When I arrived in Los Angeles, one of the first things I noticed was the near-constant presence of cocaine, and its ubiquity had nothing to do with any sort of subculture. It was at all the grungy after parties, of course, but it was also at the wine and cheese gatherings, the ones that start at six. Put on a collared shirt, bring a bottle of Bordeaux, kiss the hostess on the cheek, do some coke. People who would be considered “grownups” back east were using cocaine openly in LA. I hadn’t done it in eight or nine years, and what I remembered was juvenile and sketchy: people winking and pee dancing off to the bathroom. But now it was out in the open, and more like a tango: tension and slinking, staccato speech patterns, syncopated dialogue. I’d be chatting up a girl, cutting up lines casually, the number determining the length of the dance, the girl following my lead. I’d better offer him a smoke, get into the rhythm of his jokes, or he’ll whirl off with the coke.
Within the fierce social-climbing jungle that is the LA party scene, cocaine is more than just an accoutrement. It’s bait. You can lure with it, build a party around it. People will stay so long as you don’t run out. You can’t buy charm, wit, affability, handsomeness or intellect, but you can find a delivery dealer. But there’s an unintended consequence, one that’s slower and somewhat more insidious than the obvious health and legal concerns: you become an asshole. How affable I was to begin with is questionable, but over time my motivation to be polite diminished considerably. Why polish your manners when you can just pull out your bag?
I became an unapologetic cokehead. And everyone knew it. After all, that was the point. If you needed a bump, you came to me. It was my contribution, the least I could do. I was glomming onto a scene that far exceeded anything I could’ve imagined. Everyone had been around long enough to have acquired connections. If we wanted to go to a certain club, we got on the list. Having never bypassed a velvet rope in my life, I fell quickly into the flow of entitlement. And the timing! Bands I’d loved growing up—Sex Pistols, Bauhaus, Pixies—were reuniting and gigging in LA. I was backstage at the Fonda when Echo and the Bunnymen were about to go on. The show was delayed because Ian McCulloch was characteristically drunk and missing (“Same ol’ fuggin’ coont,” muttered one of the roadies). No ardent Smiths fan ever expects to encounter Morrissey, so when I saw him at the El Rey it was like a dream. That impossibly close shave, the hair, the hurt. I wanted to touch him, if only to freak him out, but he was flanked by bodyguards. I saw Circle Jerks, Buzzcocks. I got in everywhere, easily, and always had the run of the place.
Then there were those grungy after parties. We may’ve begun the evening in the inner sanctum, getting high with the opening act and watching the headliner in style, but by dawn we’d be at a gutted loft space downtown, scraping our vials and scrounging for douched beers and leftover pussy. Fine dining, VIP-lounging, dive bar slumming, house party crashing—it was all part of this adult-but-not limbo we swam in: an oblivion linked, inextricably, to cocaine. I always had coke on me and it would’ve been foolish to pretend that I didn’t. My friends were the hip ones. I was a mere tenant among them. If one of the boys wanted a bump, what was I going to say? Sorry, can’t spare one. Thanks, though, for getting me in everywhere and getting me laid all the time.