Flight time from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo was about three hours. Before we were allowed to board our plane, though, we were held in a closed off lounge in the airport. I didn’t think anything of it until three men in uniform–police inspectors of some kind–came in with a dog.
A drug-sniffing dog, of course.
You may recall that ours was supposedly a drug-free entourage so I didn’t get too nervous about it. If Flip had acquired anything off-market he was smart enough not to be carrying it on his person. They asked everyone–in Spanish–to remain seated and they would come to us. Josie translated for those who didn’t understand. One of the men in uniform watched us while the other two went person by person, doing a cursory inspection of each person’s bags. The dog wagged its tail and didn’t seem too interested in much.
Until they got to Flip’s backpack. He was sitting next to me, Colin on my other side. The dog yipped and nearly knocked the brightly colored, stuffed full backpack over, trying to stick its nose under it.
Flip began to unzip it but the policia told him sharply to stop, and then dragged the backpack a few feet away on the floor and began to open it himself. The dog’s tail wagged harder and harder as the two inspectors dug deeper and deeper into the bag, taking out a wadded up sweatshirt (no drugs in the kangaroo pocket), two sunglasses cases (both with sunglasses but no drugs in them), a book (still no drugs), and other things until they got to the very bottom of the bag. The dog barked excitedly and I started to sweat. They pulled out a zip-top plastic bag…
Full of beef jerky. The dog went nuts. Flip was trying not to laugh. “Okay, little buddy, you want some? Maybe your guy there will let you have some.”
“That’s an Argentine dog,” Josie pointed out. “He doesn’t speak English.” Josie proceeded to tell the dog in Spanish that he could have some beef if he wanted and I swear the dog looked at him like he understood.
The policia chuckled a little and stuck the beef jerky in his jacket pocket for later and we all started to relax a little. He moved on to the side pockets of the backpack and I looked away.
When I looked back he was holding up a prescription pill bottle. Mine. He read my name off the label.
“That’s me.” I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say.
“This is a painkiller?” the policia asked me in English.
Flip spoke up. “It’s a muscle relaxant. That’s not even a controlled substance in the USA, you know.”
The two policemen put their heads together and then consulted the third. He radio’d to someone else and they stared at me while they waited.
I was definitely starting to sweat.
Barrett tried to come over and fix the situation and they told him in sharp terms to sit down. That didn’t stop Carynne from talking, though. “Daron, show them your hand.”
“Just do it.” She was in a seat behind the men, but you know they could hear her perfectly well. Her accent was worse than mine but she put in a couple words of Spanish anyway, to get their attention. “Señores, mira. This is the guy, come on, don’t you read the newspapers? This is the guy who saved the baby. He needs the drugs for his injury…” She went on like that while I reluctantly opened my hand to show them my stigmata (one of them crossed himself).
The dog came and licked my palm. Dog didn’t care one bit about a tense standoff situation. Dog was still thinking about the beef jerky, I’m sure.
The one received a reply by radio. “Es para dolor,” he confirmed. In other words, it’s a painkiller.
“It’s not,” Flip insisted. “It’s not even considered a controlled substance. Look it up.”
“Maybe in the States,” the lead inspector said. He gave me a long, hard look, and then gave Barrett a similar look, before putting the bottle not into the jacket pocket where the beef jerky went, but into the breast pocket of his shirt. I tried to swallow a lump in my throat that suddenly wouldn’t go away.
That look apparently said: keep quiet and confiscation will be your only worry. Make trouble and you’ll never get off the ground here.
We kept quiet and they finished the rest of the inspection without further incident. Ziggy, Stella, and Linn were the last clump of people to be done. Ziggy had his sunglasses on and acted like nothing was going on. He might’ve been asleep sitting up except that he did move to cross his legs at one point.
And then they were gone. As soon as the door had closed behind them, Carynne stood up. “That wasn’t an ‘inspection.’ That was a shakedown.”
Barrett stood up, too. “Yeah, well, I think they were disappointed they didn’t find more. They probably do a good business on the black market with resale.”
After that everyone began talking at once.
I put the palms of my hands against my eyes. I wasn’t processing what had just happened. I was just sort of in shock.
Flip patted me on the back. “It’s not as bad as it looks. They didn’t get everything.”
I lifted one hand to look at him.
Carynne crouched down in front of me. She was wearing a stylishly professional dress and jacket, but the dress was so short that I could see her panties when she squatted like that. “What’s the deal?” she asked Flip.
“That was three-quarters of our supply. I have the show-day doses packed in the equipment.” He shook his head. “It’s true what I said, you know. Flexeril’s not even on the schedule of banned substances.”
“It’s a painkiller,” I heard myself say.
“Not in the same sense as an opiate but–”
“It’s a painkiller,” I repeated.
No one argued with me the second time.
“So what’s the plan going forward?” Carynne asked.
Flip started to reply with something about the three shows remaining, and the schedule of days off…
I wasn’t really listening. I was thinking: shit, all this time I’ve been telling myself Vitamin F was okay because it was only a muscle relaxant, but what the fuck did I think that meant? Of course the muscles would relax when they didn’t hurt anymore. No wonder I’ve been drinking more between shows. No wonder everything seems awful whenever it wears off. Because everything starts to hurt again. Not just my hand. Everything. Because when you get used to not feeling pain, when that feeling comes back, it hurts.
“Rogelio can hook us up with weed I’m sure,” Flip was saying when I tuned back in to the conversation.
“No,” I said. “No weed. No hash oil. My head’s messed up enough already.”
“You sure?” Flip asked. “It–”
“Fucks me up every time. We’ll just have to go back to only using Flexeril on show day.”
Carynne looked back and forth between me and Flip and Colin. “How much were you using on non-show days?”
I looked at Flip who answered for me: “We’d crept up to two a day on bad days, which lately has been most days.”
“Good thing you’re keeping track because I don’t actually even remember taking it more than once a day,” I said.
“I know you don’t, boss,” he said affectionately. “And then there’s alcohol to intensify the effect.”
Carynne nodded. “Okay, I’m worried about what happens if you cut it out now, though.”
My mind boggled. I felt it bounce around inside my skull. “Waitasecond, just yesterday–or the day before, whenever it was–you were saying why can’t I start to cut down right away instead of waiting until we get home? And now you’re saying you’re worried about me cutting down?”
She sounded angry when she answered. “What? I’m not allowed to want you to cut down but also be concerned about the effects of you cutting down? What the fuck is wrong with you, Daron?”
The perpetual question. What the fuck was wrong with me. “Of course you’re allowed! I’m just pointing out… it come across kind of hypocritical, don’t you think?”
“That is a bullshit defense and you know it!”
I didn’t actually, but that’s the nature of bullshit defenses. You believe them when you’re deep enough in the shit. I don’t remember what I said after that but there were a couple more jabs back and forth between her and me saying stupid shit to each other before Flip tried to get us back on track.
“Look, I think we just have to kind of play it by ear,” he said. “We were already not in the most ideal situation with Daron’s pain management to begin with, and this is just the latest twist.”
“You know what? I don’t give a fuck about pain.” I was probably saying this all a little louder than I should have, but I was too upset to use my library voice. “Pain sucks but I can handle it. It’s not being able to do my job that I can’t handle.”
“We’ll get you onstage, boss, don’t you worry about that,” Flip said. “But it’s smart to have a strategy to manage your downtime. And by that I mean something other than raiding the nip stash on the plane.”
That goosed me pretty good. I felt a deep, ugly stab of guilt. “You know about that?”
He tried not to sound condescending, I think, but it came across that way anyway. “Yes, D, we know about that.”
Carynne was still mad at me, though. “Wait, you mean he’s been sneaking drinks behind your backs and not telling you?”
Flip gave a slow nod. “We figured he could do limited damage to himself two ounces at a time.”
“No, not cool! The whole point of you guys being in charge of Daron’s intake was to–”
“Keep track of it so he didn’t go overboard. It’s okay, Car. He’s not going overboard.” Flip was always as calm as a cucumber.
“This is not what we discussed! You guys know how dangerous it is to mix cyclobenzaprine and alcohol!”
“Well there’s hardly any cyclobenzaprine left to be worrying about now, isn’t there?” Flip said, as if the problem were solved.
Carynne stood up. “Why isn’t anyone taking this seriously but me?”
Colin tried to jump in at that point. “C, we take Daron’s wellbeing very seriously. Really. He’s doing fine. Well, okay, no he isn’t, but it isn’t because of an extra nip of whiskey or two per day.”
“Isn’t it? What is it then?”
I put up my hands, first waving at them to stop and then over my ears. “Stop it! Stop. Stop. Stop. No more. I can’t listen to you all fight about what’s going on with me any more. There’s too fucking much. It’s not about drugs! It’s not about this!” I held out my hand. “Everyone please shut up and leave me alone!”
As it turned out, that was when we got the signal to load the plane. I held myself together long enough to board and then I locked myself in the restroom at the very back and fell apart. And by fell apart I mean curled up in a ball on the toilet lid and cried/hyperventilated until my ribs hurt.
Haha. You just told them you could handle pain. Is this what you meant?
Yes, motherfucker, so just shut up.
When the announcement came that we were ready for takeoff and everyone needed a seatbelt they were definitely trying to give me the hint. Normally on our charter they didn’t make an announcement–the flight attendants just went around making sure we were buckled, and even then I’m not sure they enforced it all that strictly. But the last thing I, or the tour, needed, was me breaking my neck getting tossed around inside the restroom or something.
I debated whether I could just slip out and into a jumpseat in the galley where maybe no one would notice me.
Then there was a knock on the door. I wondered if it was a flight attendant. Or Carynne coming to yell at me some more. Or Flip with a nip. Or what.
Only one way to find out. I unlatched the door.
It was Bart. “Come on,” he said. That was all he said. Just, “Come on.”
That could mean a lot of things. But when you know someone for a long time and trust them, maybe it doesn’t matter what it could mean. He said come, and I went.
(I coulda sworn I used this song before, but I couldn’t find it, so here we go. -d)