A decade or so ago I was publishing  and am still publishing — GO INSIDE Magazine and one of my regular writers — we’ll call him “Alvin” — was incredibly dynamic and productive. He wrote well. He wrote five stories a week. He was awake and online at 4:00am and 8:00am and throughout the rest of the day. He’d call and leave long and intricate Voice Mail messages throughout the day.

During Alvin’s tenure, 56k modems — the kind that farted and burped their way to “doubling” your dialup connection — were the new rage. 56k modems worked well and fast enough you could disconnect your 3-cents-per-minute ISDN line and start living in the world of the almost 24/7 internet connection because you could reset your Windows 95 connectoid to auto-dial your ISP’s landline every eight hours after you were automatically disconnected.

As a no-advertising magazine that was free to read online, GO INSIDE enjoyed a high readership. We were one of the first “webzines” to hit the internet and we were trusted because unlike our slim competition from traditional media stumbling online and other GO INSIDE pretenders, our readers knew our reviews were honest and we held no ulterior motives to sell them anything.

Product manufacturers were always interested in sending us stuff for review because we’d give them 2,000 word reviews instead of 50 word mentions. Alvin decided he wanted to do a mega-review of all the new 56k modems that were coming on the market. He’d pit them each against each other with scientific testing and provide deep detail on his real world experience using them to connect to the universe from his homestead in Georgia. He had modems sent to him from U.S. Robotics, Cardinal, Microcom, Toshiba and other manufacturers. The new 56k modems were not cheap.

Each modem cost around $200 each and Alvin was able — through his charm and unique review plan — to get 10 modems or so sent to him. Some companies sent more than one modem for review. Now a modem review of the depth Alvin planned to construct would take an ordinary person a few weeks to set up and test — but Alvin said he’d have the whole thing done five days after the last modem to arrive for testing hit his hands. I believed him because he had done much more work in less time with excellent results.

A week passed. No word from Alvin. No phone calls. No email. No new articles in his massive review queue were being submitted for publication.

I tried to email him and call him and I had no luck finding him. A few more weeks passed and I began getting inquiries from the modem companies asking me, as the Publisher of GO INSIDE Magazine, why their review had not been published.

The pressure was on me because the way we were able to establish the magazine in the marketplace was by keeping a solid relationship of trust between us — seen as a Newbie-Know-Nothing Webzine, and them, seen as Product Manufacturing Monsters in the Marketplace — by never missing the promised publication date for a review.

The one guarantee the companies had in their pocket from me was a signed statement that if a review did not appear when promised, the product would immediately be returned or we — and when I say “we” I mean “me” — would reimburse them for the cost of shipping and the MSRP for the product. In the previous four years of publication we never had to pay back any company.

The time was fast-approaching when I would have to do one of two things if I could not find Alvin. I would either have to send back the modems — which I didn’t have in New York City because Alvin had them in his Georgia farmhouse — or I would have to pony up the dough to pay for around ten $200 modems and the idea of coming up with $2,000 was not a check writing event I was looking forward to attending.

I couldn’t write off the loss as a business expense because GO INSIDE was not a business. The entire magazine was a bunch of people who loved publishing reviews and articles. The whole $2,000 would come out of my personal pocket — and having to pay that kind of restitution was the one peril of self-publication I never thought I’d have to pay. Through a friend of a friend who loved reading GO INSIDE Magazine, I was given a different contact phone number for Alvin. I called the number and found Alvin’s Aunt.

She was a warm and sweet woman full of blunt Southern grace and she told me Alvin was a Crack addict — Crack was a new drug back then most of us didn’t really quite understand yet — and he had an addictive personality that destroyed his family and he stole from his parents and his family and his friends in order to pay for his habit. I understood why Alvin was always online. He never slept. He was jittery. His body was jumping as it came down from a high or soared on one. His machine-like and prodigious article writing was not driven by a human impulse to succeed.

He was driven by Crack Demons who would kill him if he slept. Alvin’s Aunt went on to tell me he had been living in her basement because she could not bear her blood living on the street. Alvin disappeared on a binger a few weeks ago and no one had seen him since. They didn’t know if he was dead or alive. She told me the modems had to have been traded for Crack and to not expect them back. I thanked her for her assistance and I told her I hoped Alvin would be found alive and that he would somehow recover from his demons.

She thanked me and said she’d never stop believing in Alvin until she was dead in the ground. After I hung up the phone I found my checkbook. I wrote checks to each of the modem companies for the modems that were probably fuelling communications for a ganglion of Crack Dens all along the Georgia forests. I included a letter of explanation and apology.

All the checks were cashed without comment. We never did another modem review at GO INSIDE Magazine again. I never heard from Alvin again. I stopped searching for him. Yesterday, as I reflected back on the joys and junkets of my life, I decided to do a Google search on his real name and I quickly found “Alvin” alive and kicking online.

He is reviewing software again and publishing online tutorials again across several blogs and websites again. I have no idea if he is still being haunted by demons today or not but I do hope somewhere inside he appreciates my $2,000 donation to the promise of his talent. I hope in some small way I helped lead him back online to the light of his life.

23 Comments

  1. Every year for yom kippur, the day of atonement, there is a ceremony involving waving a chicken (or a handful of money if one has an adversion to swinging a chicken around ones head) and proclaiming that it is to be a “kapparah” for ones sins – almost as though one is transferring ones sins onto the money, as it were.
    Maybe your donation was like a kapparah for what he had done and that is why he is doing better now.
    Are none of his writings available on Go Inside? I was under the impression you had a fairly strict “never unpublish” policy – I can see why this would qualify as an exception, though.
    I sometimes consider doing a review but then worry that I won’t write a good enough review! I still wonder if the publisher was displeased with my review of that one adventure a day book because I didn’t exactly write a glowing review – I don’t receive many requests for review books. Actually I receive nothing because I don’t have that e-mail anymore 😛

  2. Hi Gordon!
    I like the idea of the swinging chicken! I hope the money did him some good.
    Shortly after the modem experience we suffered a major server crash and lost half of our articles. Those were the early, wild, days of the internet where things were not redundantly backed up because what could go wrong?!
    Oh, how quickly we learn!
    Luckily most of the lost articles were “older” reviews that, by that time, were out-of-date and most of the “evergreen” articles were saved.
    Reviews are always risky. You have to be honest, though, because if the product doesn’t work your readers will never trust you again.

  3. Crazy story.
    I wonder if it was too tempting for Alvin to not sell the modems to get his high, even if he had the best intentions to run all of the tests and write up the reviews?
    Crack makes people do crazy things.
    Even the best person, once he or she is addicted to something like crack, will do anything to get the next high that only lasts for a few minutes and leaves them wanting more.
    They’ll beg, borrow, and steal to get their fix.
    I’d bet that most of the petty criminal activity that occurs on the street is related in some way to maintaining crack addiction.

  4. Hi Chris!
    Oh, I agree the modems in their pretty new boxes must have looked like a treasure mound before his hungry eyes. If I’d known he had any sort of problem I would not have signed off on that major review effort.
    I have no doubt that Crack – taken even once — changes the mind forever. You always try to get the feel of that incredible first rush. Many people die in the effort to recreate the impossible.
    I agree lots of money on the street is thefted and precious things are stolen to pay for a habit. Life is cheap now. People are killed for a $10 high.

  5. A horrible story about the evils of crack played out in my county last year:

    A chapter in a horrific story from Gary ended recently with a guilty plea.
    The story starts as many do.
    Nothing special. Just a visit to a relative.
    In January, Owanna Jenkins and Paul Jenkins went to a house at 340 Fillmore St. in Gary to visit Owanna’s cousin Lisa Palacio and two other people.
    Something went wrong very quickly after the couple arrived.
    Paul Jenkins was shot a few minutes after his arrival at the house by Jeffery Harris, according to police.
    After Paul Jenkins was shot, Owanna Jenkins reportedly stayed at the house to get high with the others there, according to news reports in the Post-Tribune.
    That’s the horror of this story. A woman watches her husband get shot. Instead of fleeing, she is trapped by her addiction to drugs. She stays behind at the scene of death and destruction.
    She doesn’t think about what has happened. She doesn’t think about her own personal safety.
    She stays behind in the same place where a killer has just shot her husband.
    It shows the evil power of drugs.
    The story gets worse.
    It just doesn’t end with Owanna staying to get high.
    Later on, Harris brings up a beef between Owanna and Palacio. Harris tells Palacio to shoot Owanna. Palacio obeys.
    Owanna is shot.
    Harris also told another woman, Yolanda Patterson, to fire a gun at Owanna, according to news reports.
    Police later find two gunshot wounds in Owanna’s lifeless body.
    Harris gathers Palacio and Patterson together and calls the trio “a pack,” according to news reports. The three continue to get high while Paul and Owanna lay lifeless nearby.
    Only after the trio leaves to buy some booze, do they decide to remove the bodies and search for a place to hide them.
    Relatives report the couple is missing after last seeing them January 11, 2005.
    After a few weeks, someone finds the couple’s bodies. The date was February 7.
    The police worked the case and charges are filed.
    The end results so far:
    Patterson pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assisting a criminal, according to news reports. She is reportedly a witness against Harris at his trial, docketed in January. The state’s offender database search website doesn’t show Patterson’s sentence information for her current case.
    Palacio pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assisting a criminal, as well. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
    Harris is set for trial on January 9, 2006, according to the paper.

    Crack ruins lives in our county, according to law enforcement:

    Covering approximately 500 square miles and representing 80 different ethnic cultures, the myriad of problems associated with gangs, drugs and guns represent a formidable challenge for (Lake) county and its citizens. …
    The drug of choice in this county is cocaine, both crack and powdered. Street gangs in the cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago control and orchestrate the street level of distribution of cocaine.

  6. Meth is bringing the destruction to once safe small towns, writes the Indy Star:

    This war once was focused on the streets of inner-city neighborhoods with gangster drug dealers, drive-by shootings and crack houses. Today the battle also includes small-town America, particularly in Midwestern states such as Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa.
    A new meth culture has taken root in small-town Indiana — places like Vincennes, Terre Haute and even the tiny town of Crothersville, where two weeks ago the community buried a little girl whose accidental exposure to a meth operation led to her abduction and slaying, police say.

  7. Hi Chris —
    Thanks for that link!
    Meth terrifies me. It kills so many innocent people with such regularity it must be eradicated even if that means outlawing Sudafed-like over-the-counter medications and their important into this country in any form.

  8. Meth is killing the criminal justice system in the small towns, as well.
    One report about a small Indiana county stated that half of the inmates are meth addicts.
    From WNDU-TV:

    At times there are nearly twice as many prisoners as there are beds in the jail. There’s no room for exercise or drug rehab programs in the overcrowded facility where meth and other drug-abusers make up half the population.
    The sheriff says solution to the problem is hard to find.
    Sheriff Robert Sims of the Starke County Police Department says, “Since I’ve been sheriff, we’ve been written up for understaffing, overpopulation.”
    The sheriff says it is a dangerous situation for the inmates. It is also dangerous for outnumbered jail guards faced with protecting anywhere from fifty to eighty inmates per guard.

  9. Dave —
    Yes, antihistamine sales in some communities are through the roof. I don’t think putting it behind the counter changes much, though. I used to be able to buy basic Sudafed red in bottles of 100 loose pills each a few years ago. Now the most you can buy is 24 and each pill is in a blister pack to make it harder for the drug dealers to get at the base ingredient.
    I agree LSD is pretty much finished. I loved the Heroin days in NYC. You’d see people nodding off on every street corner and when that wore off they were dope sick. You can’t shoot and kill and rob all day long when you’re nodding or vomiting. Meth is just the opposite — the drug makes ordinary people dangerous and deceitful but you really can’t tell they’re on it until it’s too late. They become incredibly rational and vicious. That’s a dangerous combination when all they need is $10 to feel better… momentarily.

  10. I bought some Pediacare a couple of weeks ago and had to sign a log that is supposedly sent to the state police to keep track of how many antihistamines people are buying.
    Here’s a blank copy of the log that gets sent to the State Police for tracking.
    I was curious to see if there was any limit to online purchases of Sudaphed, but the pharmacy is out of stock right now!

  11. Chris!
    Akismet caught you! I guess you had too many links to drugs and pharmacies! Ha!
    :mrgreen:
    Yes, there are similar logs to sign in New Jersey, too! I don’t think they do much, good, though. Maybe they scare away the homebrew highschoolers.
    Now that would be interesting to learn if there are limits to how much Sudafed you can buy online and if it matters what state you’re trying to get delivery!

  12. Well said, Dawn. I, too, felt for him. He was an outstanding writer and a good friend — at least that’s what I thought at the time. He may have been taking me for a ride the whole time.
    He certainly seems to be recovered. He posts a lot and writes a lot so that is a hopeful sign he’s on the right road back.

  13. Hi Torie!
    It is a pleasure to meet you and thanks for posting such a caring and warm comment here for us all to share. He seems to be doing much better so that’s a good sign now no matter what happened then.

  14. Crack or recrystalized cocaine has been around for sometime and in widespread use in the US since at least he 1960’s. Crack is made from powdered cocaine by heating it and allowing it to recrystallize into ‘rocks’. Because of this, it is of higher purity than the cocaine that is snorted. Crack is typically favored by blacks and is associated with more stringent penalties than powdered cocaine, which is prefered by white folk with expendable cash looking for a good time. Hard drugs might not be as destructive to individuals and society if their were viable treatment options were available. High quality rehab comes a cost that the typical junkie can’t afford. Drug epidemics in this country are exacerbated by black and white drug policy where drug user=criminal. Demons are much worse when you are all alone.

  15. David,
    Heartbreaking story.
    A person very close to me was addicted to cocaine for several years. She forged checks on her mother’s account and stole thousands to feed her addiction. One year she found where her mother hid all the Christmas presents she had purchased for the family and she returned them all to the stores for cash. This was before the days of “Merchandise Credit Only.”
    Somehow, she has survived and cleaned up and is thriving now. She is a wonderful person–she always has been–except when she was on cocaine.
    An addict is not a person; an addict is a machine that is powered by its addiction and nothing more.
    I’m sorry to hear of your very unfortunate circumstances with an addict. Hopefully Alvin will be the last one in your life.