My walk from home to work, from Avenue C and 4th Street to 5th Avenue just below 23rd, takes a little more than a half an hour. It can be a real bitch of a walk, especially on a cold day like today. There’s no subway that helps to cut down the travel time in any substantial way, so I’m stuck hoofing it twice a day, every day, unless I spring for a cab, which I’ve done like… once, maybe.
To try and keep things interesting I vary my route – or better than that – get high and take my time, but that’s off the table for today. Today, December 23rd I am neither sick, nor high. I just am. I’m on a maintenance dose and I’ve had my fun for the day. I am just existing until it’s time to shoot up again. That will be many hours in the future, after I’ve copped more drugs on the way home from work tonight.
It might sound like I’m complaining, but believe me, I’m not. I am so fucking thankful not to be dope sick right now. Thank the big baby Jesus in the sky, I say. There’s nothing worse than trying to get through a work shift while jonesing for dope. Trust me, I know, I’ve done it more times than I care to recount.
As I begin my walk, the neighborhood matches my mood, dark, empty, bleak.
There is no sun penetrating the low ceiling of winter clouds and the gray tenement canyons of Alphabet City are fucking empty. As I pass it, a bunch of screaming kids come pouring out of PS 64 on Avenue B. Besides the brief flurry of children the only life-forms to be seen are the odd Puerto Rican woman swaddled in winter clothing scurrying towards her destination and the myriad homeless people piled so deeply under cardboard and dirty wool blankets, they’ve become part of the landscape.
Sometimes I wonder how I got here? You know? To the city, I mean. Living in this shitty neighborhood and living the druggie lifestyle.
I mean of course I know how I got here; like everyone else my present circumstances are the result of all the aggregate small decisions I’ve made in past. What I mean is, despite all that – despite ending up here through circumstance – if somehow I was able to start from zero and somebody were to ask me, “Would you like to live in an armpit ghetto on the edge on Manhattan and be addicted to drugs?” I’d probably say, “Okay,” which is kind of fucked, you know? It seems like a dumb answer, but in my heart of hearts I know it’s the truth. Despite all the pain and hardship this lifestyle causes, I’d still choose it. What’s wrong with me?
But then I don’t think of myself as dumb. I mean I was able to get into a good college, right? Doesn’t that mean I’m smart? And my thoughts… They make so much fucking sense. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all a joke, human consciousness I mean, you know? Like the fucking Matrix and shit.
Life is a fucking mystery…
I’ve always felt like “fuck you” sounds. That might sound simple minded – and it probably is – but that’s what I feel in my heart of hearts. I’m not pro, I’m con. I don’t want to add to society, I want to subtract. If you are for it, I’m against it. That’s just my default position. Society. People that put on airs. Meatheads. Jocks. Sports. Society. Shopping. The only time I felt right when I was a kid was when I was saying fuck you. Or when I listened to the Sex Pistols. As contrarian and silly this might sound, I feel like the Sex Pistols sound.
Oh yeah, I feel okay when I’m on heroin too. Heroin fixes that shitty, “I’m alive” feeling. The Sex Pistols and Heroin, two great tastes that taste great together.
Sometimes I just wish I was “pro” something… Anything, you know? It’s hard to dislike everything.
I light a cigarette and keep moving. I’ve got a hat on, but no gloves. So I alternately submit each of my bare hands to the cold for an equal amount of time, swapping the cigarette back and forth between them as I make my way West. At each avenue I jag a block or two north.
I turn left onto 6th street from Avenue B in front of the sculpture garden – I use that term sculpture lightly, because you could just as easily say trash-garden – on the corner. This block has been, for the years I’ve known it, deceptively genteel. If you squint you can almost see a Henry James like street-scape if you’re able to mentally edit out the chained up garbage-cans and mini-tornados of trash. The illusion is more plausible in warm weather, when the trees are in bloom and the leaves cover up some of the graffiti. Still the redbrick townhouses on this block are a step up from others nearby. It looks more like it belongs in the West Village. It feels wrong to me, when dealers set up their operations on this block at night. “Have you no sense of decency good man?” I want to ask them with a fake English accent.
At the end of the block, you come to the Sidewalk café. The establishment that makes it official; you’ve made it to civilization. Avenue A is the border – meaning on Avenue A you only have a slightly marginal chance of being mugged – and from here, the further West you go, the nicer the neighborhood get.
East, you are on your own.
The café itself is often full of white people and they have decent food. It’s pricier than other spots in the neighborhood. They’ve got tables on the sidewalk too (which is why I suppose it’s called “Sidewalk”). The place tends to attract dudes with motorcycles. I don’t really understand why. Not like Hells Angels type motorcycles, like cool-guy, good-looking-dudes-with-long-hair-and-“Indian”-T-shirts-type motorcycles.
Today on the corner of Saint Marks there are a bunch of kids, self-proclaimed scum punks and squatters begging for money. These kids are young – like teenager young – and they think they are being funny or something by asking, “spare change for heroin?” Which pisses me off. I never give them money. I have to work hard for my heroin, so why shouldn’t they!? I suppose it’s an unusual argument and one that probably doesn’t occur too many other places in America. It’s kind of comic really. It’s like I’m a rich white Republican complaining about welfare queens or something. “I worked hard for the drugs I’m taking, so why should they get theirs for free?”
The worst part is that I’ve seen it work for them. I’ve seen people stop and give them a dollar or something and praise their honesty. I guess if you can’ t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Not tonight though, anyway. Tomorrow it’s back to New England for a cozy, family-style Christmas. I’ve got that to look forward to as well as my shot tonight.
At 2nd Avenue, Saint Marks explodes into a riot of stores selling cheap kitschy shit and falafel. All the sunglass and t-shirt and incense vendors have their wares on display and the sidewalk is crowded with people. A dude who looks to be on the edge of homelessness mumbles to passers-by about having magic mushrooms for sale. I imagine his only customers are high school kids, but what do I know. Who else besides high school kids would buy mushrooms off the street, I wonder. I’m not judging, I speak from experience; it’s a fucking scam. Nobody is getting any mushrooms from a homeless dude in an army navy surplus parka. He’s trying to get over on the last fumes of 60’s psychedelia. Hell, maybe 5 years ago he was tour following the dead, but now he needs money for crack just like the rest of us.
I smell chestnuts roasting somewhere nearby and it triggers a sense memory of holding my mother’s hand as we go from department store to department store in Boston’s downtown crossing at Christmas time. I instinctively imagine the scene, down to the snow falling lightly on the shopper’s heads. I’ve never actually tried a chestnut I don’t think, but still, they smell pretty ultimate.
It’s nice to be among other people for a change, the crowds. This used to be my experience, to be among people more regularly. Now, when I’m outside of work, it feels like I’m imitating a rat hiding out in my little warren of warmth and drugs. I don’t go out – except to score dope or buy cigarettes at the bodega – and I shun people as much as possible. This can’t end well. Shit.
I keep trudging. In not too much longer I’ll be at work and at least it’s warm there.