple, catchy pop tune “I Love It (I Don’t Care)” by Icona Pop. The song has been playing over and over on the radio, and often I must suffer through it because I don’t own an IPod and often forget to bring CD’s. But the tune itself is not exactly without merit—it provokes an interesting commentary on our generation. Do we really “not care?”

First off, if you haven’t heard the song, which is doubtful, or would like a reminder of its glitzy glamorizing of apathy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxxajLWwzqY

icona-pop-iconic-EP-400x400            After listening to song too many times while driving down the road, I glean two possibilities about the tune’s overall plot. Most likely she’s describing a failed relationship with an older, more serious lover; the other possibility is that she’s actually describing her relationship with her parents. Because of the emphasis on party lifestyle and young hedonism in the music video, I am going to go with the second option.

The main refrain of course is “I don’t care,” which clearly manifests the feelings of youth today, the generation of Icona Pop and me (clearly 90’s children). My generation lacks anything to care about beyond their own petty lives, not because worthy things do not exist, but rather because we do not focus on those things (i.e. war, global climate change, human trafficking, etc.) We don’t care about anything but our own lives, and even those to us seem ethereal, inconsequential. We’re trapped in a system that marginalizes the efforts and desires of the youth, and so we figure, why bother?

I should clarify that when I say we, I mean our generation as a whole, and I am not writing this to defend the perversion of apathy, but rather critique it. In fact, I somehow wonder whether this song does exactly that—while glorifying “not caring,” is it also pointing out the lack of involvement youth have in politics, culture, and their own futures?

After each “I don’t care,” comes “I love it,” which is a disturbing idea. Not only do we not care that we are spiting our parents, but rather we enjoy it. We are proud of our own nihilism.

We reject the wisdom of other generations, instead relying on our innate instincts to carry us through life. See lines: “You’re so damn hard to please, we gotta kill this switch
You’re from the 70’s, but I’m a 90’s bitch.” This line convinces me that the song is talking about more than a failed relationship, but rather a series of failed relationship, the failure for one generation to transfer knowledge to the next; we constantly ignore the advice of the experienced.

Furthermore, we seek an illusion of perpetual twenty-something ecstasy, retaining the notion our lives can be a images (14)nonstop, adrenaline-fueled party, relying on drugs and dancing to keep us in the “Milky Way.” This part of the song reflects our desire to reject earthly principles such as class, money, and politics, embracing a more humanitarian philosophy “up in space.” Of course, the fact that “I don’t care” undermines the means to ever affect such a philosophy for this generation.

We are disappointed with our life has turned out and want something better than what our elders built, but rather than attempt something better, we caustically accept our lot. We do nothing to actually change our situation, simply referring to fact that we don’t even care.

Crashing the car and letting it burn serves as a symbolic act of revenge and rebellion for the singer, but she may fail to see the futility in the act. While angry, she may feel satisfied with her action, but the action is merely symbolic. Her frustration with the person she’s addressing may never be resolved, because she like most of my generation only symbolically rebel from our parents (or rather, from old traditions and old ways of thinking). This is not progress.

images (15)            Progress is changing the way we act and think, not just symbolically crashing cars or getting tattoos or doing drugs or dying our hair or having sex with strangers. Teenagers have been systematically programmed to react in ways that only harm themselves, not the system which has wronged them. Therefore, they become cynical much too young, usually resigned to a world system because “that’s the way it is.”

But I refuse to believe that all of us truly “don’t care,” or even that we “love it.” Maybe I am reading into the song too deeply, but each time I listen to the synth-heavy pop ballad, I think of the responsibility each of us holds for the future and the fact there is no room for apathy.

A Brief Jaunt in the Woods: Appalachian Journal

Last night, I returned with four other guys from a three-day trek along the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smokey Mountains. We imagined a fine stroll in the woods, a few days breathing good air and overlooking mountain vistas, but we ended up with cramped calves, blistered feet, and weathered shoulders. While it did not bring the calm or enlightenment that some people claimed, the mountain trip taught me a lot about expectations, companionship, and the nature of nature.

                Below is a direct transcription of the little journal I kept throughout our hikes, including crazed ideas, admissions, and swear words. The entire journey proved harder than any of us thought, but we made it out alive and mostly intact.

June 9, 2013

12:31pm

Spirit Quest. Walkabout. Seeking.

Whatever cultural term might be used to describe a spiritual journey in the wilderness, this is not it. Rather, this will be a walk to death, the ascension to the hangman’s noose. Like many other confused, existential, directionless Caucasian males in their teenage prime, we chose to amble up into the Smokey Mountain National Park, hike a few miles of the Appalachian Trail.

The sky has decided to piss all over us, and I admit I’m not ecstatic to begin walking through muck and cold rain and liquefied misery.

1:20pm

After a wrong turn, we found ourselves lost along the highway. Using our smart phone devices, we found a new way to the entrance to the park. After picking up a map and looking through the visitors center, we are preparing for the hike.

6:40pm

Having entered the trailhead at 2 pm, we have not yet reached our destination. I sit along, awaiting the slower leg of our group to catch up. I need their water. I am unsure how much further it could be, but I hope I am close. The hike has been far more strenuous than I believed, heaving a fifty pound pack uphill. The incline never ceases, and even when I think I have reached the summit, the trail continues up. The last 1/3 has been tame, but exhausting. The first three miles went up a creek, the water rushing past our soaked shoes as we scraped our legs on rocks and climbed hand and foot. We did not prepare for, certainly did not anticipate, the sheer pain of going on and on, trapped in a steaming hallucination of green.

We spotted a single snake, but our worst enemy is the streams. Some have simple brides or even fallen trees to cross, but many we fall into, slipping on the rocks or moss. At the beginning of our journey, just past the first friendly mile, I took off my shoes to clear the stream, clinging to branches as I skirted along the clumsy rocks. My sleeping bag splashed into the stream, soaked through, and for a mile, I carried the bag draped over my shoulders.

I hear my comrades approaching and admit the time to sit has been restful. Like with every new horizon, I pray the campsite lies just beyond.

7:30pm

Steeper. The camp is nowhere in sight, and I feel my body and mind slipping away. My shoulders bulbous and raw and red.

8:10pm

This trail mocks me. Every tree masquerades as a peaceful meadow, but is only another sharp turn up this damned mountain. The Devil hovers behind every boulder, beckoning with bread, with rest, but there is nothing.

It is dark and grow darker. A storm brews in the distance, and not for the first time today am I considering whether I will die here.

8:30pm

I am taking more frequent breaks as I begin to lose hope. I sit on a log observing the first sign I’ve encountered in hours. Ricky encountered me on the trail, on his way to locate Stephen who had disappeared long ago. The sign says there is only a half mile left to the campsite, and I remember believing we had only 1.5 miles left after the 3 mile marker, but we crossed that at 5pm.

My feet are blistered, numb. Even to curl a toe takes great exertion. But Ricky’s presence made me feel better.

It just started raining.

9:00pm

Inane thoughts, rambling.

As I neared the site, I stepped wrong, rolling my angle. I could feel my muscles stretch unnaturally, snapping loudly. “Arrrgh. Fuck.” I collapsed, thinking the worst: that my ankle was broken, that I was trapped.

Three weeks before in La Habana, Cuba I had sprained my ankle and been unable to walk properly for a day– it still affects me now. If I suffered the same fate on the trail, we would be stranded. Alone, I called out the names of my friends. No one could hear me.

Clutching my foot, I assessed the damage. This did not feel as before, and I suspected I could walk given time. Putting weight on the foot, I hobbled across the trail until I felt comfortable walking upright. Then I hefted my pack onto my shoulders and plod on. Each step sent a jolt through my leg, but by now, that sort of pain felt irrelevant.

Funny to think, but while making the final stretch, I thought of how I could transform this experience into a lesson, the sort of clear, cut-and-dry morality  imposed in a standard college essay or fable. Nothing came to mind except that I had overestimated myself– we all had.

We were weak, broken by strain, and lost. Five inept white bys, wondering the dark, dangerous forest.

I reached the camp where Tim and Ricky were, and I set up a tent with ease. While waiting on food, I spilled a bag of granola in my tent, and I cursed myself for bringing rats and other vermin to me.

Ricky showed up with Stephen, both exhausted, and we ate soup. Stephen, like all of us, had at once lost hope on the trail, sitting down on the side, refusing to move. In that way, we are relying on each other to keep going, and I hope we can continue to do this tomorrow.

We learned that the estimation of the trail (4.5 miles) had been wrong and instead we had hiked 6.7 miles. That was why my mind suffered delusions after mile 3, because I thought I was nearly finished. But the I had not even been half-way. Not even half-way up what we learned was the second-highest mountain in the entire park.

10:30pm

We talked for a long time, eating a type of soup that warmed itself when you shook the can. It began to rain in earnest, and we retreated to our tents.

 

June 10, 2013

8:15am

Woke up to my tent filled with water, my shoes and much of my clothes soaked. I could not sleep in my wet sleeping bag and so made do with two towels covering me.

8:49am

The others still sleep.

Not all is misery here. I trekked up a hill to the mountain’s peak, though a good view is impossible through the thick of green leaves. But finally I am feeling a bit of accomplishment at climbing this damned mount.

10:30am

Waiting for clothes to dry. Packing up.

11:45am

Our first leg of our journey proved easier than yesterday, a few brief inclines but mostly flat trail. The descents are no easier, and we move slowly to avoid tumbling down. I packed my bag better with the mostly dry sleeping bag packed inside. We rest now on a bunch of logs. We overlook the mountains draped in white gauzy mist.

12:45pm

We have stopped to cook lunch. My shoulder burn again under the strain of a heavier pack. The trail has been tame, and most of yesterday’s rain has evaporated. No more sliding, spilling, and falling.

The mountain we climbed yesterday was one of the highest in the range, more than 5,000 feet. Hopefully, we will not continue to underestimate this wicked place.

For lunch, we’re eating from a  giant canister of beans and rice. I admit I’m quite hungry, and we will not eat again until nearing nightfall. The sun is very warm in this spot, the wind refreshing.

4:12pm

We arrived in the campsite an hour ago. I have set up my tent. Others are currently setting p theirs. Very hot at the moment, but the bulk of the day’s strain is behind us. The final miles was perilous and muddy, and we hiked through more creeks.

7:00pm

Woke up from a nap. Cooking chicken, rice, and beans with pita chips.

The others have decided against spending a day to explore the area. There is not much to explore we have not already, and we will want to come home soon. The adventure might end prematurely, but it has been an adventure.

9:00pm

We started a fire and sat around it, some of us smoking cheap cigars we bought at the Cherokee Indian Reservation. We’re going to sleep now, as tomorrow might be the longest leg of our journey yet.

 

June 11, 2013

1:12pm

Woke up late at 10am with a stiff back and throbbing head. We encountered an old man hiking who simply grunted in our direction. Now we have learned that he hiked a mere 0.3 miles from a highway to our campsite; we had the opportunity to simply hike out, then hitch-hike, but instead we are already headed in the opposite direction. I do not particularly like this loyalty to the direction we’re headed because we’re unsure how far we must travel.

We left at 12pm and made decent time to the sign we’d encountered before. 1 mile uphill was more difficult than yesterday’s 4 miles down. We have stopped for lunch now– rice and beans again.

1:50pm

Making lunch now that Kevin and Stephen have caught up. Cooper Creek Trail is at 1.5, then there will be more space before we reach Mingus Creek Trail. Hopefully not too far. Though we feel nearly finished, we have a long way to go.

We have decided to eat at Waffle House once back in civilizations, and the thought of a sizzling burger will hopefully keep me moving forward.

5:23pm

Walked another 3.6 miles since lunch. The first 1.5 to Cooper Creek felt easy, so when we reached the crossroads, we kept hiking without stopping. The next 2.1 miles almost killed me.

Half a mile in, we started uphill, back up that damned mountain we climbed the first day. This was a place called Deep Low Gap, a huge elevation change between two high mountains. We spent the morning going down one, and I just spent three and a half hours hiking up the other.

I slowed, dehydrated, exhausted, and eventually I fell behind Tim and Ricky who took the lead. Our pack spread thin, stretched across miles of mountainous terrain. I took many breaks, fearing I could not make it.

700 feet before this intersection, I stopped, plopping down. I saw nothing, my mind turning to mush, but I came to two realizations in that moment of desperation:

1.) I could not go on.

2.) It didn’t matter.

Even though I thought there was no way I could go on, it didn’t matter. I had to go on. I needed to stop, but I could not. This mountain cared nothing for what I thought I could or could not do– it never considered my limitations. The thought of it growing dark again, being trapped here, haunted me. I stood up and kept on, not because of any resolve or new-found strength, but because there were no other choices. Soon, I spotted Ricky and Tim at the intersection, and I collapsed next to them.

Here, there was nothing to learn, but what pain could teach me, and somehow, despite the fact I knew deeply I could not make it, I had made it. And there were still 3 more miles to walk, heaving that pack.

5:55pm

We worry about Kevin and Stephen who have not reached our stopping point yet. They have fallen behind. Ricky and Tim have walked back down the path, sans their packs, to locate them.

8:21pm

We reached the end, after plodding through creeks, and I rolled my ankle again. We waited for ten minutes and continued. Seeing the parking lot brought great relief. Everything did– sinks and toilet seats and the promise of air conditioning. I dresses in fresh clothes I had kept in the van. We washed our muddy legs in the restroom.

We took the Blue Ridge Parkway, which gave us views of those mountains of wicked beauty, all the view we never got climbing them.

8:29pm

Strange to think we camped at the second-highest campsite, seeing these mountains tower over us now. In a way, we feel like conquerors. Weakened by war, but victorious.

8:44pm

Saw an elk on the side of the road. A much more interesting animal than ever we saw trudging through the trail. Up there, there were deer, snakes, and bugs– mostly bugs.

9:30pm

We’re sitting now at a Waffle House, that wonderful bastion of civilization, that beacon in the distance we each crawled towards. We may not return home until very early tomorrow morning, but that seems a little irrelevant now, as the smell of hash browns floats under our nostrils. Mostly, we’re broken, though mostly, we’re exhausted, though mostly we’re satisfied. Never mind– mostly, we’re just hungry.

The Case for “Drug Safety Education” Reform in Public Schools

{The statements expressed in this essay are the sole opinion of the author, Derek Berry, and do not necessarily reflect the philosophies of all of the harm reduction groups discussed}

In fifth grade, I won an essay contest for D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a program devoted to keeping kids from abusing drugs and alcohol. The essay, I read in front of my entire fifth grade class and their parents, probably making them deeply uncomfortable with righteous statements of abstaining from smoking cigarettes, forgoing the consumption of alcohol.

I do not believe I even mention “drugs” in the essay because the thought of abstaining from them never occurred to me: only homeless parasitic liberals used drugs, and I lived in South Carolina where I rarely encountered this breed. (To be fair, DARE has addressed my most serious concern of prescription drug use that I address below, and I have nothing against D.A.R.E., only wish to criticize its approach).

What strikes me about the program is how the officers and teachers attempting to divert us from a life of drug abuse: just say no. Nancy Reagan pioneered the “Just Say No” campaign in the 1980’s, becoming perhaps the most influential first ladies of her time. Not only is this approach slightly rude (Just Say NO THANK YOU), its notion that feeding horror stories to children about drug abuse will deter them from experimenting with drugs is deeply flawed. For more information on “Just Say No,” visit reaganfoundation.org.

Fact: Since 1990 a reported 20.5 million people have used marijuana in an average year.

(http://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr4/2Usage.html)

Statistic: 40% of Americans over the age of 12 have tried cannabis sativa (marijuana).

                (http://www.soberlifeinc.net/js/modalbox/content/g.htm)

Now, this statistic is mighty misleading because cannabis, of course, might be considered a milder drug than many people actually consume, but it gives a good idea to how effective the “Just Say No” philosophy is. If a majority of American school children went through this D.A.R.E. program and still experimented with one of the drugs that were advised against, what other drugs might they try? Despite cannabis being relatively harmless, its use often help guide users into use and abuse of harder, more dangerous drugs.

What I would like to propose is certainly not an obliteration of drug awareness education but rather a more realistic approach to educating our kids about drugs. In many middle schools, groaning school children sit through Sex Ed classes, where the philosophy has shifted from “Abstinence-Only” education to “Protection” education. Teachers and administrators realize the reality of teenage sexuality, that many teens will not abstain from sex and without the proper knowledge, could end up impregnating each other and transferring potentially life-threatening STD’s.

Naturally, I am aware that sexual education also is lax, that despite efforts information is not always transmitted in the most effective means. What proponents of sexual education have done right, however, is take into account that a portion (even if not a majority) of teenagers will experiment sexually with more than one partner and without the know-how to protect themselves, they could end up in serious trouble. We need to admit to ourselves that American youths do indeed indulge in drugs and if we want to save them, we have to be honest with them. We have to educate them.

(http://ssdp.org/resources/facts-and-statistics/)

This approach has worked more effectively with alcohol education. The College of Charleston where I attend requires each student to complete an Alcohol Edu course online before attending for the semester because they have grown aware that students break the law, that students will drink alcohol whether the law permits them to or not. Many students approach drugs with the same mindset, but during the Alcohol Education class, the only drug mentioned was marijuana and only briefly. (It made some comment about knowing what ingredients are in the brownies you eat on campus).

There grows a serious problem here, one that we prefer to ignore. The more we delude ourselves that kids will not experiment with dangerous drugs, the larger chance we take. We’re metaphorically throwing two hormonal teenagers together in a room without a condom and telling them to “not do anything bad.”

We must equip the next generation with the knowledge they need if they do experiment with drugs because to not do so is the marginalize a great portion of the younger society, to basically say that while we care about helping prevent alcohol poisoning, we have no intention of preventing drug overdose.

A brief anecdote if you will permit:

I attended a party one night and had left my bag in my friend’s bedroom. When I entered the bedroom to retrieve the bag, I found a girl laying on the bed transfixed on the television.

                “Are you okay?”

                She nodded very slowly, and I approached her, asking again, “Are you okay?”

                “Just a little high.”

                “On what?”

                She didn’t say anything, just shrugged, then pointed to her IPhone on which remained residue on a crushed-up white substance (it turned out to be molly, a drug growing in popularity among the alternative scene: pure MDMA, though it is often cut with things that are not MDMA including heroin, speed, or methamphetamine. To find out more about this drug, go here.) 

                “How much of that did you take?”

                Another shrug.

                “How much? Are you okay?” She certainly did not look alright and if then I had been informed as I am now I might have sought medical attention, but she exhibited no signs of overdose. Rather, someone had helped administer the drug, then left her alone while she experiencing a mood-altering drug for the first time.

                “It’s okay. The guy who sold it to me said it was basically harmless. I wouldn’t overdose.”

Fin.

Let’s talk about some of the immensely major problems we encounter in this story. A young girl trying a drug for the first time did not know what drug she had tried, had not inquired what the drug might have been cut with, and she was unsure how much of the “basically harmless” drug she had snorted.

Here’s a good rule to keep in mind: you can’t trust what a dealer says. Even if he’s your friend, your uncle, or your pediatrician (we’ll get to prescription drugs as well), you should educate yourself on the drugs you’re taking. You and you alone are responsible for using a drug sensibly, if you choose to use a drug. After all, if McDonald’s isn’t willing to tell you what’s in your chicken nuggets, what makes you certain that someone you don’t know that well will be honest about what your ecstasy is cut with?

Because of the lack of drug education, many people don’t know what a lot of drugs even look like. They do not know what various drugs might DO to

them when snorted, injected, smoked, parachuted, huffed, or eaten. My personal theory is that many people experiment with various drugs to “experience what they feel like,” but if people knew more clearly their full effects and also the dangers posed by various drugs, they could avoid seriously harming themselves through experimentation.

While there is no single great resource completely backed by scientific research yet, there are still resources to educate yourself about drugs. Even if you do not personally experiment with drugs, you should be aware of the effects of drugs and what to do in the case of an overdose. It is also important to know what different drugs might do when taken together (an especially lethal idea, mind you).

My most-trusted resource is erowid.org, a website devoted to proliferating this knowledge to the general public. For each drug that exists is a page listing statistics, researched effects, and chemical properties. Be able to identify whether your friend or acquaintance might be experiencing an overdose or even a “bad trip” from psychoactive drugs.

Just as important as it is to know how to prevent these events is the knowledge to deal with them if they happen. Remember that everyone has a different body weight and build, meaning that different amounts of a particular drug will affect individuals differently. If more credible sources existed as to how one should take drugs safely and what to look for, we could avoid much of the grief surrounding drug addiction and overdose.

Another good resource is dancesafe.org. Dance Safe is an organization devoted to helping people take safer drugs. On their website, you can buy drug-testing kits with which one can delineate the contents of the pills one might be taking. For more information about what drugs might be cut with and how, visit their website.

I learned about this organization and much of this information through a school group SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy) which each week helps educate students about safe drug use, the war on drugs, and progressive legislation in drug policy. We do not condone or condemn drug use, only hope that through spreading knowledge about how to use drugs safely, we can decrease the rate of overdose among our generation and generations to come. Our organization is also committed to end the War on Drugs, a subject about which I will elaborate on in future posts.

Fact: More American are arrested for marijuana each year than for all violent crimes combined.

(Students for Sensible Drug Policy)

There’s one more important piece of the puzzle that must addressed: legal pharmaceuticals.

When we do teach youth about drugs, we focus on drinking underage and the abuse of illegal drugs. In fifth grade, I often rolled my eyes when officers told us of scare stories of people addicted to meth or heroin. Today, naturally, I believe meth and heroin addiction are very serious, but at least this is viewed as a problem by the American population. What often escapes our notice is the widespread addiction to narcotics.

Another Fact: The most commonly abused drug among high school seniors are prescription and over-the-counter drugs.     

                (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/prescription-drug-abuse)

Narcotics, opiates, and amphetamines all share addictive qualities, but because we receive prescriptions for them from doctors, we assume they are inherently safer to take than drugs that are illegal. Several pain-killers (such as Oxycodone and hydrocodone) prove to be as addictive as morphine, and because these drugs are seen as “legitimate,” patients tend to abuse them.

What’s just one more pill, right? You’ve just undergone surgery, so you begin taking more and more pills, building up a resistance to their effects. You take more. You try to stop taking them, but you feel so terrible without them (this is you going through withdrawal), so you renew your prescriptions. Doctor says to take two a day, but only two pills never works, so you take three, four, five. Your new prescription runs out, and you can’t renew it, so you start buying painkillers from a fifteen-year-old down the street. You’re just dealing with pain, with stress, right? You’re not actually addicted.

This is why pharmaceuticals become so widely abused. Because of the intense stigma on illegal “uppers,” many students snort Adderal recreationally. They pop a Vivance before a night of essay-writing as “a study enhancement.” Just take one more for the final exam, and then you’ll never do them again. But addiction sneaks up on you like that, dropping the trapdoor from under your feet before you get the chance to realize you’re standing on top of it.

In our drug awareness classes, we should address these problems. We cannot tell them “Do not do drugs or you will die.” They might try marijuana, then wonder, “What else did they lie about? How safe are drugs?” We need to educate youth on specific drugs, how to use them sensibly, what their effects are, and what drugs are potentially lethal, even pharmaceuticals. Too often as well, we find a kid who might be “too jumpy,” and we begin feeding him pills he could potentially abuse or even sell to his friends for them to abuse. And that sort of madness, that zombie mentality of “saying no” to certain illegal drugs, “saying of course” to legal pharmaceuticals, and never seeking information about the drugs we’re consuming– that leads to the overwhelming rates of overdose we experience.

While D.A.R.E. has addressed this and does at least offer some counsel about drug abuse, these resources should be more widely available and apparent to both youth and their caregivers.

I will conclude with a plea: begin treating drug abuse with the same amount of realism we apply to alcoholism. It can happen; it can happen to you; your friends might be addicted; your grandma might be addicted. If you’re a student at the College of Charleston or any other university, I encourage you to take the first step to help reforming drug safety education by perhaps visiting your local chapter of SSDP.

At CofC, we are currently petitioning to change the Good Samaritan Policy to apply not just to victims experiencing alcohol poisoning but drug overdose as well. To differentiate over who is important to save and who is not is a cruel determination forced upon us by the stigmas surrounding drug use that do not apply as evenly to alcohol consumption. The Good Samaritan Policy allows students on campus to call Public Safety for help if a friend is experiencing alcohol-related sickness, and neither the victim or Samaritan will face criminal charges; a member of SSDP is pioneering the change to this policy to include overdose victims as well.

For more information concerning the Good Samaritan Policy, refer to {http://studentaffairs.cofc.edu/policies/amnesty-policy.php} or contact me to sign the petition. For information, find me via Facebook or on campus. The SSDP meets at 6:30 on Wednesday on the second floor of Stern.

For more information on drug use and experience, check out erowid.org.

For more information about preventing drug abuse in raves, visit dancesafe.org.

Please consider my points carefully as we move forward in a world where drug chemistry is ever-changing; what one drug might do or might be made of can change within a week. Delineations of drugs crop up often, and we must stay ever vigilant and knowledgeable of what is out there to avoid future generations from experiencing the same overdose rates as we have.

Other Sources:

http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/

http://ssdp.org/

The Hobo Chiropracter

He is all show-and-tell, asking you to straighten up and drop your bags at your feet. Your first thought is that he might beat you up and steal your bags when he offers to “relieve your stress,” then you wonder whether or not he means to give sexual favors here on the street corner in broad daylight. Surely he knows he should take you behind the Starbuck’s, into the parking lot, if he intends to kill you or do anything else to you. Instead, he offers his chiropractic services—cheaper than a real one, with the same results, he promises.

You know that this is dangerous, that he could snap your neck, and he laughs off your worries. Natural for you to be frightened of a burly black man sitting on the street corner. You’re not sure whether he is homeless, but he smells that way, and you’re not sure whether he knows what he is doing as he takes your hand between his palms. You imagine action movies during which a James-Bond-look-alike twists a henchman’s neck. That simple: dead.

In a few seconds, you could be laying like that, and this man who has you in a stranglehold could walk away with your laptop computer. Maybe you should tell him that your computer isn’t worth it, to target someone with a Macbook Air or at least something that reliably can log onto a wi-fi network. Every law of childhood tells you to walk away, but fear of appearing racist and presumptuous keep you planted.

Don’t talk to strangers, your mother told you. But don’t judge a book by its cover. You’re slowly realizing the lack of real-world application of these outdated adages.  You should be crossing the street, walking fast but not running in case it caused offense. You can feel his beard brushing against your neck as he heaves you into the air—crack. Not dead yet.

In Nuremburg, a one-armed Turkish man plays accordion for money. In South-East Asia, some street-dwellers offer dubious massages. But the Charlestonian who sits on a park bench all day with a pack upon his lap—he is not some petty hobo. He has skills, chiropractic know-how, despite having no official training or degree. You wonder for a brief moment whether it is unfair that licensed practitioners get paid so much while this man may or may not live underneath a porch.

Then you remember that this man is preparing to crack your neck, your back, your arms. He could incapacitate you. But each time, he offers relief. That crick in your neck feels better than ever. You feel limber as Play-dough. Maybe he wasn’t lying, you think, as you pick up your bag and stretch, feeling refreshed.

You pay him with half a Panini, and he asks you to tell your friends, though he doesn’t have a business card or anything. Rather, he sits outside of Fed-Ex, across the street from the art museum, offering his services to whatever subconsciously-racist, gullible kid walks by. He is a legend, an enigma, a stranger with a past likely as colorful as Charleston’s.

Sun Ain’t Shine in Charleston

Sunday. Rain besieges the Holy City. I wake to thoughts of stray cats of Calhoun shivering under porches of abandoned houses, and I think of the homeless people curled up against the porches, peering through the lattice work, envious of the felines’ comfort.

When I wake, my heavy and hallucinatory dreams melt. Machine-gun fire rattles from above, rebel clouds releasing fleets of kamikaze rain that streak across the sky. Waking to such clamor, I fell back to sleep, wrapping my cocoon of blankets tighter around me. You’re supposed to write today, some voice inside says, and you’re supposed to get things done. How about breakfast?

I venture out finally into the morning dressed in an unseasonable outfit, the sky only dripping. But thirty minutes pass, the the heavens smile with crooked teeth, drooling on the buildings and the pedestrians. My body is a rag to be squeezed out, to be ringed into a bucket and thrown away. Returning in such a state, I strip off my clothes and climb under the blankets. You’re supposed to write today, some little voice says, but I drown it out. A few more minutes, I think, pushing my laptop away. I will work very soon, but let me sleep while this celestial war rages on.

What Is So Innocent About Childhood?

I read a poem today in which two boys played in the backyard, a deceptively simple poem. The more I pondered the two stanzas, the more concretely I realized how little the poem was about—childhood innocence, friendship, etc. Should poetry be so hushed, so calm, so unobtrusive?

Having grown used to brass, dramatic poetry, this caught me unawares. Why be so calm and cool and collected? Two boys running and throwing balls and pushing toy trucks around in the grass, all things I’ve rarely seen. Because childhood is rarely as innocent as we assume.

Why not write about two boys playing video games (we often played videogames), about how they shout at each other as each wins? Write about throwing the controllers at each others’ faces, knocking out teeth, bloodying their noses. Childhood is rarely flowers and sunshine and playtime before supper. It’s a constant war.

Children, in fact, are sufficient evidence that we as the human race descended from savages. They are cruel, selfish, and conniving.

And no one is as guilty as a child is. When a child steals, they spend the next few hours fretting over their sin, their black crime. When they lie, they burst with the need to say the truth. Adults do not share this tendency: we do not feel guilty about much past infidelity or murder.

I closed the book of poetry and put it away, thinking about times I might have played in the grass. Surely not as many times as I argued with friends over Pokémon cards or whether or not a certain Mario Kart race victory was considered fair. Do poems need to shout, to demand change, to radicalize, or can they fall light as clouds on your brain, invoking nothing serious, only the fabled innocence of children.

In a Waffle House, Noon on a Sunday

We arrived to eat breakfast, though it was nearly time for lunch. I ordered a black coffee and she a chocolate waffle. For a long time, I sat uninspired with a notebook in front of me, too tired to transcribe what I was seeing. Instead, I contemplated the synthetic webs, filled with plastic spiders, decorating the establishment for Halloween.

Behind me, two couples sat facing each other, enjoying a post-church lunch in sweater vests and Easter dresses.

One woman refilled her coffee cup and sat down, frowning toward the waitress.

“Want some sugar, honey?” asked her husband, pursing his lips and leaning forward.

“No thank you,” she said. “Maybe just some Splenda.”

“The Beard” As a Symbol

Besides being a fashionable asset to any face, “The Beard” is a statement, usually that “I am a man and can grow a beard, so deal with my stubbly insubordinate nature.” In some cases, growing facial hair has become the calling card for indie band members, Canadian lumberjacks, and brutally masculine movie stars (see: Sean Connery, Jeff Bridges, Mr. T). But can beards symbolize something other than masculinity and what implications can growing a beard have on a person’s psychology?

Those are both very intriguing questions that I doubt anyone could answer without first delving into weeks of research in an academic library. Because I’m rather short on time, I’ll rely on my flimsy conjectures and access to Wikipedia.

Well-known theologian of the second century Clement of Alexandria wrote extensively about the importance of facial hair. A Christian philosopher, he deemed beards man’s “natural and noble adornment.” In fact, an inactive user on a Puritan forum I found on the vast internet shared similar sentiments with the quotes he posted (thanks to anonymous Puritan guys researching ancient texts):

“How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, and to arrange his hair at the mirror, shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them!…For God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But He adorned man like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest–a sign of strength and rule.” 2.275

Not growing out your beard, Clement asserts, is womanly, which may come as quite an insult for bearded women.

“This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man. It is older than Eve. It is the token of the superior nature….It is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.” 2.276

These quotes reflect that to shave one’s beard rebels against God himself, yet in today’s society not-shaving, not not-shaving, signifies an aptitude for rebellion. We view beards as belonging to badass transgressors and terrorist anarchists. Sometimes, then, beards can be seen as a sign of obedience and sometimes as a sign of rebellion. It’s strange that tufts of facial hair could signify two such disparate ideologies. Naturally, we associate not shaving with Amish identity as well as the religious identities of other factions (Jewish and Islamist faiths being two prime examples).

That is the epitome of manliness

Then what is a beard by any other name other than nothing more than what it is?

Hair. On your face.

A beard can symbolize whatever you want it to symbolize. A beard, like many other universal symbols, can be used to instruct unconsciously in a myriad of ways and therefore are meaningless as well as full of meaning. Then, when you grow your beards, you get to choose what it means. Sort of like a tattoo. Perhaps you want to seem manly, or want to seem rebellious, or like my friend Andy can’t not grow a beard because your manliness refuses to hide itself.

The reason I’m contemplating beards: November is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. And to support awareness of a possibly awkward topic, men grow out their beards. Next time you shave, think about what you’re saying or not saying about yourself.

Jonathan S. Foer: A Campus Visit

During orientation for the College of Charleston, each Freshman received a copy of Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest nonfiction book about factory farming, meat consumerism, and cultural ideas surrounding meat. For most of the year, many of the lectures, documentary showings, and group involvement activities have centered around discussing the impact of farming animals and how we do and should feel about it.

Very often, we discussed these ideas in class and how we felt about them. In fact, scroll down and there is a picture of my BGS (Beyond George Street) class discussing the book in Rivers Green. (I’m the one in the plaid shirt).

During his first speech (which I attended at 2:00pm), he mentioned that his goal certainly was not to attempt to convert a generation to vegetarianism—something he deemed impossible. When I received the book back in June, however, that’s exactly what I felt like he meant to do. What a snot-nosed liberal policy-pusher, I thought, shoving his green-leaf ideology down our throats.

Only, it didn’t, not really. He leaves a lot of room for improvement—moral wiggle room. The attacks you expect him to make he never truly makes because he accosts not you—the omnivore—but the industry as a whole. Rather than approaching the subject with a mind to depress and horrify the reader, he attempts to uplift by sympathizing with the plight to better ourselves.

I, like many others I am sure, were reluctant to read the book out of fear he would impose moral superiority. In fact, the book is a shocking choice, considering College of Charleston’s various sponsors. Surely, they expected some flak from alumni contributors or local restaurants. During his final speech, made in the TD Arena before hundreds of students and citizens of the community, he took an early jab at an advertisement above his head.

“What’s this?” He looked up, indicating the Kickin’ Chicken banner above his head. He made the point that with sponsors like these for our stadium, reading the book might be questionable. He also inquired after the name, making vague connections to animal cruelty in the form of kicking chickens.

I arrived at these presentations with a pretense, ready to berating, but Foer proved more reasonable than he seemed. The day previous I attended a vegan potluck outside of the library, and I actually enjoyed this food. If it were an option in the cafeteria, surely I would choose it over half-cooked hamburgers on stale buns or suspiciously pink hot dogs. Why not listen to what he had to say?

Yesterday, Foer explained his position in his own words, and if you missed the presentations, I will write a recap of what was discussed.

With a newly grown beard, he looked more like James Franco than he did in his cover photo. He took the stage of the first forum, engaging the participants on a personal level. He explained his own college experiences and his experiences with college but seguing into a discussion about his work. In the next two posts, I will paraphrase things discussed both about vegetarianism and storytelling. Read both or read either, depending on what you’re interesting in, but do take his ideas in consideration.

{These essays, recording some of the interview questions asked, will be posted later this evening or early tomorrow morning.}

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