Drug Legalization: Arguments and Ramifications

Young minds are generally convinced that a drug-filled society is the proper course to pursue, but I think we can all agree that most young people don’t think long-term, and they aren’t equipped to gauge the ramifications of their actions well. Young people are also far more susceptible to group thought, and peer pressure, and the subsequent desire to be cool or hip. Most of the people that fall into the “other” category are not adamantly for legalization or against. They don’t want their kids to have easy access to it, but as long as it’s handled responsibly, they don’t get worked into a lather over the issue. Most of the “other” people are simply waiting for a persuasive argument that convinces them that legalization will somehow benefit society.

ProhiII1) The Debacle Argument. “The War on Drugs has failed …” some will say, and some of them will leave their rebuttal at that.  To which the normal reply would be “… and?”  The implied extension on that answer is, “So, the most prominent action we have taken on drugs was a failure, and we should therefore try nothing more, and finally make the necessary moves toward full legalization.”  This is the opening salvo that proponents for drug legalization usually put forth in their argument to legalize. The logical extension of this argument is that controlled-substances should eventually be available at local retail outlets, and that they should be heavily regulated and taxed in the same manner alcohol is currently heavily regulated and taxed. Each outlet would presumably have to vie for a “controlled substance” license from their local government, and they would receive strikes against them for any violations of those licenses in the same manner such outlets now receive strikes for any violations of their alcohol license. This “War on Drugs is such a debacle, so we should eventually make drugs available at retail outlets” argument is equivalent to saying if one fence didn’t keep the mongoose out, we should just load up the chickens and place them in front of the mongoose’s burrow for easier access.

“Legalizing drugs,” former New York City Mayor Ed Koch once said, “Is the equivalent of attempting to extinguish a fire with napalm.”

2) The Alcohol Argument.  The alcohol argument is, far and away, the most popular counterargument for the pro-legalization crowd.  This argument centers around the fact that marijuana is not as addictive, nor as destructive, as alcohol.  They say alcohol makes you aggressive and angry, but marijuana makes you peaceful and happy, but they have no answer for the idea that just because it’s not as bad, does that mean it’s not bad for the person?  They may calculate the damage that alcohol does to a person, and a society, by citing facts and figures, but they usually have no response to question, “Why would you want to make all those facts and figures worse by introducing yet another mind-altering intoxicant into the open market?”  They simply state that “their” preference for altering their mind is not as bad as the other, and they don’t understand why their preference is still deemed illegal.

As Charles Krauthammer has stated: “The question is not which is worse, alcohol or drugs. The question is, can we accept both legalized alcohol and legalized drugs? The answer is No.”

3) The cost-benefits argument. The cost-benefits argument is the second favorite argument of the legalization crowd. They state that all the evidence that you need to know regarding the failure of the War on Drugs can be found in the accounting books of your local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. It has cost these agencies billions, in enforcement, that has produced results that can, by any measure, be called a failure. They also state that legalization, by contrast, will provide a boon to federal and state coffers through taxation.

As Palash Gosh quotes in a International Business Times article:

Cato Institute, Jeffrey A. Miron, senior lecturer on economics at Harvard University and a senior fellow at Cato, and Katherine Waldock, professor of economics at New York University, found that “Legalization would reduce state and federal deficits by saving approximately $41.3 billion annually on expenditures related to the enforcement of prohibition. Of those savings, $25.7 billion would accrue to state and local governments, while $15.6 billion would accrue to the federal government.

“Legalizing would also free up cops spending time arresting drug offenders.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) response to such facts and figures is:

“Ask legalization proponents if the alleged profits from drug legalization would be enough to pay for the increased fetal defects, loss of workplace productivity, increased traffic fatalities and industrial accidents, increased domestic violence and the myriad other problems that would not only be high-cost items but extremely expensive in terms of social decay.”

Legalization proponents would probably say that these DEA facts and figures are arbitrary, and not quantifiable, and that they’re subjective to the argument against legalization.  If that is true, and we remain focused purely on economic figures, one would have to say that there is some merit to the argument that legalization could be a financial boon for state and federal governments.  Pro-legalization proponents rightly say that incurring such revenue could, by extension, retire the debt government agencies are now experiencing, and most of us would have to cede that point in the argument if it were followed by an asterisk that was footnoted with: “All other factors being equal or held constant.” The reason that such an asterisk would be necessary is that all other factors would not remain equal, or be held constant, in the aftermath of legalization, if the representatives, in our federal and state governments, were to remain constant.

If current federal and state coffers saw this boom of billions, they would increase their spending habits accordingly. It’s entirely possible that we could experience a boon for a couple quarters, or even a year, that resulted in surpluses and balanced budgets. If the representatives remained the same, however, they would find ways to allocate this “marijuana” money, until we eventually ended up in the same financial situation they are in today. Giving these representatives more money, to resolve the problem of their irresponsible spending, is equivalent to giving a heroin addict more heroin to cure their addiction.

Miron and Waldock’s final line also suggests that by legalizing drugs, “we would free up cops spending time currently arresting drug offenders.”  This implies that drug dealers simply made a career choice, at one point in their lives, to deal drugs, and if we legalize marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, this will prompt these dealers to simply move onto another career in, say, animal husbandry, dental assistance, or the numerous opportunities currently being offered at the Devry Institute.

Their final line suggests that those in the drug world are arbitrarily defined as criminals by a screwy law, and that there isn’t a violent subculture in the drug world that attracts violent people to it, and that legalization will change their nature in a manner that will remove them from the criminal logs, and free up finances and time for law enforcement agencies to pursue real criminals.

Drug dealers do not deal drugs based on a career choice, an ideological belief in the virtues of their drug of choice, or the fact that they found a niche in the marketplace that no one else in their area managed to capitalize on. They are dealers because it’s an easy way to make easy money. To suggest that the problem of drugs in America is more about antiquated, silly laws on the books, than the people getting arrested, is short-sighted.

Speaking to a Congressional subcommittee on drug policy in 1999, Donnie Marshall, then deputy administrator of DEA, said, “There is “a misconception that most drug-related crimes involve people who are looking for money to buy drugs. The fact is that most drug-related crimes are committed by people whose brains have been messed up with mood-altering drugs.”

Drug dealers may no longer be considered drug offenders, if the product they sell is eventually legalized, but that doesn’t mean that they will stop breaking the law, or eating up valuable time and resources that law enforcement agencies currently expend policing those that break current drug laws. All of the time, money, and resources currently being devoted to drug enforcement would have to be reallocated to all of the crimes that occur as a result of increased drug usage and addiction after legalization. Put bluntly, all of the gains that law enforcement agencies see as a result of legalization would be wiped off the books with all of the unforeseen consequences of legalization.

prohibitiom4) The Prohibition Argument. Some “legalize” proponents suggest that the current climate in America today, regarding crime and enforcement, is equivalent to America’s attempt to prohibit use of alcohol during Prohibition.

“Didn’t Prohibition result in more crime though?” drug legalization proponents will ask. Wasn’t Al Capone created by Prohibition, and weren’t numerous black markets created, and didn’t Prohibition result in widespread criminality that ended once we ended the “Great Experiment” of Prohibition? Weren’t homicides reduced, and wasn’t the reach and power of Organized crime syndicates, that sprang out of the market created by Prohibition, reduced once we ended it?

Most of the arguments that use Prohibition, and the Volstead Act, to bolster their argument for drug legalization, pick and choose specific statistics to bolster that argument, but they usually stay general when illustrating Prohibition’s general lack of success.

As a New York Times opinion piece, written by a professor of criminal justice at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Mark Moore, in 1989, points out:

“Close analyses of the facts and their relevance, is required lest policy makers fall victim to the persuasive power of false analogies and are misled into imprudent judgments. Just such a danger is posed by those who casually invoke the ”lessons of Prohibition” to argue for the legalization of drugs.”

Alcohol consumption declined dramatically during Prohibition. Cirrhosis death rates for men were 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 and 10.7 in 1929. Admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholic psychosis declined from 10.1 per 100,000 in 1919 to 4.7 in 1928. (Editor’s note: Prohibition, or the Volstead Act, was in place between 1920 and 1933.)

Violent crime did not increase dramatically during Prohibition. Homicide rates rose dramatically from 1900 to 1910 but remained roughly constant during Prohibition’s 14 year rule. Organized crime may have become more visible and lurid during Prohibition, but it existed before and after.

Following the repeal of Prohibition, alcohol consumption increased. Today, alcohol is estimated to be the cause of more than 23,000 motor vehicle deaths and is implicated in more than half of the nation’s 20,000 homicides. In contrast, drugs have not yet been persuasively linked to highway fatalities and are believed to account for 10 percent to 20 percent of homicides.

Prohibition did not end alcohol use. What is remarkable, however, is that a relatively narrow political movement, relying on a relatively weak set of statutes, succeeded in reducing, by one-third, the consumption of a drug (alcohol) that had wide historical and popular sanction.

The real lesson of Prohibition is that the society can, indeed, make a dent in the consumption of drugs through laws. There is a price to be paid for such restrictions, of course. But for drugs such as heroin and cocaine, which are dangerous but currently largely unpopular, that price is small relative to the benefits.

5) The libertarian argument. If the most influential minds of the libertarian movement, John Stossel, Ron Paul, and the late William F. Buckley are/were for legalization, how can any self-respecting libertarian be against legalization?  If you listen to their arguments, you have to maintain the belief that if a person wants to destroy their life, they should have the freedom to do that.

I agree with this, in theory.  I agree that what you do in the privacy of your own home should be nobody else’s business.  I agree that we should pursue decriminalization.  Even in a ‘decriminalized’ state like Nebraska, I would not be against further decriminalization, but there is an arbitrary line in the sand to be drawn where moving towards full legalization begins to harm society.  There is a point where the user becomes the abuser, and he’s not only affecting himself, but those in his home, his neighborhood, and the rest of society.  If a user could use, and only destroy his life, then I would be all for it.  It’s difficult to be enthusiastic about the destruction of a human being, in this sense, but if we’re going to have a society built on individual freedom, there is a price to pay for it.

6) The Medical Marijuana Argument.   

An article from Police Chief Magazine listed an article in which the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stated that the “Clear weight of the evidence is that smoked marijuana is harmful. No matter what medical condition has been studied, other drugs have been shown to be more effective in promoting health than smoked marijuana.” They also believe that many proponents of the use of medicinal marijuana are disingenuous, exploiting the sick in order to win a victory in their overall fight to legalize drugs. The DEA cites the fact that marijuana has been rejected as medicine by the American Medical Association, the American Glaucoma Society, The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, and the American Cancer Society.{3}

What the DEA is basically saying is that the entire medical marijuana movement is a ruse that has preyed on a compassionate society that wants to do whatever it can to prevent any of her citizens from suffering.  It has been rejected as medicine by all the largely non-political groups listed above, and it has been rejected as the optimal agent in promoting greater physical health. Other studies have suggested that it does have some pain relieving agents, and that provided the movement a loophole through which some forms of legalization to those that received all of the various, and in some cases laughable, prescriptions.

Ramifications of Legalization

The one ramification that the pro-drug legalization crowd doesn’t factor into the equation is the influence that corporate America, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would eventually have on these products were they legalized.

This is the realization that would probably have hip, young people, and hippies, pausing in their celebratory leap soon after legalization. For, if these controlled substances were legalized, as opposed to decriminalized, the government, and corporate America, would take control of the manufacturing process, the distribution, and the sale of the product. Most of this process would fall under the FDA’s purview. The compromise that led legislators to voting for legalization would surely require that the FDA set guidelines, and standards, so high that they could only “safely” and legally be handled by major corporations. The IRS would then step in and set taxes on production that are so high that the little guy could no longer compete. The little guy would probably still try to have a foot in the process, but they’d be hit by fines, and probable incarceration, that would result from selling the products without FDA and IRS stamps on them. These fines and incarcerations would no longer come from the DEA, or the various local law enforcement agencies, in other words, but the little guy would still be fined and incarcerated. It would just be other agencies complicating their sales with other charges.

At some point in the process, the influence of the FDA, the IRS, and corporate America, could push the demand to a point where the products are priced out of the budgets of the low income individuals that currently enjoy it, and only the affluent can afford it. It’s probable, at that point, that a black market would rise out of these ashes, and we would all be back in the exact same place we’re in today?

For those that claim that this piece provides evidence of a 180 degree turn from prior positions put forth in previous blogs, I can only write that if you live long enough, and read enough information on a given topic, you’ll inevitably find that you were wrong about a lot of things.  The empirical, and semi-empirical evidence I have found, and in some few cases witnessed, is simply too overwhelming compared to the adversarial reviews of the same information.  The adversarial reviews of the same information provide provocative strains of thought, based in equivocations and anecdotal information, that are appealing in the manner in which they counter traditional views on the subject.  This “What your parents don’t know” form of confirmation bias is very appealing to young people seeking to form an identity that stands in direct contrast to their parents, as it was to me.  As appealing as these arguments are, for all of the reasons outlined in this article, they don’t answer the questions regarding the destruction these controlled substances can have on the individual, the locales that legalize them, and society in general in a convincing, objective, and comprehensive manner.  Until that argument can be made, most of the quiet majority will probably remain quietly against total legalization.

Other reading: Most uses of medical marijuana wouldn’t pass FDA review, study finds

Here’s What Science Says About Medical Marijuana

Chances Are You’re a Lot Like Me: My Life with Alcohol

Chances are if you were lower middle-class, Irish, and Catholic, and you grew up in a Midwestern city in the late 70’s/early 80’s, you were immersed in a culture of booze. Every man I knew had his drink of choice in the 70’s, and his bar to drink it in. They were hard-working, lifelong Kennedy Democrats who would just as soon knock your block off than engage in a socioeconomic discussion on the differences of the Carter agenda and the Reagan agenda. Drinking was more socially accepted back then, and drinking is what every adult I knew did.

alcoholChances are if you were an adult in this era, your parents had a Depression-era mindset given to them by their parents and you had some form of involvement in war, be it World War II, Korea, or even Vietnam. Chances are you weren’t much of a talker, or if the occasional yarn escaped, it had nothing to with anything sentimental, or personal, in the manner a modern day, Facebook testimonial might. Chances are you blanched at the suggestion that you were a hero, or that you were a member of America’s “Greatest Generation”. Chances are you were humble about your heroic efforts to save the world, and you didn’t want your exploits discussed, but you were just as silent about the pain you knew. The idea of psychological trauma, otherwise known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, would be discussed during your era, but most true men poo pooed such discussions in closed quarters. Chances are you dealt with everything you saw, and everything you experienced quietly and internally, and in the only way you could deal with all this without going insane was in the company of some container of alcohol that allowed you to forget what haunted you … if only for a couple hours. Chances are you accidentally passed this legacy on.

Chances are if you were an adult in this era, your home came equipped with a fully stocked bar, a mirror around that bar that had some bourbon colored leafs on it, and a wagon wheel table, or some other loud furnishings that distracted the eye from the otherwise lower middle class furnishings of your home.

Chances are if you were a woman, and a wife in this era, your tale of the tape scorecard involved hosting abilities. For a good hostess of this era, the question wasn’t “Do you want a drink?” it was “What do you drink?” or “What can I do you for?,” or “What’s your flavor neighbor?” Those questions were for hostesses who didn’t know their guests’ drink of choice. Most good hostesses did. Most good hostesses knew their guests’ kids’ names, and the perfect form of entertainment that would keep the kids away from the men. I remember one particular hostess, a wife named Jean, who had Rondo at her bar. Rondo! How could she know that was my drink of choice? She was an excellent hostess.

Chances are your family had a George somewhere in your family. Georges are regular pop ins. Pop ins, in the 70’s, were frequent and irregular. Pop ins provided some notice, some of the times, but for the most part a good hostess had to be prepared for a George to pop in at any time. It was a crucial checkmark on a hostesses’ list. Who was George? George was Johnny Walker Black dry. My mother innocently served George Johnny Walker Black on ice once. Once. Some of the times, once is all it takes. It would be the shame that loomed over my family for many a year. George was polite about it. He allowed his drink to sit silently on the table before him while speaking of other, more pressing matters. When he was asked why he wasn’t indulging in the fruits of my father’s labor, George simply said, “I prefer it dry.” My mother scurried about emptying his glass to prepare him a glass that was dry. My dad couldn’t look at George. He saved his scorn for my mother. George, for his part, said nothing. He was polite, and he silently drank it dry, but the damage was already done.

George was a World War II and Korean, War Hero. He was a golden gloves boxing champion, and he was the top John Deere salesman so many times that it would be more illustrative to point out how many years he didn’t win the award. He was also an independent business owner who carved out a niche in the crowded furniture market of our city, but I wouldn’t know any of that for decades. I only knew him as Johnny Walker Black dry.

Chances are if you were a Catholic, Irish boy of this era, you were not permitted to have an objective view of John F. Kennedy. We had pictures and portraits of two men in my household: Jesus and JFK. One of the first methods through which a young male could get a foothold on an identity in my household, through rebellion, was to criticize JFK. It was the family shame. You could criticize Notre Dame Football in my house, you could criticize the Cornhuskers, and you could even criticize the Catholic Church when Dad was good and loaded, but God help you if you claimed that JFK might not be Mount Rushmore material. There were numerous fights on this topic, in my house, that ended with the concession: “If you insist on popping off in such a manner, keep it in the family.” I wasn’t to embarrass the family with my crazy, heretical ideas about JFK.

I would love to say that I stood proud atop this lonely hill, astride my verbal spears, but I was so young and so outnumbered that I questioned my stance. I questioned it so much that when confronted by a Spanish teacher –who was kind enough to give me a ride to school– with the question of who I thought was the greatest president of all time, I said “Kennedy.” I said this to avoid a fight the fights and arguments I endured prior to meeting the man. “You know I’m Cuban right?” he asked. I didn’t, and I must confess that I didn’t understand the implications of it, but I lied and said I did know that he was Cuban. “Did you know that I was a Cuban rebel of Castro?” I confessed that I didn’t. “Did you know that I am the oldest grandson of a former Cuban emperor, and that I was in a direct line of secession that Castro wanted obliterated? Did you know that we were abandoned by this man that you call the greatest president of all time in what is called the Bay of Pigs?” I said I didn’t. I was thoroughly humiliated, but I didn’t know why. I was eventually let off the hook, because I was young, and I didn’t know any better. “Pay more attention in History class…” this Spanish teacher told me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed a drink after all that. I would come to know that soon. I would come to realize that all of the uncomfortable moments of life could be eased out of sight, and out of mind, with a couple of good belts under my belt. I would learn that fun was always fifteen minutes away.

Chances are that if you grew up in this era, in a manner similar to mine, you learned that adulthood was chaotic and an awful responsibility. You got yourself a job. You hated this job, but every man had a job. You got yourself some kids, but kids were seen but not heard in this era. Every kid learned how to conduct themselves around adults, no matter how chaotically the adults acted. You got your quarters to play Pac-Man or “Rhinestone Cowboy” on the jukebox, and you stayed away from the adults and their imbibing.

You worried about everything that happened if you were an adult in this post-Depression, post WWII era, you developed worry lines, and every piece of advice you offered a kid from the next generation involved the word “awful”. You learned that alcohol was the escape from the awful pains that pained you, the awful life, and you indulged in her pleasures whenever you had the chance to escape it. I saw all of the ABC After School Specials, and their thematic horrors of alcohol abuse, but I rarely saw those horrors in my life. In my real life all the trials and tribulations, of the awful life, were fifteen minutes away– or however long it took you to get a couple of good belts under your belt– from being fun.

Chances are that through all the fun, however, you did see some chaos if you were a kid in this era. Chances are you witnessed some evidence that the lifestyle wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Chances are you witnessed one of your parents, most likely your Dad, in a compromising position. The women of this era usually comported themselves better. For the most part, all of the adults controlled their alcohol intake in public, but there were days when the awful responsibilities, of the awful job, in their awful life got to them, and they over indulged. Chances are they did something, in the throes of this abuse, that forever changed your perception of them, but chances are that didn’t outweigh the overall joy you saw procured from indulging.

Chances are you were already fully immersed in this lifestyle before any of the consequences of the lifestyle came to call on victims of the WWII generation. My Dad’s generation didn’t qualify their love of alcohol. They drank, they got sauced, they got tanked, and they liked it! They got a few belts under their belt, and they felt better about the post WWII, Korea and Vietnam life they lived. It was their way to escape thinking about The Depression that their parents taught them, and the lessons Hitler taught them, and to escape the fact that the U.S. had more issues than they knew growing up. It was their way of creating an alternative universe that escaped all politics– both national and personal. They had never heard of cirrhosis of the liver, no one spoke about the horrors of drunk driving, and they didn’t gauge the chaotic effects alcohol could have on the mind and the family, until we were all already immersed in the provocative folklore that we took from the lifestyle. Chances are they didn’t discuss the horrors of the lifestyle, because they didn’t see them, until it was much too late for most of us.

Chances are you were probably immersed in the lifestyle before you were ready for such discussions anyway. I know I was. I know I took from the examples of what they did, versus what they eventually said. I knew I couldn’t handle my liquor, and I still can’t, but I defined adulthood as one drenched in alcohol and lots of talking. The talk was always uninhibited, slightly loony, jovial and non-stop. If something offensive was said, during this talk, you were to ignore it. “That was the beer talking.” It was a get-out-of-jail free card to say whatever you wanted to say whenever you wanted to say it.

Chances are once you were ready to immerse yourself in that lifestyle, you had that party that defined who you were and what you were about to do in life. Mine occurred at the hands of a guy named Lou. The summary of Lou’s fifteen year old philosophy was, life sucks, life is boring, let’s drink. “I don’t want to hear your philosophies of life,” he said, “I want to get plastered.” When I suggested to Lou that I loved music that was heavily influenced by the strange, complicated chords of Bohemian Rhapsody, he said, “‘F’ that stuff!  The stuff you listen to isn’t party rock!  If we’re going to get women involved, we got to get the Crue, Kiss, Ratt, and The Beastie Boys involved.” Lou was all about the testosterone. He liked to fight, he liked to have fun, he liked football, and he liked to have relations with women. It was the 4F society of a fifteen-year-old’s world.

Chances are if you drank this early in life, you didn’t have a way for getting alcohol. Chances are you drank anything you could get your hands on. Chances are you drank beer that you wouldn’t touch today, but if you couldn’t get that beer, you found an exotic liquor that you hoped would launch you past all those preparatory stages of adulthood to adulthood. Drinking a high-powered drink, like bourbon, was like stepping onto a high powered escalator that transported one to adulthood. If you were a lot like me, chances are you were an eager student to the specifics on how to drink … If you wanted to know how to enjoy the ride properly. You learned how to hold a drink, when to drink a drink, and how to chase it for either minimal damage or maximum effect.

Chances are if you were a naïve, young Irish, Catholic boy from the Midwest, you had a Lou in your life. “We have alcohol,” Lou said. He informed me of this in a somewhat guarded manner that suggested that this wasn’t just any liquor, it was emergency liquor. It was liquor that shouldn’t be approached lightly. But this wasn’t just any ordinary night, this was a night that would have girls in it. If this didn’t qualify as an emergency night, no night would. “Girls don’t want to sit around and talk,” Lou said. “Girls want to get plastered. Girls want to party with guys that know how to party.” If it had been any other, ordinary night, where we couldn’t get alcohol, we would’ve sat in Lou’s basement and watched his Betamax collection of nude scenes from Hollywood’s glitterati.

Chances are you were a raging ball of insecurities and hormones, at fifteen, and you believed massive amounts of alcohol would provide you some cover. I know we did. I know we decided to break the emergency glass on Lou’s parents’ liquor to make something happen on “girls” night. That’s what we wanted, more than anything else, we wanted something to happen. We wanted to be fun, and with our fifteen-year-old, Catholic, and Midwestern mindsets, we feared we didn’t have much of a knowledgebase, so we decided that alcohol would provide us some cover. “Okay, but I’m not going to raid the liquor cabinet,” Lou said. “After my cousin raided it a number of times, my parents got hip to the water in the bottle trick to keeping alcohol bottles filled. We do have decanters though.”  Lou’s parents were the owners of a liquor store, so there was always plenty of alcohol in their house. The trick was how were we going to get to this alcohol without their knowledge?

Chances are if you were a naïve, young Irish, Catholic boy, born into the lifestyle of alcohol you said, “Decanters?!” with a gleam in your eye. “Let’s see them!” you said. “I have no idea how old they are, but they’re old,” Lou said. He opened the closet door to reveal an array of elaborate decanters lined up in their own compartments. They had never been opened, and they had never been touched as far as Lou knew. “They’re, at least, as old as we are,” he informed me.

Chances are you saw decanters like these your whole life, and you probably viewed them in the manner Hobbits viewed Gandalf. “What kind of alcohol are they?” I asked believing there was an elixir in those decanters that would reveal things about life to me that my alcoholic forbears knew for a generation. He twisted the bottle around to read the label. “Bourbon!”  He cringed. I didn’t know if bourbon was more potent than scotch or whiskey, and to be quite frank I still don’t. I’m sure that it’s all dependent on the brand, the amount of proof listed on the bottle, and the year it was produced. I made a mistake on the latter when I said, “Alcohol doesn’t go bad with age. It gets better. It becomes vintage.”

Chances are you knew as little about alcohol as I did, but you provided cover for this lack of knowledge with such little nuggets of information you had picked up over the years. Plus, you were willing to do whatever you had to do to entertain girls. Lou knew as little about alcohol as I did, but we both knew that an emergency night that called for emergency procedures. Dawn was coming over, after all. Dawn. Dawn was only thirteen, but she had a woman’s body, and she had one of those sultry, horse, Lauren Bacall voices that would melt a man’s loins, not to mention what they did to a fifteen-year-old’s ball of raging hormones. Dawn had a vacant expression above a cut, strong jawline, beneath flowery blonde hair. She loved to wear swimsuits all the time, even though she wasn’t going swimming, or that’s how I remember it anyway.

Chances are if you had a Dawn in your young life, you were willing to flip all of the emergency triggers necessary to entertain her. If you could get her to laugh, just once, you could play with that for a couple months, if not years. If she found something you said intelligent, or provocative, that could be your lone definition throughout your teens. Even having a Dawn look at you, was worth a couple swigs off the worst drink you ever put to my mouth. Lou seemed to gain his mantle effortlessly. I had to drink enough liquid courage to even open my mouth for five seconds. She was that good looking. I wanted to be entertaining in the manner my Dad, and George, and Francis, and Sam were entertaining when they drank. I’m not sure if it was the first time I ever drank, but it was the first time I drank with girls around. It was my first foray into the 4F club, and I was only fifteen minutes away from fun.

Chances are when you took your first drink, it was absolutely awful. Beer was awful and hard liquor was absolutely terrible, but chances are that didn’t matter to you. Chances are you thought that there was something important involved in you taking that drink. Whether it was achieving a different personality, a heightened awareness, or advancing to adulthood in some manner you couldn’t put your finger on, chances are you decided that you would acquire a taste for it, if it killed you. I decided I would be Tommy Lee, downing this whole, fricking bottle before a drum kit if I had to. I would be entertaining and lively. I wouldn’t engage them in my fifteen year old philosophy. I wouldn’t wax nostalgic on the beauty of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. I would rock out and get plastered and be entertaining.

Chances are some girl, at some point in your life, called you boring. Chances are you didn’t know how to be entertaining to girls. If that’s all true with you, and you had the opportunity I did to be entertaining through alcohol, chances are you overdid it. If a girl like Dawn would laugh at something you said after one shot of alcohol, imagine what she would think of you after two, or three, or eleven shots. I got so out of hand, at one point, I began sneaking other people’s drinks. Another girl at the party, a girl named Rhonda, took one girly smidgen and decided that this wasn’t for her. For me, drinking this drink was like diving into an extremely cold pool. It was shocking and breathtakingly bad, but once I got it into my system, I figured my body would acclimate itself. I began sneaking Rhonda’s drink. When it was my turn to drink, if I missed a quarter shot for example, I downed that muther. It would only be revealed to me later that all of the other people in the place, took smidgens and put the drink behind them. Even if I knew this, I doubt it would’ve slowed me. I was there to enter the 4F club, I was there to get tanked, and this was my fifteen minutes of fun. I didn’t care that by some estimates I downed ten to eleven shots in this, my first drinking experience. This was more about entering a spirituality of drink than it was about being responsible or having a polite, responsible time. I was fifteen and I wanted to rock out.

Chances are that if you had a night like this, as your first drinking experience, you don’t remember a whole lot. I remember Dawn did a seductive striptease dance, but I missed most of that(!) Why God(?!) I remember someone being somewhat-sort-of concerned with my well-being. I remember vomiting violently, and I remember waking. I did it all to elevate myself to another sphere of spirituality that I would remember for the rest of my life, and I didn’t remember much of it. I haven’t had a drink of bourbon, or anything and everything that smelled something like bourbon, since. I just threw up just a little thinking of that smell.

Chances are that you had some sort of confrontation in that first morning after, whether it was internal or not. My experience involved a verbal confrontation with Lou’s Mom. I was in on about half of that discussion, even though she was speaking directly to me. I’ve never done well in situations where someone called my sanity into question. When one looks at me with that look, and speaks to me in that accusatory manner, I usually shut down or leave the room rather than engage. The times when I engaged in such confrontations have never turned out well. “What the hell were you thinking?” was the theme of her questioning. I looked elsewhere. “This is forty year old bourbon,” she said. This caused one of my otherwise, carefree eyebrows to lift.

Chances are that something went through your head that suggested that she was angry because her little baby was growing up faster than she wanted, and she didn’t know how to deal with that fact. Chances are you used one of those few nuggets of information you had about alcohol against her. “Doesn’t alcohol get better with age?” I asked her. “Better with age?” she asked rhetorically. “Wine does,” she said. “You’re thinking of wine….bourbon ferments,” she said. “Do you know what ferments means?” she asked me from a position that was as close to hysterical as she ever got. “You could’ve, and should’ve, died last night!” Her eyes were boring into me, attempting to wake me to the reality of what I’d just done. “You’re just lucky you threw it all up!” she said. This caused both of my eyebrows to lift before I left the room.

Chances are not all of your drinking experiences were as death-defying. Mine weren’t either, at least not to that level. There was one night, I screamed out the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody in the manner Wayne’s World had. I was drunk out of my mind, barely paying attention to the road, with a hot girl, named Adana Moore, in the passenger seat. I think there were five people in my car that night: Me, Lou, Adana, Madonna, and some other girl they jokingly called Donna. When the song ended, I began screaming the next song. I wanted people to know that I knew the entire A Night at the Opera album. I knew every lyric to every song on that album, and probably five other Queen albums. No one cared. They only wanted to feel like Wayne’s World for one night. I remember Adana Moore staring at me like I was a strange character, as I worked my way through the lyrics of the next song, and the next, until I felt I proved that I would continue to do it even with her looking at me. Then, once she looked away, I felt stupid and stopped.

Chances are if you knew a Lou, you knew a guy that had a formula to getting chicks to do things that were totally foreign to you. I envied him for it. He was skilled at talking to women about stupid stuff. He wasn’t a phony guy, but he knew how to turn on the phony factor better than most people I know. He liked to say he had a gift for it, and he did. He liked to call this suave character he created The Louer. The Louer was an alter-ego Lou turned on when the ladies came around, and the ladies loved this self-effacing braggadocious character. I couldn’t compete with Lou on the Louer’s turf, so I decided to go down the opposite road. I decided I would be a complicated, artistic individual, but the problem was I had no artistic talents at the time. I listened to complicated music, or what I thought was complicated music back then, and I brooded. I thought this was artistic. I rarely spoke, unless spoken to. I offered some clipped responses, and I tried to be ironically and sardonically funny. Whatever the case was, I wasn’t into impressing the girls in the ways of the Louer.

If you knew a Lou, chances are you knew a guy who could flip a Louer lever to get the ladies undressed. I would not lower myself to such a point where a girl would dictate to me how I was to act to entertain them. I would remain true to my artistic convictions, even if most people didn’t care one way or another. I would not entertain them in a fashion I considered demeaning. I would be funny, but I would be funny on my terms. I would have fun, but that would be fun that I considered fun. In truth, I couldn’t be entertaining, and fun, in the manner Lou was entertaining and fun, but we made a good team. If the Louer was David Lee Roth, I was Eddie Vedder before anyone had heard of Eddie Vedder. This isn’t to say that I was sad. I was happy and fun, but I didn’t have a whole lot of material back then. Lou didn’t either, but he was much better at concealing this fact than I was when he was the Louer.

Chances are, if you’re anything like me, you reached a point where you realized you could not handle your liquor. I would say this to all of my future co-workers, friends, and family at any social function I attended. At one point, I thought of having a T-shirt made that said this, just to save all the time it took me to convince those around me that it’s not a good idea to give me hard alcohol. “Don’t feed the bear,” I told them in a joking manner that I hoped would address the matter with humor. I knew this made me less of a man, and that “that woman over there can outdrink you.” That’s fine, I said. I’ll bet I have a better jump shot than her, I’ll bet I can conjugate a verb faster than her, and I’ll bet I can name more Civil War generals than she can. I didn’t care that I could do any of these things better than her, just like I didn’t care that she could drink me under the table.

Chances are that such convictions didn’t last throughout your drinking life. Chances are you didn’t care when a fella called you out, but when you hung out with that cute girl you had been dying to hang out with confront you with these facets of your drinking life, you folded like a house of cards. You may have told her of your weakness, but chances are that didn’t matter to her, and chances are that meant a great deal to you. “Do you want me to be fun tonight, or do you want me to drink this one drink that you feel builds some form of symbolic camaraderie?” ‘Drink it!’ she said. “Do you want me to tell half of you I love you and half of you I hate you?” ‘I don’t care drink it!’ “Do you want me to start walking down that hallway over there and fall into that family of six?” ‘Drink the shit!’ “Does it really matter that I put the same thing into my mouth at the same time that you do?” ‘YES! Drink the shit!!’ “At a certain point in the evening, I will become quiet, as I grow embarrassed that everything that comes out of my mouth is twisted and tied up in my alcohol saturated brain. You really want that?” YES! Drink the shit!! She was so cute, and she gave an inkling that she might be willing to get undressed for me at the end of the night, and she was losing patience with me and my stance. She was even becoming a little disgusted by my weakness, so I drank the shit and eventually ruined (like I knew I would!) any chances of seeing her cute, little body naked.

Chances are at some point in your life, you saw the hills of drinking. All drinkers know these hills. One hill can be a momentary, night by night scale of debauchery, that ends at a certain point where you’ve reached maximum altitude. Most drinkers know this hill, and they responsibly know when to say when. They know how to have fun and engage in a little chaos that eases the awful life a little, but they know that slaloming down the hill at breakneck speed has consequences. Some don’t. Some always want that little, extra bit of fun that looms on the other side of the hill that doesn’t exist, but can be achieved with just one more drink. You are forever in pursuit of that which may never have existed in the first place, if you’re anything like me. There is also that hill of life that most drinkers acknowledge at one time or another.

Chances are if you’re like me, you never sought this hill of life, so much as it was introduced to you. Chances are some of your friends suddenly stopped drinking, or they stopped seeing the necessity of having drink accompany every single get-together. I remember the first one. I remember seeing no beer in anyone’s hands, and thinking how unusual that was. What’s going on, I wondered. I remember the customary conversation that occurred on that occasion that I thought matched that which I had with my relatives at Thanksgiving. I remember thinking what a travesty that was. “We’re just going to sit here and talk?!”  It wasn’t the hill for me, not yet, but it was a sign that things were changing among my friends. I was no longer in charge of festivities. I was no longer “respected” as the go-to guy for fun and frivolity. I was becoming a little sad. I was being face-planted into a hill that exposed me as a man that began to rely on a little drink as a Band-Aid to cover my wounds. I was becoming pathetic. I didn’t care. This wasn’t right. This was boring! Who’s in charge here? No one would answer. No one would look at me. It was the changing of the guard.

Chances are if you’re anything like me, you were one of the last to jump on board this ride. Chances are it took you years, if not decades, to realize that you didn’t need alcohol to be fun and exciting, and you chose Thanksgiving style talk as your new course of life. You began to learn about politics and work, and you began to engage in the awful life without it being made all the more awful through chaotic release.

Chances are you began to see all the life you missed at this point. Chances are people learned how to balance checkbooks, and fix their cars, and homes, and their plumbing. Chances are these people made meritorious advances in the workplace while you remained in your entry level position. Chances are they learned how to talk to women without having to have chemical courage involved. Chances are these people all learned things about life that you spent most of your life trying to escape and avoid because they were square, unhip, nonalcoholic pursuits of life. Chances are this was never your intention in life, but it happened progressively night after night, hung-over morning after hung-over morning. Chances are you wasted a certain portion of your life in which you did achieve things, but not as much as you could’ve if you had been a little more focused.

Chances are if you led a life similar to mine, you started to recognize the compulsion you once had to be impulsive. Chances are that you once flew down roads at breakneck speeds to get to an 8pm party, so that you would have plenty of time to get blitzed by the time the heart of the party started. Chances are this started to become such a cyclical pattern of your life that these nights began to lose their fun. You had some Mt. McKinley nights of fun that you spent most of your life trying to recapture then top, until you had some Mt. Everest nights of fun. You escaped the pressures of the work life and the doldrums of the home life so often that those nights started to lose that crucial element of escapism. When this started happening, chances are you started to think about going home earlier, until you got there and wished you were out drinking again. You just wanted a fun life, and you were willing to do whatever it took to achieve it. You wanted to avoid reflection and get extremely chaotic for fifteen minutes of fun that helped you deal with the awful life, until you realized that your life was awful because of it. My Dad and his friends had a hill, but they knew how to drink. Everyone does, it seems, to a point where it’s good, clean, adult fun. They didn’t know how to live, and either do you, you realize that day you truly face plant into that hill that informs you that you’ve been avoiding life for so long that you don’t know how to live.

Chances are you figured something out, somewhere along the line, and you’re happy now. Chances are something, or someone, happened in your life to clarify matters for you, and you’re no longer in the dark. Chances are you were a little late to the game, but you look back on your lifestyle with some regret and some fondness, but you’ve moved on, and you’re happier than you’ve ever been.


Ace Frehley’s book: No Regrets. A Review

Ace Frehley has No Regrets.  It’s the title of his book.  He has no regrets, apparently, about wasting whatever God-given talent he was given, and he has no regrets about doing little-to-nothing to make his “right place and right time” in history to make it a little better. That’s great Ace, you stuck your middle finger right up into what Gene and Paul have been saying about you, but what about those young fans that defended your legacy for much of our young lives?  Do you have No Regrets about all that?

Ace FrehleyThis review is being written by a fan.  This writer may not be a die hard fan anymore, but I was.  There was a time when Kiss was my whole world, and in those days Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton was my favorite person in the universe, and Ace Frehley was number two.  I still have a soft spot in my heart for the man, but Ace Frehley’s new book No Regrets has even tainted that.

Ace Frehley states that he is clean now, and like so many other rock bios that adorn the shelves of bookstores across America, Frehley takes the vantage point of an outsider commenting on his past debauchery.  Alcohol and drugs were the way Frehley dealt with the ups and downs of stardom, but he has No Regrets about this. As comedians in the past (Pryor and Carlin) have done, Ace chooses to laugh at his lifestyle choices.  He chooses the “now that I’m clean” meme to detail for us the hilarity of being so out of control that you don’t know what you’re doing.  As a lifelong Ace Frehley fan, I found many of the Ace Frehley stories funny, troubling, and disenchanting, but Ace has No Regrets.

The “breath of fresh air” arrives when Ace details for us the tale of Kiss.  Ace is more honest and forthcoming about the formulation of Kiss than any of the other members have been to this point.  The reader begins to realize that Ace is going to be the first to tell this story without a marketing plan. There is no Kiss mysticism attached to this version of the story, the Kisstory, such as the stories faithful Kiss readers have been inundated with by Paul and Gene. This is the Kiss story as told by “the fun and spontaneous member”.  This is the more “real” version of the story.  Unfortunately, the more “real”, Ace Frehley version of the story substantiates many of the charges made against Ace’s apathy and his poor work ethic.  The No Regrets book also substantiates the charge that Ace wasn’t particularly elemental in the formulation of the eventual Kiss product, that he was basically just along for the ride, and that he has No Regrets about any of this.

In one particular story, Ace says that the producer of the album Destroyer, Bob Ezrin, began pushing Ace to come up with guitar solos for the songs on the album.  Ace complains that the pushing was counterproductive for what Ezrin failed to understand is that the spontaneous nature of artistic creation cannot be pushed.  Ace’s lone contribution on a majority of the Kiss songs was a brief solo between the verses, and he couldn’t even come up with that by the time Kiss’ Destroyer album came out.  At this point in the story, I would’ve been mentally lambasting Gene and Paul for presumably leaving out some necessary details of the story.  That’s not the case here of course.  This is Ace telling the story.  As I said, it’s all troubling and disenchanting, but he had No Regrets.

The question that this reader has for Ace on this particular issue is: “How much time, between albums, did you have to work on these spontaneous solos?  I know spontaneity cannot be generated on the spot, but it can be cultivated over time, so that it becomes easier every time out.  This is called art.  Artistic creations take time, devotion, and discipline.  I’m not a blind fan don’t get me wrong.  I recognize Kiss music for what it is.  I don’t put it on par with Monet or Picasso in the world of art, but even Kiss music takes a degree of involvement, work ethic, and commitment. Ace Frehley was a significant part of a group that put out products that many of us spent our allowance on, but Frehley thought Bob Ezrin pushed the man’s artistic sensibilities a little too hard, because Ezrin didn’t understand the gentle process of artistic creation.  My educated guess, based on the characterization of Ace Frehley, by Ace Frehley in the book No Regrets, is that he arrived in the studio unprepared, and he got mad at Ezrin for getting mad at him about it.  Yet, Ace Frehley has no regrets.

Few have questioned Frehley’s God-given gifts, but he apprently did little to formulate and finesse those gifts that were given to him.  What were you doing between albums Ace, other than touring? The answer: Sex, drugs, and alcohol.  No Regrets.  You read Ace detail this portion of his story, and you realize that Ace may have been paying a little bit too much attention to his press clippings.  He may have been listening to those adoring fans that put him on a pedestal a little too often.  He may have thought there was a degree of mysticism to his art that couldn’t arise as a result of a request from a meager human, but it had to be waited for in the manner of some divine artiste.  Say what you want about Gene and Paul, and many have (Ace does in this book in good ways and bad), but Gene and Paul knew there was nothing divine about what they were doing.  They simply worked their tails off for the legacy they eventually achieved.

Ace chastises the Kiss bassist Gene Simmons throughout the book as a man who took the Kiss product a little too seriously throughout the process of building it.  Ace talks about how he couldn’t do it.  The movie “Kiss Meets the Phantom” is an example of the “Kisstory” that Ace admits he basically sat out.  He looks good in hindsight for having sat that one out, for the movie is generally considered a bomb.  Ace talks about how he didn’t enjoy making the album “The Elder”, and how he generally sat that one out too.  Ace then talks about how he wasn’t much of a part of the making of the album Destroyer either.  The latter is a little more painful to him, as evidenced in his words, but this may be due to the fact that Destroyer is generally considered to be Kiss’ best album.  Hindsight shows Ace regretting that he wasn’t a greater part of the successes, but he doesn’t mind telling us he had little to nothing to do with that which is generally considered less successful artistically and financially.  How convenient.

Ace condemns Gene as a business man who has no friends.  He says Gene needs to cut loose and have a beer every once in a while.  To be fair to Ace, he does thank Gene and Paul for everything they built, and he’s not as negative as I thought he would be.  I read where Gene leveled Ace in many areas, and I expected the return fire to be explosive.  He pounded home the point that Gene has no friends by saying that the Gene Simmons Roast only had comedians in it (and family members), but he doesn’t have as many negative things to say about Gene as this review and others may lead one to believe.

Those of us that were Ace Frehley loyalists for much of our life, have one quick question for Ace.  The question is based on the fact that we defended Ace among our friends, those that informed us what Gene and Paul had said about him.  Why would you write this?  Why would you tell the world that you didn’t have as much play in the formulation of this Kiss product as we thought you had. Why would you tell your biggest fans that you were basically along for the ride, for much of the time?  Why would you say that other than some minor artistic differences, there’s no real huge story to your departure? Or, that you just got sick of it?’  Ace does mention the fact that he may not be alive if he were still in Kiss, but it’s clear that that was totally on him by that point.  The only one that encouraged Frehley into greater debauchery, Peter Criss, was long gone by the time he quit, and Paul and Gene were basically dry as stated time and again throughout the book.  Did Ace envy the success Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash had with his autobiography?  Did he know that his story was similar, and he wanted a piece of that pie?

In a promotional interview for this book, Ace did on The Today Show, Ace talked about how proud he was to add published author to his list of accomplishments. That’s great, some of us thought, and it’s a laudable goal for any high school dropout.  The question is what did you have published?  Was it a novel, a short story collection, or bio that detailed for the American public a dossier of artistic accomplishments?  What this published author managed to have published was a tome of a wasted opportunity, a waste of talent, and a largely wasted life.  My guess is that Frehley saw all of acclaim and sales that went to Guns and Roses guitarist Slash and realized that his story was similar.  It’s as entertaining as Slash’s was, and it’s received as much praise, but at what price?

The reader is left with the idea that Ace led a blessed and lucky life, but when it came to actually working, and finessing that gift to even greater heights, Ace got turned on and tuned out. Ace will undoubtedly receive a lot more praise for being “more real” with his story, but those of us that considered ourselves true fans, we wish he had been a little less real to keep the Ace myth alive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun (and in spots a funny) read, but it’s also a little sad and disenchanting.

The Alcohol Solution

Dad was missing a vital piece of his physiological makeup that needed completion, but he never found the cure for the subtle vagaries that plagued him.  He searched for them in the 12 oz cans of mental distortion, but that solution chipped away at the core, until there was little left to save.  He discovered too late how much of his life he missed, yet he may not have been able to make it that far without the solutions that he drank.