Everyone was talking on their cell phones while walking around Oslo, taking photos of the shattered glass panes outside shoe and clothing stores downtown. Though the explosion had taken place only forty minutes earlier, the only signs that something was wrong were the long lines of police tape around the parliament building and the sound of sirens and burglar alarms. Everyone was strangely calm just after the accident. No one knew enough to be worried. At four in the afternoon, news online was hard to come by. The official report was that some kind of explosion, maybe a bomb though maybe not, had gone off downtown.

To promenade means to take a leisurely walk, to see people and be seen by people. In Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space authors Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Irena Ehrenfeucht write that wealthy urbanites in 19th century America “claimed the streets and attempted to insert bourgeois decorum into urban bustle.” These citizens “strolled to display their social status and define their respectability by the differences they created.”

I drink too much.

The way I know this is because I often spend Sunday in my living room with the shades drawn, unable to do much more than watch movies and play around on the Internet. Also, my insides hurt.

The problem with stopping is I don’t feel like it. Well, on Sunday I tell myself I’ve had enough, and I abstain until Thursday or Friday, but then one of my buddies calls and says Let’s go, man and by then I’m feeling well enough to start the cycle over again.

I’ve never felt a craving for alcohol, or a thirst, not the way I’ve heard it described. I’m just bored. I didn’t even start drinking until my 30s. When I read literature on alcoholism, it explains how alcoholics have difficulty feeling pleasure because they’re addicted to the dopamine high they get from drinking. Regular activities that normally induce pleasure don’t cut it anymore, not compared to alcohol. But the thing is, I was already bored before I started drinking.

In college I tinkered with screenplays and finished a few, and several years ago I found an agent. He took my newest script and convinced a well-known producer to buy an option on it. I remember the joy I felt when my agent called with the news. Alcohol never made me feel like that. Ever. So I do know I’m at least capable of strong emotions. But it’s not like I get a call like that every week, you know?

One of the things I hate most in the world is fishing. Because of all the waiting you have to do. My screenwriting career is like a fishing trip where I got a bite on the first cast and then spent the next four years staring at a cork. A cork that doesn’t move. That doesn’t even wiggle.

And what do fisherman usually do while they’re waiting for a bite? Why, they drink, of course. Ask any angler and he’ll tell you…drinking is half the point of fishing.

This is my first post on this site and I feel funny writing about something so personal. I tinkered with other ideas but I kept coming back to this. I know it’s a very whiny essay about a problem for which the solution is obvious: stop drinking. But what I wonder is why I should stop. Why should anyone stop doing something they enjoy?

Recently I had been out drinking, and at the end of the night I was far too drunk to drive my car home. I called a cab, but after thirty minutes it still hadn’t showed up, and I fell asleep in my car. Sometime later I heard a knock on my window and saw a cop standing there. I had no idea there was a law where being drunk in your car and having possession of your keys carries the same penalty as actually driving your car under the influence. This seems pretty harsh to me, since the whole idea of DUI laws is to keep drunk drivers off the road. Anyway, my license was suspended, and I ended having to go to a class with a bunch of alcohol and drug offenders. The terrible experience of being in that class is the subject of another essay, but the reason I bring it up now is because one part of the course involved a series of questions the student should ask himself.

Is my work suffering because of my alcohol consumption? Has anyone besides me been adversely affected by my drinking? My family? My friends? What sort of penalties have I faced as a result of my arrest? Et cetera.

In my case, other than the sheer embarrassment of being taken to jail and having to sit in that class, the only penalties were monetary. My family doesn’t know anything about it. I was married once but I’m not anymore, and I don’t have any children, so the only person affected was me.

You could make the argument that my quality of life would be higher if I didn’t drink, or that I would live longer, but I guess what I’m asking is why those things are necessarily better. Almost everyone would agree they are better, but everyone used to believe the Sun orbited the Earth, too. Just because it’s the prevailing opinion doesn’t necessarily make it the right one.

I suppose living a good and honest life should get me to Heaven, but I got sick of listening to my priest and the Pope condemn homosexuality, so I stopped going to Mass. And besides, if you’re looking for examples of healthy living, the Bible isn’t really the place to turn.

Substance abuse of any sort carries consequences. I know this. The thing is, I see abuse around me everywhere. I see people taking painkillers recreationally. I see them addicted to prescription sleeping pills. And if it isn’t drugs, it’s food. If it isn’t food, it’s television. In fact I wonder if television isn’t the most destructive substance of all.

These problems are particularly bad in the United States. Here we are, the land of opportunity, wealthy like few populations on earth, and yet we act as though we’re miserable. More than 70 percent of us are overweight. In 2008 the World Health Organization surveyed legal and illegal drug use in 17 countries and found Americans led the world in marijuana, tobacco, and cocaine use. Interestingly, countries with far less stringent drug laws also experience far less use. Although it turns out our alcohol consumption is fairly mundane compared to plenty of nations in Western Europe.

Quoting statistics about substance abuse doesn’t excuse my own. But it does make me wonder what it is about the United States that makes her citizens so desperate to alter their own perceptions. Why isn’t the real world good enough? What exactly are we looking for?

The drugs are only going to get stronger. One day, reality television and video games are going to overlap, and I have a feeling what emerges will be the strongest drug of all.

Maybe then I won’t be so bored anymore.

I was sitting on the front steps reading, within ear but not eyeshot of the driveway, when I heard my mother talking to a woman with a slightly-crude voice. I thought it might be the woman who lives next door. I’ve never met her, but I know her husband, Al. He regularly drinks Natural Light beer with his shirt off in the middle of the day, so it’s fair to assume he’s married to a woman with a slightly-crude voice.

The woman asked if she was at 85 Joalco Road.My mother confirmed this, and then the woman explained she was here to administer an interview on behalf of the United States Public Health Service, that my brother, whom she referred to as “the 21 year old male,” had been randomly selected for the study and stood to earn $30 should he participate. She wanted to know when the 21-year old male would be home, because she had quotas to meet with regard to particular demographics.

“Too bad you couldn’t pick my other son. He’s a 28 year old male and he’s home right now,” said my mother.

When she said this, I decided not to stand up and have a look at the woman with the slightly crude voice, even though I very much wanted to. It occurred to me that the interviewer and I could help each other out, seeing as she has quotas to meet and I’m broke, unemployed and living with my parents.

But being broke and unemployed at your parents’ house isn’t all that bad. You get to do things like walkaround in a bathrobe outside at 10 a.m. bird watching and drinking coffee.

That is what I’m doing when a navy blue Jeep Cherokee pulls into the driveway. A woman gets out, smiles, and says, “You must be the 21 year old male.I spoke with your mom the other day.”

She doesn’t look the way I imagined her to, which was short, older and graying. Rather, she is tallish, oldish, dyed too-auburn.

“Yeah, she told me about you. You’re in luck. You caught me on my day off,” I say, opening the gate to let her in. “What a morning.”

It’s about 70 degrees. The birds are giving their morning recital. Early daylight spills over the top of early-spring-green leaves. Bands of clouds drift lazily overhead on the slightest of breezes.

We decide to work outside at the picnic table. I quickly go inside and pour myself a fresh cup of coffee then take a seat across from the stranger.

“Where do you live?” I ask her.

“Middleton,” she answers.

“I’m not sure where that is exactly. Near Concord?”

“Not really. It’s next to Farmington.”

Farmington is a very sleazy town, so Middleton is probably at least a little bit sleazy by association. I wouldn’t say this woman is sleazy, but there is a hint of sleaze. The voice…the dye job…the pack of Virginia Slims menthol extra long 120s…

“Do you work for the census department?” I ask.

“No, I work for a company subcontracted by the government,” she says and hands me a brochure.

The cover says: National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Answering your important questions. I open it up and read the first page:

What is the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)?

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is the Federal Government’s primary source of national data on the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances. The survey also contains questions on health, illegal behaviors, and other topics associated with substance use. The study was initiated in 1971 and currently is conducted on an annual basis. This year approximately 70,000 individuals, 12 years and older, will be randomly selected and asked to voluntarily participate.

The woman finishes setting up a computer and some papers and explains that the interview will take about an hour, the bulk of which will be completed anonymously on a laptop and afterwards, she’ll ask me a few questions.

She then asks me my date of birth.I take a long sip of coffee, hurrying to calculate the year my brother was born.

“You stated your birthday as October 3, 1987, making you a 22 year old male.Is this correct?”

She has to say this according to protocol, but obviously it’s not correct because I am a 21 year old male.I fix my mistake, hastily adding the excuse that I suffer from dyslexia.

“I’m just awful with numbers.” I say.

She gives a half-laugh, half-sympathetic sigh and at this point I highly suspect she knows that I don’t have dyslexia…that I am not, in fact, a 21 year old male, but rather, the 28 year old male my mother mentioned.

“OK,” she says. “Ready to begin?”

And so, on a perfect Wednesday morning, outside at the picnic table, in the presence of a complete stranger, using a slate grey laptop, I anonymously reveal my entire history of personal drug use.

I thought I’d tried most things.I was wrong.There’s a book I have to look through and answer things like list all of the drugs from Box A you have tried in:

A.the last 3 months

B.the last 6 months

C.The last year

D.At any point

The boxes are divided by drug category, such as opiates, hallucinogens, amphetamines, sedatives, etc, all with an accompanying photo and ID number.Every drug imaginable is listed.There are a lot that I’ve done.But also many I’ve not done…or even heard of.

I take mental notes of the drugs I’d like to try.It’s like the feature on iTunes when you’re searching for a band and they show you what Other Listeners Bought.Well, I love amphetamines, so I’ll probably like lisdexamfetamine as well…and all the other drugs in Box C for that matter.

It all reminds me of the D.A.R.E . (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, which most Americans over the age of 27 probably were forced to take part in.Like D.A.R.E., this survey is opening my eyes to all sorts of wonderful substances.

I recall the first day of D.A.R.E. distinctly.The entire 5th grade gathered in the library and a police officer came in with a display board containing illustrations of all these different drugs and explained how they had horrible side-effects and we should never even consider trying them.The cop told the story of a man who, in a PCP rage, took 18 rounds from police officers before going down.

As a 5th grade boy, I figured if I could get my hands on this PCP stuff…well, I could rule the neighborhood.Nobody would fuck with me.

The D.A.R.E. curriculum consisted largely of role-playing where, in a typical scenario, one student played the drug dealer and another an abstaining youth who employed the proper version of “Just Say No” to reject the dealer’s advances.

Not once in my adult life has a drug dealer materialized out of thin air and tried to push their goods on me like in D.A.R.E.There were plenty of times I wish they would have, but to no avail.The closest I’ve gotten is in tourist hot spots where drug dealers whisper, “marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy” as you pass by.As an 18 year old in London, I tried to buy weed from one of these guys and ended up with oregano.Since then, I’ve learned you don’t buy shit from drug dealers on the street in an unfamiliar area.You go to a university area and ask around at bars.

Back in the 5th grade, I even starred in the D.A.R.E. play, which was the culmination of the ten week program. I can’t recall much about the production, except that I had a lead role.The character I played, due to some unholy cocktail of substances, collapsed.My line was “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” (That’s right-Steve Urkel style.)

Between then and now I’ve done a lot of drugs and never once have I fallen and been unable to get up. Quite the opposite: When I get up, I don’t want to fall down.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education was started by members of the Los Angeles Police in 1983.Today, 36 million children around the world and 26 million in the U.S. participate.

Over the years, a number of studies have been conducted to ascertain the efficacy of D.A.R.E.Some particularly interesting findings include a 1992 Indiana University study that found students who completed D.A.R.E. used hallucinogenic drugs at a higher rate than students who didn’t enroll in the program.In 1998, Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum reported D.A.R.E. graduates were more likely than non-graduates to use alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.Also in 1998, Psychologist Dr. William Colson claimed that exposing young students to drugs encouraged and nurtured drug use.He wrote: “…as they get a little older, students become very curious about these drugs they’ve learned about from police officers.”

In 2001, the Surgeon General of the United States placed D.A.R.E. in the category: “Does Not Work.”The Association for Psychological Sciences (APS) put D.A.R.E. on a list of treatments that can potentially harm clients in 2007.

D.A.R.E. reflects the U.S. drug control policy of zero-tolerance.It was adopted as part of the control strategy of the U.S. government’s War on Drugs.Last year, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, stated the Obama administration would not use the term “War on Drugs,” claiming it to be counter-productive.

After 40 years, $1 trillion dollars spent and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, it seems the War on Drugs is counter-productive not only in name.Comments by Mr. Kerlikowske suggest as much.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful” he told the Associated Press recently.“Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

This month, President Obama made a pledge to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” through a revamped policy that treats drug use as a public health issue, focusing on prevention and treatment.Despite his promise, the president has increased spending on drug prohibition through law enforcement, which accounts for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget, a record in total dollars and as a percentage of the drug-control budget.Obama’s drug-fighting budget is 31 times what Richard Nixon’s was (including inflation adjustment) after he signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1971, which effectively began the War on Drugs.

The Associated Press has tracked how taxpayer money has been spent to combat drug use over the past 40 years.Here’s what we’ve been billed for:

  • $20 billion to combat drug gangs in countries like Columbia and Mexico.Annually, 330 tons of cocaine, 20 tons of heroin and 110 tons of methamphetamine are sold in the U.S.Almost all of it is imported from Mexico.
  • $33 billion to promote prohibition-style “Just Say No” messages and prevention programs (like D.A.R.E.)to young Americans.Reports indicate that high school students today use drugs at the same rates they did in 1970.
  • $49 billion for enforcement measures along America’s borders to halt the flow of illegal drugs.This year alone, 25 million Americans will use illicit drugs, around 10 million more than in 1970.Almost all of it comes in across the borders.
  • $121 billion to arrest over 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, roughly 10 million of them for possession of marijuana.Studies reveal being locked up has a positive correlation with drug abuse.
  • $ 450 billion to lock up these nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons alone.Half of all federal prisoners last year in the U.S. were incarcerated for drug offenses.
  • $215 billion per year, estimated by the Justice Department, for “an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity and environmental destruction.”

And I thought I’d spent a lot of money on drugs and had nothing to show for it.

When I’m done with the computer the interviewer asks me a few questions about my employment, insurance, household income, etc., and then we’re done.I sign an interview payment receipt and the woman counts out 3 crisp 10s and lays them in my hand.My time as a 21 year old male is officially over.

I walk the interviewer to the gate and wish her well.

“What an interesting job you have…traveling to people’s homes, setting your own hours.” I say.

“Yes, I enjoy it.” she says.“I get to meet many interesting people.The only thing is that if I ever run into somebody in town or at the grocery store or something, I don’t know their name.”

“Well, if I ever see you, just call me 21 year old male.” I say

It’s now around 11 o’clock, giving me five hours before my mother comes home.I should probably go fill out some job applications.But it’s an awfully nice day.And I’ve got a lot on my mind.

Had I taken D.A.R.E. more seriously and never used drugs, would I be a broke, unemployed 28 year old male living at home?

If the War on Drugs has failed, then who is the victor?Drugs?Drug dealers? Drug users?

What, precisely, is implicit in the reality that America has 5% of the world’s population but uses 50% of its illegal drugs…and has 25% of its prisoners?

Is Middleton a sleazy town?

Such matters deserve a deeper consideration.

But I’m all out of weed.I have no car.And unlike in D.A.R.E., drug dealers don’t just materialize while you’re walking down the street.Especially not on Joalco Road in Strafford, New Hampshire.

Besides, while drug use rates haven’t changed much after 40 years and $1 trillion spent, the prices have.I’ll be lucky to get a few joints from $30 of today’s hydroponic shit.As a generation of D.A.R.E. – mockers know: Drugs Are Really Expensive.

But there are other options.

I hear Al whistling from his porch.His shirt is off.There’s a koozy on the railing.

“Yo Al, I’m comin’ over buddy.You owe me from last time.”

I confronted eschatology too young. Although benign compared to some beliefs, my Catholic upbringing placed me at the sidelines of Armageddon—strange references to a kingdom come, the Second Coming, Judgment Day. I got queasy at the mention of the Book of Revelations. Sermons and syntactically-strained Bible readings led me to infer a tremendous destructive end to all life, human, animal, insect, plant. There were drawings in books, filled with fire, angels and demons, a sea of the damned. For a child, it’s impossible to reconcile a loving Father with one who will kill every one of his children with wanton violence. Children also don’t grasp metaphor.

On September 11, 2001, there was a small American flag mounted on the wall above my desk at work. By that time it had been there for several years.

Wall decorations are not my forte, but anything that breaks the monotony of gray is a welcome thing. And I’ve also felt quite patriotic about the U.S.A. ever since I was a kid.

For a large part of my life, this patriotism was mainly a result of me being born here. Later I realized that our country wasn’t perfect and that in fact there were many reasons to be ashamed of it.

But still, I reason that many people emigrate to the U.S.A. for the opportunity it affords the common person, and while other countries do some things better than us, I think our system of government and our culture are overall pretty great.

These days, though, I don’t feel pride when I see an American flag bumper sticker. I am often embarrassed when I run into Americans abroad. Ignorance and a lack of decorum have for me ruined many genuine displays of patriotism.

There was a short time after September 11th, as the country bonded in a time of domestic and emotional crisis, when I was happy to see flags popping up on cars and in offices and in shopping centers.

Great, I thought. Too bad it takes an attack on our soil to stop the national sleepwalking epidemic, but so be it. Glad to have you folks on board. The more people we have thinking about government and politics and our country’s position in the world, the better off we’ll be.

Man, I was so wrong. Turns out that many of these patriotic bumper stickers are simply a way to identify people who, rather than think in depth about our country and its challenges, want to marginalize our democracy into a “you’re with us, or you’re against us” mentality.

Of course I’m not speaking for every single driver out there whose vehicle is labeled with an American flag bumper sticker. It’s wrong to paint with too wide a brush.


But I do get the feeling that many conservative people believe they have a monopoly on patriotism. They don’t.

They do have a pretty good handle on bad style, though. On a transatlantic plane ride, it’s not hard to spot travelers from the heartland. Men, you aren’t required to wear a plaid shirt with pleated, tan Dockers. Women, why not try something other than light blue elasto-band jeans and the red-white-and-blue T-shirt?

Anyway, just because a person is interested in the political opinions of other countries, just because you don’t believe it’s just to paint the word “freedom” on naked aggression, that doesn’t mean you hate American freedom.

Most political ideologies have at least some merit, and a blend of them would probably work best.

But I’ve been worried for a while that the country is so polarized that we’ll never reach another consensus on anything.

The recent Congressional elections, however, may have proven me wrong. On top of that, an amazing thing happened over the holiday break.

My conservative dad, who I love to death, expressed discontent with the conflict in Iraq for the first time. My mom said, and I quote, “I sure do like that Barack Obama.”

I’m not expressing a political statement or an endorsement here. I have no idea how my parents will vote in the future, and it’s none of my business.

But I know how they’ve leaned in the past. And if they would even consider something different…well, then maybe we all can.

*Dress code joke courtesy of Nelson DeMille.