Saturday, September 26, 2009

Four Years

I'm probably supposed to say something bold or dramatic right now. Tell you how I climbed out of the dark and into the light. Or thrill you with some tale of debauchery from my past. The truth is none of that shit matters. It's been four years since I drank a beer or put a line of coke up my nose. The self-loathing that came with it still runs deep but it won't knock me down. I can sit here and look clearly at where I was and what I did and the time I wasted and the pain I caused to myself and others and move on.

If you told me a year ago that I'd fall in love, have my heart shattered, quit my job, go back to my old career, leave New York, come to LA and basically blow my life up, I'd have said no fucking way. But if you told me I'd do all that without a drink or a drug, I'd believe you. That much I know. Nothing out there so bad that a drink will make it better. Nothing so horrible that a line of blow won't make worse.

Was on a subway once wishing I was under it when a guy I didn't know looked at me. He said three words that only meant something to him and me. He made me remember what mattered. That guy doesn't know it but he may have saved my life. For him I'm grateful today.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

She's Nothing But Trouble IX

We made our way passed the guardians of the stoop to the buzzer. They were too busy trying catch a peak up Audrey's dress to bother with me too much.

"It's busted," a voice behind us said.

"How do we get in?," I asked.

"You don't," he said with a laugh. "You wait for someone to come out."

"You don't want to just open the door," I said as Audrey tightened her grip on my hand.

"I don't know you, for all I know you're the man."

I resisted the urge to say that I was the man, just not that man.

"Who you here to see?," he asked.

"Tino," Audrey chimed in.

"Shit, that figures," he said. "Drop into our little world to buy your poison and then forget you were ever here."

Was this guy a punk or an activist? One minute he thinks were cops and the next he's moralizing.

Just then someone came out of the building and I held the door open as he walked past and Audrey and I went in.

"Yeah, go get your high on yuppies," our philosophical homie shouted after us.

He didn't really say yuppies did he? I resisted the urge to yell back, "true dat" and headed up the stairs. This whole scene was turing into a cliche, but then again my life was a cliche so why should this night be any different?

We begin to climb the stairs which were not as dirty as I thought. In fact the building looked about as clean as mine and I'm guessing the rents were one-third what I was paying. Hmmm, couldn't wait to see what the inside of Tino's place looked like. Even on a drug deal in East Harlem New Yorkers are still obsessed with real estate and who might be getting a better deal. Plus, if I was going back out, didn't it make sense to actually have a dealer in the building? You can't usually get those sorts of amenities below 96th Street.

Still I'd be lying if I didn't say a part of me was a little disappointed. I was hoping Harvey Keitel would be kicking down a door. Visions of Lou Reed passed out in a doorway had filled my mind. Yes, I was a little bit obsessed with the bad old days. I missed that New York. I caught the tale end of the 70s here, albeit from the comfort of Montclair, New Jersey. Still, I'd come into the city to visit my father and he'd take me down to Greenwich Village. Someone back then used to draw chalk outlines of bodies like the ones you see in crime scenes. Everything felt dangerous then. Now most of the city felt like a strip mall. Thank you Mike Bloomberg.

We got up to the fifth floor and knocked on the door. There was music from the other side but it wasn't Kanye West or Jay-Z. It was, I strained my ears, yes, it was The Stones. I could hear "Miss You" coming through the wall. Who knows, maybe I'd get my seventies night after all.

There was some shuffling and then a voice.

"Who dat?"

Well, it wasn't "true dat," but it was close enough.

"Tino? It's Audrey."

The door opened a little and the kid from the hotel stuck his face out.

"Who's he?," Tino said looking at me.

"He's my friend."

"You look familiar," he said.

I shrugged.

"I know you?," he asked.

"I don't think so," I said, hoping he didn't really see me at the hotel earlier that afternoon. He might assume that I was stalking him instead of her.

"OK, well we were only expecting her but come on in."


He swung open the door and we walked into a railroad apartment. Tino led us down a long hall past three bedrooms, all with the doors shut, and a bathroom. At the end of the hall was a living room and the kitchen was next to it. In the kitchen around a little table were three kids filling baggies.

"Great, I get to see the sausage get made," I muttered to myself. Audrey dug her nails into my hand.

"Hey, grab a seat," Tino said pointing to a ratty looking couch against the wall of the living room next to a window that opened onto a fire escape.

"You want something to drink," he asked.

"Got any beer?," I asked.

"Cerveza," he barked to one of the kids at the table who got up went to the fridge and grabbed some bottles and brought them to me and Audrey. It was Bud. Might as well have asked for water. Even after four years clean and dry, this would still be weak.

"Thanks, " I said to the kid who just turned around went back to the table and picked up where he left off making little baggies.

"So," Tino said, "how much you want? As you can see I've got a sale going on."

I looked at Audrey and shrugged. Audrey held up five fingers.

"You got it sweetie, be right back."

Tino walked down the hall and went into the middle door. I heard some voices and a few minutes later he was back out. I wondered how many people were in this place right now.

He handed Audrey five bags and she handed him a wad of bills.

"You mind if I smoke," I asked.

"Well, can you go out on the fire escape?"

Great, a dealer with kids working for him selling crack was worried about second-hand smoke. The tobacco lobby really needs to kick it up a notch.

I got up and opened the window and started to climb onto the escape.

"Shit, it's alright man. Just smoke in here," he said.

"Thanks for the change of heart," I said.

I sat back on the couch.

"If you guys want to party a little here that's cool," he said.

"Well, we don't want to be in the way," Audrey said looking at the kids.

"You're not in the way, we're wrapping up for the evening anyway," he said before barking something in Spanish to the kids that sounded suspiciously like clean the shit up and get out. Well, better that than you hold the guy down while I fuck the shit out of the bitch. The kids begin to grab the baggies and throw them into a box.

A few minutes and a few bills later the kids were out of there. Now it was just down to me, Audrey, Tino and whoever was behind door number two. I almost wanted to ask but also realized it's probably best not to inquire.

Tino walked to the kitchen, came back out with a tray and straws and put it down on the table in front of us. I got the feeling that leaving without dipping in was not an option. I don't think Tino was quite yet sold on me.

Audrey started to open one of her bags but Tino waved his hands.

"Keep yours honey, this is on me."

"Thanks, that's sweet," she said.

Sweet seemed a weird thing to say but with Audrey everything was always sweet. I reached for my beer and another smoke while Tino put some powder on the tray for us and started to make some lines.

Just then, door number three opened up and a girl with nothing but a long t-shirt on came walking down the hall.

"Yo, what's with all the noise mother fucker, I need my beauty sleep."

She looked at Tino, then us, then the drugs. She bent down, dipped her finger into one of the lines and lifted it to her nose and inhaled it.

"Fuck it. I'm up now."

She sat down on the chair across from us and stretched her legs on the table, the shirt came down to about mid-thigh.

"I'm Lucia, who are you?," she asked.

Audrey introduced us while Tino went to the kitchen.

"You two together?," she asked us.

"Uh, yeah, at least right now," I said.

"You fine," she said.

"Uh, thanks," I said.

"Not you, her."

Maybe I wasn't going to be shot after all. Maybe I'd finally have the threesome that I was too cheap to pay for and that would never happen in AA. Sober girls tended to have gotten all that out of their system. Of course, I had a knack for finding girls who had already gotten their threesome out of their system.

"Those are some nice shoes," Lucia said.

"Thanks," Audrey said.

I noticed just the slightest bit of tension in Audrey's voice. Funny. Coming over here to score, not a big deal. Sitting here with Tino while the munchkins made baggies. Whatever. Some chick eye fucks her and she freaks out.

I looked back at Lucia who had shifted her legs to a most un-lady like position. I was drawn to the tattoo on her inner thigh.

"Nice ink," I said, regretting the words as soon as they left my mouth.

Lucia looked down at her thigh and lifted it up to give a better view.

"Thanks," she said.

"Did it hurt?," I asked.

"Felt good," she said.

I could feel Audrey's eyes burning into me but fuck it, a hot girl with a t-shirt on was flashing and I wasn't going to look away.

"Yo, Tino what the fuck you doing in there? Bring me a drink bitch."

"What about you two, are you together," I asked. Suddenly I was mister chatterbox.

"Fuck no," she said.

"Oh then ..." I started to say when Audrey jumped in.

"Hey Tino, can I have a beer too?"

"Beast of Burden" started to play as I grabbed my cigarette and took a deep drag.

"You got one of those for me baby?," Lucia said.

I reached into my pack and handed her a cigarette. She grabbed it and put it in her mouth and stared at me. I stared back and after a few seconds she looked down at the matches and back at me.

"This cigarette isn't going to light itself," she said.

"My bad," I said not believing I really just said "my bad."

I grabbed the matches stood over her and lit one and held it up to her cigarette. While I was doing that she shifted her legs and gently brushed her foot against my calf while she inhaled. I stepped back and sat down hoping my response to her little tease wasn't noticeable either in my pants or to Audrey. The former seemed fine, but the latter gave Lucia a look. While that look might have worked on some upper east side girl flirting with your boyfriend, to a girl like Lucia it didn't even register.

I'm delusional, but I didn't think for a second that Lucia had any interest in me. This was about everyone else in the room.

Tino came back out of the kitchen with a beer for Audrey, what looked like a margarita for Lucia and another beer for me.

"You not having anything," I asked.

"I don't drink," said Tino.

"Never?," I asked.

"It stopped working for me," he said.

Great, I found the only sober drug dealer in the city.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

She's Nothing But Trouble VIII

It had been dark for awhile when we hit the street. My gut told me this was a bad idea. I knew I should just bail. Call a pal and forget this night. Whatever was ahead was not going to be as fun as what was behind me.

At the same time, I was too wired to just sit around. The beast was awake.

"How much you have on you," she asked.

"I need to hit a machine."

"Me too."

"There's one at the Americana. Then we'll grab a cab."

"What's wrong?"

"What do you mean?"

"You sound ... I don't know, not happy."

"I'm not happy."

"Why? You just got high and fucked and now you're about to do it again. What's the problem?

"I'm afraid I'll only get fucked this time."

"Would that be so bad?"

"Not what I meant."

"What then."

"Forget it."

I resisted the urge to tell her my story. Somehow telling someone you just had sex with that you tossed away your sobriety on them didn't seem like such a bright idea. But inside I was beating myself up. As soon as we got in the cab I was popping open one of those Coronas. I needed it bad.

At the deli I headed to the cooler and grabbed two of those big bottles of Corona while Audrey hit the cash machine. I watched her dig into her purse and pull out her card. Her dress was wrinkled and she definitely looked a little fucked up but still hot. I tried to will an erection. Anything to stop the rage that was racing through me making me want to run out in front of Broadway and get run over or go for some cop's gun and hope he'd shoot me.

I walked over to the money machine and took out $300. Actually it was $302.50 with the bullshit service charge but anyway. Audrey was at the register buying smokes.

"Get me two packs of reds, sweetie."

"OK honey," she said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

I joined her at the register, plopped my beers down and bought a little bottle opener and threw it all in the bag. The guy behind the counter who had been making my cheeses steaks, fries and coffee for the past few years smiled at me.

"So, big night?," he asked.


"It's been a long time since you've bought any beer or smokes. Thought you'd turned over a new leaf."

I could feel Audrey's eyes on me as I waited for my change for the beers and the opener.

"Well," I said looking at her and then him, "sometimes a strong breeze comes in and blows the leaf right back."

"I hear that," he said, giving Audrey the once over.

I put the beers in Audrey's bag and headed out the door.

"What was that about?" she asked.

"What was what?

"What he said about turning over a new leaf."

"I don't know. Go to a different deli for awhile and someone looks for deep philosophical reasons for it."

"Uh huh," she said. "You're a bit of mystery mister, but I'll solve it."

"Tie me up and burn me and see if I talk."

"OK, but after we run our errand."

"We could skip it and just head to your place," I said hoping to change her mind about our little crosstown jaunt.

"If you want me to tie you up then I need fuel to make it worth your while."

I gave up. Frankly I didn't even want to be tied up. I was now officially going through the motions. Audrey was no different than everything else in my life. I always looked for someone or something to fill what was missing in me and never realizing that didn't work. Now that the chase was over there seemed to be little need to keep her around. For a split second I even thought of bailing. But this was like some bad movie that I was determined to see through to the end since I'd already thrown my money away.

We walked down Broadway towards 100th when a cab went by. I handed her the bag from the deli, hustled ahead and hit the trunk and he pulled over. Then I opened the door and Audrey climbed in, slid over put her bag down and crossed her legs causing her dress to ride up a little which was enough to remind me that things could be worse. I got in next to her, shut the door and told the driver to take us to First Avenue and 116th. Then I grabbed a beer from the bag, popped it open and took a swig and kissed her neck.

"Nice, but I'd rather have a sip," she said reaching for my beer.

"You want one?"

"No, I'll just share yours."

"What about you?," I said to the driver who, of course, was babbling in some Middle Eastern dialect on his cellphone. If Subway sandwich shops were Al-Qaeda sleeper cells, than the cabbies were the couriers spreading the word.

As we headed east and into Central Park I grabbed the beer from Audrey and kissed her while sliding my hand up her dress. I was half-expecting to feel flesh but she had indeed put her panties back on. I worked by hand under and started to tease her a little. Before I could progress the cab went into skid and nearly clipped a bus as came out the other side of the park.

"Sorry, sorry," the driver mumbled.

"I got an idea. Why don't you hang up the phone and focus on the driving," I said.

"Shhh," Audrey said punching me.

"Sorry, sorry," he said again.

"Are you even talking to me?," I asked.

No response and soon we were heading down 96th Street towards First Avenue. Traffic was light and it wasn't long until we were cruising up First and the neighborhood got uglier with each block. Lots of noise on the street and people hanging on stoops. This doesn't look like the Upper West Side anymore, Toto.

It's not like I'd never been here before. My past had included many visits to assorted projects and slums and in the grand scheme of things the outskirts of East Harlem wasn't the worst I'd seen.

But I knew now just how lucky I'd been. I put myself in some very stupid situations in pursuit of blow and broads. I was supposed to be smarter than that now.

I looked over at Audrey and she was putting on lipstick.

"Making yourself pretty for Tino?," I said sarcastically.

"You've worn out my lips honey, I just want to make them pretty again."

The cab pulled up at 116th and First.

"What's the address?," I asked.

"I have it in my bag," she said.

"Well, find it now. I don't want to be walking down the street looking like we don't know where we're going."

"OK, OK, jeez, you'd think this was your first time buying drugs."

"That's the whole point. I don't want us to look like it's the first time we're doing this. They smell that."

"Who is they?," she said.

"Don't go there," I said while handing the driver a twenty.

"OK, I got it. 110 116th, apartment 5R,"

I looked around and saw the even numbers were on the other side of the street. I spotted the building. The front was covered in graffiti and there was a welcome wagon hanging outside on the stoop drinking and smoking. Up and down the street were what looked like lookouts but maybe I was being paranoid. I had just watched Serpico the other night and this building could've passed for the one he got shot in.

We got out of the cab and started to cross the street. Audrey reached for my hand and I pushed it away.

"Nice. You'll make a great boyfriend," she said.

"Holding hands in strange terrain makes you look vulnerable," I said.

"No, it makes you look like a jerk."

"Fine," I said, grabbing her hand.

"Much better, hope for you yet."

I had a feeling at this point there wasn't much hope for us at all.