On Terminal Assholism

Written by Mishka Shubaly on . Posted in Books, Posts.


IT APPEARS TO be impossible for any review of Oran Canfield’s scarred memoir Long Past Stopping to get past the first sentence without mentioning that he is the son of Jack Canfield, the self-help grifter and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and other dreck—see? But the book is remarkable not for its author’s random paternity—Oran could have been anyone’s child and throughout much of the book, that’s exactly who he is, shuttled from relative to friend to colleague to acquaintance to stranger—but for the dry, unaffected voice and the plain unornamented language used to detail the near erasure of a soul in minute increments.


The narrative adroitly juxtaposes two vastly different chronologies. Oran’s almost Huckleberry Finn childhood, bouncing around bohemian America, jonesing for the strictly verboten refined sugar and television, juggling in a circus, delivering newspapers on a unicycle, growing a Hitler ‘stache and silkscreening cocks onto the girls’ volleyball team’s uniforms in high school and awkwardly losing his virginity to Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica is spliced into his adult life as an alienated, self-loathing drummer in San Francisco’s experimental/ noise scene which quickly descends into animalistic addiction, all told in Canfield’s no-bullshit prose.

“I hardly ever had problems with buying heroin, but the crack dealers were not to be trusted.They were always selling me bits of soap, drywall, even cat litter.Those guys had no fucking morals.”

Canfield wisely eschews both the emotional laser light show and the compulsive, desperate yuk-yuk-yuk of other druggie memoirists for just telling what happened, which is more than sufficiently funny, weird and sad, making Long Past Stopping both difficult to put down and difficult to read. In case you’d forgotten, tracing the reduction of a sensitive, intelligent young man to merely an appetite for heroin, crack and speedballs can be a little heartbreaking. “The crack dealer told me that the heroin guys were only two blocks away, and within a few days I was covering all the windows of Nora’s converted office space with cardboard and duct tape and ripping out a fair amount of the drywall looking for electronic devices that the cops were using to spy on me. Crossing a new line, I shaved most of my body hair off to get rid of the imaginary bugs that were crawling all over me. It was so goddamned unoriginal, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about them and scratching at myself.” At his nadir, Canfield calls to mind another articulate waster, Fred erick

Exley: “Suicide presupposes that something is being eliminated…. But what precisely was being eliminated in my case? Certainly not a man.Whatever I was eliminating was so inconsequential as to make the gesture one of trifling and contemptible ease.”Yeah, somebody light a candle, we’re about to go dark.

The drummer for Williamsburg’s own Child Abuse is slightly sunnier in person, at least after a couple of coffees. Seated at a picnic table in McCarren Park, he could be any one of us, hunched in a short-sleeve button down and perpetually rolling a cigarette. Oran’s clearly past the white-knuckle stage; his new life has taken hold. “Urges are so rare that when they do come, they’re a shock. It always feels like they will last forever, but it passes. For me, it’s creativity that silences those voices.That’s how I try to stay connected to the universe and without that, I shudder to think where I’d be.”

His “Terminal Assholism” thankfully hasn’t softened too much with sobriety— Child Abuse’s MySpace page proudly touts a review ending with the one-word sentence “Avoid.”When I asked him if Borders would be carrying Child Abuse releases now that he was a fancy author, he scoffed “Well, we like what we do.”When quizzed on his horrific trip on ibogaine, the powerful experimental hallucinogen that appears to cure many addictions (sometimes by killing the addict) the message he received was uncosmic: “It told me that I had to go to meetings and become a bike messenger.” Even after the ibogaine, he got hooked again: “My body just did what it was used to—it got off the train at 16th Street, it went and bought dope and it got hooked. I didn’t ride off into the fucking sunset,” he says, smiling. He’s so affable and open that it’s easy to forget that this guy has stared deep into the abyss.

Yes, there is no miracle cure and positive thinking especially will not cure your disease. You will not mystically figure it all out; you will be left in trouble, which is the human condition.The world is full of sorrows, large and small: when you’re not hooked on drugs, your desk chair is uncomfortable; your cheap shoes are making your knees hurt; your roommate is pissing in bottles in his room. Still, drinking coffee in the park, it may be enough to have taken that journey through the darkness and come out the other side.

> Long Past Stopping

by Oran Canfield (William Morrow), 336 pages