From the November, 1982 issue of High Times comes Michael Wilmington and Dean Latimer’s contribution to the “Last Words” column.
Riding The Cyclone
“Smack is for sissies!” He looks lean, mean and wasted. His eyes glow like hot blue coals in a bed of ash. He wears a purple velour shirt, slashed to the midriff, and the skin beside the velour is gray and pitted, like volcanic rock. Something around his jowls looks pulpy and fungoid. And his hair—it hangs from taut skull in ragged tufts and bunches, like tenacious bushes poking through desert rock.
His name is Zero O’Reilly, one of the key figures in a burgeoning L.A. punk scene—a bit actor in movies, a standup comic and impressionist who gigs occasionally on Fender bass with local punk groups. He used to mainline heroin, snort coke and swallow bennies by the handful.
“Man,” sneers Zero, “I tried it all. Smoked it all, sniffed it all, shot it all. I injected every kind of shit you can imagine into every pore and orifice on my entire fuckin’ body. There’s gotta be a little bit of everything in there. Man, I’ma goddamn walkin’ drug museum.” Suddenly his voice drops to a husky whisper, a searing emotion-clotted croak: “Cyclones, man! Cyclones! They’re the only way to fly.”
He begins crooning hoarsely, while his old lady, Casey, haphazardly thumps out a backbeat: “The only way to fly, the only way to die…” The eyes blaze up suddenly. “You gonna be an addict, man, you gonna be hooked— you gotta check into Cyclones —’cause smack is for wimps, losers and candy-ass punks.”
“Smack is for wimps,” Casey seconds, scratching at a network of sores and veiny bumps on her forearm.
“Smack is for losers,” Zero punches out, almost breathless, and he reaches for the little brown bottle, the tweezers, the syringe, the enema bag— the tools of his trade. “And—if you never been on the Cyclone… you ain’t been nowhere.”
In the most arcane, exclusive reaches of L.A. and San Francisco subhip, “Cyclones” —or niocytosine-arabinocide-dioxyquethlyne (also known on the street as “The Shoots,” “Spaz” and “The Last Stop”)—are the uncrowned king, the ultrasecret death-buzz that has become a legend in its own time. The drug for the circles that have taken a step beyond heroin chic, and three steps beyond the cocaine cocktail. It is a drug so appalling that some hard-core burnouts we contacted literally shook with terror at its mention.
“You’ve got to understand,” remarked Dr. Deforest Quincey—in the cluttered office of the drug clinic, stacked high with pharmacological journals, reference works, old copies of Zap Comix and empty cartons of chocolate-flavored milk—”that Cyclones are the most worthless, deleterious drugs you can get your hands on. They have no redeeming qualities; none whatsoever. They are for people who are into utter degradation, nihilism. They have literally nothing but bad side effects—besides which, they’re as addictive as hell.”
“You mean they don’t get you high?” we asked.
“High?” he shuddered. “Why do you think they call them Cyclones? You shoot this stuff, or pop it, or squirt it up your ass and here’s what happens: rushes of intense nausea that come and go for forty-eight hours, complete with ear-popping sensations, intense pain and severe burning in the genital areas and rolling black blots in your peripheral vision. Since the nausea comes and goes in uncontrollable waves, patchheads claim it’s like riding a huge roller coaster. Hence the name ‘Cyclone.'” Quincey gloomily swatted a few mosquitoes and took a hit of the chocolate milk.
“Well, if those are the only bad side effects, it would seem—”
Quincey exploded. “Bad side effects! Those aren’t the side effects! That’s the high! The side effects are even worse. This stuff causes your hair to fall out—not evenly, but in patches. Then there are the weird little bulbous, saclike growths that break out all over your body. And your sex drive! It dries it up completely. Your gonads literally wither on the vine—they atrophy. You hallucinate violently, and fall into psychotic fits and fantasies.
Furthermore, niocytosine-arabinocide-dioxyquethlyne turns out to be the most viciously addictive stuff ever manufactured—it’s really a bathtub chemistry version of cytosine arabinocide, an immunosuppressant used in cancer chemotherapy. And the only way we’ve ever been able to get anybody off it is to wean them through successive stages of heroin, morphine and methadone addiction—by which time they’re usually dead. Or put them on chemotherapy.”
“But if this stuff just makes you puke night and day, and eventually kills you—”
“Bowel movements!” Quincey exploded suddenly. “It also completely disrupts your excretory processes and after two years you usually wind up with a colostomy bag. And, besides that, it’s so damned expensive!”
“So why do people take it? Why has this whole chic scene evolved around Cyclones?”
Quincey shuddered again. He took a stiff pull from the milk carton, and his eyes looked fatherly and a little depraved. “You got me, brother,” he finally answered. “I don’t know why people do the things they do—Cyclones, yaagh!”
No one knows how long Cyclones have been part of the underground counter-counterculture, but we do know it’s been long enough to develop its own argot, its own secret codes, shibboleths and icons. “Shakes,” “Patchheads” and “The Last Stop” are obvious.
The little, intensely painful bulblike sacs that break out all over the body of a hard-core Patchhead are called “love knobs” or “Cyclone zits.” A Cyclone user in the throes of a heavy attack of nausea is said to be “taking the dives” or, more obscurely, “sitting in Leroy’s Corner.” Cyclone dealers are known as “Weasels,” and informants are called “Raid.”
The chicest Patchheads—they are said to include a number of punk-rock instrumentalists, a well-known L.A. news anchorman, a bevy of Hollywood screenwriters, associate producers and bit actors, the host of a highly rated TV game show, a Birchite congressman from Southern California and the sons and daughters of the presidents of three major multinational corporations—hold elaborate parties in the secluded hills of Bel Air (the parties are always referred to as “riding the Cyclone,” or “going to Coney Island”), “take the dives” for days on end, squeeze each other’s “love knobs” and wallow over huge, elaborately catered feasts—which, naturally, they immediately vomit up into silver and golden tureens (openly sold in West L.A. and known as “barf basins” or “Cyclone ashtrays”).
Upper-crust Patchheads are said to disdain most of this argot; to disdain, indeed, the term “Cyclone” itself—preferring to refer to the cytosine derivative as “Zyclon.” But this, as Dr. Quincey explained to us, is a misnomer—mistakenly derived from “Zyclon B,” the Nazi nerve gas used at Auschwitz.
Meanwhile, Cyclone use—according to Lt. Humphrey DiCastro of the Lost Angeles Narcotics Squad—is growing by leaps and bounds. And the Cyclone scene itself is leap frogging past the centers of addiction. DiCastro spoke of a growing mélange of counterfeit Patchheads, who have their hair shaved in irregular patterns, and in some cases even manage to fake the “love knobs.” “I’d like to wipe them all off the face of the Earth. Scum! Lice! Piss bags!”
He glared at us, running his hands through his military crew cut—”And if you can do one thing—one thing on that degenerate sleazebucket magazine of yours to justify your worthless existence, it’s this: Tell people, warn people, to stay away from Cyclones!” He fell silent. “Or, better yet,” he added slowly, “tell them all to buy up every Cyclone on the street and start puking like mad and dying like dogs. Then we’ll all be better off.”
But that’s not the way Zero and Casey see it. At the end of our talk, we asked Zero what he’d gotten out of two years of heavy Cyclone use. He held one of his bulbs between two fingers and defiantly popped it. He winked. “Man,” he rasped. “I know I’m the best. I’ve hit it. I’m on the big loop, heading for sunset, and you’re all outside, looking in.” He bared greenish teeth in a crooked smile. “So what’ve you got?”