Winter, Downtown New York City, 1989
Eric sat in a small rundown apartment with a fallen light bulb dangling from two wires in the middle of the ceiling and hanging over a cluttered coffee table filled with old crumpled paper bags, an overflowing ashtray with mashed cigarettes, empty beer bottles, empty cans, soda cans, old food wrappers and a curved tablespoon, bent and burnt at the bottom after being used to cook up batches of freebase.
Eric wore a green army jacket which he stole through a broken window at the Army/Navy store on 9th Avenue over by 42th Street. His dark blue jeans were filthy and hadn’t been washed in weeks. His gray sweatshirt was tattered and torn around the collar and the white thermal shirt beneath it appeared yellow and stained. His sneakers were old and beaten and his socks appeared as if they had never been changed
It was passed midnight and late in the dark hours of a long cold night. It was the time of morning which is darkest before dawn and while Eric waited for his friend Stanley’s return, his wild hair frenzied and mad in bushy curls, a dried up and crackled line of dark-red blood ran from the bottom of his left nostril onto the ridge of his upper lip.
Eric’s hands were filthy. There was black dirt which outlined his fingernails and detailed his fingerprints and the crevices in his knuckles. There were white burn marks on Eric’s lip. These are the marks that come from smoking a glass pipe.
His eyes were like two haunted beams, frightening, and peering in the dimness of a dark and desperate one bedroom apartment. The walls were filmed with a layer of nicotine and cigarette smoke. The gray plastered walls were peeling and cracked with old cobwebs swaying from the corners.
The carpeting was dark and matted and the tiny white kitchen was home to an empty fridge, a stove that never worked, a dripping faucet with rusty silver handles, and scattered used and unwashed dishes lay around on the small counter top. There was an uncovered round fluorescent bulb lit in the kitchen, which allowed a brighter sense of light than the yellowish bulb that hung from the ceiling above the old broken couch and coffee table
Electrified by the cocaine demons, and possessed with the need to find more, after hours of checking the floor and each and every pocket to find more or a forgotten remnant of the drug, Eric waited for his package to arrive. His jaw clenched tightly together, grinding back and forth as the paranoia continued, causing him to repeatedly check the peephole in the doorway.
Eric was waiting for Stan to come back with a package from one of Stanley’s connections. He and Stan had been running partners for a long time. Both of them spent an equal amount of time perfecting their addiction. They both tried to perfect their schemes and they both knew the up and downside of the drug life.
Eric was not a big man by any means. He had steel blue eyes set back in his long bony face with dark circles beneath them to accentuate his skeletal-like features. He was pale and thin, sickly looking, and still young but his eyes were vacant from the previous charisma of his youth. His teeth were yellowed and a few were missing. There were freckles across the bridge of Eric’s s nose and a thin scar at the top of his right cheek that sliced from inside the middle of his ear and ran over to the bottom of his eye socket.
There were more scars on Eric’s body, but this was his most noticeable. This scar, however, was a case of what happens when selling fake pills in a large New York City nightclub to the wrong people. This is what happens when a razor finds its way across the face. But to Eric, setbacks like this were an occupational hazard. He took things like this for what they were; it was just part of the game.
To Eric, these were the risks and this was part of the lifestyle. Even after a case of mistaken identity when Eric took his worst beating, he still believed this was a case of simple math.
These were the mechanics or the moving parts to his kind of living. So when faced on Bowery with a few angry men in black flight jackets and steel-toe boots with white laces, all of them shaved-headed, all of them wearing emblems of hate, Swastikas, and signs of the crooked cross, and none of them caring that Eric was nearly lifeless after his beating, Eric figured this pounding was something that took place of beatings he previously escaped.
Eric understood pain. He knew all about it and understood the rules of engagement. He understood beatings because he grew up with them. Eric was neglected and abused all his life, so to him, a beating was never a threat and pain was never a stranger. It was always expected. It wasn’t anything new. It was part of life; however, Eric never received any beatings when Stanley was around.
Stan was a very large dark skinned man. Stan’s father was a street fighter and rough with his hands. Unfortunately, he was hardest on his youngest son Stanley. After years of abuse, Stanley finally grew tall enough and strong enough to change the momentum of the beatings.
After years pent up anger and after years of watching his father mistreat and abuse his mother, and after his mother’s resulting death; after all the outrage and madness boiled over, and after all the beatings Stan endured at his father’s hand were too much, after the scars, after the strap marks that scarred Stanley’s back, finally, Stan turned around and unleashed on his father.
No one was around to see this or stop it. The word around the West Village was Stanley beat his father to a state of unconsciousness. Then Stanley took a break, and whenever his father regained consciousness, Stan returned to the beating.
According to the story, which Stanley never spoke about, Stan carried his old man up the staircase of their apartment building in the dead of the coldest night. Stan sat his father in a steel gray folding chair on the roof and left him to freeze outside with an emptied flask in his the back pocket of his father’s pants.
The red blood leaking down the older man’s face appeared like black mud on dark black skin under the cold full moonlight. The wind stirred and whistled and the only words Stan mentioned after pulverizing his father for the last time was, “You won’t ever touch me again you son of a bitch!”
Stan was very protective of Eric. He was protective because Eric was smaller than most. Eric was thin. He couldn’t fight well or run very fast. All Eric could ever do was hide and hope for the best. As far as Stan was concerned, Eric took enough beatings at the hands of Eric’s father and step-father.
The two complemented each other. Eric came up with great schemes and the two friends depended upon their skills to benefit one another. Also, Stan knew Eric’s father. Stan was also there to stop Eric’s father from strangling a much younger Eric with a belt.
Stanley knew about the abuse and he knew about the beatings, which is why Stan never allowed anyone to put their hands on Eric. They were good friends and in a world of addicts and thieves, this sort of friendship was rare.
Stan knew of a spot in Alphabet City but his trip was taking longer than Eric expected. Meanwhile, the paranoia bugs weaved in and out of Eric’s mind. To calm himself after searching to no avail for another speck of crumb of cocaine, Eric began scribbling down one of his poems on a ripped-off piece of a brown paper bag.
“White shaft of light moves through
a glass tube
broken and burnt on one side
smooth on the other
The flame hits and heats the glass,
tiny white boulders melt
and cause the world to become weightless
—it feels like . . .
It’s like after a snowfall happens
and the sun comes back
the wind turns into a whisper
and a decade of yesterday’s memory
is frozen from existence.”
Eric continued to write. He was huddled in the corner to hide from sight with the bag pressed up against the filthy wall. His pencil sliced into the page, quickly and viciously.
“Man, everything is cool this way
all your graceless moments are suddenly easy
you’re overtaken by a soft explosion
that takes place in the machine at the top of the spine.
Madness satiates the mind, eyes electrified
the mind is numb, the jaw grinds,
and the machine at the top of your spine
bursts into atmosphere.”
The apartment was the sort of quiet that left a ringing sound in the ears. All that could be heard was the fast scribbling sound of Eric’s pencil as he scribbled down words. His penmanship jagged from shaky hands. The lines of his poem were hardly legible, uneven and slanting downward on the right side of the page.
There was nothing Eric could do. There was no other way he could stop the nervousness or anxiety.
He continued . . .
“The machine loses grip,
Nerves frayed like the end of an old tattered rope
anxiety like a sea of mindless sharks,
outraged in a feeding frenzy,
devouring everything in sight
—literally hours pass
and all that remains are the empty packages
and the empty plastic vials
where the symptoms used to live.”
Eric’s nose began to leak again. He was waiting for Stanley but the wait had gone on too long. Meanwhile, Stanley made his connection and was on his way back. He was stricken by the cocaine bugs as well. The screaming whispers of paranoia were loud enough to cause Stanley to fidget and seem suspicious. It was enough to cause attention; however, at this time of night and with a man as wild looking and as large as Stanley, he was already a suspect without even committing a crime.
Eric swore he heard the sound of policemen talking on their radios. He crept over to the door, slinking his way up to the peephole to look out through the fish-eyed lens where the hallway distorted in view, —the greenish white glow of the hallway lighting showed no one in sight but nearby, another apartment door slammed shut, causing a quick shiver of panic to turn Eric’s stomch.
There was an odor leaking in through the seams of the doorway. It was an odor that came from the apartment next door.
“They always cook fish,” Eric whispered to himself. Then he went back to his corner and returned to his poetry.
“Next thing you know, you’re aware of the turmoil.
Next, you look around and see what has happened.
You see your reflection somewhere and it haunts you.
your eyes give away your secrets
and the white burns on your pink, dry lips
tell all about where you’ve been.”
Eric reached inside his army jacket for one of his last two smoked. He lit the cigarette and exhaled the first drag quickly and abruptly. Eric spread the brown paper bag open a bit wider against the wall and then he continued to write.
“That endless churning in your stomach—
and the hollow sound of your heartbeat
it pounds in your chest,
the need to forget where you are
and the drive to return to that place you were,
it’s all part of the madness.
It’s all part of a scheme.
You’re on the hook now.
They have you on the dangle
and that’s why they say . . .
the first hit is always free.”
Eric heard something out in the hallway. This time the sounds were real. It was Stanley. He finally made it back. But there was something strange. Stanley moved slowly, He moved as if he were laboring something.
Stan came through the doorway with his hood pulled up over his head. His breathing was loud and crackled, as if there was phlegm blocking his airways.
Eric stood to greet his friend and moved over to the coffee table where the crack pipe lay and the rest of the works awaited. Stanley sat down fast and hard on the old broken couch. Something was wrong. Eric knew something was wrong, but he wasn’t sure what.
Eric asked “Did you get any,” as he retrieved his glass pipe and lighter from the inside pocket of his Army jacket.
By now, the fiendish feeling inside Eric was too overwhelming to notice anything. He never noticed the blood trickling from the corner of Stanley’s mouth. He never noticed the blood spot on Stanley’s chest.
“I don’t think I’m gonna make it,” Stanley said.
Eric asked, “What happened?” with fear taking his breath
“It was Boost,” explained Stanley.
Boost was Stanley’s oldest brother. He was smaller than Stanley, which is why he chose to fight unfairly.
“He hit me in the chest with a screwdriver and then ran off,” said Stan.
“He got me this time though. That fool never got over what I did to his Dad”
Stanley never referred to his father as Dad. In fact, Stanley never referred to him at all with the exception of this time. He coughed and blood spewed from Stan’s mouth in a thin drooling line. He loaded up his glass pipe with two vials full, took the lighter from his pants pocket, and then he struck the flame.
Eric watched. He watched the flame hit the end of the pipe, melting the drug into oblivion and causing the pipe to smoke. Stanley drew in with all he had. He drew in all the smoke he could handle and then with eyes wide opened, as if Stanley were seeing his life vanish; his face astonished as if Stanley saw the face of God the Father, Himself, Stanley blew out the smoke and slowly reversed from life to death.
Eric was quiet and still. He reached over to touch Stanley’s arm. He tried to retrieve Stanley’s large body from a slumped over position.
He went to call Stanley’s name but Eric’s mouth would not work.
He tried to say it again, but Eric was unable to speak.
He tried once more but an outside noise interrupted and distracted Eric’s attention. Something loud shook, and then suddenly, an announcement came over a loudspeaker. “Sorry for the delay folks. We should be arriving shortly. New York Pennsylvania Station, next stop.”
Eric popped up in his seat on the train and looked around at the other passengers that were staring at him, perhaps because Eric talked in his sleep.
It was all a dream . . .
Eric ran his middle finger across the thin scar on right cheek.that ran from the inside of his ear to the bottom of his eye socket.
“It was all a crazy, fucked up dream . . .”
But was it?