An Inappropriate Life

Memoir by Stan Gotlieb

For Example, Bentley

Bentley was a name he gave himself. His real name was Bob Fishman. He died young, but his body was old, abused by every excess he could pour into it. He smoked four packs of cigarettes on an average day; had done since he was in junior high school. He abused alcohol from about the same age. He tried every drug he could get his hands on, and overdid every one of them. He was a womanizer, a gambler, and a pusher.

He was pushy socially. He didn't understand the meaning of the word "no". No was just where he started, and he had no intention of stopping short of "yes". He absolutely refused to recognize any social boundaries. A poor kid from a single-parent family, he moved through all economic classes with surprising ease. At one point in his life, he was the most successful door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in his region.

He was pushy sexually. While he never used force, he was relentless and persuasive. He used to like to quote F. Scott Fitgerald: Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; if you can bounce high, bounce for her too, Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,I must have you!"

He pushed drugs. Whenever he discovered a new "high", he made a point of turning on as many of his friends as he could. It helped him to pay for his habits, and it kept his friends coming around. Virtually every drug I ever took, and I tried most of them over the years, I got from him.

For most of my young adult life, he was my best friend; my leader. I envied his ability to get whatever he wanted, especially when it came to women; his immense popularity. In his own mind, he was unique; a daredevil; a pioneer. The first to try this; the first to do that; the risk taker; the Example. He reveled in it.

It took me a lot of years after his death to understand that the price that he paid - half a lifetime - was more than I was willing to fork over.

Toward the end, he had gotten sick of it all. He had grown tired of having to keep up his act. He complained that everyone came to him to be entertained, but no-one wanted to entertain him. By then, his heroin habit had gotten so strong that he really didn't have much energy for anything else.

When he died, in a farmhouse in western Minnesota, he was trying to clean up so that he could get medical attention. He had a really bad flu, but he didn't want to seek help until he had tapered off on his heroin usage, so the "cold turkey" he was sure he would be subjected to in the hospital wouldn't be so bad. At about 35 years of age, he drowned in his own blood. The coroner's report said he had the cardiovascular system of a man of 70.

I've never figured out why some of us can get high and not get hooked, while for others it's an express elevator for the basement. I know that some say it's a chemical or genetic predisposition. In my case, it appears that I lucked out on that one. On the other hand, maybe it's because I knew more than one "Example": other druggies, for instance, who, when I was thinking of taking some, said "you know, it makes you vomit" (something I hate to do); or on another occasion, "you know, it does bad things to your sex drive".

Now, in later life, a fourth glass of wine is over the limit for me, and hangovers are intolerable. I have always been a slavish devotee of the pleasure / pain principle (if it doesn't give you more pleasure than pain, why do it?). Age, changing friendship circles, whatever: mind-altering substances ceased to be of much interest to me a while ago.

I can look back on my own days of substance abuse with happy memories -- but then I survived, as did most of the people I knew. Then again, there were those who didn't. For example, Bentley.

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All materials copyrighted, 1994-2004 by Stan Gotlieb and