Pubdate: Sat, 16 Jun 2012
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2012 Record Searchlight
Author: Marc Beauchamp
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


"Meth. Fueling Shasta County Since 1955." So read a makeshift 
billboard on North Market Street I saw, photographed and blogged 
about last week. This bit of stenciled agitprop set me to musing on 
Google. Typed in "Meth and Shasta County" and up popped a fascinating 
essay by Richard Mills, who grew up in Millville in the 1980s and 
'90s, now lives in the Bay Area and contributes to California 
Northern magazine, where his piece, "What Meth Means," appeared. He 
gave me permission to liberally quote from it.

He begins his long meditation on meth this way:

"During the long, wild winter that dominated the early months of 
2011, my wife and I went on a trip to Lake Tahoe with a group of 
people - all of us living in the Bay Area. On the first night, I 
found myself having a pleasant conversation with a guy I hadn't met 
before. He asked me where I was from; I said that I was from rural 
Shasta County and explained, along with a few other details, that a 
lot of people there did meth. The conversation died down, and I 
listened in on my wife talking to his girlfriend. My wife said that 
she was from Modesto and explained, along with a few other details, 
that a lot of people there did meth.

"For some reason, I found this deeply embarrassing. ... Why did she 
and I, from very distant points in inland California, both refer to 
meth as among the defining characteristics of the places we came 
from? . Why then did meth provide such useful shorthand for 
explaining our inland backgrounds to our coastal contemporaries? ... 
I realized that the presence of meth was a tidbit I dropped pretty 
frequently when questioned about my hometown."

Us versus them

He then moves on to talk about regional inferiority complexes 
(California coastal versus inland), the history of meth production in 
the Valley (first by bikers and then the Mexican mob), white poverty 
rates and macroeconomic changes that occurred during the ascension of meth.

Meth, of course, is a problem in cities too, but Mills documents 
meth's disproportionate drain on law enforcement and social services 
in rural valley communities. He remembers childhood friends taking 
the wrong turn toward meth and recalls living under neighbors in San 
Francisco's Haight who spent all night obsessively, and noisily, 
rearranging their furniture. He recounts scary, and sad, encounters 
with meth users on Greyhound bus trips. Read the whole thing here:

I'm not sure there's any way to explain meth, whether in a long essay 
or even a book (Mills references "Methland"). But Mills' piece sure 
made me think. Shasta County has always been a hardscrabble place, 
the legacy of Gold Rush miners, loggers, dam builders. But something 
has happened in recent decades: a poverty mindset and a sense of 
hopelessness has taken root. And I don't think it's a coincidence 
that meth moved in about the same time. Meth is a killer but it's 
also a killer of time if you've got (or think you've got) nothing 
else going on. And meth, Mills makes clear, is the drug of choice of 
poor whites.

Mills writes: "I remember a friend from the Central Valley describing 
a nightlong session that had taken place in a trailer somewhere. "It 
feels like whatever you are doing is just interesting enough, 
including nothing. You could do the same thing for hours; nothing is 
particularly exciting, but it's all equally appealing. ... An image 
begins to emerge from my memories of meth users, an image of people 
trying to convince themselves of something: I am useful and 
important. I am going to be rewarded for how valuable I am. I am not 

'Other people'

Meth is all around us in Redding and Shasta County - and yet, 
somehow, meth is "other" people. Mills describes the dichotomy this way:

"Meth (is) ... something we could never be. I'm thinking of the 
delight many take in the famous 'Faces of Meth' campaign, which 
juxtaposes addicts' pre-meth mug shots with later mug shots, 
demonstrating the grotesque effects of the drug. It's meant to scare 
people off, but it also provides viewers a cathartic celebration of 
their own class position."

What, if anything, does meth say about the state of the union? "Meth 
is a symbol for this particular stage in the life of American 
capitalism," Mills argues. "Between 1980 and today - the period that, 
incidentally, saw the beginnings of large-scale meth production and 
the blooming of a national meth epidemic - we've seen a dramatic 
spike in income disparity while the middle class has steadily shrunk.

"And in the Central Valley - mere hours away from the Silicon Valley, 
that paragon of the endless-growth mirage - I imagine that people 
have wondered with some intensity what they did wrong, even before it 
became among the regions in the country hardest hit by the recent 
economic downturn."

I tend to agree with Mills. To borrow a phrase from the Bard, 
something is rotten in the state of Denmark and meth is one of the symptoms.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom