Friday, August 14, 2015


Drugs are the “great equalizer.” Everybody who abuses them is the same age, around three months old, emotionally not yet at a stage when they can ingest solid food, and having no teeth to masticate, they nurse at the nipple of liquor and reefer, or the powder or liquid of junk, coke, or both.

There’s a major difference between a “hope fiend” and a “dope” fiend. “Hope fiends” gives someone their money and they “hope” he’ll come back with the drugs. A “dope fiend” goes out and gets his own. In today’s drug market some who are wealthy or are too scared to go into neighborhoods that cater to street addicts, can have their drugs delivered, which at the end of my use I did. But in the sixties and seventies you went out and got it, or you were lucky to get it brought to you while you waited, and waited, expectedly on street corners or the vestibules of buildings.
When Bobby, the construction worker, confided in me that he was using junk, I told him that I had used and wanted to use again.
“No problem,” he said. “You can meet me at work or I can bring it back here to you.”
“I’ll meet ya,” I replied.
Bobby had a friend in Seagate, Michael G., a school teacher, who had just gotten a ten thousand dollar inheritance from his grandfather. He was just “chipping,” a phrase used by junkies to mean “using just a little occasionally,” and he asked Bobby if he could turn his inheritance into some real money. “Sure,” Bobby told him, by buying “weight” (a significant amount of the drug), he would get heroin that was purer and thus could “cut it” with agents such as lactose, maltose, quinine, etc., tripling or quadrupling his money, and getting high at the same time. How could a dope fiend pass up an opportunity like that? And so, every day Bobby and I would dip into his stash, take out some of the purer heroin that was waiting to be cut, exchange that for the real cut, and get high with it.
Syringes were, of course, no problem for me to get or get accustomed to using. Soon, instead of snorting scag, we were shooting it. And that was the bridge, which transcended the traditional “transitional objects,” like a nipple, thumb, or favorite blanket that psychologists would identify that connected me to my mom and her womb. Unlike my insulin and syringe needle which allowed me to merely exist, the needle on the syringe of junk (that contained an ironically cloudy thin milky substance that looked like the insulin I used), allowed me to be close to mom and her “safety” while allowing me my fantasies.
For someone like me who had always struggled with inchoate voices and craved a kind of independence I’d never achieved--a separateness from both my mother and father--junk worked. (Once I’d found the drug and it had “solved” all these confused and conflictional “I’s” it provided a fierce discipline to the passing hours and at the same time a liberation after injecting it.) Heroin, and all drugs, are inert. Dead. You have to pick them up and use them; you have to impose on them your own symbols, myths, and affect. Suddenly you realize, without being told, that she, heroin, will not tolerate any other gods, competition or intrusion. I couldn’t trust my family, let alone other humans; they’re inconsistent at best, liars and emasculators at worst. But that which is dead is wonderfully consistent. And if you’re obedient and persevering, she will reward you. If not, you’ll be sick.
I believed then, and I believe now, that heroin was, in large part, medicinal for me. Like insulin I needed the junk not to be sick. It slowed everything down and quieted the voices, both inner and outer. I could stare at my sneaker for four hours and be very content, “Yeah, a sneaker, yeah, that’s cool.” It grounded all the loose wires in my head and body. It worked in a variety of forms, all of them insidious. I suppose that’s how the term “fix” emanated. It did “fix” me in place and time; it did “fix” and keep the world at bay and in place. When the whole world seemed chaotic and threatening, this drug supplied a numbed and safe consistency. I wanted to be uninvolved, uncaring, and not of this world. Junk did all that and more. The middle-class life, espoused by my Jewish middle-class parents and upbringing, was severely challenged and usurped by the route my existence had taken years before I became immersed in the abuse of mood altering chemicals. It gave me an identity. Instead of being a “sick” diabetic--in some ways deformed, a freak--I was a rebel poet, a tough but romantic junkie, smart, too. Just what the other doctor ordered.
The good news was that heroin, unlike some other drugs that I had been using, had no apparent affect on my diabetes, at first. Though I didn’t crave food, I could eat when I needed to, but the danger in long term intravenous use is, of course, physical tolerance and addiction. The diseases attenuated to heroin addiction are many including hepatitis, pneumonia and HIV/AIDS. However, that says more about the lifestyle of the junkie than the drug itself.
The taboo of heroin forces the user into the bowels of whatever place he/she happens to inhabit. The degradation, while not swift, is, however, legendary. I was lucky. I was white, middle class, educated, and my “runs” while never short (one to three years) were never that long either, and because these “runs” were usually done in the homes of those who had jobs, I always had shelter, food, and clothing. Also, my diabetes in a freak happenstance saved my life. Had I’d shared needles to shoot up, which I never did, I would have been vulnerable to the ravages of AIDS; an horrific by-product for those who were only trying to cope with the hands they were dealt. I am in no way trying to justify, excuse, or exonerate those, myself included, who have done horrible things, not only to themselves but to other people, especially to those other people who at one time trusted, even loved them, and perhaps still do. I am not proud of some of the things I’ve done and imagine other people feel likewise.
Michael G. and his wife left for a two week vacation that summer. He also left any hope of having any heroin when he returned. Bobby told him it was stolen. I told Bobby to wear a long sleeved shirt, even though it was a steamy New York August.
Michael believed him because he wanted to believe him, and bought more, and started to use. Big mistake. Years later, after I had stopped using, I ran into Michael on Eighth Street, in Greenwich Village. His eyes looked like they were back lit. They were radioactive. They glowed. He told me he was on the methadone maintenance program, swallowing three hundred milligrams of that orange-colored juice a day. The average dose at that time was forty to sixty milligrams. He had some habit.
If my folks saw my glassy eyes or heard my slowed speech, they pretended not to. Maybe if I nodded in the chicken soup, they might have suspected something extraordinary was afoot, but not yet. They suspected, but couldn’t confront. They were afraid of me and a situation they knew little about. How the weak tyrannize us! What they said instead was, “You need a job.” I turned some of my attention to finding one.

The reality was that drugs were becoming more important than any sexual union. Heroin takes the place of women. Perhaps that’s one reason why heroin dealers used to be called, “Mom.” The style that I hadn’t achieved in the bedroom was achieved by the style that I practiced and perfected in drinking and drugging.
Years later, “Mom” became my doctors and any object that enabled me to “safely” bridge the divide between me and the outside world. The hours of frustration I’d tolerate waiting in a doctor’s office for a prescription of Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Morphine or Dilaudid as I did forty years before when I was waiting for a connection on the corner of 128th Street and Lenox Ave, was preferable to the uncertainty, anxiety, and depression that I experienced in all my waking hours. But when I turned my doctor’s into dealers, it was not only “legal,” but less threatening, too. With my doctors I could use my diabetes and my denial of having diabetes to my advantage to obfuscate and subvert the reality of having to grow up and face a reality of being independent and separate from my parents. I was good at an early age at “playing” a grown-up, but never much good at being one. I was able to use my diabetes to legitimize my request to pretend: my shoulder was frozen, my toes amputated, my teeth and gums turning to rot, my heart by-passed, a diabetic ulcer aggravated. That “physical truth” obscured my underlying psychopathology that would, over the course of time, prove more destructive to me in regard to making my own way in the world including, of course, social relationships. I didn’t know it at the time, but the wall that had been created shortly after my birth separated me from all others.
Whatever intelligence and personality I possessed was in service of whatever drug I was doing. So, whether it was a tooth abscess or something worse, I took each and every opportunity to feed the demon. In fact, I relished having a tooth abscess or other illnesses which required pain medication. I couldn’t wait to get to their offices, and engage in what I thought was intelligent conversation and begin manipulating them to get out their pens. Seeing what was a triplicate form for narcotics (and then was streamlined to just one prescription Rx) would excite me enough to cause my heart to beat fast and my bowels to loosen. Codeine, I would say, would upset my stomach, while Percocets would not. But, if forced, I would take codeine, too: “Tylenols 4, please.” And sometimes I would then try a different doctor to get the pill I really wanted and I’d keep the codeine as a “booster.” Then I’d pray that there’d be no line at the drugstore. I’d wait there while the prescription was being filled, angry with impatience. Hearing the sound of those pills cascading into the vial--sometimes three or four hundred of them--filled my body with joy. I knew I was “home” and would also be there soon. There, too, was the mystery of the Internet. Searching and ferreting, out those sites I could trust to deliver. And there were the excursions into Washington Square Park to make the acquaintance of a real “black drug dealer” who, for a surcharge, would give me his beeper or cell phone number, and go into neighborhoods that I now, because of my age and vulnerabilities, feared, to get the drug for me and bring it back to my apartment. Finally, to be alone with my drugs, the world outside safely at bay.
I had my own ritual with pills: take two or four upon awakening, take a shower and brew some coffee because I wanted to enjoy the first sensation of the rush of opiates while not getting too numbed, then wait another few hours and take a few more, piggybacking on the first. That game plan would hold true through the day (though I’d usually substitute hot tea for coffee, making the pills come on faster) until I thought I could lay my head down and find blessed sleep at night. Of course, I’d count my pills diligently, as you would count bags of dope, or bags of reefer, or bottles of booze, or money; I’d know exactly when I’d need to gear up to find more.
Shooting junk, to use a sixties expression, was my thing, even though it was difficult finding my thin, rolling veins, which tapped into my masochism. But the reward! I’d feel, especially at the beginning, orgiastic. I’ve had more powerful experiences like shooting dilaudid, a synthetic narcotic; a yellow/orange pumpkin exploded behind my eyes. But the high, while similar to scag, was too frazzled for me. Speed balling (injecting heroin and coke together, creating a roller coaster of a high) was interesting, but not as smooth as dope. With junk, you’re out to sea, drifting, nodding. Finally, everything, even your defeats, makes sense.

Coney Island was deteriorating as quickly as I was. It was drifting, into the urban ghetto it is today. The Jews, Italians, and Irish had taken off for greener pastures, as did most of the manufacturing jobs that New York City and its boroughs were built on. It left in its wake the crushing sense of hopelessness that intergenerational poverty brings except for three businesses which thrived: liquor stores, bookmaking operations, and drugs. It didn’t take long for me and Bobby to find the kind of “hope” we wanted.
Also, at the same time, a friend from my New School days introduced me to a dyke singer from a band who lived with her “wife” and who was a junkie and who sold junk on the side. I was traveling to and from Manhattan for my fix, which was better than what they had in Coney Island. I came upon some pretty bizarre scenes over there, a ceremony celebrating the artificial insemination of her “wife” with the sperm of her lead singer. She said it was because of his voice that she chose him. I attended a gathering of her lesbian “boosting” club (“boosting” is an expression that means stealing), of which there were fifteen or twenty members getting blessed by a Filipino priest before descending upon Macy’s. I would purchase some of her dope, cut it, and sell it in Brooklyn, or I’d visit my father’s store, steal some steaks, and trade them for dope. I felt guilty, but not that guilty.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

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