Should I need it, the hardwood tray with all the necessary accoutrements meticulously arranged upon it was waiting under my coffee table in the living room, together with a bottle of the finest liquid opium. Some might think it self-defeating to have a quick fix at hand, but I was unsure of whether the accounts in those old books were exaggerated.
This is a common event for opium addicts, something I had many times experienced whenever I got too busy to recline and prepare some pipes—a simple reminder that opium was needed to tighten things back up.
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This time, the arrival of these symptoms caused me to retreat to my bedroom with its single blacked-out window. I wanted no part of the outside world. The bustling sounds of nighttime in Chinatown floated up to my flat on waves of heat emanating from the sunbaked concrete, but I had no desire to stand at a window and look at the city below. I had long before become too detached to enjoy something as worldly as a room with a view, and had hung blankets over the windows to promote the illusion of perpetual twilight.
In order to keep my mind off the steadily intensifying symptoms, I got online—YouTube—and did some searches. I watched the clip over and over that night until the manic jazz and snatches of menacing dialogue became imbedded deep in a part of my brain that specializes in turning catchy songs into maddening little ditties. I began to dwell on morbid visions of my corpse being discovered, the centerpiece of a room that looked as though it had been ransacked by a madman. Whoever found me would also find my collection of antique opium-smoking paraphernalia—those pieces that had survived my thrashing about like a headless chicken.
At some point I lay down on my bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
I woke up just before dawn on November 1—All Saints Day—with a loud buzzing in my ears and a dull headache. My immediate thoughts were recollections of nightmares: vague scenes based on long-buried memories of celebrating Todos Los Santos as a young man in Manila; images of crowds among concrete crypts in candlelit cemeteries.
Those real-life events had been joyous occasions, but my dreamed version was suffused with loss and a bitter longing. That first night without the pipe was a taste of what I was to lose: Never again would sleep be so delicious; never again would dreams be so real. The scene in the cemetery felt as though the dreams themselves were aware of their imminent demise, that without opium my dreamed events would never again enjoy as much importance as my predictable waking life.
Those first waking thoughts set the tone for the morning of that second day. Feelings of impending loss kept resurfacing, and all thoughts led to opium.
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I tried to watch movies on my laptop, but they served only to anger me. Who were these people and what did they know about life? My principal feeling toward nonsmokers was scorn. Opium arrogance kept me engaged, but just barely. I stared at the performances meant to evoke emotions such as love and loneliness but I could not relate. Watching people interact was like being forced to watch a mime—I felt as though I lacked the patience to understand the message.
I had lost interest in the activities of everyone but a couple of opium-smoking friends.
The rest of humanity I could ignore in the same way that one tunes out the speakers of a foreign language. When I could no longer look at the images on my computer screen I tried to read, but this was equally difficult for my opium-starved brain. I could read no more than a paragraph or two before launching the magazine at the wall like a fluttering missile. As the day wore on these feelings of anger and alienation were usurped by a riotous fever.
Around me the tropical city sweltered while I wrapped myself in blankets and shivered with exaggerated spasms that might have looked comical had anyone been there to witness them. I do not know how long I shuddered with cold before a rising heat replaced it, drenching me with sweat and compelling me to throw the blankets to the floor. After some time had passed I frantically gathered them up again to shield myself against a bracing cold that was all in my mind. I seemed to have lost the ability to enjoy even the slightest bit of comfort.
Several times that night I was visited by these brutal seasons, and then sometime before dawn I actually prayed—doubled up like some slave waiting to be fetched a cruel kick. I had never before in my life felt desperate enough to pray, but that night I did so with a fluency and sincerity that surprised me. It must have worked. When I awoke a few hours later my pillow and bedclothes were sticky with opium-laced sweat, but the fever had mostly subsided. Feelings of celebratory relief were premature, however. What had woken me up were cramps in my stomach—gut-wrenching pains that brought me to my feet almost involuntarily and propelled me toward the bathroom.
Depth bombs of shit began exploding out of me, punctuated by gas bursting into the toilet bowl. What the fuck?! I would have sat there and waited out the waves of diarrhea had my legs and arms not become racked with cramps that demanded movement. Here it comes, I thought to myself, the beginnings of the uncontrollable thrashing that was described in old accounts—this was what might kill me.
From the bathroom into the bedroom and back. How many trips had there been? Enough so that raw skin could no longer be wiped with toilet paper. I used a handheld showerhead to rinse myself clean, but the taxing cycle of constantly disrobing, washing, drying off, and getting dressed soon became too much, and so I paced my bedroom wet and naked, waiting for the return of stomach pains that again and again sent me running back to the toilet. Then all hell broke loose. My arms and legs felt as though they were being pulled from their sockets.
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My guts bloated inside me, forcing up vomit followed by gobs of greenish bile. Even my testicles ached with nauseating pain.
- Bliss and hell of American expat addicted to an ancient drug, and a bygone Asia.
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Mentally I was reduced to directing the most basic actions, trying to steer clear of walls and furniture while flailing my arms and legs about as if I were on fire. However, there was one task at which my brain functioned as usual—that frantic tune from the old cartoon on YouTube played in my head in an endless loop. Antiques -- United States -- Biography. Summary An authority on opium paraphernalia traces the history of opium use while recounting his descent into addiction, describing how his experiments while researching an article led to a dangerous habit that prompted numerous rehabilitation efforts.
Notes Includes bibliographical references p. View online Borrow Buy Freely available Show 0 more links Set up My libraries How do I set up "My libraries"? Campbelltown Public Library. Open to the public. Footscray Hospital Library. Not open to the public Open to the public Book; Illustrated English Show 0 more libraries None of your libraries hold this item.
Found at these bookshops Searching - please wait We were unable to find this edition in any bookshop we are able to search. Thank you! Journalist Martin The Art of Opium Antiques , builds this unusual memoir around a clever conceit, making literal the similarities between collecting and addiction.
Since then, opportunities to smoke opium have become rare. Organized crime diverts most poppy harvests toward heroin production, and Asian governments crack down upon any resurgence as an embarrassing historical slur. Ultimately, running out of both money and connections, Martin successfully negotiated the painful withdrawal at a Buddhist monastery. Ambitious and thoughtful work, successfully fusing the personal and social by raising complex questions about drugs, addiction and contested cultural narratives.
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