When Philip Seymour Hoffman died Russell Brand wrote about it very well. Whatever you think of Brand, on the topic of addiction he is a very good writer. He writes about it with the compassion of an addict. One thing that is clear from his writing is that certain people simply cannot handle some substances without becoming addicted, and once addicted they will always be at war with themselves and their addiction even when they are “clean”.
Recently for the purposes of a documentary on this subject I reviewed some footage of myself smoking heroin that my friend had shot as part of a typically exhibitionist attempt of mine to get clean. I sit wasted and slumped with an unacceptable haircut against a wall in another Hackney flat inhaling fizzy, black snakes of smack off a scrap of crumpled foil. When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what is surprising is that my reaction is not one of gratitude for the positive changes I’ve experienced but envy at witnessing an earlier version of myself unencumbered by the burden of abstinence.
When I finished reading The Brief, Extraordinary Life of Cody Spafford I felt the sudden urge to cry; an unexpected rush of heat behind the eyes that surprised me. It is an article from the Seattle Met written by Allecia Vermillion and it is about Cody Spafford who was shot dead by police after robbing a bank. Cody went “off the rails” as a young man, and eventually got back on track working in a restaurant in Seattle shucking oysters in an oyster bar.
Whenever I read about working in the hospitality industry I am reminded of two jobs I had in the same business: cleaning dishes in a Chinese restaurant, and clearing tables at a cafe. I won’t bother you with the grim details, but both jobs taught me that working in hospitality is brutal, unrelenting, stressful and very badly paid. The same was true for Cody, but he seemed to thrive on it.
Shucking oysters, especially at the Walrus and the Carpenter, requires a certain stamina. Not just the physical kind, the enduring of seven hours of standing in the same place, hands clenched in the same formation. Doing the same thing over and over and over again—Walrus might serve 1,500 oysters on a busy night—demands an almost Zen state, an ability to subjugate normal human impulses and not go insane as the pile of order tickets grows dauntingly high.
The story narrates Cody’s troubled past, his rebirth at an oyster bar, and his increasing skill and responsibility within a wildly successful restaurant. It ends with the tantalising offer of a senior position in a major New York restaurant, and the fact of his doomed robbery of a bank.
The doomed robbery of a band was because he was back using again and needed the money. Well, that’s what people think. You can imagine that the picture is unclear.
That kind of trouble, the trouble of addiction, is a life long burden and the struggles of Brand, of Seymour-Hoffman, Spafford, and countless others demonstrate that nothing can really protect you. It doesn’t help if you achieve fame, success or fortune, while you are of course vulnerable in anonymity, failure and poverty.
There is nothing to believe in any war on drugs except the criminalising of the ill.