Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hairy Palms Part 2: Palm Beach

For three days in July, I was in West Palm Beach working as a camera operator for a show on MTV called "True Life: Addicted to Pills." It was my job, as second camera, to follow around two men who are addicted to painkillers and every other kind of opiate. The subject of this show is a 29 year old man, who I'll call Wes. He lives in a house with a 39 year old, who i'll call Rick. They live in the home of Rick's father, who passed away two weeks ago. The home is in foreclosure, They don't pay rent. They get their electricity illegally by tapping into a neighbor's grid. They are auto mechanics by trade, and every day they try to find ways to make enough money to buy drugs. They do odd jobs at a local garage, they beg money for change at gas stations, and they sell the remaining possessions left in the house.
Wes is rail thin, wearing a filthy white t-shirt and shorts, barefoot. He has steel blue eyes and a little dirty goatee. He is as polite and solicitous as choirboy.
In the garage, there is a 1957 Chevy Impala in pieces. The chassis is painted bright green, and engine parts litter the garage, the yard, and the entire house. Wes and Rick are rebuilding the car for Carlos, who lives across the street.
Inside, the house is dimly lit and filthy, but not completely cluttered. The living room seems to be the one place where the two men relax. There is a large sofa with two reclining seats and a massive, old school large screen TV, with a smaller TV next to it. The small TV is hooked up to the large one and serves as the VCR. These guys are resourceful.
Next door to Wes and Rick lives a nice couple in their 60's from Trinidad. They are deeply religious, and they consider it their mission to help Rick and Wes stay alive. Every day they bring over a bag with sandwiches, sodas, chips, and ice for the two men. this is the only thing the men eat, since they use every cent they earn to buy drugs.

Over the course of three days, i will get to know these guys really well. They will tell me their life stories, and we will start to trust each other, so much so that one day they will even leave us in their house while they go out to score drugs. I will videotape them eating, sleeping, smoking, and shooting drugs into their veins. They seem to have no sense of common shame or embarrassment, only a zombie-like commitment to procuring the next dose and injecting it into their system. They do have a basic moral code, which prevents them from robbing anyone or stealing anything. They are not criminals. They are just two guys who are in a maximum-security prison of their own making called drug addiction.
Every day, the effects of withdrawal are so severe that it maddens them and makes them only able to focus on the simplest activities. These are mostly phone calls related to getting small jobs, or grifting money form the relatives or friends who still answer their calls.
The motivation that Wes has for being exposed on this TV show is simple: he wants to get off drugs. he knows that if he is on this TV show, a drug rehab program will have to accept him and take him in free of charge. He has no health insurance, and every free clinic has a six-month waiting list with no guarantee of acceptance.
Florida is literally a swamp, but after hanging around in the 95 degree, 95 percent humidity with these two men who have basically become reptiles, I really felt like I was living in a swamp of humanity. Florida is the primordial goo that sucks in humanity and holds it until it rots. It is just a wretched place. How many other drug addicts are driving around in all these cars, trying to find 4 "bars" of Xanax or a $15 bag of heroin, or lining up at the methodone clinic to score their dose for the day, making a trade on their health to stave off death by crack or heroin?
The moral of the story, kids, is just say no.