Movies & Meth

SPECIAL SCREENINGS OF HITCHCOCK are happening within walking distance, at the strange new Trylon microcinema and the Riverview, our ‘hood’s best bragging right. I’m a Hitch-lover, but I underestimated the charge of seeing “The Birds” in a crowded house—with buffs hooting and laughing beyond usual Minnesota decorum.

I found details I’d missed: Tippi Hedron’s green suit that stays unruffled through a half-dozen attacks, only to be pecked to shreds at the end (along with her steely demeanor); Suzanne Pleshette’s brooding, loser-ish existence that (I see now) marks her as a casualty even before the birds finish her off.

It even felt topical. At the peak of the berserk attacks, townsfolk are left wondering if they themselves are to blame for nature turning on them. Nearly 50 years later, there can be no doubt.

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Nick Reding’s “Methland” explains the rural methamphetamine epidemic in terms of disappearing industrial jobs, shrinking wages, and an abundance of fertilizer, which contains a key ingredient for the drug’s production. Congress had a chance to shut down the source of ephedrine (another main ingredient) in 1985 and nip the problem in the bud. Instead they caved to the pharmaceutical lobby who cashed in on those who would crush up and cook the pills into a drug much more powerful and addictive than crack.

I have family in the immediate vicinity of Oelwein, Iowa, the town the book examines, and I live only 150 miles away. Yet I have no reference point for the “delusional violence, morbid depravity, extreme sexual perversion and almost otherworldly, hallucinogenic dimension of evil” meth has wrought in Reding’s description. Since reading “Methland”, I’m attributing people’s odd behavior to the drug: the woman clearly shoplifting at Walgreen’s who, when stopped for her receipt, abruptly hands her “purchase” to the cashier saying “just hold this while I have a cigarette”; The girl behind me at the coffee shop with the awful scabs on her face who struggled to pull her dollar out of her pocket.

Of course, you don’t know who’s a tweaker, who’s sick or who’s just unlucky (or maybe all three). It’s reassuring to think addiction only happens to people who’ve made lousy choices—people we’re separated from by good sense and propriety. But when it wrecks a whole region, we all share in the moral failing. That a drug can erode the humanity of so many people, families and communities and yet be invisible to those living comfortably nearby deepens the tragedy.

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