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ISSUE #135
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If socialists are going to take your money, it might as well be us.

Features

ArrowTHE BEAST ENLISTS THE GHOST OF SLAIN BLACK PANTHER LEADER FRED HAMPTON TO APOLOGIZE FOR THE LACK OF A FEBRUARY 2009 ISSUE
Hampton comes alive!

ArrowTHE IDIOT MACHINE
Author attempts to hold Bush crony accountable, winds up covered in poop
Ian Murphy

ArrowDESPERATE BUT NOT SERIOUS
No relief from Republican math
Allan Uthman

ArrowA CONVERSATION WITH THE 10 TRILLION ROBOTS THAT ARE CALLED DR. DANIEL DENNETT
Reknowned atheist prof. deigns to speak to The BEAST

ArrowSTUPID, or HOW TO LOSE MONEY RUNNING A SPEED LAB
Part IV: Every Flake a $20 Bill
John Dolan

ArrowBOUGHT, FAT & LAUDED
Someone stop Tom Friedman before he types again
Matt Taibbi

ArrowGOD HATES PHELPS
WNY to Westboro weirdoes: Talk to the hand
Ian Murphy

ArrowAIR FORCE DUMB
Chemtrails: The nonexistent killer
Alexander Zaitchik

ArrowCELEBRITY POP QUIZ!
Paul Craig Roberts fails to apply himself

ArrowEXTREME MAKEOVER: GITMO EDITION
Improving our nation's curb appeal

ArrowASK MUZZAMIL HASSAN
Relationship advice from the founder of Bridges TV

ArrowGOP CHAIRMAN CALLS OBAMA SPEECH 'WIGGIDY-WHACK'
Rap battle threatened
Josh Righter

Departments

ArrowThe Beast Page 5
One-armed midget

ArrowWaxy Beast: Music Reviews
by Eric Lingenfelter

ArrowKino Kwikees: Movie Trailer Reviews
by Michael Gildea

ArrowBEAST-O-SCOPES!
Your completely accurate horoscope

[sic] - Your letters

 

STUPID

HOW TO LOSE MONEY RUNNING A SPEED LAB

By JOHN DOLAN

Part Four: Every Flake A $20 Bill

That was the longest week of my life. Pure terror, and I’m a fear specialist. There is no terror like the terror that follows a loud knock on the door while you’re cooking up a batch of speed.

And the knocks kept coming, the whole long seven days I sat there leaning over the bathtub checking the thermometer in the potion bubbling over the bensen burner. Because the local paper, the Benecia Herald, was having a circulation drive. So several times a day, as I decanted some toxic precursor into some other highly flammable solvent, there would be an apocalyptic banging on the old front door. The knock that says: Cops. DEA. San Quentin. Maximum security. Life as the bespectacled bitch of your cellblock.

With each knock I had to go through the options. You could kill yourself immediately to avoid further embarrassment. We didn’t have a gun or anything; my silent (and absent) partner Butler wanted this to be the cool, non-violent kind of drug operation; but if you really wanted to die, there were about a dozen containers marked with skull and crossbones sitting around me. Just inhaling that stuff moved you up the actuarial tables, so if you actually drank it you’d probably start squirting black slime from both ends and finish up like a salted slug, a melted wad of poisoned mucus.

But each time, after considering the quick chemical quit option, I got up on wobbly legs and wobbled to the front door. A long walk. The bathroom where I was cooking was at the back of the old shotgun shack, and it took about a geological era to get to the front door. In my head I could hear the crackle of cop radios, but in retrospect that was probably just the first overtures of undiagnosed hypertension, tinnitus. Expecting to see big blue heavy-belted cops wavily reflected through the old pioneer glass of the front windows.

And every damn time, I’d open the door to find a a slackjawed hick brat reciting his Benecia Herald spiel in one memorized blurt. Each time I’d listen, fear-sweat from head to toe, to the wonderful opportunity I was being offered. Two months’ subscription for the price of about ten years off my life. If the Norns were watching, the old Swede bitches must have laughed themselves into a stroke at the door gag, then wiped their smoke-bleared eyes and snipped about a third off my life string. When I’d close the door and listen for the kid going away, I could actually feel my heart for the first time in my life, feel it scrambling to get out like a rabbit in a sinking sack.

A few years later, New Zealand Immigration forced me to go to a cardiologist before they’d let me immigrate, and the doctor, this mean, loud, conceited bastard, would check my chest and then yell, “You’ve hurt your heart! How did you hurt your heart?” He made it sound like a felony. There was no way I could play him that scene, of the paperboys banging on the front door while the Bunsen burner bubbled up a life sentence for me in the tub. I just shrugged, reinforcing his clear belief that I was not just fat and defective but stupid as well. “How did you hurt your heart?” Sounds almost like one of those soppy eighties lyrics, but not the way he said it. More like, “Did you break that vase?” Stout denial. After a while he got bored yelling and signed the papers, noting only that “Mr. Dolan could benefit from several lifestyle changes.” Doc, you don’t know how right you were, you miserable runt martinet pig.

The smell from the tub was so awful I tried to avoid opening the door at all. The first thing I did, after shoving my mother’s unsellable antiques aside to make a place for my sleeping bag, was to tape all the windows shut from the inside. That was our security system, our fume-reduction scheme. And of course I slyly started painting the house to offer a visible excuse for any chemical fumes—which also allowed me good reason to tape cardboard over all the windows. Made the place a little dark—there was no electricity—but safety first!

But cooking speed doesn’t smell much like paint. It’s more like cat piss, if the bladders of all the stray cats in Golden Gate Park were squeezed into a pot left on high on the kitchen stove for about three days. Every piece of old furniture in that place, every inch of the peeling wallpaper, was basted by those sickening fumes, rendering the whole house unsaleable forever. Oh yeah, I was going to be Robin Hood of the Meth Cookers, buying my poor parents new cars with the proceeds. All I ended up doing was ruining the only investment we had, that house in Benecia. The first time my parents came in, after we’d semi-cleaned up the evidence, they retched and staggered out the door. “What did you do in here” A reasonable question, answered, as usual, with a shrug and a sneer. Purgatory is a sweet idea, but I don’t believe in it. A few eons in Purgatory and I could make up for that scene—too late now. We couldn’t sell it; robbers took every last “antique”; the city bought it for nothing, some weed violation. My fault. Live with that and see what happens to your blood pressure.

The cooking was simple enough. It was the noises. Sirens. When you’re legal, you don’t even hear sirens. When you’re leaning over a speed cooker, you become somewhat sensitized to them. The Doppler effect becomes what Stevens would call “a major reality”: if the howl is dropping into tenor range, then your heart can subside to a mere 200 or so beats per minute, but if it’s rising, you have to die one of those thousand deaths the coward is heir to. It’s actually more like a hundred thousand, if you were to count. How did you hurt your heart? Sirens, doc. See, the Benecia Hospital was just around the corner. Not so easy, when you’re cooking speed, to tell the difference between ambulance and cop sirens.

When Butler showed up halfway through the week to see how my felony cooking school was going, he made light of my siren anxiety. He had a way of laying down the law in his pedantic-nerd accent. He was the only Californian I’d ever met whose accent was even more pretentious than mine. The first time he showed up with Doug (trash of a feather), I tried to figure out what country he came from, asked Doug: “Uh, I think Daly City?” It was the accent of Pretentia, and we’d had many a chat in its high nasals, decreeing the proper line on many aspects of existence as we sipped Terry’s instant coffee at the Bongoburgers table and negotiated our little plan to become crime lords. When I told Butler about the sirens, he sniggered—you don’t see much sniggering, but he was an old hand at it—and explained, “Oh no. No, no, no sirens. There wouldn’t be sirens. They’d come in both doors at once, front and back, with battering rams! Through the windows, too. Dozens of them. Sirens!” he chuckled at my naivete.

Butler’s cleverest little scheme was what ruined us completely. He was like that, just clever enough to wreck everything he touched. He and his fellow genius Pink Cloud the Dealer had this brainstorm: let’s cook Benzedrine instead of Meth! They’ll never know the difference! And Benzedrine only takes seven days, not eight like Meth! That had a certain appeal to me, since I was the one with the fingerprints all over the glassware. Any reduction in days spent listening to the sirens and going to the door to refuse subscription offers seemed like a good idea to me. And I didn’t know the difference between Meth and Benzedrine; I didn’t like speed back then. Strictly business.

Butler’s clinching argument was classic nasal nerd pedantry: “Besides, studies have shown that Benzedrine is better than Meth, I like it better anyway. Studies—Benzedrine increases IQ by 25 points and Meth only by 15.” He was one of those fuckups with potential, jerks who hit their peak at the SAT and talk a lot about IQ because you always find them leeching somebody else’s pizza and coffee. He looked like Clark Kent, a saleable look with girls at the edge of the postpunk deal, but he was a Clark Kent who never turned into much.

He told me the cooking was going fine and ate his KFC dinner—I had no money and even in the catpiss fumes of that place, I was slavering over the smell of that chicken skin, but the bastard ate every last flap of back skin, even the heartshaped twin lozenges of fat over the neckbone. I was living on Safeway bread and peanut butter.

How I managed to stay at 225 with that diet, God knows. Even the rowing machine didn’t help: every day I mounted it and shut my eyes and imagined myself on one of the galleys for the required 22 minutes, then toweled off. And never seemed to get any thinner, just squatter. Strong, sure; most people couldn’t even do one pull of that machine at my settings; but without aggression strength like that is just a heart attack in progress. And I had no aggression. Teach your kids aggression; keep them lean and tell them to use weapons. Skinny is fine if you have an eye for sharp objects and your own advantage. Shoulders are for peasant suckers, hewers of wood and drawers of minimum-wage.

It did turn out handy later, in the scaring-Butler-to-death phase. But we were still allies now, though we hated each other even then, or rather despised each other. He bragged at me and I in my disingenuous way bragged at him and we both considered the other pure trash. While still fearing each other in different ways: he knew I was insane, after Heidi laughed at my wooing, and could have crushed his skull, and I knew he had been on his high-school marksmanship team and knew a lot about poisons. What a team.

He came back again on the seventh day and took over for the final stages of the recipe. We moved the works into the living room and performed the sacrament. It was the only time I ever saw Butler show any respect for anything. He clearly loved this moment, the ritual hush of it. He held a test tube over the beak full of what I’d made and said slowly, “OK, watch this: it’s gonna make little flakes, white little flakes, and every flake, just—OK, think of every little flake as a $20 bill. That’s how much they’re worth.”

He poured and whispered it again, praying to the liquid, while the little flakes began to drift toward the bottom of the jar:  “Every one a $20 bill.”


Read parts one, two and three of Stupid



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