My son, who is a USC student and a field organizer for the Every Child Matters campaign, called me. I was heading up I-26 to yet another meeting.
“The Treasurer’s a coke-head.”
“You’re a coke-head.” (We love each other, this crazy, twenty-something political junkie and me.)
“Seriously, turn on the news.”
Now, when I’m one with the road, lost between the white stripes and mile markers, and the CD player is blasting Lucinda Williams’ smack-tinged wail, I don’t want to be anywhere near reality. Especially when reality looks like this. But I tuned the radio to the news station and drove, drugged by the news.
All my alt-country bohemianism aside, I hate drug abuse. And it’s a personal hatred: drugs and alcohol killed my first marriage (and my first wife–my son’s mother), have nearly taken the life of my oldest son (sibling of the aforementioned near-teetotaler) and destroyed more of my friends than I can count.
I am not a member of the Temperance Union. I am a child of the sixties, and as a stupid young person, I ingested a number of dangerous chemicals and I survived, without any permanent scars. I like single malt Scotch and a good cigar. But I know what drugs can do, and now I even hesitate before taking a Tylenol Sinus. So while I can appreciate the artistry of Lucinda or Keith Richards or the hundreds of other drug-inspired musicians, poets and writers, I think they would be better artists if they were clean and sober. And while I might buy their latest works, I certainly wouldn’t vote for them.
Full disclosure: I voted for Thomas Ravenel. He struck me as a little too carefully packaged, and more than a little arrogant, but it was time for Grady Patterson to retire. When our bond rating dipped and our employee retirement investments lagged even the index funds, it seemed that having a younger, successful, private-sector manager in charge of the state’s money would be a good thing. The disastrous debate convinced me that it was time for a change. Like a lot of other independents and more than a few Democrats, I touched the screen by Ravenel’s name.
Drug abuse is a tragedy, in the classical sense of the term: the collapse of hope and promise in a cloud of chemical dust, backed by a chorus clucking their tongues in the way that good, upstanding choristers cluck. The belief that a pill, a snort, a shot or a drink can increase your God-given talents or erase your sense of personal failure and pain is as foolish a notion as any ever invented. But that belief persists in our society and in every other one on the planet.
I am in pain for Thomas Ravenel and his family. But I am in pain too, for our State and our nation. Ravenel is only a symbol of a spiritual disorder that promotes artificial ways to attain happiness, whether through acquiring more material things or swallowing something that takes away the pain of life. Reality bites, but it’s real–and it’s bite is far less damaging than the bite of drugs and alcohol.