Confessions of an Upper-Middle Class Huffer

Confessions of an Upper-Middle Class Huffer

By GJ Nelson 09/26/14
What makes you feel high when you are huffing is literally the damage you are doing to your brain from the inhaled chemicals.
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I used to be ashamed of the fact that I was a frequent and occasionally unrepentant huffer. No longer. Now I’m grateful. How is it that I managed to escape with more than two brain cells left to rub together? I mean, good lord, what was I thinking?

I’d love to say that it was an act of inspiration perhaps prompted by the Ramones song “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” or some other cool pop-culture reference. But the truth of it is, I think I’m just a natural.

From my earliest days I just loved that petro-chemical product smell! I’ve been sticking permanent markers under my nose as far back as I can remember. It’s the same thing with gas stations. I was that weird kid who always begged to fill up the gas tank. At first I didn’t even really understand why—I’d just jump out of the car right as we pulled into the station.

“Can I fill it up, Mom? Please!? Mom, please?” I’d beg.

This same proclivity evolved into a natural discovery of the wonders of modeling glue, one of the few perks of being a dork in grade school. I’d “space out” in my room for hours assembling my Batmobile or airplane model; whatever it was, the actual model part was always secondary. Despite the time and care I put into them, they never looked as good as the picture. Maybe it was the fact that I was accumulating more glue on my face than on the actual model.

A little later I was given responsibility for mowing our enormous lawn. This is when things got serious. I soon discovered you got incredibly dizzy when you put your nose in the gas canister. I began spending hours in the garage, nose buried in that orange canister. I recall coming to out of a blackout, lying on my back on the dirty garage floor. Apparently I’d succumbed to the fumes. To my credit, I recall thinking I'd better cool it a little.

And then I met Sean. Sean was that kid in my life; the older kid that taught you bad shit and who had better access to more and better drugs: weed, cocaine, LSD. Even he had supply problems in the eighth grade though.

I remember clearly an afternoon at my house after school. When he arrived, he was beaming (this kid never smiled), and he revealed why when he produced a can of rubber cement from his book bag. I got a brown paper lunch bag and he poured a heaping dollop of the glue into it. I was shocked as he put the bag to his face and began hyperventilating. Thirty seconds later he tumbled out of his chair, comatose. Genius! Why hadn’t I ever thought of this!? With that revelation I was a changed little fiend.

The story devolves from here if you can believe it; it doesn’t stop its downhill slide till I reach 17 or 18 years old. I became a connoisseur of sorts, a sommelier for industrial grade cleaning solvents. My father owned a camera store which, unfortunately for my steadily diminishing mental capacity, meant I had a bottle of negative cleaner—the Perrier-Jouet of inhalants—near at hand. Negative cleaner had a clean finish, so it wouldn’t affect the taste of food, and the hangover—the brain-splitting headache one can expect after a huffing session—was absolutely manageable.

I wasn’t alone in my hobby either. Granted my high school crowd wasn’t the most reputable—in either academic or behavioral terms—but we weren’t the worst either. I seldom had trouble finding a friend willing to spend entire periods in the school darkroom killing brain cells alongside me.

One day after school, alone, I smoked a joint and got into a huffing session in front of the turntable. I played the Sergeant Pepper’s album; I was catching up on a little rock n’roll history while I freaked myself out, stoned out of my gourd. I recall reaching some kind of a climax as the drawn-out piano chord that ends the record on “A Day in the Life” played. As the tone droned on, a deep male voice sounding like it was just behind my ear spoke clear as day, “chubba-da-babba-suh-fa!” I was sitting, but I jumped up and spun around ready to take on my attacker. Perhaps its easy for you to predict that there was no baby-talking, axe wielding assailant six inches from my ear, but I was convinced, absolutely convinced someone was in the room with me. On the one hand I was terrified. On the other I was excited; I had succeeded in totally freaking myself out. That’s one of the reasons to take drugs. Or at least it’s one of my reasons, to keep things interesting, to freak myself out.

As an adult, I rejected my huffing past. It was a secret to be zealously guarded. How could I have been so stupid? At the time I knew it was bad for me but I didn’t care. Nor did I realize just how bad it is—the high you get is derived from actual brain damage. I would rarely speak of my surreptitious huffing career. The only exception being when some other dude (it’s always a guy) came clean about his history when comparing notes on the movie “Gummo,” because that happens almost every day, right?

Huffing is incredibly dangerous. There is something called Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. The user can die the first, tenth or hundredth time he or she uses an inhalant. Other effects include damage to the heart, kidney, brain, liver, bone marrow and other organs. It’s long-term, irreversible damage. I used to joke that it’s a wonder I can do math, but it’s not a joke; it’s a wonder I can do math.

Recently I’ve been considering my past anew. Huffing—as an entity, an act unto itself—reserves a special place in the pantheon of my idiocy. I’ve done so many incredibly stupid things in and with my life, but that one is special: the act is an amazing combination of willful disregard for one’s well-being, a rejection of societal norms and disregard for the self; the very idea that it’s good to be a human – that is, it’s hard for a healthy adult to even imagine the mindset where doing something like that would make sense! That definition makes the act of huffing something else—something the regular world can’t have—a nihilist “fuck you” with two middle fingers raised to life and all that is healthy. I almost can’t believe how punk rock it is.

Then again I’m not so proud that I’ll sign my name to this article. Having my name come up when people google “huffing” is just too much, even for me. I’ve identified on this site, loud and proud as an abuser of just about every other illicit substance known to man, but even I don’t want to stand in the light of day and identify as a huffer. Sorry Google.

I have a good friend that I’ve known since college. He and I used cocaine, pot and alcohol together. He’s now a successful executive with a big job and he doesn’t use drugs or alcohol. During a meal together, I mentioned I was writing this article.

“You know I did that too, don’t you?” he asked.

I was surprised but not particularly so, as our childhoods were similar enough. We wondered just how many affluent young huffers like us there are out there. We decided that while we may have been particularly dedicated to our craft—most likely we were more intense and frequent users than most—we were probably not terribly unusual in that many kids have tried it.

Somehow both my friend and I have seen (separately) an episode of COPS in Las Vegas where a Latino man—perhaps in his 30’s or 40’s but looking much older—is arrested for huffing gold paint. The man is barely sentient. His face, particularly around his mouth and nose, is covered in shimmery, gold paint. He has trouble forming sentences and keeps raising the plastic bag with the paint in it to his face reflexively as the police are speaking to him. He’s clearly not sure of where he is or what’s going on. It’s a profoundly depressing scene. This man has short-circuited his brain. Chances are that, even if he manages to stop huffing, his normal brain function will never return. He’s screwed.

Both my friend and I had thought while watching that clip, how easily it could have been us. Despite our appearances—two middle aged white guys with money—we were huffers.

What makes you feel high when you are huffing is literally the damage you are doing to your brain. That’s a lousy return on investment, folks.

So, while I’ve gussied up this article with ideas about how huffing is a lofty, politically charged act, a nihilistic cry of defiance, the fact is, huffing is about the dumbest thing you can do. And if you take away anything from this, just make sure your idiot kid—who I’m sure isn’t really an idiot—doesn’t do like I did. He or she might not be so lucky.

GJ Nelson is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix.

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