I was homeless exactly one year, from March 2001 to March 2002. I'd known it was coming, and I even sort of welcomed the impending challenge(s), but I had no idea how long it would last, and how ill-prepared I was.
It had taken most of the previous year to chart my descent. I started New Year's Day 2000 debt free, owner of a thriving publishing company (Re-Visionary Press), in demand as a comic book creator, and with plenty of writing and art gigs from the Reader and elsewhere. My comic strip "Overheard in San Diego" had run weekly for around four years, I was renting a nice La Mesa house, driving a Le Baron convertible, and even found time for the occasional date. Sure, I was about to turn 40, and I'd been working six to seven days a week nonstop for nearly 20 years, but I enjoyed what I was doing and didn't really feel like I was missing out on anything.
Except maybe getting stoned. Sometimes, it seemed, the whole world was tripping the tab fantastic without me. Everyone was doing all these wild and exotic new drugs, and I was about the only guy I knew not going into or just getting out of rehab.
I had pretty well given up drugs and booze, other than periods of casual pot smoking, just before my 20th birthday. On February 7, 1980, wasted on massive doses of LSD and mescaline, I saw Pink Floyd debut their stage show for The Wall at the L.A. Sports Arena. If you can imagine what that was like, to be that epically wasted, at that tripped-out show, of all shows, you can probably understand why I came away thinking (once I could think clearly, maybe two days later), "No way am I ever gonna top that!"
My ensuing sobriety surely contributed to my relative success at getting things done over the next two decades, but meanwhile, most of my friends went in entirely different directions, including -- especially -- the guy who gave me all those drugs at Pink Floyd, my childhood buddy, whom we'll call "Timmy." I'd known him since junior high.
Five years older than me, Timmy had introduced me to pretty much every drug I did in my teens. Mescaline, hash, coke, quaaludes, black beauties, Thai sticks, LSD, THC, PCP, even laughing gas (wheee!), Timmy was always the guy bringing it, and I was always the guy perfectly willing to smoke it, pop it, cook it, snort it, chew it, or rub it into my freakin' belly. I had nowhere important to go and nothing important to do, so I got just as messed up as anyone else back in those hazy dayz of Cheech and Chong, of Freakies and Pong.
After that night at the sports arena, I got busy. Timmy got stoned. He couldn't hold anything other than menial jobs, and then he got busted at his apartment near 40th and University for selling meth. He was sentenced to five years of federal prison time, upstate in Boron. I visited the prison a few times, but we'd already grown far apart. I hadn't even been to his apartment in a year or more; I was scared that his dealing, his druggie associates, or the piles of stolen property all over his place would result in a police raid. I tried to warn him about this, but he always insisted, "I only sell to friends." Famous last words.
Fast forward to New Year's Day, 2000, and I'm thinking, "My life is pretty good. This'll do."
As if to teach me a lesson for being so smug and self-satisfied, a few months into the new year, I became very ill, with multiple ailments. A routine checkup turned into a "surprise" colonoscope procedure. Doc Tapscott didn't like what he found just inside the old back door, and next thing I knew his assistant (disconcertingly, female) was giving me a towel to bite down on while the Doc boldly went where no man had gone before.
Those rectal issues were growing more problematic when I woke up one morning to find my left testicle distended down to what seemed like my kneecap. I drove to the emergency room and walked in (leaning a bit to the left), thinking, "Great, I'll lose half a night's work sitting here." It was almost a week before I got back to my La Mesa home. The testicular troubles -- unrelated to my earlier problems -- weren't resolved over my hospital stay, though I was out of immediate danger. Several follow-up medical procedures were required, but I was in too much pain to consider letting doctors tear at my body anymore, at least not for a while.
Just sitting hurt my groin like hell, and lying down in any position set off waves of sciatic nerve pain, the result of a botched operation that had nonetheless cost me $5000. I had let them cut me open after doctors told me I was hemorrhaging internally -- an all-new health problem -- and could die within hours. The true cause of the bleeding turned out to be a tear in my colon, non-life-threatening, and I now had a damaged nerve that caused shooting pains up and down one side of my body.
I rarely got much sleep, and I didn't want to take pain meds. My '70s spree notwithstanding, I hated pills. Even mild painkillers made me vomit and left my head feeling as if Timothy Leary was sticking his hands into my skull and finger painting on my brain.
I wasn't naïve about post-'70s street drugs. Just inexperienced.
A girl I was dating, Olivia, smoked rock cocaine (okay, crack, but crack smokers never call it that; it's "rock," which somehow seems to carry less stigma...and guilt). I didn't know this at first, but she went to the bathroom an awful lot and would come back glassy-eyed and smelling funny. I had once dated a heroin-addict porn star, so Olivia's particular problem wasn't hard to figure out. Nor was it necessarily a date-killer. I was sober, but I wasn't Wally Cleaver. She was very open when I finally asked her about it, but I guess my reaction surprised her. I was in constant pain at that point and had heard coke was quite the painkiller. I asked Olivia to let me try it.