I was nineteen, wild and free. I knew everything there was to know and I had been smoking pot since I was fifteen and couldn’t understand why the authorities had lied about its addictive qualities.
I spent the next eighteen years trying to kick my non-addictive marijuana habit. Most of that time I smoked every hour of every day. Finally in 1984, with lots of support, I took my last destructive puff and threw the stuff away for good.
I was lo-ridin’ one night in a Burgundy ’64 Chevy with five cruising buddies. We were fresh out of high school and looking for something new when we decided to try Heroin.
Where I lived, heroin was being sold, traded and given away for free on every street corner.
That particular night, no matter how far we cruised, there was no Junk to be found.
The next afternoon, before I was able to rendezvous with my buddies, I was arrested and spent the next three months in a mental hospital.
During the time of my vacation with the county, I happened to befriend a heroin addict named Merv Kinkle.
I watched in horror when he came in with less than twenty-four hours sobriety. His skin was pallid and he spent most of the next two weeks holding his mid-section, alternately shaking or sweating. At night he’d incoherently call out in pain for his mother.
I pretty much stayed clear of the slithering ghost of a man during that time. Once he got clear of the actual physical addiction and became a normal human being again, we became fast friends.
During the next three months Merv Kinkle, and his name is etched in my mind, told me exactly what heroin addicts are compelled to do to keep their growing addiction going.
He told me of the tricks he had pulled to get unsuspecting users started so they would help support his habit.
He said that the drug was so compelling that ninety percent of people who start using were unable to stop.
Some, like himself, were able to hold down jobs and hide their addictions, but most were out of control, ending on the streets, stealing or hooking to support their habit.
He’d giggle a little when he called the ones who were able to keep it under control, Chippers. Merv was a Chipper. He’d chip a little here or there until some crisis pulled him under. Once under, the habit quickly grew to a few hundred dollars a day to stay normal.
The only way to stop was to check himself into a clinic or county hospital and go Cold Turkey. Merv had been under and gone Cold Turkey a few dozen times before I met him.
Merv Kinkle was my guardian angel, because after I met him I vowed never to touch heroin.
By the time I had gotten out of the hospital three months later, my five cruising buddies were supporting fifty-dollar-a-day habits.
By my twenty-third birthday, all the guys riding in that Burgundy Chevy that night had died heroin-related deaths, mostly overdose.
During that same period, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and countless others had also died of heroin overdose.
Before I moved to Nevada County in 1973, I saw Merv Kinkle here and there, usually stumbling along a street in a half nod. I hope he was able to find help. If not, may his soul rest in peace.