Out of the Gutter Online is proud to announce a new feature from Gutter author T. Fox Dunham. Strap yourself in for a rough ride with a man who is regularly put through hell but just keeps coming on.
I wrote The Street Martyr out of desperation. It is my protest against poverty. Crime itself is a symptom of poverty, and stories of the American dream have become an opiate like religion to tame and pacify a desolate population that should be rallying to the eve of revolution. There’s no more room at the table. Walmarts destroy any attempts to start small businesses. You need health insurance. Families have to stay poor so they won’t threaten their government assistance. I write from desperation, to give a mouth to those with their mouths torn out. So, I’m going to offend some people. I could be wrong, but at least I believe what I say. I’m in too much pain to keep trying to please everyone.
So this begins my weekly song at Gutter Books. It’s going to be terse, and if it pisses some people off, I’m doing my job. Gandhi said the job of civil resistance was to provoke a response. Matthew Louis, chief at Gutter, told me I had no problem doing that.
. . .
So while I was out in San Francisco for the book release party of the Street Martyr, I got to spend the day with author Tom Pitts and his family. He’s an ex-cab driver out there, and he showed me the city. It was a great day, and I am grateful to be a part of his family. We talked about his life, about his growth as an author, and instead of talking about drug use and art, I decided to just show it with a short interview.
. . .
MY INTERVIEW WITH TOM PITTS:
TOM: The pat answer is to say I liked to get high. That's what I used to tell myself. I mean, I didn't have an abusive childhood. I came from a loving, supportive family. I endured none of the horrors you hear addicts complain about.
TOM: It wasn't until years later that I was able to admit I'd been a victim of obvious and pedestrian influences. The typical stuff that guys who ended up like me were interested in. My heroes as a kid were people like Lou Reed and William Boroughs. Anti-social bohemian types that glorified drug abuse. I went from thinking Keith Richards was cool and wormed my way down the line to junkies like Sid Vicious. I was always intrigued by people that went against the grain. Punk rock definitely didn't help. There was a very nihilistic viewpoint in the underground. There was nothing more non-conformist, so sticking-it-to-the-man than shooting drugs. It was the ultimate fuck-you to the system. Or so I thought.
TOM: Long after I'd been clean, I saw a TV show about the history of illegal drugs. It was an eye-opener. The documentary showed how popular culture had always been a pawn for the big drug cartels. It wasn't a craze, a new-age revolution, or the universal mind that birthed LSD in the ‘60’s, then smack in the 70’s, cocaine in the ‘80’s, ecstasy and so on. It was, to a degree, orchestrated. The explosion of heroin in California during the early ‘90’s didn’t happen by accident either. It was availability that dictated how the counter-culture consumed dope. It was supply, then demand. The ability to saturate the market is what drove people’s elicit tastes. I felt stupid. I was just another textbook user bumbling along with the drug-addled masses. There was nothing special about it and nothing unique about me.
FOX: I see your point on the influences of your drug use. Sounds like you got used like so many people out there. What was it like, Tom? That life? Living for your next high?
TOM: When I was deep in there, at the bottom, it was like living on a stopwatch. The time between doses gets shorter and shorter until it has shrunk to only a few hours before you need to fix again. You found the dope to get well only so you could get out there and find the money to get more dope. It becomes a biological need. That’s the difference between addiction and dependence. You compromise your beliefs on a daily basis—so often that your moral compass breaks down and leaves you spinning. The cycle got tighter and tighter and it brought with it all its predictable side-effects: disease, homelessness, criminal activity. By the end I was arrested, hospitalized, infected with Hepatitis-C, eating in soup kitchens, and walking with my head down to avoid eye-contact with anyone I may know. My clothes and my shoes were spattered with blood and my arms cratered with abscesses. I’d gone through over 55 methadone detox programs and been stuck on methadone maintenance (the daily dose they intend for you never to get off) twice. I took that road as far as you can go and I’m not going down it again.
FOX: I remember seeing your arms, cratered like the lunar surface. I can only imagine the damage on the inside of your body. Your life is probably shortened, a price paid for artificial paradise. Did you hurt people? I know you mentioned crimes like identity theft. Does it bother you now? I know you’re a good man.
TOM: It was all petty stuff. I mean, yeah, the stolen check business was big in the nineties before they improved technology, but even back then you needed laser ink and ID with magnetic strips. It seemed like we were getting away with something, but it was an epidemic. Scumbags everywhere were figuring it out. It’s a wonder we didn’t get busted more often. Joe and I pretended we were tough guys once or twice, but really it was just junkies ripping off junkies. The people drug addicts hurt most are their loved ones and friends. That's where I carry my guilt. All the lies and bullshit you foist upon the people close to you. You can't blame them for giving up on you.
FOX: How did your time in hell change your writing?
TOM: It didn't really change my writing, it begat it. Before the drugs brought me down I was just another long-haired kid in a band thinking I was gonna go places I wasn't. It took a long time to recover from that. It wasn't until recently that I developed the discipline to sit my ass down in the chair and write. I draw on those experiences—maybe too much—but it's what I know. It was being out there on the street that taught me about the true nature of a criminal. TV and movies have it all wrong. Talk about glamorizing. The guys out there committing crimes are almost always driven by drugs, and their drug use is driven by a hatred of themselves. That often stems from some childhood trauma they had no control over. Basically they’re a lot of sick and sad individuals masking their self-loathing with anti-social activity. Crime never pays because it’s impossible to pay off the deficit in your soul. Well, maybe not impossible, but drugs and money ain’t never gonna fill that hole.
FOX: Tom, I thank you for your frankness. I think your experience has carved deeper river banks for your soul to flow. I love you, man. I’m sorry you have this ogre on your back all the time. Write about your suffering. Tell the truth. We’re at war.
Buy Tom's book Piggyback.
Check out Tom's new website.
. . .
So, this is my first piece for Out of the Gutter Online. I’ll write until I’m dead. And look. I’m sure this piece has stirred some reaction in you, but you’re probably just going to close the page then look up the most recent distraction on Youtube. Before you go, put some of those thoughts in comments. You love it. You agree. You hate it. I’m Satan in the flesh—wouldn’t be the first time. But don’t stay mute. The most heinous force at work is not the darkness, the criminals, the corrupt politicians: It’s the silence of the masses, those with something to lose and who don’t want to shake things up. This is all our faults, and I’m calling you out. Join me or fight me but do something.