Monday, May 20, 2013

Speed Men

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

My breaking point is 40 hours. If I stay awake anything past 40, then its really fucking ugly. As an insomniac, I can stay awake for 24 hours without blinking. I often joke that I was born on a different planet that had 30 hour days instead of 24, which is why I have trouble going to sleep at a normal time. I had stints due to work (or work-related travel) in Vegas or during serious benders on Phish tour in which I stayed up for 2 days in a row. I think I only surpassed the 50-hour mark a couple of times. That's such a dark and terrifying place that I hope you never get to experience the physiological changes that occurs due to sleep deprivation.

You need sleep to keep you sane. If you don't get enough rest, then your mind runs rampant and you turn into a hysterical zombie. That's why meth is such a nasty drug. It's not the actual effects that will do you in, rather it's the prolonged effects of sleep deprivation that drives you insane and makes you do stupid shit like take apart your toaster to see if GE is spying on you, or decide to dig a hole to China in your neighbor's backyard.

If you watch Mad Men, then you know about last night's episode titled The Crash. By the way, if you're looking for funny recaps Mad Med, head over to Grantland and read Molly Lambert. She consistently nails it week after week.

If you haven't watched last night's The Crash episode yet, or not caught up yet with this season, then you probably should not read the rest of this post because it may contain some spoilers. Consider this a charity disclaimer. But then again, I really don't give a fuck about your viewing habits. I have a small window to write and I'm going to crank this out while the episode of the themes from The Crash are still fresh in my mind.

Speed. It's a crazy drug. The hippies saw the horrors of speed, which is where the tagline "Speed kills" originated in San Francisco. Marijuana and mushrooms are natural gifts from the gods, but speed is manufactured by the Man in sinister labss. The Germans invented speed. The Japanese perfected it. Soldiers during WWII (on both sides) were crocked to the tits on speed. The military dubbed them "Go" pills. In the wake of the Cold War, the Air Force perfected a new pill that would allow bomber and fighter pilots to fly 24-hour missions over the Arctic Circle and stay alert during the opening moments of WW3 with the Russians.

If you have a prescription to Adderall today, then you should thank the U.S. military for their willingness to create a magic pill that gives you the right amount of pep in your step and helps you concentrate, but with built in landing gear so you don't crash. Hard.

That's the inherent problem with speed. What goes up, must come down. When you crash from speed, it's not pretty. It's fucking ugly. But somehow, Big Pharma tweaked and tested and figured out the perfect mixture of a series of amphetamine salts in Adderall that will give you a prolonged buzz, but it won't absolutely tear out your innards while you're coming down.

Cocaine is like getting shot of a cannon. But the euphoria lasts maybe five minutes, or ten minutes max. That's why my favorite drug joke is this...
Q. When is the best time to do a line of cocaine?
A. Right after you did a line of cocaine.
The problem with cocaine is that it doesn't last long. Do a line, get gacked, then ten minutes later, you're rushing back into the bathroom to do another line.

What I liked about Adderall was that it felt more like cocaine and less like speed, except that you never came down. Once you got up in the atmosphere, you stayed there for several hours. Soaring. Flying high. It was truly a wonder drug. Cocaine high in pill form.

My married friends (particularly middle-aged moms) often hit me up for Adderall. It's easy to function with little to no sleep in your 20s. It's a struggle in your 30s. It's impossible in your 40s.

Back in the 1960s, "Mother's Little Helper" was a barbiturate or downer that helped get them through suburban malaise.  But today's postmodern soccer moms need a little extra ooooomph. Raising a family in the 21st Century requires an abundance of energy, so anything that helps get your ass in gear on sluggish days is a godsend.

I dabbled in Adderall, but I don't touch the stuff anymore. I think if I wrote better on Addys, then I'd be crushing those fuckers up and snorting them nonstop. As is, Addys gave me tunnel vision and hindered the creative process. Nothing can ever top a hit off the old peace pipe for the supreme writing buzz, but Adderall is something that is... 1) more suited for editing, or 2) a miracle drug for "all nighters."

My friends and I often joked that the 2010 World Series of Poker (WSOP) was really the World Series of Speed (WSOS). I had access to an Adderall prescription and several of my friends (both reporters and poker pros) regularly took the drug. For a 24/7 city like Las Vegas, a drug like Adderall is a necessity. It allows you to keep going and going and going and going and going.

In early 2005, I played poker at an underground club in NYC. At the time, a friend of mine was a grad student and she would not stop hyping up the joys of playing poker on Adderall. She used to take it to help study, but supposedly it was an immense booster at the poker tables because it helped her stay awake and allowed her to read players better. After I moved to Las Vegas and took a job in the poker industry, I quickly found out that cocaine and meth were old world drugs and that synthetics and pharmaceuticals were the new rage. The new generation of poker players were being funneled through the online poker realm. Most of those players were college-aged, so they were already familiar with the effects of Adderall for helping cram during exams.

In some ways, Adderall and other variants were dubbed smart drugs by Big Pharma. I always wondered if Adderall should be banned at poker tournaments because it is a performance-enhancing drug. The NFL put Adderall on the list of banned substances because it is a derivative of amphetamines. But I also know that if poker tournaments started drug-testing its participants, then no one would show up to play. You can only drink so much Red Bull or Starbucks to stay awake.

When I first got into the poker biz, I relied on my chronic insomnia to get me through tough stretches. As an insomniac, I was used to staying up late and being perpetually tired. Plus, when you're passionate about something, nothing can hold you back. The ability to write (well) while tired, coupled with the pure love of the game, carried me for the first few years in Vegas. But as soon as I became a jaded vet and middle-age crept in, I found myself struggling to tap into my internal energy reserves. I was surrounded by emotional vampires. I was running on empty and used up the last of the vapors. I was dunzo.

That's when I turned to Adderall during the summer of 2010. It was "my little secret how I got ahead." Well, not really. Everyone was doing it. I have an uncanny ability to look someone in the eyes and know precisely what drug their on. Just wander into any poker room and Vegas and you can easily spot the stoners from the kids cooking on Adderall. They have the same glossy gaze in their vacant eyes like cocaine-eyed starlets.

I did not cover the 2012 WSOP. I skipped it for the first time in seven years. The reasons are too numerous for me to discuss in this pithy post, but one of the contributing factors was age. When I got into poker, I had just turned 30. A decade whizzed by and I was approaching 40. It's impossible to work 16-18 hour days, seven days a week, for seven weeks straight without some sort of pharmaceutical enhancements. If I am unable to perform the job as a reporter without the assistance of high-grade Big Pharma speed, then I should not be doing the job in the first place.

I never understood why athletes took steroids until the summer of 2010. I finally got it. I felt like Eddie Harris from Major League. He was an aging veteran pitcher who needed to doctor the baseball in order to get outs and stay in "The Show." When he was younger, he could blow fastballs by his opponents. As an aging veteran with his arm barely attached to the rest of his worn-down body, he needed to do whatever it took to stay on the field and compete.

I had a job to do. I was getting paid big bucks to cover the WSOP on the Tao of Poker. I opted for a shortcut. I barely survived the 2010 WSOP, and wrote a couple of great pieces along the way (e.g. Most Likely You'll Go Durrrr's Way (And I'll Go Mine) and the Odium of Hellmuthstein), but when it was all over, I felt as though I cheated. I didn't have the same satisfaction that I had from previous summers.

I felt miserable.

I felt like a fraud (more so than usual).

I felt like a cheating whore.

I finally knew what it felt like to be Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa the year they chased Roger Maris' record. Be careful what you wish for, because if you take shortcuts to get there, you'll be haunted with the demoralizing truth that you needed an extra turbo-boost.

Sure, I'm being hard on myself about an Adderall prescription. I wasn't taking it to write better, rather, I was taking it to stay awake and be able to work 18-hour days, go home write, then come back and repeat the process. Many reporters took Adderall (and other derivatives) that summer. Thousands of poker players did too. I'm sure so did the poker dealers. And anyone else who had to hump late-night shifts. Heck, plenty of people have to take happy pills every single day in order to avoid clinical depression. Does that mean they're cheating too and their work is tainted as well?

I stopped taking Adderall in 2011, and for the most part, the 2011 WSOP was a sober series. I was stubborn and wanted to rely on my natural abilities. But, I might have popped it a couple of times -- as a last resort -- which was something I was cool with. In small doses (like once or twice over a 2 month stretch), Adderall can be a helpful wonder drug. If you abuse it, it will hallow out your soul and you'll end up a chatterbox speed freak with a million stupid ideas.

So I skipped the 2012 WSOP because I felt as though if I was physically unable to perform the job, then I shouldn't be doing it. I feel similar about the 2013 WSOP. If/when I return sometime in the future, my goal is to be able to maximize a peak performance but without the assistance of Big Pharma.

Which brings me back to last night's episode of Mad Men. In The Crash, the ad firm -- SCDPGCC -- is pulling an all-nighter over a weekend in order to prepare a new ad campaign for Chevy. The company got paid mega-bucks to deliver ideas, so they had to dance like a monkey. In order to keep the creative juices flowing, one of the partners called up his "witch" doctor. He was one of the many Upper East Side physicians who prescribed the rich and famous a concoction that was essentially B-12 and high-grade speed. The Beatles sung about those types of nefarious doctors with their song Doctor Robert. Aretha Franklin sang its merits with Dr. Feelgood.

Shit, feeling down in the dumps? Just call Dr. Feelgood.

In 2013, I have no idea how many kids are being prescribed speed for their ADHD. I have no idea how many college students and  how many professionals are being written prescriptions. All I know is that Big Pharma is raking in billions in profits on legalized speed. Starbucks and Red Bull are raking in dough as well because their products keep people a wake.

My greatest societal fear in a horrible natural disaster. The looting or losing electricity doesn't concern me as much as the tipping point when people drugged up on happy pills and fried to the tits on Adderall inevitably run out of their meds and then they crash hard and go berserk. That's when you'll really see the zombie apocalypse and people eating each other faces... when all the pharmies wear off.

Speed kills. That's no fucking joke.


  1. AWESOME insight, Paulie...You are a fucking genius, whether your hands and feet are mangoes, or not...

  2. P.S. Listen to this podcast I recorded during Day 1 of the WSOP Main Event. It is titled: Pharmie Report.

  3. hah! This scares me bro! ;)