Hey folks, I’m really sorry that so many of you are losing your comments. It’s not just happening to you. I’m losing a lot of NFRs I append to your comments. I don’t know why it’s happening, though I assume it has everything to do with the way our website was rocked to the rafters by the viral response to my interview with J.D. Vance. Only this weekend, two weeks after it first appeared, did the traffic approach normal again. I deeply apologize to you for the problems. I’m having them too. We’re working on it, I promise. Let me suggest to you that you copy and save your comment to your clipboard before you hit “publish.” That way, if it doesn’t post, you will not have lost it, and you can try again. I’m going to start doing that. I’ve been doing it with my blog entries for a while now (good thing I did it with this post, because I almost lost the first one), and I’m so frustrated by losing comments that I’m going to start doing that too.
Every day I get amazing letters from readers who were knocked over by what J.D. had to say in the interview, and who decided from it to buy his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, about growing up poor and white in Appalachia. I’m used to that now. But every now and then, one will flop over the transom that makes me go Holy cow! Like this one:
Gosh, this was great. So helpful to me as a home care nurse from LA who now lives in [a rural southern California town] and sees patients mainly in [a nearby rural southern California town]. Oh, dear. So many things I have seen that I had no idea existed this close to LA. It unfortunately seems to me that a lot of the folks I see are not interested in change. They would like more benefits from the government. Meth addiction — I am shocked now to meet young white people here who are not addicted. And, something else: weird, weird sex stuff. I am 53, from LA and have never heard of “gay for pay” but I hear about it all the time up here. Thanks again! I will buy that book.
Last night I was at the gym — woohoo, the Slug is exercising again! — and saw on the TV there a 60 Minutes segment about heroin use in small-town America. They focused mostly on Ohio. I wasn’t shocked by it, because I had read Sam Quinones’ great book Dreamland, on the same subject. I blogged about it here. Excerpt:
This is how heroin went from being the kind of scary big-city drug that only lowlifes used in the Seventies to being a drug of choice for Mayberry.
The most fascinating part of Dreamland is how Quinones examines the cultural roots of the opiate epidemic. He writes:
In heroin addicts, I had seen the debasement that comes from the loss of free will and enslavement to what amounts to an idea: permanent pleasure, numbness, and the avoidance of pain. But man’s decay has always begun as soon as he has it all, and is free of friction, pain, and the deprivation that temper his behavior.
In fact, the United States achieved something like this state of affairs … in the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. When I returned home from Mexico in those years, I noticed a scary obesity emerging. It wasn’t just the people. Everything seemed obese and excessive. Massive Hummers and SUVs were cars on steroids. In some of the Southern California suburbs near where I grew up, on plots laid out with three-bedroom houses in the 1950s, seven-thousand-square-foot mansions barely squeezed between the lot lines, leaving no place in which to enjoy the California sun.
Excess contaminated the best of America. Caltech churned out brilliant students, yet too many of them now went not to science but to Wall Street to create financial gimmicks that paid off handsomely and produced nothing. Exorbitant salaries, meanwhile, were paid to Wall Street and corporate executives, no matter how poorly they did. Banks packaged rolls of bad mortgages and we believed Standard & Poor’s when they called them AAA. Well-off parents no longer asked their children to work when they became teenagers.
In Mexico, I gained a new appreciation of what America means to a poor person limited by his own humble origins. I took great pride that America had turned more poor Mexicans into members of the middle class than had Mexico. Then I would return home and see too much of the country turning on this legacy in pursuit of comfort, living on credit, attempting to achieve happiness through more stuff. And I saw no coincidence that this was also when great numbers of these same kids — most of them well-off and white — began consuming huge quantities of the morphine molecule, doping up and tuning out.
Dreamland is not really about being materially poor, but about being spiritually poor. If Hillbilly Elegy meant something to you, read Dreamland. I couldn’t stop thinking about it today, reflecting on the fresh-faced young suburban Ohio woman and recovering heroin addict who told 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker last night about shooting up in the high school bathroom. Her name is Hannah Morris. It started with pot, then went to pills, then to smoking heroin, then shooting it up:
Bill Whitaker: So you were what, 15?
Hannah Morris: Yeah. And I was like, oh my gosh that was amazing.
Bill Whitaker: You remember it even now?
Hannah Morris: Oh yeah. Let’s say I’ve never done a drug in my life. I would normally be happiness at a six or a seven, at a scale out of 10, you know. And then you take heroin and you’re automatically at a 26. And you’re like, I want that again.
Hannah says the heroin was so addictive that rather quickly she and several other students went from smoking it at parties to shooting it up at high school.
Hannah Morris: Like, doing it at school in the bathroom.
Bill Whitaker: A syringe?
Hannah Morris: A syringe. I would have it in my purse, all ready to go.
Fifteen years old. Not the inner city, but an upper middle class Midwestern suburb.
What a country we’ve become.