156. Opiated neural pathways and coal mine ponies

Wow, lately my brain has been fuzzed and fogged over. It’s hard to write in a fog, so the pace of posts has slowed down, regrettably, because when I have fun writing, I know my mind is in a good place, my spirit is buoyant, and my body is okay. Let me be clear, I have only taken one opiate in my life. I had back pain and I took a very old Darvon that had been on the medicine shelf for years after a surgery or something for my wife. Let’s see, that was five years ago. Well, it knocked out my back pain like Joe Frazier and kept on swinging beyond the boxing ring of physical pain. That Darvon jumped into the audience and began crowd surfing. A big grin came over me and I had my own little party going on in my brain. It was nice, a little too nice, I thought. I see how folks get onto this runaway opiate coal train and can’t jump off. It’s too comfy and you just roll along, spectating as the world zooms by. Why go to PT or the chiropractor if you can get your prescription refilled? The train is nice though a little sulfurous, like a swing at the playground near the power plant, all day swinging and swaying and nothing else. Nice gig if you can get it, but for innumerable reasons you can’t keep it.

I’ve known a few opiate addicts. They “chase the dragon”, that first fire-breathing experience of a dopamine rush which blew them away like a locomotive smoking down the Rocky Mountains. The problem is that the dragon won’t come out to play at the same dosage, so the addict has to up the dosage or the method of ingestion. Snorting or cooking and shooting the drug jacks up the power of the powder, but what the addict fails to realize is that he/she has entered the lair of the dragon. It did not come out of the cave; they went in– into darkness, into constriction, into bondage as sure as a coal mine pony.

My buddy Clark told me about his experience in a house coal mine back in his hometown of Patton, Pennsylvania. Oh my OSHA!  A coal mine just off the kitchen pantry. As a way to supplement their meager subsistence wages, some hardy Central PA. folks would mine the hillside behind their houses. They just dug into the mountain until they hit a seam of coal. It was sort of legal and likely lethal. One fellow was a friend of Clark’s, so he wound up in the mine one day, hauling up loads of coal pulled by a one-eyed pony that lived in the mine. He told me about it years ago.

“I was never allowed to go down a house coal mine.  The Old Man told me he’d kill me if I ever set foot in a house mine, too dangerous.  Now, sure they were.  The company mines had inspectors and a reason for safety measures.  But many a family that lived on the hillside had a private family coal mine where the back of their house just went right into the mountainside.  My one buddy Jerry Baker’s family had a private coal mine. His Old Man would dynamite the coal loose and then haul it out of that mine after putting a full day of work in at Barnes Coal Mine.  I’d go over and help him sometimes after school.  They had a sorry ass one-eyed pony; I mean to tell you that thing was pathetic.  It pulled a loaded coal cart up from the mine, and by the time it got to the top it was covered in its own slather.  And heaving and gasping for breath.  Oh, it was unbelievable.  Drink a five gallon bucket of water all at once. And gasping the whole time like it was dying.

And talk about mean. That coal pony lived most of its life in a coal mine and it knew what the harness meant.  You couldn’t put the harness on by yourself. It took two of us or else Jerry’s dad would do it. Just to get the harness on it we had to kick that pony and knock the wind out of it. That would bring the pony to its knees, and we’d harness it quickly while it recovered from the blow. Later, when the pony was drinking after hauling the coal cart, that’s when we’d unharness it and not get kicked or bitten.  You can’t blame a poor tortured animal for getting mean.  At least I didn’t.”

Addicts are like coal ponies, come to think of it. They go into the dragon’s lair to survive or just for a bucket of oats. And they lose their souls in the one way process. Like Pinocchio on Pleasure Island, he smoked cigars and played pool and slowly metamorphed into a little donkey, ready for the mines of bondage. No one sets out to become a slave to a job or a substance or a relationship. But if instant gain or pleasure is the target, then the larger picture of life remains out of focus. And one day when you wake up, you are braying with a long tail and furry ears… but worst of all is the harness of Hell pulled tight against your belly. You are hitched to the coal train now till the end of the line.


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