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Authors: Joseph Mattson

The Speed Chronicles

BOOK: The Speed Chronicles
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THE
SPEED
CHRONICLES

EDITED BY
JOSEPH MATTSON

This book is dedicated to the liver—
the vital organ and the daring spirit

T
ABLE OF
C
ONTENTS

Introduction

PART I: MADNESS

How to Go to Dinner with a Brother on Drugs
N
ATALIE
D
IAZ
War Cry
S
HERMAN
A
LEXIE
Bad
J
ERRY
S
TAHL

PART II: MACHINATION

Labiodental Fricative
S
COTT
P
HILLIPS
Osito
K
ENJI
J
ASPER
Amp Is the First Word in Amphetamine
J
OSEPH
M
ATTSON
Addiction
J
AMES
F
RANCO

PART III: METHODOLOGY

Wheelbarrow Kings
J
ESS
W
ALTER
Tips 'n' Things by Elayne
B
ETH
L
ISICK
Pissing in Perpetuity
R
OSE
B
UNCH
51 Hours
T
AO
L
IN

PART IV: MEDICINE

Everything I Want
M
EGAN
A
BBOTT
The Speed of Things
J
AMES
G
REER
No Matter How Beautifully It Stings
W
ILLIAM
T. V
OLLMANN

It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell.
—Gaston Bachelard,
The Psychoanalysis of Fire

I started hearing whispers from the people in the bedspread and in
the window glass, and though I was a little embarrassed at first, I
answered them, thinking, why deny anything?
—William S. Burroughs, Jr.,
Speed

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines
.
—“Fast” Eddie Felson in
The Color of Money

introduction
some gods, some panthers

by joseph mattson

B
ecause some gods made work, ennui, depression, deadlines, and pain, and some gods (perhaps the selfsame mothers) made adventure, rapture, elation, creativity, and orgasm—and especially because some gods made dopamine—some gods made speed. The answer to some deserts is some jungles. While some panthers skulk breathily to rest after the hunt, some panthers hide out in the bush mad to live, licking their chops along with their wounds, transforming lovely day into lustful night, and they do speed.

Speed:
the most demonized—and misunderstood—drug in the land. Deprived of the ingrained romantic mysticism of the opiate or the cosmopolitan chic of cocaine or the commonplace tolerance of marijuana, there is no sympathy for this devil. Yet speed—amphetamines (Dexedrine, Benzedrine, Adderall) and especially methamphetamine
*
; crystal, crank, ice, chickenscratch, Nazi dope, OBLIVION marching powder, the
go fast
—is the most American of drugs: twice the productivity at half the cost, and equal opportunity for all. It
feels
so good and
hurts
so bad. From its dueling roots of pharmacological miracle cure and Californian biker gang scourge to contemporary Ivy League campuses and high school chem labs, punk rock clubs to the military industrial complex, suburban households to tincan ghettos, it crosses all ethnicities, genders, and geographies—from immigrants and heartlanders punching double factory shifts to clandestine border warlords undermining the DEA, doctors to bomber pilots, prostitutes to housewives, T-girls to teenagers, Academy Award–nominated actors to the poorest Indian on the rez—making it not only the most essentially American narcotic, but the most deceivingly sundry literary matter.

Some shoot for angst-curing kicks, some snort for sad endurance, some for explosive joyrides into the unknown, because no matter how delicious dying young might seem, they want to live forever.

The subject of speed is so innately intimidating yet so undeniably present that it begs to be written about. It is no secret that the drug has historically tuned up the lives of writers, including Jack Kerouac, Susan Sontag, Philip K. Dick, and scores more. Too rarely, though, has it been written of, and as California and the West, the Pacific Northwest, and now the Midwest, the South, and the East Coast toss for the crown of Speed Capital, U.S.A., its jolt to the bones of the American landscape continues to peak as it creeps onward into the farthest nooks of our physiography and consciousness. Wherever there is either something
or
nothing to do—wherever there is need for more gasoline on the fire—there is speed.

The majority of you, dear readers, have likely seen before-and-after anti-meth photo campaigns and have been at least brushed if not inundated with depictions of the horrors of the Crystal Death, but speed, like all sources of addiction, whether any of the brethren narcotics or food, sex, consumerism, and otherwise, is initially a wellspring for bliss. There are
reasons
people are willing to put the residue of acetone, lithium batteries, the red phosphorus of match heads, and other inorganic and toxic compounds the liver is not sure what to do with into their bodies:
It feels good. You get results
. The ancient longing to inhabit supernatural powers and kiss the orbits of gods is realized. The panther becomes superpanther with the rifle of a medicine cabinet. Anything is possible (giving credence to the old slogan,
Speed Kills
—rarely is ingesting speed a mortal wound; respectively, more people die or equally damage themselves from the feral, madcap things they do
on
speed than from the toxicity of the drug itself—except, of course, the lifers). Yes, it gets ugly, so ugly. But before your sex organs revert to embryonic acorns and your teeth fall out and feasting on your malnutrition are insects for your eyes only, it's a rush of pure euphoria and a seeming godsend to surmount all of life's daily tribulations.

Some panthers' antiphon to some gods' will.

Because speed is first and foremost an amplifier, the sparking ebullience and potential wretchedness it projects are possibilities already seeded in the human order, just waiting for the right drop of dew and hit of sunshine to come along and juice it up.

The fourteen stories in this book reflect not only both ends of the dichotomy above, but, more crucially, the abstractions within and between. Merely demonizing the drug would be the same crime as simply celebrating it. Condemning it outright and defending all recreational use are equal failures against illuminating the drug's complexity. The panther worships the god in a kaleidoscopic mayhem of alchemical felicity, and in real sorrow too. Though you'll find exultation and condemnation interwoven, these are no stereotypical tales of tweakers—the element of crime and the bleary-eyed zombies that have gone too far are here right alongside heart-wrenching narratives of everyday people, good intentions gone terribly awry, the skewed American Dream going up in flames, and even some accounts of unexpected joy. Juxtaposed with circumstances inherent to the drug (trying to score, the sheer velocity of uptake, the agony of withdrawal, death, etc.) are nuances often elusive but central to speed's mores: camaraderie, compassion, and charm.

Together with Scott Phillips's tale of Frank Sinatra's mummified penis as leverage in a surreptitious bulk cold medicine deal and Kenji Jasper's meth murder-run by way of Capitol Hill, you'll find Megan Abbott's benevolent doctor injecting fast relief into disenchanted townsfolk and Jess Walter's bumbling brothers-in-arms too innocuous for high crime. With Jerry Stahl's no-punches-pulled, I mean
the
de facto nightmare scenarios through amphetamine hell, and my own rendering of Hollywood psychosis (the district in Los Angeles and, in part, its Tinseltown abstract) gone to fanatics and sacrificial death-dogs, you'll find William T. Vollmann's empathetic transsexual portrait of meth as vitamin supplement and Beth Lisick's suburban housewife's giddy eagerness for validity and subsequent triumph. There's James Franco's metafictional take on the cautionary tale and Rose Bunch's story of Ozark yard wars together with Tao Lin's disaffected New York City hipsters quietly pandering for significance and Natalie Diaz's haunting embrace of a sibling addict; Sherman Alexie's meth-induced war dancer razing everything in his path, and James Greer's investigation of the existential magical realism inherent in eliminating sleep from one's diet.

I thank the authors—gods some, panthers some, and titans all—for their incredible contributions. The dream roster has come to fruition, and I remain ever humbled and appreciative of their interest, generosity, trust, and guts to tango with the beast.

Because some gods have ridden the rails, some panthers rail the ride, 'scripts and spoons and straws raised like torches to Rome. Let us now go unto stories of them and those whose lives they touch—let's go fast.

Joseph Mattson
Los Angeles
September 2011

*
Though MDMA/Ecstasy is chemically part of the amphetamine family, it has a singular place in the world and deserves a collection of its own (the forthcoming
The Ecstasy Chronicles)
and is not covered in the following stories. Conversely, Provigil (modafinil), while not structurally a part of the amphetamine family, is included for its eerily similar functionality to pharmaceutical amphetamines—new speed that works in part like old speed, and neoteric enough to find a home here.

BOOK: The Speed Chronicles
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