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Featured / March 12, 2010
By John Dolan



It isn’t easy to lose money running a speed lab. I’m one of the few to have achieved that distinction. It was much easier to cook up a batch in those days. You could buy ether and the other precursors at one of the nice, quiet chemical warehouses that sat discreetly on access roads, near onramps, between suburbs. The kind of buildings that nobody ever sees, that are actually difficult to see, not designed for the casual customer.

We were disguised, of course. Well…we thought we were. This isn’t James Bond we’re talking about here. I had the clever idea of stuffing socks in my waistband to make myself look fatter when we went in to buy the stuff. Butler looked at me funny when I showed him my disguise, my slyly padded expando-waist. I realize now, he must have been thinking it was coals to Newcastle, making me look fatter. But at that time I had the delusion common to all fat young American men that it was muscle. Some of the muscle had slipped a little, that was all.

I also fixed my glasses, cleverly turning them into prescription shades by gluing green plastic to the lenses. I’d cut them almost correctly, except for a few overhangs here and there. Butler pretended to be impressed. After all, he wasn’t the one going in to buy the stuff.

On the way to the warehouse we talked. I talked about Heidi. I did a lot of that at the time, without noticing that it was driving everyone around me insane. It was a complete shock the time Falquist stopped and shrieked, “You already told me that eighteen times already! Jesus Christ!” Eighteen didn’t seem like a big number to me. That story couldn’t be told often enough, because in my fevered, stupid brain it was the basis for what I was about to do. It was why I was permitted, nay required, to become a bad person: because Heidi, who was way out of my league and everyone warned me so, had stooped to conquer me. Which was fine. Which was wonderful, my God, after all those silent years alone in my room eating and reading. Because she liked my poems and the punk jacket I’d sewn for myself.

So once Heidi and I finally got together, I assumed, just naturally, that that was it. What I loved about her was the conscience-free fun, not to mention that body that deserved a Rolling Stone or two. So, being stupid, I thought in terms of oxymorons: she’s conscience-free and fun so she’ll naturally want to move in with me, the end.

It’s the worst thing about twentieth-century tastes, that sucker longing for the big oxymoron. The sleazy drunk party girl who loves the dweeby poet. That was the script I was working from. She felt otherwise. She’d been having picaresque adventures like the one that culminated in my apartment on Dwight Way since age…what, twelve? I hate to think. It could have been way earlier than that. She did tell me that the cops in Santa Cruz used her once to lure this boy who’d gone insane to a meeting where they could wrap him up nice. Oh, and she did mention a few times, when drunk and with pride, that “I sent nine guys to the insane asylum, from me straight there.”

None of which meant anything whatsoever to me. It was “colorful past,” and everybody was supposed to have it. If anything I felt guilty for not having a good picaresque past to offer in return. But it was all in the service of the real stories: John Paul Jones on the deck of his sinking ship, Robert Emmet at the scaffold, Joan of Arc at the stake.

Oh, I know the punch lines. Believe me, I can do the punch lines. Like those three: “har har, two Presbyterian jihadis and a schizophrenic lesbian.” I can joke. But that’s now, when I’m dead. Back then I was alive and my body had found in the body of Heidi, no other body, its sole reason for existing and it was not kidding. You may be kidding but your body came straight outta Compton, which is to say “Ouldivai Gorge,” and it is not kidding. It was me and Heidi ever after, period. So it came as a total shock to me when she explained that, “you know, the desire to fuck other people always comes up…[long pause]…in a relationship.”

That meant all bets were off. Said that to myself a thousand times a day: “All bets are off.” I’d gotten it from Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein. He said he’d used that phrase in negotiating with the Brits and then, after Operation Motorman, when he found himself tied in a chair getting beaten by a squaddie, the squaddie said out of nowhere, “Oi Gerry, ‘all bets are off!’ Remember Gerry, ‘all bets are off’?” I liked to imagine that, being tied in a chair getting the shit beaten out of you for Ireland, because it was a million times better and easier than walking around Berkeley California in the nice sunshine where Heidi simply happened not to like you any more.

True, such things did occur in some books but those subplots, bumps in the road. Besides, those weren’t the books I was using as my Lonely Planet Guide to Suddenly Meeting Other People at Age 23. I’d been expecting something a little warmer, like the way the superwoman adored the dork in Get Smart and Bewitched. That was the rule as far as I knew: be a total passive dork and the superwoman will attach herself to you no matter how stupid you act, in fact the stupider the better.

All of which was going according to plan. So to see her that morning, her and that Deadhead dishwasher she worked with at Fondue Fred’s, coming out of the breakfast place all stumbled over each other…I mean, a Deadhead! A dishwasher! Not the done thing at all! Who do I kill now? You can’t kill a Deadhead dishwasher because he doesn’t even count. Killing Heidi was the obvious answer, but that would have been like killing the last warmth in a cold world. Back to my room, back to reading Wodehouse and National Geographic for the tenth time in a row.

Therefore, Q.E.D., I was going to become a speed dealer. If one stupid fairytale turns out to be total nonsense, what does the young man do? If you answered, “Wake up and face reality,” you don’t remember what it was like being a young man. You just go to the next entry in the catalogue of lies you can use to destroy your life.

So much lying, so much self-serving crap, that even while borrowing my parents’ car to commit a felony, I saw myself as their avenger against the horde of hick philistines who had outcompeted us in the California economy. I loved them, now that nobody else wanted me. Boo-fucking-hoo. All kinds of weepy selfpitying fantasies. With the money from the first batch of meth that Butler and I were going to cook up, I’d get them a new car. No, two new cars. My mother always wanted a Cadillac, and though I would have preferred something foreign, she and my father were loyal to the end, in this as in the Church, Detroit believers. So a Cadillac it would be. A Cadillac of revenge, a Sinn Fein, Catholic Cadillac that would radiate denouement and retribution and a lot of other Latinate stuff that they’d be sorry about. Heads would roll, as they did before I could get to sleep at night.

Of course Butler was sitting across from me, front seat of my parents’ wretched surplus cop Plymouth, indulging all this crap because he needed a backer. He didn’t have the cash to start a lab of his own. Or the courage. He’d been running a speed lab for that annoying San Francisco band Animal Things, the one-hit wonders behind “Wanna buy some fucking heroin, wanna buy some fucking junk?” It was a catchy tune, remember? No? Local hit, I suppose.

I saw Animal Things once at Berkeley Square, pasty white kids, sneery. The singer had brown dreadlocks. Then after the first song he took them off. A wig! I couldn’t get over it. It wasn’t his hair at all.

See? That could’ve clued me in if anything was going to. It didn’t. I was going to call this story something fancy but I think I’ll go with the real title: Stupid. In fact, there’s an Ernest movie with the best title I ever saw: Scared Stupid. That, as they say, is what I’m talking about.

This is the first installment of John Dolan’s work-in-progress, “Stupid, Or How To Lose Money Running A Speedlab.”


Pleasant Hell

By John Dolan

Buy John Dolan’s novel “Pleasant Hell” (Capricorn Press).

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Add your own

  • 1. Fissile  |  March 12th, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Speed lab?! Now that’s something I never expected from Dolan. I always thought that speed labs were the purview of trailer dwelling Red-staters, with just enough reading ability to get through the Loompanics catalog.

  • 2. larson  |  March 12th, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    moar of this

  • 3. Dolan is back  |  March 12th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Dolan is back. We want war nerd. We want Dolan´s book reviews. You are the best thing that Exile ever had.

  • 4. geo8rge  |  March 12th, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    So does the stuff in those Uncle Fester books work? Do you really need College O-chem to follow the instructions?

  • 5. David Jackmanson  |  March 12th, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Where’s the “Like” button? HEY! THIS ISN’T FACEBOOK!

    Enjoyed reading this.

  • 6. matt  |  March 12th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Wasn’t this on alternet a long time ago? Whatever, fuck it. Either way I demand MORE DOLAN!!! The man’s a fuckin’ legend.

  • 7. mr. mike  |  March 12th, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    You’ve got to fuck `em and leave `em, Dolan; that or be prepared for them to drop you after 90 days.

  • 8. tom  |  March 12th, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    this is old

  • 9. John  |  March 12th, 2010 at 10:38 pm


  • 10. Pete  |  March 12th, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Do I recall this from the Buffalo Beast?

  • 11. Homer Erotic  |  March 13th, 2010 at 12:07 am

    A suggested edit:

    If one stupid fairytale turns out to be total nonsense, what does the young man do? If you answered, “Wake up and face reality,” you don’t remember what it was like being a feckless young man.

    I feel compelled to make the suggestion because I was feckless, too. Good-looking and socially well-adjusted young men tend to have a rather different experience of life.

  • 12. nosuchthingasshould  |  March 13th, 2010 at 1:17 am

    Good writing. After reading it, and that crap some time ago about trying to be a criminal while stuck in a loosers marina, I begin to sympathise with the redstaters in their despise of berkleyites.

  • 13. Bardamu  |  March 13th, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Link the rest to a pay site and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to sign up.

    Welcome back, Dr. Dolan. You may be skint, but to some of us you are an unparalleled example of righteous brilliance.

  • 14. Jussi  |  March 13th, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Great stuff. And please write some more warnerd, please.

  • 15. Fissile  |  March 13th, 2010 at 6:31 am

    @geo8rge Yes, the instructions in the Fester books are for real. No, you don’t really need college level organic, but it would help. All you really need is an 8th grade reading level, the ability to follow instructions, and a bit of common sense. These 3 prerequisites exclude about 75% of Americans right there. The really big problem is that the Feds have placed just about every chemical required on their watch list. You should have your bags packed before you try and buy any of the required stuff, because you’ll be getting an all expense paid trip to Gitmo courtesy of the Feds after the chemical supplier hits the snitch button.

    Here is an example of how paranoid this country has become. Last year I went down to the local pool supply to buy a jug of muriatic acid. Muriatic acid is nothing more than a trade name for diluted hydrochloric acid — the same acid produced in the human stomach to digest food. I’ve used this acid for years to clean masonry; that’s what I was going to use it for on this particular day. Anyway, I was informed by the skinny, middle-aged, jittery, bald fuck who ran the pool supply that they no longer sold this acid. When I inquired as to why not, I was informed, “Don’t you know that you can make a bomb with that stuff?” WTF!? I didn’t bother to explain to this fuck-wit that nitric acid is used for explosives manufacture, NOT hydrochloric acid.

    This country gets more viscous, paranoid, and stupid by the minute.

  • 16. Weldon Rumproast  |  March 13th, 2010 at 6:42 am

    wasn’t this published in the Buffalo Beast like a year ago? while it was still in print?

  • 17. Weldon Rumproast  |  March 13th, 2010 at 6:43 am

    I love Dolan

  • 18. Karl  |  March 13th, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I know about the catalogue thing LOL. So true. Did two or three articles from it myself. Fuck reality!

  • 19. Lori Fucking Burton  |  March 13th, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Good read. Also that Animal Things song was great.

  • 20. JN  |  March 13th, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Great. Looking forward to reading more of this story.

  • 21. Pádraig Ó Buth Chanain  |  March 13th, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I’ve read this before. Where have I read this before? Anybody? Not that I’m complaining — old Dolan is better than no Dolan (and infinitely better than the fucking liberal bleating that’s been passing for journalism here lately). So: more Dolan! And go out and buy his books already, you cunts that say you admire his writing, when said admiration is limited to what you can get for free on the IntraWeb.

  • 22. Diet Coke  |  March 13th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Where the fuck is the meth lab in this story.

  • 23. MQ  |  March 13th, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Hey, I bought Pleasant Hell. Great book. Write more, Dolan, and I will give you money! Seriously, he needs to write another book.

  • 24. Sibyl Erythrae  |  March 13th, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Cynical Political Test For Compassion

    Two people are walking down the street one block behind each other when they each pass a drug addict panhandling for money.

    The first person to be accosted by the panhandler is a conservative. When asked for money, the conservative yells at the drug addict to: quit doing drugs, quit being a loser and to get a job; in that order.

    The second person to be accosted by the panhandler is a liberal. When asked for money the liberal calmly sympathizes with the drug addict, hands the drug addict a welfare check and some clean hypodermic needles.

    The drug addict quickly leaves to trade the welfare check for some more drugs.

    In this situation, who was the most compassionate?

    Well of course, it was the drug addict, for not bashing the two people over the head with the brick that he had in his pocket.


  • 25. Carolyn  |  March 13th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    You restore my faith in everything.

  • 26. matt  |  March 14th, 2010 at 5:35 am

    How about reprinting all of those Frey criticisms in one handy dandy article. Also Please go after Tom Clancy and Oprah Winfreys book club.

  • 27. solfish  |  March 14th, 2010 at 11:25 am

    I do stupid things, but I have good intentions.

  • 28. Homer Erotic  |  March 14th, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I was a bad boy and read ahead through Part V at the XXXXXXX website. Sometimes I think I’m dysfunctional, but every time I read one of your articles written from your life, I realize I am a mere unserious piker in comparison! I await the subsequent parts on this website with baited breath.

  • 29. abc123  |  March 15th, 2010 at 5:28 am

    Dolan and his creation “the war nerd” was the reason I came here in the first place. Bring back “the war nerd” and hang the rest of the Exiled writers!

  • 30. John  |  March 15th, 2010 at 10:30 am

    This is definitely not new and Dolan is definitely not back. I saw this posted on Alternet months ago…coincidentally, the apes on there were trashing the piece. I’m glad it’s here now and it has a (somewhat) worthwhile audience.

    I recall seeing it in the Beast too

  • 31. Erik Bramsen  |  March 15th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Pretty damn good Dolan, never mind the lack of subject. HST-ish.

  • 32. Harry Ballsach  |  March 15th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    I would tell you things about the future, but a higher authority is telling me to keep my fucking trap shut.

  • 33. good 'ol johnny  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Is that Dolan’s room? Looks like a punk record cover.

  • 34. sky hi  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I Started in the middle … and I totally thought that I was readin a Roger Ebert review. Dolan’s a funny ass dude. Especially when you’re baked.

  • 35. Cum  |  May 17th, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Animal Things – Wanna Buy Some

    Really bad stuff.

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