This is not good. I’m fucked timing-wise and while I’d rather not I have no choice but to follow the 12-year-old kids’ instruction and “Take a walk!” for the 5th time this afternoon. I turn right and head downtown again, past the garbage strewn sculpture garden that occupies the vacant lot on 6th Street. I’m getting nervous that I’m not going to make it home in time to find out whether Magnum and Higgins make it out of the Cambodian jungle alive. Yesterday’s episode ended with the two of them held hostage deep in Viet Cong territory. Things weren’t looking so good. Higgins has injured his leg and Magnum has a jungle fever, like Malaria or something. It’s extremely rare that they do a “to be continued” episode on Magnum PI and I want to see how it shakes out. Of course I know they get out alive. It is a re-run and they are the stars of the show, but as with all good fictions it’s in the doing that the excitement lies. If the unthinkable were to happen and I don’t get home by 5, when will I get to watch this particular episode again? Chances are slim that the cosmic order will align so that I can catch the 15th episode (part 2 of 2 no less) of the 5th season in rerun again. In short, the answer is probably never. I’ve been watching the show faithfully every weekday for months now and while it may sound trivial to miss an episode… well, it is, but that’s not the point. The point is I need to be home by 5.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon in mid-July. Naturally, it’s hot. There is no equivalent to the unpleasantness of the New York City streets in the middle of summer. Sure, like the rest of the Eastern seaboard, it’s humid and the temperature is up there (90’s), but no place feels as harrowing in summer. The frayed nerves, the stink of the trash and the urine soaked sidewalks make for an experience you want to end as soon as humanly possible. Everyone hates one another. Everyone would rather be anywhere else. The small courtesies that normally pad human interactions are done away with and as such, anything can happen. The prevailing attitude is “let’s just get this over with,” no matter what it is.
I am walking, more like stumbling from one sweltering street corner to the next and back again, trying to “act natural” and not piss off any of the lookouts. There are police somewhere in the neighborhood. I don’t see them, but I hear the coded whistles and shouts the kids stationed on each street corner use to communicate with one another. I’ve spent the last hour trying to score heroin. At one point I was third in line, just about to step into the vestibule of the tenement building where the dealer is operating, when a lookout called for the dealer to shut down. I saw the track-suited Hispanic dealer take off up the stairs and into the building, my drugs held hostage in his pleather fanny pack. Us customers are told to take a walk, to scatter and we do. I walk around the block. Again.
I’m desperate for a fix. Normally I’d be waiting for nightfall to cop, but the drugs I scored last night were beat. They did little more than calm me for a few hours. There’s no feeling worse than going through the trouble of braving the streets to cop your dope, getting home and jamming yourself with a hypodermic only to dispatch the payload to little effect. The dope I scored last night was cut to shit with only the minutest amount of heroin. The injection would keep me from getting sick for a short period of time, but there was no enjoyment. When one is addicted to opiates there is only one thing that brings true joy and that’s getting high on opiates. When the product of your hard won dollars won’t even bring you that, it’s a sad day in Mudville.
The Lower East Side is a drug supermarket at night, but in daylight it’s more challenging. Dope spots move around and aren’t as easy to find. The chance of getting pinched by the cops increases as well. It’s been a while since I’ve been forced to try and cop during the day and I’m reminded why I do my best to avoid it. This afternoon, I’m part of a multi-cultural cast of zombies that would give a Benetton ad a run for its money. We all want to be first in line when the spot opens back up again but we don’t to piss off the lookouts and crowd together. Those are the rules: no waiting around and don’t crowd together. Today the black kid keeping an eye on the West end of the block is drunk with power. “Keep walking!” he shouts when he sees me approaching again. I don’t have a choice but to do as this 12-year-old black Hitler says. Talk about humbling. Well, I do have a choice I suppose, but not if I want to get my heroin and avoid going through withdrawals.
It’s been an exhausting hour. I’m tired from being on my feet. I’m tired from not getting a good night’s sleep. I’m tired from being dope sick. The sweat trickling down my neck and armpits sends shivers up my spine. It’s a confusing sensation. It’s so hot out here. I’m aching for dope so bad that it’s giving me cold chills. I make it around the block again and approach Avenue B, praying that the spot is in business. My cramped legs tell me I won’t make it around the block again. And then, like an oasis materializing from the haze of the desert heat, it appears my prayers have been answered. Rather than screaming at me to keep walking, black child-Hitler is ignoring me as I approach. This bodes well for me, so I quicken my pace.
Mid-block, I join the quickly lengthening line of people waiting to get in the tenement lobby. Another lookout waits at the bottom of the stoop, keeping the steps leading up to the front door clear. There are maybe 8 people in line in front of me. Once someone is ushered inside the building it usually takes less than 30 seconds for them to get serviced. I’m minutes away from getting my dose. I try to clear my mind as I finger the slimy, sweaty bills in my front pocket. I think about how excited I am to get home and enjoy a peaceful hour of Magnum PI high out of my fucking mind before I have to go to work. I love dope. I also love Higgins. He’s such a dick but then you know he’s got Magnum’s best interests at heart. Deep down he’s just a big softie, locked in a prison of British propriety. I wish I had a Higgins looking out for me, keeping me in line. Not only that but he gets to live in Robin Masters’ guest house and drive his Ferrari. Not a bad gig you got there Magnum.
In three long strides I’m up the steps and into the fetid, airless little lobby. I’m handing my $60 to the overweight moneyman. He calmly, slowly even, counts my bills and folds them into the enormous roll he holds in his hand. “Sixty” he says to the dealer who looks up at me with a cocked eyebrow. “5 D, 1 C” I say. The dealer is overweight and reminds me of a kid named Diego I used to play with when I was little. He was chubby too. He looks like he should be home playing video games, not counting doses. He reaches into the fanny pack that’s swung around to sit atop his belly and counts out 6 scotch-taped glassine envelopes into my palm. I immediately put the drugs in my front pocket. I’m out the door and it’s all I can do not to run the three blocks home. I come through the apartment door at 5:05, thanking the big baby Jesus in the sky that I won’t be missing Magnum PI this day.