Sunday, September 6, 2015
SIMPLE MATH--THE LESS YOU GOT, THE MORE YOU WORK TO GET IT
Winsome was boppin along, listening to some Miles on his iPod. It was Friday, and he was dressed casually: cut off dungaree shorts, huge spattered Hawaiian shirt, baggy, double layered socks tucked inside red Converse high top canvas sneakers. For effect, he wore a multicolored boating skimmer on top of his head and shades. If one didn’t know better, they’d think he was going for a sail instead of being on the C train, coming from 145th Street and Convent, and getting off at 34th and Eighth Avenue.
Bags Groove segued into Simone’s, Love Me Or Leave Me. Her Bach like playing and Julliard education played well against the previous piece fronted by Miles. He, too, went to Julliard. Damn, I’m bad, he said to himself, sometimes I don’t even know what I’m doin, but I just feel this shit, you feel me? An older black bald-headed dope fiend once told him in the joint that feelings predicted intelligence and don’t let nobody tell ya no different.
He parted the doors and exited into Hades; the heat and smell, let alone the density of pressed rush hour bodies, almost made him retch. This is not the kind of thing for me to be doin, you feel me? he mumbled, and gripped the handrail as he made his way up into the early blaze and fray.
It seemed the summer had no brackets; it was just one sweltering ninety-five degree day after another; the only thing that changed was his underwear. Soon, city workers would be walking around with shovels so that they could throw the bloated and dead bodies into carting boxes. Nothing was as bad as a New York City summer where the air conditioners, if anything, made the city even hotter or, the constant, artificial Arctic, cold seeped into your bone marrow and froze any thought that could be birthed.
It was a good thing that Winsome was motivationally lazy. Only two things did he minimally work at: one was making it to fifty; the other was being cool while he did it. Of the latter he knew some people who came easily by it, while others...well, lets just say that they had to be in the know to know just how stupid it would be not to think about what really should be thought about: being cool always, of course, was one of them. Style, brother, was the answer to just about everything. In fact, he preferred these days to do a tedious mind-numbing thing with style, than doing a dangerous thing without it. Most people he knew were just mad stupid and there was nothin to be done about that. Besides, he wasn’t going anywhere; the state and the Feds, science, and himself took care of that a long time ago.
He even gave up shooting dope when that scene became too hard; he was about thirty-five at the time, almost fifteen years ago. It was a young man’s game. And if yous wasn’t rich by thirty-five it just ain’t happenin. And, sheeet, talk about, “mad tedious,” and “mind-numbing,” you ain’t seen nothin til ya have to go to a mothfuckin MMTP, a methadone maintenance treatment program or be in the joint or be dead. Ain’t no other ways to go for niggers.
Even the good ones were mad crippled. I might be a nigger, but I ain’t like these niggers here, fuck no, Winsome would say every time he got on the block that the clinic was on and began the slow, grim, Bataan death march. He passed the human lampposts, some bent over, their heads below their knees, sucking their own dicks, oblivious to the sweat dripping from their foreheads to their necks to the sidewalk; he passed the ones who were still conscious but trying to get bent, bartering or buying one medication for another; passed the cigarette hawkers selling Loosies; and then opened the door to the clinic and climbed those industrial bleach smellin stairs to the emphysematous elevator. Pearls before swine, my brothers, pearls before swine--and that goes doubly for some of the niggers that run this program, too.
The fourth floor waiting room looked like a cattle car; all kinds of cows and heifers kickin up against the stall. Old and young, mostly black and Latino flavored, but some white asses standin and sittin. All of them were waiting. The black, front of the line, staff, had a wall, a door, and a glass window, separating them from the diseased. They used it to the max. If you pestered, or got cross with them, treated them with any kind of disrespect you were fucked. They would simply forget about you. It was, to an addict, the DMV, only ratcheted up to the nth degree. Your dose, that you should have gotten ten minutes before you got there, was a good thirty to sixty minutes away from your hungry cells. Shout, stamp your feet, curse, only made it worse. If you put up too much of fight, you got escorted out, and then you were really screwed. Junkies were neutered a long time ago, though most didn’t know it. Most just talked, but didn’t do a fuckin thing--except when desperate, and that wasn’t very often.
But complainin, that was another story; they were tacitly encouraged to bitch all they wanted. Besides, it’s an addict’s God given right to punch holes, even in heaven. Once again, the smell of bleach and ammonia were wafting around the cramped space, making everyone surly.
On his way over, Winsome was greeted by a few nods of the head or desultory halfhearted waves, but inside the waiting room he was known by many. Not only had he been there for fifteen years, but nearly everyone liked him. He had an easy way, but told the truth as he saw it, without trying to shade much.
Because of the heat and a pissy air-conditioner, folks were mopping their brow or their cleavage. Sometimes both. Sweat could be seen glistening from the tops of plump breasts. But most weren’t interested in that kind of sex now. The only sexy thing was inside the bottles they were waiting for.
How you makin it, man, Earl asked him.
I don’t know how, but I’m makin it, Winsome replied.
I hear you, man; I hear you.
Same here, brother. I’m tryin to get these motherfuckers to put me on a goddamn three day week.
And nothin. They hearin, but they ain’t listenin. I’m tired of this motherfuckin ride six motherfuckin days a week, man.
They got liquid handcuffs on your ass. Even me with three days still is chained to the motherfuckin city man; even if I had a place to go wouldn’t make no kind of difference, my ass belongs to this bullshit, man. I thought it would take the pressure off, but instead its made me more aware just how much of a motherfuckin slave I am. I gotta get off this motherfuckin juice.
Ain’t that the motherfuckin truth.
But Win, man, you been sayin that for the ten years I know ya.
Win, you goin to the bereavement group.
Not it I don’t haveta.
Everybody has ta.
Sheeet, I ain’t “everybody.”
You just a crazy niggah, that’s all you is.
Crazy, not a nigger.
Yeah, well, maybe your niggah.
The bereavement group was put together to have those who picked up their dose on Fridays, and who were a little--or a lot--further up the food chain than someone who came into the program yesterday, needed to go to in order to get their take home dose--at least for Saturday and Sunday.
It sounded like variations of Monk’s, Epistrophy, and looked like Mondrian’s, Boogie-Woogie, only going in the same direction; a static, herky jerky, movement. Each conversation, to Winsome’s ears, sounded alike, but different; a blur, washed of rhythm and color, yet each, if one paid attention, hit different notes, yet sang the same tune. A tune of a sainted victim. Even the isolated ones, (maybe especially them). The stick figures who hoofed over here singularly were sitting, with one leg going up and down, or fingers drumming a knee, or trying to stare vacantly into some distant past, or future. Each, alone or with people, contained, fixed in place, squirming into themselves.
The heat’s a motherfucker, man.
A real motherfucker. It’s mad hot.
Yeah, it’s a real one all right.
You stayin or splittin.
I just hope I ain’t gotta stay. You feel me? You might think after comin to this motherfucker for as long as me I woulda built up some motherfuckin trust--you might think that, but you be wrong. Wrong as a motherfucker. Damn. One goddamn time in almost fifteen years I get a dirty urine--which I keep tellin em was a false positive--and they make me feel like a left back retard. One time. Besides, hell, that’s what I’m supposed to do--get high, but here I am, all this time, and I get high--which I’m tellin ya was motherfuckin bullshit--but once. And goin to this bereavement thing. Bereavement my ass. I’m sorry I haveta come to this motherfucker. Ain’t that bereavement enough. You feel me? Sheeet.
They stood and talked, stood and talked; talked about the weather; talked about welfare; talked about getting fucked by landlords, the phone company, bosses; talked about the amount of how many milligrams they’re on or up to and how many more they’d like to be on to feel nice; talked about babies and jobs and picnics and deaths and drugs and stickups and beatings and school and lies and schemes and anything to not talk about this, this exactly, nothing more, nothing less, just this and what, if anything, they’d planned to do about it. Somehow, this was worse than their apartments without air-conditioning; worse than an infant with no milk; worse than a red light in your rear view mirror; this, somehow, went to the truth of the lie that, try as they might, to jettison, was all the more powerful because of it. It showed their ugliness to the world, or really just to the people on the train or bus, or those they jostled with on the sidewalk. A gangrenous soul, a cyst, a malignant tumor, a pus pimple that, if shown the light would not go away, but would spread or burst on themselves or worse, those around them. Almost the same rap and the same feeling week after week after week.
Hey, Win, what’s up bro.
Chillin, just chillin.
Back in this silly ass motherfucker again.
Word-up, Willie. I heard youz was in the joint, man.
Nah, that was a bullshit bust, man. They busted my ass cause they can do it, you hear what I’m sayin?
I heard somebody snitched on your ass.
I was out the same motherfuckin night, man. Tried to snitch me for not payin my ol lady, but that’s some bullshit, man. Really. Tried to tie me up for some ridiculous shit just so he can bone her, you know what I’m talkin bout. Sheeet, she wants to ball his ass, too. I ain’t got no kinda luck, man. Fuckin cops check and they see I’m given her as much bread as the courts call for. If I could, I’d get the fuck outta here, if I could get outta here. Just go, man, find another motherfucker to live, you know where I’m comin from man, like a new start, you dig, But I’m tied to this fuck. Stupid to go somewheres else and do the same motherfuckin shit.
Get on the Bupe, man. They say that shit will free your ass up.
Yeah, I heard about that shit. But I don’t trust these motherfuckers. Must be some kinda angle they be playin to get some niggers on some other kind of shit than this orange shit we be drinkin forever, man.
Nah, man, I don’t think it’s like that; it was designed for white people.
Why ain’t you on it?
I’m gonna be. Get my dose down to thirty milligrams, then I can switch over.
Down to thirty, huh? Shit, that would take me...sheeet, I be dead by the time I get that low. But maybe I should try and do the same shit cause this shit is killin me.
I’m tellin ya, brother, in a short time we all just come in once a month, get a script andaseeyalater. And anywhere in the world we could go and just hook ourselves up with the shit and that’s it, man. And people don’t look at you stupid on this shit; I mean this stuff was made for the rich people, you know what I’m talkin bout? They go to a private fuckin doctor, man, and get a prescription for the shit. You feel me? This shit be designed for white people with bread, but once you on it, man, you just get yourself a clinic anywhere and a doctor to give it to you. Shit, they can even give you refills. But even if we only gots a thirty day supply; give me enough for thirty motherfuckin days and I could be king. You feel me?
Shit, I’m gonna do the same motherfuckin thing.
They kept drifting in, one by one and couples. There were no more seats or benches so they stood; horizontally, they’d look like detritus on the beach after a fierce winter.
Ari, the facilitator of the group, stopped at the receptionist’s area, behind the glass, and said something to them. They all laughed. It seemed like he stopped at their desk every Friday. None of them looked at the faces that pressed against the window like Rwandan refugees looking at a food shipment that was just dropped, but guarded by soldiers.
When he opened the door, the crowd filed passed him as if he didn’t exist. It was their only form of protest. If that in any way bothered him, he gave no sign. Some would quickly whisper to him that they needed more medication, or reimbursement for the subway, or a letter for Medicaid, or something that they needed yesterday. Go Go Go, he would say to each of them in turn, lightly patting them on their backs, (but pushing them, too), toward the room that the group was held in.
Motherfucker is crazy.
He ain’t crazy that way, Winsome replied, and don’t you think he is. He counts on that shit; but he’s a crazy sly smart motherfucker; always lookin for information and then he French fries your ass. Don’t sleep on him. You feel me?
But Winsome needed Ari, badly.
And Ari knew it.
The welfare folks were threatening to throw Winsome out of his section eight housing on his ass. If they did that he might as well look for another pad on the moon; shelters were out of the question and there was no one who he could hole up with that he wanted to hole up with. The woman he was seeing did what Winsome suggested she do a few weeks ago: she took it “on the arches.” Winsome missed her less than a beat. However, he did miss the bread that she generated from two places: a scam she had going with Medicaid, and the half ass job she was doing slinging a little crack to people outa the apartment. And there lied the trouble. The welfare folks got wind of what she was doing and had the right to throw his ass out with her, if not send his ass to jail--with her, too. It was a law that you can’t sling rocks in government housing. Period. End.
Winsome had told her over and over that he couldn’t risk losing the place, and she kept him at arms length, but her pussy was right up against his dick. He needed Ari, (not his dick), to stand up for him; needed him to write letters and go up in front of the welfare board and testify about him being oblivious to what the woman was doing and about him turning his life around, good character...blah, blah, blah. Winsome didn’t care if he told them that he took a dump on the head of the mayor as long as he was able to stay where he was. It was the only pad that Winsome ever had that he thought he was more than a transient in; he kept it spotless, and had nothing personally to do with anything bad from his past. Even when he was growing up, his mom could never stay in one place for too long. It took her a year or so to get most of the people she knew to like and trust her, and another year to take as much of their money as she could.
There were only two things that Winsome took with him wherever he went: the first was his father telling him before he finally split, he really wanted a daughter for his first born and how he didn’t want to change the name he choose so that’s how he came to be called Winsome, (now he dug the name, but it was a bitch growing up with it); the second thing was an indelible photo of his mom being a living breathing “ho.” She brought home man after man after man. When he got older, still a teenager, and still in some hell hole with her, he saw most of the men she spread her legs for in the next room, the living room. He saw her sometimes widen them for anyone with a goddamn pencil for a dick. Not even smart enough to be a pro, (she was certainly beautiful enough), he’d think over and over again. She couldn’t help but to laugh at some, and then they’d slap her good. Fucking embarrassing.
Now Ari was trying to make him bend over. For the last few weeks he was making demands upon him that were sickening to Winsome’s way of life for a long time now. He wanted Winsome to do two things for him: score some good reefer and introduce him chicks he could fuck. He told Winsome that on both matters there’s nothing like a colored man to obtain good weed and snapping pussy. Instead of grinning in this half-assed male conspiracy, he grimaced. Ari took offense and told him so; he accused him of lying and told him that as far as he was concerned he’d let him kick in jail before he said word one to the welfare board--let alone write him character reference letters. Winsome slipped and slid around him for a couple of weeks, but the noose was tightening.
Well, sheeet, when are you gonna get some teeth, man. Enough bereaven already, sheeet. You been gummin your food too long now. Get yourself some choppers.
Winsome tried to hide his laugh by ducking his head down. His skimmer nearly fell off; he caught it with his hand. Damn, my tribe is funny, he thought. Pain and laughter, how else can you make it, he asked himself. I’m a shallow guy, a laugh has got me by, he said to himself.
Mr. Butler, Ari said, to Winsome, what have you been grieving about lately.
That the last woman I was in was The Statue of Liberty.
I am serious.
The laughter rose in the room and Winsome knew there’d be some kind of hell to pay. Better back up; better be cool. Yeah, Mr. Ari, serious, I be serious. Here it is: I’m grievin that I’m still, near fifty, tied down to this motherfucker, but I’m sicka grievin. I wanna go on that Bupe program, man, that, whatdayacallit, Buprenorphine shit. Then, after I do good for a time they let me come once a month and shit, and then I could be a little more freer to do what I want, you know what I mean.
There are certain protocols that have to followed, first of all my name is Mr. Rabinowitz, you realize that don’t you.
Yeah, I do. And I’ll do whatever it takes, man. Whatever them protocols be I be doin em; I’m serious, man. Let’s start first thing next week.
We have an agenda to follow, Mr. Butler. We can’t just do anything anytime you want to.
Yeah, I know, I know, but I’m ready now. What’s the big fuckin deal?
To you it might be nothing, but we have an agenda that we have to follow.
Yeah, I heard that already. When we meet next week you tell me exactly what agenda that is.
You see, there you go again, Mr. Butler. Always your schedule. It just so happens I’m all booked up next week. It’ll have to wait another week, maybe two.
You’re too much, man.
What do you mean by that.
Just what I said, too fuckin much.
Too much what.
Too much bullshit, man.
I could take this conversation as a threat.
A threat. What the fuck you be talkin bout? Ain’t no one threatenin you or nobody else. So don’t even play that shit.
Sure sounds like a threat to me.
Rabinowitz got up and went out of the room. All eyes turned toward Winsome. Winsome’s blood started to freeze.
People in the room leaned over to one another or just talked into the air: he ain’t done nothin; he tryin to bait the motherfucker, we saw it, we all saw it; that’s some bullshit, that is; why he bein so motherfuckin tough with you, what you done to him. Winsome made no comment. He rested his chin in his two cupped hands and looked toward the door. I don’t know Win, you best be outta here.
Where I’m gonna go, huh? I need to get medicated, man.
He know that that motherfucker.
Sure he know that.
Two man-eating security guards came into the room followed by the counselor. Mr. Butler, get up please and come with us.
Listen, man, I gotta get medicated. You can’t throw me outa this motherfucker without medicating my ass.
You should have thought about that before you threatened me.
There were some grumbles in the group, but as soon as Rabinowitz fixed his attention on each of them in turn, their heads lowered and the grumbles stopped.
I didn’t threaten your ass. You just sayin that because I wouldn’t get you no weed or get you laid. Yeah, that’s right, y'all heard right. That’s what he wanted me to do. I should sue your white ass, motherfucker. Sue it. Winsome's eyes were bright, and his face was lit up red. And yeah, he continued, you can take what I asked you to do--that Welfare letter--and shove the whole thing right up your motherfucking ass. You feel me?
The guards came closer, as Winsome took a step toward the counselor.
I’m sick and motherfuckin tired of enslavein my own motherfuckin ass. Won’t have to listen to assholes like this no more. Holdin out that orange motherfuckin juice like it was holy water. Motherfucker. Should make you take a bath in it.
Get him out, please, Rabinowitz said.
The two guards came up to Winsome, each put a ham like hand through the crook of his arm and gently led him to the door.
And yeah, you Crisco lookin motherfucker, my name is Mr. Butler.
Winsome knew he was good for another ten twelve hours before the sickness came on. He thought about a great many things, revenge being on top of the list. But first things first.
He remembered that the doctor, Dr. Horowitz, who owned the clinic, was a religious man. Many times in the fifteen years that he’d been coming to the clinic they had had conversations about a great many things, faith just being one of them. He was one of the doctor’s first patients and had the time to even get to know a few of them. They’d gotten into some deep discussions. Even one where the doctor let slip about God creating the poppy so that hopeless men could dream and the trouble he got into when he wrote an article about that for a journal. The doctor got so involved in telling Winsome about those early years of his he knew when he noticed how much time had passed he’d have to hurry to make Friday’s services. He offered Winsome to ride in the cab with him on his way to the synagogue just so he could finish the conversation.
The sun was setting while Winsome waited by the ornately carved door that he had walked the doctor to the last time and that led into the main sanctuary. The beautiful light from the sunset, made his face seem younger, like an elementary school student. Other worshippers noticed him and soon a guard was at his side asking his business. After telling him who he was waiting for the guard begrudgingly moved off.
When the doctor arrived and noticed Winsome he reached for his elbow and gently guided him off. They stood far after the time for services began, and talked.
Greenwich Village, 2006-2015