- Joey Ayala
(I’m writing this with Pagdinig ng Senado kaugnay sa umano’y Extrajudicial Killings on the TV and methamphetamine in the Google box.)
Cultural speed: Today’s cultural tempo is all about speed. Faster cars, faster devices and connections, faster profits, faster rappers, guitarists and drummers, faster athletes, faster career advancements, faster product innovations and obsolesences, faster pig-cow-chicken fatteners, faster crops, more and more at faster and faster rates. Speed, speed, speed. Achieve! Succeed! No wonder shabu is so popular – it fits right into the spirit of the times (alongside cancer, which is a cellular manifestation of the drive to accumulate stuff and become immortal). As long as we go for speed, the need for speed will always be with us.
Acceptable speed: Speed in its many forms – caffeine being the most popular and acceptable - is good for activities requiring heightened alertness and for driving the body beyond its usual limits. It is a working drug. It resonates to the needs of graveyard shift workers, vehicle operators, police and military night sentries and operatives, students cramming for exams, ditch-diggers, snatchers and burglars, etc. Speed helps produce better results – you don’t fall asleep on your job, you don’t get hungry, you react faster, breathe better, feel stronger.
Indigenous speed: Our bodies produce speed-like biochemicals to help us cope with fight-or-flight situations such as being chased by hungry, man-eating animals or riding-in-tandem ninjas. In the mountain provinces there is a leaf that is chewed to dull pain and hunger, and to fight fatigue. Ginagamit daw ito sa panahon ng digmaan, and is probably a local form of coca – the plant that yields cocaine, the substance that shabu is a hyped-up synthetic mutation of. You can also get speed from the bark of acacia trees.
Medical speed: In the early 80s I used speed in the form of a 25-centavo generic pill called ephedrine to ease asthma and rapid-fire sneezing fits. I didn’t know it was speed but a side-effect was that di ako inaantok kahit madaling araw na. This side-effect came in handy during the recording of my first album Panganay ng Umaga. We could only record after midnight because our recording studio (DEMS – Development Education Media Services) wasn’t all that soundproof and traffic noise was at a minimum during the vampire hours. Without the pill I would start sniffling and sneezing around bedtime and could do no work. With the pill I was fine and performed normally. You’ll also find speed in anti-depressants, diet pills, pills for kids with attention “problems” and pills for soldiers with heavy guilt trips.
Historical speed: A Lazar Edeleanu created amphetamine in Germany in 1887. Nagayoshi Nagai, a Japanese chemist, created methamphetamine from ephedrine (my asthma drug!) in 1892. Akira Ogata produced the crystal form in 1919 using iodine and red phosphorous. Breaking Bad! Speed was (and maybe still is --- who knows…) a regular part of the battle kits of German pilots and tank drivers. A. Hitler got daily intravenous speed fixes to stave off fatigue. Maybe that’s what amplified his delusions of grandeur and paranoia.
Speed limits: Shabu is hyper-concentrated speed. It brings instant and dramatic clarity and well-being. Used over time I suppose you could get used to this heightened tempo, this new-improved “normal,” and when the effects wear off after 3-4 hours you wouldn’t feel right and would therefore go for another speed trip. And one more. And another. And so on, up (but, really, down) the slippery slope.
Prolonged use erodes your health because you are constantly overdriving your body, constantly overriding the urge to rest, constantly straining for the now-normal grand feeling of energy, power and invulnerability. Your heart and other vital organs age faster than they should. You are speeding through life towards the other side, maybe feeling-bulletproof and above-the-law all the while.
Then, over time, all the fantasies fail, and you start suspecting your family and friends of sabotaging you, of stealing your ideas, of ruining your plans. Tamang-hinala. Then it becomes easier to steal their stuff because now you have emotional justification to do so – binabasag nila ang trip mo e.
Users with high self-control and a source of income can function reasonably well over decades of “proper” use with conscious compensatory diet and rest regimens. However, it takes a very short time – a few weeks, maybe 2 or 3 – for a regular user to reach the point of diminishing returns – where more of the drug is needed at shorter intervals in order to maintain the new drug-based “normal.” The erosion of social inhibitions that comes with the feeling of power and the need to maintain this power often leads to crime. Just like in politics! You can progress from using speed in order to work better --- to working (or stealing) in order to buy speed. You can get so ungrounded that you act on aggressive and violent impulses.
Profitable speed: Shabu street prices are more than 10 times the manufacturing cost. Drug lords probably don’t cry over busted drugs. Cheap stuff. The profits are so huge that there is probably a long line of druglords-in-waiting, waiting for those who got there first to get gunned down, or gunning them down themselves. Criminals like them are not afraid of breaking the law. They already know what they are doing. Users and street-level “pushers” (they don’t really force or push anyone, by the way) are easier to spot, easier to scare and, unfortunately, easier to rub-out if they know too much, or have pictures taken with the wrong people, or miss out on payments. For this reason, cutting demand is more logical than going after supply. There will always be supply… until there is no one left to buy.
Speedy solution: Aside from mass murder and instillation of fear, there is none. There’s no way speed will suddenly, speedily, disappear. You can’t prevent human ingenuity and curiosity from bearing fruit, for better or worse. There is a slow, complex solution though – and this entails developing a culture that can handle shabu. Same thing with tobacco, alcohol, guns, cars, money, sugar, nuclear weapons, fertilizer, religion, sexuality, school, government, banks… all substances, technologies, systems, etc. --- everything has a dual nature – one is helpful and good, the other is the polar opposite. We have to learn how to handle them and make them serve us, instead of the other way around. Meanwhile, “admit that the waters around you have grown…” and do what you can.
Slow speed: Toxins concentrate in fat cells. Exercise burns fat and helps purge toxins. Eat, drink, and rest well. Simultaneously, reduce your world’s psychic need for speed simply by SLOWING DOWN. Be lazy. Cool off. Deflate the expanding hot gas bubble of go-getting. Be less external-driven and dive deep inside or heaven-wards, whichever direction you are comfortable with. Treat humans more humanely. Relax. Breathe. Be.
Mourn the dead and empatize, but keep your head down lest you wind up in the wrong cemetery. Learn to live and function well in times of chaos and ambiguity. Don’t take FB too seriously. Protest, sure, but also be thankful that some people are trying to do their insane jobs. If you don’t like what they do, then show them how to do it. Like FVR, practice shooting at hands and feet. Disable them bad guys, like David Carradine a.k.a. Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu. Or work for the banning of guns and uniforms, proven in academic circles to be among the essentials for evil-doing. Or get people to stop eating dead animals so as to re-sensitize them to the sanctity of life. Or learn how to do therapy. Or help improve quality of mind and, therefore, of life. As Mother says: So much to do, so little time…
 From The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan.
(Singer-songwriter and poet Joey Ayala was born in Bukidnon, grew up in Cubao, lived in Davao for 17 years, and returned to and, for now, calls Quezon City home. He says in between gigs, he practices“cultural therapy on the side.”)