The Doctor sits in a toilet stall in a shopping mall under a short-circuiting blue light meant to stop him shooting up, which is practically useless against a junkie who had put in so many years perfecting his art. Strictly for amateurs and kids shooting up their first hit of Robitussin DM, he thinks, sneering to himself, as he slips the loaded syringe from his dirty overcoat pocket. He knows his veins as intimately as someone who spends a lifetime in New York or London would know the underground transit lines. Even under the eyestrain-blue glow he can see them mapped out like one of those charts in a doctor’s waiting room. He ties the handkerchief around his upper arm and rolls his shirt sleeve up. He concentrates hard and wills the blood to find its way around his ailing system and into the diversion created by the needle. The mind trick works: blood floods into the syringe and, ripping the handkerchief off of his arm with his teeth, he unloads the hit into his bloodstream. His usual stoic calm floods him. Today is a special day—it is his granddaughter’s birthday.
He has an address but nothing more. The last time he had so much as spoken to his daughter she told him that he should have nothing to do with either of them. He imagines her clearly though, a laughing little girl with dark hair and large round eyes, dancing over a suburban lawn in a light summer dress. . . . Every year he sends a present and every year he hears nothing. He has never attempted a more overt form of contact. He is too old, and in a way he likes things the way they are, even though it makes him feel sick late at night sometimes. Human interaction is a messy business and this relationship with a five-year-old girl he has never seen has proved to be one of the most lasting of his life. The Doctor is an old man, and by junkie standards he is practically a walking miracle. He has no time for drastic changes left.
Coming to the mall is a profound culture shock for the Doctor. The images of blonde smiling celebrities he doesn’t recognize make him uneasy. Perfumes bearing the names of pop singers, or endorsed by reality TV show contestants, confuse him. Everybody here seems like they’ve been drugged by the corporations who run the mall, beaten into a dumb passivity. Is he the only one left who doesn’t care about Jennifer Lopez, or Paris Hilton or Donald Trump? While he was in the street waiting to score or in the bathroom fixing or nodding out on his bed, did the world get taken over by these tanned, white-teethed monsters in some sort of bloodless coup? Should he know who Tommy Hilfiger or Sean John is, why people wear their names across their chests like branded cattle? No, the mall makes the Doctor uncomfortable and nervous, and he is always glad to be back on his own stomping ground, around his own people.
In Toys R Us he selects a suitable-looking doll, licensed from a television show he has never seen. He wonders absently if she watches it. What are her favorite foods? Is she afraid of the dark? The thoughts could make his head spin if he carried on this line of inquiry so he stops and makes his way to the check out. Fat American women with big hair and large asses wander past him pushing carts full of products in a kind of synchronized daze. He pays the young black girl at the checkout, smiles his thin half-smile, and is on his way. He knows he probably could have stolen the doll quite easily—the security guards were complacent and bored. But not this, not today. Then he would be no better than the monster his daughter told insisted he was.
The Doctor knows he isn’t a monster. He is just out of time. He has been at this game a lifetime—what would be left for him now even if he could quit somehow? A normal life? Would he have to start caring about TV shows and pop singles and politics (of course, nothing too REAL—just the shit they spoon-feed you on TV) and what label his shirt was? How could he do that? He still has his dignity. No, for all of the ruinous damage his habit has inflicted upon his body and soul, this is the Doctor’s life now and nothing can be done. In his twilight years he has found a peace with that and realizes that all of the whimsical thoughts he used to carry around—about the day he would check into rehab and clean up for good—were never going to turn into reality, and he is able to let those thoughts go for good. They float up into the perfect blue desert sky like lost birthday balloons and weigh him down no more.
The Doctor posts the birthday present without a note and goes down to the corner, where he has arranged to meet an old black cat called Johnny D he knows from the methadone clinic.
“Heyyy. . . .” Johnny D exclaims as the Doctor approaches slowly, “It’s my man, the Doctor. How’s it going, Doc?”
“Oh. . . . Long day, Johnny, long day.” The Doctor sighs.
“They all are, man, getting longer and harder all the goddamn time.”
“What you got for me?”
Johnny D has a thin worn face, like a piece of stone blasted and eaten away by the elements. The teeth he has left are a greasy yellow and the false set on the top row whistle when he speaks. He is wearing the same dirty wife-beater and ratty blue pinstripe suit he always seems to wear and gives off a rank, animal odor. He reaches into the jacket and produces a strip of tablets from the pocket, handing them over.
“Hmmm,” the Doctor says, appraising the merchandise with a master’s eye. “Physeptone tablets, ten milligrams. That’s methadone from the UK or Canada. Lessee, we got ten tablets here. . . . Whaddya say thirty bucks?”
“Thirty bucks? Aw, Jesus, Doc don’t try and skin me, man. Forty and that’s a special price ’cause you a friend.”
“Forty?” The Doc chews the inside of his cheek and huffs air in deliberation. He is tired, his bones ache. Forty dollars was a good price.
“Okay, forty bucks, but I want first pass if you get any more of this shit.”
“Shit, Doc,” Johnny D says, slipping the two bills into his pocket. “Always, man, always. You ain’t a customer, you a friend. We go back, brother.”
“Yeah, yeah. . . . See you around, Johnny.”
“Stay cool, Doc.”
The Doctor smiles to himself as he walks back to his place. Friend. Nobody has friends in the dope scene, just people you’re less inclined to screw over than others. He takes seven 10mg tablets and drinks them with a cup of water from his faucet before settling down to read a little. The evening is drawing in and he can feel the methadone warming his bones. . . .
. . . . He drifts back to a doctor’s operating room sometime in the early ’50s. It was more of a gentleman’s game then, and sometimes the doctors knew he was conning them for prescriptions but they didn’t seem to mind. It was obvious to them that he had had some kind of medical training and they pitied him, the Doctor supposed, seeing him as a victim of a simple human weakness. When he came in with one of his exotic and painful complaints, reciting off the symptoms like a professional, they sometimes smiled. As long as they both kept up the pretence, both men would walk away with their dignity intact. The doctor still felt like a professional who was helping the less fortunate in society, while the Doctor had enough morphine to keep him going for another few days. This one guy in his suit behind his desk, why is he in the Doctor’s thoughts now? It is a blurry memory; he made the guy a couple of times for prescriptions, nothing more. His office used to be on Mariposa Avenue. . . . All gone now. A Botanica or a check cashing joint now probably. . . . The guy was the same age as him. He remembers that this one, though, broke their unspoken agreement and addressed the issue directly.
“This will, uh, have to be the last prescription I write for you. It’s nothing personal. I just can’t . . . in good conscience . . . continue to prescribe these drugs knowing of your . . . condition. After this prescription, if you would like some . . . help . . . I will be happy to refer you elsewhere. Otherwise I’m afraid this must be the last time we . . . uh . . . meet.”
The Doctor just took his prescription, put his windbreaker back on, and replaced his snap-brim hat, tipping it.
“Thank you,” he said, “It’s been a pleasure.”
The Doctor finds himself absently wondering about him. Where is he now? Alive or dead? Maybe dying of natural causes as his children and a laughing dark-haired granddaughter with large, round eyes surround his bed in a nice middle-class home in the suburbs. The shadows draw into the Doctor’s one-bedroom shack in East Hollywood, but the methadone keeps him insulated. Sometimes, drugs are the nearest an addict can get to the familial warmth others expect from time to time. . . . It is a lonely insular life, but one that thrives upon dependability. Maybe that is why quitting is so hard—the randomness and unpredictability of life without junk becomes unbearable to someone who has gone for a long period without experiencing it. Like stepping into the blazing sunlight after years underground—except in this case the eyes never truly readjust to the unbearable brightness. The pain gets less over the years, but it still throbs like a time bomb in the head primed to blow your skull apart. . . .
A knock on his door rouses him sometime later.
“Who is it?” the Doctor asks, trying to determine the time of the evening but unable to tell. It seems to be pitch black outside of his window, like nothing exists anymore beyond the expanse of this room.
“You know who it is,” says a voice that seems to resonate from inside of his head. “You’ve been waiting for me.”
The Doctor understands. Of course he has been waiting. He has been waiting all of his life, just life every other fool born on this planet.
“You’d better come in,” the Doctor says to the encroaching void.
From the collection Dreams that Money Can Buy Volume 4: The Death of the Art Whore.
Copyright © by Tony O’Neill.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
IT WAS THE SUMMER OF 2000, AND I HAD GONE QUITE MAD. AT the time I did not think I was mad, but I recognize in retrospect that I was. At the time I thought that the world had gone mad, and I was the only sane one left. I can now point to three concrete expressions of my madness: the Joe Meek thing (which I will come back to), my “episodes” (this also comes later), and my cocaine habit.
I was a compulsive injector of cocaine. Me and Susan both. Her habit was a real oil burner—she was a pig for coke—and I soon adjusted to fit her rhythm for shooting.
I don’t know who is hearing these words. That is one of the strange things about writing these Confessions. I get to unburden my soul, without having to promise to behave in the future, as when I was a Catholic. Writing is a grim compulsion, just like the coke was, the giddiness and lighthearted contentment that comes after a violent purging. But where do these words go? Will you be revolted by what I have to say? Will you understand? Will you be turned on? The people who get turned on by my stuff sometimes send me emails. They track me down like jilted lovers, all hot and bothered, and wound up. They send me emails that say “I just got thru with your book. It gave me fuckin’ chills. I am so fucking jacked up right now. I’ve been smoking meth for two days straight, and when my eyes can’t focus anymore I jack off to midget porn. My dick is all bloody. This DVD I’m watching, The Midget Brides of Count Fistula, has been on for like three days straight. I took some Xanax too, and drank a jug of wine. Anyway write to me, yeah? If my heart don’t give out tonight I’ll send you some of my poems tomorrow. They kick your poems’ ass.”
The others, I don’t know about. Writing these stories and sending them off into the world feels a little bit like sticking your prick through a glory hole.
Anyway, some of you might have snorted coke, in which case I should explain that injecting cocaine might as well be a totally different drug. Some of you might have smoked cocaine, in which case you’ll know a little about that feeling when your head explodes like a thousand alarm clocks all shrieking in unison, or where you try to talk but your voice sounds metallic, robotic, alien. Injecting coke had a hold on me that crack never did: I get psychosomatic pains in my poor dog-chewed veins when I sit down to do the math: a conservative estimate of seven injections an hour, multiplied by eighteen hours a day (I’m knocking off the six hours to account for having to score more coke, or veins that don’t work, or any of the other bullshit that screws up a good coke run) spread out over just a short, two-day run, amounts to two hundred and fifty two injections in the space of forty-eight hours. Just think about that. And these were no easy, clinical injections. There was no time for the niceties of alcohol swabs, or even new needles. Often they would be as barbed as medieval instruments of torture, and my blood would splatter and splash mad patterns on the linoleum.
But, my God, what a rush.
Maybe some of you have injected coke. If you have, you’re probably sitting there, right now, with your eyes half closed, a picture of both horror and blissful recollection. Oh God, you are probably thinking, it was horrible. The worst time of my life. But when it HIT! Jesus, it felt good.
Word to the wise—it helps to have a project when you’re on coke. Otherwise you could pick your skin right through to the bone, or rob a liquor store just to burn up the excess energy. My project was a screenplay, based on the life of eccentric British music producer Joe Meek.
I was writing a screenplay because I lived in LA. I’d see dreadful movies on the TV, and think: “I could do better than that.” I’d meet mediocre people who had nice cars, white teeth, clean underwear, blonde girlfriends with breast implants, and pools in their back yards. All of this acquired by sucking on the teat of the film industry. I met Michael Landon’s son at a party, and he told me he was writing the movie script based on a book I loved—Another Day in Paradise by Eddie Little. Larry Clark was going to direct. I saw the movie years later, and it was worse than garbage. Michael Landon’s son had a career. Shit, most of these losers didn’t even get CLOSE to the teat itself. They’d wait until someone’s mouth got full and they’d dribbled out a bit of the good life. Then those motherfuckers would get down in the dirt, and lap it straight up. Even the dogs were doing better than I was. Fuck it—I wanted to be a dog. I had no pride anymore; it had been beaten out of me. So I started to write my screenplay.
Back to the strange people who email me from time to time. What I can’t figure is this—how do they have access to computers? I had a computer, a small laptop, but I had exchanged it for two hundred dollars and a pawn ticket from a shop on Hollywood Boulevard about two days after shooting coke for the first time. How do these guys manage to pay their phone bills so they can email me and tell me about all of the drugs in their system? The reason I mention this, is to give you a mental picture of my screenplay in progress. Susan and I had broken into her parents’ house one evening while they slept. We stayed in their office, high on heroin, and I printed out about forty pages snatched from the Internet on the life of Joe Meek. Now the pages were on the floor of our apartment, directly in front of the couch. The apartment smelled bad and was extremely dirty. There were garbage bags full of rotting food and shit like that sitting by the door, which we both refused to walk out to the garage dumpster. I mean, shit, the Feds could be out there, or Godzilla, or the sun, or something equally terrifying. A week prior I had found Susan’s pet cat dead from neglect under the kitchen sink, and I had thrown its corpse out of the window for the coyotes to eat. But a strange stench remained, and even I—whose nose had long been conditioned to the smells of the place—had begun to notice it.
When I’d inject coke my body temperature would shoot up, like the blood was boiling in my veins. I was constantly walking around in the chaos of the apartment naked, sweating, and wild-eyed, caked in blood, often having to pull shards of glass or the spikes from discarded syringes from out the soles of my feet.
In the frantic moments after shooting up, and before the crash began (maybe ten minutes at a time) I would work on my screenplay. This meant that I would perch on the couch, 135 lbs of naked, starved flesh, and stare at the fragments of Joe Meek’s life, trying to see them from such an angle, that they would form a perfect whole.
My movie was going to start with Joe Meek in his home recording studio, shotgun in hand, standing over the body of his landlady. He has just shot her in the face, presumably in the grip of some kind of psychotic episode. This takes place in the moments before he sucks on that still warm barrel himself. Also in the room is Buddy Holly, Meek’s idol, who died eight years earlier to the day. So I guess it’s Buddy Holly’s ghost. Or a figment of Joe’s fractured mind. In three or more months, that was as far as I’d got. I wanted the film to be a series of hallucinatory biographical fragments, like Meek’s life flashing before his eyes as he prepared to die. I stared at the forty pages, rearranged them, and shuffled them, over and over for three months. I had an empty composition book, and I gripped the pen between my teeth staring at the pages, willing the screenplay to come.
The crash from shooting coke comes on like the prelude to a thunderstorm. Something imperceptible changes in the atmosphere. A light burns out in another room and the ambience around you shifts slightly. You try to ignore it because you have promised yourself that you would not shoot up again for at least thirty minutes. You look at your watch, and wish that you hadn’t. You shot up just six minutes ago. You try not to think about what’s coming, but even in denying the thought you have acknowledged that the coke is wearing off. The floor gapes open in front of you, and you look down. You are on the precipice of a great pit of despair. Your mind starts screaming again. You wonder if you can make it another twenty-four minutes without taking a knife to yourself. It seems impossible. The cinema screen in my mind starts to fade, and the Joe Meek puzzle starts to unravel. The pages before me are written in Sanskrit.
The last day of it I was going through this, naked, perched on the end of the couch, when I unexpectedly started to projectile vomit. I suddenly let out a great, wet groan and the vile-tasting, burning, bright yellow stomach acid erupted from me complete with abstract expressionist swirls of crimson. It splattered all over Joe Meek. I sat there, dumbfounded, and wiped my mouth with a shaky hand. Then it happened again, just as violently, just as unexpectedly. BLLEEEAAAUUUGGGHHH. And again. BLLLEEAAAAUUUGH.
I looked down at the pages. All but a handful were submerged in the contents of my stomach. The letters were melting away, becoming fluid and unstable.
“Hey, Susan,” I yelled.
There was no reply.
I stepped over the puke. I walked past the kitchen and into the bedroom. Susan was in bed with Genesis. Genesis was a whore who worked out of Koreatown. She had moved in with us some weeks ago. She was in her bra and panties, sleeping the sleep of someone who had been awake for three days smoking meth and fucking. Susan was in her pajamas. They were curled up like lovers. Susan had a thing for Genesis, but Genesis was still pretty because she didn’t use needles like we did. Anyway, Susan had a good fifteen years of drug use on Genesis. Genesis and I fucked sometimes, but she said that Susan was too old and chewed-up looking. Whenever Genesis staggered back to the apartment stinking of meth and sex to crash, Susan would curl up in bed with her like a lovestruck puppy.
“Susan,” I said, shaking her awake.
“I finished it!” I told her.
Now she was awake.
“You finished the coke?”
“Yeah, almost,” I said, “But I’m not talking about that. I finished the Joe Meek thing!”
“That’s nice,” she said, curling up against Genesis’s skin and closing her eyes. I rapped my knuckles on her skull, insistently. She blinked awake again.
“Come and see.”
I grabbed her by the hand and pulled her off the bed. Genesis was out cold. I pulled Susan into the room. I took her over to the couch. We both stood there, in front of the pile of disintegrating papers, vomit, and bile.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I asked.
I looked at her, grinning and grinding my teeth maniacally. She looked at the pile. She looked at me. She looked at the pile again. She said, “I need a shot.”
Coke is a terrible drug, and I say that as someone who does not condemn drug use as a lifestyle choice. But coke is an anti-creative drug, in my experience. I have written drunk, or stoned on a variety of substances: meth, weed, heroin, alcohol, kratom, caffeine, Vicodin, Dilaudid, and mushrooms. Not always good writing, or even writing that would make sense to a mind not already scrambled with intoxicants. But on coke? Nothing.
Stephen King claims to have written several books on coke. I am not Stephen King. I would be hard-pressed to sit still long enough to write my own name if I was on coke right now.
I had already been shooting Mexican tar heroin for a long time before I ever slammed coke. Although no one’s idea of the perfect son, I was at least functional and somewhat sane. Within six months of shooting coke, I was on my knees. I’d forget to eat or drink for days at a time, and I’d wake up shivering, lips cracked dry and bloody, like I had just been found wandering the Sahara. The first of my teeth to snap right out of my mouth went when I was shooting coke. Even my friends at the needle exchange, dope fiends, deviants and IV junkies to a man (or woman) would tell me: “Jesus, you look like death warmed up.”
So I knew that slamming coke was bad deal, and I would try to quit every so often. But Susan would never try along with me. So when I was off of it she’d still spend hundreds of dollars a day on coke, except that this time she’d slam it all herself. That’s when the seizures started. Her eyes would roll back in her head before she’d even got the needle out of her, she’d go “uh-uh-uh” and she’d start twisting up like her skeleton was trying to claw its way out of her flesh. After one of two episodes like this I’d start shooting along with her so I didn’t have to watch it. If I put half of the shit in my own veins, she wouldn’t have fits. I was a real pragmatist. I’d slide the needle inside of me, taking one for the team.
The episodes started around this time. At first I thought that my brain was malfunctioning. Maybe it was—the effect of shooting coke is comparable to attaching electrodes to your brain and repeatedly giving yourself a jolt for kicks. Even before the needle is out of your arm, you taste it: a clean, bleached, metallic taste that wells up from inside of you like a miniature cleaning crew just scrubbed out your guts and lungs with Ajax. Your hair has that crispy, singed feeling, like you were just struck by lightning. Your brain starts operating on several conflicting levels at once. It’s like trying to make sense of the chatter emanating from several detuned radios all blaring at the same time.
Have you ever seen someone who’s had too many rounds of electro-convulsive therapy? The light simply goes out behind their eyes. The receptors burn out. Chronic coke use is comparable to that. The first sign that something in my brain was burning out was the goddamned episodes.
I’d woken up in the small hours.
My eyes were still half shut, and I could see the familiar dim room around me. The air was heavy with stale cigarette smoke and sweat. Susan, somewhere off to the side of me, snoring slightly. But something was wrong. A great, invisible weight was upon me. I was not in control of my breathing, my chest was rising and falling shallow, not enough to get all of the oxygen I needed. Like some vast pressure was weighing down upon me, crushing the air out of my insides. I tried to suck in more air, but my chest would not comply. I try to move my head, my arms, my fingers, and my toes.
Oh God, something was wrong with me.
I was completely paralyzed.
I thought about the last hit of coke I took, before I shot the heroin and swallowed Valium. Oh God, that was the one that did it to me. An agent of destruction that shot up my veins and into my brain, waiting for me to fall asleep before it took an axe to the soft, inner workings of my cerebellum. A vegetable! I tried to talk, but the tongue was slack and heavy in my mouth, and all I could manage was a low, despairing groan.
I saw it all laid out before me. Not even the good fortune to just overdose and get it over with, oh no, not me! I imagined myself in a wheelchair, shitting in my pants, withered up, with Susan looking after me, now my jailor, keeper, mother, God, chain-smoking and wiping the drool from my chin. Screaming with my eyes: “KILL ME. KILL ME YOU STUPID BITCH. KILL ME.”
And her patting me on the head. . . . “There, there. . . . Calm down. . . . You need to go potty? Well, hold on. . . .”
Watching her as she pulls out the spoon and starts coking up the dope right in front of me. The sweet, sweet smell of cooking heroin drifting up to my nose, the water fizzling, and frantically I am making that low, mongoloid noise again, the only noise I can manage anymore. In my head it is a scream that makes the windows for a three-mile radius shatter, explode, showering the streets with so much glass that it looks like a Norman Rockwell winter scene. But in reality it sounds like “Uuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-uh-gug.”
And Susan, my mother, God, jailor, keeper smiles emphatically and says, “Oh no, baby, not in your condition! You could die or something!”
While I’m imagining the horrible scenario, I am suddenly talking to God again. Not just God, but all of those saints and martyrs from hushed classrooms of my youth: God, Jesus, St. Anthony, St. Patrick, Padre Peo, um, all the rest of you, please, please let this pass, I swear, I swear I will never, never, shoot coke again. Never! Okay, okay, no dope either. No needles, I swear. Please! I’ll go to church. I’ll go next Christmas. I promise! I, um, look, I can’t promise you that I won’t get drunk or high again, but come on! I never hurt anyone. Not too badly. I never stole from real people, stores have insurance and shit, I never grabbed no old lady’s purse, oh Jesus Christ please. . . .
And I’m making the “Uuuuuhhhhhh-uh-gug” sound again, a groan of despair from the depths of my soul, and as I carry on praying and groaning Susan wakes a little, and elbows me in the ribs sleepily muttering “Shut the fuck up!”
Oh, miracle! I felt it! I felt her elbow digging into my ribs. For a split second the paralyzing weight on me shifted, and I started to move. I twitched! But my muscles were weak and tired. I was groaning louder now, as if I was rising to the top of some vast pool of darkness, “UUUUUUUHHHHHHHH-UH-GUG” and Susan, GOD BLESS HER GODDAMNED BONY ELBOWS, shoves me again and says “Shut UP, fucker! Jesus CHRIST!”
And that does it.
I sit up straight and suck in a great gulp of air. I can see the dawn slowly creeping in through the curtains. I am bathed in sweat, and panting like a dog. I am whole again. It’s all over. I go to the kitchen and cook up a shot of dope. I swear off of coke, and true to my word, I don’t shoot any for almost six days.
I figured I’d had some kind of seizure. The first signs that my neuron-transmitters were burning out like old Christmas lights. The next one happened a week or so later. The same routine. This time I wasn’t as panicked. I concentrated on making my groan loud enough that Susan’s elbow would clatter into my ribs, and I would be jolted out of my paralysis. I learned how it worked: once awake I would have to sit up and shake my head, maybe slap myself in the face a few times. If I just turned over and went back to sleep, the fog of paralysis would settle on me again, immediately.
Genesis thought that I was possessed by evil spirits. I liked Genesis, even though she tended to say stupid things like that. Genesis was beautiful, in her own way. She was pale, and blonde, delicate with a heart-shaped face. She had pale blue eyes that made her look icy and distant. It was a face that had a pall of tragedy about it. I couldn’t tell if she was really beautiful, or I was just attracted to all of that tragedy. I once met the other girls who worked with her at the bars in Koreatown, and none of them seemed too beautiful. Maybe it was because I didn’t know about their broken homes, broken hearts, broken spirits. Her previous boyfriend had been a dentist who got his kicks by dominating her. His favorite thing was to restrain her and administer drugs intravenously. That was why she didn’t like needles anymore. One time he loaded her up with a massive dose of Ketamine, and while she was out of it, he brought other guys over to screw her. The first she knew of it was when they watched the video back together. They had a huge fight because one of the guys was black. Genesis didn’t like black guys because two black guys raped her when she was fourteen. This was when she had run away from home to escape her abusive stepfather. She had only been off of the Greyhound bus for two hours when she ran into them. They promised her a place to stay, and a party, and instead they raped and beat her in a motel room near Alvarado Street. They took all of her money, too. Like I said, Genesis was tragic. I was fascinated by her resilience. But that was the end of the dentist. She told me he cried like a baby when she dumped him.
Genesis was into a lot of bullshit, like shakras and crystals and auras. She tried to cleanse my aura the night of the second episode, and then we smoked meth together and fucked quietly in the kitchen so as not to wake up Susan.
“You can’t get pregnant, can you?” I asked her.
She flicked a greasy strand of hair from her forehead and said, “No, honey. My insides are all chewed up. And, anyway, I took my pill this morning.”
We had a dealer called Charles, who was a real cocksucker. His coke had been getting weak recently. He was an old connection, someone I knew from the days before needles came into it and I used to buy a few grams to snort on the weekends. Charles didn’t give credit, a cardinal sin for a drug dealer, and he wasn’t even punctual when dropping off his shitty, overpriced coke. We had about four or five other regular dealers now, all gang bangers from East LA, MacArthur Park, and Pico-Union. After meeting these guys, we didn’t fear Charles anymore. A drug dealer is like a husband or wife: once you lose respect for them, it’s all over. So we decided to cut Charles loose.
To pay him back for all of his shit, we stung him on the last deal. We ordered two eight-balls, and had him drive all the way over to our place before we laid the news on him that we didn’t have the money. Well, Susan laid the news on him. I hit under the bed with the baseball bat, listening to the goings on in the living room. Susan figured that there was a better chance of this working if she was home alone.
“Dealers take pity on chicks more,” she told me.
Charles was pissed, though.
“Bitch, I tol’ you I don’t give credit! God DAMN!”
“I know! Genesis was on her way home with the money, but she got a call. She had to take the job. Six Korean businessmen, big tippers, the whole deal. . . .”
“Bitch, I don’t care what arrangement you got with that white trash ho you be livin’ with. What I care about is my money! When does the bitch get back?”
“Man, it could be tomorrow morning! Look, Charles. . . . here. Here’s a check—”
“A CHECK? Who you think I am? Drug dealers don’t take no checks!”
“Shit, Charles, I know! It’s not to be used. It’s collateral. Hold on to the check until tomorrow and I’ll call you as soon as I have the cash. But you gotta promise not to deposit the check, man. They’ll clear it, but I’ll get in all kinds of shit with the bank ’cause I’m a little overdrawn. I’ll pay like a hundred dollars in fees and shit. But just hold into it for insurance—”
“Oh shit. I don’t like this, man—”
“Charles—how long we been coming to you? Genesis called me fifteen minutes ago. What the fuck could I do? Here.”
I heard her pressing the check into his hand. Charles grumbled, but he did eventually take the check and evaporate. Of course, the bank account was long since closed, and we were due to vacate the apartment in seven days. All we had to do was avoid Charles for a week, and then we were in the clear.
Two nights later, paralyzed, groaning, trapped in my own body, I heard glass shattering in the next room. The broken glass was being crunched underneath heavy sounding boots. My blood turned to ice when I heard Charles’ voice whispering in the next room.
“The motherfucking sons of bitches are in here, somewhere.”
“UUUUUUUUHHHHHH-UH-UG” I groaned.
Susan, well used to this routine now, didn’t even open her eyes. She just punched me in the arm and carried on sleeping. I jolted awake, scrambled over her, fell to the floor with a grunt, and started fishing under the bed for the baseball bat. Susan, sat up, confused.
“What the fuck are you. . . .”
I shushed her, baseball bat in hand, gripped by terror and unbearable waves of adrenaline. I rushed out of the bedroom, swinging the bat wildly, naked as the day I was born, and careened out into the deserted, quiet living room. I stood there, panting and uncomprehending.
Susan was behind me. She placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Are you feeling okay?” she asked.
I got my breathing under control. That’s when I realized that the episodes were nothing more than vivid dreams. I said, “Yeah, I’m okay. And what the fuck is that smell?”
Susan sniffed, trying to pick out the main offender from the smorgasbord of stench that pervaded our apartment.
“You mean the vomit?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s vomit.”
“It’s from when you threw up over there.”
Oh, yes. Joe Meek, I thought.
“We didn’t clean it up?”
“Well, when it dried out, I threw the papers in the garbage bag over there. But, you know, I didn’t MOP or anything.”
I nodded, looking sadly at the garbage bag.
“You threw out Joe Meek.” I said.
Susan yawned, “Yeah.”
Wasn’t this always the way with the movie industry? The good ones die before they even make it to the screen, yet somewhere out there, some asshole was shooting another sequel to American Pie. Hollywood, you promise so much and deliver so little.
I considered fishing Joe Meek out of the garbage, but instead decided to preserve the integrity of the project. At least there it was perfect. Nobody had gotten to it, made changes, cast a shitty daytime soap actor as Meek, given a role to Paris Hilton, or commissioned a soundtrack by Randy Newman. In the garbage bag it was perfect art, unspoiled by the opinions of others. No test screenings. No re-edits. No Hollywood ending tacked on. A masterpiece that no one else could see.
My last memory of that apartment was this:
I am in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet. Shooting coke I would sometimes get what I called brain farts—little mini-blackouts. I would come to, mid-action or mid-sentence, with no idea of what I was doing or saying.
So I come out of one of these things, and I am sitting on the toilet. There is a spoon in my hand, white powder and water in the spoon. I am stirring the solution with the plunger of a disposable syringe, and the barrel is gripped between my teeth. I don’t know how long I have been awake for, but I’m assuming days. These blackouts have happened so often that I am entirely nonplussed I just carry on preparing the shot.
I notice that the coke is turning the water milky. I wonder if I have got some bunk coke. I sniff it. It smells strange, like a public bathroom. I am about to say fuck it and shoot it anyway, when I notice the white powder all over the bathroom floor. A trail of it, leading back to an overturned container of Ajax bleach.
I sniff the spoon again.
I am sitting on the toilet, about to inject bleach. I toss the spoon and the liquid bleach into the sink.
I try to think back. Did I see the powder on the floor and assume that I had dropped some coke here? It’s possible. I have spent hours scouring the floors for grains of phantom coke, knowing very well that no coke fiend would ever DROP some of his shit without noticing.
Or was this a suicide attempt?
Suicide was always on my mind, in an abstracted kind of way. When something truly rotten would happen, I’d think, Well, you can always kill yourself. The thing that kept me going, I suppose, was a grim fascination about what was coming next. Surely it couldn’t get any worse? Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but it could and it did. But what if the priests and the madmen were right and there was a heaven? Or a hell? Do they have heroin in the afterlife? That’s why I couldn’t do it. I liked what I knew, and what I knew was drugs. I couldn’t bear the thought of all the drugs I would miss out on if I killed myself.
So the spoon was tossed, and I was still alive.
Joe Meek ended his own life at the age of thirty-seven. When this all happened, I was twenty-two years old. Joe Meek produced hundreds of singles in his lifetime, and had three number one hits. As for me, my screenplay was in the garbage, and so was my life. There was nothing left but the freefall now, the black wind rushing past my ears, the frozen moments in the small hours where I teetered in between life and death. Not quite alive. Not quite dead. Not quite Joe Meek.
Copyright © 2009 by Tony O’Neill.
Reprinted by permission of the author.