Interview With MIKE X
My interview with a recovering addict.
The Subject, identified as MIKE X, was born in 1957 and was a recovering alcoholic and narcotics addict. The Subject's decades of chronic substance abuse led to a distinct downward spiral of chemical and alcohol dependency, financial instability, personal relationship mismanagement, extensive self-imperilment, and extensive legal-jeopardy. All of the preceding culminated in his eventual death-wish actualization, which The Subject credits as having been influential behind an eventual quest for sobriety. As identified by The Subject, several factors from his adolescence can be credited to his self-destructive nature: (1) A sense of powerlessness during era-specific sociopolitical upheaval; (2) A subsequent embracing of era-specific ‘counter-culture' themes; (3) The influence of and association with various peers-of-choice; and, (4) An overall disassociate sense of self stemming other nondescript factors, both internal and external. The Subject's fluid conversation and engaging demeanor suggests that his answers were truthful. At the time of this interview, Thursday May 11th 2000, the subject expressed that he was approaching twelve successful years of sobriety. This interview was conducted on a Denver, Colorado college campus in a public forum with audience present. At the time of the interview, The Subject's overall display would be considered orderly, hygienic and well-groomed by reasonable social standards. The Subject was resourceful in his answers and did not decline making comment on any of the questions asked of him.
REID: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I want to congratulate everybody for being here. This is Mike X., and he has had quite an interesting life. Mike, thank you for your time in being here this evening. I truly respect your investment of time, and I don't take that lightly. Everyone, please join me in welcoming Mr. Mike X. (AUDIENCE APPLAUSE.)
Mike, the intention of your presence here is that you'll share with us aspects of your life's-journey to date. In this, I'd like to begin by asking you to share a little of your background.
MIKE X : I grew up through the '60s, born in 1957. And, I remember distinctly the flavor of the age. The first memory that I have that's indelible is of the Kennedy assassination, which I watched on television. We had a big console TV-set in the living room. Older folks: do you remember those big old TVs? I also remember watching footage of the Vietnam War. There was a lot of upheaval. It was under those circumstances I grew up.
Both my parents were a full generation older than my friends' parents. My dad was born in 1918, my mom in 1922. My father was studying to become a CPA when Hitler rolled into Poland. He went down and tried to join the Navy, but they wouldn't let him in because he was too short. So he went to a chiropractor and they stretched him and he went back and they let him. When he came out of basic training he was a ‘90-Day Wonder.' They needed guys and they needed ‘em bad. The smarter guys came out at a higher rank. My father had been in the Navy two months and his flight trainer had been in over 10 years. There was a $90 difference a month in pay. The final flight test administered was over a one-way radio where the pilot executed maneuvers but didn't talk back. Anyway, that guy called my dad every dirty name possible while he was upside-down. Once my dad put the plane on the ground, he said "... call me any one of those names on the ground." Well, the guy opened his mouth, and my dad busted out his four front teeth. They were both locked-up. My dad was sent to Guadalcanal. He flew a Catalina, a slow, low-flying reconnaissance aircraft.
After World War Two my dad became one of the oldest polio victims on record. Doctors told him he'd never walk again. Then they told him that he'd have to use a cane and wear one of them big shoes. Each time they told him something more and more damaging, he proved ‘em wrong. My dad would pull himself out of his apartment and then down the hallway and walk ‘til he just fell down. On his recovery from polio, half of his face was paralyzed and, he couldn't speak. He got work as a traveling salesman. This forced him to speak clearly to be heard. All of this was done under his own self-propulsion.
This is type of generation that those people who grew-up during The Depression were. They were told that they had to make something of themselves. But, I don't think any of ‘em were taught to recognize when they had made something of themselves. Most of ‘em are still working today. They're like 85-years-old, but they're out there.
After the War, dad saw a movie called, "Lost Weekend" and quit drinking. He never told anybody that he didn't drink. Consequently, his friends were still giving him bottles of booze at Christmas time and holidays. When I was 9-years-old I moved into the basement and discovered his stash of booze. That year that The Doors' first record came out. In fifth grade I learned to ditch school, shoot pool and drink whiskey. Dinner with my parents was never the same. I went out the window and became uncontrolled at 9-years-old. I had all the answers. And, I spent the next 21 years digging as deep a whole as I could get in.
REID: How do you mean?
MIKE X : Everything I'd been taught became eroded: honesty, integrity, virtue; all those morals.
REID: Where did they erode? Was there a cause?
MIKE X : A lot of those things became a hindrance to achieving things I needed.
REID: Morals became a hindrance?
MIKE X : If you're gonna gain people's confidence and then lie and steal from them, then in that mindset you're in survival mode. Morals are set aside, so you can get back in to do it again.
REID: Mike, would you share with us your ‘Normal' versus your ‘Abnormal' behavior?
MIKE X : Well, normally, I can't find my car. I can't make rent. Normally, I can't force myself to stand up in the morning. And, normally I have a tendency to throw-up blood. Normally, I can't remember what I did, said, or where I was. Normally, it doesn't matter how close to me you are, you're probably gonna be hurt the most. Those are my ‘Normal' problems. Normally, I lie and I cheat and I steal and I do tremendously excessive amounts of dope, and, drink whiskey like it's water. That's my normal life. Now on the flip side...
REID: Your ‘Abnormal' behavior?
MIKE X : I've engaged in a truly ‘Abnormal' lifestyle for the last 12 years. I got married and bought a house and I'm now raising kids. I volunteer. I'm a den leader for the Scouts. Now, my ‘Abnormal' problems are having to make choices like do I go to my daughter's Brownie meeting, or do I go to the Scouts' meetings, or teach a bunch of kindergartners to tie-die.
I don't really know how to get here from where I was.....
Reid, I saw that on your list of topics for me, you've got it written down there that ‘God Is An Atheist.' Now, we all have different slants on religion. It's a pretty personal thing. But the Bible says that God made us in God's own image. Do you believe in yourself, Reid? Do you believe in yourself, your own abilities?
REID: Uh, I'm supposed to be asking the questions here. (AUDIENCE laughter.)
MIKE X : God made us in His own image, so Reid must believe in himself. (Statement to AUDIENCE)
REID: Yes, well, another way of looking at it - if for nothing more than argument's sake - is that God also proclaimed "there are no other gods before me." With this known, and, if His is a true statement, then logically it follows that God, Himself, does not believe in any other god or gods. Therefore, if God believes in no god then, by definition, God is an atheist.
MIKE X : Hmmm....Maybe no one else was in the room when God got there. (AUDIENCE laughter.)
REID: Generally, people consider ‘Normal' behavior as being what you describe your ‘Abnormal' behavior, and vice versa. Was there some influence that caused your shift in outlook?
MIKE X : What caused my ‘Abnormal' to become ‘Normal' for me?
REID: Yes. Are you in a position to share that?
MIKE X : Yeah. I became disassociated from the American mainstream. As a kid, I bought pretty heavily into the rhetoric of the counterculture thing on the left side of politics. When I was 10, 11, 12-years-old, the guys 16, 17, and 18, well, they were cool, and had all the answers. The counterculture held that everything in place was somehow corrupt and wrong. Understand this was filtered through the eyes of an adolescent boy. Then, we had all of the assassinations throughout the ‘60s. When I was seven my dad took me to Stapleton Airport where I shook hands with Robert Kennedy; this impacted me tremendously. Later, I watched him die. Then, the National Guard killed some college students. I saw that too.
REID: Kent State, 1970.
MIKE X: Yeah ... And, I was angry. Fuck, was I angry.
REID: Why anger? Society usually chooses apathy, at best.
MIKE X: I was angry at society, but, I had no substantial alternative. Neither the conservative right nor the radical left could be trusted. How many people do you know who bitch about everything, but don't have any solutions? They whine and moan about how fucked up things are, but don't have any answers. What do you want to tell them? Shut the fuck up and go away. I don't want to listen to you anymore. (AUDIENCE laughter).
Certainly the entire drug experimentation thing played a part in that culture. So, there was a society that I found distasteful, and nobody could validly explain to me either why these things happened, or, why it was okay that these things happened. And then, on the other side, there was this tremendous ‘Escape' labeled as ‘Enlightenment'.
REID: Ahhh...The ‘Subculture'.
MIKE X: Yeah. Istarted smoking dope in sixth grade. By the time I was in seventh or eighth grade, I was running windowpane acid. People still ask, "what's your drug of choice?" Hey, my drug of choice is more of yours...Guaranteed! (AUDIENCE laughter.) Just leave me alone in a room with any of ‘em and you'll find out. From the time I was nine-years-old ‘til I was thirty-one, that's how I functioned. I had the semblance of a ‘straight' job. But, once the sun went down, it became a whole different world. There was a lot of sitting in idling cars waiting for people. There was a lot of going into places where I had no idea what was on the other side of the door. There was a whole lot of trying to get something.
REID: What were you trying to get, Mike?
MIKE X : (LONG PAUSE) I was trying to get some relief.
REID: Did you ever feel cheated?
MIKE X : I felt cheated once; I missed out on Crack. By the time smoking and cooking coke became prevalent, I was already done.
REID: The addict sees only to the next fix and never expects to end using. When you used would you use solely in social settings, or were you a solitary user?
MIKE X : All of those things start mostly in social settings. Whether we're drinking with pals, or passing around a joint, or doing lines, or whatever. If the group that you run with is doing some particular activity you're either doin' it too, or you ain't in. I probably snorted about five cars worth or coke. Nice, Italian cars too! (AUDIENCE laughter). When I was 13 everybody was doing that, so I had to learn. It starts that way for everybody.
REID: Peer pressure...That's valid. I'll give you that.
MIKE X : When I look back at my early drinking there was only one reason I drank: ‘cause I was sober. I've been a solitary drinker most of my life. In the end I'd walk into a bar and throw my coat on the stool next to me. I'm not here to talk, I've got to get busy. I've got no time for anyone; just leave me the fuck alone. In the end that's how it was. The American Indian has a saying: "The man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, the drink takes the man." I'll testify to that. Through my entire upbringing I felt like I was about to tip over.
REID: Through your use and abuse?
MIKE X : Actually, that's when it stopped. Everybody that I was running with in the ‘70s is now either dead or in jail. A few of ‘em pulled-out early. One has a nice house out in Franktown. He's got a big butt from sitting at a desk, but, he's happy. (AUDIENCE laughter.)
Once, a buddy of mine stiffed 3 guys on an 1/8-of-coke. They dragged him out to a farmhouse and chicken-wired his hands together. They cut off his fingers, then decided they had to kill him. He put his hands up in front of his face and 3 bullets took off his hands and the front of his face. And then they put him in his car and lit it on fire.
My friend Milo had a crazy old lady. She'd punch him in the head for no reason, and, he'd slap her and she'd call the cops. So one night, after this exchange, Milo got really drunk. Well, Milo had a .22 rifle and his front door had a double-deadbolt, which keyed from both the outside and the inside. So, the cops were across the street, yelling for him to come out. Anyway, by the time he was ready to surrender he couldn't find the key. (AUDIENCE laughter.) He was so drunk that he couldn't let himself out of the house! So, the cops had to break his door down so he could surrender. (AUDIENCE laughter.) Milo calls me about every 3 months to tell me he hasn't been in jail for this long or that long and he hasn't had a drink for two or three weeks, and he feels great.
And Sylvester...Yeah, Sylvester went to prison.
And, my buddy Sid died of a heroin overdose. He had like 9 aliases and the cops and the coroner couldn't figure out who the hell he really was. (AUDIENCE laughter). We went to a chapel; full of pictures of Sid. Everybody got to get up to talk about what a wonderful wino he was. It was a Sunday, 11:30 in the morning, and the fucking chapel was packed. I had quit drinkin' a year-and-a-half before, but every one of them was loaded right to the gills. People would get up to say something nice ‘bout Sal and there were hecklers - drunk as fuck - in the back of the church! (AUDIENCE laughter). I'm thinking to myself, "We can't even give the guy a decent send-off." For some reason, I am here and they are not. A lot of times, I hear people say "God must have saved you because you had a job to do." Well, did anyone ever stop to consider that it might be a couple thousand little jobs, like you ain't done taking out the garbage, or maybe you got some dog poop to clean up. Maybe those types of jobs. Shit, we all get real grandiose. Somebody narrowly escapes death, and they think that they must have some real ‘important' job to do. I saw a bumper sticker. It said ‘To Hell with World Peace, Use Your Turn Signal.' (AUDIENCE laughter).
REID: Mike, comparing it to the turbulence in which you grew up, what is your perception of crime and justice in America today?
MIKE X : A lot of crime goes unreported, uninvestigated, and unpunished. I honestly believe that if you keep your mouth shut and you don't say anything to anybody you can literally get away with murder. I believe that if you just keep it to yourself, you can literally kill somebody and never be held accountable. Why is that? Because rarely does anyone ever get caught.
I think we get our reality a little twisted. Let's look at that fellow who was just executed down South. 17 years ago, if I remember correctly, he raped and stabbed a convenience store clerk; a young woman probably no older than you. (Motions to front-row AUDIENCE participant). America fed and clothed him for 17 years. 17 Years! Anybody got an old washing machine? How many times are you going to fix it before it simply can't be fixed? And what are you going to do with it when it can't be fixed? We're operating under the assumption that no matter how far down the scale someone's gone, they can be ‘fixed.' Well, what if they can't be fixed, or, more typically don't want to be fixed?
I got a real good friend in Alcoholics Anonymous, and what he says to me is this: "well don't make sick well, sick makes well sick." What does that mean? If you're hangin' with a bunch of people that are twisted you ain't gonna make them better, you're gonna get twisted. Where do you draw the line? Hey, if I shoot your son during a hold-up, string me up.
REID: Thank you, I shall. (AUDIENCE laughter.)
MIKE X : That's where I'm at. Someone sodomizes my kid; they're dead. And, if the law don't get you, I will; That's where I'm at. I have a lot of tolerance for people that want to try to get better. I spent a lot of time in Alcoholics Anonymous; that's really where my turn-around came; the change from my ‘Normal' life to my ‘Abnormal' life.
I haven't had a drink in close to 12 years. I haven't done any dope in 12 years. I should be dead. I guarantee you I should be dead. I was running from everything. It wasn't just the constabulary that was chasing me; I got chased by guys with guns, and they were shooting at me. Why everybody else died and I didn't, I'll never know.
REID: Mike, what inspires Change ?
MIKE X : Most of us change out of necessity, or fear. Your back's to the wall and the way you're going just ain't working. To me, that seems to be the grand motivator. A small percentage of us make change because we desire something better. However, fear changes most folks.
REID: Ok, Mike, then what is ‘Fear' ?
MIKE X : Hmmm... Either I'm gonna loose what I have, or I'm not gonna get what I want. Now the next time you get into a position where you're a bit ‘fraid of something, think ‘bout that.
REID: Have you ever been a victim? Conversely, have you ever created a victim?
MIKE X : I've had the wrong end of a pistol in my nose a couple of times. Mainly it was just so that I would stand still. On the flip side of that, I have committed several minor crimes of property. But, I could just never bring myself to steal an entire pound of cocaine. I figured somebody would hunt me down and shoot me.
I boosted money and dope and even worse than that in ‘creating' a victim. I was in a buddy of mine's apartment once and he went to get us some coke. He left his teenage girlfriend there with me. I made her a victim. Hell, I made ‘em both victims.
The word ‘Victim' is interesting ‘cause at some point in my past I put myself in a position to be hurt. Somebody once said that if I looked closely I was not a victim, but a volunteer. I bought a ticket for that ride. I knew this roller coaster had a history of flying off the tracks and hurting or killing people. But, I bought the ticket anyway.
REID: Ladies and gentlemen, we're nearly out of time. Does the audience have any questions?
AUDIENCE:What do you tell your kids to make sure they don't go down the road that you did?
MIKE X : If I had the wherewithal to prevent my children from fucking-up like I did, all I can say is that my decisions cost me a number of long years, as well as a lot of happiness. Whatever road they're to walk, that's their road. Anybody know who Kahlil Gibran is? He was a Lebanese philosopher from the early part of Twentieth Century. He has a book called ‘The Profit'. If you're into any philosophy at all, pick up a copy of it and just read a bit of it. It talks about how your children aren't yours. They come through you but they are not of you. You can strive to be like them but you cannot make them like you. They live in a land that is the future and you can't go there. I know one thing: if I could stand next to my kids the way my daddy stood next to me with all the shit that I put him through, if I can be there half as much, I'll be a good dad.
AUDIENCE: Are your parents still living?
MIKE X : My mother died the day I graduated from high school. She had cancer and fought it from the time I was a child. My father died five years ago. He got to meet his grandson and granddaughter. Unfortunately, neither of them will remember him.
AUDIENCE: Did he express being proud of you?
MIKE X : I wrote him a song and showed him the lyrics. By the time he was done reading, he was crying, and, I was crying. When I first sobered up, my dad was just a handshake type of guy. By the time he died, he'd throw me a big fat hug and I'd smooch him on the forehead or just about anywhere. We got that close...Yeah.
REID: Thank you, Mike. I'll let you take us home on this...Closing thoughts?
MIKE X : I am my dad's kid. I don't know that I bring very much to the table, except maybe experience. Maybe, that's what wisdom is. I ask myself just how I should take my experiences, and all the stupid shit that I did, and collate it into something that'll keep me from doing more stupid shit in the future? (AUDIENCE laughter).
I wanted to tell a quick story...
How many of you have been hit up by panhandlers? Everybody wants a buck. Well, a buddy of mine was living in Los Angeles. He was going into a restaurant and some guy who obviously didn't get all of his sandwiches on the way to the picnic (AUDIENCE laughter) approached to talk to him. The guy had a shoebox in his hands, and my friend immediately stated "I don't have anything to give you." He pushed the guy aside and went inside. About 30 minutes later my friend and his date looked over and the guy from outside was sitting one table over with an old couple. The box he had had outside was open. Guess what was in that box; a medal from the Special Olympics. The restaurant had been his sponsor, sending him to the Special Olympics. Underneath the medal was a bunch of 25%-off coupons. Outside, all the kid wanted to do was tell my buddy what a great place that restaurant was for being his athletic sponsor, show-off the Special Olympics medal he'd won and to give my buddy a 25%-off coupon. To this very day he says he's never felt like as big an asshole as he did there. (AUDIENCE laughter.)
There was something else...
Oh, yeah...I recently had a dream. It's the most vivid dream I've had. Ever have a dream where you remember all of it when you wake up? Picture a large playground full of people, like a large school. On the far end is a big score board, and on top of that scoreboard is a man and he's in a kind of rumpled business suit - white shirt and tie - but he's rumpled and he looks rumpled. The most beautiful sunrise is happening. So the sky's got that boiling cloud look to it, and, the sun's comin' up. And this guy's up there and he's looking down and he's looking ‘round and ‘round. Every time he turns around there's somebody standing next to him on top of the scoreboard. And they smile that smile that somebody gives you when you're hurting and they smile at you like, it's going to be okay. And then they step off. And they land on the ground and walk away. All day long he's up there. He spends the entire day doing this, looking down. And he just keeps watching these people smiling and stepping off. As the last rays of light fade from the sky he closes his eyes and jumps off. And as he jumps yells, "This is the very best day of my life." That's the dream in its entirety. What do you read from it? Everything's an act of faith. If you're going to go anywhere in your life, you have to set fear aside, close your eyes, and step off. I'd have died a drunk if it hadn't have been for a small act of faith.
I've been clean and sober for 12 years. And yet, the question for me is the always the same. Am I willing to step out on faith? Does anyone get any guarantees up front? I'll give you 2 guarantees up front: If you don't eat you starve, and if you don't shit you'll explode. (AUDIENCE laughter.) Those are two of life's little guarantees that I happen to know are true. And, I don't have to go off and try either one to find out. (AUDIENCE laughter.)
I spent a great many years as a predator. I'm not a predator anymore. It's nice to be able to give something back. Be Christian-hearted. Don't be predators. Don't be assholes.
REID: Goodnight, Mike. Thank you, everyone. (AUDIENCE applause.)
The Confessions of a Jilted Superstar, In His Many Conversations With God
by R. MARTIN BASSO- © 2005.