by J.S. HALL
Since crystal meth abuse began running rampant in the gay community, it stands to reason that memoirs written by ex-crystal addicts would mushroom as well. Books like Ron Nyswaner's 'Blue Days, Black Nights' have graphically illustrated the drug's seductive pull and destructive grip. In the case of writer Patrick Moore ( 'Beyond Shame' ) , however, 'crystal completed, with amazing efficiency, a trajectory that had begun with alcohol, moved through psychedelics, and escalated into a whirlwind of pills and cocaine.'
However, calling Tweaked ( Kensington Books, $15 ) 'a crystal meth memoir' is something of a misnomer — partly because of the sheer variety of pharmaceuticals involved, and partly because Moore spends most of the memoir sober, albeit constantly struggling with 'The Voice that speaks to me incessantly, whining and needling…' And to make matters worse, he's decided to serve as a counselor/facilitator at the House, a clinic of sort for meth addicts. 'There are moments when I suddenly realize that I'm a nice boy from Iowa who is entirely comfortable sitting in a room of freaks.' The House is presided over by Judy, an astonishingly blunt lesbian who stoically endures her charges' outbursts, then responds blisteringly in kind.
In fact, the majority of 'Tweaked' chronicles the two decades of substance abuse that ultimately led to Moore's crystal addiction. A sensitive boy, he spent most of his time with his grandmother Zelma, a character in her own right. Growing up gay in rural Iowa, he quickly turned to drugs and alcohol to smother his inner turmoil and 'to add some kind of sparkle to the dullness of those gray cornfields.'
Much like Bruce Benderson's 'The Romanian' ( a similarly drug-fueled enterprise ) , 'Tweaked' transports the reader to a milieu most would never consider visiting, but vividly conveys why so many get drawn in and can never leave. And like Benderson, Moore spent a good deal of time in New York City's seedier and more notorious locales; in the 1980s, he could be found in any number of disreputable discos, bars, bathhouses and clubs. Frequently he did so in the company of Lee, the Patsy to Moore's Edina, 'that one friend…who delights in the behaviors that horrify everyone else in our lives.'
Moore also had an older boyfriend named Dino, who ultimately died of AIDS in 1993 at age thirty-two. Moore somehow remained free of the virus, despite their mutual non-monogamous escapades. 'I would slide into bed beside him, with the filth of other men still on me, and hold him, knowing full well that I had betrayed him but unable or unwilling to ask him for help.' A near-perfect example of passive-aggressive dysfunction, their relationship and its gradual disintegration is a three-car pile-up on the highway of life — terrible to experience, yet morbidly compelling to watch from a safe distance.
Not surprisingly, Moore sees ghosts of the past everywhere he goes, and occasionally regrets the consequences of his actions, such as going on a shopping spree with his late lover's credit cards the day after Dino died. Through the text of 'Tweaked,' the chic squalor of locales like The Saint briefly shimmers back to fetid life.
Moore's writing style is stark yet wry, like an Augusten Burroughs from the Midwest. Although he pulls no punches with his tawdry tales, neither does he scrounge for the reader's sympathy or try to sermonize about the evils of crystal meth ( they should be apparent enough to anyone with half a brain cell ) . His commitment to the truth, no matter how bleak and/or unpleasant, is the book's saving grace. 'Gay men, like little boys, know how to reach forbidden places and squeeze through the tight openings that block the passage of all but the most determined.' Patrick Moore has peered into his own personal abyss, and emerged stronger as a result. His may be a journey that few can take, but his success should serve as inspiration for those seeking to escape crystal's insidious grip.