essays

Deep Love and Dark Shadows

I met my beloved wife in 1994 at a support meeting for alcoholism. Both of us were closing in on our 50’s. We often went out for coffee together and became fast friends. Each of us was struggling with our own demons, yet we were able to give each other loving support. The key word is “loving” and not until 1999 did we start dating, very casually, going out to movies, eating dinner at her place, listening to her play the piano while I kicked back. One night Mary Esther and I went to a party where her close friend was celebrating many years of sobriety. After the party, we came back to her place and just because it was time, we fell into each other’s arms for our first passionate kiss. We didn’t have time to consummate the strong desires that we both were feeling because I had to get to the station to make the train back to the recovery house, called Moore’s Way, that I lived in on the North Shore in the great town of Gloucester.

We both promised to deal with this gift the next time we saw each other. Both of us were dealing with some major wreckage of the past and we both agreed that we would not consummate our relationship unless we both comitted to a monogamous relationship. Needless to say, we agreed and have enjoyed a wonderful relationship over the years. However, there have been dark shadows. On April 7, 2001, we came home from church and were eating dinner at her place when she started having tremors and couldn’t stop shaking. I asked her if she could take some deep breaths and she couldn’t. We both realized this was serious and I asked her to get into her car and, despite the fact that I still had no driver’s license (for some major infractions that took place many years ago), I drove her to Mt. Auburn Hospital which was the closest hospital. We parked by the Emergency room and I walked her in. Immediately the staff there recognized that something serious was happening and they took Mary Esther right in and hooked her up to various intravenous machines and then they let me come in to sit with her while she was being evaluated.

The physician was very concerned because all of her vitals were skewed a bit and he said, “We’ll keep her now for observation until this clears up.”

Suddenly, all her vitals started to crash. The physician and staff ran a line to her heart and told us that they were going to have to intubate her because she was rapidly losing the ability to breath on her own. Our eyes met and I was as frightened as she was as they led me out of the room so they could deal with this major event. To make a long story a bit shorter, what they found out was she had Sepsis. There was a cyst on her kidney that had started to leak poisons into her bloodstream and that was what started the tremors. While she was on the table in the Emergency room, the cyst burst and flooded her system with the lethal poison. For about two days we did not know whether my wonderful woman was going to survive. A priest that she knew came in and gave her Last Rites. I had called her mother, who lived downstairs from her, and she came to the hospital. Her name was Mary and she was around 88 years old at the time.

At the hospital, she looked at me and said, “Remember, she was mine first!” I looked her in the eye and said, “I know that, and I will always be grateful that you brought her into this world to grace my life.” She came into my arms and cried. By the end of the second day, Mary Esther started to improve, and they were able to take the intubation out and she could breathe on her own. She still couldn’t talk because they had a mask on her face to help her lungs with pressure. When I leaned over to kiss her forehead, Mary Esther gave me a head butt! It was the only way she could communicate and she wanted me to know she was still there. I realized then that she was going to be okay. For the 12 days she was at Mt. Auburn Hospital, the doctors brought resident physicians around to meet the woman who had survived Sepsis. They told us that if she was not at the hospital when the cyst burst, she would have been lost.

During her recovery, I actually watched Mary Esther go through all the stages of growing up. At first, she was like a little child but then, as she recovered, she grew up into the woman I had fallen in love with. While she was in the hospital, I asked her to marry me because we both felt that time was shorter than we knew. Even though she was committing to a homeless drug addict struggling in recovery, Mary Esther accepted. We were married at a friend’s house, in a large backyard on June 22nd, 2002. It was a great wedding, totally alcohol and drug free, and even the caterers had a great time and didn’t want to leave.

Obviously, there is more to this story, but I have run out of space. It is now 2019 and the leaves are coloring, and the acorns are dropping as the holiday season creeps up on us. Mary Esther and I believe that, for us, God saved the best for last.

Thoughts About Relapse and a Trip in the Way-back Machine

I took a short ride in my car yesterday and was listening to a group called Jersey Dream put out by Clifton Records. They are an acapella group. The lead singer is a friend of mine named Ron Trautz. I was enjoying his voice and thinking about how much he has accomplished since we ran wild together back in the 1960’s. Just to brag about his accomplishments for a moment, Ron Trautz obtained his LCSW & his LCADC and became the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Counseling Center in New Jersey after graduating from Rutgers University. Ron has over 40 years of experience in the treatment of Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders and is experienced in treating people both inpatient and outpatient. He also had a private practice and worked with other non-profit agencies. That’s pretty wild when I think of the times we got loaded together on codeine based cough syrup back in the early 1960’s. We made many trips from Jersey to New York City, along with a group of other wild characters, in my 58 Plymouth Convertible Belvidere with a push-button transmission.

The first drugstore we hit was called Zelnick’s, named after the proprietor. I remember the first time I walked in there and asked for a jug of Robitussin A-C and the pharmacist looked at me and asked me how many people I was with. I didn’t understand why he asked that question and I queried him back. He said, “Look, I don’t want a line of you guys running in and out of my store because it just doesn’t look good. Tell me how many bottles you want and I’ll give them all to you as long as you pay for them.” I told him that there were six of us and we each wanted two bottles apiece. He went into his back room and brought out three 16 ounce bottles while I ran out, collected the bread (money) and ran back in. Needless to say, we were all thrilled and quite loaded by the time we hit our favorite diner on Route 3 in New Jersey to have a couple of cups of hot tea.

I was still in high school at the time and so was Ron. We used to go and “hang” at a friend’s house in Livingston whose parents took off every weekend. If the house wasn’t available we would go to Livingston Lanes and hang out at the coffee shop there until we became personas non gratas—in other words, until they kicked us out. I remember how the town detectives would always follow us around, but back then they were too lame to make any definitive arrests. They would actually come to the parking lot at the Livingston Lanes and chat us up to see if they could glean any information from us. We were just teenagers but thought of ourselves as having the art of misdirection totally under control. Some of us got out of the life, Ron being one of the lucky ones. There were others too. But I continued on the long road to heroin addiction and never wanted to stop, nor did I think I could.

Ron got clean, went back to school and studied to become a drug counselor and was a success. He kept singing vocal group harmony with his specialty being acapella. His album, called Jersey Dream, is just one of the groups he sang with. Ron sang lead vocalist with Jersey Dream and hearing his voice is like a trip in the way-back machine. I struggled for over 3 and one-half decades with my opiate addiction and now I am about to celebrate 15 years of sobriety with my home group. I actually passed the 15 year mark in September but, because I dislike chairing the meeting, I put it off and then realized that it would be a good thing to do to show that a once hopeless case like me, can actually recover from this illness of the body, mind and soul. I have to admit that sometimes I think about using or, as the term goes, “picking up” but every time I think of it, the thought of that terrible Fentanyl crosses my mind. Today, I love life, and I realize that if I were to stick the needle in my vein I might not be alive to pull it back out. That’s what happened to one of my heroes by the name of Lenny Bruce, a great comedian who was ahead of his time. He passed at the age of 37 in 1966. But it wasn’t Fentanyl, just an overdose but he is gone except for his comedic legacy.

Ron is the other side of the story. He spent 40 years of his life treating people with addictions as both a counselor and the Director of the agency I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, Ron is quite ill now with various age-related afflictions, but he is totally valued by his wife, family and friends. When I think back at how wild we were, I find it amazing that he accomplished so much. Of course, he was one of the brighter people in the club we called the Hats in Livingston High School. I guess both of us are lucky, both Ron and me. I worked as a drug counselor for a few years, but it was at the Cambridge Needle Exchange and it was too close for my hungry monkey. I relapsed on the job.

Now I work as a writer and I’ll soon be having a book published of short stories and poetry. I’m looking forward to it but keeping my life in the moment so I can stay drug free. After all, I know I’m not bullet proof.

Running On Empty In Vermont

I kept drinking the wine so the withdrawal from the Klonopin wouldn’t hit me. I didn’t want to have a seizure out here in the boondocks. My wife, Debbie, has already gone into detox at a place called Scatterberry Farm. St Dismas House said that they had an opening for me but it would not be until Monday. It was Saturday morning and they might as well said eternity.

I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could make a doctor. I pulled out the phone book and flipped to the yellow pages. There’s not a hell of a lot of doctors close by in the hills of Vermont. I felt a chill and threw a couple of logs in the wood stove. I came back to the phone book and dropped my finger on a doctor that was in the town of Ludlow. A woman doctor.

Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes not. Usually a woman doctor can be conned the first time, but every now and then you can run into a real bitch. I crossed my fingers and then dialed the number.

Two rings. Click. It was her nurse or secretary and she said she had an open time at 1:30pm. I looked at the clock on the wall. Almost 11 o’clock. Fuck. Two and one-half hours. And not even a sure thing. But I had to stop drinking the wine because she’d never come off with the script if I smelled like a boozer. I thought that I would try for both cough syrup and the pills. That would hold me until Monday.

I smoked a joint of the homegrown and walked outside. The rabbit cages were covered with snow again and I brushed them off and put fresh food inside the little bowl. I brought their water bowl into the cabin, popped the ice out if it, filled it with warm water, and brought the bowl back out. I looked into the hutch and realized that there was only one rabbit left. I decided to eat the last one. I pulled out the black and white bunny by the ears and put it down on the ground under my foot. Held it tight while I pulled out the .38 and pumped one bullet into its head. It jerked for a moment and then lay still. Slit it and cleaned it and pulled its skin off like taking a foot out of a wet sock.

Then I brought it inside and made some sauce for it to soak in. Usually I like to let it soak for a few days to improve the taste but I was out of food and didn’t want to waste money on food that I might need to cash the scripts. I’d cook it tonight if I was loaded. If I couldn’t get any drugs I wouldn’t be hungry anyway.

I looked at the clock. Almost half past twelve. I figured I’d pull out and go to the doc a little early. Maybe her first appointment wouldn’t show. Maybe I could just catch her going in and she would take me first. Maybe maybe maybe. Three miles of dirt road in the snow and seven of country highway. Good to get a start on things anyhow.

I grabbed my props: an old bottle of syrup from a previous script and a vial of pills with just the right run out date on them. I always could come up with them because I had a satchel of them saved just for this purpose. A lot of doctors would come right off with the drugs if they saw that another doctor where I used to live gave them to me. Chronic medical conditions. Bronchitus. Anxiety because of the respiratory ailments. I’d chain smoke non filters all day before the appointment and my lungs would sound like I was really congested.

I used to love it when I came down with a real bad chest cold because then I would travel all over the countryside making doctor after doctor. I could even get people to come and bankroll me on the scripts because they knew I was almost a sure thing. It always seemed funny to me how, when I was high, the doctors would come right off for me but if I was dope-sick, that’s when I would have the most trouble.

I was dope-sick. And I was nervous. I tore apart the dresser drawers just hoping to come up with a pill or something. I went through the satchel with all the Tussionex and Hycodan bottles to see if maybe I had left the wash in one of them. No luck. I guess I had gone through them and already done that. The thought crossed my mind that this seemed all too familiar.

I put the rabbit in the pan up on top of the fridge, got my hat and coat and boots on and grabbed the keys to the truck and crunched down the drive to the pickup truck. It cranked slow because of the cold but it kicked over and I rolled down the incline into the dirt road. I had snow tires on all four wheels and the back of the truck was loaded with sandbags so the going wasn’t too bad. I smoked a joint and then ate a lifesaver to kill the smell. I don’t know why I smoked the joint because all it did was make me more paranoid. By the time I got to the doctor’s office I felt like my head was going to explode.

I really wanted to smoke a cigarette to calm down but I didn’t want to walk in there stinking of tobacco, so I just took some deep breaths and listened to the phlegm in my chest rattle. It sounded great. When she put the stethoscope to my chest she was going to hear all the right noises.

I walked into the office. There was an old woman sitting there. Doctors that treat old people sometimes are easier to make than others. I nodded to the old lady when she looked up at me and then sat down and picked up a magazine. I flipped through the pages but I couldn’t keep my mind on the articles, because I was thinking of what to say to the doctor to get the drugs. My stomach was all nervous and I could feel it gnawing at itself. I had to urinate and I looked around for a bathroom. I didn’t see one and I hoped it wouldn’t be too long before I could go in.

The door opened and the doctor came out. She looked to be in her late thirties and wore brown glasses. Her hair was brown and hung loosely onto her shoulders with a little wisp over her glasses. The thought crossed my mind that I was glad that her hair wasn’t tied up in a bun. An old man followed her out of the office and the old woman sitting near me smiled at him and stood up as he walked over to her. My heart leaped in my chest. They were together and I was next. The old woman was just waiting for her husband to come out of the office. I saw the scripts in his hand and I wondered what the doctor had given him.

They all talked for a few minutes and then the doctor motioned me in. Good. No nurse. I chatted with her as she took my weight, my blood pressure, and my respiration and pulse. I looked as she charted my blood pressure and I was happy to see that it was elevated. That always helped me get the pills.

She got up and left the room for a minute and I looked around to see if there was anything worth taking. Then she quickly returned. I told her how my chest was all congested and I had trouble sleeping at night with all the coughing.

“This happens to me every winter. Maybe I should move south. I don’t know. I just like the change of seasons.”

“Maybe you should quit smoking,” she said.

“Well, I’ve cut down a lot. I only smoke a few cigarettes a day.”

“You should quit altogether.”

“I’m planning on it soon. I haven’t smoked yet today.”

“I smell cigarettes on your clothes.”

“Oh, yeah. My wife is a heavy smoker. It would be easier for me to quit if she didn’t smoke so much.”

“I see. Well-” she paused.

I held my breath. My props were in front of her. My heart felt like it would pound out of my chest and my stomach felt like it was full of ice-cold water.

She pulled the prescription pad out and I watched the pen move. Yes. Yes. Yes. She wrote for the Tussionex. Only four ounces but I didn’t have to share it with my wife because she was in treatment so it would be enough. She wrote for an inhaler. Screw the inhaler — I would trash that scrip. And she wrote for the Klonopin. The benzo’s are great opiate boosters and my heart was dancing and leaping around in my chest. She pushed the papers to me and I folded them up and put them away quickly. I was afraid the doctor would change her mind at the last minute.

She made out the bill and I paid part of it and told her that I would mail the rest of it in. She took down my address. I always paid part of the bill if I had the money because it was better in case I went back there again. I could pay it off then and owe a whole bill next time. If a doctor kept writing I would keep paying. If they didn’t write I wouldn’t pay at all.

I left the office and drove over to the pharmacy. I hated this part. Some pharmacists were real assholes and would do their judgment thing and say they didn’t have the drug in stock just because they didn’t want to give it. I pulled into the parking lot, turned off the truck and got out. I took a deep breath and walked into the store.

The pharmacist had grey hair and his glasses rested down on a bump in the middle of his nose. The counter woman came over and I handed her the scripts. She asked me for my address and wrote it on the scripts. I hated when they did that if they didn’t cash them because then you had to take it to another pharmacy and the evidence was there that one pharmacy had already turned you down.

She walked them back to the guy and he looked at them for what seemed to be an eternity and then he started to type. He walked to the back and I saw the yellow thick liquid in the Tussionex bottle. He shook the bottle. I feel as if I might have said something if he didn’t shake the bottle because it says that the active ingredients settle to the bottom and to shake it before you take it on the prescription instructions. He poured and it came out slow and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I heard him shake the pills into the dispenser and then he finished typing and he handed the two packages to the counter woman.

She called my name.

I can’t describe the feeling when you walk out of the drug store with the stuff in your hand. It is like the whole world is yours and you got over on the best of them. I wanted to dance out of the store but I just walked. I strolled over to the coffee shop next door and took that piss that I had been holding since the doctor’s office and then ordered a coffee to down with the pills and the medicine. The hot coffee pumps the drugs into your system and there’s nothing so good as the cigarette with your coffee after the medicine slides down your throat. Then the high comes on.

I looked around the parking lot to see if anyone was watching. No one seemed close. I threw three 2 milligram Klonopin into my mouth and lifted the Tussy jug to my lips. I held it up until the last of it spilled into my mouth. Put the cap back on it and stood it upside down on the seat for the residue to drain into the cap so I could suck it out later. Lit a smoke and sipped my coffee as I decided what to do next.

I figured that I would visit my wife. That was my first mistake.

Right away she could tell that I was high and was pissed off that I didn’t save her any. I told her that I still had Klonopin to give her but that wasn’t good enough. She started yelling at me and the people at the treatment center told me that I had to leave and she said she was coming with me and that I better have another croaker all lined up for a script so she could get high too. I just wanted to enjoy my high and all hell was breaking loose and I knew that it was going to be a big hassle to cop for her and she would bitch the whole time there until we got it. I wished she would stay at the treatment center and I wished I hadn’t gone to see her there but it was too late now.

I don’t know how I always keep making these mistakes over and over again.

They told her that if she left with me that she couldn’t come back and that if she stayed they didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to come any more. I knew that if she stayed they would try to turn her against me and tell her that she should find another place to live, so even though I wanted her to stay I told her to come with me.

I was high and so I knew I would be at my best now for making doctors.

She threw her shit in her bag and we blew out the door of the treatment center. She ate two Klonopin as soon as she got into the truck and made me buy her a beer to wash it down. We stopped at a phone booth and looked in the book for another doctor. There was a doctor in Brandon and I called him and he said that he had one appointment left and could I get there by 4:30. I said yes and let her drive so I could dig my head.

She bitched at me for the entire ride. I chain-smoked and nodded while she talked.

Finally we pulled into the parking lot. The office was in an old colonial house and I went in. The waiting room was empty. He came out and beckoned me in and I laid my rap on him. He took my vital signs and listened to my chest. He thought it sounded terrible and wrote me a script for four more ounces of Tussionex and gave me one of those garbage inhalers and some antibiotics.

We raced to the drugstore because sometimes in these little hick towns in Vermont they close real early. I filled the antibiotics with the cough syrup but I threw away the script for the inhaler. I had learned that those inhalers cost a lot of money from past experience.

I got back out to the truck and I told her that I was going to do one ounce of the syrup because I went in to make the croaker and did all the work and she complained but there was nothing she could do about it. I ate two more pills and did a heavy ounce and then let her do her three and she drained the bottle and took a few more pills.

I took over the wheel after we had coffee. We were turning into Route 7 heading into Rutland and I heard a screech of brakes and this guy almost hit us as we came onto the main highway. Then the creep starts riding my ass. I just hadn’t seen him and it wasn’t my fault and he was beginning to piss me off so I turned around and flipped him the bird. He had an older woman in the front seat and someone was sitting in the back seat too.

My wife said to let it slide but the dude was riding our ass real close so I slammed on the brakes just for a second and he came up on me and freaked because he though he was going to hit us and he locked up his brakes and his car spun sideways as I hit the gas and pulled away laughing like a loon.

He was on us again like maggots on garbage. Coming real close and looking real grim when I peeped into the rear view mirror. We were coming into town and the lights on the highway were green. I saw that the light by the Mobil gas station by one of the main roads into the shopping section of town had changed to orange and he was still coming up on us so when I stopped I looked into the rear view mirror and I saw him ripping out of his car with a crow bar in his hand and he looked like this giant woodsman over six feet tall and I knew that we screwed the pooch.

I figured I’d have as much chance as a pigeon in a wolf pack if I went physical with this Vermont mountain man and I was so frightened that my bowels felt like they’s been turned to oil. I hit the gas and turned the steering wheel and flew through that Mobil station like it was an interstate. My wife yelled at me as we pulled out into the adjacent roadway as an oncoming car swung wildly around us blaring on the horn and I told her to “just shut up” and she did. The guy chasing us jumped back into his car and was on us again.

He had anger fueling his jets but I was running for my life so I had some edge on the creep. The light turned red ahead and I flew through it like it was bumper-car city and pulled a sharp right with my wheels screaming for mercy. Looked back. Heart pounding. Debbie yelling at me. The guy was coming but he’d lost a little ground. The thought of the gun back at the house ripped through my head and I knew just why I never carried it with me anymore.

Red light ahead. Cars stopped in my lane. Debbie screamed as I crossed the line into the oncoming lane and took a left through the traffic. Horns blowing and the screech of brakes and I didn’t look and I hit the gas and the stores and people were flying by the truck in what was once the quiet streets of Rutland. I looked back for a second and didn’t see him. I kept going making rights and lefts and found myself in the residential section of town.

I slowed the truck down and my head and heart was still racing. Time to head home. I felt like my head from the drugs was almost gone but I figured that if I ate some more pills that it would creep back. So I did.

The next thing I remember was we were back at the house and the rabbit was in the wood cook stove. I had a glass of wine in front of me and Debbie was rolling a joint and talking about calling the detox tomorrow to see if she could get back in. We nodded out and the rabbit burned all on the outside and we picked away the burnt flesh in the morning and cut up the meat that wasn’t burnt and ate it for breakfast. It was one hell of a good rabbit.

Debbie called the detox and they said the only way she could come back was if I didn’t’ come there to visit or call her. She decided to go and I dropped her off at Scatterberry Farm.

The next day, sick and shaking, I checked into St. Dismas House and that put another forty mles between me and Debbie. They had to medicate me heavily for about five days so I wouldn’t have a seizure.

I was still being withdrawn slowly from the Klonopin and I had been at St. Dismas House for seventeen days when they called me into the office. My counselor was there and they told me that they had something important to tell me and they sat me down. I knew it was about my wife.

I was right. They said they had to tell me that my wife had left treatment this morning. She left with someone else. Another guy.

I felt like my whole world spun into black holes and I got dizzy and didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run. I wanted to get high. The counselors talked to me for a while and I don’t remember much of what was said but my throat hurt all the time they were talking.

They kept talking and then gave me an extra dose of medication and they said that I could stay an extra 21 days because they thought I needed it. I said I would stay.

My wife and the guy had rented a small place in Ludlow and after eight days the police came and picked him up for violation of parole because he was court committed to the treatment center as a condition of release. They lugged him back to prison.

Debbie started coming around to St. Dismas House and asked me if I would go back with her. The counselor there said he thought I should go into a halfway house and keep away from my wife for a while. He started the process to get me into a halfway house that was affiliated with them. Right before the interview for the house I left treatment and moved back in with my wife but things just didn’t seem the same.

Three days later I cashed a refill for some Klonopin and then went to a doctor for some Tussionex. We didn’t have enough money to fill the script so we pawned the guy’s tools that he had left in the garage behind the apartment house. On the way back I was too messed up to drive and sideswiped a chain link fence. A section of it came down and my wife took over the wheel and we sped away before anyone came.

Two days later when my retroactive disability check came I went to a doctor to get another script and he said that the pharmacy had called him and that I had been going to doctors all over the northern part of Vermont to get narcotics and everyone had my name. He told me if I ever came back again he was going to call the police and I was through around there. He was still yelling at me and I gave him the finger as I left the office.

Debbie and I went to a bar and had a few drinks so we could think straight and we decided to move to South Carolina with the $9000 we had. This way we could start fresh and make a new life for ourselves. That night we loaded the truck with the stuff that we wanted and left for South Carolina at sunrise. I was starting to get dope sick so we stopped in the Great Brook Valley Projects in Worcester to buy some heroin so we could make it into New York City. We figured we could get enough heroin in New York to hold us for the entire trip.

The stuff we got in New York was so good that we stopped in a motel just past Washington DC and didn’t leave the motel until the dope was all gone. We started hitting doctors in the small towns on the way down. Once Debbie fell asleep at the wheel on Interstate 95 and we scraped a cement bridge and the truck spun around on the highway but nobody hit us. I took over the driving.

When we got to South Carolina we found a place to rent really fast and it was a lot cheaper than up north. We were really excited as we moved into the new place and I went to a small medical center and got a script for Tussionex and Klonopin and we celebrated that night.

I fell asleep with a cigarette and when I woke up the couch was smoking and I could barely see. I opened the windows and the door and poured water on the couch. I fell asleep next to Debbie on the bed with my clothes on and that night I had a dream about being in a church. The church was empty except for me and I woke up crying. The crucifix was upside down and there was a pool of blood beneath it with a bent motorcycle wheel in a slow spin.

The Disappearance of Heroin

Well, heroin isn’t exactly gone however, it’s not exactly true “junk” either. This Fentanyl thing has crept into the scene and seems to have overpowered life on the ‘nod’ side. As an old time junkie, who hasn’t used for over a decade, ,the kill rate of this new not-junk thing, is kind of terrifying. I mean, who would want to relapse after many years in abstinence, if you couldn’t find real heroin. I hear of people taking a shot and then blacking out for a few hours, then waking up when it’s time to trundle off and get some more. Really, if you can’t enjoy the high, what’s the sense in it? If all your friends are taking the big “dirt nap”, well that’s kind of a drag. In the beginning, way back in 1964, I remember the time that Joey Marantino and I went into the Newark Projects in the hellish state of New Jersey. We only had enough money for one dime bag ($10), and we were sweating it because we usually buy one bag a piece. But as things go with junkies, we were broke and lucky to have the gas money to make it to Newark.

We saw the guy who we usually buy from, made the deal, and headed to the gas station, where we always go to shoot up. Grudgingly we split the bag. After we cooked it up and prepared it, we shot it. The next thing we remembered, we were picking ourselves off of the floor of the bathroom. We were lucky that we couldn’t afford a bag each. If we had shot a whole bag, we would have been dead. But back then, it was heroin and we could count on that for the most part. Never fentanyl. Sometimes, if we got beat, ( mistakenly bought a bag of chalk or flour) we would know it as soon as we tried to cook it up.

I used heroin for over three decades and for most of that time, I never wanted to stop using. My first detox was in Alice Peck Day hospital near Lebanon, New Hampshire. I left on the third day. I remember arriving and laying down on the bed and then the resident came in and handed me a schedule full of meetings for the next day. I was a bit taken aback and said, “All I need is a detox and some bed rest. No meetings please.” Then, when I found out they didn’t give methadone for detox, I knew I wasn’t going to stay. My wife Sascha had dropped me off and I had no vehicle, otherwise I would have left right then. My wife called me the next day and told me she had picked up our paychecks from the New Hampshire State Hospital where we worked as Mental Health Technicians. The checks were big due to all the overtime we had worked during a two week period. I told her to pick me up the next day and we would go to cop some dope. Back then we had real heroin, which was truly a gift in my insane thought pattern. Now, even after being clean for so long, every now and then I get the urge to go out and buy some junk. However, all there is around here, in the Boston area, is fentanyl which I have no urge to use. So the presence of fentanyl and the lack of true heroin is quite a deterrent to me. Heroin is my drug of no choice for sure.

Of course, in the way back of the 1970’s, opium would sometimes arrive when I lived in New Hampshire. It would come shaped like a tootsie roll with paper and Chinese lettering around it. I loved to eat opium and then have a cup of hot coffee to rush it through my system. When one eats opium it creeps up on you over the period of an hour or so and the arrival of the feeling is quite nice. I always worry, even in my double digit sobriety, what would happen if I ran into some real opium. I don’t know if I would have the wherewithal to turn it down. In the parlance of recovery jargon, I guess that means I have a reservation. Usually the reservation is for a place in hell but the journey, lies my monkey mind, would be quite pleasant. Addiction is the illness with a voice. The one thing I can count on is that “this monkey is a liar,” a phrase that I have used in poetry and in my story called “Getting Fixed In South Carolina,” which is sometimes available on a CD or a download. It is performed by the Jeff Robinson Trio, a great jazz band, who also wrote the music. Believe me, it does not glorify the life. You could probably find it on-line somewhere.

It would probably be easier to find that CD than to find real heroin around here. This fentanyl is lethal. From my experiences in San Francisco in the 1980’s, where Fentanyl was called China White, the high was never as good as real heroin. Additionally, it’s much easier to shuffle off this mortal coil with a careless bang of fentanyl, which is really a synthetic narcotic. It takes Mother Nature to make the real thing. I’m not recommending anyone to go out and try it. I truly believe that narcotic addiction is a one way trip to hell whether or not you get to live through it. They call it junk for a reason, you know. And it will cycle back. It always does. Actually heroin came by the name junk because, in the way back, junkies would strip the copper pipe out of abandoned houses and sell it to the metal man as junk for money to score dope. It also has the nickname “dope” because if you fall for the false promise of heroin then you become the dope you shoot.

Sorry about that. No insult intended. I just don’t want anyone to fall for the illusion that took me down that long road. I was one of the lucky ones. I lived through it. At least, so far. Like my doctor says, “just because you don’t want to pick up, doesn’t mean that you won’t.” And he has wisdom that doesn’t come from my monkey mind, for sure.

Addiction: The Illness That Talks

After more than three decades of heroin addiction, I was on my way to detox again. I had been to at least 40 or more detoxes, some of which I completed and some of which I bolted out the door before they wanted me to, or as they call it “A.M.A.— Against Medical Advice. Addiction is like that. I’m sure that my monkey mind had come up with a good excuse to ‘take it on the run baby,’ however, as one of my friends always used to say to me, “That’s probably not a good idea,” He said that to me very often. Well, I was on my way into a detox in West Boylston, MA, in March of 1994. I had two bags left, and stopped in a gas station to bang them up because I didn’t know how long it would be before they dosed me. Actually, that was just another excuse for getting higher.

When I arrived there, I was counseled and asked if I would complete a rehabilitation that they had, which meant that I would be there for two weeks after they stopped dosing me. I’d be going to relapse classes, meetings, etc. My counselor was a wonderful woman who had been my counselor previous times there. This was my 9th or 10th time at this particular detox. I was comfortable for the first couple of days and then they drastically reduced the methadone they were administering to me. Life is like that. You can’t get out of an addiction to opiates painlessly, no matter how hard you try. Finally I was reduced to nothing but my regular psych drugs for PTSD, Major Depression & Severe Panic Disorder. I don’t know what came first—the mental illness or Chasing the Dragon, as they call using the junk.

Finally I had an appointment with my counselor and she asked me, “What are you going to do different this time?” I looked into her eyes for a bit and then tears welled up in my eyes. You see, I was thinking that I was caught on this treadmill and nothing would happen upon my release but the same old thing. I was honest with her and told her I thought that I was just in for another tune-up. She smiled easily at me and said, “A tune-up! Tell me Marc, how long has it been since you blew the engine? It’s been a while, eh.” At this point I was feeling pretty hopeless. And then my counselor starting telling me my story. She asked if I remembered the motorcycle accident that took place in South Carolina while I was on a drug run at 2am in the morning? And then she told me the truth. I had told her the events of that story and how I was unable to walk after the accident. They started sending me to physical therapy and I hated it because it wasn’t easy and it was painful even though I was on a methadone clinic at the time. I told my physical therapist that I just couldn’t do it anymore. My physical therapist asked me a question. She said, “Marc, how badly do you want to walk again?” I really wanted to walk again. My P.T. said, “Marc, to be able to walk again, you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do, over and over again. Or you can choose not to walk again.”

It was kind of a no-brainer. Of course I was going to do those things I didn’t want to do, over and over again because I really wanted to walk again without crutches and braces on my legs. So, over a period of one year, I did the work. My counselor, at the detox looked at me and asked me, “Marc, how badly do you want to stay Clean? This is the same deal as learning how to walk again. You’re going to have to do, every day, things you don’t want to do, over and over again. Like you’ll have to go to support groups or meetings every day, sometimes three times a day. You don’t have to like it at first. But I’ll tell you that, in the end, when you stay clean, you’ll begin to get gifts back in your life. Probably more than you can imagine at this time. I know, from past experience with you, that your “monkey” talks a good game. It’s not a matter of arguing with this monkey—you’ll need to overcome it with facts that it will try to deny.” At first I couldn’t see the connection with learning how to walk again and staying clean but then it hit me like a newsflash and tears ran down my cheeks. This was the beginning of my rude awakening.

I walked out of her office with a lot on my mind. Then, later, I was making aftercare plans on their telephone and the people put me on hold. I waited 30 seconds, then a minute, then my mind said, The hell with this and I went to hang up the phone. Suddenly a thought came like a bolt out of the clouds in my head. The thought asked, “If this was the dope man and he put you on hold, how long would you hang onto the phone?” I realized that, if this was the dope man and I was trying to cop, I would hang onto the phone so long that a spider could spin a complete web between the phone and my ear!

This was a total revelation and it was the beginning of fighting back against my addiction. I held onto the phone and was able to arrange for aftercare. Of course, this was just the beginning of that long road but I had become willing! This was how my Recovery began. My addiction was talking but I was talking back. And I did do things I didn’t want to do until, suddenly, I realized that my life was coming back to me. I knew that old monkey was a liar. I realized that “Addiction only remembers what it needs.”

Tales Of Inner City: From The Books of The Keepers

The Farm is nestled in the hills of scenic Merrimack Valley. It is honeycombed with semi-sealed tunnels where the vicious Merrimack Mongeese are raised. They are tended to by bipedal lizards known as dragons by the population at large.

These dragons are hopelessly addicted to the bone marrow powder of the mongoose. Incisions have been made on their necks into which tubes have been inserted into the main vein. Two liter skin sacs have been surgically grafted on to their scaly shoulders. These sacs contain potent solution of powdered marrow and it is constantly released into their blood flow.

The Dragon Keepers are entrusted with the care and feeding of the Merrimack Mongeese. Their lives are always at risk due to the vicious nature of these animals. The Dragon’s loyalty is insured by their addiction and the potential for them to become Chief Tenders. This is a cosmic state that can be achieved by only 1% of those who ingest the precious solution. More on this later.

“from the books of Tending: Births of Major and Minor Queens—by InsectO-War”

Dreams, Dragon-child of the sinister Insect-O-War, slipped through a minuscule crevice. A faint mewling sound eerily made patterns of fear in his flickering eyes. He widened the gap on his flow tube. The sudden influx of marrow cleared him. He probed with scaled phalanges through the inter dimensional mesh; made contact and gently pulled.

Greenspur tingled with the touch. There was a moment of indecision and then she responded, her scales glowing. As they stared at each other, Dreams motioned for her to raise her flow. Unwittingly, she opened it to maximum. Greenspur swayed with dream punch! Dreams quickly enfolded her as she went deep. He tried desperately to close her flow tube. Too late, too late.

She became solution, eyes aglow with visionary light. Dreams knew Greenspur had passed the Veil. And just then, a flock of mongoose entered the catacomb. Dreams began the chant of Passing, in the fervent hope that he could prevent their Spirit-loss as the flock approached with malevolent intent. A gentle humming suddenly filled the chamber. The mongeese paused, then stopped. Still standing, they began to croon; they offered their marrow. Dreams stared at Greenspur. She flickered with the White Light. The mongeese lay down in front of her. A new Chief Tender had been birthed!

“The Breech: First Stages—by the Destroyer, Queen sister of Insect-OWar.”

A dense fetid mist rose out of the multiple sewer pipes which extended into the streets of Innner City. Inner City, the final distribution point of the Marrow, was quiet. It was three hours after the midnight.

Tracks, an Inner City trafficker in the powder, was waiting for a major drop. He reduced his flow-tube to a trickle to maintain a state of steady-sickness in order to facilitate flight through dimensional walls, if necessitated by the appearance of the infamous Wart-Hogs.

The Wart-Hogs were the Dream Police whose avowed goal was to rid the world of the Marrow by tracing it to its source and destroying the mongeese. This would alter both time continuum and the entire fabric of space irrevocably. The Dragons would have no more reason to time-slip, which would mean the end of the world, as we now know it, that is.

Molecule movement commenced. There was wind, a shimmering light, and a Keeper stepped into the alley with a sac of powdered Marrow. Tracks handed him the Sacred Meat and 40,000 gold drachmas. Another shimmering, and the Keeper faded.

Tracks moved into shadow with the sac, dimension-slipped into the Cutting Room and, with a sigh of relief, turned up his flow. He began to drift.

“Insect-O-War: Spinning The Wheel”

Dimmer flicked the tracer on as Tracks began to dimension-slip. A gossamer reality thread trailed off and Dimmer clicked his mandibles gleefully, then radioed home base for an assist. His partner, Cold-Shake, immediately pulled up. The motor on his D-cruise, a high tech slipper, was humming. Dimmer slipped the side-rail and they followed the tracer. They homed in on the Cutting Room.

Tracks, unaware of the closing Wart-Hogs, was traversing a heavy drift. Suddenly, the sensor flashed, signifying an unauthorized presence. Before Tracks could react (due to the drift his reaction time was delayed) the D-cruise shattered the Time Wall, entered the Cutting Room and sparkled to a halt. Suddenly, the room was full of airborne Marrow.

Unaware of the drifting powder, Dimmer and Cold-Shake leaped from their vehicle and snapped a collar on Track’s flow-tube. Tracks realized that, if he tried to slip, he would lose his flow-tube. He tried to cool out but the thought of being tubeless was too much for him. He would be a reptile without a solution. He breathed deeply and then it hit him—-Marrow in the air.

Dimmer flicked on the waver to call for a warrant and then—he began to flake. Dimmer and Cold-S. This was a serious and unique situation. A Cutting Room had been probed, which was unusual in itself, but to make things even stranger, two WartHogs had become addicts. Shit happens.

“Kaleidoscope Eye Bar Chronicles: by Insect-O-War”

While Dimmer and Cold-Shake remained in Dream-State, Tracks set the stage for a coup. He made incisions in the Wart-Hogs necks and inserted electronically controlled flow-tubes. He grafted two-liter Marrow sacs onto their shoulders and set the eclectro-monitors on 70% flow. This was the solution to all their problems.

Dreams, a powerful Keeper now, due to his relationship with Chief Tender Greenspur, surveyed Tracks handiwork and was satisfied. He offered Tracks thirty sacs of powdered Marrow and the Inner City trafficker primed his tube. He delayed the flow just long enough to be sick and he slipped back to Inner City for a meet.

The lights were tracing arcs on the walls. The hum of music webbed the atmosphere. The click of flow-tubes was all around him as he entered the Kaleidoscope Eye Bar. Dragons had glued themselves to dimension-blockers to keep from slipping through in Marrow hunger and their eyes came out on stalks when Tracks slipped in and did a heavy flow.

The room came alive with vibrating Dragons as, one by one, they made the connection. The potency was high. Some Dragons would never leave the bar again. No one would complain.

“Tales Of Communion: by the Destroyer, Queen Sister of Insect-O-War”

The blackness lifted and it was clear. Greenspur could feel the raw pulse of thought spinning through the mongoosian mind. She became as one with the flock. She felt their hunger for the Sacred Meat and she understood why their need must be fulfilled.

In the final stages of the addiction the Dragons become catatonic. The only thing they need to sustain life, of a sort, is the solution. They become the Living Meat. Parts of their flesh are sectioned off and become payment for the Marrow. It is the only currency they have left in the end states of the addiction. This meat is then combined with the regular mongoose feed.

Greenspur knew the craving of the meat by the mongeese. She also knew the intense pull of the powder. She knew that only the Chief Tenders were Dragons with mongeesian minds. Only a female could become a Chief Tender.

No male Dragon had ever survived maximum flow. Greenspur was stunned by the symbiosis, the parasitic nature of need on the part of the two species. It was a unique enslavement.

The mongeese sang to her. She hummed and twirled her flow-tube with wild abandon.

“Fixing The Beasts: by Insect-O-War”

The smell was rank. The two mascot mongeese were snarling and slavering. Their leashes were pulled taut. The green sinews of Greenspur’s forearm rippled with the strain of holding them back. Dreams slithered along beside her, nervously playing with his flow-tube. Tracks moved on ahead of them all, time and again apprehensively glancing back at the mongeese. The mongeese were in Meat Rage. If they broke loose, the closest Dragon would be the food for their habits.

A yellow-tinged Dragon stepped out of a darkened building and waved them on. Their pace quickened. Tracks disappeared into the doorway. Greenspur and Dreams waited. Tracks reappeared and waved them in.

The smell overpowered them all. The mongeese murmured with need.

The yellow-tinged Dragon turned his flow-tube to maximum and held his arm out to the mongeese. As they savaged the pure Meat of his arm, his eyes pinned and he smiled with the satisfaction of need meeting need. He had become the Meat.

Six other Dragons with yellow skin lay about the room. Dreams moved about, turning all flow-tubes to maximum-flow and slipped everyone in the room to the caverns of the mongeese. Their eyes were glowing in the darkness. The caverns hummed with animal sound. The Keepers moved back as the mongeese came forward to feed.

“A Direct Communique from Insect-O-War: In The Solution”

Here I sit under the influence of the mother-lode-mind-flaker. I see twisted spiders dripping green ooze from the walls of Abbey West. There are unidentifiable small creatures spinning helplessly in the webs, the sinister webs of their incommunicable reality.

Listen. Listen. I can hear these tiny trapped creatures cry out into the cavernous reaches of the tunnels while being sucked dry by the between dimension beings that spin lysergic acid webs. These creatures have no eyes yet they can see things that a reptile like me, the simple savage Insect-O-War, can never even begin to comprehend.

Are we not all strange scaly reptilian creatures spinning webs of our own making at warp-light speed while looking for our fatal connection, who sits, no doubt, in a quiet celestial barroom counting his gold drachmas from his last sale of the bitter-sweet solution to the problem which plagues us all. Feelings. Ah, yes, feelings.

I rotate my flow-tube counter-clockwise seeking the lethargic dream state that the powdered bone Marrow of the vicious Merrimack Mongeese produces. I ponder the after effects of the stuff whereby the walls of the dimensions become sticky and penetrable and reptiles like myself must purchase more and more to maintain a solid base within the dream world of Powers beyond. It is a one-way journey to the world of Under-Soil, the home of that great shifting galactic structuring of what is commonly misconceived as the real and known throughout the cosmos as Inner City.

Inner City. The home of the cosmic connection. The final distribution point for the powdered Marrow solution.

Listen. You can hear the clink of coins as the connection counts his gold drachmas. Watch! There is a reptile slithering his way. Look closely. Can you see the packet of Merrimack Mongeese powder in the connection’s hand? Can it be? It seems to shimmer in the glowing dusk light of evening.

Watch! Don’t even blink. They are making the exchange. Marrow flows to its object. Its object becomes its subject. We are all subject to the call. See the reptile. See him run. He is embarking on an endless journey. No beginning. Never-ending. For the reptile, the powder is the solution. It is the only solution. There are many ways to ingest it. There are many ways to die.

Welcome to Inner City.

Pissing In The Wind: The Search For A Public Restroom In the Boston Area*


I felt my bladder tweak me as I hit the second escalator going down. Too late to turn back. I was getting deeper by the minute into the Porter Square T Station. This sucks big time. Have you ever wondered why there are so few elderly people on the subway? You know, the older one gets, the less holding capacity one has. Urinary holding capacity. And it hit me. How come there are no bathrooms in the underground T-stops? I mean, frack this. I think the cities in the United States of Generica have something against people going to the bathroom. Anyway, the pain circled around my left testicle and traveled to my knee in about one minute. I had to find a bathroom. I didn’t know whether to ride to my destination or leave the T and come back in. And would the guy in the token booth let me go out and come back in?

I decided to chance the ride. It would only be a short hop to Harvard Square Station. The new computer-run train slithered to a stop and I got in. Sleek. Nice red material seats. Soft soothing machine voice mercilessly hissing at me. No place to urinate. We slid down the tracks while I tried to distract myself out of my discomfort. I felt like I was a blocked fire hose about to swing wild like a decapitated snake. Only one stop. Soon. The train was coming to a stop. I stood up and winced to the door but it was still dark outside the train. Damn! We had stopped before reaching the station. I sat down and crossed my legs in the futile hope that this would prevent leakage if things got out of control. I gritted my teeth. I peered about the train with yellow eyes. Everyone in the car knew. They could tell. I knew they could tell. The train started with a sibilant hiss. I silently thanked the god of my misunderstanding. We pulled into the station and I limped out of the train. Gently. Gently but quickly. Walked the ramp to the escalator. Frack! The escalator was shut off. I didn’t know if I could live through the jolt of climbing up the stairs. Was I peeing myself yet? Finally, out of that damned T-stop. Over to the faithful Au Bon Pain bathroom and — lo and behold, there was a damned attendant there asking me if I had the token to get in. Holy flying frackin’ ruckin’ piece of excrement! What next?

Did they mean I had to buy a coffee to go and take a piss? What if I didn’t have the money for the coffee? What then? And if it was a matter of life and death (and by this time I felt that it was) was I a dead man walking or just someone who was about to be arrested for pissing in public? Should I just whip it out and tell them to open it up or I would shoot? But what would I do if I was a homeless woman? Well, I don’t know, but at this precise moment, I did not have the luxury of pondering about equality or the disadvantages of being one gender or another. This was it! The chips were down. The lines were drawn. The bathrooms were locked. It was time for action. Faith without works is dead. I hobbled to the coffee counter and croaked my request for a small coffee.

Okay, now give me a goddamn bathroom token. I held my small coffee at the ready in case he hesitated. The counterperson must have seen the desperation in my eyes (or maybe the yellow staining the whites). He dropped the token in my trembling hand. I walked (hobbled) to the bathroom, tokened the door, and I was in. Good Frith, all this to take a piss. I had waited so long that I stood at the urinal and ——I was in pain but nothing was happening. My whole body was shaking. I had to go into the stall. Dropped my drawers and sat down. Shit! My ass was all wet. I was hurting too badly to be angry and quite possibly the wetness of the seat was going to help me pee! Then——relief! Imagine! A natural act reduced to futility, degradation and desperation. The cities have become chambers of torture for those of us who find themselves needing to eliminate our own waste. Is this the end-product of our civilization? Have we become so fully evolved that we can no longer recognize the need to cleanse ourselves of the by-products of the energy sources that keep us alive?

Is the human animal above the natural laws? Do we treat our bodies and our neighbor’s bodies the same way we treat the rivers, oceans, and land masses of our planet Earth? What the hell am I talking about?

The philosophy, the ecology, the ethology of what? We’ll save the heavy cosmic discourse for the next animal or being to inherit the Earth. After we’re extinct from Global Warming! You know what I’m talking about. Really, all I want is to find a public bathroom. Or am I just going to be pissing in the wind?

*In response to last issue’s great article “Bathrooms For Customer’s Only.”

Getting Fixed

 

The South Carolina night settled in on us. I drained the last of the thick liquid hydrocodone and realized that it was not enough. The fingers of dopesickness probed at me. I looked at Bonnie. The cigarette was burning down between her fingers. She did not move. I plucked the cigarette out of her hand and dropped it into the ashtray. Five days and it was all gone. This was one hungry monkey. It was chattering in my mind. I did not decide to go out and cop some dope. The dope decided to go out. I was just going along for the ride.

Bonnie opened her eyes. “Where’s my cigarette?” “I had to take it out of your hand. It was burning your fingers.” She looked at her hand. She closed her eyes. Her head started to droop down like a sunflower getting bigger on a small stalk. She opened her eyes. “Where’s my cigarette?” “In the ashtray,” I said. “Oh,” she said and reached out to her pack on the coffee table. She took one out. Put it in her mouth. Picked up the lighter and flicked it lit. She sucked on the cigarette and then sat back as the smoke drifted out of her mouth and nose. She closed her eyes and sat still. The cigarette burned slowly down to her fingers.

I took the cigarette out of her hand and dropped it into the ashtray. I made a cup of coffee. Smoked a cigarette. Went to the bathroom. Tried to urinate. It wouldn’t come out. I always go to the bathroom before I get high because sometimes I can’t urinate for hours. I’ll feel like I have to go but then I just stand over the toilet and try. Sometimes I sit down on the toilet because I get tired of standing. If I close my eyes I’m fucked. I could be there for hours. I did not sit down this time. I didn’t urinate either. I was just ready to walk out the front door when Bonnie opened her eyes.

“Where are you going?” she asked. “To get some dope,” I said. “But you don’t know the city. Wait till morning.” “I’ll be sick in the morning.” “Please don’t go. I have a bad feeling.” “I’ll be all right,” I said. “You don’t know the city.” “I’ll be right back. If things don’t look good, I won’t keep trying,” was what I said to her. My disease always lies to me too. Addiction only remembers what it needs.

Then Bonnie saw the helmet in my hand. “Oh no, don’t take the bike,” she said. “Please.” I didn’t want to waste time talking. It was getting late and Charleston was a strange city to me. “I’m going.” “Don’t get beat. Make sure the dope is good,” she said. “I’ll wait up for you.” She was lighting another cigarette as I walked out the door. The heat had been beating on the blacktop all day. I could feel the softness of the tar as I wheeled my motorcycle into the street. I popped a tar bubble with my shoe, climbed on the bike. Turned the gas petcock to on. Tweaked the throttle once and then kicked it. It coughed and then roared to life. The straight pipes talked internal combustion at me. I popped down into first gear and headed into town. The light at the entrance to the highway was read. I stopped for a minute. I could feel the sun rising from the street in the dark southern night. Friday night traffic.

In and out. Six exits to go. Bonnie and I had taken a cruise through Charleston the other day. A junkie is like a dowsing rod when it comes to heroin territory. I crossed into a certain area and I could feel it down to my bent cells. The streets had that slowbusy of dope areas. People clustered on the corners. Bars, candy stores, check cashing places, package stores. Some people in New York had told us about copping in Charleston. They said the dope trade was controlled by the Blacks there. In the Big Apple the New Yoricans have the best stuff. In Lowell, Massachusetts the Dominicans control the coke and spillover into the junk. If you cop from a Black person there you stand a good chance of getting beat. If you cop from a white junkie you will get beat unless you know him. Maybe you’ll get beat whether you know him or not.

In Boston the Puerto Ricans have the fair street stuff. The Orientals have the real mother-lode mind-fucker but it’s hard to get an Oriental connection. They only deal to a select few. The Blacks are down a couple of rungs on the dope ladder in Boston. The feet of the ladder stands on the white junkies. That’s how some of the stories go. You can’t believe anything you hear or read when it comes to the racial stuff. They say that dope is the great equalizer. Brings us all down to the same manure pile. Life is like that. Somewhere in the hidden zone are the dealers who don’t use the product. Some junkies meet one of them once in a while. Some junkies disappear. Some are found in bathrooms or condemned tenements with blood filled syringes connected to their veins.

Nowadays every dealer stamps their bag with a name. So it can have a reputation that stands on its own. There are times w and in the newspapers. Every junkie zeroes in on that bag and area. Junk is only a stepping stone to the big high. That’s how it is. Don’t just take my word for it. Ask any junkie. Down the exit ramp. Into the city. Cross into Blacktown. Busy streets. Flashing teeth from night-face as I cruise slow down dope-street. Waving me over. Neon lights flicker, hurt my eyes. “What’s up?” he says. “Lookin’ for the ‘boy’” I say back. “You a cop, white boy?” he smiles in sound at me. I laugh and pull up the sleeve of my shirt. Those railroad tracks running up my veins are great convincers. “I’m not holding but I’ll take you to someone who is,” he says. I jerk my thumb back. “Hop on,” The motorcycle shocks creak as the big man gets on. I feel his hands on my waist as I take off. I try to remember his face but I am at a loss. Black mustache. Teeth flashing. That’s all.

I wonder how many people he has passed dope to in the dark summer nights. I wonder if he remembers any of their faces. Addiction only remembers what it needs. We move through the city streets. There are dragons moving in my mind. I kick the motorcycle through the gears. We’re moving and the red lights don’t mean a thing. The mission is the only thing that counts and there is no stopping us now. My addiction is talking to me. It whispers sweet shit into my ear and I know this monkey is a liar. He motions me out to the highway. I look back at him.

“House connection on the outskirts of the city,” he hisses at me. I throttle down and the dope man’s hands tighten up on my waist. I lean into the back highway curve hard and scrape the footpads on the cement. Sparks kick off like shooting stars and wink out into the night. Just like young men on dope-city streets dancing to deadly drive-by rhythms, the sparks become dark spots devoid of life.. “What the fuck,” says the dope man as suddenly my engine is freewheeling. It screams into the night and the road pressure is gone. The pounding pistons are freed from the confining transmission and I pull the clutch lever in and hit the shifter over and over. I know that the cylinders are frying in boiling oil and I snap the throttle back to idle. I pull the clutch lever in again and tap the shifter; nothing and the dope man is shouting in my ear. My head is with the engine. They both howl in anguish as nothing is happening. I shut the engine down and my addiction is screaming in my ear in multiple voices. My head is a dark and dangerous neighborhood. I hate to be in it alone at times like this. The dope man hops off and I roll my machine to the shoulder of the road.

The night is hot and dark. I am sick and sweaty. I wipe my face and the road dirt grits into my skin. The dope man is asking me questions. He wants to go. He wants to stay. I have the money. He has the connection. We are trapped together by our addictions. I need a flashlight. The clutch cable has broken loose My disease has broken out in my mind like a chattering monkey. It beats on the existential bars of a prison of its own making. The man wants to go. The man wants to stay. I want a fix. I need a flashlight. There is a car slowing down. They ask if they can help. Flashlight. I ask for a flashlight. “This will be quick,” I lie to the Black man from the city. I wonder if he knows I am lying. The dope keeps him locked to me and my money as sure as it sends me out into strange streets to do things that scare me down to my dying soul.

“We’ll go up ahead and make a call for you. Keep the flashlight,” the guy in the car tells us. I nod and they pull away. The man wants to go. The man wants to stay. My addiction wants hime to stay and reassures him with things that might never happen. It knows he is the stellar connection to blisters, pus, disease and denial. Riding high on a dead white horse, I am a knight chasing dragons that whisper lies to me in the middle of the night. I believe everything like a child knowing his parents are lying again but how can the world shake like that. The man from the city leans down to see how I am doing. My fingers are working. The cable seems to slip back into place. I can’t picture the man’s face and I wonder if I should look up to see what he really looks like. My addiction bends me to my task. The man wants to go. The man wants to stay. And his addiction makes him wait. And wait. And wait. My fingers bleed from the fury of the quiet clutch cable. The bike bleeds oil into the street. I need to call my wife. I need to hurry up. I need to get some dope. I need to hook this up. Why does this always happen to me? I need to lie to the dope man. He wants to go. He wants to stay.

I hear the dope man yell but my addiction is talking to me and I do not understand what is happening. Suddenly I am lifted into the air. It is a bluntingfeeling. The air is out of me. I fly. I bounce on the road. My body is remembering something it forgot long ago. Metal sounds crashing. There is a bird bouncing on the road. I am the bird. There are sounds that defy my ears and then—-all is still. In the heat’s silence dead engines and deactivated metal ticks time backwards. I smell the grass and the earth bleeding under me. It is freshly torn and wounded. As I lay there I know. This is how death comes. Like lights in the night bearing tidings of metal pumped by oil and gasoline and misruled by blood beings.

I am afraid to move. I am afraid to think. I am afraid to die. I am afraid to breathe. I am afraid not to breathe. My body feels alien to me and the smell of grass is sweet as my breath comes back to me in shuddering gasps. I think of dead animals crushed on the side of the road and the fear twists my mind into shapes that it cannot sustain. Stop! The thinking. Just breathe. That is all I have to do right now. I remember about punctured lungs. There is no hiss of air whispering through shattered ribs. I laugh and cut it off quick as the pain spits through me. The voices! I hear voices! “Tell them you were driving.” A man’s voice. “No. Not this time.” A woman’s voice. “Please. The goddamn motorcycle is sticking through the engine block. We can’t get out of here.” “No. NO! I’m not going to say I was driving this time. There is too much involved here. This man is dead. That man is dying. No. Not this time.” She said.

Sometimes someone says something that changes the way you look at things. Anger. I want to rise to this occasion. Shake them. Tell them. Kill them! For caring so much. They don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want to die. Not right now. But they are in trouble. And I know that things are a little worse than that for me and the dope man. Just then I notice that something is different. The voice in my head. The chattering monkey. Quiet. My addiction is wanting me to know that I am in this one all by myself. When I was in prison it would leave me alone in my cell. Up. I want to get up. I try to move my legs. Something is wrong with them and they will not work. And deep within myself I know that there are other things that are not working well.

There is a man and a woman standing by a truck that has parts of a motorcycle embedded in the radiator and engine block. He is drunk. She is well on her way. There is a man lying in the middle of the road. Blood spills from his body and his head is twisted at such a crazy angle that, just by looking at him, I know he will never rise again. I am in a prone position on the grass by the side of the road. I want a cigarette but I cannot move well enough to reach them. Cars are stopping and people are standing around me. None of them seem to know what to do, But they’re not leaving just now. Sometimes I wonder about whether we are sort of psychic and emotional parasites. What draws us in, like visual vultures, to an accident scene to stare at the dead and the dying? I am drifting and try to will myself back. I know that the only will that will work here is God’s will, whatever that may be. There is a woman leaning over me. Her eyes are beautiful.

A man comes running up and says to me, “The ambulance is on the way. Everything is going to be all right.” I know that what he is saying is not exactly true. My addiction always fed me bullshit too, but she had a more convincing argument. I never liked to be confused by facts anyhow. The man ran away. He probably wanted to tell the dope man that the hearse was coming and everything will be all right. Who the fuck knows? The beautiful lady was still there. “Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.

I thought of a number of things but I just wasn’t up for it at the moment. I could hear the man who had been driving the pick-up truck that had turned me and the dope man into road kill tell the police that we were broken down in the middle of the road. That wasn’t quite right either. I thought it would be a good idea to smoke a cigarette while I waited for the ambulance ——or to die—-whichever came first. After all, my lungs were okay.

“Smokes. In my pocket. Could you light one for me?” The beautiful woman didn’t give me any shit about it being bad for my health. Pulled them out of my pocket. Put it in my mouth. Lit it. I sucked in the smoke.

The dope man was dead. I did not remember what he looked like. The man who hit us was drunk. His girlfriend would not say that she was driving and he was worried about the trouble he was in. My motorcycle was wrecked. My wife was at home waiting for me to bring in the dope. I remembered that I had been dope-sick and I had been in a big hurry. I realized that I was not in a hurry anymore. I took another drag. This was the best cigarette I had ever smoked.

The Children: In The Chimney


We were running next to the railroad tracks and it seemed like we could run forever. I felt the gun banging against my leg as I ran. The garbage dump was up ahead and the daredevil branch of our gang, which we called the River Rats, was on a rat patrol. The fumes from the dump overpowered the sweet smell of the Jersey meadows and we raced faster, laughing, as the summer sweat poured down our faces.

We came to a halt and marveled at the mountains of garbage around us. Andy, Alan, Phil and I walked into the dump and Phil gave me push towards a messy looking mound of crap. I swore at him and pushed back. He fell on clean ground and gave me the finger. Then he laughed. I extended my hand and he took it and jumped up. I pulled the gun out of my pocket and Alan handed me the bullets. He was the ammo carrier this week and I was the shooter. I popped the cylinder and fumbled the cartridges in, clicked it shut and pulled back the hammer. Andy pointed at the trash mountains and we moved forward into another world. Suddenly there was movement. I fired at the furry motion and a small body leaped into the air and dropped. It kicked tiny legs at the universe in protest and then it was still. More rats appeared and I handed the gun to Andy and he blasted away. The click, click of the empty guy echoed eerily in the dump. Two hits, one kill.

Alan handed him some bullets and he reloaded and offered the gun to Phil. Phil shook his head and we teased him. Tears welled up in his eyes and he turned away, embarrassed by the emotion. We backed off and let him be. Andy tossed off a few more casual bullets into the garbage. Cans flew and bottles shattered and we moved on. We became bored and walked back to the tracks. I held my hand out for the pistol and, after Andy handed it to me, I checked it for bullets. Three left. I clicked the gun shut. We came to a giant tunnel that ran beneath the tracks and we ran down the mound to check it out. An enormous sewer pipe snaked through the tunnel and an old decrepit mattress lay on the pipe. There was a body on the mattress. Alan moved towards it slowly and waved us on. We hesitated and then went forward. The body moved and we stiffened in fear. We watched with the dread of the unknown as it stood up and swayed. The hobo had a bottle in his hand. Andy picked up a rock and threw it at him. The bum started to curse and moved towards us. Andy was yelling something at me as we moved back. I heard somebody tell me to shoot the bum. Without thinking, I pointed the gun at him. Time seemed to slow down.

I cocked the hammer and stood stock-still. The hobo and I stared at each other. It was only the track bum and me in the whole wide world. Where the hell do they come from? Didn’t everybody start out in houses with parents and all? The guys were looking at me, waiting. I lowered the gun and ran. Why didn’t I shoot him? I did not know. Something inside me twisted my stomach and I felt like I could not catch my breath. Everyone caught up to me and at first they were making fun of me for not shooting. I felt another twisting in my gut and pointed the gun at Andy, then Alan, and then Phil. I asked them if they wanted me to shoot now. I had three bullets left and I pointed the gun at Andy again and held it steady. I felt like I was looking at someone else’s hand holding the gun and an alien finger started to put pressure on the trigger.

Andy laughed kind of funny and said that they were only kidding around. Suddenly I realized that the gun was still in my hand. I smiled at my friends and lowered the gun but I could feel that some balance had shifted. Things were changing and would never be the same. I felt a sadness in my chest that seemed to come from a place that lived outside me. We walked down the tracks and Alan pulled some cigarettes out of his knapsack and we all lit up. Suddenly, Phil pointed off into the distance and we saw it. It was a giant chimney, bigger than any chimney we had ever seen. Andy talked excitedly as we ran in the direction of the smoke-stack. He was saying something about copper mines in the meadow. They mined the copper here and then melted the ore in giant ovens. We stood looking at the chimney. It extended from what looked like a big oven. I walked in and looked up the stack. It seemed to stretch upward forever and the sky was a tiny blue light up at the top. The others came inside and looked up and then Andy pointed to the side of the chimney. The iron climbing rungs went all the way to the rim of the stack. Someone, I don’t remember who it was, said we should climb the damn thing. I was scared of being high up and shook my head. I heard the word “chicken” echo through the chimney. We looked at each other, hesitated for just a moment, and Andy jumped onto the rungs and started to climb. Phil started next and I followed him. Alan brought up the rear. It was hot and stuffy in the big stack and the sweat dripped from all my pores. My eyes stung from the salt. I looked up and the chimney seemed to go on forever. I saw Andy and Phil just ahead of me. They would pause for a moment, look up, and then continue. I kept hoping they would change their minds.

Spider webs caught on my face. My god, where were the spiders? My hands were sweating and I was frightened of the spiders and of losing my grip! I looked down and, no no, I didn’t want to do that again. How the hell were we going to get down? Shit, I didn’t want to think about it. Suddenly, I heard a high pitched sound. Phil’s screech filled the chimney and little pebbles were spraying my face. I saw Phil hanging from a broken rung ant then it slipped from his hand and he fell. He was on me and clutched at me desperately. I swung one hand loose and grabbed him and he screamed and would not stop moving. My hands were all wet and it was hard to hold him. I yelled for him to drum my rung, any rung! For Christ’s sake, now, now before it was too late. The sweat was making my hand slip from the rung. Andy was shouting something that I could not understand. His voice seemed to get closer. Phil was sobbing in fear and suddenly I felt the weight of him ease up.

Andy was there and we were both holding on to him for dear life. Phil grabbed the rung and I swung down so I could get some footing. Alan yelled and his hand yanked itself out from under my foot. I almost lost it and then it was over.

I could hear everyone breathing heavily into the air and the sound echoed in the chimney. It was the only sound I could hear. I said that I was going back down and no one argued. We started the descent. No one spoke on the way down. I felt with my foot for each rung. I couldn’t look down. After an eternity we were all at the bottom. We sat on the ground and Alan pulled out the smokes again. My hand was shaking a little as I held the match to the cigarette. I sucked in the smoke. I exhaled and lay back on the ground. Small clouds drifted across the sky. At that moment I thought we would be together forever. I shifted my position because the gun was digging into my leg. I blew a smoke ring into the air and the wind tore it apart.