Yes, Johnny Takes Dope
And How to Know if You're Brilliant
To me, uncle Ricky had always been in a wheelchair. When I was in kindergarten or so I asked him why he couldn’t walk or move his legs. Instead of answering he joked. Richard, my mom’s younger brother, was wildly funny and his deflection was effective. Still in his early 20s, he had us rapt with humor and encouragement.
“I’m going to teach you kids something that only the very smartest people in the world know,” he said, very seriously. “If you memorize it, you will prove that you’re brilliant too. It starts with, ‘one hen,’ and then “two ducks.”
Proof of our superior intellect was being able to repeat the limerick that became progressively longer and more complicated. The day we could parrot it perfectly, he proclaimed, with awe, that it was true. His nieces and nephew were, in fact, geniuses. It felt amazing to be with an adult who was so full of wild, if silly, praise.
Years later I learned that at the age of 16, Ricky had attempted suicide. He jumped off a bridge, breaking his back and becoming a paraplegic from the waist down.
Somewhere along the way my uncle picked up heroin. Then we didn’t see him for long stretches of time.
One day my mom drove all seven of her children to from New Jersey to New York. She told us about a special place called Odyssey House, and that Ricky was somehow involved. It was obvious how proud she was. We all knew how much my mom adored her brother. Something important was happening.
We entered the brownstone in Harlem, with winding hallways and a catacomb of offices. Everything seemed intense. Many men and women were siting in chairs, looking worn. People who appeared to be hippies, nurses, and workers were everywhere. Some kind of classes were going on, in rooms papered with posters.
Ricky wheeled out to greet us, beaming. He had became an advocate for drug recovery. This is what he wrote in 1973, and why our local newspaper, the Westfield Leader, republished it:
Urges Reading of Article: Of Odyssey House Ex Addict
The Mayor's Advisory Committee on Drug Abuse has advised the reading of the following article originally published in The Odyssey, a monthly publication of Odyssey House which is a professional and ex addict supervised program for the treatment and rehabilitation of narcotic addiction. This article was written by Richard Klein, an ex addict.
How Will I Know If Johnny Takes Dope
As an ex addict, I am asked by parents, “how can I tell if my child is using drugs?” It is quite easy to come up with the traditional signs such as bloody shirt sleeves, dilated pupils, hypodermic needles, eyedroppers, etc. These things are, no doubt, telltale signs of a drug abuser in the house.
The trouble is that by the time a parent starts discovering the glassine envelopes in the wastebasket, the dreaded heroin has already found its way into the child's veins.
Drug addiction, like most diseases, is best treated in its earliest stages. By the time an adolescent has grown accustomed to euphoria, he is, in most cases, in need of long-term, intense psychiatric care. Furthermore, his chances are not at all good for recovery, if one goes by percentages.
We can not cure as many drug addicts as we would like to. This is a reality that Odyssey House must face along with the public at large. With drug addiction in epidemic proportions, especially among our adolescents, we must think in terms of prevention. Just as we cannot cure every addict, we must also realize that we cannot be successful in deterring every potential addict. Nevertheless, I feel that the success rate in the field of prevention can be much greater than that in the field of cure.
To say that the potential addict invariably reveals himself in pre-adolescence would be making too broad a statement. Addiction strikes all personalities just as it strikes all ethnic backgrounds. With drugs being readily available as they are, every child is faced with the danger of drug addiction. As the once disgraceful endeavor becomes more and more an accepted thing among our youth, it will become the first mode of escape for any child with a problem. All children have problems. For this reason, it is impossible to give a clear-cut diagram of the potential drug addict.
There are some kids, however, who display a pattern of behavior so obvious and so typical of a future drug abuser that it is impossible not to notice. At least it is impossible for us at Odyssey House not to notice it. Since many of us in the program have managed to live as full scale heroin addicts under the eyes of well-meaning parents, it comes as no shock to us that the potential user gets by unnoticed.
Parents prefer not to see a future addict in their home. As a result, the well-meaning mother and father tend to ostracize the problem, putting their own minds at ease. Therefore, behavior that may well be that of an “addict to be” is rationalized into something much more acceptable by the parents. In the eyes of his parents, a youngster who continues to be extremely introverted, spending the majority of his time alone in his room becomes a “genius.” A boy whose behavior is incorrigible becomes a “ball of fire.” The child who remains depressed no matter what is given to him or done for him, is at worst “a spoiled child.”
Years ago it may have been fairly safe to ignore what are now warning signs of potential drug addiction. To ignore these warnings now is a dangerous lack of responsibility on the part of the parents.
Exactly what can and should be done for a child whose behavior is questionable is best left up to the doctors. No one can expect guarantees, simply because the doctors themselves are still learning. The adolescent and pre-adolescent drug addict or a product of the late 1960s. For this reason, the method of treatment for them will be a product of the 1970s.
We do know this: if we do not find a way to vaccinate our very young against drug addiction our society will eventually become overwhelmed by it. Every parent who ignores danger signs of future drug addiction, is preventing modern medicine from finding a vaccination for it.
Now, San Francisco
I’ve been a San Franciscan for most of my life. I love my city deeply. Tragically, though, it has descended into drug-induced psychosis. The heroin of the ‘60s and ‘70s has been largely replaced with substances far more potent and lethal than what my uncle encountered. Fentanyl, often combined with methamphetamine and benzodiazepines, is killing roughly two people every day in the city. Users come here for the cheap and widely accessible substances. Many stay, suffer, and eventually die.
Rather than break up the open drug markets and provide treatment to addicts, San Francisco officials have adopted the opposite approach: let the sellers sell and the users use. Ignore. Make a feeble attempt to fix it, then let it slide out of control, again and again. Such policies and attitudes have resulted in immeasurable pain and an unprecedented number of overdoses.
Recently I encountered a young man partially laying in a busy street. I screamed, “get out of the way, cars are coming!” He didn’t move so I ran over and yelled louder, pleading with him to get up. He finally stumbled onto the sidewalk. I asked if there was anything I could do for him.
“Can you call my brother and tell him I’m OK?” he asked, explaining he’s not from the city. I did. No one picked up so I left a message, “I’m here with your brother, on Pine and Hyde Street in San Francisco. He wants to let you know that he is OK.” I hesitated and said quietly, “Please try to contact him. Your brother needs help.”
Ricky was inherently witty and kind, but in the end he was also a pragmatist. He recognized that not everyone could be saved, before or after addiction takes hold. Nonetheless, he desperately wanted loved ones to be vigilant about the signs of dangerous drug use and to be persistent with intervention measures.
For me, this includes relentlessly pushing our local officials to do the same. Prevention and recovery together. Like all cities, San Francisco has an ethical obligation to break up the open drug scenes that have made becoming and remaining an addict easy. At the same time, we need to provide people who are suffering with substance abuse and mental health issues with medical and psychiatric treatment. When we do, we give them a fighting chance to truly live.
Uncle Ricky’s Test for Brilliance - Memorize the Following
Three squawking geese
Four limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six pairs of Don Alversos tweezers
Seven thousand Macedonians in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys from the ancient sacred crypts of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic, old men on roller skates with a marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical diabolical denizens of the deep who hall stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time.