No matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how good or bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love.— Gregory David Roberts, author of Shantaram, a novel.
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.”
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.
On the day I had been
released from prison it was
over 12 weeks since I had used
heroin. I was waiting for a ride
to a halfway house when a couple
of guys from the tier strolled out.
“Where you guys going?” I asked,
and they said, “Great Brook Valley
Projects.” Where the dope is. Where
this dope wanted to go, and then their
ride pulled up. “Got room for one
more?” I asked. “Hop in,” they answered.
I got into the car and the cramps of dope-
sickness hit my stomach. I gagged and
almost threw up, my joints ached, my gut
flipped upside-inside. Junk sickness.
A junkie’s body never forgets. If it was
just physical, I would never use dope
again. It is not my body, it is me, all
of me, my body, my soul, my mind
interlocked in heroin hypnosis, even
clean I will never be free again. This revelation
hit me many years later, post-millennium
junk-yen rocked my being, I had everything
a man might want yet still I yearned
to trade my kingdom for a pile of dust.
Ask me about power, I will begin to tell you,
my breath will stink of death.
First published in Bad Ass, The Boston Poet Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 1, 2007.
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.
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.”
“Heroes And Villains” is a wonderful book containing three short novels and a fable. Lewis Shiner is a master of creating alternate universes of many varied types. First, let’s talk about Lewis Shiner. He is a fabulous writer who deals excellently with different genres. He has been publishing his works through many different publishing houses. I’ve just read “Heroes And Villains” and my two favorite stories in the collection are “The Black Sun” and “The Next.” But “Doctor Helios” is also a pretty close third. The story called “Doglandia” was good, but didn’t live up to the expectations of the other three tales.
“The Black Sun” is about five stage magicians who are so threatened by Adolph Hitler in 1934 that they concoct a plan to destroy him. The story is filled with major twists and turns and had me totally engrossed. This is alternate history at its best and all the characters were well fleshed out. At times, I was frightened by the magnitude of the task they had set out to accomplish.
I don’t want to reveal much about the story, because I’m sure you will be on the edge of your seat as I was. We all know the damage that Adolph Hitler wreaked upon the world and Lewis Shiner does a masterful job of creating and describing the realities of all characters, both good and evil, in “The Black Sun.”
In “The Next”, Lewis Shiner creates a world where humanity is broken up into two species. One human type is just like us and the other is a deadly predator that lurks among us and takes the best of what we have. Tom Davis is a lawyer, middle-aged, with two teenage boys. He is a single dad. Tom is a lawyer but he’s one of the good guys. He gets handed a case that everyone says is open and shut; about a crazy biker who kills a young woman outside a bar. His firm gives him the case because they want the biker to go down for the crime. But there are so many extenuating circumstances that Tom gets really suspicious. Tom doesn’t like the biker, but he feels that the guy is really being set up for a fall. So he begins to investigate, which is exactly what he was not supposed to do. Things get really dark as the story goes on and I’m not one to give you spoilers. I want you to enjoy the tale and be as surprised as I was when you find out the true nature of the bad guys. By the way, the bad guys are not all men!
The story called “Doctor Helios” is about a secret agent whose job it is to take down a guy who has visions of world domination in Egypt in the year 1963. At first it’s a mystery as to who the guy really is, but you find out soon enough. The women involved with secret agent York are targeted by the mysterious Doctor Helios, who owns a majority of the oil fields and shipping companies that move his oil around the world. Things get rather tense as York and Helios square off against each other. It certainly appears that Helios is more than York can handle, but York attracts people who are on his side. I’ll leave the destructive details for you to discover.
“Doglandia” resembles an “Animal Farm” tale and was the shortest of the four stories in the book. It’s about a band of junkyard dogs and what they have to contend with when a big Rottweiler decides he’s going to run things like a military unit. And then there are the cats, who appear to be the smartest of them all. Actually, as I think about it, it really was a good tale and I’m not giving it enough credit. All the stories in the book “Heroes And Villains” are a great read. After you finish that book you might want to leap to his next book, written in 1993, called “Glimpses”, which brings you back to the hard rock era of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and the nostalgia of the late sixties and seventies. It’s one of his best books, in my opinion, but then I grew up in that era so I’m attached to it.
“Glimpses” is about a guy named Ray Shackleford, who makes a living fixing stereos in his workshop on the upper level of his home. Suddenly he begins to hear music by Jim Morrison and the Doors that these groups never made. But the music really sounds like theirs. Then he hears the Beatles album that they never finished. The music is in his head, and when he turns on his tapes, the music is recorded there. But that’s not all folks. I’m only thirty pages into the book and I’m hooked. His wife is a teacher and she thinks he’s going crazy. But the proof is on the tapes. Lewis Shiner is a miracle worker as an author. He has just finished a book called “Outside The Gates of Eden” and George R. R. Martin of “Game of Thrones” fame loves his work. Martin has this to say about the upcoming book which will be published by Subterranean Press: “‘Outside The Gates of Eden’ is a powerful piece of work.
Shiner writes about music, and the making of music, better than anyone I know. He gets across the tremendous excitement of the early days of rock n’ roll, the peace movement, Woodstock and the Summer of Love—but also the heartbreak of failure, betrayal, and loss. The prose is terrific, and the sense of time and place is first rate. This book is a brilliant requiem for our generation and our dreams.” I figured, on “Outside The Gates of Eden” I’d let George Martin take you there because I haven’t read it yet. But I’m totally looking forward to it. You can get all these books through the Subterranean Press or Amazon. “Heroes and Villains” is a great book and so far, so is “Glimpses.” I hope I have intrigued you enough to give Lewis Shiner a look over. I know you’ll find him to be a wonderful creator of visions.
She haunts me. When the hunger is in me, I think of her. The other day I saw a man with the hunger in his eyes. I was standing outside the Bank of America, selling the Spare Change News. Two men came up quickly, one man Black, one man white. The white man went into the bank while the Black man stood outside and paced. At times he muttered to himself. I could not make out much of the words. He was in a hurry and on his way even while he was waiting.
The white man reappeared with a sheaf of twenties in his hand and counted two or three off into the Black man’s hand. The hunger was beaming from his eyes as the money hit his hand. He clutched it tightly and ran across the street. I watched him disappear into the subway. I knew where he was going.
Those of us with the hunger recognize each other. I see her almost every day. I can tell you where she hangs out, which bar she frequents. She always catches my eye.
Does she know that I watch her? Maybe, maybe not. People hand her money, she disappears into the subway. She comes back and goes to the saloon where they wait.
The relapse is in me. It waits for me, whispering into the ear of my mind, and it wants to catch me in a weak moment.
She? She is tall, skin color of mixed blood, wears jeans, sometimes a dress, sometimes a kerchief on her head. Short hair. There are freckles on her face and she is almost pretty.
I once saw her drop two packets into the hands of a friend. There are many things that I forget. Names. I hear them, suddenly they are gone. Appointment times. I must write them on the calendar otherwise they disappear. I will forget to stop at the store to pick up juice. My memory is flawed.
My addiction is genius. Never forgets. This woman has stayed in my memory since the summer of 1995, when she dropped two packets into the hand of a friend, yet we have never spoken. She stands out in the crowd. I watch her move down the street.
Suddenly, when she appears, all thoughts disappear from my mind. Only the hunger remains. Sweet pestilence that rages through the ghettoes of my mind. Sometimes I get so hungry that my bones ache. I taste the heroin in the back of my throat, my body memory slaps my recovery down the street. She haunts me. When the hunger is in me, I think of her.
What Brings Me Back To Hell
She haunts the dusty eye of my mind swirling down the streets of Central Square dope in her empty pockets she can bring me nothing arching her back like a cat she is one of us has never left my sight closer than I want she will always be everywhere the only running is the option of suicide who can tell the future relapse is too close to think of it like a vise it encircles my being there will be no coming back she sits in the bar and waits for me to come to her it will not be long until I am gone.
Talk to me of shadows I will show you who I was the light will not shine through me when I touch her hand.
What brings me back to hell is the memory of heaven all the gods are liars.
I was one of the dangerous ones. Believed in love, that flowers in the barrel of a gun would stop the bullets. Believed that Peyote would sit me down with Mescalito, that acid was the frontier beyond dark airless space, would breathe me a new consciousness, that opium dreams would water the desert of my aching, bring flowers to my soul, rest me when the asteroid storms would cloud the interstellar space of the mind. There was a time when any pad was home, we sat and smoked marijuana on the seats of our souls, only violence was turned away at every door, anyone else was welcome.
I was one of the dangerous ones, sharing hope, drugs, gonorrhea, needles with one and all, hepatitis was only one by-product of hope. Believed in costume, poetry, dancing on moon-light beaches, Olatunji’s drums of passion, flowers growing in the dark. I heard them all.
I was one of the dangerous ones, believed down to the splinters of my shaking heart that peace was catching, it would leap from soul to soul; all we had to do was join hands, pass the pipe, the only shotgun we used was mouth to mouth intimate smoke. We danced as the barbed wire went up around us, we knew that rust was real.
I was one, a dangerous one, stumbled, took the wrong yellow brick road, wandered into the poppy fields of Oz, fell dangerous sleep, thought dreams were doom, lost in the television land of heroin, situation horrors, dropped my danger in the land of nod. Had a hard return, held in the hand of miracles, came to believe that a power, a hope fiend, the right word in place is a flower in the barrel of. How do I change the world, I begin with me, found my danger in the pocket of myself. Whipped it out, dropped it on you like I was Sandoz Pharmaceuticals or Owsley Blue.
I’m dangerous as hell, I believe we can change the world, bloom you dangerous too; all flowers in the barrel of a gun.
“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.