Of Meth and Men

The drug fuels gay parties -- but the party was almost over before Rod finally found help.

He started taking more control of his health. The drugs prescribed for AIDS in the late '80s seemed to kill as many people as the disease did, so he explored a spiritual path of healing and joined a support group that helped him deal with all the ramifications of having the virus. Rod had other issues to work on, too: He'd been diagnosed as bipolar, like his mother, and he'd fluctuate between depression and times when he was productive and focused.

After waiting tables at a pizza joint, Rod landed a good job at a travel company, where he stayed for twelve years, working his way up to operations manager and a $60,000 annual salary. On the job, Rod got to travel around the world. Although he steered clear of drugs, he enjoyed hangovers in Australia, Fiji, Tahiti, South America, Europe and Southeast Asia.

By 1999, Rod felt better than he had in years -- but now forty, he also felt a terrible sense of loss. He'd wasted a quarter of his life waiting to die. "I was suddenly supposed to have a life plan," he remembered, "and I had always thought that I didn't need one because I wasn't going to be around."

After the bitch: When he kicked Tina, Rod Rushing found a new career.
Anthony Camera
After the bitch: When he kicked Tina, Rod Rushing found a new career.
A helping hand: Imani Latif hired Rod on the spot to advocate for HIV patients.
Anthony Camera
A helping hand: Imani Latif hired Rod on the spot to advocate for HIV patients.

He moved to San Francisco and took a new position in the travel industry. Business was great until the dot-com bust. He found another job in Los Angeles, where he worked four days a week -- then returned to San Francisco and waited tables the other three. But in the week after 9/11, Rod lost both jobs.

He was out of work for six months, then finally got a job waiting tables at a steakhouse in a fancy San Francisco hotel. But he came down with shingles, and since he had no health insurance, he self-medicated with Vicodin. Popping six pills a day threw his bipolar disorder into even greater disarray.

One night, Rod went to a party with some of his co-workers from the hotel. He watched as people put shards of crystal in a pipe, then torched the glass with a butane lighter, turning the solid into a liquid, then into a gas that they could inhale. "Oh, that's so cute," Rod thought as he saw the meth vaporize.

Rod had snorted meth once in the '80s, but it burned his nose and he hated it. The smokers seemed to be enjoying themselves, however, and Rod watched them take hits as though he were observing a science experiment. He'd already taken his daily dose of Vicodin and had had a drink or two. Finally, he went down to the apartment's lower level and took a hit. The meth didn't taste like anything.

Just blow the hit out, the partyers told Rod. No need to hold it in the lungs too long.

Rod exhaled. For the first time in weeks, the pain from the shingles all over his back and chest wasn't noticeable. He felt great. He went home and started straightening up his apartment. He had so much energy that when he went to bed, he had trouble sleeping.

He had no trouble deciding whether he wanted to do meth again. "It felt really good, so I was going to do it," he remembers. "There was no doubt about it."

The next day, he scored a quarter of a gram for $25. Rod bought a pipe, incinerated the meth inside it and blasted off again. For a few weeks, he'd get high and then work. But soon he'd just get high. When his manager called to see if Rod was okay and planned to return to work, Rod quit his job.

But tweaking at home alone could be boring. High on meth, Rod took apart a couple of VCRs and tried, unsuccessfully, to put them back together. One night he rewired his doorbell. Another night he called his Internet service provider because he thought he heard voices coming across the connection. Then, finally, he started surfing the "party and play" scene online. Meth and sex were soon inseparable.

At first meth allows you to keep an erection right through orgasm. Once you start hitting the pipe on a regular basis, though, it's harder to keep an erection. But the sex drive stays strong. And mixed with Viagra, meth is a popular party cocktail.

Meth turned Rod's life into an orgiastic blur. When the sun came up, he'd find himself in a place he didn't recognize, speaking to himself incoherently. He blew through $45,000 worth of 401K funds. Buying meth was more important than paying rent, and he lost his apartment. He lived in his car for a few months, floating up and down the West Coast. He smoked crack in a shelter in Los Angeles, but it wasn't as good as meth.

Then one night on skid row, addicts stole everything Rod had left. He decided it was time to leave California and move back to Colorado, where his mother now lived.

He found a job right away with a travel agency. But then he went to a party where a lot of gay men were doing meth, and he got high and got laid. The life he'd just started putting back together fell apart fast. Rod stayed high as long as he could, bouncing from party to party. Sometimes it was just two men who got together, other times threesomes. Some binges went on for several days and nights, with men coming and going. At some parties they'd watch porn, at others they'd smoke pot. Sometimes people would take shots of GHB, a central-nervous-system depressant that makes sex more animalistic, more intense.

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