Marion Barry: Cocaine Is a Hell of a Drug

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Photo: Simon & Schuster

Notorious former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry is back with a new “tell-enough” autobiography titled, boldly but not incorrectly, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr. The Washington Post did the important work of pulling out the best parts related to drugs, alcohol, and the infamous “bitch set me up” bust, and on those subjects, it does not disappoint. (There are also the attempts “to recast Barry’s legacy as a civil rights icon and crusader for black empowerment while denying, eliding or explaining away the controversies that pocked his four decades in politics,” but that’s not why you’re here.) Barry’s “first time I did coke” story is especially entertaining because it begins with him pulling a Woody Allen–in–Annie Hall and ends in intercourse.

A woman who was doing coke offered him some, noting that the stuff made her “hot.” This was enough for Barry: “I told myself, what the hell? Why not?”

She put a line of cocaine on a business card, and the mayor of the capital of the free world raised it to his nose. “I exhaled instead of inhaled and blew all of the powder off the card,” he writes. The second try, he got it right. It “felt like I had ejaculated,” Barry writes. “The cocaine was a powerful stimulant that went straight to my penis.”

“What happened next?” he writes, injecting some real suspense into the moment. “I had sex with her.” And then the drug cliché: “From that point on, you chase that same high and sex that you felt the first time.”

Enough with the salaciousness, you’re probably thinking. How’s the book?

The book is a mess. Barry tells the same stories over and over, repeats the same statistics endlessly (black businesses got 3 percent of D.C. contracts when he came into office and 47 percent when he left), reintroduces characters again and again. Passage after passage reads like a paraphrase of old State of the City speeches. At several points, he lists his mayoral appointments.

So it’s like listening to a former politician ... on coke.