6 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. It is 4:10 pm in the E.T.A. Weight Room, and a group of students are completing their weight training while yelling aggressive, almost sexual encouragements to each other. The narrator comments that spending time in Ennet House will reveal a host of new information, such as the fact that quitting a “Substance” often triggers outbreaks of acne, that even industrial-strength earplugs cannot block out some snores, and that the majority of people arrested for drug and alcohol offences were sexually abused as children. Another fact is the paradox of recovery: only once an addict is truly “enslaved” by their addiction will they want to seek recovery, but by that point their Substance of choice will be the only thing giving their life meaning.
One of the major questions around substance abuse is whether people are biologically inclined to develop addictions or if it is all the result of socialization. This fits into a broader consideration of how much agency people have when it comes to addiction. The fact that most people arrested for sex and drug offences were sexually abused as children suggests that socialization is a big factor, and that there should be lenience when it comes to punishment for drug and alcohol-related crimes.
The narrator gives more facts: in Boston, penises are nicknamed “units.” People are less smart than they think they are. Sleep deprivation, gambling, work, shopping, shoplifting, sex, abstinence, food, exercise, prayer, and cartridge-viewing can all be forms of “abusable escape.” Many American adults can’t read. Craving a Substance can feel so intense that it is as if you will die if you don’t get it. Statistically, people with a lower IQ find it easier to overcome an addiction than those with a higher IQ. Most people addicted to Substances are also “addicted to thinking.” Surprisingly, “it is more fun to want something than to have it.”
As someone who heavily intellectualizes addiction, it is clear why Wallace includes these details about the relationship between addiction, intelligence, and thinking. Yet the statistic about high and low IQs is perhaps a little ethically concerning. People with higher IQs tend to already have more wealth and resources than those with lower ones, so is it’s potentially problematic to suggest that they also need more help in recovery.
Still more facts: God acts through human beings, and probably doesn’t care if you believe in him/her/it. Most Ennet House residents have tattoos, and this is partly because getting a tattoo is something people are likely to do while intoxicated. The permanence of the tattoo actually increases the feeling of intoxication that comes with the decision to get one. Tiny Ewell expresses this theory to anyone who will listen, which usually includes Kate Gompert, as she does not have the will to get up and walk away. Ewell believes there are two types of people with tattoos: those who feel quietly proud of them, and those who feel regretful.
Willpower is an important idea within addiction and recovery. Kate Gompert’s character takes the concept of having insufficient willpower to an extreme degree. For Kate, lack of willpower isn’t about poor self-discipline, laziness, or a habit of making bad choices. Instead, it is so extreme that it creates total inertia, almost as if Kate is a physical object with no force acting on it.
Tiny Ewell then comes up with a third category: Bikers, who are “one-man tattoo festivals.” The most regrettable tattoos are the ones men get of women’s names, such as Bruce Green’s tattoo that reads MILDRED BONK. After two months of obsessive thinking about tattoos, Ewell asks Don Gately if prison tattoos should constitute a whole separate category. Gately, who usually ignores Ewell partly because he often doesn’t understand what Ewell is saying, explains how prison tattoos are usually made. Gately believes that Ewell’s obsession with tattoos is a product of his sobriety and will eventually subside, which Ewell finds patronizing.
The social dynamic between Tiny Ewell and Don Gately is fascinatingly complex. Gately’s inability to understand anything Tiny Ewell is saying could be a product of differing class and educational backgrounds, which theoretically gives Ewell power over Gately. Yet Gately has a lot of wisdom that Ewell doesn’t, particularly when it comes to sobriety. This results in Ewell claiming to feel patronized by Gately.
Michael Pemulis, Trevor Axford, and Hal Incandenza are in Pemulis’s dorm room with the DMZ tablets Pemulis has acquired. Pemulis explains how rare the tablets are and how many people would like to get their hands on them. He explains that no one really knows how many hits are in each tablet. Pemulis got the tablets from French Canadian insurgents who didn’t know how much they were worth. Hal, Pemulis, and Axford know they will need to set aside 36 hours of time to experiment with the tablets. They will also need time to conduct medical research about DMZ’s potential addictiveness and side effects, something about which Hal is particularly insistent.
It is somewhat endearing that even when it comes to taking drugs, Hal and his friends have a distinctively nerdy approach. Their extensive research and preparation is in fact exactly what is advised when it comes to taking substances with intense effects. However, there is also a distinct recklessness in what they are doing. DMZ is rare and mysterious, and the fact that they don’t know how many hits are in each tablet could prove extremely dangerous.
With all this in mind, they plan to take the drugs on the weekend of 20-21 November. However, in order to have this time off Pemulis will need to make the traveling list for the Tucson-WhataBurger Invitational, which is unlikely, as his rank has remained consistently low.
Somewhat perversely, the promise of taking DMZ may be just the incentive Pemulis needs to work hard enough in tennis that he improves his rank.