OK, we covered drinking already. You’re now an expert on skid row drunkenness. So we might as well move on to the real national pastime out here: dope. That’s one of the most important lessons of skid row: if you’re going to live out here at night, you’ve got to learn about dope. All kinds of dope. Booze may grease the skids, but dope is the fuel that makes our world go around. That’s not an exaggeration. For a lot of us out here, it’s the be-all and end-all of our existence. It’s a world unto itself and no one on the streets can avoid it. I don’t care how hard you try to stay clean; sooner or later you’ll end up doing some kind of dope. Stay out here long enough and you’ll probably end up doing them all. It doesn’t really matter what your poison is; they all lead you to pretty much the same place. An addict’s an addict; plain and simple. The particulars are different depending on what kind of dope you use, but in the end, the result is the same: you’re an addict. You’re hooked. You’re garbage. You’re the lowest of the low. You’re so low, you give parasites a bad name. But out here, it doesn’t matter. This is probably the only place in the world where it doesn’t make a bit of difference that you’re a lowlife drug addict. Hell, this is probably the only place on earth where you’re expected to be a lowlife drug addict. It’s practically part of the job description. If you’re out here and you’re not hooked on dope, then there’s something massively fucking wrong with you. Other than the members of the tinfoil hat crowd, I never met anyone out here who didn’t do some kind of dope. And I’ve met plenty of people who do every kind of dope in the world – sometimes all at once. I’m serious. I’ve seen guys with a pipe in their mouth, a needle in their arm and a soda to wash down the pills they just swallowed. Jesus, they might as well just stick a funnel up their ass and shove all the dope in there at once! Now that I think about it, I’ll bet someone out here has tried that. If it has to do with dope, someone out here must’ve tried it at least once. Christ! What does that tell you about us? What does that tell you about this fucking place?
So where should I start your education? I can’t start at the beginning because there is no beginning. Out here, it’s sort of like the chicken-and-the-egg-thing. You know, which came first? The fucking losers or the dope? That’s still an open question. Anyway, I guess we should start with the big two: crack and heroin. That’s a good place to start, right? Crack is without a doubt the most popular drug out here after cheap-assed wine. Crackheads outnumber junkies by about five hundred to one. You can’t swing a stick out here without hitting a dozen crackheads. Why is that, you ask? It’s because crack isn’t as disgusting as heroin and you can find it in the normal world almost as much as you can out here. You see, heroin’s a street drug. It’s low down and dirty. It scares people. You know, the needles and shit. There’s no place for it in squeaky clean suburbia. It’s too disgusting. Crack is more adaptable. You can hide it. Well, you can hide it for a while, at least. There are people smoking crack in nightclubs and board rooms and on their way to work. A lot of people are out here because they got hooked on crack back in their regular lives and it ruined them. They lost everything and they couldn’t get off of the crack, so they wound up out here. And once they got here, they ended up spending all of their time prowling around the alleys, looking for that fucking crack. Yeah, crack is a serious bitch.
Some people call it rock because it looks like these tiny, chalky white rocks. Others just call it base because it’s freebase. Crack, rock, freebase – a rose by any other name. That’s something else you need to learn. Every drug out here has at least fifty different names. What you call it often says a lot about you. And if you don’t know the names, you could be in big trouble. You might not know what you’re buying. Get them mixed up and you can find yourself in a world of shit. Anyway, you smoke crack. You snort coke, but you smoke crack. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so strong. It gets in the lungs and goes straight to your fucking brain. Bang! Instant fucking high! You can’t smoke the regular shit, though. I’m not sure why. Charlie says it burns too fast or something. It melts before it gets into your lungs. No, you have to freebase cocaine in order to smoke it, and that’s where the problems started. Problems? Shit, that’s putting it mildly! It used to be that in order to freebase, you had to use ether to make it work. That was insane. The ether fumes are ridiculously flammable and since you smoke freebase, you’re holding a lit match to what’s basically a bottle of fucking napalm. A lot of people literally went up in flames doing that shit. It wasn’t a drug for the timid. Then some genius figured out that you could make the freebase with water and baking soda and a cheap old hot plate and you wouldn’t have to worry about spontaneous human combustion anymore. Give that man a Nobel Prize! Whoever he was, he unleashed an epidemic that continues to this day. It certainly took a load off of the baseheads’ minds. Anyway, that really did it. Suddenly, crack was the shit. It was everywhere. That’s when all fucking hell broke loose.
Crack is addictive like nothing you ever saw. Even heroin doesn’t come close. You can shoot this lame-assed heroin they sell out here for a little while without getting hooked, but one or two hits off of a crack pipe and that’s it: you’re fucking hooked for life. Your first time in and it’s got you by the balls – or by the clit if you’re a woman. Hey, crack is an equal opportunity life-destroying drug. Let’s be fair. They say your first crack high is like fucking Nirvana. It’s that powerful. The problem is that for the rest of your life, crack is never as good as the first time you tried it. It’s not even close, or so I’m told. You keep on using because you want that original high back. You want to be on cloud nine again. But you can’t get there. You only get one ticket to chemical ecstasy, and it’s only good for the first time you try it. Smoking crack may be a blast after that, but it’s never the same. But you keep trying. You keep using. Your brain won’t let you stop. You spend the rest of your life chasing that almighty first-time high, but you never get there. You always think it’s just a matter of one more hit or something. It’s a fucking obsession. Crack completely takes over your life. It’s weird. You can still do a lot of shit when you’re a crackhead, but you don’t want to. All you want to do is get more crack, no matter what the consequences are. Like I said, it’s a royal fucking bitch.
Crack is cheap, too. That’s another reason why it’s such a motherfucker. It’s never out of reach. Coke used to be a glamour drug. It was a rich kid’s drug. When I was in high school, cocaine was a shiny white powder that cost a hundred dollars a gram, just like way back in the disco days. That’s fucking insane. A hundred bucks for a few lines of powder that would be gone in no time. I saw people go through a gram of that shit in less time than it took me to hammer back a whiskey sour. It was a rich kid’s drug, all right. There weren’t many of us who could afford it. If you bought any, you bought it by the half-gram or even a quarter-gram. And while it was good, the high didn’t last for more than about thirty minutes. I have to admit, I liked it at first. I especially liked the fact that I didn’t have to pay for it. Guys who had it would share it with a girl so she’d fuck them. It worked. It sure as hell worked on me. At the time, I probably would have fucked them even without the coke. As I already told you, I wasn’t too particular back then. Back then, I think I liked getting fucked as much as I liked getting high, so the coke was just sort of an added bonus.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I decided I didn’t like cocaine. For one thing, it’s sort of a stimulant. It’s not the same as crystal meth, but it definitely amps your ass up. It makes your thoughts race. I didn’t sleep very well in the first place and my thoughts were already racing out of control, so I didn’t need any help from the coke. There were other problems, too. Coke is supposed to make you feel better. According to an article I read once, it’s supposed to stimulate the part of your brain that controls pleasure. Well, that part of my fucked-up brain has been on the fritz almost since the day I was born, so I wasn’t exactly getting the full benefit. It also makes you kind of paranoid, and I definitely didn’t need that shit. So I finally gave up on it. Looking back, it was a good thing. I knew people who got hooked on it, and at a hundred dollars a gram, none of them could afford it. It got pretty ugly for some of them. God, imagine if we’d had crack back then! We’d have been robbing grandmothers at gunpoint to get that shit! Thank heaven for small favors, huh? Anyway, by the time I wound up out here and learned firsthand about crack, I had no interest in it at all. I’ve never tried it, and I’m not sorry. Being hooked on heroin was bad enough. A heroin fix lasts for hours. A crack fix lasts for minutes. Sometimes seconds. Both cost about the same, but since crack lasts for such a short time, you’re constantly buying more to keep yourself high. I’m not exactly made of money, so if I ever got hooked on crack I’d be in big fucking trouble.
What else? Oh, crack causes other problems. Like I said, it’s kind of like speed. Since it amps you up, you don’t eat. Ever. I’m not kidding. Spend some time out here and tell me if you ever see a crackhead eating. You won’t. Seeing a crackhead eat is like seeing a UFO: you hear about them, but you never see one yourself. Crack destroys your appetite. Sometimes crackheads don’t eat for days. They don’t sleep, either. The combination takes a heavy toll on your body. A lot of crackheads look like they were in a concentration camp or something. They’re walking skeletons. They walk around with their shirts off in the summer and you can see every bone in their bodies. And they’re so fucking wired that they can’t sit still. Crackheads are always bouncing off of the walls. Have you ever gone to a pet store and seen a Chinchilla run around in its cage at a thousand miles an hour? That’s a crackhead. Just take away the fur and the tail. It’s fucking ridiculous. Oh, and just try hiding from the cops with a crackhead sitting next to you. It’s like hiding next to a fireworks show. They’re a dead giveaway. Even worse, they can’t shut up. They ramble on incessantly. They’ll tell you the story of their lives at a hundred miles an hour even if they don’t have the slightest idea who you are. It’s as irritating as hell. I’ve heard crackheads babble so fast that I swear I couldn’t understand more than one word in fifty. I thought they were speaking a foreign language or something. Talk about annoying! A lot of crackheads get their asses kicked on a regular basis for being so annoying. That’s another side effect. It’s a really painful one, too.
Crack also fucks with your head big time. It’s like speed in that respect. Speed makes you paranoid. It also makes you psychotic if you use it long enough. It’s the same thing with crack; even worse than with regular coke. Crackheads are insanely paranoid, and crack-induced paranoia and skid row are a seriously bad mix. Hell, living out here is enough to turn paranoia into a terminal disease anyway. Think of what it’s like when you crank your paranoia to the fucking gills with a steady dose of crack. You’ll see crackheads running down the street with this wild look in their eyes, screaming at the top of their lungs about being chased by invisible shit. It’s a scary thing to see, particularly if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Crack fucks with your brain physically, too. It gives you seizures and they don’t go away after you stop smoking it. Half of the people out here are chewing Dilantin and Phenobarbital like bubblegum. They’re everywhere. The most uneducated motherfucker out here can tell you all about them. Dilantin is an anti-seizure medication. Phenobarbital is a painkiller. Those things don’t exactly mix well with crack, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it. Crackheads are like junkies in that respect. The doctors tell junkies not to mix methadone with heroin, but we all do it anyway. The doctors tell the crackheads not to mix Dilantin and Phenobarbital with crack, but they all do. Christ, how does a human body put up with this shit? It’s a wonder they don’t all just drop over dead! I guess the world isn’t that lucky.
And on the topic of seizures, not everyone who has seizures out here has them because they’re a crackhead. Oh, no! This is something you really need to know if you’re going to live out here. You see, another big cause of seizures out here is having your fucking head busted open. That shit happens all the time. There’s no shortage of people out here who’ve been cracked over the head with a nightstick or a two-by-four or even the odd cinder block. I know. I’m one of them. Fortunately, I didn’t end up with seizures. Just stitches. But I know plenty of people who did, and they’re on the pills because of it. And then you’ve got your basic hopeless drunks who just pass out and hit their head on the sidewalk and crack it open like an eggshell. The paramedics call that a sidewalk omelet. Yeah, there’s no shortage of traumatic head injuries on skid row. You can always tell someone who just got their skull cracked. They’re the ones wearing a huge white bandage wrapped around their head. That’s called an urban turban or a ghetto turban. It does sort of look like a turban. Sometimes the people are so filthy and the turban is so clean that the contrast is striking. At night, their head looks like a giant light bulb. It looks like their head is glowing in the dark. You see them everywhere. What can I say? There are a lot of busted heads in the city at night. And as for crackheads, well, being a crackhead is highly conducive to getting your head cracked open. That’s something Charlie likes to say: they don’t call them crackheads for nothing! Anyway, whether it’s by accident or because of a well-placed nightstick to the head, a lot of crackheads out here end up with skull fractures. It comes with the territory.
I told you how you have to smoke crack. You can’t snort it, you can’t shoot it, and you sure as hell can’t eat it. Eating it can really fuck you up. To smoke crack, you need a pipe. It doesn’t have to be a real pipe, though. That’s a good thing. One advantage to crack over heroin is that you can smoke crack out of anything. Junkies need a syringe in order to slam, but crackheads just need some sort of makeshift pipe. Most people use a little glass tube called a straight shooter. They make them out of little glass ampoules they find in the trash behind free clinics’ and dentists’ offices. They’re everywhere. I don’t know how the hell they find them way out here, but they do. There must be a million of them lying around. Other people use a broken piece of a car antenna. You’ve seen that already with that idiot who threw the bottle at me. The metal ones last longer because they don’t break as easily. Of course, if the guy who owns the car catches you tearing his antenna off so you can make a crack pipe out of it, you’re in for a serious ass kicking. I once saw a guy get caught trying to pull the antenna off of a car. The owner ripped the fucking antenna clean off and bitch-whipped the guy big time. He really went to town on his ass. Have you ever been whipped with a car antenna? I have. Those things hurt! They sting like shit. And they leave these nasty, painful red marks on your skin. All that for a goddamned crack pipe? Go figure.
Whatever you use for a pipe, most crack pipes are so short that you end up burning the living shit out of your fingers when you light them. It’s like an ID badge: you see someone out here with burned fingertips; that’s a crackhead. Some people try to avoid that by using real pipes. Maybe they think it makes them look scholarly? It doesn’t. Seeing some skank-assed motherfucker on skid row chomping on a briar pipe like he’s Albert fucking Einstein just looks ridiculous. Maybe they think it fools the cops? It doesn’t fool anyone. If you see someone out here smoking a pipe – any kind of pipe – you know damn well they aren’t smoking Captain Black in it. This is skid row. Pipe equals crackhead – period! Besides, those real pipes don’t last very long. They break, and sometimes the stem melts. They’re also expensive, whereas the makeshift ones are free. Anything they can use to hold the dope and put a match to it, that’ll do. I once saw a guy poke two holes through a rotten apple and use it for a pipe. What a scout! If there’s a merit badge for crackheads, this guy’s got my vote. I guess I should be jealous. Like I said, junkies need an outfit to get high. Oh, you can smoke heroin. A lot of people do. They call it chasing the dragon. The problem is that you can’t smoke the bullshit heroin you get out here. It’s too lame. Only the high-grade stuff is pure enough to smoke and you’ll never find any of it in this place. Even if you could, no one could afford it. Besides, when you use heroin you build up a tolerance to it; same as with any drug. Eventually your tolerance will increase to a point where smoking even the high-grade stuff won’t keep you tight. You’ll need a stronger fix, and the only way to get it is to shoot it. Some people start smoking heroin and swear they’ll never use a needle, but sooner or later they all turn to the needle. It’s inevitable. And when they do, they become lowlife junkies just like the rest of us. Welcome to the fucking club.
Another advantage to crack – from the dealer’s perspective – is that he doesn’t have to wait for a crackhead to come up with enough money to buy a ten-dollar rock. You can’t really reduce the amount of heroin in a balloon or a deck, but you can reduce the size of a piece of crack. As a result, crack is as cheap as you want it. A ten-dollar rock plus a razor blade equals ten little one-dollar chips. A one-dollar chip gives you about two hits – just enough to give you a rush and make you want more so bad you’d pull out your wisdom teeth with a pair of pliers to get it. It’s really that bad. Crackheads don’t just want crack – they need it. They need it like a motherfucker! A crackhead will do anything for more crack. There’s no limit. They’d steal the stink off shit if they could sell it for a buck. They’ll sell a five thousand dollar Rolex for ten bucks and think it’s a fair trade as long as they get that crack. It’s fucking crazy. Crack is a dope dealer’s dream come true. Even more than heroin, crack makes for a captive audience. They’ve got to have it – all the time. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, they’ve got to have that crack. And since a crack high never lasts more than fifteen minutes, a dealer will see the same crackhead three or four times in an hour. It’s a given. He’s got no choice. He’s got to have it. The people at the methadone clinic told me crack addiction is almost impossible to kick. I believe it. There’s nothing to bring you off of it slowly. There’s no methadone for crack addicts. There’s nothing to make it easier. If you want to kick, you just have to grit your teeth and bear it cold turkey. Even that’s no guarantee. Crack addicts who do manage to kick almost always start up again. That’s especially true out here. Crack doesn’t just seize your body; it seizes your mind. It seizes your soul. And it won’t let go. It’s more than just addiction. It’s slavery. It’s evil.
You want to hear something really crazy? Some of these psycho bastards aren’t satisfied with crack. They say it isn’t enough of a jolt for them. They want something more, so instead of crack, they mix old-fashioned powder cocaine with heroin and shoot it. How’s that for fucking crazy? It’s called a speedball. The idea is that the two drugs work opposite each other, so each enhances the effect of the other. I was stupid enough to try it a couple of times. Hey, I’m crazy, remember? I’ve got an excuse. Anyway, I didn’t like it. It really kicked my ass. Like I said, I don’t go for stimulants. I tried straight speed a few times after I ended up on the street, but it just made me completely fucking paranoid and miserable while it kept me awake for three days straight. This place is bad enough without that shit. No thanks. Charlie warned me to stay away from speedballing, and he was right. That shit will fuck you up one way or another. One of the side effects of speedballing it is that if you do it enough, you get these hellacious fucking abscesses in the injection sites. They look like giant radiation burns or something. You get huge, ugly blisters over them and when they pop, they ooze this yellow, evil-smelling pus. It’s disgusting. It smells like a rotting corpse. Technically, you are a rotting corpse. I’ve seen people with abscesses in their biceps where I swear I could see right down to the bone. It was horrible. The abscesses always get infected, and if you don’t get it treated in time they cut off your arm. I’m serious. They have to cut it clean off. Choppity chop chop! I’ll pass on that, thank you very much. I like my arms just the way they are. I’ll stick with straight heroin. It’s more than enough. After all, heroin is opium and out here, opium is the opiate of the masses. That’s a joke. You’re supposed to laugh.
So that brings us to number two on the skid row hit parade. I’m talking about my drug of choice: heroin. The Great White Horse, only it isn’t white anymore. Well, at least not around these parts, anyway. We don’t get the classy stuff. Heroin, smack, chiva, the Big H – heroin’s got a shitload of names in at least three different languages. It’s second to crack in popularity out here, but it’s probably the drug that people are afraid of the most. That’s because heroin has a stigma attached to it that’s nothing short of legendary. When you tell someone you’re a junkie, you’re telling them that you’re about as fucked up as a human can possibly be. You’re the ultimate lowlife. When it comes to being a festering piece of soulless subhuman shit, you’ve totally fucking arrived. Heroin isn’t any better than crack and it’s probably not particularly worse, but it’s different in a lot of ways. For one thing, heroin is an ugly drug. Everything about it is disgusting. Take how it’s packaged, for instance. Sometimes they sell it in these little tiny plastic bags. That’s called a deck. You don’t see those very often out here. They tend to hold more dope, so they cost more. Out here, most of the time it comes wrapped in these little balloons rolled up to the size of a pea. That’s how they smuggle dope into prisons, so I guess it just made its way out here. The heroin itself looks like little pieces of shit. I’m serious. It looks like little pieces of shit that somebody forgot to wipe from their ass. Little pieces of shit that I cook up in a greasy bottle cap and shoot into my veins without a second thought. Christ! What the fuck does that make me? A junkie, that’s what. Well, I’m sort of an ex-junkie, if there is such a thing. I’m not hooked anymore. I just chip now and then, which is a bullshit way of saying I still slam every once in a while but so far, I haven’t gotten hooked again. I think that’s got more to do with the dope out here being ninety percent dog shit than with me. I’m pretty sure one shot of something good like China White or Persian and I’d be back on the train again. Junkie, ex-junkie, sometimes junkie – what’s the fucking difference? There is none. A junkie’s a junkie. Once a piece of shit; always a piece of shit.
So how does a girl from the suburbs end up a fucking heroin addict on skid row? Glad you asked. Basically, I volunteered. I started shooting up about two months after I wound up here. It had a lot to do with hating myself. Well, actually, it had everything to do with hating myself. I was a failure. I was living on the street and I was still learning how to get over, and I was having a particularly hard time of it. Charlie did everything he could to help me out, but he couldn’t do anything about the shit racing through my head day and night. He couldn’t save me from myself. I was a fucking mess. I saw people shoot up and at the time I thought it was the filthiest, most disgusting thing I’d ever seen anyone do to themselves. Everything about it was vile: the needles, the blood, the filthy people with their knocked-out veins and open sores, puking their guts out all the time and pretty much destroying any shred of humanity they had left. They looked like the lowest, most disgusting people on earth. They were worse than animals. They were worse than maggots. They were like a walking, talking, horrible disease with no cure short of a bullet to the head. I hated them. God, how I hated them. They made me want to puke. And then it dawned on me: I suddenly realized that I was just as filthy and disgusting as they were, and probably even worse. I didn’t know where they came from, but I knew where I came from and I knew just how low I’d sunk by then. And that’s when I realized that this was it. This was the end of the line. Game over. “Do not pass Go; do not collect two hundred dollars.” I was one of them now and I was never going to be anything else, and it was time for me to accept it. And then I realized that I hated myself even more than I hated the junkies. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hated myself. And that’s why I started shooting dope. Plain and simple, I did it because I hated myself. I hated myself for being here and for being a fucking mental case. I hated myself for ruining everything I ever touched. I hated myself for hurting everyone who ever loved me. I hated myself for being such a fucking loser. I hated myself so much that I wanted to hurt myself in the worst way imaginable. I wanted to torture myself. More than that, I wanted to degrade myself. I wanted to humiliate myself and I wanted to rub my face in it and make it a million times worse because that’s exactly what I deserved and I knew it. I was so low and disgusting that I felt it was perfectly fitting. And as far as I could tell, life as a junkie was an appropriate punishment for the crime of being me. So I said sign me up. I bought a balloon, bummed a clean spike, crawled into an alley and shot up for the first time. I was hooked within a week.
Do I regret it? Fuck, no! It’s ironic in a way. You see, I started shooting heroin in a fit of self-loathing and it wound up being one of the best things I ever did for myself. How’s that, you say? Well, the first time I got down was the best feeling I ever had in my life. It’s almost impossible to describe it. It was beyond feeling good. It was a revelation. It was like all of my problems and worries were instantly wiped away. No pain, no fear, no sadness – just a sense of peace and well-being. For someone who’s known nothing but misery since she can remember, it was like being touched by Jesus. I’d found what I’d been looking for all my life. Pure euphoria. It was like a miracle. After that, it was never as good, but it was still pretty fucking good. It’s bizarre when you think about it: how does something that literally brings you down manage to raise you up so high? Smoking crack is getting high. Shooting heroin is getting down. That’s what they call using heroin: getting down. Slamming. A dose of heroin is a fix. A taste. Just a taste. Just a tiny little bit of the whole; whatever the whole is. It sure as hell fixed me, if only for an hour or so. Anyway, I finally had a purpose in life. It was an evil purpose, but when your life is over and you’ve been kicked out of the human race and you live on the fucking street, a purpose is nothing more than a way to pass the time until you die. One day is the same as the next; forever. You’ll never amount to anything ever again. So why not be a junkie? Heroin and homelessness and insanity. They’re a perfect match. They complete each other. But it’s more than that. You see, heroin isn’t just a drug. It’s a whole world unto itself. It’s a way of life. It is a life. Get hooked and it’ll be your life. Count on it.
Even though junkies are a dime a dozen out here, heroin is something of a specialty drug. That’s something you need to understand. Heroin has its own little world on skid row, and you have to know the boundary lines. Let me give you an example: you can get crack on any street corner, but they only sell heroin in certain places. They’re always really fucked up places, but that’s another story. Anyway, that’s why you get junkies from all over the city coming into this shithole in the middle of the night looking to buy dope. You’d be amazed at who comes down here looking for a taste. We get middle-class people, rich people – you name it. I’ve seen some expensive cars trolling some nasty-assed dope spots. Some come because they can’t get heroin out where they live. There’s not much in the Emerald City; that’s for sure. Others come because they heard it’s a whole lot cheaper down here than wherever they usually buy it. It is, but they’re taking their fucking lives in their hands coming down here and they don’t even know it. It makes for some wild encounters. I once met this musician out here who was looking for dope. A young guy. Not a kid, but younger than me. I got to talking with him, which is strange because I don’t talk to many people out here unless I know them already. He played the guitar, and it turned out he’d played on a few albums I’d heard of. I’d never heard of him personally, but I’ll bet there are a lot of people who have. Anyway, I’m looking at this guy and I’m thinking to myself: here’s this big time guitar player who probably lives in a mansion and he’s coming down to this shithole in the middle of the night because he needs a taste? Fucking weird. He was actually a pretty cool guy, and since I was looking to pick up some dope myself, I took him to see my main dealer. He’s a guy named Rodolfo. So Rodolfo asks this guy how much he wants, right? The guy takes out a roll of bills about the size of my fist and says he wants all of it. As much as he’s got. He fucking cleaned him out! Rodolfo was thrilled. I’d never seen him that happy before. He said if I have any more friends like him, I should bring them by. Yeah, sure! I’ve got a lot of friends just like that. What? Can’t you tell?
So I walked the guy back to his car, and it turns out he drove down here in some insanely expensive car. It was like a Maserati or something. I don’t know sports cars. Whatever it was, I’m sure it cost as much as a house. He parked it in this dark as a motherfucker shithole of an alley called the “L” because it’s a dead-end alley shaped like the letter “L.” Can you believe it? I couldn’t believe the thing was still there! It wasn’t even trashed. God must have been looking out for this guy. We talked for a little while longer, and we kind of hit it off. God knows why. Then he invited me back to his house. He said he wanted to fuck me and if I said yes, he’d split the dope with me and I could spend the night. He said he didn’t expect anything kinky; just your basic half and half or something like that. Looking back, I guess he thought I was a hooker. Now comes the crazy part: I turned him down. Let me repeat that: I turned down a chance to spend the night in a nice house with a bed and a shower instead of sleeping on the street in the middle of skid row. Christ almighty! If that doesn’t prove I’m crazy, nothing will! He was cool about it, though. Before he left he gave me a couple of balloons for free. He said he appreciated having someone to talk to who wasn’t a fucking psycho. God, if he only knew! But it just goes to show: if politics makes for strange bedfellows, then heroin makes for some strange fucking encounters in an alley at night.
I think what makes heroin unique is that there’s so much more to it than just the dope. For one thing, there’s the outfit. The outfit is what we call the tools of the trade. You buy crack; you stick it in fucking a pipe and light a match. Simple, right? Shooting heroin is a lot more involved. You need an outfit. First, there’s the syringe. Most of us call it a spike. Some people call it the works. That’s the most important part. You used to need a prescription to buy a syringe, but then AIDS came along and suddenly it’s free needles for everyone. Hell, the cops hardly ever haul you in on a works beef anymore. It’s a nickel-and-dime charge, but you’ll still do a few nights in jail behind it. But ever since AIDS and Hepatitis-B came along, I guess it isn’t considered drug paraphernalia anymore. Now it’s preventive medicine. Of course, before you can shoot your dope, you have to cook it. Which means you need something to cook it in. You can’t take heroin straight. It won’t work. You shoot heroin cold and it’ll be the sorriest fucking day of your life. You’ll discover a whole new threshold of pain. You have to put it in water and heat it up before you inject it. That’s what they mean by cooking it. They used to use a bent spoon. I saw that in a few movies when I was a kid. But who the hell has a spoon out here? A bottle cap is easier, and it’s taller than a spoon so your dope doesn’t fall over the side. Watch some junkie with the shakes spill his fucking dope on the ground just as he’s about to draw it up and you’ll hear some downright biblical wailing and gnashing of teeth. They’re like Job when his house collapsed. What else? Oh, you’ll need a piece of cotton to filter it. Heroin is like this chunky powder, and it doesn’t completely dissolve in water. You have to filter it before you draw it up into the syringe, otherwise you might get a piece of it in your vein. It may be small enough to fit inside that tiny little needle, and if it gets into your vein it’ll go straight to your heart and kill you quick. Boom! Dead! Just like that. That’s where the cotton comes in. You filter it by drawing it through a piece of cotton. There aren’t a lot of cotton balls lying around out here, so you use the filter from a cigarette butt. God knows there are plenty of cigarette butts lying around, and if it weren’t for us junkies they’d all just go to waste. See? Cigarettes really are good for something. Smoke cigarettes, America! Save a junkie’s life! I don’t think that would go over to well with the Surgeon General. Anyway, most junkies save their used cotton wads in case they can’t get any dope. They’re sort of a junkie’s last resort. You soak them and shoot what little dope you can wring out of them. It’s never enough to get you high, but it might make the difference between getting through the day and going through a fucked up case of withdrawal.
Some people still use a tourniquet to bring up a vein, but not many. I never did. Most junkies are so fucking thin, they can find a vein pretty easy. You’ve got veins all over your body and any one of them will do. Most people shoot in their weak arm. You know, if you’re right-handed, you shoot in your left. It’s the easiest place to shoot. It’s also the first place the cops look for tracks. A lot of junkies try to cover their tracks with tattoos. After a few years they’ve got so many tattoos on their arms that they look like a stained glass window in a church. You see someone out here with their arms completely covered in tattoos; that’s usually a junkie. But even then, the tracks still show through the tattoos. If you want to hide your tracks, you have to shoot in a place that doesn’t show. A lot of people shoot in their legs. I do. When I started, I was all paranoid about the cops seeing my tracks. I decided to hit in the leg because they can’t see my legs. Hey, it’s not like I’m walking around out here in a fucking mini skirt. Shooting in your leg hides your tracks pretty good, but it doesn’t fool them. The cops around here are pretty good at spotting a junkie. If your arms are clean, they’ll just make you roll up your pants legs. Then they’ve got you. Well, they’ve got you unless you shoot somewhere else. Remember how I said your body is full of veins and any of them will do? Some people take that shit to extremes. I’ve known guys who shoot in their dick and even some people who shoot in the veins underneath their tongue. How the fuck do they do that? Jesus Christ! That must hurt like shit! And how do you know if you hit the vein unless you’re looking in a mirror when you do it? And what happens to your tongue when you knock out the veins? I don’t even want to think about that one. If you ask me, that’s going to a hell of a lot of trouble just to hide your fucking tracks. You’re better off getting caught.
Then there’s the whole thing about knocking out your veins. Yeah, that’s a big problem with being a junkie. It’s an occupational hazard. To say your vein is knocked out pretty much means it’s clinically dead. You killed it. I’m serious. If you shoot a lot in the same vein, eventually the vein gets knocked out and you have to find another one. If you keep shooting in the dead vein, you won’t get high. The blood won’t take the dope to your brain. You’ll probably just get one hell of an infection. No, junkies knock out a vein and then move on to the next one. Then they knock that one out and find another one. They do it again and again and again. That’s why old junkies have dead veins all over their bodies. And I mean all over. I’ve got one knocked-out vein in my left leg behind the knee. It looks like this bluish-black line about two inches long. It’s pretty nasty. I cover it with makeup sometimes; assuming I can steal some makeup. I tell myself I do it to fool the cops, but that’s bullshit. I do it because I can’t stand to look at it. Knocked-out veins are as ugly as sin, and when I look at it I can remember almost every fucking injection I put in there. All in all, it isn’t a pleasant memory.
Another occupational hazard is getting jammed up on a works beef. That’s when the cops bust you when they catch you with an outfit. Just having a spike can still get you thrown in jail, AIDS or no. Like I said, they don’t do it very often anymore, but if you piss them off or get caught up in a dope sweep, they might. It’s a chickenshit misdemeanor, but jail is jail and who needs the hassle? This means that sometimes you need to come up with a lame excuse for why you’re walking around with a fucking spike in your pocket. It can get pretty hilarious. You should hear some of the bullshit excuses junkies use to try to explain their needles. Oh, I’m a diabetic, officer. I just forgot to bring my insulin. I was hoping to fill my prescription here in this alley at four in the morning. That other stuff? The bottle cap and the little bleach bottle and all those little brown cotton balls? Well, uh…I’m just pretending to be a junkie. I do it because I don’t want anyone to know I’m I diabetic. You see, I’m embarrassed by it. I’m embarrassed by my diabetes. I’d rather people thought I was just a junkie. Some of them really say that! Jesus fucking Christ! I don’t know which is more amazing: the fact that anyone would be stupid enough to say something like that or that they’d think anyone would be stupid enough to believe it. That’s beyond desperation. But desperation or not, you don’t want to get caught with an outfit. You never know when it’s going to be your unlucky day. When I was hooked, I used to stash a couple of outfits in different places. I wrapped them up in plastic bags to keep them clean and I hid them good. I always knew where they were and I made sure I put them near the places where I bought my dope so I could get to them as soon as I scored. And I wasn’t just trying to stay out of jail. I didn’t want to get caught with an outfit because I didn’t want the cops to know I was a junkie. Once they know you’re a junkie, they pay a lot more attention to you. They take an unhealthy interest in your day-to-day activities. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think I was fooling them. They probably knew I was a junkie before I did. I really am a stupid fucking bitch sometimes.
Oh, and they don’t need your works or your tracks, or even to catch you in a dope spot in order to know you’re a fucking junkie. No, all they have to do is look you square in the eyes. You see, you can hide your outfits and you can hide your tracks, but you can’t hide your eyes. Heroin screws down your eyes so your pupils look like tiny little black dots. Even methadone doesn’t do that. Charlie said the only other thing that’ll screw your eyes down like that is a raging case of syphilis. He said that if it’s so bad that it screws your eyes down, then you’re already at death’s door and getting busted is the least of your worries. Have you ever seen someone’s eyes when they’re down? It’s pretty fucking freaky. Your eyes don’t even look like human eyes anymore. If you see someone with pinpoint pupils, you have to ask yourself how the fuck can they see anything? The truth is, you can see pretty well with them, except at night. When your eyes are screwed down at night, your vision definitely ain’t what it used to be. And you can’t go around wearing sunglasses when it’s dark outside. That just screams “Hey officer, I’m a fucking junkie!” No, that definitely doesn’t work. Pinpoint pupils. It’s a dead giveaway. It’s a fact of junkie life. If you’ve got pinpoint pupils; you’re fucking down. If you’re fucking down; you’re a junkie. Period. Don’t even try to explain. That just pisses the cops off.
Being a junkie leads to some serious health issues, and it’s not just from the dope. Most junkies don’t take care of themselves. They’re usually in really bad shape. You can tell just by looking at them. Some people actually like that look. I’m serious. They call it heroin chic. I heard that one back when I still lived in the normal world. Christ, they’re crazier than I am! Trust me, there’s nothing chic about heroin or how it makes you look. It makes you look worse than dog shit. That’s no exaggeration. I know. I speak from experience. To begin with, a junkie always looks sick. Junkies look like fucking plague victims. I was no different. At first, I tried to keep myself looking as decent as possible, but looking back, I wasn’t in any better shape than any other junkie out here. I just washed my face and hair once in a while and tried to brush my teeth. Junkies look bad for a number of reasons. To begin with, shooting dope isn’t good for you. No shit, huh? Long-term drug use can really fuck up your internal organs. Not only is the dope bad for you, but so is the other shit that gets into your veins along with it. All dope is impure. What do you expect? They make that shit in labs in the fucking jungle or some such place, and God only knows what they mix heroin with anymore. Probably snake shit or monkey piss or ooze from a rotting corpse or something. Whatever it is, it can’t be good for you and you’re shooting it straight into your veins. The cotton you use to filter the shit only serves to keep out big chunks that could get into your veins and cause a clot. It doesn’t filter out the impurities. They all go straight into your veins and then they go straight to your heart. Talk about Russian roulette! It’s a wonder more junkies don’t die of heart attacks. And as bad as the dope is for you, the life is just as bad. You spend every waking moment either stoned or sick or looking for dope or looking for an outfit or figuring out a way to get some money to buy more dope. You go to sleep and you dream about it. You wake up and you go back to looking for it. And if you’ve got any, you shoot it right away. You don’t sit on it. Not for a second.
I think that more than any other drug, heroin becomes your entire life. Pretty soon, the only people in your life are junkies and dealers – and cops, of course. It’s a filthy life. The people you hang out with are filthy. The places you go to are filthy. You’re filthy. Oh, God! Are you ever fucking filthy! You don’t wash your clothes, even if you have a place to wash them. Sometimes you don’t even change your clothes for weeks. I went weeks without ever taking off my shoes. It rains and you get soaked and you don’t take your clothes off. You figure they’ll just dry out eventually. You figure, “Hey, why wash up? You’ll just get dirty again.” Your clothes get stiff with grease and sweat and asphalt dust. They chafe your skin. They turn black. So do you. You’re surrounded by germs and disease and the worst kinds of filth. Everything in your life can hurt you and you let it. You stick rusty needles in your veins and you pump all kinds of shit into your body and you pay the price for it. You spend most of your time fighting off one infection or another. Kidney infections are the worst. The crap from the dope collects in your kidneys like a kidney stone. It gets them all inflamed or something. You know you’ve got one when you start pissing blood. Dark blood. After that, the pain starts. It hits you in your back, at the kidneys – usually on one side. The pain is incredible. You have to undo your pants because the waistband pressing against your kidneys makes it unbearable. The pain lasts for at least a day. That’s an entire day, mind you. You’re looking at twenty-four hours of sheer fucking agony. All you can do is keep drinking water and try to flush out your kidneys. It takes forever, and that’s if it works at all. If it’s a viral infection then antibiotics will help, but junkies don’t have antibiotics. If they did, they sold them to buy more dope. Trust me: if you get a kidney infection, you’re going to be in agony for at least a day or two. All you can do is grit your teeth and bear it. And scream. You can always scream out here. Some junkies try to alleviate the pain by shooting more dope, but that’s a good way to overdose. And if you try mixing some heavy duty pain pills with your dope, stand by! You’ll be in some serious trouble. If the infection gets bad enough, you might even fry your kidneys completely. If that happens, you’ve got to get hooked up to a dialysis machine or you’ll die. Since junkies don’t have Blue Cross, it’s a safe bet you’re going to die. I’ve seen it happen.
Heroin fucks up more than just your kidneys. It’s bad for your liver and it’s bad for your digestion. God, it really fucks up your digestion! You don’t want to eat when you’re using heavy. There are times when you go for days without eating – sometimes because you’re not hungry and sometimes because you spent all of your money on dope so there’s nothing left to buy food. You can’t afford to stand in the chow line at the mission because you need to be out looking for more dope. And nobody wants to stand next to a junkie when they’re getting sick. One look at you puking your goddamned guts out and nobody’s going to want to eat. And even if you do eat, it’s no bargain. Heroin really plugs you up. It’s like the food in your body turns into cement or something. It just stays there. Sometimes you get so constipated that you don’t shit for days, and when you finally do, it’s like trying to shit a cinder block. It’s like giving birth through your ass. Yeah, being a junkie is a fucking day at the beach.
What else? Oh, heroin is a motherfucker to kick. Kicking heroin means a few days of withdrawal, and withdrawal makes you sicker than you’ve ever been in your life. It’s fucking hell. About the only thing that makes it easier is methadone. Here’s a little skid row trivia: methadone was invented by the Nazis. Can you believe it? I read about it in the library. Charlie and I were talking about it and we decided to see where methadone came from. Homeless people have a lot of time on their hands, and Charlie always insisted on looking up the answer if we didn’t know it. We sure as hell didn’t expect to learn that shit. I don’t even want to think about who they tested it on, if you know what I mean. See what you learn when you’re a junkie? The History of Heroin 101. Go to the head of the class. Anyway, methadone doesn’t get you high, but it makes the withdrawal a lot easier to take. They’ve got some other shit now called Naltrexone, but they can’t give it to you if you’ve got any liver problems and between the dope and the booze, that’s about ninety-nine percent of the people out here. That leaves methadone. Methadone really does make it easier to kick, but the problem is that most junkies take it while they’re still using dope and the two definitely don’t mix. You use methadone while you’re still shooting dope and it can fuck you up big time. They don’t give you a prescription for it, either. Nope. You have to get it from a clinic. They give it to you and then they stand there and watch you while you take it. They’re probably afraid if they don’t, then you’ll hide it in your mouth and sell it on the street. They’re right. The other problem with methadone is that every time they open a methadone clinic, someone starts selling dope right next to it. Methadone clinics are pretty much an advertisement for open-air drug markets. I mean, that’s where I used to buy most of my dope during the day – right across the street from the fucking clinic. Yeah, I mixed methadone and heroin. I was hoping it would kill me, but it didn’t. The staff would see me heading out the door on my way over to buy some dope and the only thing they’d say was look both ways before I crossed the street. Nice to know they cared.
Then there’s withdrawal. Ah, yes! Withdrawal. The bane of all heroin addicts. Every fucking junkie in the world knows about withdrawal. It’s not the worst price you’ll pay for being an addict, but it sure feels like it. All junkies go through withdrawal from time to time. Oh, not because we’re trying to kick, mind you. Fuck, no. We go through it because there are always times when you just can’t get any dope. Maybe you’re broke, maybe you’re locked up, or maybe there’s a dope drought and there just isn’t any to buy. That’s called a dope drought. That’s the worst of the lot because you never know how long it’s going to last. Usually, they don’t last more than a couple of days out here, thank God. But when they happen, they feel like the longest fucking days of your already miserable life. You’ll beg God to kill you even if you’re an atheist. Hell, you’d blow the devil and swallow it if he’d kill you. That’s how bad it is. The whole thing usually lasts about three days; sometimes longer. Doesn’t it sound like oodles of fun?
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, junkies also have to deal with the wonderful world of overdoses. Everybody knows you can OD on heroin. It’s sort of an occupational hazard. You use too much and bang! You’re down for the count. They used to call that a hot shot. Some of the old timers still do. OD’s aren’t very common out here because the dope we’ve got is such bullshit, but if you shoot enough of it, you’ll go tits up. I’ve done it. Not on purpose, mind you. I got a hold of some black tar heroin and that shit is a major motherfucker. Of course, I didn’t know you were supposed to go way back on your usual dose. No, I just cooked up what I always did and slammed it. I was out like a fucking light in a couple of seconds. You don’t feel anything because when you OD, you just shut down completely. The danger is that it’ll shut down your breathing and then you die. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen to me. I just woke up the next day with the fucking spike still hanging out of my leg. I had no idea what had happened to me. I guess I was lucky I didn’t wake up naked with a load of cum in my mouth and a bottle shoved up my ass. Thank heaven for small favors. One big myth is that people die all the time from heroin overdoses. They don’t. Most people do what I did – they just wake up feeling like warmed-over death and wondering what the fuck happened to them. Every once in a blue moon, some dealer out here gets a hold of some shit that’s a lot stronger than the usual crap and people OD and die, but that’s as rare as hell because the good stuff seldom finds its way to our neck of the woods. Besides, that shit is expensive and nobody out here can afford it. If some dealer is selling some primo shit at skid row prices, he’s a fucking idiot and he’s costing his supplier a lot of money. The supplier will find out eventually and he’ll take it out of the guy’s ass. Count on it.