Monday, February 13, 2012

The Upturned Champagne Glass

There was a park behind the homeless shelter. You could go there to get high. It was cool but it was sad because this was the shelter for families and you would see kids playing on the scabbed concrete and young mothers breastfeeding their squalling babes among reprobates like us. Sometimes the line extended that far and there was no other place to spend the night. We could see the park from where we stood. And they could hear us. All of us with our pleading eyes.

Do they usually just let the fires burn around here?
It's just a car.
But there's a firehouse around the block.
It's more of a police matter. It is picturesque, though.
This block is locked, dude.
The police won't come?
No way.

I looked at Blue Blazer and he nodded. The other voices were my escort and the fellow ahead of us in the cop line. He had a trench coat with a belt. That's all I remember. It was dark and a streetlight blinked on and off. When I coughed, Trench Coat said, It's the inhalation that causes most car fire deaths. I looked at Blue Blazer and he looked at me. We laughed.

What? Trench Coat complained.

What could we say? He was an asshole. I was the naif and Blue Blazer played it straight.

It was cool though to watch the metal hood expand, the paint peel off and the windshield crack with the gentle poof sound it made. We had time, the needle guys had to go somewhere to get off. We stepped in a doorway, stuck a rolled matchbook in half a bag and tasted cottony heaven. Turning back with a cigarette lit like that's what we were doing. As if that were enough for the cops, for disapproving citizens passing by, for our mothers or God.

Cigarettes are better with heroin.
A missed ad campaign there, eh? Nothing is as pure as a real junkie testimonial.

So our conversation was not so much. My escort got the signal and crossed the street. We chattered anyway. It kept off the bugs. What was really beautiful were the clouds in the predawn sky, like great city buildings. We don't stop to look at the clouds enough. Especially in New York. After all, we are no longer children.

I like to think maybe this is what Candace Allyne Gansevoort saw when she looked back and the fire on the street fore lit her face and I saw her for the first time in that moment's pause between the fire escape and the rooftop. There was a gap between the ladder and the roof before she scrambled up over and disappeared. The quality of her skin was such that with the fire, one believed that it was possible to see all the way to the twining fire of her soul.

We were waiting for my man. Like it was some common courtesy that black guys did for white boys who did not know how to cop, who showed us this spot forever unto death to be called the Lighthouse and a package stamped Heaven and Hell. All the dopes had brands but this was the only one unwittingly Blakean. What we all wanted was the dope that would almost kill us, that for a moment would make us feel like this was going to be our very last night on the face of the earth, and for this there was a price I had to be willing to pay.

These were the phrases that my man used. Would you believe me if I told you it was he and I that discussed Pound and picture theory? Every word must add to the image, he said.

There is something in a junkie that needs to pretend it is something higher that calls him. Like a lamb to slaughter. I'm the one with the fifteen dollar bicycle. Under the scaffolding we waited for a wink and wave from a very big man in a full length leather jacket. Who opened the door to the building, just a five story walkup like a hundred others on the LES and then another guy opened the first door and another, the second door, all of them like my black maitre d', brothers working for dope, until I was allowed to proceed to the stairwell where another guy, this one PR came down a few steps asked me, What you want?

Half a bundle.
Cinquo, I said and held up that many fingers.

I walked back past the other two guys, past the doorman, another PR, thus delineating the power structure. This was a PR dealership and a Puerto Rican neighborhood, the blacks were like day workers.

Excuse me, that was the next time and the next after that when I eschewed the salesman and his surcharge. So kill me if I'm a little blurry. This is crucial because it was the point when Blue Blazer reentered the picture and said, You know how to cop here? You got a cigarette? Blue Blazer nodded, sighed and handed me one. I had just sniffed the other half of said bag and my knees went weak.

I needed a stimulant. I pointed him to my man. I did not know his name and never would. None of us would ever see each other again. We would all be gone in a minute. If anyone asks, he’s not here. It wasn't much of a credo to live by but it was all we had.


"For Real (demo)" mp3
by Sly Stone, 1966.
available on Listen To The Voices: Sly Stone in the Studio 1965-70

top photo:
Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1988.
© Ted Barron

No comments: