The New York Times
Leaving Dirty Jersey: A Crystal Meth Memoirby James Salant
At the age of eighteen, after one too many run-ins with the cops for drug possession, he left his upper-middle-class home in Princeton, New Jersey, for a stint at a rehab facility in Riverside, California. Instead of getting
With his nickname, Dirty Jersey, tattooed on the inside of his left forearm, James Salant wanted everyone to know he was a tough guy.
At the age of eighteen, after one too many run-ins with the cops for drug possession, he left his upper-middle-class home in Princeton, New Jersey, for a stint at a rehab facility in Riverside, California. Instead of getting clean, he spent his year there shooting crystal meth and living as a petty criminal among not-so-petty ones until a near psychotic episode (among other things) convinced him to clean up.
In stark prose infused with heartbreaking insight, wicked humor, and complete veracity, Salant provides graphic descriptions of life on crystal meth -- the incredible sex drive, the paranoia, the cravings. He details the slang, the scams, and the psychoses, and weaves them into a narrative that is breathtakingly honest and authentic. Salant grapples with his attraction to the thuggish life, eschewing easy answers -- his parents, both therapists, were loving and supportive, and his family's subtle dysfunctions typical of almost any American family.
Exploring the allure and effects of the least understood drug of our time, Leaving Dirty Jersey is that rarity among memoirs -- a compulsively readable, superbly told story that is shocking precisely because it could happen to almost anyone.
The New York Times
At 23, Salant enters the crowded genre of addiction memoirs with bravado, offering an account of his year as a crystal methamphetamine addict in Riverside, CA. Now clean and enjoying a sober life, Salant looks back on his period of addiction with unflinching honesty, never trying to airbrush the lowest moments of a committed junkie's life. He draws the reader into a world of convicts and would-be tough guys, like Junkie Jack and Big Manny from Fontana; "bag whores," or prostitutes, who sell their bodies for a shot or a line; and the recovered addicts who try to save them before relapsing themselves. It's a world many readers will be familiar with from other memoirs, and Salant's book does have its flaws: long stretches seem repetitive, and the female characters are dismissed with particular harshness as worthless, conniving whores while male figures are analyzed and treated with more understanding. Still, this book stands out. The atmosphere and the detail with which the bit players are brought to life recall William S. Burroughs's classic Junky(1953). Recommended for all public libraries.
"Normally I hate to tell anyone what to do, or what to think, or read. But I honestly believe every parent should read this book. And every teenager on the verge of a drug trip should read it. And everyone else, too. It's that good, that important." Dava Sobel, author of Longitude
"Salant makes his mark by telling his tale plainly and well." New York Times Book Review
"Salant's story offers an unrelentingly bleak account of one man's encounter with America's crystal meth culture." Publishers Weekly
"If prose were a mind-altering substance, James Salant would be your neighbourhood pusher. Lord knows, the man will make an addict of you." Koren Zailckas, New York Times bestselling author of Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood
"Salant gives us a searing, sordid account of his 19th year, spent shooting and smoking meth and heroin in California...he nails the hellish tedium and despair of the addict. His memoir is a dirty bomb lobbed from the trenches of crank addiction." Salon.com
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Read an Excerpt
AN ACID-FRIENDLY ATMOSPHERE
The line of evergreens in front of the Princeton Shopping Center was bristling and swaying in the wind, morphing and swirling and streaking the sky neon green, and even tripping on acid I was trying to walk like a tough guy. Swinging my feet slightly to the side in a kind of waddle, I led each step with a shoulder as if wading through water. For once, though, I wasn't scowling. I was happy and smiling, having cut school with two friends. We'd dropped the acid and sniffed some heroin and watched the end of Casino. Now we were on our way to the shopping center for pizza, and one of the trees was whispering to me. The words sounded familiar. When I realized that the tree was quoting Casino, I laughed, and then sunlight flickered across the grass -- dancing flames of iridescence -- and I began to burst with a this-is-special feeling. It was a gorgeous day, and nature was putting on a light show for me. Then the cops pulled up.
As soon as they told us to stop and stand over there, the sun seemed too bright: My eyes began to water and I couldn't stop blinking. In my pocket were a bag of pot and eight paper hits of acid. I fidgeted while one of the cops -- a short, clean-shaven officer with a nasal voice -- explained that he'd just received a call about three guys trying car-door handles in the parking lot we'd just passed through.
My friends, who were black, screamed racial profiling: "You know ain't nobody call. You just wanna harass a bitch." I needed a different strategy, but I couldn't come up with anything better than shaking my head in disbelief, looking nervous and high. Another squad car pulled up.
Afterward, my friends and I would complain about how unfair the whole thing was: We actually hadn't been trying car-door handles, so in our minds it was all bigotry and harassment. It never occurred to us that we looked exactly like the type of people who do try car-door handles and that, in fact, on any drug but acid we were those people.
"Come on over here," said a gray-haired, mustachioed detective in a dark suit, standing by his car. He was talking to me. Trudging over, I stared at the ground and hoped that I was walking normally. "Why don't you empty your pockets for me," he said, "and put everything on the hood, over here."
"You don't have the right to search my pockets," I said.
"Yes, I do." He laughed. And that was that. I placed cash, keys, little scraps of paper -- everything that wasn't illegal -- on the hood of his car. Then he told me to turn my pockets inside out.
"No," I mumbled.
"No?" he said, raising his eyebrows.
The local paper said that a seventeen-year-old high school senior darted (or maybe it was dashed) down the street in an attempt to escape, but I'm less sure of what I was trying to do. I didn't even know that I was going to run until I'd started, and then, once the boots were thudding and the cops were shouting, it just naturally popped into my head, as if I'd undergone some junkie training program, that I should eat the acid -- destroy the evidence.
It is impossible, though, to open a sealed baggy while running from the cops on a head full of acid. It also didn't help that my boots, which were fashionably untied, began to come off. When I tried to kick them off altogether so I could run in my socks, my fashionably baggy jeans fell to my knees. Stumbling, then running like a demented penguin, I shoved the closed baggy into my mouth and started to chew. I had no chance of swallowing -- my mouth was parched -- but I hoped that the baggy would open in my mouth so I could eat the remaining tabs. It didn't.
The mustachioed detective soon caught up and struck me on the back of the neck, sending me flying through the air. I landed hard, tumbling on the grass, and in another second they were on me, flipping me on my stomach, putting a knee on my back, cuffing me, turning out my pockets, and finding the pot. Finally they pulled me up to my knees.
"Oh, what's this?" said one of the cops, holding the bag of acid, which had fallen out of my mouth. "A little of the LSD, huh?"
"That was about the stupidest damn thing you could have done!" yelled the detective who'd run me down.
"Now, Jim," said another cop. We already knew each other -- Officer Summers. He took off his glasses and stooped in front of me with his hands on his thighs. "What did you swallow? I am not fucking around, Jim! What did you swallow?"
"Nothing," I mumbled. "You already got it."
Later, the story to my friends was that I told him to go fuck himself.
Officer Summers shook his head and walked away, leaving me kneeling in my boxers, dirt and grass clinging to my legs. In a few minutes two of the cops hoisted me to my feet and yanked my jeans up roughly. The jeans became tangled with my boxers and didn't quite make it over my hips.
"What's happening now?" I asked another detective, a woman who was standing at the edge of a huddle watching me as the other cops gave each other orders and talked into their radios.
"We're waiting for the ambulance," she said.
"For what?" I said. "I don't want an ambulance. I'm fine."
I was standing in my damp socks, cuffed, a cool breeze blowing across the top of my butt.
"I wish I could believe you."
"But I really didn't eat anything," I said. "I mean, if that's what you think. You saw me try to swallow something, but that fell out of my mouth. You got that."
"You mean the LSD," she said.
"Yeah," I said. "That was everything."
I wanted to ask one of the cops to fix my pants.
"And the pot," said the mustachioed detective.
"Yeah, sure, fine," I said. "But that's it. I didn't eat any stash."
"How do we know that?" the detective snapped. "Look at the size of your pupils."
I wondered if I should tell them that I was on acid. Tell THEM that I'm on LSD, that I'm on SDL...that I'm nearing hell? Tell them a fucking thing...
The ambulance arrived.
"Take any drugs today, son?" an EMT asked me once I was cuffed inside.
"Nothing at all?"
"Well, I smoked a little marijuana earlier."
"That's it?" he said, shining a flashlight in my eyes. "You're sure?"
At the ER, a place I'd never been, the detective walked me from the ambulance to a plain room, empty except for a chair in the center, to which he cuffed me. Then he left me, and a young doctor in a white smock came in with a clipboard and smiled at me good-naturedly.
"So how are you doing?" he said.
"I've been better." I laughed.
"I can imagine," he said. "Hell, I hope you've been better than this."
"Like an hour ago I was much better than this."
He read his clipboard and shined a flashlight in my eyes.
"They just came in and messed your day up, huh."
"Yeah, pretty much."
"I hate it when that happens."
"You have no idea." I laughed again. "So what's happening now?"
"Well, we have to take some blood. Between you and them I have no idea what's happening -- I just know I have to take some blood and make sure you're okay. Now, what's wrong? You don't look too happy about that."
At seventeen I hadn't started shooting drugs yet, and I was terrified of needles.
"Why do you have to take my blood?"
"To make sure you don't...well, die. They're saying you might have eaten something. Now, you're saying you didn't, but we still have to make sure. Are you scared of needles?"
"Very," I said. "But look, I did eat something -- four hits of acid around noon. That's why my eyes are dilated. I really didn't eat anything when I ran."
"So you're high on LSD right now? Wow. What a day. Look, I'm sorry, but we have to run the tests either way now that you've been admitted. It's procedure. You'll be okay -- the nurses are very good."
I nodded, and on his way out the doctor looked back and smiled and pointed at me and said, "You're gonna be all right." The detective popped in and asked me for my parents' phone number, which at that point I was happy to give. He disappeared for a few minutes, then returned, unlocked the cuffs, and told me to follow him to the bathroom to take a urine test.
"Instead of the blood test?" I asked hopefully.
"Nope. Gotta do 'em both. And Mom and Dad are on their way."
In the past whenever I took acid, I always made sure to be in an acid-friendly atmosphere: a friend's house, or the woods, or any safe place where I could philosophize and giggle, silly with what I considered a deeper appreciation for nature and beauty. Standing in that hospital bathroom, dick-in-cup, with a detective behind me demanding my urine, I was in the least acid-friendly atmosphere I've ever tripped in. Even worse, I'd sniffed some heroin a few hours earlier, so I couldn't piss: I pushed and groaned and looked helplessly over my shoulder at the detective. In response he described the procedure that would be used to force me to urinate if I couldn't do it myself. When he said "urethra," I managed to squeeze out a few drops.
At some point in between the piss and blood my parents arrived at the hospital, looking solemn and distressed as their faces generated tiny bubbles of reflected fluorescent light. They moved slowly toward me, shifting and taking on a radioactive glow -- just for a second, and then their oversized earlobes began to vibrate.
"Are you still...high?" asked my dad, peering at me as if I were the one whose head was melting.
"Having a good time?" asked my mom.
Five foot five and slender with bluish-gray eyes and platinum hair, she stared at me with her lips pressed tightly together, fuming. But she quickly softened. I was near tears, terrified about giving blood. Even the detective began to feel sorry for me, and when the nurse came in wheeling a cart with tubes for my blood, he tried to distract me from the IV. He came over and stood next to me with this huge, creepy smile, while the nurse tied my arm and searched for a vein.
"Hey," he said jovially, snapping his fingers in front of my face. The snap rang and echoed in my ears, and when I looked up he was telling me a joke, his mustache bristling faster and faster as his mouth opened and closed. Occasionally his hand drifted in front of my face, signaling me to look at him rather than at the seemingly endless stream of glowing blood that was being sucked into one, two, three, four tubes -- the detective snapped again.
"See, it's over," he said.
The nurse was wheeling the cart out of the room. I think -- I hope -- I thanked him. He didn't even take me to the police station. He decided I'd been through enough for one day and let my parents take me home, where I'm sure he assumed they would punish me themselves.
This, however, was not the first time I'd been in trouble with drugs. Upon returning home from my latest rehab, about three months earlier, I had taken the position with my parents that I was willing to stay away from heroin but that I could and would continue smoking pot and occasionally tripping on acid, because, unlike heroin, pot and acid were "normal," "experimental" drugs. They had not quite agreed, but neither had they smacked me across the face, grabbed me by the shirt collar, and screamed, Are you out of your fucking mind? No! You've been doing drugs for two years now; there's nothing experimental about it. And besides -- no! Instead, they had done what they always did -- talked it over with me, debated, tried to understand where I was coming from -- and after a few days the argument had become so complicated and murky that, being a teenager and a junkie, I assumed I'd won.
And so, after the silent car ride from the hospital, when we got home and were all sitting around the kitchen table, my position was: "You agreed that I could smoke weed and occasionally trip. The fact that I've gotten caught doesn't change what our agreement was, so how can you be mad now?" Their position was that I was an asshole, and that at the very least I had to stop using all drugs now. Sensing the futility, if not the absurdity, of arguing further, I lied and agreed to stay clean.
I was born in New York City, a fact I used to state proudly when I was using drugs, as if it had something to do with the person I'd become. Actually, my only memory of growing up in the city is from my preschool on West 68th Street, a few blocks from Central Park and directly across the street from the apartment where I lived with my parents and my older brother, Joe. The school had a playground on the roof, and every day at recess my mom would wait by the window for me to come outside so she could wave to me, and then all the kids would wave back and laugh. This is the kind of memory that screws with your head when you're trying to convince people that you're a tough thug, when people ask you, "So where you from?" and you say, "New York, yo," and then you remember your mom smiling in the window, all those happy kids waving to Mrs. Salant.
I was two when my family moved out of the city to East Hampton, New York; my parents decided that they didn't want my brother and me growing up in the city, even on the Upper West Side. Three years later we moved again, to Princeton, New Jersey, this time for the public school system, which my parents had heard was excellent. I grew up there in a largish house on a street where fathers rode their mowers every Sunday.
So it wasn't the school of hard knocks for me but a nearly idyllic upper-middle-class childhood. My mom and I were very close. When my brother was born, she gave up her career teaching Russian literature in favor of starting a small private therapy practice, so she was always home to cook dinner and limit my Nintendo time and encourage me to read. Even when I was young, we had an almost uncannyintuitive connection, finishing each other's sentences, picking up on each other's emotions. My dad was home less often. A psychoanalyst, he lived most of the week in Manhattan, sleeping nights in the back of his office so he could see patients in the early morning. But when he did come home -- same time every Thursday -- my brother and I ran to meet him at the train and the whole family hugged. He and my mom fought very rarely; there was never a hint of trouble with their marriage.
Perhaps the only reason my childhood wasn't wholly idyllic was my brother, Joe. Over the years my parents have come up with many theories to explain why Joe was so troubled. My mom believes that he was psychologically and emotionally scarred by his complicated forceps birth and resulting tunnel vision. Although she took him to visual therapy three times a week, he didn't have full range of vision until he was eight, when he finally learned how to catch a ball. Other theories have ranged from left temporal lobe damage to a sort of mild autism to frustration at growing up with introverted, intellectually oriented parents while being more athletically oriented himself (eventually, after overcoming his tunnel vision, he would become a star basketball player). Whatever the reason, Joe was by all accounts exceptionally difficult. Until he was about four (the year I was born) there were certain words you couldn't say around him or he would throw a fit. Tissue. Awning. Hello. Two years old, in a stroller, he would be riding in the elevator with my mother on their way home, and an old woman would get on, smile at him, and open her mouth to form a word, and he would scream, "No hello!" Or a taxi driver would ask my parents which building they wanted to be dropped off in front of, and they would point, stammering, "That one, over there, the one with the green...with the green thing." "Awning?" the driver would say, at which point my parents would cringe and my brother would scream, "No awning!" All of which is funny, unless of course you're inside the elevator or the taxi -- unless you're the kid's parents, cringing and apologizing and wondering what the hell is wrong with your child.
As a baby I was Joe's temperamental opposite. I did not have a difficult birth, nor did I have tunnel vision. According to my mom I hardly even cried at night. I liked to be held. I could fall asleep anywhere. I was an easy baby, much easier than Joe, easier to care for, easier to love.
So Joe was intensely jealous of me, absurdly competitive. When he was ten and I was six, we both played the same Nintendo hockey game. I was better than he was, though I quickly learned to let him win whenever we played each other. Once he came into my room while I was winning against the computer, and he asked which level of difficulty I was playing. When I said "hard," Joe explained that earlier in the day he had opened the Nintendo box and adjusted the setting so that hard was actually easy, and easy actually hard. It didn't make any sense, but I knew better than to ask questions. "Oh," I said. "So that's why it's been so easy." He sat next to me and didn't say anything until I scored. "See, they never would have let you do that on hard." The next goal: "You know, I think they made the easy one easier." "Yeah," I said, "I think so too." Watching me win, Joe brooded until the final period, when he turned to me imploringly. "Listen, Jim," he said. "You gotta let them score here." "Why?" "Just trust me: You gotta let them tie it up and go to overtime, or else in the final seconds they'll just score point after point. They'll be real cheap and beat you in the last five seconds. You gotta let them tie it up right now; just trust me." I nodded and let the computer tie the score. When overtime started, Joe left the room.
One of the reasons I was so quick to play along with his nonsense was that I knew that if we did argue -- if he started pinching and pushing me, shouting "fat boy" in my face -- and I had to call my mom, she wouldn't be able to control him. Likely he would shout at her for taking my side, shout about her being unfair and my being fat, until eventually she would lose control and shout back. Then she would walk away, as angry with herself as she was with him, and Joe would push me one last time before following her into the kitchen, where the shouting would escalate to screaming, while I hid in my room eating Hostess Twinkies.
My dad was better, but not much: He didn't join in the screaming, but he didn't exactly take control, either. When I was twelve, Joe and I played a game of football in the backyard against two of his friends, and whenever I dropped the ball, he yelled at me. The score was close and I dropped a few pivotal passes, and Joe carried on about it for so long that his friends told him to leave me alone. They left soon afterward, and I walked up the back porch and into the kitchen, where I sat next to my dad at the table. Joe followed, yelling after me. Pussy. Faggot. He pulled open the sliding glass door and stood in front of us, his head just below the hanging pots and pans, calling me names as he muddied the white tile floor.
"They didn't leave because of me," I said.
"What? You think I care that they left?" Joe said. "They can go; I don't give a shit. I care that my little brother can't catch a fucking ball. How can my little brother not catch a ball?"
I started to say that I hadn't wanted to play in the first place, but I stopped. That's what I would have said when I was ten, and I wasn't ten anymore. Joe's friends were older, I'd tried, fuck him.
My dad was watching us thoughtfully, brow furrowed, hands cupped over his mouth, a forefinger on either side of his nose, thumbs propping his chin. I knew that he wanted me to stand up to Joe.
"Whatever," I said. "It's not like I played that badly. I dropped like two passes. I got Tom's tall ass covering me, and the passes weren't exactly perfect."
"Weren't perfect! You can't get better passes than that. Perfect spiral. And Tom wasn't covering you -- they were both on me. Look, Dad, I'm quarterbacking, Dan's at the line of scrimmage, I act like I'm gonna run, and then I draw Tom to me 'cause he knows Dan can't catch me. Then I throw a perfect pass, and fat boy over here drops the fucking ball."
My dad started to object at "fat boy," but I yelled over him: "Hey, fuck you! I played. What the fuck more do you want from me? And that's not how it happened -- maybe once -- but I caught some too, and I broke up that pass."
We were getting louder, but the tone was shifting. Joe seemed more excited than angry, more like a competitive brother than an enemy.
"Broke up a pass," he said incredulously, stooping and putting his hands on his knees.
"Yeah, when Tom broke away from you and you told me to cover him."
My dad chuckled. Joe snuck a look at him and half smiled, unsure of how to react. He was on the fence: He could soften and laugh about the game. Or he could ride his sibling jealousy for all it was worth, letting his hatred for me boil over because we were ganging up on him.
"What? You didn't break up any pass," he said, still stooping. Then he appeared to remember which pass I was talking about -- one that, though I did get a hand on it, was definitely more of a drop than a breakup. Tom, trying to be nice, had said that I'd deflected it.
"That pass!" Joe shouted, and to express his disbelief he began to spring up from his stoop, throwing his arms in the air.
He was still directly below the hanging pots and pans. There was no time to say anything, but my dad and I both saw it coming. And that of course made it even funnier when Joe banged his head against my mom's favorite cast-iron pan.
"Fuck!" he shouted, grabbing his head.
He stared menacingly at the pan, as if he were about to hit it. Then he turned to us, and for an instant it seemed he recognized how silly the whole thing was, how ridiculous it was to threaten a pan; it seemed he was about to laugh. But then he saw how hard we were laughing, and he became furious. He opened the drawer and snatched up a butcher knife, stepped toward me, and screamed, "Fat faggot!" He came right up to me and stopped, hovering with the knife. I didn't think he would cut me, but I made sure to look scared so he didn't feel I was daring him.
"Stop it! Stop it!" said my dad, standing and grabbing for Joe's wrist. Joe pulled away and stepped back against the counter.
"Put it down!" my dad said.
Joe hesitated before putting the knife on the counter. My dad picked it up, held it for a second, then placed it carefully on the table in front of him.
"You never, never use a knife!" he said, voice quivering.
Joe stormed out of the room.
With his analyst's beard and shrewd squint, my dad speaks on almost any subject with aggressive and often convincing authority, an authority that had always made me feel safe, believing Dad was in control. But on that day, when I was twelve, I saw clearly that he wasn't at all in control. He hadn't known what Joe was going to do with the knife any more than Joe had. He said, "You never use a knife" -- said it with all the desperate authority he could muster -- and yet I didn't feel the least bit safer. In fact I almost wanted to laugh at him for saying something ridiculous. "You never use a knife?" That's what, Dad, a family rule? Bats and guns are okay, though, right? Just never a knife?
That happened in 1996. Joe had already started drinking and smoking pot, and he'd thrown a few parties at the house while my parents were away. Girls came to these parties, drunk high-school girls who flirted with my brother and the rest of the guys while I watched movies with a friend in the basement. Sometimes I would come upstairs for food or soda, and the crowd would be drinking in the kitchen and smoking on the back porch. My brother, high, talking to a girl, and happy in a way that he was on only these nights, would turn to me and ask me if I was okay, did I need anything? Concern from Joe was a rare thing, but it felt so natural, so right. "Is this your brother?" the girl would say. "He's got the same eyes as you. He's cute." I was the cute twelve-year-old brother who smiled shyly and then jerked off at night. "You're not gonna tell Mom and Dad, are you?" Joe would say.
The following year, 1997, Joe, a sophomore in high school, officially made the shift from troubled kid to criminal. This was the first year of lawyers and pending charges, of lies followed by confessions followed by more lies, of "specialists" and rehabs and money pissed away. It all began on January seventeenth, when the police came to our house at four thirty a.m. and arrested Joe for selling pot to an undercover officer. I awoke to men's voices. I walked out of my room, looked into Joe's. He was handcuffed and facing the wall in an undershirt and a pair of warm-up pants. There were two detectives in bulletproof vests and heavy boots, yellow jackets and striped pants, police on their backs. One was searching the room; the other was standing behind Joe with a hand on his shoulder. They hulked and towered. Joe looked so skinny.
It was midweek: My dad wasn't home.
My mom was standing in the doorway in her nightgown, arms crossed, speaking with the detective who had his hand on Joe's shoulder. She spoke slowly, in a low but clear voice, a disaster voice, a one-step-at-a-time-this-is-too-much voice. "What exactly did he do?" There was police talk, edgy for all its courteousness, lots of ma'ams. She nodded as they explained the charges. "Where are you taking him?" I stepped closer. She was trembling. "How long will you hold him?" One of the detectives opened a pine cigar box that my dad had given Joe, opened it and showed the other detective. Empty, but there may have been some marijuana residue -- that's what they told my mom, with guns on their hips. "When will I be able to see him?"
In the months and years before, whenever my mom had cried in her room about Joe, I would come and sit next to her, and put a hand on her back, and feel her anguish, and breathe with her. It would always be hard, but she'd always thank me. She'd say, "What would I do without you?" As a child, knowing that I was needed gave me more than enough strength to sit with my mom's pain. But at four thirty a.m., with Joe handcuffed against the wall, there was nothing I could do for her. She saw me and put her hands on my shoulders. She asked if I was okay and said I could go back to bed.
Immediately after closing the door to my room, I stopped thinking about Joe or my mom. For years I'd hidden in this room whenever my mom and brother were screaming, and I'd always worried, always felt something. Not now, though: I was numb. Joe handcuffed, my mom shaking, the cops with their guns -- it was all too much for me. So I stopped caring. I stood for a while and stared out my window. A deer was standing perfectly still in front of the line of evergreens that bounded our backyard. I watched it with a misty appreciation of nature and beauty, but then I became bored. I got into bed and went back to sleep.
After spending a weekend in a juvenile detention center, Joe came home and started bragging. It turned out he was one of thirty of what the Princeton Packet called "street-level dealers" who had been arrested in a "predawn raid." It was "the largest drug bust in Princeton history," and Joe talked about it at our dinner table with an insider's authority, told us who had snitched on whom and how the cops were so stupid, how the raid could have been more effective and whom they should have arrested, why they really wanted to get so-and-so and could you please pass the A.1. sauce?
Even more pathetic was how my parents listened and asked questions. They were desperate to understand what had just happened to all of us, and Joe was at least acting as if he knew something. So they let him hold forth, trying to distill whatever truth they could from his bragging. They gave him their best attention, better than they possibly could have given if he'd been talking about schoolwork. They did exactly what the police and the papers had done and what the kids at Princeton High School would do for another six months until he would leave for his first out-of-state rehab: They validated and solidified his adolescent identity as a criminal.
Over the next couple of months I felt smaller and younger and less important than I ever had. Occasionally at dinner, while discussing Joe's situation, my parents would turn to me and ask what I thought or how I felt, but I knew they did it only because they'd just remembered me. I knew that what I thought didn't matter.
Even Joe paid less attention to me. He stopped bullying. He didn't need to anymore. All eyes were already on him, and after his house arrest ended, he began staying out all night, drinking and smoking pot and experimenting with other drugs. He began fighting with my mom more often and more viciously than ever before. They would scream so loudly that the couple from the house across the street would call or stop by to make sure we were okay. I continued hiding in my room, staring out the window, not feeling a thing.
A few years later I started smoking pot. It was certainly ironic, given our family history, but it wasn't a hugely rebellious act. I was fifteen and my friends from grade school had started smoking, experimentally, as kids do at that age. I was actually one of the last in our group to try it. I was still a good boy who cared about his mommy. But soon after my first joint something happened to me -- some sea change washed over me -- and from that point onward all I cared about was getting fucked up.
Maybe, still numb from the trauma of the raid, I was more susceptible to bad influences; maybe it was all just pent-up teenage rebellion. Or maybe I'd seen all the concern and attention my parents had lavished on Joe for his screaming and bullying and doing drugs and being arrested, and I figured, What the hell? That seems to work. Or maybe I wanted to prove that I wasn't the sweet kid anymore -- maybe, entering adulthood, I wanted to prove that I could outdo Joe in any and every way, as a criminal, as a junkie, even as a source of pain to my parents, because wasn't I furious with them, too? With my dad for being away so often, for not taking control? With my mom for crying and screaming all the time, for making me, her teenage son, comfort her? With both of them for letting Joe ruin our lives? Probably it was a bit of all that and more.
My parents sent Joe around the country, from program to program. At nineteen Joe joined the Navy, only to be kicked out immediately after boot camp for failing a drug test. My parents let him come home for a time while they decided where to send him next. When I told Joe that I was smoking pot, he was thrilled. We got high together and he introduced me to a few of his friends, twenty-some-year-old tough guys in backward baseball caps living with single parents in the affordable-housing sections of Princeton -- tough guys whom I came to idolize and tried to emulate. They became my friends and then suppliers once my parents sent Joe away again, this time to an apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was supposed to go to DeVry University but smoked crack instead. About a year later the Raleigh arrangement fell apart: My parents spent thousands of dollars in repairs for the apartment, which had been taken over by junkies, and then brought Joe home again, now sniffing heroin.
By then, at seventeen, I'd been arrested once for pot; my parents had sent me to a month-long wilderness rehab in Montana; I'd made a few of my own drug connections; and I was using and selling coke, Ecstasy, and LSD. Joe introduced me to heroin, and within a few months my parents sent me to another rehab, this time in West Virginia. It was about six months after that, in the fall of 2001, that I ran from the cops while tripping on acid. And though I'd been about to cry in that emergency room, grateful to the detective for telling me a joke, that's not how I told the story after the fact, nor was the story that the papers printed about a confused, pathetic kid addicted to drugs. No, by all accounts I was a crazy, drug-dealing junkie on acid who'd tried to escape and eat his stash (for which the courts gave me a slap on the wrist: conditional discharge).
And as I reveled in my new image, I became more addicted to heroin, so within a year I needed to sniff more bags than I could afford just to keep from getting sick. One day I was out of money and a friend with a needle started raving about how much more efficient shooting was than sniffing: not only would I not be sick, but also I would be as high as I was the first time. He was right. Soon I was like a kid at an amusement park who's just discovered he's courageous enough to go on the scary rides. Over the following months, as I gave myself my first track marks, I ratcheted up my drug dealing too, taking weekly trips to New York with my thug friends, buying coke and Ecstasy for us to sell, until eventually I had a reputation in Princeton as a more serious criminal than Joe had ever been.
In the spring of 2002, when he was twenty-one, Joe admitted to my parents that he was addicted to heroin, and they sent him to the New Standard Young Adult Haven in Banning, California.
In the fall of 2002, when I was eighteen, I was arrested during a raid on a house in Princeton. I actually walked right into it. High, I didn't see the unmarked police cars in front of the house. The cops searched my car and found ten Ecstasy pills, but when they searched me, they did not find the coke and heroin in the fifth pocket of my jeans. So, after waiting about fifteen minutes while they searched the house, I asked to use the bathroom -- said I couldn't hold it: I needed to shit. They uncuffed me, and one of the officers stood outside the bathroom with the door open while I pretended to strain. I reached into my pocket, took out the coke, and palmed it. Next I went for the heroin, but in order to keep the wax paper bags dry, I had put them in cigarette cellophane, which crinkles, crinkles, crinkles. The cop heard it. He said, "Whad'ya got there?" I stood and dropped the drugs in the toilet. He rushed me and yelled for backup. Bare-assed, I hip-checked him, boxed him out. Hit the lever. The toilet, however, had economical water pressure, and I watched my drugs swirl and bob while boots came stomping down the hall. The cops threw me in the bathtub and cuffed me, then scrambled to fish the drugs out of the toilet. There was shouting and heavy breathing, adrenaline pumping. I was bleeding. So was a cop. But when it was all over and they sat me in a chair, I became strangely calm. I knew I'd be going to the police station -- I knew I'd spend the night kicking heroin and my parents would be devastated -- but the calm was overwhelming. I recognized it immediately. I had felt it while staring out the window of my room. I was being toughened, and I wanted more.
The next day my parents put up my bail and picked me up at the police station. This time there would be no slap on the wrist, no conditional discharge. My parents' lawyer said my best bet to avoid jail time would be to enter a long-term program out of state. That way I would be out of New Jersey, away from all my friends, and he could advise the judge that I was already receiving treatment. So a month after my last arrest my parents sent me to the same program they'd sent my brother, New Standard Young Adult Haven. New Standard, however, is not a rehab, but a boarding school for semidelinquent adults ages eighteen to twenty-eight; before I could enroll, I had to graduate from a ninety-day rehab program called Get Straight for Life, in Grand Terrace, a small town a few miles west of Riverside, California.
I spent just one year in California, and the day I returned to New Jersey I was clean, and I have been since, for two and half years now. But I didn't clean up in New Standard. I spent only a couple of weeks there before moving to Riverside, where I shot crystal meth and lived as a petty criminal among other criminals, some not so petty. For one year I traded my comfortable home in upper-middle-class Princeton, New Jersey, for motels and convict squatter pads in Riverside, California. This story is about that year.
Copyright © 2007 by James Salant
Meet the Author
James Salant, twenty-three, spent a good deal of his adolescence and adult life on drugs. After graduating from high school in Princeton, New Jersey, he spent the year documented in this book in California before returning to New Jersey for a six-month court-mandated rehabilitation program. He has been clean ever since.
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I read tweaked and it was about the same but this book is more in depth. Its amazing the author made it out of this alive. The whole meth addition seems like a vicious cycle and the user is destined to die. Schools should make this a must read for students. Maybe educate the public on meth. Anyway good read.
This is a good book, a very entertaining read. The main character Jim (the author James Salant) keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time and it's all true. James doesn't waste your time trying to give you statistics on drugs, drug use or even how meth is produced. "Leaving Dirty Jersey" is Salant's story of his addiction to meth and his journey back from it. His story of addiction, from beginning to end, is not a pretty one. This definitely isnt a stroll through the countryside, but rather a long walk down a dirty, dangerous back alley. Meth use is a disgusting, but growing problem in the U.S. This book gives you one mans glimpse of what it was like being hooked on it!!!
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Salant, an alumni at a school I had once gone to. He's a very nice guy, with a messed up past, that he has corrected from what I saw. The book was a complete pleasure to read. It had humor, seriousness, and a sense of lesson well learned. He described his 'drug years' story very well, with beautifully worded prose. I would recommend this book to anyone with even the slightest urge to read. This book is a raw truth from the eyes of a recovering drug addict.
I am a recovering meth addict myself. I last used 4 1/2 years ago. To read stories like this canbe hard and tske me back to the thrill of using meth, but then it takes me back to where I never want my life to be again. So grateful for stories like this.
I read soo many books on addictiion. Maybe 12 a year. This was one of my favorites. Straight forward. I really enjoyed it.
This could have been better if it wasn't so drawn out near the end.
I just finished reading this memoir of yet another life destroyed by meth. I wanted to like it, but I guess I've read too many other books like this one that I have enjoyed much more. While it goes along with the drug-memoir territory that you usually want punch the storyteller while you're watching with horrid fascination, Salant irritated me more than the average druggie. He means well most of the time, but he's really just too weak to really want to change. Also, I hate to say it, but nobody wants a memoir of this kind to end happily. We usually want to skip the happy redemption part and just read it for the vicarious thrills of drug use and depravity. This just didn't fulfill my expectations.