The Unknown: The Red Line.

What can be said about the second time we were in Boston? I’m not sure if anything should be said at all, or if we should keep the strange facts of that visit completely anonymous.

When does one realize that one, and all of one’s closest friends, have hit rock bottom? This was after Seattle, after Paris, after Dublin. We had cleaned up our acts in Europe, but only for a short while. Ours were the struggles of true addicts. The substance wanted us, and it grabbed hold of us even after we had swatted it away. Now when I say “the substance” I’m not saying that this was any one substance. It was a lot of substances. We all had our favorite ways of weakening the tenuous threads that connected us to reality. Dirk was at this point heavily into hallucinogenic substances. Somehow Terrence McKenna had become involved in our tour, and in Dirk’s cult. They were working together with mushrooms and LSD and other drugs that hadn’t even been tested yet. Dirk said that they were trying to destroy the Ego.

I thought that perhaps that could be a good thing. I was smoking tons of pot and back on heroin. There was just fog and hunger and decrepitude. It was either ugly and cold or warm and womblike. It was all bad, though, let me assure you. Not at all pretty. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. I had become mean and withdrawn. Frank was on uppers and crystal meth. He was also drinking enormous quantities of straight bourbon, Booker’s. William was shoveling handfuls of downers down his throat, snorting enormous rails of cocaine, and drinking coffee incessantly. We were all drinking lots of expensive imported beer. We weren’t quite all there, our second trip to Boston. We had a problem. No. We had a lot of problems. And they were all serious.

And so when Marla showed up at two in the afternoon one day at the lousy dirty fleabag of a hotel suite we had trashed the night before, she took one look at us and burst into tears. We had missed our meeting with the editors of the Boston Book Review, and dinner with Lewis Lapham (for years I’d dreamed of sitting down for a dinner of honey roasted ham with the man) was now clearly out of the question. Marla saw us, in our incoherent states, in our filthy rags, reduced, our suite reeking of vomit and offal and hashish and burnt crack and pizza and sweat, and she confronted us and she expressed her love for us and her deep concern and her worries that what she smelled was the stench of death.

We were ashamed, and not just because we had shot the television set the night before, which was immature. We were ashamed because collectively we were a decadent waste of talent, the right train on the wrong track, heading nowhere. We couldn’t even come up with decent metaphors any more.

And so we checked into rehab. Marla helped us with the paperwork and saw to it that we could get in under assumed names and circulated a good cover story about us going to the Andes to do some mountain climbing and to get some rest from the media for a little while. And so that is how we ended up spending some time in the highly exclusive detoxification center known as Tennis House in Boston’s Back Bay.

I’m not the kind of writer who would try to capitalize on this experience, who would cannibalize the life stories of those people who led me down a righteous path to sobriety (granted it was a short trip down said path) but do let me say that there were a lot of famous people at Tennis House. There were two Kennedys, and I won’t say which ones. There was a cute young Barrymore who’d become famous as a child. There was a talk show host who used to be the mayor of Cincinnati. And writers? Is there something about the basic structure of M.F.A. programs that plants in the heads of young novelists that they must be either substance abusers or recovering addicts? Is it out of some twisted sense of admiration for William Faulkner or Raymond Carver or Edgar Allan Poe? I won’t name any names, except for that of Mark Amerika, who was quite cruel in the way that he eviscerated me on the courts, winning and taunting, taunting and winning, day after day after day.

You see, at Tennis House, the recovery program is quite unusual. Sure, there’s much of the stuff you’d expect, the period of being locked in a room alone, vomiting and sweating out the substance, the pain of withdrawal that has already been documented by more talented writers, the group meetings which are simultaneous love-and-hate-support-and-confrontation sessions, but there was no bullshit talk of a higher power here. All references to the Almighty were replaced with references to tennis. The founder of the facility, a hale, fruity, and ingenious man, loved tennis. The game was both the carrot and the stick at Tennis House.

Breakfasts were hearty and good and filled with carbohydrates at Tennis House. They were served at 5 A.M. because we were expected to be showered, suited up, and on the courts for drills by 6:10 A.M. Drills. Can I describe what torment drills present to the recently recovering addict? First of all, those ball-launching-at-you machines; in the morning at Tennis House, they were always set full tilt. You would stand alone, on the court, while all the other addicts stood sidecourt watching you, fearfully awaiting their own turn as you were buffeted by a cruel maelstrom of yellow balls, or alternatively, like Mark Amerika, who always went first by virtue of alphabetical order, laughing their asses off as you were battered and bruised, physically tormented, by that Spalding hailfire. And yes, it was effective. Yes, it did make you regret the substance and the way it reduced your ability to swat those damned balls away from you. Many were the addicts reduced to tears. Frank had a horrible time with it. The sprints were even worse.

It was brutal. We had four matches a day, interspersed with meals and AA-type bull sessions. There was little time for anything but tennis. I never, during the two weeks we were at Tennis House, actually learned how to play tennis, Mark fucking Amerika baiting me the whole time, but I did gain a new respect for the game. It does keep your mind off the substance. My time at Tennis House was an endless cycle of humiliation and exhaustion. Heroin was the furthest thing from my thoughts. Dirk was strangely calm throughout, and he turned out to have a terrific serve, with which he aced many a minimalist writer.

Our fourteenth day at Tennis House, and that is how you lived life there, one day at a time, William and I were in our afternoon doubles match, getting crushed by Amerika and a writer who had been famous in the Eighties for a novel about decadent youth but who had had a lackluster career since, when (and I know the facticity of this has been debated and that some critics have suggested that this was actually some kind of collective hallucination planted in our heads by Dirk who wanted out of rehab and back into the loving arms of his devoted acolytes, but nonetheless this is the way we experienced it, William, Frank, and I) a large flying saucer came crashing through the roof, crushing Amerika and the other writer. Small green men emerged and whisked the four of us into their vessel. And that is how we were abducted by aliens and spent some time in orbit. But that is another story.



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