We wish-again to be high-again in this Magpie Tale
The demise of the American auto industry in the late 20th century is well known, but what is less well known is the struggle of the state of Michigan to find alternative economies as they saw jobs disappear and factories be boarded up.
Two new industries took hold — casinos and recreational drug manufacturing and distribution. No town capitalized on this better than Pontiac. After evangelical churches successfully campaigned a measure that would have turned the old Pontiac factory on the edge of downtown into the “Four-Wheel Grand Casino”, locals took to making crystal meth, “electric horse” (double dose heroin), and a host of other illicit drugs. There was always a shortage of Theraflu and cough syrup at the Walgreens, and Promenade Park became the main hang out for dealers.
By the turn of the 21st Century, addicts were looking for a new high and an unusual trip emerged that was unique to Pontiac: helium. Not the slight rush of a high pitched voice from sucking a bit of air from a balloon but the habit of sucking in half a tank in one sitting until levitation was guaranteed.
Helium became the drug of choice for bulimic young women who had been, at some point, called a “blimp” and felt filling themselves with this substance was both a diversion and fulfillment of the taunts they had induced. In reality, levitation was not possible for overweight people who usually found no benefits and just came away with constipation and a slightly upset stomach. Oh, and a high pitched voice which they often found amusing.
Pontiac’s drug dealing reputation that it eventually had a drastic impact on the car line that shared its name. GM claimed to drop the line in 2010 due to low sales and to streamline their fleet. The reality was that it was the best selling car made in the U.S., but it had become synonymous with drug dealers. Housewives in Birmingham, pastors in Belmont, and elderly men in high tide pants in Bremerton were constantly approached by shady characters asking if they could “score” or if they might be able to help them “Find a little Mary Jane”. One incident in suburban Columbus, Ohio, ended quite tragically when a Mormon welder thought the young woman who approached him had lost her daughter and was deeply moved when she began crying, “Oh, I must find my Mary Jane. I don’t think I can make it through the night if I don’t find her now.”
“Maybe she’s lost in the woods. Let me help you find her,” the welder said. Thirty minutes later when the welder found a little girl whose name — ironically — was Mary Jane, the young woman became violent, and both the welder and young girl had to be hospitalized.
By 2001, the epidemic of drug use and distribution had reached an epidemic not in just Pontiac, but throughout the state. It finally reached national attention when a photo of 200 bulimic teenaged girls floating above the Detroit skyline appeared on the cover of Newsweek with the headline: High, How Are You?
Thus, when Jennifer Granholm became Michigan’s first female governor in January 2003, she promised to introduce state-wide treatment and prevention. Suddenly Livonia, a few miles south of Pontiac, became a recovery boomtown with the Edsel Ford Center rivaling the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs. Twelve story towers for twelve step programs Inkster Road, and suddenly Livonia became a favored destination where high profile celebrities could deal with recovery on the low down.
By 2007, cracks in the recovery movement started to emerge. Clifford Johnston-Duveaux wrote a scathing expose about his treatment in Livonia called Addicted to the Cure: How I Overcame My Addiction to 12-Step Programs and Finally Found Freedom. Johnston-Duveaux became a semi-regular on Oprah (usually coming on right after the home improvement segment). He became the shining light in the self help movement until one of his devotees, Vivian Saint Onge, wrote her book titled Help Is Not on the Way — Help Yourself to You in which she criticized the self help movement for its hypocrisy. If it’s truly self help, then why do you need a book written by someone else? “Only you can help yourself,” Vivian wrote in her first chapter. “I can’t help you. If you are reading this book it’s proof that I can’t help yourself and neither can I. If you are reading this and want to through this book against the wall it proves that you are taking steps to true self help, but it also proves that you are screwed because you are following my orders and not listening to your own heart.”
The book stirred much controversy, including a revelation that Johnston-Duveaux wrote his book while doing too tanks of helium a day. There was an ugly showdown with Oprah where she grabbed his shoulders on her show and shouted “You lied to me, Clifford! You lied!”
He was soon replaced by Saint Onge. She became known for her trade mark reply to each of Oprah’s questions such as “So, Vivian, what would you say to someone who is dealing with chronic depression?”
With a smirk, Saint Onge blurted out, “Snap out of it!”