Sunday, August 16, 2015


I felt lost, aimless, a puddle. Home became a war zone with its lines of demarcation. Upstairs the family resided and I was downstairs in my lair. They knew I was terribly messed-up but resisted approaching me. My diabetes was haywire. I would drink--four or five times a day--quart bottles of Tropicana orange juice filled instead with ice water, draining them in the space of an hour. I was thirsty and dehydrated as well, a symptom of ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a diabetic condition in which the diabetic does not have enough insulin to break down the glucose in his body. Diabetic symptoms begin to appear: excessive thirst, urination, and an insatiable appetite. Unchecked by insulin acids, ketones that form in the body attacking the system try to find in other cells what they haven’t been able to find: insulin. The body is starving for some way to digest and store this glucose. Hence, it begins by breaking down every cell while the acids (acetones) are attacking tissues and organs eventually leading to ketoacidosis and the occurrence of severe abdominal pains. What the body is doing, in many different forms, is eating itself up.
Try as they would, my folks couldn’t get me to see the doctor. They certainly couldn’t get me to talk about what was going on with me. I craved more heroin. I began stealing money from them to support my habit. When I couldn’t steal money, I’d steal possessions to sell.
During the early part of the summer of ‘72, I was in Coney Island, on Mermaid Avenue, in a friend’s sports car with the top down. Tony was waiting for me outside Seagate while I went to cop some dope. I was parked, with twenty dollars in my hand, waiting for my connection. Freedom, a junkie, came over to me holding a comic book in his left hand. He asked me if he could borrow a dollar. I didn’t have an extra dollar, I had twenty bucks. I told him that my connection wouldn’t let me cop “short.” He pulled a knife from his comic book and held it to my chest. I grabbed hold of his wrist, popped the clutch, peeling out in first gear. His hand worked free and the blade sliced through the base of my thumb. But the car jerked and I now had him by his shirt and he was trying to get away. I wouldn’t let him. With blood in my eyes, I dragged him for a good half block. I got back to Tony who saw the shape I was in, got in the drivers seat while I jumped into the other bucket, and he drove to Coney Island Hospital’s emergency room. I could see my bone, ligaments and tendons, and the blood as I held my hand together.
They rushed me into a room where a doctor stitched me up. Coming home, hand bandaged, we made a stop at another connection’s house. I got four bags of dope and went home. I told my folks the accident happened while we were fixing the car. Then I went downstairs to my lair and “fixed” myself; I shot two bags.

My parents finally threw me out. I can’t remember what precipitated it. I can imagine myself forcing their hand, whatever their hand happened to be. I went to live with Donny and his mom in Brighton Beach. Donny was enjoying his first real love affair and far be it for me to intrude. I just wanted to score narcotics, and he was gone most nights. His mother was a lovely woman who kept her distance.
One night, I went to a connection’s house, and when I got out of the car to go inside, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, three young black men lying on the grass in a yard across the street. I looked up to my connection’s windows and saw the light on and looked back toward the men. I knew they looked wrong, but chose to go into the building anyway. There was a teenage couple loving it up on the stoop. The boy, who knew me, quickly said that Little Man wasn’t home. I went in anyway, up the stairs put my ear against his door, heard voices, and knocked. The voices stopped. I knocked again. Silence. I called his name. Nothing. A fourth time, frustration growing, tinged with panic. More silence. I cursed and turned to descend the stairs. The three guys were there waiting. One had a gun, two had knives. I froze. I thought I was about to die. The one with the gun came slowly up the stairs, close enough for me to see his sweat and acne. He grinned and asked for my money and car keys. I dug them out of my pockets. He took my money and threw the keys to one of his friends downstairs and told me not to come out of the building for five minutes. My keys, he said, would be underneath my right front tire. They left. I waited a few minutes and went out. The teenage couple had split. I went to my car, retrieved my keys and made a decision.
I was desperate. I had no money. I decided that if I went to the cops quickly enough, and we caught them quickly enough, I could still get my dope before the night was over. I went to the 60th Precinct and told them a bullshit story about being robbed while stopped for a light in Coney Island. I went into a patrol car and we cruised the area. We drove onto the boardwalk and into the lone bar where they might have hung out. We went to other saloons on Mermaid Avenue and didn't find them.
I went back to Donny’s and found him there, borrowed some money from him, went back to Coney Island to a different spot, scored and went back to Donny’s thinking that my night was finally over. In the early morning hours I got a call from the cops saying they got someone who matched the description I gave them. I went down to the station to identify the guy. First, I asked one of the cops if they had found my money on them. He told me they hadn’t. I told them that this was not one of the guys who robbed me. What the fuck? They had already spent the money. Lucky them.

An “active” addict will never, ever give up the chase until he’s exhausted every possible means of getting alcohol or drugs. I had.
I decided to go home and ask for my parents’ help. My mother fell to the floor, her eyes wild as they swelled with tears. I didn’t understand her histrionics. She grabbed hold of my arms and asked why I had done this to her. What had they ever done to make me do such a thing? I couldn’t answer. I just kept saying everything would be O.K. My brother, who was also using a lot of drugs, broke down as well. I didn’t understand who he was crying for. My father tried to remain strong within this maelstrom of emotions. He told me that in the morning we’d go for some kind of help.
The next day was a Friday. We went into the city to a Methadone Maintenance Program. We had made a phone call to the Addiction Services Agency who referred us there. We went up an elevator, which opened, on a dirty room that was where thirty or forty addicts were smoking and waiting for the nurses behind a glass partition to give them their medication. It was served from what looked to be large vats and given to them in transparent Dixie Cups. It was as orange as the biscuits that I’d taken to New Orleans. We gave our name and waited to be called in. Luckily, for me, we got a counselor who, in the process of interviewing me, suggested I might first start in a drug-free program. He took into consideration how long and how much I was using, level of education, and the amount of times I had tried to go this route. He directed us back to the Addiction Services Agency.
Paula, the counselor, told us about the variety of programs that the city offered after she interviewed me. Then, in an aside, knowing my father had some money, and knowing that she shouldn’t be doing this since she worked for the city, she told us about a privately run program that was very expensive, and very successful. My father, who was always impressed by what was expensive, and who wanted what would help, agreed. Paula set up an appointment for the following Monday with Areba. Before we left, she cautioned us that dope fiends usually try to have one last fling before giving up their habit. I assured her that wasn’t me. On the way home, we were pretty quiet, but in my head I was scheming how to have one last fix. It wasn’t too hard.

Areba was located on East 51st Street, between Madison and Park Avenue, in a townhouse once inhabited by the late Cardinal Spellman, of St. Patrick’s Cathedral fame. As in most Therapeutic Communities (T.C.’s), it is run by ex-addicts. The director and founder of the program was Dr. Dan Casriel, a proponent of primal scream therapy. I had read Arthur Janov’s book The Primal Scream years before and thought it had some validity but was more than a little frightened of the application.
My parents and I arrived for our appointment early Monday morning. Bobby chose to remain behind, working in my father’s store. Inwardly, I’m sure, he probably realized at that time that he too needed help, but was not nearly ready to address that. Recently, because of his drug use, inability to study and adjust himself to the rigors of being in college, he had decided to drop out. My father, I thought, welcomed this. Seizing on this opportunity, he told him that if he did drop out, he would have to work in the store immediately. My father, I’m sure, knew that my brother was using drugs, but he thought he exerted more control over him than me; hence he was more susceptible to his manipulations. He now was the logical inheritor of the Key Food supermarket store and was, in a manner of speaking, the “levelheaded” one to ascend the food throne.
The staff, as well as the residents, was white and upper class. They were good-looking, well fed, groomed, bright, cheerful and, at first, nauseatingly friendly. We were shown into a room where Ron, the man who ran the clinical arm of the program, and one of his chiefs of staff, Steve, greeted us.
When Ron got to the question of my age, and I told him I was twenty-four, he paused. He looked directly at me with compassion and said, “Don’t you think it’s time to stop?”
I was able to only nod my agreement.
He continued. “Isn’t it time to unload all that garbage you have in your stomach?” I looked quizzically at him. He explained further. “After so many years of eating food, not able to digest it or vomit it up, it turns rotten; it turns to shit, and you walk around with all that rotten food, those shitty feelings inside you. It’s time to unload those feelings, get rid of that rotten food because if you don’t, if you don’t share those feelings with someone else, someone who understands and has gone through those same feelings you have, well, you’ll go crazy. Everybody here, including myself, has gone through what you have to go through. We’re all in this together. You don’t have to feel like an outsider anymore.”
I could feel my eyes welling with tears.
Ron went on, “You don’t have to run anymore; you can stop running We’ll help you stop. Just let us. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s gonna be easy. It’s a hard and courageous thing you’re trying to do, facing your own worst fears, but it can be done. We’re proof it can. Somebody helped us and we’re going to help you, and all you have to do is take the first step.” He paused, letting it sink in and cement itself, then added, “What do you think?”
“I think I’m fuckin’ frightened.”
Ron smiled and said, “Everybody is. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Come in, come in today.”
“Today. Right now.”

They gave me a shot of Perse that night to help oxidize my blood in order to detoxify me faster. I didn’t sleep, but I didn’t die either. The next morning somebody came to my room to take me where I was to get my insulin shot. A beautiful, six foot woman about my age was waiting for me in a room. She had a syringe in her hand. The possibilities were endless. Her eyes belied what her body said; they looked all business. She told me that another resident, Paul, had the same disease. It didn’t make me feel better. She asked how my night was, and how I was adjusting to Areba. “I’m not,” I told her. She assured me I would. Next was another shot of Perse that Steve administered to me in the bathroom. He then took me into the kitchen to eat, and meet some other residents. They welcomed me and asked all kinds of questions. They didn’t leave me alone.
Alone was what I wanted to be. I never was very communicative, especially with people I hardly knew. Besides, an addict wants to be left alone, especially without a social lubricant that drugs or alcohol supplies. That’s why we’re too busy scheming of ways to get those drugs. Talking is too much of a distraction. Of course, the people there were addicts themselves, and were schooled in the ways we hide, and so they tried to get me to talk, “relate” was the word they used. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without an escort for the first week. My companion would wait outside the door while I relieved myself. It was embarrassing. I had to ask not to have an escort or permission not to have one. Every privilege had to be earned. Trust had to be established. Also, I had to learn to verbalize my “wants” or “needs,” which is another thing we hate to do, ask for a motherfucking thing. Shit, I’d rather just drink or shoot dope and not care if I was heard or not, not care if I was accepted or not. Areba’s mission was to reroute me, get that twisted and gnarled soul of mine straightened. I felt I was under construction.
I met Paul the next morning taking an insulin shot. He had been at Areba for months. He went on about the program and what it had done for him (years later, after I had long been out of the program, I ran into Paul in The Figaro, a cafe in Greenwich Village. He was playing a guitar while the chick he was with played harmonica. He told me that after he left Areba he first became a Hare Krishna, and later decided to take up music, which was what he was doing now. So much for twenty thousand bucks for Areba, he told me.) He was off to his “job.” Everybody had “jobs” in a Therapeutic Community. It is structured like the military. Grunt jobs are given to the new recruits and status gigs to those with seniority, providing they’ve earned them. You begin with the smallest detail (making your bed, hospital corners, please), then to your daily room assignments. After that you go to the Morning Meeting where the news of the day is announced, new residents introduced (APPLAUSE), gripes are aired, and a song is sung. Then comes breakfast, followed by your house responsibility and, if you have climbed the latter of success, outside work.
You don’t have a moment of peace (except when you’re in the shitter) for yourself. In truth, it is done with purpose. A drunk or drug addict “feels” too much, consequently, he doesn’t “think” enough: “I don’t FEEL like making my bed.” “I don’t FEEL like going to breakfast.” “I don’t FEEL like working. HOWEVER, I FEEL like getting a fuckin’ drink is what I FEEL like doing! AND I DON’T FEEL LIKE FUCKIN’ TALKIN’ ‘BOUT IT!” We were being taught, while “feelings” are O.K. (you can no more stop a “feeling” than you can control a dream) you don’t have to “act off” them.

They assigned me to “the service crew,” the lowest rung on the work ladder in a Therapeutic Community. As the name would imply, we were in charge cleaning the facility. It was simple, so simple that it infuriated me--maybe that’s why I was given that job. I was told that if I’d nothing left to clean, I should clean or wipe the air; I told the department head that if I did that I’d be given medication. He didn’t laugh. Lunch followed the morning routine and the food was superb. After all, you or your folks were shelling out big bucks for this quality of drug treatment. After lunch, seminars were given, usually conducted by a high-ranking staff member. We were taught that we are in control of our behavior; we always have choices, even in the synapse between thought and action.
The Therapeutic Community, a highly structured and tightly controlled environment, is designed to drive you nuts. Originally designed to treat those who had abused heroin over many years, T.C.’s were geared to break through the benchmark of defense mechanisms of the addict or alcoholic: Denial. In order to help facilitate that, T.C.’s are governed by these “cardinal rules”: no drugs, no sexual contact among residents, no violence or threats of violence. The breaking of any of these rules could result in being told to “pack your shit” and leave. So there’s no direct vents for anger--anger for alcoholics and addicts is a corrosive fiber that fuels the impetus for drink or drug. “Righteous anger,” the kind of anger that is justified, is the most dangerous because the person believes it is his right to feel it, thus making it easier to “act off” that feeling. You are in an environment that is crowded with a multitude of personalities which you want no part of anyway and you have to interact with these people constantly, take directions from those you wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire. You bump into people you don’t like by virtue of their smile, or lack thereof; you’re controlled, manipulated, spoken to, talked with, awakened, put to bed, by strangers, and it never stops. It’s a designed pressure cooker. Its objective is to have people feel all those feelings and not “act off them” but rather “act on them” by taking those feelings into group where one has the opportunity to do what drunks and drug addicts don’t like to do very much, verbalize those feelings.
It is in groups, and only in groups (although you talk about your feelings individually as well), that you have the opportunity to confront those feelings by confronting the person, or persons, who elicited them. Also, you can talk about anything that’s fucking with you. Why should this be so earth shattering? To many it’s not. To drunks and drug addicts it’s a revelation. Feeling like grandiose doormats, some live in many different emotional worlds that bleed into one another and stain a very fragile ecosystem. It is very difficult to reconcile these opposite realities, or delusions, at any given moment. Booze and other drugs are experiments in self-medication; it fuses parts of a disparate self. Usually, we are so blind to what we are feeling that we have difficulty identifying what that feeling is in order to talk about it. Even they have to be learned. Some are better equipped to do this than others. You might think that given the situation the drunk or drug addict comes from, and the lives they’ve led, they’d be more than eager to do this. Yes...and no. The seduction of drugs is always there percolating either above or below the surface. Recidivism is a different kind of benchmark of alcoholism and addiction. People usually never get it, if they get it at all, the first time around. They have to stop...and start again...and stop and start again until they stay stopped. It’s a hell of a thing to beat. There’s simply not any one way to do it. T.C.’s and AA believe it is one addict, one alcoholic, helping another drunk or drug addict. Who better to know and understand that “disease” than a fellow traveler? Also, it’s real hard to bullshit somebody who’s just like you. But the truth is, there is not any one modality of treating addiction or alcoholism--T.C.’s, AA, pharmacological interventions, individual or group therapy--that has proved anymore successful than the other. In fact, quiet as it’s kept, “spontaneous remission”--the giving up of the drink or the drug independent of any intervention--has the highest success rate of all. Just people asking themselves: “Ain’t it time to stop?” And if they answer, “Yes,” they usually stop, and stay stopped.

Dr. Gerald Bernstein’s office was located on 75th Street, across the street from The Whitney Museum. Paul, my fellow diabetic, suggested I see his doctor after I told him of my experiences with Dr. Z. The staff made the appointment, and Paul, since I wasn’t in the program long enough to go alone, went with me, and I’m glad he did. Whenever I found myself in the presence of a male authority figure, I usually did one of two things: acquiesce to them, shamelessly, or find some flaw to exploit and punish. Here I was with a physician specializing in diabetes, and I felt embarrassed, guilty, and childish. I knew I had failed to take care of myself and that he would castigate, chastise, and eventually, begrudgingly work with me to get my health in order. I looked around his examination room thinking of all the narcotics that might be found locked and secreted away someplace nearby. I read the titles of the medical texts up on the walls, noticed this old map of The United States with the indigenous fish of each state on it. I wondered who, besides anglers, would be interested in such detail. Perhaps it served as white noise to soak up the anxiety present in each of us sitting atop an examination table. As I was fantasizing this conversation of accusation, and rehearsing my answers to the inquisition that was imminent, Dr. Bernstein came in and offered his hand. He looked to be in his late 30’s, Robert Redford handsome, and dressed in a very well tailored pinstriped suit, tie, blue shirt and cufflinks. The year was 1972, before HMO’s, managed care, and mean-spirited medical times. Before he examined me, we talked about getting diabetes, how I felt about it, what doctors I had seen, how my family reacted to my diabetes, and how long I was engaged in the full time job of self-destruction. There was no judgment coming out of him, yet he wasn’t detached. In fact, he seemed engaged in this process. I told him that I “cheated” constantly by eating whatever sugars I wanted to. He asked if the word “cheating” was my or my parents terminology. Later, after we talked for quite some time, he sensed my embarrassment about my damaged veins before the blood test and so drew it himself. Afterward, in his office, he told me that I appeared to be in decent shape and that he wanted to see me again in three months. We shook hands again, and I walked out of his office a bit bemused. I asked Paul if we could walk back along Fifth Avenue instead of taking the bus. I was in no hurry to get back, and neither was he.
One of the things that the sixties sanctified was “encounter groups.” An extension of “ME,” a narcissistic disorder for many generations past and many generations to come, found extension in confrontation groups, group therapy and scream therapy, among others. In preparation for this frightening experience, I was put in what Areba called a “sexual probe.” The new residents went with a staff member into a room and, for twenty-four hours, talked about all manner of sexual experiences. For some it was brutal, for others exceptionally vivid and diverse, and for still others it was avoided entirely. This was designed to address the very personal and very buried secrets that will, if not aired in the presence of others, become like Roderick Usher’s house--a crumbling, diseased, psychotically split, fungus laden, hovel of hell. This experience was supposed to cleanse and allow the scream therapy to reach the deeper layers of neurosis.
The hardest thing I had to do at Areba was “scream.” Areba’s premise was that if you learned how to scream you would eventually connect those primal feelings and successfully begin to diffuse them. I have heard the screams of others come from places deep inside themselves. I have no way of knowing if screaming helped them. I did manage one scream myself that did sound authentic, but it didn’t cure me.
I began to hurt. All the joints in my body ached. I went to staff who thought I might still be experiencing withdrawal pains. I knew this was not a withdrawal familiar to me. They put me on bed rest, but the pains would not subside. My piss was the color of Coca-Cola. The next day my shit turned white. That night, after three and a half weeks in Areba, I checked into Lenox Hill Hospital. I had “hep”--hepatitis.
I never went back to Areba.

They checked me in through the emergency room. I was near death, they said. Sometimes death is as dramatic as a gunshot, a war, a knife fight; other times you just lie there like the animal you are, too weak to forestall...anything. In my case, my liver was on the verge of failure. My case of hepatitis was so bad that I had to be hospitalized for over nine weeks. I watched the entire Munich Olympics that summer and the slaughter of the innocent Olympians from Israel. I saw Bobby Fisher return and I began to write once again.
I contracted hepatitis from a dirty needle before entering Areba. My insulin and heroin use was a lesson in schizophrenia. With my insulin shot, the needle had to be clean. I used a fresh syringe, an alcohol swab. When I was shooting junk, I couldn’t care how many times I used the same needle, as long as it wasn’t dull. In the process of injecting it, it didn’t matter whether or not the syringe fell on the floor; I still used it. Immediate gratification was too slow for me.
There are only two things a patient with hepatitis can do. He can eat and sleep. When I went to the bathroom, I was so fatigued I had to nap, and eating a meal elicited the same response. After some of my health had been restored, I rather enjoyed it. I was allowed to eat all the sweets I wanted, and I did. I ate eclairs, Napoleons, tarts, malteds, ice cream and candies. It was diabetic heaven. And to top it off, my parents brought those treats to me! The doctors simply gave me enough insulin to cover the intake, all I had to do was lie back and eat. Besides I was in a stable environment. Give a dope fiend that and pretty soon they’ll be able to manipulate it to their own advantage or disadvantage. Once again, my folks were bringing me a TV, radio, books, and writing utensils, everything that Areba wanted me to avoid, including contact with them. I had announced to them, and everyone else within earshot, that I had no intention of using drugs again. Jane, a young woman I was involved with at the time, came to see me. One of her eyes had burst a blood vessel. I assumed she had snorted too much coke. I inquired. She admitted it. I acquired an air of righteous indignation. She left. I felt a surge of confidence in my bones. I began to map out my strategy.
Dorothy, a friend of the family, visited me in the hospital one day. I knew she worked at Bloomingdales and asked her if she knew of any openings. She called personnel, spoke with a woman and reported that indeed there were. I was now nearing the end of my stay of nearly nine weeks in more ways than one. I spoke to another friend of mine about places to stay in Manhattan. She told me she had once rented a room at a hotel on Central Park South month to month, and that sounded good to me. I was trying to put some pieces together before making my final presentation to the ones who had the where with all to actualize my plans (half-baked though they might be), my parents.
“Some people need open heart surgery, while others need a shot of penicillin,” I cavalierly exclaimed. I, of course, had had my shot of reality. They were not convinced. They informed the program who loudly proclaimed the counter-argument: “He’s really out of his mind.” People from Areba, including some staff members, visited me. They counseled that not only wasn’t I ready to leave Areba but would very quickly use again, and when I did I would not be able to enjoy getting high because I now had some insight into what I was really doing. I repeated what was becoming my mantra. “Some people need open heart surgery, while others...” Besides, I was on a roll. I was granted conjugal rights by the evening nurses. I called Barbara, who never refused a favor, turned down a drink, or brought up who owed who what. I had met her many years before through a friend who was chairman of an art department at The School of Visual Arts. She was an artists’ model and asked if I would pimp her while we were eating on our first date in Chinatown. I said I didn’t feel too good about pimps in general but asked her if she’d like to get high. She quickly said, “Yes,” and we were off to the races. We had remained close through the years. I turned silver, twenty-five years old, the evening she came up to Lenox Hill, and the nurses forgot to test my pressure and didn’t bother to come into my room for anything, until she left.

It was a blustery November day when I left Lenox Hill Hospital and moved into The Navarro Hotel, (later The Ritz-Carlton and now the Inter-Continental), on 59th Street and Central Park South. I persuaded my father that since I was going to be working in Bloomingdale’s, it would be practical until I could find an affordable apartment on my own. Also, Dorothy’s lover had a room there. My father had misgivings, but agreed to it.
My parents and I had dinner that night at Rumplemeyers, a beautiful Bavarian-looking eatery that was located across the street in the St. Moritz Hotel, a graceful aging dowager of accommodations. It had wonderful food, better coffee, and some of the most delicious deserts in Manhattan, especially cheesecake.
We walked down 59th Street past The Plaza, crossed the street and back up to where their car was parked. Christmas decorations were strung in the hotels, and Fifth Avenue had the giant snowflake at the intersection at 57th Street. The air had a bite to it. The cabs waited at The Plaza’s edge, the horses’ heads buried in buckets of oats or idling their time while their drivers smoked cigarettes and nipped at bottles tucked into their black suit pockets. I had begun feeling sad before actually saying goodbye. I love the feel of all seasons in the northeast, especially the wonderful melancholy of fall. It seems to wrap misery in its own graceful passing, turning the soul’s muted colors to a final and fitting gray. We said our goodbyes at the car, and I kissed them both and watched as the engine caught. A plume of gas rose from the rear tailpipe and they were gone, swallowed up by the traffic. I took out a Lucky and lit it and watched the smoke, thick and wonderfully sweet, drift up and over my head.
The next morning, after a night of debating whether or not to call a dope connection, I went to see the woman in charge of personnel at Bloomingdale’s. She gave me a job in the book department. I had to go to a class that afternoon to learn how to cater to the high-class clientele who shopped there. I learned to work the credit card machine. After punching in the numbers a light appeared: green, go; yellow, wait; red, stop and call upstairs. Christmas season was madness, she told me. “Bring it on,” I wanted to say, but thought better of it.
I strolled around New York that afternoon, looking in the dressed Christmas windows along Madison and Fifth avenues, working my way through Central Park and up to The Metropolitan Museum, where I killed some time looking at the miseries of some other people, in this instance painters. I lost myself for a couple of hours wandering through the galleries and, once again, walked through the park back to the hotel. My bones were rattling around. A vague disquiet ran through my blood. My brain was conducting conversations that had nothing to do with the future and everything to do with the past.
There’s this dive of a saloon across the street from Bloomingdales, The Subway Bar. Its location seems incongruous, but there it is: cheap whiskey, shots and beer chasers, cheap barstools, and cracked red vinyl booths and patrons a few dollars short. I had a burger and a few beers and thought I was feeling better. It was the first alcohol I had tasted in quite a few months, and it soothed the blood. By the time I got back to The Navarro, it was dark and, once upstairs, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I began making calls to some friends I hadn’t spoken to in a long time, ostensibly just to say, “hello,” but once on the line the talk drifted to junk. “You still doin’ it?” and “How good is it?” Most of them discouraged me from using again once I told them how long I had been clean, but some did not. I made it through the second night but slept a disturbed sleep.
To be prudent and eat up time, I made an appointment to see Dr. Bernstein. I was curious about the damage I had done to my body through the years of abuse. Also, I wondered how my diabetes was. I didn’t feel it was a part of me, was just drifting through, renting space in my abdomen. I asked him, as if he were a mystic, where I was and, more importantly, where I was going. I wanted him to look into my diseased body and pockmarked soul, and ascertain the damage. Further, I wanted to say to him like Bogart: “Give it to me straight.” What I think I really wanted was to find out there was an end to all of this, something that would legitimize and justify my desire to drink and drug myself into oblivion. He could not. Nobody, he said, could tell what these years had done to my body, much less to my diabetes, and no one could predict with any certainty what would happen next. He told me to call him Jerry, and to call him anytime I felt the need. I said I would, but I didn’t.
I don’t think I could have called him. I didn’t know enough about myself and what I was dealing with. I was too afraid. Perhaps, what I was most afraid of was an attempt at normalcy. The reality was that I had “hatched” again, but this time I had the misfortune of having a time worn, ingrained response in what I imagined and felt as “being alone” and had no familiar human bodies to inform me otherwise.
What has come to be termed, Borderline Personality Disorder, was, unbeknownst to me, coming into prominence. Those who’ve been diagnosed with that illness are a pretty heterogeneous bunch, what Denis Johnson might refer to as Jesus’ sons and daughters: drunks, drug addicts, anorexics, bulimics, food addicts, gamblers, sex addicts, and those who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from an early or late age. There are though some basic traits we have in common: we are quick to go from anxiety to panic when by ourselves; we make frantic efforts to avoid or ward off, real or perceived abandonment; we also seek novelty and are consequently risk takers; we will do a lot of crazy shit to avoid what we interpret as anything that might harm us; we depend on rewards of some kind for everything we do; and we’re incredibly persistent in our pursuit of our immediate, but transitory goals. Here’s where it gets tricky. Each of us has our own particular interpretation, lighting fast as it is, of what we perceive as “affective instability,” which means that what we perceive is filtered through a jumbled emotional prism and we react with impulsive aggression--toward the (an) object and toward ourselves.
“Transitional objects” like radio and T.V., and even people you know, don’t do much to aleve this bone belief that you’re alone, which leads to panic. But booze and dope work well. I had “transitional objects” that was tailor made for me: a needle and syringe.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

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