essays

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.

When Two Paths Meet

I was sittin’ around the clubhouse peacefully suckin’ down a brew when the phone rang. From the way the day had been goin’, I knew that somethin’ was wrong. It had been too good of a day. It was a real nice late summer afternoon and I was just gettin’ ready to hop on my scoot and take a leisurely cruise.

I picked up the phone and almost freaked. It was my peace-lovin’ hippie cousin whom I hadn’t heard from in about two years. He had moved into the country and dropped out of sight some time ago. The last time I saw him was at his wedding. He was layin’ some shit on me about peace and love bein’ the only hope for the world and I laughed in his friggin’ face and lifted my leather to show him my piece. I told him that was the only answer for me. That, my scoot and a stray piece of ass once in a while. He had frowned and said, “well, we all have our own paths to follow, man,” and then he walked away with his hippie lady on his arm. He took to the hills while I laid back in the city and I heard through the family grapevine that he had been doing real well growin’ some sweet smokin’ cash crops up there.

He sounded awful uptight on the phone and was rappin’ some shit at me so fast that the only thing I could get out of it was that he’d run into some trouble and could I get my ass up there to help him out. Even though he was some weirded out peace freak he was still family so I packed my scoot real quick and got in the wind. It was a fine day for puttin’ but my head was buzzin’ about what was goin’ down. I didn’t figure that it was any light shit ‘cause he’d never come callin’ on me for help before. I mean, we were both into the dope scene but our lifestyles were so friggin’ far apart that he could have been a chestnut hangin’ on the family oak tree, you know what I mean. I was into fuckin’, fighting and puttin’ and not necessarily in that order and he was always into meditation, peace and farming and he was always gettin’ arrested for things like blockin’ trucks that were bringing parts into nuke plants and the like. When I got slammed down it was always because I was havin’ too good a time or bustin’ some heads, so go figure.

After a few hours of jammin’ down the highway, I hit the back roads and really was crankin’, leanin’ into the curves like nobody’s business. Suddenly I dug that I was close to my cousin’s pad. I almost laid my scoot down, as I screamed into his dirt drive but I hung on and kept my shit together. Old cousin and his hippy lady’s digs were up that drive about a half mile and I can tell you it was a hell of a change from them city streets I was used to. I pulled up and shut down my machine and the friggin’ quiet almost knocked my eardrums for a loop.

And there he was. I couldn’t believe my not-so-baby-browns when he come out of that house totin’ a double barrel on his arm. His lady kind of hung back at the door and I could see the fear radiatin’ from her pretty orbs like they was double haunted moons. I didn’t know what the hell to make of the whole scene but I knew somethin’ strange was shakin’, that’s for goddamn sure. My cousin laid the tale on me right quick. That old hippie had a way of makin’ things crystal clear. Seems like he’d been tipped that some serious dudes down city way had caught wind of that sweet crop that was real close to harvest and they were comin’ up packin’ some heavy artillery and the word was out that they didn’t want to leave any witnesses. I looked at his pretty woman standin’ in the doorway and then this cute little rug-rat came out of nowhere and was hangin’ on to her so as to keep from fallin’ and I dug the whole scene and knew that they was needin’ my help for sure.

I could tell by the way ole’ cuz was cradlin’ that shotgun that he wasn’t too familiar with it. I asked him if he’d ever shot the friggin’ thing before. He said he never had much truck with guns and he’d only held one in his hands two other times. Said he’d never shot one before today. He had blown off a few rounds earlier today and was sore as hell from the kick-back. I looked into his eyes and they had a fierce look that I never seen in ‘em before. I didn’t bother to ask why he hadn’t booked with his family. This was his place and his home for his lady and kid and he was damned determined to make a stand. These guys comin’ up probably figured, like I had before, that this longhair peace freak wasn’t goin’ to be any trouble at all but his eyes were tellin’ me somethin’ different. He looked at my scoot and then at the barn and I got the picture right away. He didn’t want to lose that element of surprise. They was just expectin’ this helpless old hippie up here alone with his old lady and the little tyke. I stashed my scoot real good in the barn and I couldn’t help admirin’ the way he had thrown the damn barn together. It was all pegged and shit. It didn’t look like he had used a goddamn nail in either the barn or the house; all old style workmanship. You could tell that he took the same pride in his country pad that me and my bro’s take in our scoots.

He walked me out to his fields and I almost shit my drawers. That sweet skunk smell hit my nose and I almost stoned right out on the scent of it. It was the finest lookin’ and smellin’ sinsemilla that I had ever seen on the hoof, so to speak. I knew I was lookin’ at over 60 K worth of mean green ‘cause the going price on that quality shit was over two grand a pound wholesale. It was all pruned and ready to go. I could see that he had put in some major time and sweat and these babies and I understood why he wasn’t goin’ to break and run. He gave me a flicker of a smile and handed me a joint. I lit it up. I sucked down on it hard and it had a sweet taste all the way down. Then it expanded like a helium-filled balloon in my lungs and suddenly I was coughin’ so hard that phlegm was flyin’ across the field. I passed the joint back to him and he told me to go easy on them hits, that it doesn’t take much. He toked real easy on it and held it in with a big friggin’ grin on his face. By the time we did that number in I didn’t know where the frig or what; I’m sure you’ve been there yourself a couple of times.

Then the blasted hippie starts talkin’ strategy to me while I’m tryin’ to navigate through all the damn colors. But when it comes to battle plans my shit is pretty together so I copped a listen and dug what he was layin’ down to me. He knew the lay of the land here and these dudes comin’ in didn’t so that was one edge we had and I figured since they didn’t know I was here, that I was the other edge. He looked at me real earnest-like and said that he didn’t want these rip-off creeps to even get close to the house. He wanted to lay for them in the woods by the drive. He figured they weren’t hip to the fact that we were expectin’ them and he was right as it turned out. They also didn’t expect him to be packin’, you know what I mean. Those hippie freaks don’t usually have no truck with violence and they thought they were gonna be in for an easy take-away. My cousin showed me a nice spot for us to lay and wait. We hunkered down and sat tight.

About two in the mornin’ these chumps pulled into the drive in their friggin’ low rider and we got down to business. My peace-lovin’ hippie cousin blew out one of their tires with one barrel and hit ‘em with a spotlight that he had wired from the farmhouse. One chump hopped out with a snub-nose .38 in his paw and I popped him right off. He slammed back against their cage with a stunned look on his face and a friggin’ hole you could slip a planet into in his chest. Cousin blew out the driver’s side window with the other barrel. I watched as the driver turned from man into meat in one second. I saw the nozzle of a mean lookin’ piece slidin’ out of the back window and I peppered that mothersucker with my magnum before he got off a shot. Only one of the slickers was left alive and he was hit. He staggered out of the cage mumblin’ some shit and my peace-lovin’ hippie freak cousin hit him with both barrels before he could even finish whatever it was he was sayin’. Suddenly it was country-quiet again except for the sound of somethin’ drippin’ into the ground. I didn’t have no doubt about what that was. I looked at my cousin and he looked back at me. He said we better run this pig food up to the house. I asked him if feedin’ those hogs meat wouldn’t make them vicious and he just smiled at me and said that once in a while it don’t hurt.

I figured that no one was gonna come lookin’ for these low-life dudes or their cage and he was inclined to agree with me. He told me that he would strip down that low-rider and use it for scrap, maybe stick the engine in one of his tractors or his truck. For a dumb hippie, he had some pretty good ideas. After we fed the pigs and cleaned up in the river, we went back into the house. His lady asked what happened and he smiled at her. He said that we scared those dudes so bad they just left their car and, last he saw, they were runnin’ lickety-split down the highway with salt-shot burnin’ up their asses. She copped a worried look on her pretty face and he checked it out and said, “don’t worry babe, they’ll never come back.” She didn’t ask any more questions, just made some coffee and we sat back and smoked some fine herb. Morning came pretty quick. I told him that I better be puttin’ back to the clubhouse. He winked at me and said for me to stop back anytime. Anytime. Me and my buddies were always welcome was what he said. I wheeled my machine out of that fine barn. He handed me a big packet of some of that sweet green and I tucked it into my saddle bag. The last thing he said to me was that we all got our own paths to follow and one might never know when they’ll cross.

I laughed and kicked over my machine. Then I got in the wind.

A Fly In The Ointment

He sat in the center and waited. A fly buzzed into the center and dropped to the floor. It lay still. Something in the air shifted. There was the smell of burning. Paul, sitting quietly in the center of circle and pentagram, turned in the direction of the movement in the corner of his eyes.

He had a beard, was dressed in polished jeans and a black and gold paisley shirt, a gold coke spoon hung around his neck. His black hair was permed into an Afro and his skin was pale white in color. He smiled at Paul and his perfect teeth glittered in the candle-lit room. “Good evening, Paul. You rang my chimes and I have come.” Paul rubbed his hands together and stood up unsteadily. His legs trembled beneath him. He could not believe his luck. The Summoning had been successful.

“Sir,” Paul stammered, “I had heard that, when summoned in the manner that I have used, you would be mandated to grant me what I need.” “Ahh, need is it now, Paul? Desire would be more appropriate, don’t you agree? Or mayhaps you do know better than I? Call me Louis please. Are we not friends? I, at least, feel that I have been in touch with you for quite some time. “So, let us get to the point then. The point! How ironic! My time is very limited and there are many who desire my services. What can I do for you, young man, and even more importantly, what do you have to offer me in return?” Paul felt the growing lack of heroin in his cells, wiped his runny nose, and did the best he could in the way of pulling himself together to present his demand.

“Sir, I mean Louis, what I desire is an unlimited supply of heroin. The more I shoot, the more I want, and so, with your help, the more I shall have.” Ah, young man, the rub is that you wish to command a substance produced by plant Spirits. There must be concessions made to the living small. I speak of the tiny ones that live from the nectars of the plants and make it possible for them to sex each other. And there must be a concession made to the Lord of the Flies, Ar Lain Ta, who oversees this kingdom.” Paul looked askance at Louis and said,” I don’t give a damn about lord of this or that. I’m getting sick and want to close this deal. What do you want from me?”

“Normally,” Louis said, “your soul would be the legal tender needed to seal the deal, but your frayed and tattered spirit leaves me feeling that I would get the short end of the stick. The eternal possession of a raggedy coat is not on my priority list.” Paul’s eyes were watering and he wiped his runny nose with his coat sleeve. He felt his gut twist and knew he would have to run to the bathroom any minute. But he knew he could not. Paul could not leave the protection of the circle. The sweat beaded up on his face as he spoke. “But what else can I offer,” he pleaded with all the urgency of his sickness shining through his eyes. “I’ll give you anything I have.” Louis smiled at him and pierced into his very soul with his glittering pupils.

“This is the kind of deal we both can live with. I shall offer you a great favor because of all the hardships and pain you have suffered. Never let it be said that the Demon has no compassion for the sick and suffering addict. “I shall seal your soul into your flesh for all time. You will never have to face the wrenching separation of Spirit from the flesh. The other Principalities that I am beholden to also concur that this is acceptable to them. You will do much good for the Kingdom and, because of your nature, you will provide homes for many.” Paul winced with pain and anxiety. He could barely keep within the circle. At least, that was how he felt. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Let us seal the deal. I need to be fixed. Now, where must I sign?”

Louis stared at Paul for a long moment and then looked away. Although he was no longer looking at the forlorn junkie, Paul’s frightened gaze peered forth from within the Demon’s eyes. Louis said, “ The deal is closed!” Somehow Paul did not feel that all was well. He stared in amazement as a spoon, syringe, and a pile of powder appeared on a table across the room. A great sense of relief came over him. Paul ran across the room and sat down at the table. He took the corner of an ID card and dumped some powder into the spoon. His hands would not stop shaking. He squirted water into the spoon. The powder, with the heat of a lit match, dissolved and he drew it up through a small piece of cotton. He poised the point over his vein and plunged it in. He drew back on the plunger and his life fluid mixed with the potion. He pressed it into his blood stream, felt the warmth flush his body and looked up.

The Demon was still in the room. Paul had forgotten the Spell of Closure. The Demon was smiling at him. Suddenly Paul felt an intense itching throughout his entire inner body. His skin began to move of its own volition as if there was something alive underneath its surface. Paul glanced down at the spoon, the syringe and the pile of powder. Something was moving. The pile stayed white and turned to maggots and the heroin that was left in the spoon and syringe began to turn to flies. Paul tried to scream but the wings of flies were clogging his throat. As the Demon vanished his last words were, “For all time, Paul, for all time.”

The Mistake

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and each time expecting a different result.”Common saying in the recovery community.

When I woke up I didn’t know what time it was, what day it was or what city I was in. A police officer is knocking on the window of my car. I startled and realize that I am sitting in the middle of a town road at a traffic light. His rapping increases in fury and his mouth is moving, flecks of saliva spray out on the window of my car. Then I hear him yelling. It is like my senses are coming back to me one by one. I move my hand and start to unroll the window and he reaches in, yanks the door handle and pulls me out of the car. “But wait,” I shout and he kicks me to the ground and one of my teeth chips off on the asphalt beneath me. I can feel the blood running out of my lip as my hands are pinned behind my back and the cold metal cuffs click into place.

I know I am under arrest for something; the charges would unfold later. I wonder where the drugs are, if I have any left, or if I will get a chance to do any before they are found. As two other police cars whine to a stop the cop jerks me to my feet, pushes me against a police car and pats me down. The dark of the early morning beats against the sky. Only maniacs, beasts, thieves and drug addicts (who are composites of the previous three) are up at this time of day. And of course, police, whose job it is to protect people like you from people like me. One of the police takes my keys from the ignition while I watch and opens the trunk and that is when I remember where I was going. The expression on his face changes when he sees the body in the trunk. “But I can explain,” I scream and one of the officers turns to me and says, “I’ll bet you can,” and suddenly the facts seem bizarre even to me and Mickey was too stiff to tell the tale.

When Mickey’s heart exploded the stem of the crack pipe was still wedged between his lips. He hit the floor and never went so far or to no place at all. That’s what they told me. I came flying into the dope house hot to fix with the monkey screaming my name backwards and they were shoving Mickey into the refrigerator because they didn’t have a clue as to what to do with the body and the pipe was still going around and no one wanted to stop to figure it out because, let’s face it, priority one is, when the pipe is going around — whether your lips are on it or your eyes are on it and fuck anything else. The good side of this was that there was nothing in the fridge. The bad side of it was that the electric was shut off and the body wouldn’t keep for long. Anyway, I didn’t think those thoughts until later because my mind was on the primary, that is getting this dope into my vein where it belonged because this monkey had its hand on my balls. I spit some bile into the sink, filled a glass half full of water and went into the bathroom to fix. I would have fixed right in the kitchen but the on button for my asshole was on monkey-time and I yanked my pants down just in time.

That’s the only reason I wear jockey shorts, so I don’t have to throw away my trousers every day.

Anyway I fixed and then, I’m not sure how much time had passed, I heard some asshole asking me for my cotton shot. I looked into the watery eyes of Mike da Leech and didn’t want to put up with two hours of whining and pleading so I just pushed the cooker over to him. “Uh, can I use your works too?” he asked. I rolled my eyes and pushed the water glass with the blood-filled rig sitting in it over to him. I left the bathroom and went back to the kitchen where a discussion was in progress as to what to do with what once was Mickey who was not referred to as “the body in the fridge.”

That was when someone came up with the bright idea to let me take it because I was the only one there at the time with a car. “Hey, forget about it, the fucker was dead when I walked in.” I was adamant about not wanting to take on the burden and then I went into the living room to catch a nod.

Three days later, out of dope, with the monkey tickling my sphincter with a soddering iron, it seemed like a good idea to take the body because all the SSI checks had come in and everyone had chipped in to score me a brick of dope to take the body. They agreed that having a body in the refrigerator that didn’t work in a dope house was a bad idea. The only thing I wanted to do was fix a right proper amount before I took the body and I might have taken a little too much to stay awake behind the wheel and that’s why I nodded off at the traffic light at 4 in the morning. Which brings me back to this spot, cuffed and stuffed into the back of a Judas car and charged with possession of heroin, hypodermics, and the body of what was once a crackhead named Mickey.

First let me tell you the good news. The police were so excited about the body that they didn’t find the heroin that was in the seam of my shirt and when they put me in the holding cell I snorted three bags before they came running in. The bad news was I forgot about the goddamn suicide cameras that they installed in all the holding cells and they had me as the star of my own Saturday Night Live tv show.

I don’t regret snorting the bags. My mistake was that I should have waited until they moved me out into population. Maybe my mistake was doing so much before I left the dope house. Maybe I shouldn’t have decided to take the body after all. But hey, I was dopesick. Fifty bags for moving a body from one place to another isn’t bad payment. What the fuck, wouldn’t you have done it too?

After all was said and done I took two, 2 and 1/2 year bids, to run on and after, which means consecutively instead of concurrently, but I made parole after doing just three years. I learned a lot from my mistakes and my whole attitude has changed. I’m going to get a straight job. No more hustling, maybe find a good woman and settle down. I’m never going to go back to jail again. I’ll get started on my new life right away. But first I’m going to go out and cop just one good high. After doing three years on chump charges, I owe it to myself, don’t I? I’m just going to do it differently this time. You’ll see.

Her Other Son


The little beads of sweat were always on Paulie’s forehead by the time he called his mother. She always gave up the money. “Mama, I’m sick.” “I can’t help you this time.” “If you can’t help me, I’ll kill myself. It’s the only thing left.” A pause. I would watch Paulie. He wouldn’t look at me. No knowing wink. Nothing. Then I would see his head pick up. “Thanks ma. I love you. This will be the last time. Honest.” I had to hand it to Paulie. He always sounded sincere when he said that. Every time. We would hop in my truck and fly over to the house. Claire would hand us a check and a bag with two or three sandwiches in it. “You boys always look so skinny,” she would say. “You should eat more.” Then she would look at me. Pat my arm. “Take care of Paulie. You know Dean, when he’s with you I always feel like he’s okay. You are like a son to me. If Paulie had a brother, I know he would have been like you.”

I really did love Claire. I just want to make that clear. She still writes to me on a regular basis. And thank God for that. Hardly anyone else does. She came to visit me not long ago. I know she’d come more often but there would be trouble if her family found out. I guess it’s hard for them to understand. They knew Paulie at the bank. It was kind of a regular thing. No I.D. necessary. Once one of the bank people called Claire up. She must have given them hell. After all, Paulie was her son. One time Paulie was too sick to even go to the bank. Claire made out the check to me and gave me a note explaining that I could always cash her checks. She treated me just like I was Paulie’s brother. Naturally I didn’t abuse the privilege I picked up the cash and headed right into the Great Brook Valley Projects for the dope. The dealers all knew me. So did the cops. I took care of business and headed back home. If no one else was home Claire would let Paulie and me take off there.

Paulie started getting sicker and sicker. He was always depressed, even after getting high. It was like the dope had stopped working for him but he only did it because that was all he knew. He didn’t even like to hustle with me anymore after we got high. I started doing scams with Jackie while Paulie kicked back at the apartment. Jackie was a guy in his mid-twenties who worked as a plumber when he wasn’t out hustling with me. He had built up a good business but it was all going down the tubes because he spent more time running to feed his habit. This was one monkey that never had enough to eat. Jackie looked straight. In the projects people were always mistaking him for a cop. He’d usually send me in to score because of the hassle he had. It was always risky going in but it was worth it because if I could get a deal it meant a few extra bags. It’s split the extra dope with Paulie.

Paulie’s morning call to Claire got to be routine. It was the jump start so Jackie and I could go out and get paid. Jackie would never come with me to meet with Claire. She would want us to stay and talk sometimes. Paulie would start to cry. Clair hugged him and gave him the check. “Dean, take care of him. Make sure he doesn’t get in trouble,” she would say. “I sure will, ma. Don’t worry.” She liked it when I called her ‘ma.’ She’d give me a hug and slip me a ten spot.

“Just in case,” she would say. I had a bad feeling when Claire first mentioned Al-Anon. She went to her first meeting one day right after she gave us some money. Jackie picked up a little street heater and brought it home. It was a twoshot snub-nose .38. He and I went out to a dope house on Charlton Street and posed as undercover. We picked up seven bricks of heroin. Paulie didn’t have to call Claire for a little while. The time blurred past. I came up sick one morning and there were burns all over the place from dropping cigarettes when I nodded out. I had one burn on my fingers that looked like it went down to the bone. Paulie was dry-heaving in the bathroom. Jackie must have saved a wake up shot because he didn’t look as bad as us. The pistol was on the table by the telephone.

The telephone. Paulie got on the telephone with Claire. “Mama. You gotta help me. I’m sick. Gotta come over for a check.” There was silence for a few moments. “What? Mama, I can’t believe you’re telling me that.” It was like the tears rushed to his eyes and spilled down his cheeks so hard that I thought they were going to cut furrows in his face. “No, no, mama. I’m too sick. I’ll kill myself if you don’t help me. I swear I will.”

Same old play. I started putting my old sneakers on. I knew we would be heading to get the check any minute. I heard Paulie whining into the phone. “I don’t care what they told you at the meeting mama. I have a gun in my hand and if you don’t say you’ll help med, I’ll do myself. I swear I will.” At that I looked up. I don’t know what she said next. All I know is that he lifted the gun to his head. The noise shook the house and there was blood and brains all over the room. The day before the funeral I called Claire early. Told her I was sick. She said for me to come right over. It was a closed casket funeral. Claire was crying all morning. I hugged her. She slipped a fifty into my hand and told me to take care of myself. “Thanks ma,” I said. She looked at me through the tears. She looked right into my eyes.. “Anytime son,” was what she said.

Almost two years have passed since then. Between Jackie and I, Claire gave us fifty large. Emptied one of her accounts. Had her bouncing checks too. She would do anything just to keep me from following Paulie. After all, I was the only son she had left. Jackie and I went to jail for extortion after her remaining family pressed charges. Claire was hospitalized a couple of times. Jackie got out of prison after a year. He always like to bang up two bags. Never tested the dope first with a small shot. Never. He died of an overdose his first day out of prison. Claire is sneaking in to see me today. I hope they don’t stop her. Maybe she’ll leave some money on my books. I’m getting out soon.

A Trip To The Pharmacy

“Look down, LOOK DOWN along that junk road before you travel there and get in with the Wrong Mob” — A word to the wise guys — William S. Burroughs

Heather took the gun from her pocketbook, pumped one bullet into the chamber, spun the cylinder and placed the gun to her temple. She pulled the trigger. There was a hollow click and her laughter filled the air. As usual I watched her with a mixture of amazement and fear. How the hell can she do it? It was like she tempted fate with every turn of the screw. She filled the gun with bullets and tucked it into her jeans and the dangling blouse concealed the weapon. I parked the car around the corner from the pharmacy. It was early evening and the small country town was quiet. The mom and pop pharmacy, almost legendary in its rarity, beckoned to us with hidden promise. The neon sign flashed the word “drugs” over and over. Heather pointed to the sign and chuckled with soft sensuous laughter. We entered the store. The old woman was near the cash register and the bespectacled, gray haired gent was behind the prescription counter. Heather strutted up to the register and, with one swift practiced movement, put the gun in the elderly woman’s face.

“If you want to live, you’d better give,” Heather said and looked at the old man in the back. “We just want the dope. You can keep your money and your worthless lives.” Heather held the gun to the bridge of the old woman’s glasses. The old lady’s eyes were bugging out of her head. The pharmacist stared at the gun and pleaded with us not to shoot his wife. His wife didn’t say a word. She couldn’t take her eyes off the gun. I moved quickly behind the counter and handed the pharmacist a pillow case. I told him to fill it with just narcotics. I just wanted him to do it so we could all go home alive. As he opened the narcotics cabinet and began filling the case I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. The old lady was moving. I heard the shot and she slammed back against the cough syrup counter. Blood covered the old woman’s face and she fell to the floor. The gun in Heather’s hand looked like it was smoking. My mind went wild. The pharmacist was staring in shock and disbelief.

I leaped toward the old man before he could react and pushed him down. I grabbed the pillow case from his hands and swept the contents of the narcotics cabinet into the bag. The pharmacist struggled to rise. Heather ran towards us and all I could see was the gun in her hand. I yelled for her not to shoot but the sound of gunfire echoed in my ears again. The old man jerked backwards and crumpled up like an old rag doll. A wave of paralysis washed over me. The drug bag dangled from my hand. My eyes were glued to the wreckage around me and I couldn’t believe what my vision was telling me. I stood immobilized until someone grabbed my arm. Heather pulled me to the door.

We jumped into the car. My hands were shaking as I fumbled the keys into the ignition. The engine roared into life and we raced down the street. I looked at Heather and she looked back at me. I asked her to fix me because my nerves were blown into the cosmos. She started laughing and pulled the morphine shakers from the bag. She popped the plungers out of two syringes and dropped three tabs into one, two tabs into another, and drew water into both syringes from our drinking jug. She whipped a belt around her arm. Her veins rose like rivers during flood season. She plunged the spike into her arm, drew back the plunger; blood register, she slammed it home. Her eyelids looked heavy and she smiled as she cleaned the blood out of the hype. She lit a smoke and handed me the belt. I tied off and she tapped the point into my vein. I kept one hand on the wheel. My heart was pounding as red blood ballooned into the barrel. She slipped the plunger and loosened the belt with one quick motion. I felt myself moving away from the world and my vision became blurry. I heard a horn blow. There was a screech of brakes but no impact. Heather was shouting at me and I forced myself to a state of partial attention.

Heather reached over and placed a lighted cigarette between my lips. She smiled at me. Her face was glowing. The excitement of the past events had brought us to a state of arousal and she made a soft, growling sound in my ear. I looked at her and her pinned eyes were gleaming. She fondled the gun; she spun the cylinder. She was so beautiful. She placed the barrel to her temple. She pulled the trigger and the roar of the gun filled the car.

On The Boulevard: The Dumpster

It was 3:30 in the morning. Simone and Dum-Dum sat at the entrance to the alley-way watching the late night traffic on the boulevard. Dum-Dum reached into his trousers and took out his stash bottle of Maddog 20-20, uncapped it and took a long pull on the jug. Rivulets of red ran down his whiskered chin. Simone tapped him on the shoulder and motioned toward the bottle. Dum-Dum thought about the long, dreary night ahead without liquid warmth and shook his head. He took another hit off the jug. Simone stared into the street, looked back into the alley and saw the dumpster. He fingered the blade in his pocket. With what passed for a thought to a ravaged wino, Simone withdrew the shank from his pocket, unsheathed it, and in what seemed to be one fluid movement, grabbed the jug of wine from Dum-Dum and plunged the blade into the old man’s chest. He steadied the bottle and stabbed Dum-Dum again, again and again.

The passion slipped away. There was a death rattle that issued forth from DumDum’s throat. Simone leaned back and took a long pull from what was now his bottle, wiped the blade on the other wino’s shirt and put it away. He rifled the dead man’s pockets for cash and smokes. Half a pack of cigarettes and two buck. Great night. He sucked on the bottle again.

He carefully placed the jug by the wall, grabbed the body by the feet and dragged it towards the dumpster. At the dumpster he paused. He examined DumDum’s shoes with care and pulled them off. Checked to see if they fit. Too damn small. Disgustedly, he tossed them into the dumpster. Hefted the frail body, and there was a thump and the rustling of garbage as the body disappeared into it’s metal grave in the dark alley.

Simone grabbed the jug and took one last pull, draining the spider. He looked at the bottle reverently and, like the symbolic handful of dirt thrown into a new grave, he tossed the empty jug into the metal tomb. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Simone casually meandered down the boulevard. Sweet wine dreams drifted through his head. He disappeared into the early morning dark. The sun was just tipping over the horizon as Jake and Anna wheeled their shopping cart down the boulevard, both of them keeping a keen eye out for deposit bottles. They arrived at the entrance to the alley and saw the dumpster in the light of the dawn.

Jake signalled to Anna, winked and made his way down the alley to the dumpster and peered in. He saw it. A case of empty beer cans. Couldn’t quite reach it so he climbed into the dumpster. His foot struck something soft as he reached down for the cans. Something was in his way. He rolled it aside. Dum-Dum’s blank eyes stared up at him. Jake paused for a minute. Looked down the alley to check on Anna and then rifled the pockets of the dead man. Shit, empty. He reached for the cans, rolled the body out of the way. Using Dum-Dum’s face as a stepping stone, he climbed out of the dumpster. He hefted the case of cans and smiled as he walked toward Anna. They had enough deposit cans for a jug of wine. It was going to be a great day.

On The Boulevard: Angels In The Snow

“We save things when it is perhaps ourselves we mean to save from extinction, from time; we hold on to what we have lived, hoping to stall the hangman.”Dan Woods.

The frigid wind whipped Bobby’s face as he pushed open the door of the package store. Sleet beat a staccato rhythm on his skin and he clutched the bottle tightly against his body. His worn winter coat was no defense against the biting cold. The temperature had plummeted into the sub-zero zone as the day wore on. The sky darkened and the city became a neon freezer. Bobby ducked into a nearby alley and took a long pull from his jug. He walked down the boulevard as the storm came in, the powdery snow blanketing the city with a vengeance. As Bobby trekked the boulevard, he saw Anna moving slowly toward him, laboriously pushing her heavy shopping cart through the freshly fallen snow. He greeted her with a nod and a toothless grin. She stared blankly ahead and moved her lips soundlessly.

A few days past, or was it weeks now? It was hard for Anna to remember. She had been roused from her chemical stupor by the feeling of weight and wetness. Her long time lover and partner, Jake, was lying across her body, the odor of stale urine had been overpowering. She rolled him off of her. His face was frozen into a horrifying grimace. Jake was dead.

The screaming had started in her head. Anna remembered being taken away in the haze. The screaming would not stop. They stuck her with needles, strapped down in a windowless room, her tongue swollen from Haldol. She choked. They gave her Cogentin to alleviate the muscle-stiffening side effects of the powerful tranquilizer. Her screaming had shaken the psych ward. One day her vocal cords simply wore out. She could no longer scream out loud. Thinking Anna had finally come to grips, they gave her a bottle of pills and sent her home to the streets.

Anna walked past Bobby. He was like a ghost in the night. Something wet and cold peppered her face. Her lips moved bu no sound came out. The screaming still echoed in the stripped corners of her mind. She found herself hoping Jake would come back soon. Bobby walked past and shook his head. The snow was getting deeper, soft powdery fluff. He remembered when he was a child. This was his favorite kind of snow. He used to lie down and make angels in the snow. Bobby moved down the boulevard, occasionally taking a tug from the bottle. He felt so overwhelmingly lonely. He could no longer feel his feet; he seemed to be walking on wooden blocks. He rubbed his face and stared at his reflection in a darkened store window. There were white blotches all over his cheeks. He shivered violently and almost dropped the bottle. His fingers were numb.

He moved into the alley to get out of the biting wind. The thought of a shelter briefly crossed his mind, but he cast it out of his mind immediately. They wouldn’t let him finish his bottle there. He felt so tired. He sat down in the snow that covered the floor of the dark alleyu, held the jug between his palms, and drank deeply of the liquid relief. His fingers no longer ached from the cold. In fact, he could no longer feel them. The wind howled, the snow fell and the temperature continued to drop. The snow piled up around Bobby and he began to feel a new warmth. He remembered when he was a child. This was great stuff, this kind of snow. Bobby used to make angels in the snow. He stretched out, extending and moving his arms and legs in his head. The bottle vanished in the snow. He felt so wonderfully warm. He dreamed he was making angels in the snow, and like the snow, he drifted. He lay still and the snow covered his face. Bobby was an angel in the snow.