In this raucous debut memoir, an addict hits bottom in spectacular fashion by getting arrested for a string of bank robberies.
Piotter describes a Seattle boyhood tangled in familial and personal dysfunctions: an authoritarian yet deadbeat dad, swerving between frauds and gambling binges; a defeated, alcoholic mom; and junior high pot smoking and dealing that served as a gateway into serious cocaine and heroin addictions. His adulthood was even more chaotic as he weathered homelessness, jail stints, gangsters who beat and shot at him, epic benders with druggies and prostitutes, and a ceaseless, exhausting search for anything he could steal—including oscillating fans, driving gloves, and a box of raw oysters—to feed his $500-a-day habit. It was with palpable relief that in 1993, after a spell as a gentleman bandit knocking over local banks, he was sentenced to nine and a half years in a federal penitentiary. There, Piotter began an unlikely turnaround as he received treatment for his addictions, kept his nose relatively clean, and learned construction trades. He’s a keen observer of the prison’s often bizarre and occasionally noble characters and twisted moral economy; for example, in one sequence fraught with chilling irony, a sober friend flushes his dealer cellmate’s stash down the toilet to avoid a search by guards, which puts him in debt to the prison’s Colombian cartel, who in turn extract repayment by making him kill one of their Mexican rivals. Piotter’s narrative unfolds as a picaresque of brief, punchy, shaggy dog stories; even after his release, as he stays sober, starts a construction company, and woos his wary future wife, he’s still beset by lurid happenstances, including road-rage episodes, a public sea lion orgy, and the hanging suicide of his neighbor. His storytelling is briskly paced, evocative, and laced with piquant character sketches and wisecracks such as, “I’m allergic to alcohol; every time I drink I break out in handcuffs.” The author’s life, as portrayed here, contains enough screw-ups for 10 dysfunctionality memoirs, but unlike other memoirists, he eschews angst and self-pity and highlights the absurd humor of the predicaments he made for himself. The pathos here is all the more moving for being spare, understated, and well-earned from hard experience.
A smart, occasionally wise, and always entertaining recollection of addiction, crime, punishment, and recovery.