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Bill Clegg had a thriving business as a literary agent, a supportive partner, trusting colleagues, and loving friends when he walked away from his world and embarked on a two-month crack binge. He had been released from rehab nine months earlier, and his relapse would cost him his home, his money, his career, and very nearly his life. What is it that leads an exceptional yo Bill Clegg had a thriving business as a literary agent, a supportive partner, trusting colleagues, and loving friends when he walked away from his world and embarked on a two-month crack binge. He had been released from rehab nine months earlier, and his relapse would cost him his home, his money, his career, and very nearly his life. What is it that leads an exceptional young mind want to disappear? Clegg makes stunningly clear the attraction of the drug that had him in its thrall, capturing in scene after scene the drama, tension, and paranoiac nightmare of a secret life--and the exhilarating bliss that came again and again until it was eclipsed almost entirely by doom. He also explores the shape of addiction, how its pattern--not its cause--can be traced to the past. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is an utterly compelling narrative--lyrical, irresistible, harsh, honest, and beautifully written--from which you simply cannot look away.


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Bill Clegg had a thriving business as a literary agent, a supportive partner, trusting colleagues, and loving friends when he walked away from his world and embarked on a two-month crack binge. He had been released from rehab nine months earlier, and his relapse would cost him his home, his money, his career, and very nearly his life. What is it that leads an exceptional yo Bill Clegg had a thriving business as a literary agent, a supportive partner, trusting colleagues, and loving friends when he walked away from his world and embarked on a two-month crack binge. He had been released from rehab nine months earlier, and his relapse would cost him his home, his money, his career, and very nearly his life. What is it that leads an exceptional young mind want to disappear? Clegg makes stunningly clear the attraction of the drug that had him in its thrall, capturing in scene after scene the drama, tension, and paranoiac nightmare of a secret life--and the exhilarating bliss that came again and again until it was eclipsed almost entirely by doom. He also explores the shape of addiction, how its pattern--not its cause--can be traced to the past. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is an utterly compelling narrative--lyrical, irresistible, harsh, honest, and beautifully written--from which you simply cannot look away.

30 review for Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Debbie "DJ"

    Heavy stuff, and holy f***! Okay, will try to give this a proper review. This is one hell of a ride on the dark side of crack cocaine addiction. While I usually like my addiction memoirs with a heavy heaping of recovery, this focused mostly on the addiction itself. Sometimes though, the story itself can be so powerful it needs to be told. This is one mans journey from his first wonderful high to the brink of death. What I loved the most was Cleggs writing, and it's interesting to know that Clegg Heavy stuff, and holy f***! Okay, will try to give this a proper review. This is one hell of a ride on the dark side of crack cocaine addiction. While I usually like my addiction memoirs with a heavy heaping of recovery, this focused mostly on the addiction itself. Sometimes though, the story itself can be so powerful it needs to be told. This is one mans journey from his first wonderful high to the brink of death. What I loved the most was Cleggs writing, and it's interesting to know that Clegg also wrote "Did you ever have a Family." I was literally on the edge of my seat, reading in horror as addiction consumes each and every good thing in Cleggs life. It's amazing what addiction can do. Honestly, this book broke my heart. I'm looking forward to his sequel "90 Days," which chronicles his recovery struggles.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    Bill Clegg had it all: a glamorous, prestigious job as a literary agent; a handsome and caring indie filmmaker boyfriend; a gorgeous Manhattan apartment; a glittering social life; J. Crew catalogue model good looks... But he risked throwing it all away – along with tens of thousands of dollars – because of his addiction to crack cocaine, a downward spiral he chronicles with frank honesty in the harrowing, hard-to-put-down memoir Portrait Of An Addict As A Young Man. Clegg interweaves tales of his Bill Clegg had it all: a glamorous, prestigious job as a literary agent; a handsome and caring indie filmmaker boyfriend; a gorgeous Manhattan apartment; a glittering social life; J. Crew catalogue model good looks... But he risked throwing it all away – along with tens of thousands of dollars – because of his addiction to crack cocaine, a downward spiral he chronicles with frank honesty in the harrowing, hard-to-put-down memoir Portrait Of An Addict As A Young Man. Clegg interweaves tales of his scoring drugs (he had several regular dealers, but would also often simply get into a cab and ask, “Do you party?”) with sequences from his childhood. As a boy, he suffered from a mysterious condition that prevented him from urinating normally; this caused a rift between him and his father, and provided a well of guilt, shame and secrecy that followed him forever. At 12, he stole a bottle of whiskey from his dad’s liquor cabinet and drank it with a friend in the woods; at 15, he began taking crystal meth regularly. He graduated to pot, smoking it daily, before being introduced to crack in his mid-20s by a man nearly three times his age who also seduces him. Here is part of Clegg’s description of that first crack high: "He draws slowly as he sees the white substance bubble and pop in the flame. A pearly smoke makes its way down the stem, and he draws harder to bring it toward him. Fitz tells him to go gently and he does. Soon his lungs are full and he holds it the way he would hold pot smoke. He exhales and is immediately coughing. The taste is like medicine, or cleaning fluid, but also a little sweet, like limes. The smoke billows out into the living room, past Fitz, like a great unfurling dragon. As he watches the cloud spread and curl, he feels the high at first as a flutter, then a roar. A surge of new energy pounds through every inch of him, and there is a moment of perfect oblivion where he is aware of nothing and everything. A kind of peace breaks out behind his eyes. It spreads down from his temples into his chest, to his hands and everywhere. It storms through him – kinetic, sexual, euphoric – like a magnificent hurricane raging at the speed of light. It is the warmest, most tender caress he has ever felt and then, as it recedes, the coldest hand. He misses the feeling even before it’s left him and not only does he want more, he needs it." Amazing, right? Clegg certainly knows how to describe things. There are scenes detailing such bad decisions that I felt like crying out for him to stop as I was reading them. His paranoia is so extreme that he believes DEA agents and police are after him, in collaboration with taxi drivers. (These suspicions are never proven or disproven.) What’s most satisfying is that Clegg never makes facile conclusions about why he’s hooked on drugs. He discusses feeling like an imposter; he details his mother’s bout with cancer and his parents’ separation. But he is too smart to provide a direct link between these things and his need for self-immolation. Earlier this year, Clegg published a sequel to Portrait called Ninety Days, about his eventual recovery. I want to read it. He’s such a perceptive writer, and I'm looking forward to discovering what he's learned. But I think I'll wait until I’ve fully recovered from the intensity of his remarkable first book. UPDATE: I should have mentioned before that Clegg's then boyfriend, Ira Sachs, made a (fictional) film about this period in their lives – from his point of view. It's called Keep The Lights On and it's definitely worth checking out, before or after reading this. I reviewed the film upon release here.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    One of the finest memoirs I’ve come across (and I read a heck of a lot of them). To be great, a memoir has to plunk you right in the middle of a set of experiences that might be diametrically opposed to your own and make it all so real that you feel you are living it. Through this book I followed literary agent Bill Clegg on dozens of taxi rides between generic hotel rooms and bar toilets and New York City offices and apartments; together we smoked innumerable crack pipes and guzzled dozens of b One of the finest memoirs I’ve come across (and I read a heck of a lot of them). To be great, a memoir has to plunk you right in the middle of a set of experiences that might be diametrically opposed to your own and make it all so real that you feel you are living it. Through this book I followed literary agent Bill Clegg on dozens of taxi rides between generic hotel rooms and bar toilets and New York City offices and apartments; together we smoked innumerable crack pipes and guzzled dozens of bottles of vodka while letting partners and family members down and spiraling further down into paranoia and squalor. Every structural and stylistic decision works: the present tense, short paragraphs, speech set out in italics, occasional flashback chapters (including to the childhood shame of an odd urinary condition) distanced through third-person narration. Clegg achieves a perfect balance between his feelings at the time – being out of control and utterly enslaved to his next hit – and the hindsight that allows him to see what a pathetic figure he was becoming. The book’s last chapter, the last paragraph in particular, is just about breathtaking. I’ll try not to go overboard with quotes, but here are two excellent passages, one describing his initiation into crack with an older man, a former neighbor, and the other freezing the moment when he realizes just how low he has sunk: The taste is like medicine, or cleaning fluid, but also a little sweet, like limes. The smoke billows out into the living room, past Fitz, like a great unfurling dragon. As he watches the cloud spread and curl, he feels the high at first as a flutter, then a roar. A surge of new energy pounds through every inch of him, and there is a moment of perfect oblivion where he is aware of nothing and everything. A kind of peace breaks out behind his eyes. It spreads down from his temples into his chest, to his hands and everywhere. It storms through him—kinetic, sexual, euphoric—like a magnificent hurricane raging at the speed of light. It is the warmest, most tender caress he has ever felt and then, as it recedes, the coldest hand. He misses the feeling even before it’s left him and not only does he want more, he needs it. My towel comes off again, and I see in the mirror a rickety skeleton—elbows and knees and knuckles bulging like bolted wooden joints strung with thread. I am the marionette I have seen hundreds of times before but never thought was me. I am only sticks and strings and spasms. Money gone. Love gone. Career gone. Reputation gone. Friends gone. Hope gone. Compassion gone. Usefulness gone. Second chances gone. And if there had been any hesitation about dying, that’s gone now, too. I don’t know how anyone reading this could fail to feel a strong pang of compassion for Clegg. The fact that he is even alive after what he put his body through – let alone a recent Booker Prize nominee for his debut novel – is astonishing. I hope to make time for that novel very soon.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tayari Jones

    This book was pretty engaging. There is a train-wrecky appeal and Clegg is pretty good with phrase. (I especially liked it when he described a woman's accent as "tricky.") I would have liked it better if he had really reflected on the way his race/class kept him out of jail. While I was really fascinated by the idea that there are secret crack addicts everywhere, Clegg could have been omre reflective about the fact that addicts who can't check into Manhattan hotels to get high and order vodka for This book was pretty engaging. There is a train-wrecky appeal and Clegg is pretty good with phrase. (I especially liked it when he described a woman's accent as "tricky.") I would have liked it better if he had really reflected on the way his race/class kept him out of jail. While I was really fascinated by the idea that there are secret crack addicts everywhere, Clegg could have been omre reflective about the fact that addicts who can't check into Manhattan hotels to get high and order vodka for room service, who stumble home to buildings that don't have doormen-- these folks go to jail forever or die. Maybe it's not fair to judge him for not having a social justice agenga, but I found myself wanting to shake him-- particularly when he is so high and disheveled that he can't check into a hotel--- I think it's the W-- so he goes to SoHo to buy a new cashmere sweater. The writing is strongest and most self-aware when Clegg recounts some really painful moments from his childhood. He employs a risky device of talking about his child-self in third person, but he pulls it off.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelli

    This was dreadful! Not the writing, which was effective and quite good, but the picture it painted. A dizzying memoir of the two-month crack binge that defined rock bottom for a once rising star, this was depressing, paranoid confusion that was palpable. Deeply sad, my heart broke for “Noah,” and I was disappointed to not hear him mentioned in the acknowledgements...though it’s interesting to note that my disappointment is squarely based on the author’s depiction of him. This is just a very sad This was dreadful! Not the writing, which was effective and quite good, but the picture it painted. A dizzying memoir of the two-month crack binge that defined rock bottom for a once rising star, this was depressing, paranoid confusion that was palpable. Deeply sad, my heart broke for “Noah,” and I was disappointed to not hear him mentioned in the acknowledgements...though it’s interesting to note that my disappointment is squarely based on the author’s depiction of him. This is just a very sad cautionary tale. Memoirs are a brave undertaking and this one felt both honest and effective. 3.5 stars.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    This is the story of a privileged white dude who apparently became more addicted to crack than anyone has ever been addicted to crack ever before. He blames this on his childhood, which, although not perfect, is certainly no worse than the childhoods of countless people who have never smoked crack even once. He treats all his friends and loved ones shockingly poorly because all he cares about is crack, but they stay loyal to him anyway, I guess because they're all codependent? In a way, this boo This is the story of a privileged white dude who apparently became more addicted to crack than anyone has ever been addicted to crack ever before. He blames this on his childhood, which, although not perfect, is certainly no worse than the childhoods of countless people who have never smoked crack even once. He treats all his friends and loved ones shockingly poorly because all he cares about is crack, but they stay loyal to him anyway, I guess because they're all codependent? In a way, this book was kind of like crack, in that I wanted to keep reading it until there was no more book left to read, but the whole time I knew deep down that it was really bad for me, and when it was all over I felt wretched. In conclusion, with all the addiction memoirs out there, I don't really see why anyone needs to read this one.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wendy S.

    Sure I read it (hence two stars), and I read it quickly because 1) I'm addicted to books about screw ups, AND 2) I'm constantly looking for something that will make me feel differently about this particular disease. This "memoir" makes me sick. I don't care about Bill Clegg's self-indulgent childhood issues. In fact, they bore me. He comes across as an insecure, egotistical name-dropper who clearly has a long way to go if in fact he is still "recovering." Much like all books about addiction, my Sure I read it (hence two stars), and I read it quickly because 1) I'm addicted to books about screw ups, AND 2) I'm constantly looking for something that will make me feel differently about this particular disease. This "memoir" makes me sick. I don't care about Bill Clegg's self-indulgent childhood issues. In fact, they bore me. He comes across as an insecure, egotistical name-dropper who clearly has a long way to go if in fact he is still "recovering." Much like all books about addiction, my heart goes out to his family and the countless others he has hurt.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy Bruestle

    3.5 STARS This is my first Audio-book that I have listened to without also following along in an actual book. I don't really know how I feel about it. But I'm going to do my best to explain. First off, this book was actually quite difficult for me to finish. Multiple times I found myself debating whether to just stop listening and start a different book instead. Why, you ask? Well, because I'm a recovering addict myself. Currently I have 15 days short of 2 and a half years clean and sober. Althou 3.5 STARS This is my first Audio-book that I have listened to without also following along in an actual book. I don't really know how I feel about it. But I'm going to do my best to explain. First off, this book was actually quite difficult for me to finish. Multiple times I found myself debating whether to just stop listening and start a different book instead. Why, you ask? Well, because I'm a recovering addict myself. Currently I have 15 days short of 2 and a half years clean and sober. Although crack wasn't my only drug of choice, or even my main one, this audiobook was extremely triggering for me. Luckily I have been in recovery long enough to have made plans for such things, in order to keep me from relapsing. Not to mention my beautiful daughter who is now almost 10 months old. She keeps me sober. I know I have to do it for me, and I do. But my love for her is WAY more powerful than my love for myself. I honestly believe she saved my life, even though she was born when I was already in sobriety. THANK GOD. I don't care to go into detail as to what parts of the book triggered me, but let's just say that it definitely had me thinking back to my past quite a bit. Due to my personal bias with this book, I feel as though I cann0t give a fair review, so I am just going with my heart on this one. I don't feel like I can really rate this book or say what to change or not change, because this is a memoir, you can't change your experiences. Although I would've liked the author to talk a little more about how he got better, and how he is doing today and the importance of getting help and not being ashamed...even if it wasn't part of his story...maybe at the end or something. Addiction is such a real thing...and let me tell you... IT DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Judith

    I admit that I am a sucker for stories about addiction. You could even say I am addicted to them. (groan!) But now I know what I want for my last "meal" ----and it is a nice chunk of crack. Really, it sounds like something that everyone should experience once in a lifetime but can't for obvious reasons. To paraphrase the poet, it sounds like . . ." all we know of heaven and all we need to know of hell. . " Bill Clegg is a literary agent in NYC and he was living the dream. He appears on his book I admit that I am a sucker for stories about addiction. You could even say I am addicted to them. (groan!) But now I know what I want for my last "meal" ----and it is a nice chunk of crack. Really, it sounds like something that everyone should experience once in a lifetime but can't for obvious reasons. To paraphrase the poet, it sounds like . . ." all we know of heaven and all we need to know of hell. . " Bill Clegg is a literary agent in NYC and he was living the dream. He appears on his book jacket as model-handsome. At the time of the memoir he was living with his partner, Noah, a seemingly flawless mate, in an incredible apartment given to them by Noah's wealthy grandmother. He and a friend had just started their own literary agency and he has a large group of friends and family and clients. I won't give away the whole story because it is rather suspenseful writing, even though you are practically told from the start that the house of cards is all going to fall. What makes it such compelling reading even when you know where it is headed, are the details----missing airplane flights: check in for the flight and then take a cab back to an airport hotel to smoke some crack, planning to get back in time to catch the flight; the paranoia of thinking that every taxi cab driver is working for the DEA; meandering down a street with exclusive shops to find a leather shop which can make extra holes in his belt before his pants fall down; the ease with which these repeated drug transactions are made. The latter is particularly fascinating. He made calls sometimes once or twice a night to get more drugs, and then would run out to find an ATM wherever he was so that he could take out $300 at a time, to pay for the drugs at each installment. My only quibble is with the style of the modern day memoir, used here. Why do we have to jump back and forth in time so much? He is five; then college; current day; drug days; then back to six, then drug days. Because I read so quickly, at each transition I had to ask myself, who are these guys with him, his grade school friends or his crack companions? It is dizzying.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Harrowing, with a can't-look-away-oh-god-I-want-to-look-away quality that fairly pulls the reader through the pages. I know crack addicts but haven't read any accounts of the addiction from the inside, and I found Clegg to be adept at giving a sense of what serious substance abuse must be like for the user. The rampant paranoia, the way the drug extends and collapses time, the peaks of the highs versus the plunges into the blackest of lows—he nails all of this with an unflinching eye, and withou Harrowing, with a can't-look-away-oh-god-I-want-to-look-away quality that fairly pulls the reader through the pages. I know crack addicts but haven't read any accounts of the addiction from the inside, and I found Clegg to be adept at giving a sense of what serious substance abuse must be like for the user. The rampant paranoia, the way the drug extends and collapses time, the peaks of the highs versus the plunges into the blackest of lows—he nails all of this with an unflinching eye, and without ever lapsing into sentimental overstatement. And I was grateful for that. It would be easy to hate Clegg from this portrait, and some readers below certainly admit to finding him repulsive. But that's okay, as Clegg doesn't cut himself any slack. He details just how awful he was to those who loved him, just how much he counted on them to pick him up after he'd cast himself down, just how much money he burned through by feeding it into a crack pipe. So while it would be easy to hate him, the book convinces you that he actually is an addict and in doing so, earns him a measure of forgiveness. A lesser writer would try to write excuses into the book, but Clegg understands that there is no excuse or explanation for addiction. It just picks up the person and doesn't let go. And so he just lets the book-as-testament stand for itself. It either makes the case or doesn't, and to try to excuse himself would have been unseemly. It is what it is. And what it is is a particularly effective portrait of someone throwing his life away. That the book exists is the only bright spot here, because reading, we know he comes out the other side, clearly able to create something approaching art.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    "It doesn't feel the least bit wrong in those first seconds after exhaling the familiar smoke, no more than a reunion with an old friend, a returning to the most incredible conversation I've ever had, one that got interrupted seven months ago and, now that it's started up again, hasn't skipped a beat. But it's more than just a conversation, it's the best sex. The most delicious meal, the most engrossing book-it's like returning to all of these at once, coming home, and the primary feeling I have "It doesn't feel the least bit wrong in those first seconds after exhaling the familiar smoke, no more than a reunion with an old friend, a returning to the most incredible conversation I've ever had, one that got interrupted seven months ago and, now that it's started up again, hasn't skipped a beat. But it's more than just a conversation, it's the best sex. The most delicious meal, the most engrossing book-it's like returning to all of these at once, coming home, and the primary feeling I have as I collapse back into my desk chair and watch the smoke roll though my office is: why on earth did I ever leave?" Another memoir that takes you through the agony of addiction. I especially loved the way he allowed you to recognize the danger signs before his relapses. You could see, along with him, that he was heading down the wrong direction and that you could do nothing but watch him train wreck. Stark in it's reality. Very detailed in his descriptions, not merely of the acts, but of his emotions and thoughts. You begin to feel his greatest love affair was with the drug that would kill him, and it feels only too true. I give it 4 stars for what it is and what I picked it up for, but not for impressionable readers.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    When I read the sentence, "At the very center of things and at the farthest edge," I was hooked. How many of us have felt this way? This isn't your typical "how I overcame my drug addiction memoir." Bill Clegg explains in detail his descent into crack madness and his overwhelming guilt in letting his family, friends and basically, everyone he knows down. Except, unlike most, he is addicted to crack and doesn't care about making amends or the consequences or losing his life. It doesn't matter. On When I read the sentence, "At the very center of things and at the farthest edge," I was hooked. How many of us have felt this way? This isn't your typical "how I overcame my drug addiction memoir." Bill Clegg explains in detail his descent into crack madness and his overwhelming guilt in letting his family, friends and basically, everyone he knows down. Except, unlike most, he is addicted to crack and doesn't care about making amends or the consequences or losing his life. It doesn't matter. Only the pipe and the next hit. For anyone who has lived, loved and been a victim of addiction, this memoir is for you. I couldn't put it down, felt sympathy for the author and am hoping he can stay clean for the rest of days. This read is an intense memoir about the dangers of drug addiction and the realization that it really is up to the addict to make the changes,unfortunately.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Bill Clegg had it all and he lost it to Crack. He takes you directly inside the frightening mind of an addict on a two-month bender. He makes the power of cravings, the fog of paranoia, the disintegration of reason, the incessant whispers of suicide, and the glow of intoxication palpable. I found myself wanting to reach into the book and block his inevitable fall. The author finally enters rehab and appears to begin again but what comes next is unclear, which is a true reflection of anyone’s rec Bill Clegg had it all and he lost it to Crack. He takes you directly inside the frightening mind of an addict on a two-month bender. He makes the power of cravings, the fog of paranoia, the disintegration of reason, the incessant whispers of suicide, and the glow of intoxication palpable. I found myself wanting to reach into the book and block his inevitable fall. The author finally enters rehab and appears to begin again but what comes next is unclear, which is a true reflection of anyone’s recovery story.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Britton

    (EDITED REVIEW) I've always been bizarrely fascinated in the mythos of the junkie. I have an odd love of addicts, alcoholics, abusers, I guess that's why I keep coming back to such authors as Burroughs, Bukowski, Welsh, or Thompson. They bring a sense of danger that brings you out of the mundanity of life, but also a sense of vulnerability that you have to peel back in order to see. But then there's such authors, like Philip K. Dick or the author of this book, Bill Clegg, who seek to break the m (EDITED REVIEW) I've always been bizarrely fascinated in the mythos of the junkie. I have an odd love of addicts, alcoholics, abusers, I guess that's why I keep coming back to such authors as Burroughs, Bukowski, Welsh, or Thompson. They bring a sense of danger that brings you out of the mundanity of life, but also a sense of vulnerability that you have to peel back in order to see. But then there's such authors, like Philip K. Dick or the author of this book, Bill Clegg, who seek to break the myth. But not because they're the concerned parents, but rather because they've lived it and they know the truth. I discovered this book when I was a wee lad in the 7th grade, I realize now that I probably was not supposed to be reading this at such a young age, but I was already reading more mature stuff like The Walking Dead, Watchmen, Catcher In The Rye, 1984, Brave New World, Batman: The Killing Joke, etc. So I was genuinely intrigued to see what this book was about, and boy was I surprised to read about very raw and explicit descriptions of gay sex, taking drugs, and the lengths and lows that this man would go through in order to get his next hit. I was quite impressed with the way that Clegg pulled you into the scene and forced you into living in the moment alongside himself. It added a touch of humanity that I've rarely seen in a book before or since. As I read this book again, I've found that it's not aged at all since I last read it. Like with Dick's A Scanner Darkly, Clegg abandons any sense of sentimentality that's found in other junkie books like with Burroughs, or any reveling in the insanity like Thompson or Welsh, or even the empathy of Dick. Clegg takes the cynical, Bukowski edge where he exposes himself to the reader, and it's every bit as distasteful, uncomfortable, and raw as you'd imagine. He also steals from Dick in showing the mundanity of addiction as well as how he completely hits rock bottom as he throws his life, partner, job, and practically everything else in order to support his crack addiction. But it also explores how he got into drinking and drugs when he was used and manipulated by an older man, who got him into substances and would later cause his descent into addiction and nigh madness. Clegg's writing is lyrical, but also raw, like I mentioned earlier. He purposely avoids the 'AA' type of story where he found redemption and everything's been fine since, but he painfully and rawly illustrates the lasting emotional scars that he left on himself and the people he cared about. Portrait is not a happy story, yet it is full of hope that he'll get better and continue to, giving himself one day at a time I guess I should mention how I admire raw honesty in a work, no matter if it's fictional or nonfictional. Clegg's writing is sublimely beautiful, in a brutal, heart wrenching, and downright uncomfortable sort of way. A scene that always sticks with me is when Bill is having sex with a male prostitute and his boyfriend is sitting right next to him, holding his hand in tears as Bill does the act, or the escapades that Bill goes on in order to get more drugs as well as trying to avoid the consequences of using such drugs, even as the consequences are crushing down on him. To say the least, Portrait is an addiction memoir that sticks out due to its honesty, lyricism, as well as Clegg utilizing his experiences in order to give people a haunting warning of what happens when you do drugs. It hits home so hard that it might've even shook hardened addicts like Bukowski or Burroughs. In either case, this is a book that's worth the trouble and heart ache to read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kats

    Reading Bill Clegg's memoir on his crack-smoking days (or rather, months) is like watching a train crash; you can't stop it from happening, it's causing pain and destruction to everyone in its path and there is a great potential for fatalities. Thankfully, in Bill Clegg's case we know it all turns out alright because we got to enjoy his first novel Did You Ever Have a Family published earlier this year. But during some of his crack binges, so vividly and brilliantly described, written almost lik Reading Bill Clegg's memoir on his crack-smoking days (or rather, months) is like watching a train crash; you can't stop it from happening, it's causing pain and destruction to everyone in its path and there is a great potential for fatalities. Thankfully, in Bill Clegg's case we know it all turns out alright because we got to enjoy his first novel Did You Ever Have a Family published earlier this year. But during some of his crack binges, so vividly and brilliantly described, written almost like poetry, I had to remind myself that he lives to tell the tale. In fact, I wonder if his account of smoking crack was almost too brilliant for me? At least I found myself thinking on more than one occasion "Wow, this stuff is amazing, I should try it!" because.... "It doesn't feel the least bit wrong in those first seconds after exhaling the familiar smoke, no more than a reunion with an old friend, a returning to the most incredible conversation I've ever had, one that got interrupted seven months ago and, now that it's started up again, hasn't skipped a beat. But it's more than just a conversation; it's the best sex, the most delicious meal, the most engrossing book. It's like returning to all of these at once, coming home, and the primary feeling I have as I collapse back into my desk chair and watch the smoke roll though my office is: why on earth did I ever leave?" Curiosity killed the Kats, so I'll stay clear of crack cocaine and think of this as a 'cautionary tale' and of Bill Clegg as 'taking one for the team'. Except, he is not part of any team, is he? He is, most likely, in the minority amongst crack addicts, or is it just my impression that most crack users aren't pretty, privileged, educated, successful, white boys with $70'000 in a checking account staying at fancy Manhattan hotels where they can order endless pitchers of vodka from room service and piles of rock from their friendly ("Happy") neighbourhood dealer?! He comes across as selfish, entitled, ruthless and reckless with no consideration for his caring, supportive (and enabling?) boy-friend, his family, his friends and his business partner. At the same time, the fact that he chose to be so honest and show this ugly side of his personality, exposed by the excessive drug use, makes him more human and sympathetic to me. I chose the audio book which Bill Clegg read himself. His flat, monotone voice that detracted from the enjoyment of Did You Ever Have a Family actually worked very well for the retelling of his drug-fuelled days. I will check out "the sequel" to his drug days, Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery to learn about his time in rehab and the arduous road back to recovery. 3.5 stars

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gracey

    Well... basically, this book made me feel like an asshole because I just couldn't muster up much sympathy for the author. The man has what seems like the perfect life in NYC; in love, great fucking apartment, great fucking job, great fucking friends and then becomes a crack addict. And why did he become a crack addict? I think because his Dad was hard on him? Not just hard, that's not fair; he was mentally and emotionally abusive to the author and the whole family. But, still. I really couldn't i Well... basically, this book made me feel like an asshole because I just couldn't muster up much sympathy for the author. The man has what seems like the perfect life in NYC; in love, great fucking apartment, great fucking job, great fucking friends and then becomes a crack addict. And why did he become a crack addict? I think because his Dad was hard on him? Not just hard, that's not fair; he was mentally and emotionally abusive to the author and the whole family. But, still. I really couldn't in any way relate to the author's story. I mean he was well-educated and by all accounts bright and yet he still persisted, I mean, really persisted in this self-destructive behavior. And it felt like he blamed his enabling boyfriend for part of it. I understand that enabling is never good, but, Dude, even if ol' boy had left, you still would have kept this shit up. Also, I'm just going to say it. Any non-white crackhead attempting to buy cashmere turtlenecks and check into the hotels the author did would have been arrested immediately. But, white privilege allowed this particular junkie to run around on the streets blowing close to 70K on drugs, alcohol and sex without being arrested. And then when he's clean, someone hands him another job as a literary agent and a new boyfriend gives him money to buy a place in NYC. See? I'm an asshole. Read the book if you want, but don't if you lack empathy. Because if you lack empathy, you won't feel bad for him, you'll feel bad about yourself.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    excellent choice for audiobook. not too long and short, accessible chapters. honest, gritty, interesting.

  18. 4 out of 5

    christa

    The first time Bill Clegg tries smoking crack he’s in an apartment in New York City with an upstanding citizen from his hometown, a handsome silver-haired lawyer who is older than even his father. And, whoa, is this a good time. Clegg describes it as a new surge of energy, a perfect oblivion, a kind of peace, kinetic, sexual and euphoric, a hurricane, a warm tender caress. The naughty, drug fueled, paranoia and urination fascination memoir Portrait of a Young Man as an Addict is the literary agen The first time Bill Clegg tries smoking crack he’s in an apartment in New York City with an upstanding citizen from his hometown, a handsome silver-haired lawyer who is older than even his father. And, whoa, is this a good time. Clegg describes it as a new surge of energy, a perfect oblivion, a kind of peace, kinetic, sexual and euphoric, a hurricane, a warm tender caress. The naughty, drug fueled, paranoia and urination fascination memoir Portrait of a Young Man as an Addict is the literary agent’s story about the time he went on a two-month crack bender that resulted in losing his business, his boyfriend, lots of weight, his home and the $70,000 he had in his bank account. It’s a repetitive cat-and-mouse capade during which Clegg bounces from nice hotel to nice hotel to seedy corners to both chase a high and outrun the people who are trying to help him -- including his boyfriend Noah, a saintly enabler slash filmmaker, and the faceless men dressed in JC Penney’s-ware who Clegg believes are tailing him.  In between these horrible ideas, Clegg also writes about growing up and his pee problems. It’s an obsession that finds him standing over toilets for an hour at a time. He fears the sting of release, and this always ends with him whizzing all over the walls with a nob that has become bloodied from pinching. It’s here that he shows the first skills that he will use as, at first, a functioning addict.  He plots out ways to appear as though he is a functional pisser, when actually he has specific bathrooms and outdoor spaces that he prefers, where he can perform the complicated rub and jump choreography that he requires to dribble.   Clegg is indiscriminate about the wheres and with-whom of his addiction, regularly spotting a certain look, darkened eyes, on a stranger’s face and asking, “Do you party?” before inviting the cab driver or whoever back to a hotel for some sex, drugs and crack rock (‘n’ roll). He’s got something over a lot of crack addicts in that he’s got a lot of money in the bank which means he can always hole up in a place that is nice enough to deliver bottles of Kettle One directly to his room. Instead of getting to the point of selling his body, he tends to be the one tossing bills on the nightstand. There is a sort of petulant rich kid on extended vacation-ness to his addiction, a catch-me-if-you-can snickered over his shoulder as he tries to avoid the inevitability of death or rehab. Bret Easton Ellis might have written this character, although it’s Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City that Clegg draws his own comparison to. His rock bottom comes when he has finally made the aesthetic shift from someone with the chic structure of a gay Kennedy to someone who is basically told that “this hotel doesn’t serve your kind.”  None of this money, prettiness or support system diminishes the fact that this is a guy with a major problemo, who is willing to let crack take precedent over his lover, his family and the single most important literary event of his young career. At the apex of the story, he’s in possession of enough crack to wipe himself out a dozen times over. And because this book exists, as does a follow up and he still shows up on Page Six once in awhile, the assumption is that the final act of intervention worked. Although, in this memoir at least, it’s hard to say why. There isn’t a single moment when he looks in the mirror and thinks: “Dude. This has to stop. You’re a complete mess.”   Most addiction memoirs are pretty similar. Addiction doesn’t really manifest itself in new ways that challenge a reader’s imagination. It’s all painful, it’s all impossible, it’s all sneaky and filled with tender non-addicts who love so hard and then suddenly just can’t anymore. Addiction memoirs are formulaic, just like a lot of genres. But this one is extra ugly and extra desperate and more than a little loathsome. And it’s just so well written with these crazy-visual details and an almost poetic, but not in that overwrought way.  There was a scene in the final chapters when my face began to shake involuntarily and my eyes filled with tears and I felt like someone had misplaced the couch and accidentally set it on my chest. I’m not sure why, but it just socked me right then and there and I had to remove myself from the story so I didn’t totally lose my mind. So, wow. Not sure how that happened. Also fun fact: Noah is actually a pseudonym. And, as filmmakers do, he's made one about a foreign filmmaker and his drug and sex addict boyfriend. Cannot. Wait. To see it. I'm dying to get into that guy's noggin. 

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I first read an excerpt from this drug-addiction memoir in New York Magazine earlier this summer. While I've had my fill of drug-addiction memoirs (and memoirs about nervous breakdowns, in case you care) and thus find any craving of such subject matter more than quenched, I found myself totally enthralled by the text, and in particular, Bill Clegg's voice. Plus, the guy was a wildly successful literary agent, an insider, whose decline was marked by an addiction to crack. I wanted more. I put my I first read an excerpt from this drug-addiction memoir in New York Magazine earlier this summer. While I've had my fill of drug-addiction memoirs (and memoirs about nervous breakdowns, in case you care) and thus find any craving of such subject matter more than quenched, I found myself totally enthralled by the text, and in particular, Bill Clegg's voice. Plus, the guy was a wildly successful literary agent, an insider, whose decline was marked by an addiction to crack. I wanted more. I put my waitlist for the book at the library. More than two months later, the book became available to me. The book isn't about recovery--it's about addiction told in a most unfiltered, unblinking narrative. There's a craft essay on Brevity by Kerry Cohen that emphasizes the importance and necessity to "sit with your flawed, imperfect self, silence your internal judge, and allow yourself to write toward meaning." Bill Clegg does just that, and his book is an example of how I need to write with such brutal honesty. The other craft element I found valuable was the structure of this memoir. The book flips back and forth between the main timeline of Clegg's addiction, and snippets of childhood, aptly written in third person. There is no overt connection between the two narratives, and yet there is connection between the shame in his childhood and the shame that drives him to self-destruction in his adulthood. The structure of this memoir is duly noted in my mind. Also, for the record, this is the first book I've read since Vonnegut's Sirens of Titans--for some reason, I haven't been able to finish a book since Vonnegut. I have tried and tried to read other books, resulting in a stack of books on my nightstand, all with bookmarks at some halfway mark. This book? I began and finished this book in one day/night. If I could give this book 3.5 stars, I would. But there's no 1/2 option. Thus, the 4 stars. First few lines: "I can't leave and there isn't enough. Mark is at full tilt, barking hear-it-here-first wisdom from the edge of his black vinyl sofa. He looks like a translator for the deaf moving at triple speed--hands flapping, arms and shoulders jerking. His legs move, too, but only to fold and refold at regular intervals beneath his tall, skeletal frame. The leg crossing is the only thing about mark with any order. The rest is a riot of sudden movements and spasms--he's a marionette at the mercy of a brutal puppeteer. His eyes, like mine, are dull black marbles."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I knew about Bill Clegg as a high powered literary agent (Nicole Krauss and Diane Keaton are two of his many notable clients; Keaton dedicated her own memoirs to him) before I knew of him as a crack addict. Indeed in this memoir he is both. He actually has a follow-up coming out this month and a review of it is what prompted me to read this first... I'd long since meant to pick it up but hadn't yet. In any case, this is a harrowing, paranoid tale of a multi-month bender. I truly cannot comprehen I knew about Bill Clegg as a high powered literary agent (Nicole Krauss and Diane Keaton are two of his many notable clients; Keaton dedicated her own memoirs to him) before I knew of him as a crack addict. Indeed in this memoir he is both. He actually has a follow-up coming out this month and a review of it is what prompted me to read this first... I'd long since meant to pick it up but hadn't yet. In any case, this is a harrowing, paranoid tale of a multi-month bender. I truly cannot comprehend the stress his loved ones (and business partner!) were under during this time. I guess that can be said about the loved ones of any addict. I'm immensely grateful to have never been in their shoes. I do not think I would’ve had the patience or compassion. His boyfriend was a goddamned saint. Anyway, this is well-written and fierce and he touches on some truly heartbreaking childhood moments. The paranoia got to be a little much at times, but I suppose that is kind of the point. I did appreciate that he frequently admits not knowing the order of things, which is rare for a memoir but shouldn't be. Interestingly, he seems to have a lot of shame but very little remorse (it’s very “yup, that happened”). It’s still so odd to me regular upscale kind of people use crack. It seems such a “lowbrow” drug but of course in the end it’s probably all the same. Then again, the man was on his last dollars, totally strung out, and was still checking into fancy hotels. Overall there isn’t a strong cautionary tale here. Aside from the boyfriend he got all his old stuff back (money, prestige, job) which is somewhat bothersome but I suppose honest. Apparently he’s just too irresistible. Google his name and you’ll see not only does he have a second memoir coming out but that there are two other works out about him right now (one book, one movie). He’d be interesting to meet in person.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeannie

    Reading this book was like being on a runaway train that you know is going to crash. Like seeing a tornado heading your way and not being able to get out of its path. His writing was so deep it had my mind on overdrive. I got sucked into his story from the very first chapter. I was headed down this path at one time so I can understand the allure of crack, the rush of that first hit, the need to chase it, the horrible craving and searching for more ,not caring how I looked or acted, not caring who Reading this book was like being on a runaway train that you know is going to crash. Like seeing a tornado heading your way and not being able to get out of its path. His writing was so deep it had my mind on overdrive. I got sucked into his story from the very first chapter. I was headed down this path at one time so I can understand the allure of crack, the rush of that first hit, the need to chase it, the horrible craving and searching for more ,not caring how I looked or acted, not caring who I hurt. It was hard to read because for me it brought back all those horrible feelings that I know I never want to feel again. Thankfully I saw this addiction for what it was and was able to walk away from it and where I knew it was taking me. I can understand why his family and friends stood by him through all this, that is what you do for someone you truly love and are trying to help. My sister did the same for me and I am forever grateful. My heart went out to him, he was such a lost soul and he only hints at why. That really had me intrigued so I just kept turning the pages hoping to find the answer. He seems to be deeply troubled over a childhood problem that was left untreated.I don't believe he's out of the woods yet, but I pray and hope he is. Some of his perceptions on life were so deep and personal for me that I actually got stuck in them and found myself reading certain paragraphs over and over while my brain was trying to process them. This was a book that made me remember some bad experiences in my life, some of his thoughts and feelings used to be mine so I truly felt a connection with him. I think this guy is a powerful writer. I'm looking forward to more of his work.

  22. 4 out of 5

    P.J. Tiberio

    I really enjoyed this book. I read a comment on how he came off as egotistical and selfish and that he had a lot of work to do. What I would say to that is this books purpose was to portray the mind of an active addict. Addiction is riddled with arrogance, self-preservation, control and selfishness. When someone is actively suffering from an addiction these are the qualities that they display. I found his narrative to be full of truth and honesty. He showed the brutal desperation from which addi I really enjoyed this book. I read a comment on how he came off as egotistical and selfish and that he had a lot of work to do. What I would say to that is this books purpose was to portray the mind of an active addict. Addiction is riddled with arrogance, self-preservation, control and selfishness. When someone is actively suffering from an addiction these are the qualities that they display. I found his narrative to be full of truth and honesty. He showed the brutal desperation from which addicts suffer. I cringed throughout the book wondering how someone could live for that long with no sleep and no food with a body riddled with toxins and the only energy supply provided by vodka. As a whole it was a thrilling read. However, if you aren't familiar with addiction and recovery I don't think I would recommend this book to you.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Stellar writing, excellent editing; deserves 5 stars. This memoir is a roller coaster ride the reader takes with Bill Clegg as he remembers episodes pursuing various intoxicating experiences. An unflinching account- Clegg does not spare himself as he tells of the road he traveled with his addiction. This is not easy reading, the highs and desperate lows are so vivid. Some call this a cautionary tale. I don't know. I think some would read the descriptions and say, 'I'd like to feel high like that Stellar writing, excellent editing; deserves 5 stars. This memoir is a roller coaster ride the reader takes with Bill Clegg as he remembers episodes pursuing various intoxicating experiences. An unflinching account- Clegg does not spare himself as he tells of the road he traveled with his addiction. This is not easy reading, the highs and desperate lows are so vivid. Some call this a cautionary tale. I don't know. I think some would read the descriptions and say, 'I'd like to feel high like that!' It is certainly a beautifully written piece that conveys Bill's experiences with emotional power and depth. I wish you (and Noah) well, Bill.

  24. 5 out of 5

    M

    Disappointing. Clegg was/is a star literary agent but he is not a writer. Or a likeable narrator. A repetitive, self-aggrandizing tale without insight --- a bit of James-Frey-syndrome at work here with some of these detailed episodes he recalls years later. Too bad that this book was published because of Clegg's connections in publishing --- while others' stories of overcoming their addictions will never find an outlet. Disappointing. Clegg was/is a star literary agent but he is not a writer. Or a likeable narrator. A repetitive, self-aggrandizing tale without insight --- a bit of James-Frey-syndrome at work here with some of these detailed episodes he recalls years later. Too bad that this book was published because of Clegg's connections in publishing --- while others' stories of overcoming their addictions will never find an outlet.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Emily M

    When it feels like the end of the world, it never is. This book scared the shit out of me. Clegg goes into such raw and honest detail about his accounts with crack cocaine and alcohol addiction that I feel like this should be required reading for young teenagers. Looking forward to reading his other memoir.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dante Love Fisher

    An emotionally hard read for me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    J.T.

    Hmmm. I'm trying to figure out why this book didn't quite do it for me. It had elements that I usually like in a memoir: addiction, change & redemption, a life different than mine. But, for some reason, I just had a hard time truly empathizing with the author. Which is strange. If anything, I'm over-empathetic, always giving people the benefit of the doubt to the point of gullibility. I ended up empathizing with Clegg's boyfriend more than I did with Clegg himself. Maybe it's because of the auth Hmmm. I'm trying to figure out why this book didn't quite do it for me. It had elements that I usually like in a memoir: addiction, change & redemption, a life different than mine. But, for some reason, I just had a hard time truly empathizing with the author. Which is strange. If anything, I'm over-empathetic, always giving people the benefit of the doubt to the point of gullibility. I ended up empathizing with Clegg's boyfriend more than I did with Clegg himself. Maybe it's because of the author's high-class lifestyle and his disdain for other addicts. In any case, it's a compelling enough story, but it never brought me to tears like most addiction memoirs do. The book I read just before this (Moshe Kasher's "Kasher In The Rye") was so much more affecting. Maybe I would've given this a better rating if I hadn't just read something so exemplary beforehand.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dunn

    When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. - Friedrich Nietzsche Many things came to me while reading this book and I had to stop reading several times to just sit and think. The main one is reflected in the quote above, how did he go through this again? How was he able to get past the shame and guilt of this time in his life to be able to write it down and then to be able to share it with others? I spent a lot of the book marvelling at that. "Nothing but death can keep me from it" When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. - Friedrich Nietzsche Many things came to me while reading this book and I had to stop reading several times to just sit and think. The main one is reflected in the quote above, how did he go through this again? How was he able to get past the shame and guilt of this time in his life to be able to write it down and then to be able to share it with others? I spent a lot of the book marvelling at that. "Nothing but death can keep me from it" Clegg says in the book, and who among us hasn't felt that feeling, in some way. I related to the thrill of going out and getting high with friends and of being a rebel and doing something grown up and being in control of something at a time when you feel you have no control of anything. But there is that time when the music stops and you look around and you're the only one left dancing. At some point it becomes about you, your addiction, your life, your goals and hopes and the other, the absence of those things, which was perfectly chronicled in this book. He talks about shame. The scene with the partner in the bed broke my heart into pieces. How can you stand to go back there, to actually acknowledge that happened, and ever be able to look yourself in the mirror again? But Clegg mentions these emotions evolving as he worked through them "into something less self-concerned" which I had another A HA! moment at that. To be able to see the past and process it and learn from it, not as a victim, not as all about you, but that there is what was, and also there is what will be. Mind blown. Another passage that stuck with me was where Clegg attempts to forgive the actions of his father by putting himself in his place. Did he think through his actions, or "did he simply believe that whatever was broken could be fixed by force, that something bent could be hammered straight?" And again we move on the bigger picture, that whatever the motivation of his father was, there is what was and what will be. There is no prize, once you get to the realization that you have been through things, that people may have been trying their best but that you were done wrong, there is no medal at that point, no easy fix to say "This is the cause of my problems!" Because what comes next? And eventually, hopefully, you get to the realization that I did, after many tears, though this book. That Bill Clegg did. That there is what was, there is what will be, and that that is okay. That I... am okay.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brielle Charmasson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In this compelling story about a man’s journey through hell, Bill Clegg invites the reader into a whole new world, one that is almost impossible to crawl out of. Each and every page connects you more and more into the story, making you feel as if you are addicted to abusing drugs just as much as Clegg is. His creative use of diction, detail, and syntax allows you to feel every emotion, every inhale, and every drink Clegg endures. This raw text exposes his most embarrassing experiences and left In this compelling story about a man’s journey through hell, Bill Clegg invites the reader into a whole new world, one that is almost impossible to crawl out of. Each and every page connects you more and more into the story, making you feel as if you are addicted to abusing drugs just as much as Clegg is. His creative use of diction, detail, and syntax allows you to feel every emotion, every inhale, and every drink Clegg endures. This raw text exposes his most embarrassing experiences and left me with a need for more. Clegg’s writing style is one that I have never read before, and even though it was hard to read at times, I fell in love immediately. In one chapter he describes, “It’s one o’clock and I have a spectacular pile of crack in the little ashtray on the nightstand. This is the most I have had on my own, and I know I will smoke every last bit of it. I wonder if somewhere in that pile is the crumb that will bring on a heart attack or stroke of seizure. The cardiac event that will deliver all this to an abrupt and welcome halt. My chest pounds, my fingers are singed, I fill my lungs with smoke.” (page 34) As this impeccable author accounts for his days of binge, rehab, failure of rehab, rehab once more, and near death, one has no other choice than to care about him and his survival. I strongly recommend anyone to read this book because of how engaging one becomes in this amazing memoir. As Clegg says in his book, “He misses the feeling even before it’s left him and not only does he want more, he needs it.” (page 115) I felt this exact way nearing the end of this book, needing more words to read on the page, and I know you will feel the same way too.

  30. 4 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    Like many addiction memoirs, this one is impossible to put down. Beautifully written. It is hard to imagine how much this guy's friends went through before he found his way back. The episodic structure jumped around, but it is a miracle he could remember anything. One complaint is that he was very coy about sex, especially compared to the lengthy, repetitive and detailed descriptions of drug use. Often sex is described in a couple words, such as "we have sex" and then another hundred words on th Like many addiction memoirs, this one is impossible to put down. Beautifully written. It is hard to imagine how much this guy's friends went through before he found his way back. The episodic structure jumped around, but it is a miracle he could remember anything. One complaint is that he was very coy about sex, especially compared to the lengthy, repetitive and detailed descriptions of drug use. Often sex is described in a couple words, such as "we have sex" and then another hundred words on the "stem" used to smoke crack. Perhaps this reflects the author's priorities at the time: crack important, people not so much. Or, perhaps, drug use is simply less shameful to recount. Or— more memorable.

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