I should begin by confessing that my brush with white powdery drugs is extremely minimal. Okay, I have had none. I have never snorted anything up my nose or injected anything into my arms. My experimentation with drugs happened largely during high school. I went to a rave at the Ontario Science Centre in the late nineties and took what I thought was ecstasy, but am now sure was a candy-coated Advil with a smiley face painted on it. I had friends who went through a phase in high school of dropping acid and going bowling—but I was away on exchange that semester, so I didn’t do that. Later on, I dabbled in the realm of magic mushrooms, and would do so again. So, when it comes to the general party scene, I consider myself to be pretty typical: not a babe in the woods, at times a player and at times an onlooker.
It is from this vantage point that I’ve observed a recent shift in the recreational drugs of choice. Last year, I was at a family pool party and BBQ. It was about 5:30, maybe 6, and someone’s dad was putting the corn on. I opened the door to the bathroom and walked in on a friend who was snorting cocaine off the vanity, right next to the potpourri bowl. What surprised me most was the setting. I don’t think anyone would classify this as a healthy situation, except maybe the snorter herself. Coke was just part of her being social. Having fun. The weird part is that this friend was not alone in her habits. I hadn’t even noticed how many of my friends were high as kites.
I’ve heard that people really like cocaine because it makes them feel cool, brilliant, socially apt, popular and, well, awesome. Personally, I’ve always associated it with high-powered, go-getter types wearing blazers, like Demi Moore in St. Elmo’s Fire. The eighties were about making money and getting high, and cocaine was part of playing the game, playing the market. But at a suburban barbecue? The people I know are doing it to chill out, to relax—perhaps as an alternative to pot. These girls wear Lululemon; these guys wear khaki shorts and plaid shirts. Has cocaine just become something for the bored and suburban? Is it just another escape from mediocrity, like booze and shopping?
Whatever the reasons, white powdery drugs are back and very much in the mainstream. These are the drugs we were raised to fear. Those who grew up during the eighties will be hard-pressed not to remember the commercial where an egg is thrown into a spitting frying pan: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Even knowing that it was part of a well-orchestrated “War on Drugs” launched by the American government, that commercial was still frickin’ scary—it is often considered one of the most successful ad campaigns ever.
To declare a war on “drugs” is to have quite a vague enemy, as most people don’t clump all drugs into one category. There are stigmas—some types of drugs are okay, others just sketchy. Most people see potheads as totally acceptable, if a little lazy. People who party on ecstasy are just having fun and doing the after-hours thing. But what about coke? Calling someone a cokehead used to be a pretty major insult; it conjured up images of a beefy red-faced guy who makes too much money and flies off the handle and gets destructively aggressive. But what does it mean now? The other night—at a lovely, low-key bar I frequent—my friend pointed out a random girl she’d chatted with in the bathroom. The girl had been frantically looking for a “bag of blow” that she’d lost. “She was a total cokehead,” my friend reported. The girl looked a lot like Paris Hilton on an off night. But maybe she was “heroin chic.” Hard to tell.
Social stigmas have shifted along with (or perhaps because of) the change in users. While it is still an insult to be a crack whore, being a snow bunny is hardly a disgrace. It’s cute. Mary-Kate Olsen has her nation’s support, after all. The same goes with heroin. Smack is not just on skid row anymore; it’s moved uptown. It’s found its way into the bloodstreams of runway models, white-collar workers, bored housewives and suburban kids. And, as it turns out, there are ways of getting around the stigma: it seems that a lot of people are now smoking or snorting heroin. Supposedly, it’s extremely dangerous (we’ve all seen Pulp Fiction), but at least it doesn’t leave those unsightly track marks.
Drugs are in the mainstream; maybe that’s why I’m hearing about them. In Montreal, they are literally on the Main. I have had countless friends tell me about those glossy restaurants on St. Laurent between Prince Arthur and Sherbrooke. These establishments are restaurants in the evening and clubs by night. The curtains close around 11 PM, the pretty people pile in, and invariably there are lines of coke on every toilet tank. I hear it’s sometimes on the dining tables themselves. No one is very shocked by all this. These are normal people—in town for the night, on the town for the night—just having a good time, not unlike my friend at the family BBQ.
Fine—but when does it go too far? When do drugs stop being an accessory to fun and become the fun itself? My friend Josie was recently invited to a wedding in Toronto. The invitation called for casual attire, but the money she saved on a dress was to be spent on something else. The bride and groom, big on the party scene, wanted their guests to pop pills at their wedding. To each his own, I guess, but I was left wondering what the point was. I’ve always thought that I wouldn’t even drink that much at my own wedding. Being a guest is a different matter, but as a bride it’s your day—wouldn’t you want to remember it all? I would want to be graceful. Be full of a natural high. So maybe I am a bit of a babe in the woods, after all, but I think that on your wedding day, a chemically induced happiness is, well, a little sad.