Sunday, November 1, 2009

american scourge

In the midst of reading Proust, I picked up a quick read from the library, Tweak by Nic Sheff. I recalled hearing Sheff on NPR, along with his father, discussing his memoir, subtitled "Growing up on Methamphetamines." I read the book in one night with mild interest. Although Sheff is an okay writer, poetic at times with an apparently near photographic memory, he lacks perspective and his attempts are often heavy-handed (Sheff names the homeless kid who hooks him up with meth on his first major relapse Destiny, etc etc etc), I didn't really gain any insight or learn anything new about meth addiction from his memoir.

Sheff grew up in privileged circles in San Francisco and L.A. - where every friend is the kid of someone famous and all your liberal parents have houses on the ocean in Point Reyes. Having grown up in L.A. and lived in the Bay Area, I could relate. Sheff's settings were all familiar to me and his characters accurate enough, though sketchy.

The descriptions of the mass quantities of drugs Sheff was putting into his body were kind of mind boggling. Lately I've been thinking about how tiny our bodies really are - not much more than a torso filled with vital organs. I can't imagine shooting meth and coke hour after hour, day after day, for months straight. While Sheff does a pretty good job describing the mutilation of his body over time, he offered little insight into the mind of an addict.

The second half of the book delves into his 12 step recovery, which I sped-read with little to no interest, until he relapses again with his girlfriend Zelda and eventually ends up in a 3 month rehab program where he confronts his past as a co-dependent tweaker and street prostitute, and then (supposedly) sobers up for good. In one section near the end of the book Sheff describes a therapy session using dolls. His mom is a plastic alligator, his dad a teddy bear, his step-dad a T-rex. "After I finish," Sheff writes, "people in the group are encouraged to point out what they notice regarding color similarities and placement -- whatever. This one girl with a shaved head notices that I've used the same animal to represent Zelda and my mom. They are also lying in the same position. Someone else points out that they are even the same color. It is just a coincidence, but it does make me think." In the end, I guess I had a hard time buying his sunshine-lite hopes for the future, given the superficial self-awareness Sheff only seems capable of. I hope for the best for him.

On topic, I saw a crappy documentary, "American Meth," recently, which offered even less insight on the subject than Sheff's book. Near the end of the film, though, for about 15 minutes the documentary inexplicably strays from straight interviews and archival footage to follow a couple of tweakers living in a trailer with their three kids. As mom and dad get high, pass out, and scream at each other, their two year old daughter fends for herself. There is a haunting scene in which the two year old shuffles through the pitch black, pre-dawn trailer in search of food. The images reminded me of the scene in ET when a drunken ET waddles to the fridge in search of beer or Reeses Pieces. The refrigerator door opens, silhouetting this little baby wearing nothing but a sagging diaper, her hair a giant mass of tangles and mats. Holding her empty baby bottle in one hand, she reaches in the fridge and clumsily lugs a heavy, two gallon jug of milk from the shelf. If she doesn't fill her own bottle, the narrator tells us, no one will. Several hours later, her parents still passed out, the toddler has scavenged a half eaten bag of microwave popcorn out of the garbage for breakfast. Later still, dirt perpetually smeared across her cheeks and over her distended stomach, the baby girl tiptoes over some precariously stacked sofa cushions as her parents scream at each other in the background. Suddenly she leaps off the top of the cushions, she's airborne, and then she lands on a broken armchair with a happy grin.

This little toddler, all alone in a crowded meth shack, but surviving and even having some fun, is an amazing example of how resilient children can be.

She appears at the end of this trailer, at -0.08 seconds.

1 comment:

  1. I always have a problem with documentary footage like that. Isn't the child's welfare more important than your stupid little film? Put the camera down, stupid.

    There's this other documentary, the name escapes me, but it's about that stupid gypsy punk guy, the Gogol Bordello guy, and it's shot by this even more stupid girl who is totally in love with him and she follows him around while he douches his way across Europe -- anyway, there's this part in some run-down, little eastern European town, where this dirty little girl is following the camera girl and speaking into the camer so ernestly and she is crying and saying something and crying and saying something, trying to get the stupid camera girl to undestand, but because the stupid camera girl is REALLY stupid and crappy, she just leaves the little girl standing in the middle of the village road, filming her in a lingering shot as the stupid camera girl walks away, oh so sad and poignant...

    What was the little girl saying as she sobbed to this stranger with a camera? Who knows? Stupid camera girl can't be bothered to find out or even have it translated later.