The 20k Halo and The Arm
Jim is looking at me across the table and I am no longer amused by the intimate presence of the raconteur poet as I have determined his senses are in full flight and his lizard brain is in control. I had not seen him since a year ago in San Francisco when we had driven to Bolinas together. He had not been out to Bo since he published "Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries" and I was more than willing to oblige him a day trip over the bridge and mountain and back. Part of the book dealt with him going out there to kick his massive drug habit and the writing was introspectively centered on a huge abscess on his arm that symbolized his struggle with dope and love, or the lack thereof, in his life at the time. We talked and shared a lot in that day long trip out to the sleepy beach town and back to San Francisco where he was doing a reading. I was flashing on the serene peacefulness of that ride and the conversation about some of our similar experiences. The contrast of the man I was sitting across from in this moment of imminent doom was more character-like than the guy that I was on that ride with a year ago. It then occurred to me that I was more like the characters in one of my own stories as well. As I realized that was the price of admission for the carnival of pleasure and painlessness, I also tried to remember how the fuck it had all ended up at this crucial, desperate point it had now come to.
Earlier we had been watching the rehearsal of a scene from the movie being made of one of his first books, “Basketball Diaries”, and it was creeping me out a bit. I had wanted to leave the location shoot on 11th, between A and B Avenues, as soon as I arrived with my friends Pali and Franky. They wanted to have drinks at Mona's around the corner and I, apprehensively, wanted to quickly see Jim for a minute, who was by the limo talking with the driver and another guy. I looked down at my pager, waved my friends on, and reluctantly decided to walk over and have a word with him.
When I approached Jim the other guy asked me what I wanted and I just half smiled and said, "I just want to say hello to the Monsignor over there." as I motioned to Jim and kept moving. I was all tiger inside, couldn't be stopped, it would still take a few more days on the binge to bring me to my knees. Jim gave me the head flip back and ceremonial Loisadia "Hey" and I returned it with junkie handshakes and shoulder hugs.
The limo door is open and the woman inside is about to be shut in by the driver when Jim darts his head and shoulders inside for what I presumed was a quick kiss and a dismissal. He was the fastest "gotta go" I ever saw and the most lingering ghost of dime bags past when you wished he would split already.
After the limo pulled away we walked through the security and closer to where they were setting the camera up to shoot the stunt they would be out there repeating almost all night. It was the scene in the film where the guy gets thrown off the roof in a bad dope deal. I am taking it all in for a minute and I look over at Jim, who is frozen looking up at the building and I realize in that moment that we are both witness to a surreal re-enactment of a death he witnessed as a young man in an out of control teen age world that he would write about in a journal and it would rocket him to stardom among the counterculture elite as the world teetered on the brink of destruction on a daily basis and getting loaded and hustling seemed like the only sane thing to do in the face of all that complacent atrophy of spirit. I pulled my collar on my leather jacket up a little bit and he looked at me and said, "It's never this cold in California, except in San Francisco." "Yeah", I come back with, "I got plans to be a bit warmer soon. I can't take much more of this. I don't think I could hang out while they shot this part of my story." "That's why they aren't shooting your movie tonight." Jim says plainly enough, " What kind of action you got going on?" He doesn't ever have to be subtle with me and that is refreshing for both of us. The shit I have seen him roll at other people is pretty priceless and if I was on the receiving end of it, signed first edition or not, I might slice his throat and leave him where I found him. I appreciate his artistry on every level, but my last couple of days I have been set up, shot at, nearly ripped off twice and my partner in Frisco had his door kicked in by the Feds and no telling what the aftermath of that whole scene would be for me. So, I was hiding in the Alphabets and laying low as could be. Except for this high profile appearance on 11th to meet the Catholic Boy, which was a weird coincidence because I was mainly staying in an old tenement walk up down 11th, almost to C. The squats I would usually stay in, Serenity, Fetus, or C, were too risky and anywhere else would involve socializing too much. I had been wounded by a bullet jacket that ripped through the door of the 6th Street co-op when I almost got ripped off for some mexi weed that I had shipped out from Cali before the Feds crashed the party out there. It was hard to feel the love on the movie set and I didn't want to make a lot of small talk about Jim's nostalgic past since the more dramatic aspects seemed to be paralleling my own trajectory at the moment. I could feel the wound burning my left arm and my side where it had been torn open. The wound was not too deep, but it covered enough area where it was irritating and my face was screwed unpleasant most of the time, which kept random production people from stopping and asking Jim who I was. I didn't feel like being introduced to anybody.
"You ever finish that novel you were working on?" he asks as if the answer might win or lose him a wager with someone else. "It's coming along slow." I lie out quickly, then I get a little more honest, "I have not had much time in one place or near a typer. Mainly writing bad poems on napkins again."
He snickers and shakes his head as a megaphone cackles in the background and the stunt double on the edge of the building is blasted from behind by a 20k ArriSun that makes a halo effect on the thick clouded night above. "I really wouldn't mind splitting this scene now, you got any ideas?" he says as he stares at the halo in the sky. "I got a place right down the street, a kid is on the way back from 116th right now and I got to stop at the bodega on C to pick up some fish scale." I didn't want him to think he was inquiring about some bullshit. I was frazzled and needed an all night speedball session to sooth my inner beast. It was not gonna be some chin in chest Chelsea writer's salon that he was used to. It was not a pretty scene and I knew he would get the picture if I was up front about the blow. Most junkies of his stature only want to come shoot your dope and tell you stories about how wild it used to be and how much they like it quiet now. Trying to lull you to a nod deep enough that they can take your shit right under your nose and help you look for it for a second before they exclaim, "Look at the time...gotta run, I hope you find that."
I was not going to be so docile and I was hoping the idea of cocaine would discourage him from participating if he had such an inclination. I was not back up to a huge amount a day habit yet and I was not in a hurry to get there. The coke kept me from going though the dope too quickly and it gave me some edge so I didn't get lost for too long in the world of the continuous nod. Still, Jim wasn't a gangster and he was good company for just reveling in the fact that we both liked to make music and write as well as appreciate good art. The drugs were just a common enough ground for me under most circumstances and it meant you had to be committed on some level to my cause as long as I committed something to yours. I had been doing this for years and this guy held the secret of how I might be able to leave it all behind. I thought maybe I could finally have him to tell me something that might point me in that direction and away from the one I was on a collision course with before it was too late. Something I could take back to L.A. and get my own deal and shoot my own shit. At the very least I would hear a good story from the master of St. Mark's ceremonies himself.
My guard had been up for many days in a row. I was a little bit spooked by everything, but I had suffered in the companionship department and Jim was an amazing presence, almost like a mentor, and he represented hope for some change that I badly needed. The apartment down on 11th belonged to a skin betty named Jennae who worked most nights at Show World in Times Square and nodded all day on a mattress on the floor with a gutter punk named Smegs. He was a young local who grew up too quick and loved to whine and cry like young junkies do, anything to get the girl to keep a steady supply of cash for bags of love from Harlem. Both the young chemical lovers had let drama around Tonpkins Square get the better of them and they did not want to be out on the street at all if they could help it. It was a perfect set up for me, for I wanted to lay just as low after nearly getting cut in two by a machine pistol. I figured I would break it down to Jim as we began to walk away from the film set. It was as I related the details that the first red flag went up in my head about what kind of situation it might be with him. He was looking over both shoulders in a way that let me know he wanted to not be seen leaving in this manor. Like a master criminal looking to make sure there were no witnesses to the escape.
“Sounds like you got a nice place that isn’t so nice for anything else but getting loaded. I won’t stay long, just a taste and I got to run back here before anybody notices that I slipped out.” Jim says it in a way that is hard to hear, due to his head moving from side to side, and his eyes never making contact with me. I also notice his accent is in a fuller effect than I ever had heard it before. It is a sharp contrast to the way he spoke in San Francisco a little over a year ago. I shake it off as it might be the chill in the air and that he might be apprehensive about a lot of shit I can’t comprehend, as the image of the halo in the sky like a junky bat signal flashes in my head.
“No worries, Jim, let’s just head down B for a couple of blocks, cut over at 7th and hit the bodega on 7th and C. Then back up C to 11th and were home free.” I have been mapping our escape since he agreed to come with me. I wanted to avoid seeing anyone or anyone seeing me if possible. As long as we skirted on the side of the street away from the park and kept our heads down, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it not a big neighborhood and I was walking with one of its more infamously famous characters. I reassured myself that Master Jim was no stranger to not wanting to be seen.
“For an hour a day you could get the best dope outside of Harlem right here at the laundromat on the corner of 7th and B. I remember lining up for it back in the day, cops would just stay on patrol, like security guards for the dealers.” Jim reminisced.
“Yeah, that was the most user friendly dope spot I ever seen. Like clockwork, everyday, I heard it was a Gambino operation. Nice Dreams was the best I ever got there.” I was referring to the name stamped on every waxy bag of dope sold in New York. The irony that the best I had ever copped there was named after a Cheech and Chong movie. Since I had almost recently lost my life in a weed deal, heroin seemed so safe and welcoming in comparison. Jim Carroll would harldy be having such an itch to go smoke a joint with me, anyway.
When we got to the bodega, which is all painted bright yellow with red trim and when you walk down the “cokie” aisle you leave your cash on top of dog food from Puerto Rico, which is covered with dust, and then walk on a few steps and walk back and the bulging bags are there and you scoop them up and leave. I get about 6 grams for 80 bucks in four bags. It is always good quality, and I have never said any words to anyone about the deal. The set up was passed on to me by a model I had partied with who just brought me in once and I have been repeating the ritual hundreds of times since then. It is easily the best drug deal I have ever made. No talk, all walk. I can already feel the bag high and a bubbling in my bowels as I step back out into the night and get to witness Jim giving the casual look both ways and I can tell he is ready to bolt from me in the drop of a feather or a truncheon. He could not be blamed, he was risking it all at this point, we were locked in now. I had to get high in minutes, I could feel the urgency pound up inside my ribs.
I casually slipped one of the bags into a hidden compartment inside the lining of my black leather jacket. It was how you had to be with coke. Nobody, especially dope fiends, claim to need, like it is a take it or leave it issue, until they get a taste with the dope and then suddenly it like trying to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of someone who claim jelly didn’t mean that much and you only got a little jelly left and all of sudden its like they gotta have jelly too, just got to, man, come on, what the fuck? It just degrades like that. You can offer more peanut butter than you have already offered, but if they know there is some jelly in the house, they can’t control themselves, all they can think about is jelly. So I will cop to having three bags of the Peruvian marching powder and keep the last gram and a half or so for my personal tragedy after everyone is down for the count or out of sight. I never begin one of these sessions with any other intention than to be the last man standing. Everybody needs something to do that feels like an accomplishment, and sadly for me, I have not had that feeling outside of the spoon lately. The optimistic angel appears in my head about then and reminds that I have a poet laureate to converse with for a moment, which is my silver lining on this occasion, on this night. If I ha only known how far off the estimate was, I would have tortured that angel to death right there in front of God and the Lower East Side.
As we came up Avenue C, at the corner of 9th, I had to be careful. I seen Old Man Henry and I motion him over to a looming art piece that had been put there by some ABC No Rio sculptor years before.
“ I need three bags of outfits, Henry, you holding that many?” I ask in a hurried voice.
“That would clean me out, give me nothing to do for awhile, you got any dope to trade for a bag of points?” He answered, and my head immediately registered I had used the wrong reference word for a syringe according to my geographic area. Outfit was more San Francisco term. Anything flew in downtown L.A., due to it’s junkie cultural diversity. Rig, point, works, outfit, fit. But New York was points and S.F. was outfits. The mistake had caused some haggling that was unnecessary in the past, probably even with this Old Man, which was why he didn’t bat an eye about it. Plus, he wanted some dope and he was hoping if he is helpful, I would be, too.
“I tell you what, Old Man, I got money for two bags, you give me all three and meet me on the corner of 11th by the after hours bar in 20 minutes and I will hook you a couple of Harlem’s best. But, you don’t bring nobody or tell nobody. I ain’t dealing out, feel me? This is just something I am doing for you cause you look out for me, seen?”
“You always done me right and I don’t want to be out here any longer than I got to tonight, 20 minutes, youngster, I can’t be waiting around there.” He says as he slips me a brown paper bag with D+B syringes in it. Three bags, thirty count. It’s a party now. Moments away.
Our walk is brisker now and as I hit 10th, I can feel the pager vibrate. I pull it out and look at it. It’s Smegs at the corner phone. Jennae gave me the only spare key so I could handle shit and because she is trying to punish Smegs. He can easily break in, but he knows that he is getting dope out of the deal for days so he is somewhat supplicated. I had sent him to Harlem to grab a 50 count of bags and now he is waiting right on the corner, steps away from the door. I see him at the phone as we round the corner. I can tell he is a little put off by the presence of another guy in a black leather coat. I can see him doing the math in his head. He is a sight in that moment. Once an altar boy, like Jim, he now sports black jeans, Doc Martins that were bought with Show World tips, a beaten down black motorcycle leather with a patch from every NYHC band that never sold out and a couple of limey punk outfits, Varukers, Conflict, Crass. He was loaded, but not proper. I told him he could sniff a bag to get right, but that was it. He didn’t want to cross the line and he didn’t have enough time on the run to fuck me over, because my car service guy was timing him.
“I’ll introduce you upstairs, let’s go.” I rush us through the locks on the door with the urgency of a man who is escaping a fire, only I am about to get myself closer to one. A distant fire that falsely warms a fallen soul. This is the opposite of escape on so many levels and only escape on one literal plane. I scale stairs two at time and pass all sorts of visions that would make any sane person stop and rethink where the were headed, but I was quite comfortable climbing this tower to feed my most important desire. I can hear a stopwatch click in my head as I get the multiple lock on the door open and rush in to the pad. I head straight for the table and chairs that is the only dominant furniture in the room and looms over the 2 mattresses against the wall on either side. The roaches are still scattering from the light and they make a sound that is so perceivable in that moment that I can’t help but glance at Jim to see his reaction. I know he’s been in pad’s like this many times before, but I am figuring it has been a long minute and I was curious if he had experienced a change to the point where this shit got to him. I was probably hoping I could change as well in that moment if I could see something in him. He didn’t seem to notice, which ended my internal social experiment immediately. I went around the table and sat facing the door. It’s my customary seat when I am paying for the dope.
“Smegs, this is Jim. Jim, Smegs.” As they gave each other the once over’s, Jim endng his quickly, simultaneous, “Hey”s coming from both men, Smegs sizing him up a couple of seconds longer, I break the moment by exclaiming, “So give me my fifty pack and pour three waters, Smegs.”
“Youse means furty-nine”, in his best Loisada tough guy, “I took my sniff in the back of da car, n now it’s furty-nine.”
He hands me the stack of wax baggies, which have “Jesus Lives” stamped on the side of them. This is the good shit, it been good all week. I got a shoe box full of “Jesus Lives” that I am planning on giving to my man, Breeze, who slangs late night on Ludlow and early morning on 2nd and B. He puts a somewhat inferior product in them, but it get fools well and the branding is always important. He gives me a hundred of his “Big Top” for a thousand of the “Jesus Lives” or whatever top Harlem labeled bags I got.
Jim is easing down in a chair directly across from me. I thumb through the stack and its all there. I pull two off for Jim and fling them across the dirty table like little playing cards. He cup his hand o top and looks at them and smiles in acknowledgment of the branding. Smegs sets down three waters he has pour into three different glasses and cups.
“Dare ain’t no other waters, whats Jennae gonna do when when she gets home? She might not like having a guest and all.”
“Smegs, I haven’t seen my friend Jim, here, in over a year, dope is on me tonight. Ten for making the run, and anther five as well. Jennae will get fifteen so it’s all square. Capice?”
It’s a good deal for them. They get to keep her money for the night and it’s enough for them to get right. I had been making them kick in for their share and tonight was my way of rewarding their efforts. I had already paid the month’s rent and given them some weed to sell. I figured I was a regular Santa Claus at that point.
‘Here, go down to the bar and get a glass for Jennae”, I hand Smegs a ten spot, “and give these two bags to Old Man Henry, he’ll be waiting by the phone. I got three bags of new works from him.” He gives me that look and wipes his nose and sniffles just to let me know I am making him wait for a shot he needs more than anything. I hand him the keys as well and he takes them and runs out the door. Smegs doesn’t argue with me ever, but he is a little loud mouth psychopath in the street, so I appreciate that he is less words and more action at this point. Plus, everybody will love Santa even more when I make it snow. I look back at Jim and I can tell he is appreciative of how I have wrangled the situation so far. And now would be the time to begin wresting my satisfaction. I sit down, dump out the bags of syringes, tear one open, hand two to Jim, who slides back one in a professional gesture. “I’ll only need one”, he says matter-of-factly. I pull out one of the coke bags and its time to do the damage. Suddenly, I realize I have to take a major shit.This is a terrible distraction for me. The lever has been thrown inside. I have only been dabbling in opiates after a long hiatus, which was a year long, and that is pretty damn long for me not to be strung out on poppy products. One of the aspects of a “bag high” from cocaine is a rumbling in the bowels. Since I have no massive opiate intake to counter it, nature has taken its course like a freeway offramp in anticipation of rush hour.
“I have to use the john, be right back.” I say, as I raise up and make for the toilet.
“You don’t like Mama’s cooking anymore?” Jim says with chuckle.
The bathroom door is off its hinges, so it is a bit of a production to get it opened and closed, but I am inspired enough to handle. The only problem is there is no light in the bathroom, so I am in pitch black darkness. I can hear and sense all the roaches scurrying around me as I fumble for the Bic in my pocket. As it lights, the room is cast in that eerie glow of sputtering butane and there must be a hundred cockroaches moving along the walls, the floors , the sink and, of course, the toilet. I really have to get busy, I am sweating from the restraint it is taking to not crap on myself right then. I lift the seat and let it crash in hopes to scare away the ones who block my comfort zone. The smaller ones scurry quickly, but a few of the larger ones don’t move quick enough or far enough for me. I kick at them with my foot, but as I do this, the flame of the lighter that is getting hot burns my thumb and I lose my light source. I burn my thumb some trying to reignite it .
One of the big bastards is climbing up the bottom of the bowl again. I kick him across the floor and I drop trousers in haste and spin to sit on my temporary throne. I got to do what I got to do. I am anxious and stressed to the maximum and the only advantage I get from this is the exit gate blows mud extremely fast in this state. Again the light goes out, but in my moment of relief I don’t care. It is just then that I realize, in the dark, that there is no toilet paper and I also left a bag of coke out. Even though it is Jim, still, I should never make a mistake like that. I do this shit for a living, and that is a rookie blunder. I tell myself it was all for the party anyway, so even if he did it all right then it didn’t matter. Except he might die of a cocaine overdose, one of the ugliest things to witness in drugdom, and that would be a major bummer to be party to.
The moment of truth is not too difficult for me. It’s not my first rodeo, so I know how the bull bucks at this point. I light the lighter to get some light on the matter. “Fucking bugs on my shoes.” I spit between clenched teeth as I kick like a Toulouse-Lautrec imitator, trying to clear away bugs and prepare my shoes for removal while I push down my pants in one erratic motion using my one free hand on the pants as I hold the burning lighter aloft in the other hand. Roaches are scattered and make skitter noises as the try to right themselves in all corners of the little room. I slide off both shoes and slip my pants down around my feet. I retrieve the Holy Grail from inside my pants deftly and quickly. My underwear are to be immediately sacrificed to get out of this situation and end this stay in the purgatory of toilets. Once I pass the boxers up to my hand that is holding the hot-enough-to-explode-at-any-moment-next-to my-head lighter, I quickly pull my pants back over my feet, and slip on my shoes before any cockroaches can move and inhabit my personal space. I let the lighter go out, grab the once boxers in my other hand and begin to finish the job by Braille, using the slot creation gave me to guide the movement. It is satisfying and almost over. Just as I wonder what to do with the wadded up and soiled undergarment, I am startled by the sensation of a large creature crawling onto my backside and I jump up, the dirty boxer glob goes flying into the darkness and I hastily pull up my pants and fasten my belt. "I really have to, and I definitely deserve to, get high right now", I think to myself, as I moved the door out of the way and hurriedly make for the table.
I am destabilized for a moment by the arrangement. Jim has taken in his first shot and obviously helped himself to some blow. His eyes are alternating from black saucers of zombieness to lifeless pinpoints. His gestures are restrained and shaky all at once. Most of all, he is in my seat.
I have quite a few party rules, most I make up as I go, but “never with my back to the door (especially when cocaine is involved)” can easily be written on my tombstone. It is obvious he is in the throes of a major rush, but I need mine, and I need to be in that chair for it to work. I figure, since I’m buying this round, I can interrupt it, because I am desperate and I deserve it after what I have been through in the bathroom.
“Hey, man, I need to sit in my chair, and I know you know what I mean.” I figure straight reason has to work so there is no misunderstanding.
“Shhh, I hear someone” he raises his hand and stares in the direction of the crack at the bottom of the door. I am like, “Jesus, how much coke did you do without waiting for me, you son of a bitch?” inside my head when all of a sudden the door swings open and Smegs comes bursting in, breathing hard and looking more disheveled than usual.
“Man, those fuckers almost got me! They are trying to get in the building, but the P.R’s. on the first floor aren’t having it. Shit, I need a shot bad, Man.” He comes in waving his arms, screaming and dissolves immediately into near tears. He is a junkie to the core. On the plus side it moves Jim out of my chair and I proceed to sit down and take stock of what the kid is talking about and Jim’s weird behavior, because I think he was testing me to see if he could push me and how far. Smegs is always in some drama, having been burning and stealing as a true LES dope fiend since he was 12. Then it hits me, I am getting loaded with two generations of the worst type of Manhattan junkie ever created. What the fuck was I doing. And, I really needed and had earned a major shot.
I look down at Jim’s spoon, works and water. I notice there is nothing, not even a cotton in the spoon and there is no sign of the bag of coke or anything else. I move his shit over to in front of the chair to my left. As I pull out my pouch that holds my spoon and materials, I ask Jim, “Hey Brother, where did my bag of coke go?” Before I can get an answer, Smegs has caught his breath and interrupts, “Those Haitians that tried to rob you were down there with the Old Man. They jumped out when I gave him the bags of dope. I barely got away and ran up the stairs. They are coming up right behind me.”
This is not good news, but it isn’t the end of the world that the little melodramatic junkie was making it out to be. First, there is a low probability that the Latin Kings who lived in this building would let these nickel and dime Haitians come in this building to do anything but run back out with a bullet or knife wound. Second, I had a Smith and Wesson 411 .40 right here under the table…except when I reached for it, it wasn’t there.
“My fucking seat. Jim! Where is my fucking piece and my bag of yay. You hand it over now, mother fucker, or you can leave through the window that doesn’t have a fire escape!”
Jim looks shaken and insane. He pulls the .40 out and points it at me and then he points at his own head. “His hand tighten as he raises the Browning to her temple…”, fuck me if he isn’t beginning to recite “Just Visiting”, one of my favorite of his early poems. Then I flash back on the halo in the sky, my visualization that we would be up all night, gowed out of our minds, reciting poems to each other. Talking of Rilke, Rimbaud. Him relating stories of O’Hara, Warhol, Edie, Kerouac, Berrigan and Cassidy that no one had ever heard before. That was the glory and comraderie I had hoped for. Not this…this situation. Fuck, I could do this shit all alone. In fact, for the last two weeks, I had been doing it all alone, because I didn’t really count the company of the junkie couple. Their trivial whining was an impedance on any wisp of serenity I might grasp for any fleeting moment. I had wanted to create a moment of inspiring and epic proportions and the reality of my existence had intervened and reminded me I was no bard or artist, but a basic criminal, fighting to survive in a world that turn and crush me if I didn’t run for cover and constantly seek shelter from the unrelenting shit storm that was my life, day to day.
“Jim, fuck, give me the gun and sit the fuck down!” The pain from my wounds had suddenly shot up beyond comprehension and I had to regain control of something or I was going to die, or at least that was the impetus for my outburst right then. It must have carried the proper weight. Jim sat down put the pistol on the table. He immediately produced the bag of blow he had tried to pocket and tossed it down as well. Smegs was still rocking back and forth on his feet and breathing and sniffling.
“Smegs, sit down and fix a fucking shot and get right. They don’t know what room we are in and they probably won’t get up here, “ I checked the gun to make sure it was still loaded and ready, “and if they do, it will be the worst thing they ever found after walking up flights of stairs.” I turn my gaze back to Jim, “Look, I know you have to be back over there soon, but you are going to have wait for a half hour before leaving. It’s a little dangerous all of sudden. I hope it is not too much of an inconvenience, but you should know the score better than anyone.”
I recompose myself and get back to the business of making my shot. I pour about half a bag of “Jesus Lives” in the spoon and put about 25 units of water on it. I pull out the lighter and cook it until it bubbles good. Usually there are a little less than 15 and a little more than 10 units left. I take almost a quarter gram, more like .2, of the coke and put it in the spoon. The mother of pearl flakes displaces the dose back up to almost 20 units. I don’t want to take off my belt, because I have no underwear, so I just use a power cord from the boom box that doesn’t work. Pull tight, register the blood, let go and send it. It’s good enough to send a golden light into my field of vision and the ether taste rolling in the back of my throat causes me to puff out a breath. The aural hallucination that comes immediately is very intense as if everything I hear is amplified and directed through a fan that is beating next to my ears. As usual, the quality of the coke is amazing considering the bodega scene I cop it in. Next I feel the pain reduction in my body and the warming hit of the dope crawling up my spine. I might have done too much. I am suddenly aware I am going to boot and I grab the gun and head for the john again. I enter after kicking the door to the side and run into the darkness and move for toilet. I was in such a hurry as I exited before that I did not flush, so my scat from earlier is right before me in the bowl and I projectile vomit right on top of it. The updraft of odor assures I will boot a few more times without being able to control it. I use the slide of the pistol to depress the handle. The flushing is a soothing sound and I hack and spit to clear any acidic gobs out of my throat.
As I come out of the bathroom, holding the pistol in one hand looking down at the blood that has trickled out on the other, I notice Smegs has done an issue and is in a deep nod. He won’t be whining for a while, which is nice. Jim, on the other arm, is at the door, listening with his ear one moment, then alternately looking out the peephole. I was at the mercy of a monster of my own making. There would be no talk of literature and art with this traumatized dope fiend. I went back to my seat and contemplated my next move and let the full force of the high-grade heroin edge out the nervousness of the cocaine as much as possible. In that moment, the sound of French being spoken with a Caribbean accent outside in the hallway was easily the last thing I wanted to hear.
“Jim,” I hoarsely whispered as best as a man who just inventoried his guts could do, “back away from the door and sit down. Slowly.”
He moved back from the door and to the chair. He was good at creeping slowly around like a cat burglar. This was really going put a damper on conversation, which I was still holding out hope for until then.
The 411 hold 11 rounds of S&W .40, in this case Black Talon, ammunition and I was good enough, even impaired, to put 7 through the peephole and allow 2-3 inches of slight over shot and compensation for the other 4 rounds. I watched the breaking of the light through the speck of glass in the peephole center. The door creaked as if someone was leaning against it to get a better view. Its moments like this that you never want to second guess what having a tool like an automatic pistol is for. No bullshit about the second amendment or crap about probable cause. People that shoot people, whether they have badges or uniforms or desperation in their hearts, just pull the fucking trigger because they have already had an internal conversation that when the time comes to use the tool, they will use it.
As I raise up, the chair kicks back and the shadow comes over the glass at the same moment. “Got him”, I think as bullets pour out and the peephole bursts outward. Smegs jumps up and falls back on the mattress. The sound is deafening in such a cramped space and there is nothing but a ringing in my ears in the next few seconds. I stand with both arms extended, pistol firmly gripped, staring through the smoke at the ray of light that is playing on it as it comes through the opening that used to be the peephole. I only fired five shots, because I knew I might need a second volley. There was another full magazine in my backpack, but there was no time to worry about it now. I had to take the fight forward, but I was not in the best sensory condition. Smegs was blurting out something from the floor, but I couldn’t hear him because the ringing was still very pronounced. I began to inch around the table and adjusted my gun sight to the hole as I moved, One foot in small step and sliding the back foot, so as not to lose the level of my aim. As I approached the hole, I noticed no movement or shadows. I saw there was blood and debris on the wall outside right next to the stairs. The force of the peephole bursting out had caused some damage to whoever had been out there that spoke French with a Haitian dialect. I was pretty certain that I had been wounded a few days earlier by the same type of people in an attempted robbery. Ironically, I was not completely certain, because I was shot at through a door, and now I was not certain who I had shot just now as I had fired through a door. The paradox was compelling, but not really important. Everyone on that floor was a junkie or a prostitute or both, so I knew there would be no cops, but the damage I had done to whoever was unclear, but damage had been done, that was certain.
My senses were coming back into focus somewhat and I was very clear that I should not go down the stairs. I figured I had the upper hand in here. I could just wait them out. They were most likely on the way to Bellevue for treatment if they weren’t bleeding out on the sidewalk below, their compatriots long gone. Either way, I was certain that going outside was not the best move for right now. Best to wait, and to take immediate stock of the trauma caused to Smegs and Jim. They were both sitting at the table as I backed away, slowly, from the door. I realized that they were both recoiled in horror with their mouths gaping open. I held my finger to my lips in a “shooshing” signal. I moved toward the door knowing I had to cover the damage and stop us all from staring at shadows that were not really moving in the hall. I picked up a cardboard flat from the floor and used a thumbtack from the wall to attach it over the gaping hole in the door where the peephole used to be. There was no point in looking out there anymore.
I turn around to address my fellows and I begin to look at Jim more closely. I am taken aback for a moment. I can’t really move, anyway, as I am caught in that strange limbo of the speedball where time slows down, but my heart is pounding and I am frozen, unable to move because my next move might be the one that gives me away. A blanket of strange paranoia wraps itself around me and I want to not be there right then. I think to myself again how this is all wrong. This is not what I wanted to happen. My mind goes back once more to that ride from Frisco to Bolinas and the conversation about how coming out there had changed his life, given him a new perspective on creating and writing. How he had experienced all the nature in that place and it talked to him, told him he didn’t have to be like he was.
I remembered back to our walk on the beach out to the groin where the channel emptied out to the ocean. We both look across the water to San Francisco in the distance as we talked about the painful kick, the terrible abscess, the first poem he wrote on that beach, getting together with the band, the wild parties they had back then, the free love and the second chance at life he had gotten. I told him about all my attempts at publishing, playing music, making art. How it all seemed like I was just doomed every time to never be able to make it work. How it always seemed like I just couldn’t hang in there until something broke for me. I always ended up going back to the grind of selling dope, which meant I was going to be getting loaded on it soon after, every time. He said he understood, and he said it seemed like I could try to do what he did and just stay out there in Bolinas and forget about the city and the life so I could have an experience like he had gone through. It sounded so fucking good to me that day. I felt like it was such a great possibility. A validation from someone I admired and had hoped to emulate. There I was, right where I needed to be. The drive back over Mt. Tamalpais was beautiful and hopeful. Every song on the radio sounded great and inspirational. Every word we exchanged was poetic and meaningful. I felt like it was going to be all right for once in a really long time. I made a commitment to myself after I last saw Jim in San Francisco the next day that I would do whatever it would take to make that happen. It was going to take some money, though. Some real quick and hard cash was necessary. Emphasize the quick and overlook the hard part, because that might get in the way of an optimistic outlook.
I was not sure how long I had drifted in that ethereal world of memories, but I was suddenly realizing that there were steps coming up the stairs and I had not moved in quite a while. My feet were cramped and I had frozen mid-creep on the balls of my feet so as to make the really painful. I was jumpy about the noise coming nearer. I was definitely not in Bolinas anymore. The irony quickly struck me that I was supposed to be making the quick cash it would take to leave the city behind and live in the beautiful coastal paradise.
This was not quick cash anymore, it hard cash. Cold, hard cash. I tried to ascertain my situation. The footfalls were coming closer and they had a familiar sound that I recognized. Just as I fully realized who it was, the sound of a banging on the door and the raspy voice of Smegs girlfriend broke the silence.
“Open the fucking door, youse fuckin’ idiots, now! I am not fuckin’ playin’ wit youse, muthafukkas!”, she yells, in a voice that only a Lower East Side girl who just finished 12 hours at Show World and needed a fix after the ride home from the Square could command. It was piercing and unnerving how she rasped and whined while so efficiently penetrating the door and my skull. Hot lead would have been more welcome at that point. I woefully undo the locks and open the door. She pushes her way in and is spouting a word with every deep breath. “What tha fuck you fukkas do? They got friggin’ cops coming up through the building.” Jennae was in the not so rare form of righteous junkie stripper with a flop pad that was in her name. I knew that I could calm her down with the satchel of Harlem’s best hustle I had for her, but if I handed it over without letting the drama run its course she would be expecting more. I had to explain it in language that she could relate to in the moment at hand.
“Look, Jennae, I always take of you, so don’t bust my fuckin’ balls, I got this. Now let me make it right and lets forget about the cops for now. They aren’t gonna want to come up this far. They never fucking come up this far.” I had never seen a cop make it past the 2nd floor in this building, so I wasn’t really bullshitting. Suddenly, Jim gets up and bolts for the door. “Fuck this shit!” he growls as he open and slams the door. My makeshift hole covering drops to the floor and reveals the damage done by my gunplay. Her mouth is agape as she watches, first the strange, disgruntled man leaves her presence, then next it is revealed that her door has a large, roughly hewn hole in it. I knew she was not going to be able to contain herself. There was no way I could answer for all this until she was good and loaded. I needed a plan B quickly. Besides, Jim was not going to look back, ever. It was over for him as far as anything I had to do with was concerned. I was too agitated to feel my heart sink over the loss of a great mentor. I was beginning to need a shot myself. Plan B needs to be in motion now.
“Who the fuck was that guy? What tha fuck happened to tha door? Your fucking loaded, too, Smegs, you bettah have something for me, cuz I am fukkin’ pissed. Razor where da fuck is sumptin four me? I fukkin’ want it now, this is bullshit, you muthafukkahs.” She is on an unstoppable roll now. She is a heroin seeking steam roller that will not stop until the right amount of dope is in her veins. It could take a while for that. I will lose my mind, and I can’t risk any further break of sanity that might make me accidentally shoot my hostess. “Baby, it’s all good. Razor gave me the stuff for you. I got it all right here. It’s all good.” It’s a feeble attempt, but he does have half of Burma in his arm, so I am just grateful for the distraction. Just then I see one of the Latin Kings, Reynaldo, out in the hallway through the door Jim left open on his way out. I figure it is worth a shot at this point. I step out to strike up a conversation.
“Orale pues, homie.” I instinctively kick out.
“Don’t give me dat Cali lolo talk, muthafukka, I know ju bring shit down on the plaza here and you clipped one of dem Haychuns, you can’t be up in here doing that shit, main.” As Reynaldo is talking to me he looks over my shoulder at the junkie domestic situation. Jennae is going off on Smegs full force. She is screaming and bitching him out as she gathers all the shit so she can get her fix on. She is an amazing multi-tasker, blasting Smegs with machine gun phrasings while she gets the water, spoon, candle, cotton, rubber hose to tie off with, syringe, all the time never losing a beat.
“That is some crazy chit in dare, main, how can you handle dat?” says the man who is King at that point.
“I figure I might have to bounce up to St. Mark’s to get a room for the night. Not what I was planning on doing, but I am not doing a lot of shit I planned to do tonight. It is a pretty fucked up night for me so far. But , I don’t want to disrespect the spot, I want to make it right, holmes, so can I hit you off with some yesca for the trouble, carnale?” I want to make it better with these guys, because, realistically, I can’t go up to St. Mark’s and I don’t want them to come for me later as well.
“You keep talking like a Meshcan I gunna treat you like one, Papi culo. I got you, you give me some of that weed you got and you can go up to da roof. I got a room up by my pigeon coops you can chill in til in the morning. You done look like you sleep, anwhey, no?” Says Reynaldo with a knowing grin to emphasize it like a gold fronted Cheshire cat.
I go back in and get my shit and grab some grass that I was going to have Smegs sell in the morning. I figure this will keep him up and out if it for any daytime recon missions tomorrow. I am just going to do my business up on the rooftop, thanks to my new friend, the King, Reynaldo. I’ll come back in the morning when the kids are worn out and collapse on my mattress paradise to sleep it off. The room is really a closet with a cot and a milk crate for a table and a small radio. Everything I need right now. No frills or worries. The weed was more than the King even expected, so he became very gracious as he led me up. He instructed me to lock it from the inside, do my thing and then leave by the sunrise. It sounded like the best plan B I had come across in a long time. I was going to take full advantage.
I was listening to a late night jazz program on the public radio station to avoid having to hear any commercials. Commercials and speedball binges alone did not go well together. I did numerous shots up there and contemplated everything that had ever happened since the beginning of time. I walked out on the roof at some point and caught some fresh after a big shot. I looked over the rooftops, all nickel blued and chromed silver under the cloud filtered moonlight. I could see in the direction of Mona’s, where I wished I was getting in some pool games and hopefully getting at some companionship. I look past there and I saw the building where they were still filming the scene further down E11th St.
The 20k halo still shot up like a beacon and lit up the sky like it was signal for some dark angel to descend from the clouds. I thought of the Batman comic and how it got made into a movie, too. But, Jim’s book was no comic. It was his journalized youth. His lost innocence published many years ago and now it was going to be broadcast to the world with young, hip, up and coming actors playing him and his now dead, for the most part, companions. He even unwittingly wrote the theme song years before. I realized that he didn’t seem to have really done a shot. I don’t even think he was really high now that I thought about it. I wondered if he had even been there. I wondered if anything was real. I didn’t want it to be. I wanted something else, but I couldn’t organize the thoughts as to what it might look like. Writing your real life and sharing it like that, I didn’t think I could do it. It seemed like it might take more than it gave. I didn’t feel like I had much to give, anyway.
I looked past the halo of light in the sky and I let my gaze melt into the horizon. As far west as I could see from that rooftop. California was way the fuck out there. So far away it did not seem real anymore. At least not in that moment. Bolinas, with its quietness and beauty, out there somewhere, it offered me hope that I might not have to live like this anymore. If I could only make it back alive. I looked at all the pigeons sleeping in the coops. I figured I just got to make it to my wake up tomorrow evening. Keep it simple, take it slow. Go fix another Chinese Peruvian cocktail and forget about it for now. I was as trapped as a pigeon in a coop, waiting for someone or something to set me free again so I could fly home. Wherever that might be.