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  LIFE AS A LOSER #177: "TOXINS."  
   
   
 

From 20 feet up, I used to watch the top of Arnold Schwarzenegger's head, with a puff of cigar smoke following him around, as he made the way through his Venice restaurant/cigar shop, glad-handing future campaign donors and presumably making inappropriate breast jokes. In 1997, the deck of my apartment overlooked his restaurant, and the first Monday of every month, he would invite all of his rich Republican buddies, males only, for a special night of grab ass. They'd talk and drink and be way too loud, and I would get drunk on cheap wine and wallow in depression.

I spent a year like this, sitting on the deck and drinking and watching and lamenting; Los Angeles is a fine city, but my time there, in the wake of a broken engagement, was not an enjoyable one. The end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998 are a complete haze for me, like Dennis Hopper's '60s and '70s; if I wasn't drunk, I was recovering from the previous night's drunk. Not a happy time.

 
 

 

At the end of the year I lived out there, I went looking for jobs. I interviewed for two. The first was at a pornographic Web site; the job was writing "creative" captions for the photos. I didn't know the interview was for a porn site until it was halfway over; once light dawned, I did my best to tank it, answering all questions with mumbles and nods while doodling on my notebook. The second was with The Sporting News, in St. Louis, back in the Midwest, where it was safe and far away from the chaos of my drunken Austrian spying.

Both jobs called me on the same day. The porn people were first; to my shock, they said out of all the candidates they interviewed (my suspicion has always been that I was the only one who didn't leave halfway through), I was the perfect fit. I told them I would get back to them; they were offering a lot of money, and who knew how desperate I would end up. An hour later, The Sporting News called. Less money, but a good job, in St. Louis, two hours from my hometown. I said I'd take it. They told me I started in three weeks, and they would pay for my move. Easy does it. Easy as pie.

As I was about to hang up and give the porn folks the bad news, my future boss paused. "Oh, yeah, hoss, you'll have to take a drug test too. We actually have you all set up, for tomorrow, at some clinic. I think it's right by your apartment, actually."

Well.

As you can probably guess, my substance abuse problem of 1997-98 wasn't limited to alcohol. And now I had a day until my drug test, which, coincidentally enough, was the exact amount of time it had been since I last smoked pot. How fortuitous!

I panicked, of course. I drove immediately to the local head shop and bought every piss test bypasser I could find. In the next 24 hours, I drank six different nasty concoctions, usually purple, with little chucks of things floating in them. I stayed up all night and drank about four gallons of water, and I wore four layers of clothing, as advised by the manual, to help any "toxins" exist my system.

I had 24 hours.

By the time I actually made it to the clinic, I had been awake so long, and had been depriving myself of anything other than just water, that I was beginning to hallucinate. A nice nurse, with horns and flames coming out of her ears, wearing a little pinwheel hat, dressed up in a Scottish kilt that played selections from Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline," took me into a private room and handed me a little cup. I had deprived my body of so many toxins over the last 24 hours, my urine was completely clear. I think they could have used my urine in a beer commercial, smooth as a mountain stream. I had drank so much water, I filled the cup and then kept going for another two or three minutes.

I left and waited. It's a tough spot to be waiting for drug test results. It's not like you can exactly call them and be like, "Uh, did you get those back yet? I mean, uh, not that I'm worried!" So I just waited. I had already told all my family and friends that I'd gotten the job, and since it involved a cross-country move, preparations needed to be taken care of.

My parents were so happy. They were ecstatic that I was moving closer to home.

My cousin Denny was charged with driving out to Los Angeles to pick me up and drive me and my stuff back home. Two days before we were leaving, my Sporting News contact called me.

"Hey, Will, just checkin' in with ya. You get everything all set up? We're excited to have you out here."

I tried to broach the subject without broaching the subject.
"So, um, is everything set up over there? All the T's crossed and I's dotted?"

He laughed. "Oh, we're ready for ya. Everything's good. We're still waiting on that test, but that's no big deal, hoss. Have a safe trip!"

So, my cousin showed up, and we packed my car, and I said goodbye to all my Los Angeles friends, and we left. We turned on the radio and learned that Saturday Night Live star Phil Hartman had died, shot by his wife. We cruised into Nevada. I turned to Denny.

"You know, I don't know if I passed my drug test or not. In fact, there's a very good chance I didn't. We could be coming all the way back out here for nothing. I might have just destroyed my life."

Denny, as is his way, was unfazed. "Well, then I suppose there's nothing wrong with a drive through the desert with a joint, right? Can't hurt."

It couldn't. So we drove, across the country, peeking through the nether, clueless as to what awaited us.

 

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