Drug Use @ The Baths: Part 2
How pervasive drug use is among gay men continually blows my mind. Many of these men can function, hold a job, and maintain relationships with others. All the while, they are on some form of narcotics during the day. It is not marijuana or poppers that get consumed. But hard-core drugs like GHB, Special K, speed, and even magic mushrooms. Drug use now seems to be the norm in mainstream gay culture. It is accepted and also considered fashionable in some gay circles. While some men can handle these drugs, an equal number of gay men cannot. Inevitably, these men find their lives spinning out of control.
Let’s focus on the darker side of the baths. It is easy to go from being a recreational user to being addicted. As an addict, your sole purpose is to scrape enough money to get high. If you are not a millionaire, this poses a lot of problems. Addicts lose themselves in a haze of alcohol, pot, crack, Crystal Meth, and anything else they can find. They become human garbage pails. I’ve even heard of someone so addicted to Crystal Meth – that he wiped out all his savings and his kid’s college fund, sold his condo, and stole money from other people to continue his habit. Now he is in hiding because he owes money (lots of it) to his drug dealer. Using this person’s story as an example, it should be no surprise that many addicts become homeless. Where do they wind up? Of course, at the Gay Baths.
How do these addicts wind up living on and off at the baths? Most of these men had a good life before they became addicted to drugs. They had jobs, friends, a home, and family. Unfortunately, they blew it away when they dabbled in illegal substances. It begins by using drugs recreationally. Then it becomes out of hand, and their addiction begins. These men become drug addicts, consumed with the obsession of getting high. They have sold all their possessions for drugs and are now homeless. Unsurprisingly, they crash at the baths only when they have the money. Some of these addicts who stay at the Baths are even straight. Beggars cannot be choosers regarding a roof over one’s head.
Then there are the guys that are new to the scene. Every day scores of young twenty-something gay men arrive in the big city, all with a similar story. They have come from small towns or other states that do not have much of a gay community. Newly graduated from University, they cannot wait to arrive in the big metropolis and begin their new life. Others are teenagers who have run away from oppressive home lives, wanting to be free and gay. Then you have the other teenagers kicked out of their homes for being gay. Or they’ve had to run away because their home lives were abusive.
Whatever their story is, all these men arrive in the city with some optimism. Finally, they will be able to be amongst other gay men and feel part of a community. They are breaking out of that shell and being free. Sounds romantic? But you know the saying, be careful about what you wish for – as you might get it. It is always the same with these young men. They arrive with a few thousand dollars in their pockets and big dreams in their head. They have this romantic feeling that everything will be beautiful. But after six months, you notice the dramatic difference in these men who were so optimistic – and it’s not flattering. When they first arrive, they are fresh-faced with firm bodies, a bit naive with wide-eyed innocence. But six months later, they look strung out, their face has sagged, their body is rail-thin, and their eyes look fully dilated – as if they’ve been to an eye doctor.
New to the “gay ghetto,” it is easy to fall into the wrong crowd if you don’t know anybody. The money will not last very long, as rent is enormous with the first and last month’s rent needed to get any place. These newbies find the cheapest place to spend the night – the bathhouse. They have trepidation and fear since it is the unknown. But there is not much of a choice since it is either that. Or they were sleeping in the park. These newbies will inevitably run into hustlers and drug users by hanging out at the baths. These newcomers desperately want to fit in and make friends. Remember, they do not know anyone yet. Unfortunately, they will fall prey to the drug scene and wind up becoming an addict. Sometimes it occurs by happenstance; a newbie will meet a drug user, talk, and share a hit. Or, more likely, a drug dealer will target a newbie and deliberately get him high. Once that feeling of being high is established, and that is all that person craves, there is no turning back. They become an addict.
While the bathhouse I regularly frequent is drug-free, not all baths are like that. Some bathhouses have drug dealers roaming the hallways looking to sell. As I wrote about gay prostitution earlier, a bathhouse can do nothing to stop this drug trafficking. Bathhouses are all about the privacy between two consenting adults. There is no way for a bathhouse to monitor what goes on in a private room. As an added precaution, a drug dealer finds it wise to provide a free sample to a staff person in exchange for his silence. Then the dealer gets to work, walking up and down the halls, seeking men who want to get high or stay high. These dealers try to be discreet and do their dealings behind closed doors. But to maintain any business, drug dealers continually target the fresh, young newbie’s on the scene. The dealer will strike up a conversation with this newcomer. He will slip the newbie a tiny bump as a welcome present, just enough to get him hooked. The sooner the dealer can get a new addict addicted, the more money he makes. Inevitably, the dealer has a new customer to add to his long list of clients.
Many of these drug users become homeless. But somehow, they scrape up enough money for a 12-hour room at the baths, so at least they have a place to sleep at night. Plus, the 12-hour room gives them “exit and re-entry” privileges to go out, score some drugs, and then return to the baths and get high in their room’s privacy. Inevitably, the gay baths become home to many of these homeless addicts. They all carry a knapsack containing their drug paraphernalia, a change of clothes, and some toiletry items (which they regularly shoplift, preferring to spend their money on drugs). The baths have all of the comforts of a home. There are showers and free liquid soap to stay clean, a television, a bed to sleep in, and a snack bar to buy food. They even get their clothes washed and dried at the baths. The floor attendant adds it to the piles of towels that get cleaned. However, not all floor attendants will be that nice. Some demand money or a bump of drugs in exchange, so a bribe is not uncommon. Some baths even have a complimentary buffet once a week, and many homeless addicts make sure they are present for that.
What I have described may sound quaint, but trust me, it is not. As a drug addict, you find yourself involved in a community of other addicts. Who lie, cheat, steal, and scheme for that feeling of getting high. It is fascinating to see all these hustlers, drug addicts, and drug dealers under the same roof. At times it’s almost like watching a soap opera, seeing them all interact with one another. These folks may appear, on the surface, to be friendly with one another. But they are far from being real friends. In reality, they could not care less about each other. There is no jealousy, no feeling of competitiveness, and no feeling of being threatened. They all want to get high, which is the only thing on their minds.
Being addicted to drugs makes you lose all track of time. The days and weeks have no structure; the only thing that consumes an addict’s mind is the prospect of getting high. It is not unusual for a drug addict to spend weeks at the baths since the drug dealer is on the premises. I have even heard of one addict who spent an entire month inside the baths without ever going out. He was getting high daily. If you spend all your waking hours trying to score a hit, you have no time for a job. So you do what other drug users do to score some quick cash. You sell your body for money, also known as hustling.
The Baths and prostitution seem to go hand in hand. Some bathhouses see those selling sex as good for their business. So why do bathhouses tolerate hustling? If a gay man comes in, hires a hustler, gets off, and goes on his merry way, he is in and out the door in 30 minutes. The more guys come in and out, the more money the baths can make. So it is common to see drug users hustling to make a buck at the baths. At least half of these drug users are straight! It becomes a vicious cycle. You get high, hustle your body to make a buck, then run to the dealer to score more drugs to continue that high – no wonder some addicts never leave the baths. Taking all of these drugs seems to make an addict’s body rail thin, which appeals to guys looking for sex. I’ve always wondered how some hustlers had skinny bodies yet never went to the gym. Ecstasy speeds up a person’s metabolism, as it is an amphetamine. If they take GHB, that stimulates the release of growth hormones, which act like an anabolic steroid. So addicts can have a primo body without ever working out. So they are ready for business.
They go from room to room, seeing if anyone wants company, slipping in that they are “working.” Usually, they can get some lonely married Asian guy for a 20-dollar blowjob. Or an elderly white guy for a 60-dollar anal experience. They target very obese men as well. Addicts know these three “types” of men are the most desperate to get laid at the baths. They aim to spend as little time as possible with their client, get the money, and run out to get more drugs. Desperation for money, these addicts even bargain down their prices. In the beginning, he may ask for 40 dollars for a blowjob. Now that price has been reduced to 20 dollars, then 15 dollars. These are men that will do whatever it takes to get high. Even during sex, the only thing on a drug addict’s mind is how much money he can get for his drugs. That is how male addicts who are 100% straight manage to get through performing a blowjob. By continuously imagining the crack, he will smoke.
If an addict cannot get any money after trying everything I just discussed, they will steal to secure their drugs. If a customer is a robbery victim, will they call the police? No, as it is embarrassing. Plus, look where the theft occurred – at a gay bathhouse. The most common theft happens when an addict hooks up with another addict to steal money. One will most likely distract a customer, while the other will take the customer’s key to raid their room. Neither trusts the other to bring back equal amounts of drugs so that they will score a hit together. Or the addict will use GHB to knock their victim unconscious. The addict will slip GHB into a customer’s drink and wait for him to pass out. Once that happens, the addict takes the customer’s money for drugs. I even heard one story where an addict lubricated his dick with GHB. Once the customer sucked the addict’s penis, he was out cold.
If selling their body or stealing doesn’t work, begging is the last resort. I have often seen these men pleading with customers for money at the baths. These addicts use the excuse that they are about to be kicked out for being on overtime. The drug user first turns on the tears. He will swear that after he pays for the room and everything is alright, he will go to the nearest ATM and pay back the money. It is only a 5-minute loan, the drug user says. But in reality, it is for drugs, and once the user gets his money, he will claim the ATM was out of order! The customer who gets scammed will never see his money again. It was all smoked away by the addict.
While I have described a bleak picture, not all baths are like this. The bathhouse I go to has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and prostitution. They keep a list of drug addicts, dealers, and hustlers banned from the premises. Some bathhouses even refuse to offer exit and re-entry privileges. That is to curtail men from leaving the baths to score drugs, then returning to light up in the privacy of their rooms. While other bathhouses do not even provide matches, so men have a more challenging time lighting up behind closed doors. But let’s get real. Though the bathhouse I visit tries to be drug-free, you cannot stop it. Drug use happens in every single bathhouse in the country.
The life of an addict is a vicious cycle. But unfortunately, many bathhouses cannot stop using party drugs at the baths. As long as it is socially acceptable amongst gay men, overdoses like those I wrote about will continue. For these men, nothing is sacred.