Not always, but when I hear the sound a cigarette lighter makes after a thumb rolls down to spark the flint that starts the flame, it immediately brings me back to a time of wild chaos.
I am reminded of a place where the curtain was drawn closed and the thin off-white horizontal blinds beneath them, which were beaten and bent, were tilted shut and unfolded down to the bottom of the windowsill. Beyond this covered window was nothing more than the view of a rundown, bricked building that neighbored closely. Below the window was an alleyway that reeked from urine and was home to heaps of trash and boxes that were made up as shelters to cover the homeless from the outside elements.
The ashtray on the small coffee table was over-filled with crushed cigarettes. There were empty Parliament brand cigarette packages on the table as well with the partially ripped cellophane from the new packages crumpled up beside them. There were paper bags crunched in balls and empty beer bottles too.
As for the smell, the dingy smell of the room was from old stale beer and smoke, which was partly from the cigarettes and partly from marijuana. The other part was the unforgettable aroma of cocaine after it had been cooked in a spoon and smoked.
The cocaine was cooked in a bent-upwards spoon with a mixture of water and baking soda over a small flame—which is where the sound of the cigarette lighter switched in to break the paranoid silence.
The cocaine is cooked this way to rid its impurities and transform into freebase or a more potent and smokable form. The batch in the spoon takes on a flaky, or rock-like texture, which is then scraped from spoon and then packed or loaded in the burnt end of a glass tube pipe that is also known as a stem to create “The hit.”
Next the sound of a thumb rolls down over the flint and sparks the flame, which is brought up to the tip of the pipe to heat the glass and melt the freebase, which then sizzles as it burns, before being brought to the mouth and inhaled.
Then comes the fury of a brilliant rush that fills the lungs like a cool sensation of snowy numbness. The heartbeat quickens and breathing changes. A high pitched bell rings in the ears to signify the emptiness of weight to the back of the neck—and in seconds, the world takes on the figurative appeal of winter winds that drift through the snowflakes.
In this case, the frost kicked up by the wind tingles inside the brain to gently freeze the moments of euphoria into quick bursts of painless aggression. The mind spins in a pattern that defies gravity and speeds in a blitz of brilliantly white color. Eyes close as the body ingests the sensational drift that pulls the mind away from body. Reality pauses. When the eyes open, they open wide, as if electrified by a beautiful overload of incredible electricity.
The mouth is numbed and flavored with the bitterness of cocaine’s smoke. All is sedated and separated as the brain sections away in a beautiful form of euthanized minutes.
Everything is forgotten in these moments. Everything is forgiven as the cocaine demons assert their grip and absolve the sins by overtaking the body and devouring the mind with synthetic light.
Everything is fast and numb. The ear ringing, the forgiveness of weight, and the forgetfulness of anything and everything that exists outside of this moment is frozen over, or suspended, until the high reaches its highest peak before falling and crashing back to ground level.
I have always taken notice to the names of places such as the lowest rundown motels with short-stay rates. They are the motels that rent rooms with unfortunate secrets that never reveal themselves. The are the places with holes in the walls of single room flats with burn marks in the carpeting and on the bedding.
Then of course, there is the occasional symptom of bedbugs, crabs, or head-lice in the sheets of a small full-sized bed, which no one really sleeps on.
The sunken old mattress sits on a frame in a small room, which is somewhat decorated with old faded wallpaper that is peeled in spots. There is no bathroom, except for the public restroom in the hall. The toilets are grotesque and germ-ridden. Bathrooms like this are even more foul than the bathrooms in Grand Central Station after the homeless have washed away their excrements an bathed in the sinks .
The only source of water in the so-called guest’s room is a pedestal sink with individual faucets. One faucet turns upwards for hot water (or more accurately, the water is only closer to warm) and the other faucet is cold. The brownish water pours out from an old rusty spout before swirling in the basin of a white sink that has seen better days. The sound of water splashes and the open drain gargles as the water falls down the seemingly endless drain, which is also and more fittingly a perfect description of the lives that frequent establishments like this.
This room along with all the other occupied stays like it are filled with drunks, junkies, hookers, and homeless that were fortunate enough to find a quick score to afford the room and have someplace better to sleep than say, Tompkins Square Park. Meanwhile, the name of this desperate place or places like this is named after a Saint . . .
Teddy was not a close friend of mine. I knew him through mutual friends that had the same sickness as me. We were all young sprouts or saplings in the junkie life. We thought we knew it all and we could outrun the meat hooks that came with the druggy lifestyle.
Teddy came from a middle-class, middle-income family. He lived in the Long Island town of North Bellmore. His father was seldom around, but when he was, Teddy’s father was rarely sober and usually abusive.
Like me, Teddy was underage, but he had been able to drive since he was 13. The rumor is Teddy learned to drive because he had to drive his father home from the local bar a few times.
Teddy was also famous for stealing his mother’s car as well as her purse and jewelry. He was rarely held accountable for his actions by his mother; however, Teddy was frequently beaten by his father and he had the scars to prove it.
Teddy’s reasoning for self-destruction was obvious. He had scraggly long blond hair that grew down to the tops of his shoulders. He had steel-blue eyes. He was somewhat charismatic and girls appeared to like him.
As a result of his drug choices, Teddy was scrawny and pale. Had Teddy not given into the cocaine bugs, he would not have appeared as emaciated or sickly.
Teddy’s skin was the kind of pale that accentuated the bluish veins that ran beneath his flesh. He had pink lips and a large golden crusted sore at the upper left corner of his mouth. The center Teddy’s herpes-like cold sore appeared wet and it oozed a tannish sperm that glistened like a symbol of infection. Fortunately for me, I did not have to share a pipe or beer with Teddy. Fortunately for me, I came with my own supplies
Teddy had a connection somewhere down in Alphabet City. I learned about this connection as I was walking along the street in my home town. Teddy passed me in his mother’s car.
“Get in,” Teddy said as he pulled up to me on Prospect Avenue near the corner of Maple. “Where’d you get the car,” I asked. “It’s my mother’s car,” He explained. “You getting in?”
I opened the passenger side of the blue-gray, two-door, Buick Regal.
“Where are we going,” I asked.
“We’re going on a run,” Teddy said. “I took some money from my mother after my old man came home and decided to kick me out of the house.”
Teddy explained, “After my old man passed out, I took a few hundred bucks. I took the keys to my mother’s car. I took a few packs of my old man’s smokes that he keeps in the refrigerator, and then I said fuck it.”
“Where are we going,” I asked.
Teddy said, “Alphabet city. But we gotta make a pit stop first”
Teddy had a defiant teenage smile. His smile was the sort that explained that even hell or the devil himself could not scare Teddy away. He was hell-bent and strapped in for a long ride. And me, I was riding shotgun.
Neither Teddy nor I had a driver’s license. Neither one of us looked old enough to drive, let alone pull up to a deli and buy beer. However, Teddy knew a place in the town of Uniondale near Front Street and Uniondale Avenue. “They’ll sell beer to anyone,” Teddy explained.
After our stop at the deli, we headed out towards the city. I had no sense of direction at the time, but I acted as if I knew where we were going.
“Go ahead, open up one of those beers,” Teddy said.
He told me, “Might as well start now because it’s about to be a long night.”
By the time we crossed the bridge into the downtown section of Manhattan, I had already caught a nice buzz. Teddy was very generous with his score. He paid for the beer. He picked up the cocaine and he shared the big bag of weed he stole from his father’s secret stash. By the time we found ourselves in the filthiest motel room, I was already wasted. Only, now the high was about to become serious.
Many times, people refer to getting high as partying. They ask, “Do you party,” which means “Do you get high?”
But cocaine highs (or at least serious cocaine highs) are not a party in any way. After the first few hits, the high becomes shorter. The loftiness gradually sinks lower and lower. All that remains is the frantic feeling as every nerve in the body is on heightened alert. Every sound triggers an internal alarm in the mind and the paranoia is overwhelming. In my case, I wanted to be alone or as far away from civilization as possible. This, in my definition was the far from a party.
All of my physical and mental senses were overloaded. My jaw was clenched and grinded back and forth as a side effect from the drug. I was thin and twitchy. I was wired and wishing I could find my way back to the highs I felt in the start of the binge. I was paranoid and wondering what happened to Teddy’s mother’s car, which we left parked somewhere on the street. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea who was in the hallways or who might possibly break through the door. I could hear the sounds of hookers in neighboring rooms, moaning, as if to please their customers with a fake sense of accomplishment.
Teddy knew some of the hookers that worked nearby. I did not ask much about them. I never asked how he knew them or showed much interest. Besides, cocaine took away my ability to feel sexually aroused or perform. Otherwise, I might have asked Teddy to invite some of the hookers into our room.
Not always, but when I hear the sound a cigarette lighter makes when a thumb rolls down to spark the flame and break the silence, I think about that night with Teddy.
And when I hear the sound a matchstick makes after is slides across the gritty stripe along the side of a matchbox before it ignites and sizzles into flame, I am reminded of the smell of Teddy cooking up a shot of heroin.
“You ever do this before?”
“Better not try it,” Teddy said.
“You’ll never be able to forget it.”
I can say this much . . . .
The kid wasn’t lying