Joey Holland: Pharmacopoeia : flash fiction : May 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement: My family never hid our crazy folks; they generally sat on the front porch and enjoyed the breeze just like the family who weren’t crazy. Come to think of it, we all had some crazy mixed in amongst our sanity. My mother cooked red-eye gravy every time she made country ham, just like anybody with southern colloquialisms. We never ever went to Hardee’s, the only fast food in our city in upstate South Carolina. Even after my two sisters and I had weathered Dad’s fall from congressman in the State House to convict in the State Pen, He still took us to eat at Cecil’s fish camp, and Cecil still brought a good shot of moonshine to Dad to drink. He often said, “The doctor said I should have just one drink before dinner,” while shaking a quart Duke’s mayonnaise jar with a pint of Even Williams bourbon and a little water and ice in said jar. Our family still has melodrama even though both my parents are long dead: Did he shoot her or did she shoot herself? Did he really burn the house down? We still have unanswered questions, my sisters and me.


As I grew in the art of getting high, I experienced progressively less bad encounters with drugs. After a year or so of practicing the craft, I began having soul stirring, epiphany inducing drug experiences. Prescription painkillers became my preferred poison and since a prescription was required to obtain the love of my life, my sisters and I became increasingly wily in our endeavors for pills. One didn’t need a prescription if the pills were bought on “the street.” The term “the street” brings street corner pushers to mind, but usually the transaction was made, at least by me, in some crazy person’s filthy kitchen or a biker’s back yard. My reputation with the drug dealers tarnished at about the same pace as it did with surrounding doctors, so the avenues toward drug-induced freedom become lanes and then footpaths, and some dried up altogether. Doctors began refusing appointments, and the very white trash I bought pills from became suspicious, and on a few occasions, I was not allowed to join the party.

“Sorry, Joey, but Deddy said not to let any Hollands come in because the last time you was here some pills got gone from the bathroom, and since we all heard you in there goin’ through the medicine cabinet, he thinks you took them.” 

To which I would reply, “That’s a goddamn lie! I can’t believe y’all would think that about me! I wouldn’t come in there now if you begged me.  Would you ask the old man to roll me a joint, at least?” 

Before my reputation got so bad, I would often go to the doctor with myriad health problems (really just the symptoms), most of them incredibly painful. My symptoms described a urinary tract infection, or worse, kidney stones. The fact that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me seemed beside the point. I was an incredible actor when in the examination room and I got an incredible amount of drugs for this behavior. I knew the symptoms of several painful conditions, so I mixed it up with the same few doctors in Clinton who would prescribe strong pain medicine. One by one, they caught on to my lies about my health and before long I couldn’t buy an appointment. If I did get in to see a doctor, I was admonished, advised to forget asking for strong medicine.

I went to the dentist many times for pain killers, but this usually entailed, at least for me, an extraction. It doesn’t take much thought to conclude that this is a limited engagement at best; I had only thirty-two teeth.

One of the many things that make this practice so sad is the dope is often undesirable, or at least less desirable. Many times I was prescribed Mepregan for the pain of tooth extraction. This little bit of heaven is Demerol and Phenergren combined, and it sometimes produces a hallucinogenic effect. 

Once I took Mepregan after a particularly drunk period of my life, when I’d been married awhile. My wife made Shrimp Creole one night, and I was trying hard not to seem high, so I tried to make small talk, complimenting her on dinner. That’s something else about Megregan; it makes the user feel as though something should be said, conversation should be made. This is a recipe for destruction, as stupid shit is bound to be said and feelings are hurt, people are slapped, etc. Anyway, my compliment would be “Honey this is the best steak I’ve ever had!” She would scream, “That is not steak, you stupid son of a bitch! Please, just shut the hell up!” 

I would say, “I’m sorry, you’re right.” Instantly, it would seem like she expected me to say something. I would look at her and think, “she wants me to compliment her on this… spaghetti,” and the whole thing would start over. She finally got up and left the room, carrying her plate to the kitchen for a little peace and quiet.

Another time Mepregan derailed me, I was cruising around with a guy I had just met while enjoying a head full of that aforementioned drug at my local watering hole.  He offered to smoke a joint with me, and I just couldn’t say no. I don’t know why I felt like I needed to smoke his pot since I was teetering on a chasm of insanity, but I did. We were in his truck, tooling around the backstreets when I noticed a hat on the seat between us. It was one of those Russian hats, the kind made of animal fur. As I touched the hat, it seemed to now be an animal, a cat. I would begin to pet the hat saying, “Nice kitty, who’s a pretty kitty? You are, that’s who… yes you are!!” I would then notice the guy staring at me. It would then dawn on me that I was petting a hat. I would say, “Oh, sorry, man! I thought it was a cat. Weird, huh?” An uncomfortable silence would ensue, but not a long one because I would soon break the silence…”Nice kitty! Good kitty!” The strangest thing about the whole Mepregan experience is that I took them over and over, dozens of times. Good times? 

Back twenty years ago and before, it was possible to call the doctor on the weekend for emergencies, and my sisters and I did this with alarming regularity. The drawback was that really strong stuff couldn’t be called in to the pharmacy. The upside was we could pretend to be somebody else, somebody who didn’t constantly bother doctors with fake illnesses. I could be a woman with menstrual cramps or an old man with gout. For this practice to be successful, a few things had to be known concerning procedure: 1) The doctor’s office must be called after hours or on the weekend. 2) The office had to have more than one doctor. 3) You had to know that the doctors sometimes did write prescriptions for whatever drug you were after. 

The way it worked was: call the office after hours and find out which doctor was on call. Call that doctor, saying you were the other doctor’s patients. Tell him/her you had gout?  Prickly heat? Painful discharge with a greenish tint? Kidney stones? Severed arm? Concrete plugged butthole? Whatever would get the pills. A good thing to remember in this game is, pride is a word we don’t use because we don’t know what it means. The whole practice was kind of dangerous and good intuition is essential concerning the doctor and the pharmacist. Either could alert the police and the party could be cut short before it had begun. I can’t believe we never got in any bad trouble for this. We did it a million times. 

Calling the doctor was an iffy, time consuming affair, but if all other avenues were exhausted for “building a head”, conversation would begin to lean that way. Cindy, Nan and I, if we were all in the deal, had a formula for distributing responsibility. Calling the doctor, going into the pharmacy to pick up the filled script, and paying for it were the three parts of the whole. Paying for it was easiest, but money was needed for this so whoever had some was expected to pay. The other two portions of the endeavor were tougher. I preferred the calling and I had a real flare for it. I liked to add a bit of humor, just enough to make us laugh on our end without alerting the doctor of any misdeeds. I would use names that were funny only to us, the punch lines of inside jokes. Or if I were calling for my ailing grandma, I would hold the phone to scream the questions to dear ole Granny in the other room. “He wants to know if your stool is hard! Hard stool!! Is your shit hard, Granny? You come talk to him!!!!!” Being completely inappropriate seemed to lend an air of authenticity to the whole undertaking. That the doctor heard me trying to get Granny to come to the phone made it seem like she really did exist. 

And then there were the times I called a local OB/GYN.  I had always known he was pretty loose with his prescription pad, but since I’m a guy, I couldn’t see him. I used to lie in bed at night and try to figure out a way to “make” that doctor. I finally called him on a weekend, and disguising my voice, explained how I was a patient of his and was having a particularly difficult period. He sent me, or rather Stacey Crane, thirty Lortab with three refills. It was wonderful. Over the next year or so, I call this doctor several times and he always fell for it. Pretending to be someone else is one thing, but pretending to be a woman is quite another. Every time I did it, I was convinced he was going to see through my ruse. One Sunday evening, I called and pretended to be Stacey Crane’s husband. I don’t know why I changed such a successful formula, as it had always worked so well before. I did, however, and when the doctor asked to speak to Stacey, things fell apart. I held the phone to my chest for a minute and then, disguising my voice, said “Hello” trying to sound like a woman in pain. After a brief but exhausting silence, the doctor said “Just how stupid do you think I am?” It took a gallant effort not to say, “Pretty damn stupid, Doc. You’ve been prescribing pain killers to a man for his period for over a year!” I just hung up the phone, ending what I considered a wonderful doctor/patient relationship.

The phone call was the most important part and authenticity was sacred. After the call was complete, we would all have to go to get it filled. Nan would be standing at the counter waiting to pay, I would be browsing through a magazine with one eye peeled on Nan and Cindy would be pricing whatever was close to the counter, giving her a bird’s eye view of the unfolding series of events. We kept a close eye on the proceedings mostly to make sure Nan didn’t steal some of the pills before they were divvied up but also to make sure everything seemed copasetic. If the pharmacist began making a phone call, we would simply leave and abandon our pills. This only happened a very few times, but my heart could be heard breaking all over the store when it did. Things normally went off without a hitch.

Another way we were able to get our grubby paws on pills was by stealing them from friends and/or family members. Of course we never got each other; we knew to keep our pills some place safe, like up our buttholes, but anytime a friend or family member was sick or hurt badly enough for us to reasonably suspect they had been prescribed strong opiate pain killers or cough suppressants, my sisters and I would kill each other to get to the unfortunate’s house to “help out”. If the friend or family member was close to us all, we’d all show up over there, fluffing the poor dear’s pillow or fixing them some lunch or dinner … a snack.

 “Here, let me clean up for you a little so you won’t have to worry about it. I don’t mind! I love you and want you to get better. Do you need one of your pain pills? Where are they? I’ll be right back!” our behavior was truly evil, but at the time I didn’t see it like that … really! I needed those pills worse than they did. Their body might have hurt somewhere but my soul was cracked and those pills were the only thing that could temporarily mend it, making life bearable. Besides, Tylenol or aspirin would probably work for them, at least somewhat, but it wouldn’t do shit for me! That was my flawed rationale; I really knew I was behaving badly, I just couldn’t stop.

It took me over twenty years to find a way to lose that reverence and awe I had for prescription painkillers. I haven’t abused any type of drugs in over eighteen years, but I remember with great fondness the way those magic pills make me feel.  Haven’t we enjoyed ourselves? I know one of us has.