Monday, August 31, 2015


Near Christmas, the real estate market, after years of unprecedented growth, tightened, much like the noose around our necks. My emotions, sloppy and unwelcome, found relief only when soothed or silenced by drugs and alcohol, in great quantities. This time, I went back to using heroin in conjunction with all other types of medications. Everyday, I’d go down to the alphabet blocks and find what I needed which would be bolstered by what I had at home, or could get from Paul. Each day presented a consistent configuration of misery, remembrance, anger, regret and avoidance--not necessarily in that order.
There were times when Jean would come into the bedroom and I’d be out cold, the needle still in my arm, blood trickling down from my vain and curling around my arm. At first, she’d run down to The Cedar Tavern and bring Dutch upstairs to discern if I was in trouble or not, but soon she’d become expert at being able to decide that on her own.
It was bad and it was ugly in the same and different ways. It’s grimly ironic that the outer world resembled my inner one. Sometimes, when I was able to stand outside myself and watch, it was hard for me to believe that it was me waiting under a bucket that contained mine, and the ten or twenty other drug addicts’ dope. The bucket would descend from the highest point, dropped by a person who balanced himself on a beam, inside the skeleton of an abandoned building of broken brick and wooden planks, and I’d watch myself watch the bucket as it came down from heaven with dollars exchanged for bags that honored the request for nepenthe. My inner world had become wizened and my imagination, my means of escape, lost the playthings so necessary for me to take flight: humor and music. I stopped listening to the latter and had subverted the former, the first and, for me, most important benchmarks in my spiritual decline. I became as boring and as predictable as bad writing. Don Quixote had wandered off, not to tilt at windmills or twirl golden curlicues of language, but to waste away in rigid habit and was tracked, not by Sancho Panza, but by Detective Joe Friday and his partner, Nurse Ratched.
My diabetes was addressed every day in this way: I’d take an insulin injection each and every morning, sixty-five units of NPH-U100 and then I’d ingest sugar, and heroin, and Luckys (“if that ain’t love it will have to do, until the real thing comes along,”). Processed love. Sugar, heroin, and nicotine coated my system and, to me, it was as important as breathing. In fact, one allowed the other to happen. If I thought that a giant condom would’ve protected me from the world in the ways that those substances did, I might have worn that as well, although I’d have probably put on my Floyd Patterson disguise. I’ve often wondered, and still do, that had I not used alcohol and drugs the way I had, would I have been alive to tell this, or any other tale. There is no way of answering that question, of course, but I’d be hard pressed to deny, out of hand, anyone’s desire to keep their life free of mood altering chemicals because of the problems they eventually cause if used in quantity over long periods of time.
My piss was white, thick, and heavy. When it mixed with the water in the toilet bowl, I could see it as a separate entity. I tried to discern how I was doing diabetically by the color of my urine; slightly yellow, or yellow meant I was better balanced than if it was white. Frequently, I’d develop what I labeled “junk hiccups.” I’d remember my first bout of heroin addiction when after a few days of constant use I’d hiccup furiously. The hiccup was sometimes accompanied by the “dry heaves.” Little did I realize that my system was so saturated with glucose that I was dehydrated. My body, having little nutrients to sustain it, coupled with a very high blood sugar count, was beginning to feast on its own proteins and fats, drying out my system. Hyperglycemia in its most crippling form. The body eats itself up. I’d drink ice water continuously to no avail. Only when the symptoms would cause me abdominal pain or other concerns like that would I slow down from my route of self-destruction and try to eliminate my use for a day, perhaps two, and eat something healthy. Even that, however, meant a bottle of wine with dinner in order to assuage my emotional brittleness. After the symptoms receded, I’d pick up where I left off. “What marvelous recuperative powers I still have,” I thought.
Periodically, Jean would reach her own point of saturation. She’d demonstrate that to me by throwing various things around the apartment in brief displays of frustration and anger, accompanied by a scream, yell, or curse. I’d ascribe various psychological determinants to her make-up depending upon the time of day, month, or year it was. She was tough as nails, a gun moll, and a man’s woman when I wanted her to go to the Lower East Side for me on a drug run. She was loyal if she covered for me, had great insight if she believed in my abilities to eventually right a listing ship. Or, she was a controlling bitch, doling out dollars to a suckling infant. Consumed by her own failure, she nurtured mine and truly believed in Hollywood’s sucker punch: love conquers all.
Jean would come home and ask me what I wanted for dinner. It would depend. It would depend on what drug I had, what drug I was shooting, what drug I wanted to get and when I wanted to get started. “You have to eat,” she’d say. I would confirm that but say I’d eat later. “Later,” sometimes meant never. “Eat” could mean a slice of pizza or Swanson chicken potpie or chocolate pudding, pie, cake or ice cream at six in the evening or three in the morning depending on nothing except circumstance. Often, after sleep would take me, I’d snap up in bed as if someone stepped on a dry twig, sweat sealing the blanket to me, dizzy, knowing I was in the grip of insulin shock but too disorganized to get out of bed and into the kitchen. I’d wake Jean. She took one look at me and knew what it was I was experiencing. She’d come back from the kitchen with soda and a Milky Way and stand over me as I ate and drank it down. She’d implore me to see Bernstein, and I’d shake my head affirmatively. She’d ask when, and I replied soon. She’d say I needed to stop, and I again nodded my head. We were all right. We were all wrong. We were helpless. Then Jean, who had never threatened to leave and who had never gave me ultimatums, did.
It was a day much like any other of recent months. I’d awakened with a knot of fear in the pit of my stomach and a sense of existential dread. It sounds (even to my own ears now) overly dramatic. It is not. Anyone who’s lived the life of an addict for any period of time can recollect what that fear felt like and, though words are more often than not inadequate to express that sense of dread I felt, it is enough to say that each moment I had to spend without the benefit of a buffer or analgesic was fraught with more than just a belief of impending doom. It was doom. An addict alone, especially an active addict, is in bad company.
Jean, I thought, had forgotten to leave me money for my day’s fix. I called her at her office, and when she told me that she was not going to do that anymore and that I should call Bernstein or anyone else who I thought could help me and take care of myself and by so doing would be taking care of her as well. I hung up on her. I was furious. The fucking nerve she had in telling me that shit now! The fucking nerve in telling me anything! Who the fuck did she think she was? I took in the sonofabitch and I can throw her ass out. I called her back and began to tell her a few of the things written above. She hung up on me. I thought for another moment and decided to change tactics. I called her up and told her we’d talk about this when she got home. She told me that wouldn’t do. Instantaneously, the fury returned. I called. Again, she hung up.
Jean had run the limit on her credit cards. I’d already kited enough checks to merchants and friends in my neighborhood to hold my own Ben Franklin convention. I walked upstairs and knocked on Paul’s door. Judy opened it and invited me in. When I asked where Paul was, she said he had gone to see his parents. She invited me to stay for coffee, but I had other things I had to do and thanked her. I left quickly. I made a few more calls but to no avail. Left with very few options, I called Jean.
After pleading, cajoling, lying, and wearing various guises masquerading as the truth, I convinced Jean that after hanging up on her I’d call Bernstein, level with him, and ask him to get me into Lenox Hill Hospital as soon as a bed was made available. It was only after that that she told me where she’d hidden some money in our apartment. Once Jean had divulged where that money enzyme was, my being turned to the broom closet, or couch, or mattress, or garment, honing in on its next task, breaking down the substrate so that digestion could occur. It could not wait to get her off the phone and fulfill its biological destiny.
My teeth brushed and money in hand, I went down to Eighth Street and Avenue D. They were selling a pretty good bag of dope there, Executive. It was cold but I hardly felt it, having my hand around the bills in my pocket.
I had enough money to buy a “deck” of heroin. It cost a hundred dollars and you’d usually get an extra bag for that amount. I gave the money to Willie, waited up the block for ten minutes and when he returned I gave him two bags from my purchase and we went our separate ways. Just having the scag in my hands the tension began to ebb. There is most definitely a physiological response before you ingest the dope; my bowels would loosen a little, a layer of sweat began to dry, my mind, geared for disappointment, betrayal, or apprehension, slowed down to where I could think of more than what I’d been obsessed over a second before.
Now, however, the walk back seemed too slow and unreasonable. There was a car service located near Tenth Street and Avenue B. Usually, a few cars were available, and for three bucks I had one drive me back to my apartment. Once inside, I thought for a few moments of all I could possibly do to delay dialing the numbers that would signify the beginning of the end of this drug run, before I decided to call Bernstein. After weighing the options I thought I had, I decided it would be better to play and manipulate this angle than any other. I’d fuck her, fuck him and fuck them! No one was going to tell me what to do without them paying a high price! The world had fucked me long enough, I thought. They’re not going to do that again without a fight from me. His receptionist told me he’d call me back within the hour. I’d be somewhat embarrassed to talk to him on the phone in an hour but I couldn’t wait without doing some of the dope. I proceeded to do what I’d hungered to do since I awoke and then waited for his phone call.
Bernstein had me come in the next day. This time I wasn’t sitting atop an examination table staring at the fish on his map, nor was I thinking of an opening line to say to him when he entered. This time, I was waiting to be called into his office like a wayward child or student about to be chastised. I wasn’t ready to give up the life, but I couldn’t let on to that. I needed to feel my way around this new set of circumstances while I figured out how it could best serve my demon.
After telling him what my life had been like these past few months, trying my best not to stink up the room with the stench of self-pity, I laid bare most of a rather boring and predictable life, which the life of a drunk or drug addict is when his habit supersedes all other entities of concern. The only facet of it that I embellished was the amount of junk I was using. I did this in expectation of his suggestion that I be hospitalized. The more heroin he thought I was using, the more methadone I’d be given to detoxify which would keep me sedated very nicely for a few more days.
Again, without criticism or judgment, Bernstein looked at me sitting across the desk from him and suggested I go into Lenox Hill Hospital. There wasn’t much more to say. I was eager to get from his office to Jean’s where, once I told her the process had begun to get a bed for me, she’d give me money to score more dope.
They got a bed for me two days after I saw Bernstein. In anticipation of that call, I waited and tracked down Paul. He supplied me with a few grams of coke which, I knew, would not be affected by the methadone they’d give me like heroin would be. Yet, on the day of my hospitalization, I was in the East Village getting as much junk as I could before reporting to the admissions office of Lenox Hill. I was supposed to be there at one P.M. but didn’t arrive until almost three because the connection I had took me and a friend of his to Williamsburg in Brooklyn to cop. He told me that the dope, which he’d had the night before, was much stronger there and the bags were bigger. We got into his friend’s car and drove over the Williamsburg Bridge. By the time we copped and drove back, I had snorted two bags and Jean, who had taken off from work that day to accompany me to the hospital, thought I’d gotten arrested or had died.
While Jean was in the living room calling Lenox Hill Hospital and telling them we were on our way and waiting for me to finish shooting a speedball into my arm and then throw some stuff in a bag to take with me, I secreted syringes, a spoon and Q-tips to go with some of the coke and the few bags of dope I had left, to the hospital. I joined her, lit-up by the cocaine pulsating through my body, wanting to do more but unable to, and we left for the hospital.

Lenox Hill Hospital is located on East 77th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. I had no idea of what I looked like in the the admission section filling out one of many forms but, if I thought about it at all, which I didn’t, I couldn’t have looked all too good. The heroin was as my connection said it would be, strong. My head was nodding forward as I wrote, no longer buoyed by the cocaine. With this knowledge came some skewered self-consciousness. I put the pen down and went into the bathroom where, after making sure the door was locked, I proceeded to shoot some of the cocaine I’d brought. It did what it was supposed to do, and I went out and sat down and tried to finish the questionnaire without getting up and going back to the bathroom.
Finally, I finished the forms and was taken up to a room where I was told someone would come into see me shortly and to get undressed and into a hospital gown and pajamas. I’d brought my own from home and once again went into the bathroom to inject more coke and the last of the junk before being denied the opportunity. I don’t remember how long I spent in there but I heard Jean’s voice asking if there was anything wrong and that a nurse was here to take my vital signs. Quickly, I placed the syringe, spoon and drugs in a pocket of my pajamas. I was sweating some by now and when I emerged, it took me some time to adjust to the light. I looked at Jean and then the nurse looking at me and felt humiliated. The nurse, in her early thirties I thought, came over to where I stood, unable to decide where I should go or sit, and said in a voice so low as to be just audible for my ears, “Have you ever tried N.A.?”
“Huh?” I replied.
“N.A. Narcotics Anonymous.” she said.
“No, I haven’t. Should I?” I said. By this time my eyes were closing without my ability to stop them while the coke was pushing the roller coaster the other way. Here I was being asked questions and trying to conduct a conversation, about what I had no idea.
“We’ll talk some other time,” the nurse said and guided me towards the bed where she took my blood pressure and left. Jean stared at me and finally asked, “How much did you take?”
“I don’t really know,” I replied, “but obviously enough,” and smiled this ridiculous smile.
“I meant how much did you take with you? Norm, maybe you should just get dressed and leave. I know I’m going to.” And with that, she got up and left.
For a few seconds, I sat on the edge of the bed watching the empty space that her body left. I thought for a few moments before deciding to go into the bathroom and use what remained of the coke. The last shot elevated my jitters and I, with syringe, spoon and empty vial in my pocket, left my room to find a suitable place to dispose of the evidence. It wasn’t too difficult and when I returned, a young doctor, probably a resident, was waiting for me with the same nurse who was there before. I knew she’d ratted me out, but I had nothing left to feel frightened about but was frightened nonetheless. He asked me the questions I expected him to, and I invited him to search the room and my belongings, which he did. I’d secreted my last bag of heroin underneath the tongue of my sneakers for use later that night knowing that by next day I’d have gotten the first dose of methadone, negating the properties of opiates. I was pretty manic while talking to this doctor, and he must have ordered a sedative because a few minutes after he left one was brought to me and, a few hours later another one was administered as well. Late that night, while the room was dark and only the little T.V. that was hooked-up next to my bed was playing, I did the last of the drugs I’d brought with me and began thinking of who I could call that would bring me more.
Bernstein came to see me early the next morning, but I was so out of it from what I had ingested and the other doctor ordered, that he took one look at me and said he’d be back later to talk. When he did return, I’d been given methadone and some other drug to help detox me and was pretty high from that. He told me that he planned to complete this process in ten days and then release me. He suggested that I take this opportunity to speak with someone in the hospital, a psychiatrist, whom he thought would be better able to help with this problem than he could. I thanked him but did not take him up on his offer. Instead, I spoke with the nurse about what she’d told me during the first time we met. She told me about N.A. and its antecedents. It was the first I’d heard about groups like that being for people like me and not those Bowery bums that I thought A.A. was designed and designated for. I told Jean about my plan for attending those meetings and did manage not to call anyone else to bring drugs in and, in a few days, when the effects of the methadone was no longer acting like another narcotic and my blood sugars were stabilized, I felt good enough to begin thinking that I could basically do this on my own and would get a job after they released me. I told this to Jean, and she was relieved that I was finally thinking this way and sounded committed to making our lives together work.

It was a wintry snowy day when, with Brasz, I went to an agency located somewhere in the garment district, to apply for a bartending job I’d seen advertised in the papers. I was depressed and miserable but, even though I was smoking a little reefer and drinking again, didn’t look too bad. And, as usual, we needed money.
The employment agency had one long and thin rectangular room. It had plastic folding chairs on both sides of a water cooler which had no water, although an empty bottle perched on top of the mouth. Mostly Hispanics sat on the chairs while others tried to find room by standing at odd angles. Most were smoking. I pretended I had an appointment and walked into the door that had the name of the gentleman I’d spoken on the phone with earlier. He was slightly perturbed when I pushed my way in, excusing myself, but saying we’d spoken. Maybe being white had something to do with his subsequent generosity, but whatever it was, he gave me a clipboard and a card to fill out and then directed me to the restaurant that was hiring staff. It was a new Lindys, once a revered name in Broadway’s legendary eateries, but now a chain store of many different restaurants and saloons owned and operated by the infamous Riese Brothers. They were known by those who worked in their restaurants or competed with them as bastards of the first order. Their ways of doing business were cut throat and how they treated their staff was supposedly worse. I needed a gig and, as mom used to say, when you’re hungry, really hungry, a shit sandwich tastes like filet mignon.
Their new entry was located in the corner of The Port Authority, facing 42nd. Street and Eighth Avenue. Brasz and I went there and I had a talk with Mr. Avinash, the General Manager, after I filled out more forms they required. After Avinash reviewed my application, he asked me what shifts I wanted and after I told him he gave me the job. It seemed too easy.
New York’s infamous Port Authority was a refuge to America’s lost and disenfranchised, was home to our nation’s homeless, was where runaways ran to, was a hub for those who worked in New York City but lived in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and all points between to enter and exit, was a way station, pit stop, and bathroom for the prostitutes, transvestites, addicts, hustlers, pimps and degenerates of all stripes and colors. The Port Authority. I was getting closer to Hell, at ground level. I could smell the sulfur.
The Port Authority provided enough street level drama to host it’s own television series. Like any port offering the exchange of people and goods and services, it operated on a 24/7 basis. This bred and fostered a culture of predators and victims, a brief and illusory haven for those who’ve left their own particular rendition of hell, and all manner of peoples who operate outside the boundaries of man or god. It was a place where I could practice what I was good at and attuned to, the observation of any and all manifestations of madness in, and outside, myself. The illusions, or delusions, that I had of myself were rapidly being punctured by the reality of where I was and what I was doing. No longer could I say I was here doing “research” on the underbelly of New York’s tapestry. No longer did I think that bartending was another form of the rough and tumble night life or food for the poet in me or vehicle for romantic interludes, each so necessary, alone or in consort, for me to believe I was Savage, somebody. Yet, here and now, there was no mistaking this for what it was and, what I was. I was working in a bus station, the lowest form of commercial transportation, in an area that could be described as a urinal or armpit. There were no beautiful ladies sidling up to the bar for a drink, no athletes, performers, entertainers or artists having achieved notoriety or struggling for some. Here, I was unable to dream. Here I was “somebody,” but all in lower case. Here was nowhere for me.
Having lived in Project Return, the next block over, during the early Seventies, familiarized me with Times Square and its habitu├ęs. My eyes, from the earliest of ages, were attuned to seeking out and finding the unusual, the perverse and, the illegal. They didn’t have to look too far.
My shift began at six and I arrived at four-thirty. I wanted to eat, look over the bar and get comfortable with how it was setup. Luckily, I had no pains in the ass beer kegs to tap. We sold only bottled beer.
The restaurant section of Lindys was adjacent to the bar and could be entered from the bar by a narrow passageway than ran the width of both or from two other entrances, one on 42nd Street and the other on Eighth Avenue. Windows wrapped around the entire establishment. The saloon could also be entered by a door on Eighth Avenue or directly from a door inside The Port Authority.
Mr. Avinash welcomed me that first night and showed me my locker. They required the staff to wear uniforms. I was given a bartender’s vest with a Lindy’s logo and a name tag. I’d always despised wearing anything that smacked of orthodoxy which smelled, to me, of stupidity. If I wanted you to know my name, I’d tell you. If you wanted to know my name, you’d ask.
I was allowed to order anything from the menu except steak, lobster tails, or roast beef cuts. I ordered a bacon cheddar cheeseburger, fries and, for desert, the famous Lindy’s cheesecake and coffee. The food wasn’t bad but tasted pretty much like the standard fare you’d get at a Greek diner except, here, you’d pay double the going rate. The waitress, Beth, was a willowy dyed blond, fortyish, with bad skin and dull brown eyes. She brought me my food and, with a tired air, welcomed me into The Riese Brothers’ family by saying, “Good luck” to a person about to walk his last mile. As I ate, I watched people peer in and enter Show World across the street. Show World was a multi-floored emporium of sex shows, peep shows, massage parlors, “Hot Lesbian Sex” shows and “Chicks With Dicks,” performances by transvestites. I’d never gone inside but was always curious. .
After I finished, I left a tip larger than what I knew most patrons would leave. Beth noticed and tried to give it back to me saying I didn’t have to do that. I know that, I told her, that’s why I did what I did and to stop in for a drink after she got off from work. It wasn’t that I wanted her to return the favor, which she did, but I wanted her to bring in her friends and coworkers if she could. She couldn’t.
Some people, as soon as you lay your eyes on them, you know they’re “wrong.” You realize that in their hearts some form of depravity beats. Tony, my partner behind the bar, had multiple forms. “DEVIANT” in that beautiful old faded technocolored neon was written across his forehead, with one or two letters half-gone or missing. No bigger than five foot four or five, he seemed like Kong behind the bar. He was the kind of bartender who served you but, if you paid attention at all, knew it was not him who served you, but you who, he believed, served him. You were there merely to either pay him or have your money taken.
Tony was an old time, died in the wool, drug addict and thief. In the two weeks I worked with him, I saw him do some wicked and disturbing things. The first thing he asked, after we were introduced, was whether I did any dope. He looked at me as if he were doing a personality profile and, without any wariness, asked that question many would not, even after being acquainted for a long time. When I put that observation in front of him, he waited a beat before saying, “It’s in your eyes. I know I can trust ya.” And that was that. After that, he told me he was stepping out for a bit to cop at The Peerless Hotel, a place on 43rd. Street, off Broadway, and a known heroin spot. He brought back a few bags for me. His other actions were, how can I say this without sounding like the hypocrite I sometimes am, fucked-up. When a woman would go to the ladies room, he sometimes snatched money from inside her purse if no one else was watching. When a man would leave for a few minutes to take a leak or call someone, the money he’d left on the bar would be a little light when he returned. One evening, he said to me that if business ever picked up in this “fuckin’ hellhole” to where they were raking in some “long green,” he was thinking about bringing in his own cash register to help divest them of some of their profits. I’d heard about another bartender doing that at an East Side saloon years ago and wondered if it was him.
Mr. Avinash would not change my hours, except to the graveyard shift. I’d have to come in at eight and work until four in the morning, even though we hardly had customers there until midnight. When I tried using my diabetes as an excuse not to work those hours, he answered me with a one word expletive, “Quit.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to. Tony announced to me the evening after that, “This fuckin’ bar is a drag. Can’t make enough bread to support a habit of a flea, you know what I mean?” I shook my head indicating that of course I knew what he meant. “But I’m goin’ outa here with my guns loaded, you know what I mean?” This time I did and didn’t know what he meant, but shook my head anyway. That night, besides going out to get his dope, he didn’t ring up one sale, (not that we had many of those), and, while saying goodnight and goodbye to me, he loaded five or six bottles of booze into a duffel bag and took them with him. I never saw him again.
Hardly anyone had made this a place to stop by for a drink except those who arbitrarily came in or those you didn’t really want to see after you saw them once. I used whatever money I made on drugs and left it to Jean to pay our expenses. My world had shrunk to this expanse of habit and, without sex, without music, without humor, was fast becoming necrotic.
One evening, towards midnight, I had one person sitting at the bar. He was one of my few regulars, a big, burly construction worker from The Grand Hyatt, then being built on 42nd Street and Lexington. He seemed nice enough, although we never spoke much. He was on his third or fourth J&B when a guy straggled in and, with nineteen empty stools in front of him, sat next to the construction worker. As he did, I could see the construction worker’s neck tighten, his shoulder’s haunch and his eyes lower. I went up to them and tried to position myself in such a way that I simulated a wedge between them and leaned forward and asked the guy if he wouldn’t mind taking another seat. The guy made no motion to move nor did he acknowledge that I’d even spoke but instead asked for a vodka tonic.
“You might have had enough,” I said.
“No, no I haven’t. I’m all right, I am,” he said. “Let me have one and then I have to be going.”
I looked to the construction worker who seemed as immovable as the buildings he worked on, and turned and made the drink. When I’d finished and turned back, the guy was trying to say something to the construction worker who was trying to pretend he wasn’t there. “Shit,” I said to myself, “this is not going to be good.”
“Hey Norm, get this fuckin’ guy away from me,” the construction worker said. But the drunk, if he heard anything, made no move nor did he respond. “Norman, I’m gonna hurt this fuckin’ guy,” he said again. “This motherfucker is lookin’ to get hurt.” I placed the guys drink three stools away from where he was.
“Hey pal, let me buy you this drink. Take a seat over here, would you?” I requested, but to no avail. I then went around where they both sat. The construction worker gripped me by the crook of my arm and brought me to his left side, furthest away from where the guy could see. He then opened a gym bag he had on his lap and lying on top was a .357 magnum pistol. He placed his ham-like hand around the gun and inserted his finger into the trigger, gripping the arm.
“If you don’t do somethin’ I sure as hell will,” he said in a voice without inflection.
“Don’t do nothin’, wait here. I’ll take care of this in a second,” I instructed. I hurried to the other side of the bar to the restaurant where we employed a security man, who had about as much desire to perform his duties as anyone would who earned minimum wage to protect profits and property that had nothing to do with them. Quickly, I told him the scene around the other end and to avoid something terrible just follow my lead.
We hurried to the other side and saw the guy still trying to say something to the construction worker who now had swiveled around in his stool with his back to the other guy. The security guard and I hurried over to where the guy was sitting, put our hands on the edges of the stool, picked it up with the guy sitting on it, and carried him down to the furthest end of the bar. The security guard stood over him, not letting him off the stool. When I turned around, the construction worker had gone, leaving some money on top of the bar and a bullet, standing straight up, next to his untouched J&B.
I couldn’t live any closer to Hell without taking up permanent residency. What money I was making was going into feeding my fiend. I decided not to go back to work there except to collect my thirty-six dollar pay check. Mr. Avinash asked why I hadn’t given them notice. “Notice this,” I said as I turned my back and walked away.

My fantasies of dying would present themselves at times that were often predictable but sometimes shocking. I’d lie in bed at night wishing to be diagnosed with an incurable disease that would legitimize my eventual death like cancer, or help explain my aberrant behavior, such as having a brain tumor. But then, while standing on a train platform I’d see the lights from the impending iron horse approaching and, in a instant, imagine myself caught, in flight, across the light’s beam, splattered against the face of the oncoming beast. Sometimes, I’d laugh at the romanticism I’d given my demise but too often the truth of my despair had soiled whatever humor or irony I could generate. These thoughts, or fantasies or what some psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or watchers of Oprah, would call suicide ideation, were not new to me. I’d had them at least since puberty, after I became diabetic. I’d never had anyone in my family offer words or actions that showed empathy or understanding in regard to my diabetes while cancer, brain tumors, leukemia and the like were fawned over, loved, understood and respected. I’ve no idea if that fact alone shaped some of what I’d become, but certainly I am sure that diabetes was, at that time, too slow a death for me and not nearly romantic enough for me to appreciate.
Perhaps, it’s not the flash of brilliant intuitive insight that lights the inter cranial sky like lightening across a hot dark humid summer late afternoon day, but the slow, almost imperceptible, accumulation of knowledge that prompts one to action. Or perhaps it was instinct; perhaps, it was just animal, protean instinct wrapped and honed in Twentieth Century human garb that appeared when my sixth digit disappeared.
Unfortunately, my mind, maddeningly ambivalent, made it difficult to decide and act, even though the evidence was overwhelming. Fortunately, money, always a prime motivator in my decisions, once again came to the fore. Having little of my own and Jean having money only to keep our bills paid and relatively up to date, prompted me to call Bernstein’s office and make an appointment. This time, I did not ask to speak with him. This time, there were no discussions weighing the merits of this and that. This time, I was not sanguine about my life after I cleaned myself up. This time, I didn’t know what came after “this time.”
Sitting opposite Bernstein I tried not to lie. I laid out for him, in detail, my diet of heroin and processed sugars, my constant depression but left out my thoughts of suicide. As I was talking, I could feel being tugged at by my demons who didn’t want me to let go of my sickness. That’s how they get paid. “Tell him this, but not that; offer to go into a hospital, but not right away. Bargain with him; negotiate this. You’re smart, see what you can arrange to stay out, just a little bit longer.”
“I wish I knew more about addiction,” Bernstein began, “but I do know something about diabetes. I’d like to put you in Montefiore Hospital, consult with some doctors there who do know about addiction, detoxify you and get your diabetes stabilized. After that if you feel, after speaking with some people up there, that you need a drug program we’ll discuss that, or if there’s outpatient alternatives, we’ll discuss that. What I do know is a program that’s just come to New York City, The Diabetes Self-Care Program, and I think it’s something you’d benefit greatly from, once we get you stabilized.”
“Yes, it’s something I’m interested in, but geez Jerry, Montefiore, the Bronx?”
“How far would you go to get some heroin Norman? C’mon will you,” he said impatiently.
“I’m sorry, I sound like an asshole. Get me a bed, please.”
“It might take a little time, but hang in there.”

Jean came home and I told her of my decision. “I’m relieved,” she said.
There was nothing to do now except wait for the phone call...and use drugs.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

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