Saturday, August 15, 2015
THE SCREWS LOOSEN--FROM CHAPTER VI--CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
That December, after having gotten some poetry readings at Brooklyn College, I was invited down to Hollins College to read my stuff. When I returned from a weekend of debauchery and minor mayhem, I tried to once again turn off the spigot. One snowy day, I was reading The Village Voice and saw a job advertisement for a program manager for an FM listener supported station in Seattle, Washington. I had been very much involved with certain aspects of radio through my years at New York City Community College and somewhat at WBAI in New York. I wrote a letter to the box number as if I were writing a letter to a friend, accompanied by my resume. A few weeks later I received a very warm response from a woman, Nancy Keith. It turned out that this station was also part of the Pacifica Foundation which controlled WBAI. We corresponded for a few more weeks exchanging a series of letters. We then spoke on the phone a few times before she set up an interview with some people in the East Village. I met twice with those people, exchanging ideas about radio, community, and philosophy. We seemed to be talking the same language, give or take a few syllables. A week later, in the beginning of April, I was invited out to meet the players at the station and take a look at Seattle itself. I felt the gig was mine from the conversations and interviews I’d had.
My parents, without saying it, felt I was fleeing something. I thought it was them, but it was me. I thought I could just pick up and start over with a clean slate. Nothing wipes clean. We leave a stain whatever we do, wherever we are, whoever we’re with. I called Nancy and told her I’d arrive after visiting some friends in Louisiana. I buzzed Brasz and told him my plans and he called Harry, a friend of his who lived in New Orleans and who would pick me up at the airport. I took some of the insurance money and bought some methadone biscuits. (In those days some doctors combated heroin addiction with methadone, a synthetic opiods blocker. The methadone came in the form of “biscuits,” an orange-colored biscuit divided into four distinct parts in order to break easily should you need just that much not to get dope sick). I also bought some strong reefer and hashish.
I rode to the airport full of apprehension and fear. Instead of feeling adventurous, I felt dread at the prospect of eventually going to Seattle, a place where I knew nobody. I knew I would eventually be judged and found lacking.
Harry picked me up. I got in the car and lit a joint. He grinned. “Wanna get a tattoo?” he asked. I just stared.
“If we’re really Dadaists, Savage, we’d get a fuckin’ tattoo, tonight now.”
I continued to stare. He started the car and pulled into traffic.
He was married to a chick named Robin, and they had one kid, a 2-year-old girl named Molloy, named after Beckett’s novel and character. I have nightmares imagining the shape she’s in today. Harry was a good-natured, brilliant Southern boy who worked the tugs on the Mississippi. They had a home on General Haig Street, a little ways from The French Quarter in New Orleans, and that’s where I set up camp. I was on the couch in the living room. I turned them on to a little pot, ate some peach ice cream while laughing with them and went to bed just before sunrise.
I woke up and watched a bug, as big as a Buick, walk across the floor. I lit another joint, smoked it, and got out of bed.
That night, Harry took me to The Quarter. We wound up in Masparo’s, once a slave exchange and now a saloon serving pretty good pastrami and melted Swiss cheese sandwiches and cold beer. After eying this waitress Barbara, I told Harry I’d take my chances and hang out with her. Barbara took me to another saloon where we drank and talked and finally we ended going back to her place on Bourbon Street. I know this sounds contrived, but she really was generous with her home and her body and her opium, which was black and gummy and we smoked it in a glass stem.
We were awakened the next morning by a phalanx of her friends. I took her car, and went back to Harry’s to get my insulin and a few more things to take over to her place. When I returned, there were more people, sleeping, eating, and copulating. It was a poor imitation of Sweeney Among the Nightingales, too hectic for me. I turned around, thanked her, and started back to Harry’s. She didn’t seem to mind.
I stopped at this beautiful old hotel in The Quarter and had the most delicious glass of orange juice. The waiter, knowing I was a tourist, touted me on to the Cafe du Monde where I enjoyed a wonderful cup of French chicory coffee and hot baguettes. I watched The Quarter wake up, sipping coffee and nibbling at donuts. I thought about nothing.
It cost a nickel to make a call from The Quarter, and so for a nickel, I called my dyke connection in New York City and had her send me, in a Special Delivery birthday card, a hundred dollars worth of junk.
Brasz and Yarber drifted in that weekend. After catching up with each other, we hit the streets, where he and Yarber showed me around New Orleans and The Quarter. We visited the garden district and graveyards on the roofs of buildings. We ate a couple of dozen oysters for a few bucks and drank cold beers and laughed like I hadn’t laughed in ages. He wanted me to come back to his place in Bucktown. The week after, we were to go to the first Jazz Fest that New Orleans would have, listened to Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Arkestra, eat some hot Louisiana crawfish, and drink some cold beer. The Jazz Fest would become a part of the landscape thereafter.
Harry had a sick grandmother that he needed to visit. He told me she was dying of cancer and was sure to have some powerful pain medication. She lived on Lake Pontchatrain, and we went across the bridge, stopping in a shack on the side of the road for some of the best fried chicken I’d ever eaten, before going the rest of the way.
Inside the dying woman’s bedroom, Harry pointed to the vials of morphine and demerol that sat on her dresser. I palmed the bottle of morphine and went into the bathroom where I filled up three syringes that I’d brought with me. I reasoned that the nurse who was taking care of her would simply replace the missing morphine at the appropriate time. I’m not proud of what I did.
Very often I had no concern for anyone’s pain or pleasure, except my own. I would do what was necessary to feed my demon, stopping short of what I considered extreme cruelty. I had no way of knowing if that old woman suffered needlessly because of my theft. I do not want to hide behind that cliché of our time, It was my disease, not me. I believe it was me. Stealing her medications implies volition and will.
I drove the truck back from Baton Rouge with Brasz to his place in Bucktown. Carlotta was his next door neighbor. She was an ancient withered lady, who wore black lace and black skirts that trailed in the dust of her yard where a hundred cats sauntered in and out of her home. After a few days, Brasz had enough. There’s nothing worse than being around someone who was once alive and witness their disintegration. Beckett nailed it in Godot: “Ah, but habit is the great deadner.” It’s not only tiring and trying, it’s boring as well. He’d try to get me to sample some other New Orleans’ favorites, food and women. I tried a little of both, but I really had had enough. Too mentally depressed to go on to Seattle, I returned to New York, but not before using a lot of nickels.
Joey, a merchant seaman who I knew from my forays into the nether world, met me at the airport with a few bags of dope; I paid him handsomely for the service. You get to a point where little is done in the dope world for nothing. Welcome home.