“Here, kid…the first one’s free.”

Boy, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that. It’s the classic “come-on” of the neighborhood “pusher” (dope dealer), heard on playgrounds across America every minute of every day. Yeah kid, the first one’s free, all right, but you pay a price just the same–your soul.

I know, because it happened to me. I was that kid on the playground, getting my first “taste” for free and getting “hooked” (addicted). That’s when I started hanging around different playgrounds. Pretty soon, I was showing up at playgrounds all over town until the free samples ran out. I became a master of disguise, passing myself off as different kids so I could keep getting that first “free one.”

It wasn’t long before I was reduced to wearing wigs and dresses. Ever run into a cute little blonde-haired girl named Sally Finkleman while you were out playing on the swings or the see-saw? That was me. It worked, too, until I was in my mid-thirties and the story about my “glandular condition” began to wear thin. You can’t fool anyone forever–not even “hop heads” (chronic drug users).

Pretty soon, the “high” simply wasn’t good enough anymore, and I was just itching to make the leap from marijuana to harder drugs. But then, it happened…the thing that changed my life. Saved it, in fact. While channel surfing one afternoon in search of something to “get off on” (enjoy) during my marijuana “high”, I saw my first episode of “Dragnet.”

Thanks to Joe Friday, I learned that LSD make you want to paint your face yellow and blue and stick your head in the ground. Or that people who are “high” often slur their speech so badly that they begin to talk exactly like Merv Griffin’s former bandleader, Jack Sheldon. Or that frequent drug users usually become addicted to other things, such as lava lamps and sitar music. And they dress funny, too.

“Dragnet” gave me a lot to think about, but I wasn’t ready to give up drugs just yet. Not until the night I dreamed that Joe Friday and Bill Gannon showed up in my livingroom. It seemed as real as anything. There was Joe, in his suit and tie, glaring down at me like I’d just officially announced my membership in the Communist party or something. I knew why they were there, and began my feeble protest. “Look, I like drugs, and nothing you say is gonna–“

“Listen up, punk,” Joe interrupted, “because this just might do your sorry ass some good. You think you’re unique, special, one-of-a-kind, ‘hot stuff’… a young kid, up and coming, fairly good-looking, moderately talented, could probably find his way out of a paper bag, if it were a small bag and he had a map…he gets a break, hits the big time, gets himself invited to the parties, the rave-ups, the coffee joints, the opium dens, the ‘love-ins’, the turn-ons, the bashes, the crashes, the bath houses…the ‘pleasure pits’ where the love is free and the only price you pay is your soul…”

“…and then one day you get ‘turned on’ to your first taste of pot, grass, reefer, dope, gage, loco weed, Mary Jane, Lincoln’s Birthday…you try a few puffs of ‘joint’ and then suddenly you go from being an up-and-comer to a down-and-outer…hopped up on happy weed and headed for a one-way trip to Nowheresville on the next cheap bus outta town…”

“Listen, dude, I–” I started to say.

“…and pretty soon you’re a familiar face in every back alley in town because you spend all your time turning tricks with winos for nickels so you can afford your next ‘fix’…doing things that would make a dog throw up his guts for just a few more uppers, downers, bennies, dexies, hexies, Richard Nixies, pixie stix…boopies, floopies, fuckles, schmuckles, feckles, grackles, pickles, poppers, boppers, floppers, door-stoppers…scooters, pooters, freakies, squeakies…”

“Stop it! You’re scaring me!” I screamed.

“Yeah, I’ve seen your kind, kid, I’ve been a cop long enough to see ’em all…the jerks, the punks, the creeps, the gang-bangers, the pill-poppers, the pud-knockers…not to mention the certified public accountants…and they all had one thing in common.”

“What…what’s that?” I stammered.

“They all got the first one free.” With that, Joe looked over at Bill. Bill nodded, and Joe nodded back, and they both looked at me. I woke up screaming.

And that’s why I’ll never take another drug. Because I’ve been there, done that, and suffered the consequences. Oh, I didn’t quite hit rock bottom…thanks to a guy named Jack Webb. But I came close enough to feel the fetid breath of doom in my face. And that’s why, as I write this, I am f***ing drunk on my ass on Old Crow Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Man, that is some good stuff. And better than any “high” you can get from drugs, let me tell you.

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