Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Eight

So that’s about it for heroin. What else? Well, after crack and heroin, there are a number of other drugs that have a small but dedicated following out here. For starters, there’s PCP. Once in a great while, you’ll see someone out here selling PCP. That shit scares the hell out of me. I’ve never tried it and I don’t plan on ever trying it. That stuff turns you into a foaming-at-the-mouth psychopath. I’m already crazy. I don’t need to make it worse. PCP is a violent fucking drug. It makes you mean and it makes you bat-shit crazy. That’s a bad combination. Throw in superhuman strength and an almost complete immunity to pain and you’ve got a hell of a combination there. It leads to a lot of violence. Thank God it’s not very popular around here these days. I wasn’t here for the glory days of PCP – that was a bit before my time – but Charlie told me about them. He told me stories that I couldn’t fucking believe, and coming from me that’s really saying something. He said that back in the early eighties it was a daily occurrence. Every fucking day there would be a stark raving lunatic running naked down the street, high as a motherfucker on PCP with the cops chasing after him. PCP raises your body temperature so high that the first thing you do is rip off all of your clothes because you’re burning up. Anyway, the cops would shoot the guy with a Taser and send fifty thousand volts up his ass. Charlie said it usually didn’t work very well. When you’re on PCP, you don’t feel a fucking thing. Fifty thousand volts up your ass is just a day at the beach. After a while, the cops just started blasting people on PCP. Dusters, they called them. A guy on PCP is dusted. I guess putting some bullets in their ass was the only way to anchor them. It sounds like scary stuff. Charlie says it was. He says he doesn’t miss those days. After hearing those stories, I’m really glad I never got into that shit.

Another drug is crank. Crank is getting more and more popular out here, which kind of surprises me. Crank is speed. Crystal Meth. Meth is pretty much a white guy’s drug, but a lot more black guys out here are getting into it. It’s a little hard to come by on skid row, but there’s a truck stop about two miles from here and they’ve got all the crank you could ever want. Those long-haul truckers really do love their crank. It keeps them awake so they can drive longer hours. Time is money, right? Crank has gone through some changes over the years. Most people smoke it now, but they used to shoot it up. They used to die, too. Have you ever heard the saying, “Speed Kills?” They’re not talking about driving too fast. They’re talking about shooting speed. It can kill you pretty easily. Hey, where do I sign up? Seriously, crank is some pretty nasty shit. If you think crack makes you paranoid, you ain’t seen nothing until you meet a goddamned meth head. Those motherfuckers are as paranoid as any charter member of the tinfoil hat crowd. And they’re dangerous, too. Crank makes you completely fucking psychotic. It totally rewires your brain. And from what I’ve heard, if you stop using meth it doesn’t go back to the way it was. You’re permanently fucking insane. Gee, is it any wonder I wasn’t into it?

Crank is nowhere near as easy to make as crack, which is one of the reasons why it’s a little hard to come by out here. We don’t have a lot of chemists hanging out near the missions. Most of these guys couldn’t boil water. Shit, I’d be surprised if I still knew how to boil water. No, it’s a little bit out of our league. That’s not to say nobody ever tried. I remember about three years ago one of Diego’s boys got into cooking crank for a while. I don’t remember his name. He was a young guy. Diego is a big time crack dealer out here. He wasn’t happy about one of his boys selling crank because a crack high lasts a few minutes whereas crank will keep you going for hours. Sometimes it’ll keep you up for days. It’s bad for business, you see. Fewer repeat sales in a day. Anyway, the guy was doing pretty well until he had an accident in his kitchen and burned his fucking place to the ground. He had this fleabag apartment near the freeway and he took out a good portion of the building. You could see the fire from here. He lived, but he got a few nasty burns to remind him of his failed venture. He also brought a shitload of heat down on Diego’s ass. That’s a shame. As dealers go, Diego’s not half bad. Man, was he pissed at that guy! The resulting ass-kicking Diego gave him was legendary.

What else? Oh, some people out here are into pills. Downers, mostly. Tranks, as they’re called. There are a lot of those floating around. The clinics hand them out all the time. They just don’t give you more than a three day supply. Still, a lot of people find they’re pretty good for taking the edge off and if you’re a junkie, they can make withdrawal a little easier to take. The most common pill is Xanax. Xanax is basically Valium. They’re both the same kind of drug. They give them to you to help with your anxiety. Are they kidding? We live on the fucking street! Of course we’re anxious! Jesus, they ought to hand those fuckers out like jellybeans! I usually stay away from tranks. I don’t like the way they make me feel. I never got high off of them. I never even got a good buzz. They either knocked me out or they didn’t do shit. And when they knocked me out, I hated the way I felt when I woke up. No, wait a minute. I didn’t wake up. Nobody wakes up from that shit. You come to. You’re not asleep. You’re fucking passed out. There’s a big difference.

Another reason I stay away from tranks is because you can get hooked on them and the withdrawal is pure fucking hell. It might actually be worse than heroin withdrawal. When I was seventeen, I was doing yet another stint in a psycho hospital and there was this old guy who was in there for Valium addiction. He was massively addicted. Looking back, he was worse than any junkie I ever met. He said he’d been on Valium for something like thirty-five years. I didn’t understand why he was there. This was a psychiatric hospital; not a rehab clinic. Anyway, he was in fucking torment. Torment – that’s the word he used to describe it. He was shaking big time. He couldn’t hold a cup of coffee. He couldn’t sit still. He couldn’t focus on anything. It was terrible. It actually gave me a scare. I sure as hell didn’t want that shit happening to me.

Tranks are mild compared to real sleeping pills. Barbiturates. They’re like the nukes of the downer world. Heavy-duty sleeping pills have a small following out here, but they’re almost impossible to get. Once in a while you’ll see people looking for shit like Nembutal or Quaaludes, but I haven’t seen any of those since I was in high school and some kids raided their parents’ medicine cabinets. Even then, that shit was pretty old. The pills I saw were usually prescribed to somebody’s grandmother back in the seventies. Apparently, doctors don’t like to prescribe them anymore. They’ve got really bad reputations. They should. I remember kids on Quaalude binges who couldn’t stand up straight if you held guns to their heads. You know, that shit never appealed to me. I never understood the attraction. That’s not getting high. That’s getting a fucking lobotomy. Besides, a barbiturate overdose can easily kill you. That’s another reason they don’t prescribe them anymore. Too many people used them to commit suicide. I’d do it if I could get enough pills to do the job. Believe me, I tried. I couldn’t come up with the money and besides, no one around here has any. Too bad. It’s a great way to kill yourself. Of course, most people don’t want to kill themselves. So why the fuck do some people pop a handful of high-powered downers whenever they get the chance? Go figure.

One thing you do see a lot of are pain pills. That’s because of all of the injuries out here. Pain pills are hugely popular on skid row. If you can get your hands on some Vicodin, you’ll suddenly have all sorts of friends that you never knew you had. Those suckers go like hotcakes out here. I know. I’ve sold a bunch of them. I like pain pills for pain. I don’t use them to get high. I’ve tried it, but I never got a good buzz off of them. I did take too many once and ended up puking my fucking guts out. It felt like I was actually going to puke up my whole stomach and a few feet of intestines to boot. That was no fun. But they’re definitely good for easing pain. I used to try to keep a few Vicodin stashed away in case I got hurt, which happens a lot. I’ve had my ass kicked so many times, it’s a wonder I’m not addicted to those fucking things. The problem with pain pills is that doctors can be pretty stingy about handing them out to the homeless. They know we’re a bunch of lying dope addicts who’ll say anything for drugs. But in my experience, showing up at the clinic or the emergency room with a black eye, a split lip, and a set of fucking boot prints on my ass is usually good for about twelve pills. That’s a lot of Vicodin out here. I can usually sell them for anywhere from ten to fifteen bucks a pill. It almost makes the beating worthwhile. No, as a matter of fact, it doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close.

Then there’s the real mega-powered shit. Those are the drugs you hear about but never see. Charlie told me about a Fentanyl scare way back in the day, but I’ve never seen the stuff myself. Fentanyl is supposed to be the most powerful painkiller in the world. They use it in hospitals for seriously fucked-up people. Something like a million doses can fit in a briefcase. That must be some powerful shit! Junkies talk about it out here like it’s the fucking Holy Grail or something. They’re downright reverent when they mention it. Fucking junkies! We’re a strange bunch; that’s for sure. Anyway, Charlie said someone was selling the shit back in the early eighties and people were shooting it like regular old heroin. Apparently, that was sort of like dropping a bank vault on your head. Junkies would start the plunger on the syringe and they wouldn’t live long enough to get the whole shot in their arm. They just died instantly from a massive overdose. The cops or the firemen would find the junkie sitting on the sidewalk or up against a wall with the fucking needle still stuck in their arm. They died so fast it was like they were frozen in place. They called it DRT – Dead Right There. Charlie said something like ten people died from that shit in less than a month. That’s a lot of dead junkies for one month. I guess it’s a good thing it’s long gone. Actually, I’m kind of surprised the cops don’t leak a little Fentanyl onto skid row every so often just to thin out the herd. It would be a great way to cull the junkie population. We’d do all the work, too. God knows I wish I had some of it tonight. I wonder what it looked like? I mean, they say it’s the most powerful dope on earth. It’s the Holy Grail of junkies. Well, I’m a junkie. Who wouldn’t want to see the Holy Grail?

Talking about heavy duty pills, I’ve heard there’s some OxyContin floating around, but I haven’t seen it. I know it makes the rounds every now and then, but the clinics and the emergency room got really stingy about handing it out, so it’s kind of dried up. It’s expensive, too. Well, it’s expensive on the street. I’ve heard of that shit selling for forty bucks a pill. Somehow, I don’t think any pill is worth forty bucks. I’m told it’s basically synthetic heroin in a pill. Yummy! All of the benefits and none of the rat shit. You don’t even need a needle. Too bad I never got my hands on any of it. Some of that pharmaceutical stuff is fucking unbelievable. You know, shit like Demerol. Demerol is fucking blissful. I got my foot squished by a car once and while I didn’t break anything, the pain was so bad that the doctor in the emergency room gave me a shot of Demerol. Now that was sweet! It was the closest I’ve ever come to my first heroin high. It’s too bad you don’t come across it much. Frankly, I can’t believe he gave it to me in the first place. They don’t usually give that shit to junkies. But he didn’t even ask me if I was a junkie. I guess he didn’t care. That’s the way I like my doctors: just shut the fuck up and give me the good stuff. There ought to be a law.

Some people sell codeine pills out here. That’s another one of heroin’s brown-eyed stepchildren. The straight stuff is pretty good, but the stuff that’s only part codeine is bullshit. You see a fair number of Tylenol pills with codeine in them. They give those away at the clinic like after-dinner mints. What can I say about them? Well, they’re better than a fucking aspirin, but that’s about it. You see, when you’re a junkie, you’re practically immune to them. I wish I could’ve got my hands on some of that Oxy, though. It sounds like a blast. And best of all, an OD is supposed to be one hundred percent lethal. Now that I could use! A handful of pills sure beats jumping off of a rooftop, don’t you think? I wonder if it really is as good as they say? Oh, well. I’ll never find out now. I guess it’s destined to remain one of the great mysteries in my life. Jesus Christ! That’s my idea of a great mystery? What does that tell you about me?

The designer drugs like ecstasy and GHB never made it out here. Well, if they did, I never heard about it. Besides, those are definitely kids’ drugs. I kind of liked ecstasy when I was younger, but it was hard to come by. It was a party drug and there would be short periods of time when it was available, but just as quickly it would disappear and you wouldn’t see any of it again for months. I used to get a good feeling off of it. I could almost relate to people and sex was an absolute blast on it. The problem was, it made my heart race and I remember one time I got so fucking overheated that I stripped down to my underwear and turned the air conditioner on full blast. I was completely drenched with sweat. I looked like I just got out of the shower. My parents came home and thought they’d walked into a meat locker. It was about fifty degrees in the house. I had to do some fast talking to explain that one. Fortunately, I had enough sense to put my clothes back on before I saw them. They saw me sweating bullets and I told them I was sick and had a fever. Oh, I had a fever all right! I was also as high as a kite and anyone who wasn’t blind could’ve seen it! I don’t know why, but they bought it. At least, I think they bought it. Anyway, that was it for me and ecstasy.

Now, I’ve saved the best for last. You’re not going to believe this one. You see, there’s one other kind of dope that has a small but devoted following out here, and the best thing about it is that it’s completely legal. Hell, you can buy it in a hardware store! What is this miracle drug that’s escaped the attention of the government or the courts or whoever decides what’s illegal? It’s paint. You heard me: paint! Some people out here sniff paint to get high. It’s illegal to sniff paint, but they have to catch you actually doing it before they can lock you up. They can’t bust you for carrying around a can of the stuff. When I was a kid, I used to hear about how people sniffed airplane glue back in the sixties. Not anymore. If you try to sniff airplane glue now, it won’t get you high. Charlie told me that the glue company got tired of people sniffing their glue and getting high, so they put something in it that makes you sick as a fucking dog if you sniff it. So that’s out. But there are all sorts of other things full of noxious fumes that people sniff. Carpet cleaner, the shit they put in air conditioners, even propane gas. If it’s noxious, somebody will sniff it to get high. I swear to God, some people are so fucked up, they make me look dead normal!

Most sniffers out here seem to prefer be gold paint. I don’t know why gold is so popular. I can’t believe it’s any stronger than the other colors. Maybe they think that because it’s gold, that makes it classier? There’s nothing classy about sniffing shit to get high. It is without a doubt the single most fucked-up thing you can do to your brain, short of giving yourself a homemade lobotomy. It is the sickest, dumbest, most disgusting thing you can do to yourself; and that’s coming from someone who hangs out in alleys and shoots heroin. There are no words to describe how fucked up it is. There are no words to describe what it does to the human brain. None! It’s just too fucking ridiculous. You really have to see someone who’s fucked up on paint to believe it. It doesn’t just kill a few brain cells. It annihilates them. We’re talking total brain cell genocide here. It usually leaves you one or two still functioning so you don’t accidentally stop breathing, but that’s about it. The rest of your brain turns into mucous. I’m serious. You’re left with a head full of snot. Snot and noxious fucking fumes. It practically leaks out of your ears.

You can always tell when someone’s fucked up on paint because they have this completely vacant look on their face. Have you ever heard the term, “The lights are on but nobody’s home?” Yeah, well, you see someone who’s fucked up on paint and it’s like the lights are off and nobody’s home and they’re never coming back and their whole fucking head is scheduled for demolition. It gives new meaning to the term “blank stare.” Their face is completely blank. I mean empty. Zero. It’s like you can see that every bit of knowledge and intelligence has been erased from their brain. They’re working with a clean slate between their ears because it’s all gone. All of it! Two million years of evolution wiped out in a matter of seconds! I’m not kidding! I’ve seen people wasted on paint stagger into oncoming traffic and stand there until they got squished, which isn’t surprising since their eyes were so glassed over that they looked like a fucking deer caught in the headlights. Shit, compared to them, a deer in the headlights is Albert fucking Einstein! People high on paint are totally oblivious to what they’re doing and what’s going on around them. They don’t know what fucking planet they’re on. Christ, they don’t know what fucking planet they’re from! I’ve seen guys who were high on paint spill it on their shirt and then accidentally set themselves on fire trying to light a cigarette. A lot of that shit is really flammable. And these assholes didn’t even know they were on fire! They just stood there with this empty fucking look on their face while their shirt went up in flames. If you think I’m going to tell you about how I beat the flames out with my bare hands, forget it. This is me we’re talking about, remember? I’m no hero. Besides, anyone who would willingly inflict that much irreversible brain damage on themselves deserves whatever the fuck they get.

When you sniff paint, you don’t just aim a spray can up your nose and cut loose, although I’ll bet there are people out here who have done that. Usually, they put the paint or whatever they’re sniffing on a rag and hold it up to their face and inhale. Sometimes one guy will hold it against another guy’s face while he inhales, but the problem with that is that in no time at all they’re both so fucking brain dead that the guy holding the rag will accidentally hold it too tight against his buddy’s face and he winds up suffocating the dumb shit. Sounds like fun, huh? Other times they pour the paint into an empty beer can so it looks like they’re just drinking a beer instead of sniffing paint. That’s as long as the cops don’t notice that they’re sniffing their beer instead of drinking it, of course. And then a lot of times they’re so fucking wasted that they end up accidentally drinking the paint and then they have to get their stomach pumped or they’ll die. But aside from that, do you see the total fucking stupidity in this? Drinking a beer in public is illegal. The cops can jack you up if they see you doing it. It’s probable cause. They can write you a ticket for that shit. So they jack you up for drinking a beer and they slowly realize that there’s something else going on. There are clues. Subtle clues, but clues nonetheless. The cops smell the fumes and nearly choke to death on them. They notice that the beer can is full of gold paint. They see the look of total brain erasure on your face that even a case of Cisco couldn’t accomplish. They ask you your name and it takes you three hours to figure it out and another two to say it without drooling all over yourself. They tell you to touch the tip of your nose with your finger and you poke your fucking eye out instead. Gee, I’d say that’s probable cause to hook you up for sniffing paint, wouldn’t you? So why the hell don’t these fucking idiots ever think to put the paint in an empty fucking soda can or something? Because that would be the smart thing to do and after sniffing up a bunch of paint, you don’t have enough brain cells left to pick your nose properly! You try to pick your nose and you end up sticking your finger up your ass instead! This is their idea of getting high? Give me a fucking break!

Sometimes they get so wasted that they just wind up pouring the paint all over their faces. You see them walking around with what looks like a goatee painted on with gold paint. They look like they flunked out of clown school or something. Their lips are gold, their teeth are gold, and their nostrils are gold. And they’re completely unaware of it! How the fuck can you have your tongue covered with paint and not taste it? It’s insane! Jesus fucking Christ! What asshole first thought of doing this? God, I hate fucking sniffers! I can’t stand to be anywhere near them, if only because their clothes are usually so soaked with whatever they’ve been sniffing that they give off these super-powered toxic fumes. It’s like standing next to a fucking chemical dump. Ten seconds near one of those assholes and my head starts pounding and my eyes start watering and I feel like I’ve been gassed with a biological weapon. Just getting within ten feet of them is enough to make me start puking through my goddamned nose. And you can’t tell them to leave because their brains are so fucking toasted that they can’t comprehend a word that you’re saying. Anything you say is like fucking trigonometry to these motherfuckers. They’re hopeless! They’re completely, utterly, massively fucking hopeless!

Let me give you an example: one time I was in a parking lot on Exeter, waiting for my dealer and this thoroughly wasted sniffer came over and stood right next to me. Don’t ask me why. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t even acknowledge my presence. He just parked his wasted ass beside me like a fucking potted plant or something. I swear, I almost died on the spot. This asshole must have taken a fucking bath in whatever he’d been sniffing. The fumes were so bad, I almost passed out. I couldn’t leave because that’s where my dealer told me to meet him and you don’t ever stand up your dealer, but just being next to this motherfucker was killing me. I was actually beginning to think I might be better off going without and just dealing with the withdrawal. I’m serious. The fumes were that fucking bad! In no time at all, I had a king-sized headache and I could feel my stomach inching its way up into my mouth. Then I started getting dizzy. I could feel my fucking brain cells dying in droves because of those fucking fumes. I practically begged him to get lost, but I might as well have been talking to a rock. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore so I just let loose and kicked him in the fucking balls as hard as I could. I really nailed this fucking waste case. I kicked him so hard, his dick probably stuck out through the crack in his ass. He barely seemed to notice it. I couldn’t believe it didn’t kill him. It sure as hell should’ve killed him, but it had no effect whatsoever. That just made me even madder, so then I swung my foot back as far as it would go and kicked him in the balls again. I kicked him so hard I actually lost my balance and fell flat on my back. I looked up at him and wouldn’t you know it? He was still standing there! I couldn’t fucking believe it! That kick should have castrated him! Christ! His balls should have been lodged behind his back teeth! That ought to give you an idea of what sniffing paint does to you. Anyway, I guess that did it because he kind of slowly staggered away without making a sound. I don’t think he felt any pain at all. I, on the other hand, wound up with a big fucking bruise on my ass and felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the night. I could still smell those fumes three hours later. I was livid! Shit, I should’ve killed him! Brainless fucking piece of paint-sniffing shit! You know, I’ll bet that asshole came to his senses the next day and wondered what happened to his balls. He probably went to take a piss and suddenly realized his whole fucking package was missing. He probably said to himself, “Hey, I wonder where my balls are? They were there when I huffed up all that paint yesterday. I wonder where they went? And why is my dick sticking out through the crack in my ass? And why is there a woman’s shoe print where my dick used to be? What a mystery!” Christ Almighty! I probably rendered the guy sexually dysfunctional for life, but it had to be done. Besides, it wasn’t like he could ever get laid again in that condition. Maybe I did him a favor? Oh, what the hell? He was a fucking brain donor anyway. The only thing his dick was good for was pissing his pants. Fucking unbelievable! Sniffing paint! Will somebody please explain the attraction to me? A whole city full of perfectly good dope and they choose to get high off of paint? Christ! And people think shooting heroin is a disgusting habit! They have no fucking idea!

I can’t believe I haven’t come across Charlie yet. Maybe he’s over on 5th Street? Let’s head over that way. Wait, hang on for a second. OK, stay sharp! There’s a guy headed this way. I can’t see his face. This could be trouble.

“Hey, Red! You lookin’ to buy?”

“Huh? Oh, Miguel. How’s it going?”

False alarm. Stand down. He’s OK. Miguel is one of the local nighttime heroin dealers. He works for Rodolfo now. I used to buy from him a lot. He’s not your typical dealer. Most of them don’t do much more than wait for their customers to come to them. But Miguel moves around a lot, looking for buyers. I’m sure that’s why he’s here. He’s the real go-getter of dope dealers on skid row. He probably makes three times as much as the average dealer because of it.

“I got no complaints. So what’s goin’ on, girl? You lookin’ for a taste?”

“Not tonight.”

“Damn! You ain’t bought nothin’ in a long time. What’s goin’ on? You tryin’ to kick?”

“I already did.”

“Nah, you only think you did. Ain’t nobody quits the needle, Red. You’ll be back. They all come back.”

He’s right. He’s a man who knows he’s got a captive market.

“Well, if I do, you’ll be the first to know.”

“I got what you need, girl. You know where to find me. I’ll even make you a deal.”

“Does it involve me on my knees, blowing you?”

“We can make a deal for that, too. Now that you got yourself cleaned up, you could be makin’ good money on your back. And you got a crib to take them back to. That’s more than any bitch workin’ out here’s got. I know people. I can set it up for you.”

Yeah, I’ll bet you could. Now, in what other universe would somebody think that offering to help turn a woman into a whore is doing her a favor? Jesus Christ! I told you this place was fucking crazy!

“Yeah, I’ll take that under advisement. You take it easy, OK? Watch your back.”

“I always, do, Red. Always.”

I don’t doubt it. Dope dealers who don’t watch their backs end up dead or in jail pretty quick out here. Miguel’s lucky to still be alive. Let’s hope he stays that way.

What you just saw is pretty unusual. Not many dealers out here actively solicit their customers. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves, and there’s always a chance that the person they hit up for a sale turns out to be an undercover cop. That’s what sets Miguel apart. He’ll do damn near anything to make a buck. For instance, he’s the only dealer I know who’ll deliver the shit to you. He’s on-call, practically twenty-four/seven. He gets calls from customers on his cell phone, which is something most dealers out here won’t do no matter what. It’s way too dangerous. If the cops grab him, they can pull the call history and a lot of people could get seriously fucked. It’ a big risk, but that’s what he has to do if he wants to move up the ladder. If this were the normal world, he’d be called a real up-and-comer or a rising star or something. I don’t know what the fuck you’d call him out here. Wait, yes I do. You’d call him a fucking dope dealer. It’s the same in any language.

Now, it stands to reason that you can’t have dope without dope dealers. Where would the people of the night be without an army of dope dealers to cater to their various addictions? We’d be in your neighborhood, turning it into a shithole like this one. Aren’t you glad for skid row now? Yeah, it’s like the preachers say: even hell serves a purpose. Anyway, dope dealers are the most important people out here at night. That’s because dope makes our world go ’round, and we can’t very well let the world stop turning. It’s not an exaggeration. In a perverse way, everything out here really does revolve around them. The addicts need them, the cops hunt them, the preachers preach against them and the merchants profit from them. If dope is the lifeblood of the night, then dope dealers are the heart. As long as they function, they keep the blood flowing. And boy, does it ever flow! It’s hard to believe that something so completely illegal can be so readily available. Out here, dope is as common as sand on a beach, and these assholes will sell to anyone with cash. How fucking ridiculous is that? Think about it: you have to be twenty-one to buy a bottle of beer, but a five year-old kid can buy a kilo of heroin if he’s got the money. Hell, there was a time not too long ago when I could have set it up for him. And while liquor stores keep regular hours, the dope dealers are open for business twenty-four/seven; holidays included. Out here, you can find someone selling dope at five minutes to midnight in front of a church on Christmas Eve. And dope dealers never go away. Never. You can’t get rid of them no matter what you do. They’re worse than cockroaches. They’re like a real-life Hydra: cut off one head and two new ones grow back. Kill a dope dealer and a dozen more take his place before the body’s cold. I know. I’ve seen it. Every year, the government shells out a billion dollars to keep dope off of the streets and there’s still more of it out here on skid row than all of the addicts in the world could ever use in ten lifetimes. It’s fucking insane. It makes you wonder about the true nature of society. I mean, there’s obviously a serious flaw somewhere in the system.

Despite the fact that they’re the most important people out here, the truth is there’s a pecking order and street-level dope dealers like Miguel are all the way at the bottom. It works like this: the dealers get their shit from a low-level middleman who gets it from a high-level middleman who gets it from a big-time dope dealer who gets it from a major supplier who gets it from a smuggler who gets it from some bigwig in Mexico or some such place. It’s a whole Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance kind of thing. Guys like Miguel make pretty good money, but they don’t get rich. If they’re lucky and they work their asses off, they get to move up the ladder before they get busted or killed, which is how most dealers end up. Dealers usually don’t last too long out here. There are too many cops and too many psychos. I couldn’t tell you which happens most: jail or a body bag. Probably a body bag. Lots of people have a reason to kill a dealer. Sometimes another dealer kills them and takes over their spot. Sometimes a junkie kills them because they don’t have any money and they desperately need a taste. Crackheads do that more often than junkies because they’re completely fucking insane. And sometimes the guy who owns the place where a dope dealer sets up shop kills him because it’s the only way he can get rid of him. I’ve seen that happen a few times. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be standing five feet away from a guy when some fucking bodega owner just walks up out of the blue and blasts him? Trust me, you don’t want to know. Suffice to say, there are some trigger-happy motherfuckers out here. The funny thing is, a lot of cops don’t seem to give a shit about all of the dealers out here. They figure if they chase away a dealer, he’s usually back in five minutes. If they lock him up, someone else takes his place. It’s like sweeping the floor without a dustpan. All you can do is move the dirt around on the floor. You can’t ever get rid of it, so why bother trying?

Let’s see…what else? Oh, contrary to popular belief, most dealers on skid row don’t carry guns. You would think that they would, but they don’t. On TV, dope dealers all carry guns and get into blazing shootouts with the cops, but they don’t in real life. At least, not in this place. But that’s not to say they don’t have them. They do. Well, most of them do. They have access to them. They just don’t carry them when they’re working. It’s too risky. If the cops jam them, they can swallow their dope but they can’t swallow a gun. More important, if the cops see a dope dealer with a gun, it’s like an open invitation to blast them. As far as they’re concerned, any asshole out here with a gun is a free shot. No one questions it when a cop blasts an armed dope dealer. Who cares if fifty witnesses say the guy never went for his gun and the cop shot him in the back? He was a dope dealer with a gun so it must be justified, right? That’s how it goes. Plus, if you get caught carrying a gun when you’re dealing, you’ll do an extra five years just for the gun. Carrying a gun while you’re slinging dope adds up to some serious time. So the dealers out here usually don’t carry guns. They just keep them nearby where they can get to them quick. Dope dealing is a dangerous business and no dealer wants to be out here helpless. I know Ricky stashes his on a tire in the wheel well of a parked car. I’ve seen it lots of times. It’s a big gun and he likes to beat the shit out of people with it. He’s never more than ten feet away from it unless the cops drive past.

A lot of dealers work in pairs. One guy holds the dope while the other guy holds the money. That way, they have a better chance of salvaging something if the cops grab them. They might get one of them, but if they do, then the other guy will probably get away. You can usually tell which one has the dope. Just look for the guy with cheeks like a chipmunk. Dope dealers out here like to carry the dope in their mouth so they can swallow it if the cops grab them. They figure they can always pick it out of their shit later. Now there’s a pretty picture, don’t you think? I always tried not to think about where my dope had been before I shot it up. The cops are more likely to go for the guy with the dope than the guy with the money because possession of a wad of bills isn’t a crime. They’d have to let him go unless they could hang something on him. They also know that if they catch the guy with the dope, he gets double-fucked. Like I said, dealers get their supply from someone else, and it’s almost always fronted to them. The guy who fronted you five hundred dollars’ worth of dope doesn’t want to hear your sob story about how the cops got you and seized your shit. They know the dealers get busted all the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re sympathetic. If they front you something, you’re on the hook for it. You’re expected to cover it. And God help you if you don’t. If a dealer comes back and tells his guy he lost all the dope, they take it out of his ass. I’ve seen it. A dealer named Nestor got careless once and the cops got him with a bunch of dope and money in Grand Alley. It looked like he had at least a grand in cash when they got him. That’s a lot for a bottom-level street dealer. He took a two-for-two hit. They got it all. He did a year behind it and when he got out, his supplier was waiting for him. He fucked him up big time. I mean big time! He looked like he got hit by a fucking truck! He couldn’t even stand up for a couple of days. And even with all of that, he was sitting on the steps in front of an apartment building about six blocks from here, still slinging dope. I couldn’t fucking believe it. He looked like one giant bruise. Talk about an ass kicking! That’s one hell of an occupational hazard, huh? Like I said, dope dealing is a dangerous business – in more ways than one.

Everyone out here who uses dope gets into dealing at some point. Usually, you do it when you’ve got more than you’d normally use yourself. You sell the extra at a profit and it covers the cost of what you use yourself, so in effect, you get your dope for free. Sometimes people deal because they get shit that they don’t want to use themselves. That’s what I did. I told you how I used to sell tranks. I sold pain pills when I got hurt and had a few extras, but I really cleaned up with those fucking tranks. I wasn’t going to take them, so of course I was going to sell them. A few years ago, this doctor at the free clinic wrote me some prescriptions for Valium and Xanax. I guess he thought I was all stressed out and these were just what I needed. He was right about the stress, but a bunch of highly addictive pills was probably the last thing I needed. Shit, he knew I was a fucking junkie! What the fuck was he thinking? Anyway, I had the pills and I didn’t want to take them, so what the hell? I figured I might as well make some money. I put the word out that I had pills to sell and in no time at all, I was a very popular girl. Hey, it was nice to be popular for something besides my tits and ass for a change. I made good money, too. Remember, I got that shit for free. Free dope courtesy of the taxpayers! God bless America! I was on a roll. I was selling that shit for ten bucks a pop. Too bad I didn’t have anything stronger. I was tempted to ask for some sleeping pills, but I was afraid that fucking quack would figure out what I was doing. To be honest, I was more afraid of the dealers finding out what I was doing. They don’t take kindly to amateur competition. Fortunately for me, since I was only dealing pills, I wasn’t taking business away from them so they didn’t bother me. Still, I was scared shitless the whole time. Why did I keep doing it? Why do you think? I did it for the fucking money! Remember, back then I was still a psycho junkie, sleeping on a rooftop or in a basement of a building and too broke to buy a fucking slice of pizza. That dope money was a very nice break. I could afford a decent meal for the first time in years. I even got a room in a rattrap hotel for a couple of nights. Eventually they cut off my supply, and that was a good thing. If I’d kept dealing, I would’ve been caught or someone would’ve killed me. No, it was a one-time thing. I’m no professional dope dealer. I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy.

Now, the fact that I don’t want to be a full-time dope dealer doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally work for them. Everyone out here does. We have to. No one else is hiring. It’s the closest thing we’ve got to a steady job. Sometimes the dealers need people to watch for the cops, and they’ll pay you in dope. They’ll give you a rock or a balloon to act as a lookout for a few hours. I think junkies do it more than crackheads. We’re more reliable. We’re used to sitting in one spot for hours on end. Some junkies work for half a dozen different dealers every day. I know. I was one of them. That’s how I managed to pay for my dope when I was using a lot. My habit never got too bad, but it was bad enough. It was more than I could afford. That’s the one thing all dope habits have in common, whether you’re on the street or living in a fucking mansion. Beg, borrow, sell or steal; it doesn’t matter how you get the money for your dope as long as you get it. I figured it was either work for the dealers or start turning tricks. It was an easy choice.

Being a lookout is pretty easy. It’s not like it requires a lot of skill, right? And it’s not like it’s a huge responsibility. For one thing, you’re rarely the only one doing it. Some dealers employ half a dozen lookouts at a time. It’s like this human radar net scanning for the cops. It works, too. Dealers who use a lot of lookouts usually don’t get caught. Dealers who don’t, well…I hope you like the food in jail. It doesn’t take any brains to be a lookout – how hard is it to spot a cop car? OK, blind people need not apply. But basically, you just stand where the dealer tells you to stand and you sound the alarm at the first sign of the cops. Of course, you have to try not to look like you’re a lookout. Some junkie standing in one spot for an hour, looking every which way at once and acting paranoid is going to let everyone know there’s a dope dealer slinging his shit nearby. That kind of defeats the purpose. You have to look inconspicuous, or at least as inconspicuous as someone can look at midnight on the street. I was a good lookout because the sight of me walking around in a circle for hours at a time wasn’t unusual. I do that a lot on account of I’m a fucking mental case, so the cops are used to seeing me do it. It didn’t arouse any suspicion. When they cops see someone standing in one place for more than ten minutes they usually jack them up, but whenever they saw me they said, “Oh, that’s just crazy Miranda. Leave her alone.” Well, at first they did. Eventually, they caught on. It was inevitable. You see, lookouts are supposed to alert the dealer by yelling some stupid code word like “one time” or “eyes up” or whatever the dealer tells you to say. The code words are really stupid because they’re not codes anymore. Everyone knows what they mean. Shit, even the cops know what they mean! But does anyone change them? No. They’re too stupid to do that. Anyway, after hearing me sound the alarm a few times, it wasn’t long before they realized I was just another fucking lookout and they started jacking me up left and right. Sometimes I think they did it as much to stick their hands up my shirt as they did to search me for dope. Hey, whatever turns them on, right? Looking back, I was lucky they never tried to put a case on me. A lot of lookouts find themselves on the ass end of a sales case. If they can’t catch the dealer, sometimes they’ll settle for the lookout. It’s the cop’s word against yours and they’re a lot more convincing. Oh yeah, judge. I saw her. She had the dope. I swear to God. Bang! Guilty! It happens. I still sound the alarm whenever I see the cops trying to sneak up on someone, but I don’t work as a lookout anymore. I don’t use dope like I used to so I don’t need to work for it. That’s a good thing. I took a few good cracks on the kneecaps with a nightstick for being a lookout. Cops do that sometimes. They take offense to being snitched off. Christ, I’m lucky I’m not in a fucking wheelchair by now.

You’re getting quite the education, aren’t you? And all in one night! It took me about a year to learn all of this shit, and I learned the hard way. Consider yourself lucky. OK, so what else? Oh, you need to know about bunk. Some guys out here deal bunk. Now that is some fucked up shit! Bunk is just what it sounds like: fake dope. You know how I said some of the dope out here is bullshit? Well, some of it really is. It’s fucking bunk! Some asshole finds something that looks like dope and sells it to unsuspecting addicts and any other stupid motherfucker who comes along. Usually, they’ll take a piece of soap and sell it as crack or wrap something up in a little balloon and sell it as heroin. It’s worse with heroin. Bunk heroin isn’t just a rip-off; it’s fucking dangerous. The problem with bunk heroin is that a lot of times you don’t know the shit’s bunk until you shoot it up. That’s when you find out it’s actually rat poison or insulation or some other lethal shit. Caveat Emptor, motherfucker. That was one of the first things Charlie taught me when I got hooked: check before you shoot. I always check my dope before I use it. I also make damned sure I only buy from dealers who sell the real deal. Fortunately, it’s not something you have to worry about too much because bunk dealers don’t last very long, and I mean literally. People get pissed when they get ripped off and since most crackheads are about ready to explode anyway, finding out that some asshole sold them a piece of soap when their craving goes into overdrive frequently leads to murder. Real dealers don’t like bunk dealers, either. They give them a bad name. People cheer when a bunk dealer gets his ass kicked or gets killed. What the hell? He asked for it. Serves you right, asshole. But you want to know the craziest part? Believe it or not, you can actually go to jail for selling bunk. What is it? The state doesn’t want you using dope, but at the same time they don’t want the addicts to get ripped off? It’s fucking insane. Can you imagine what that must be like? Hey pal, what are you in here for? Oh, I’m doing one to three for selling a piece of soap. Yeah, that’ll go over big in prison.

You’re probably getting the impression that everything about dope dealing is hazardous to your health. You’re right. Just carrying the shit can kill you. Remember how I said the dealers carry the dope in their mouths? Most people don’t realize how dangerous that is. You see, one of the strange things about coke and heroin is that you can snort them or smoke them or even shoot them without any problems, but if you swallow it, it can kill you. There’s something about the way the dope gets into your system when you eat it. Swallowing coke is a major crapshoot. You have to have a particular something or other in your body chemistry to digest it or else it’ll kill you stone dead. At least, that’s what the paramedics told me. And the only way to tell if you have it is to swallow some crack. If you don’t drop dead, then you have it. Talk about Russian roulette! Heroin is worse. You can’t swallow that shit at all. I don’t care what you’ve got in your body or your blood or whatever. You can’t take heroin like that. No, sir! Swallow a few rocks of crack and it might kill you. Swallow even one fucking dose of heroin and it will kill you. That’s guaranteed. That’s why dealers put heroin in these tiny little balloons. That way they can keep it in their mouth and swallow it if the cops grab them. The balloon keeps the dope from getting into your system. At least, they do as long as they don’t break. They do that sometimes. Good luck, pal!

Ah, those fucking balloons! They’re like the calling card of the junkie. One thing about junkies: we never clean up after ourselves. You can always tell if some place is a hype spot by all of the little balloons on the ground. They’re a dead giveaway. Go over to that doorway across the street there and you’ll see a bunch of them. A lot of people shoot up in there. Tiny little balloons. It doesn’t matter who you buy from or where you buy it; it’s always the exact same kind of balloon. They’re these teeny-tiny little fuckers, about the size of a pea when they’re rolled up. I sometimes wonder if they serve any other purpose. Do the people who make them know what we do with them? You think you’re making balloons for clowns and kids’ birthday parties and shit, but instead you’re just fueling the fucking drug trade out here. Do they know? I’ll bet the people who sell them do. It must be a trip to have some asshole come into your drugstore and ask for two hundred tiny little balloons and a funnel. Gee, you think maybe this guy’s a dope dealer? It’s crazy. Seriously though, if you swallow even one dose of heroin and the balloon breaks or the shit leaks out, you’re dead. There’s almost nothing they can do to save you. Even if they get you an ambulance you probably won’t make it to the hospital. It’s not a pretty death, either. I’ve never seen anyone die from eating heroin, but I’ve heard about it. Charlie’s seen it. He said it’s really painful. Fucking horrible. You go into convulsions. That’s another weird thing about heroin – use it right and it makes you feel great, but use it wrong and you’ll die in agony. I guess it’s not so surprising after all. Life out here is full of contradictions.

I’ve never seen anyone wrap crack in a balloon, but I have seen them wrap it in aluminum foil. Some crack dealers do it, but not all. Why do I mention that? Because I’m a fucking mental case and it hurts just thinking about it! Every time I see a crack dealer with a bunch of foil-wrapped shit in him mouth, it makes me wince. When I was a kid, I bit down on a piece of aluminum foil and it hurt my teeth like a bitch! It was like getting my teeth drilled without any Novocain! I almost screamed! Don’t ask me why I did it. I was a pretty stupid kid sometimes. Doesn’t it hurt their teeth just the same? Maybe they’re immune or something? And what happens when they swallow that shit? I can’t imagine swallowing a mouthful of foil does your insides any good, either. It is metal, after all. You’re not supposed to eat metal. So why do they use it? God knows. They’d be better off wrapping it in a balloon, but I guess they don’t want anyone confusing their crack with heroin. You don’t want to attract the wrong element to your dope spot, right? You’ve got to keep up appearances. What would the other dealers think? Uh, that was a joke. Anyway, the main reason you wrap crack in whatever the fuck you use is to keep it from dissolving in your mouth. If you’re dealing, you might have to carry your dope around in your mouth for a couple of hours and you don’t want to accidentally suck a ten-dollar rock down to a two-dollar chip. That’s bad for business. I wonder if you can get high from sucking on crack? For that matter, I wonder if it can kill you? Can you imagine that? Here lies Joe. He sucked himself to death on crack. I guess that makes him a genuine sucker. Now there’s a hell of an epitaph.

So do you want to be a dope dealer now? No, I didn’t think so. It’s a wonder anyone is brave enough or crazy enough to deal dope out here, but they do. They all know the risks and they just accept them. It goes with the territory. They all know the danger, and yet they still swallow the fucking dope whenever the cops grab them. Of course, the cops know this, too. They’ll try to stop you from swallowing your shit. Whenever they jack up a dealer, they usually grab him by the throat to keep him from swallowing the dope. They’ll squeeze his windpipe so he can’t swallow anything. That’s called giving someone a “C-clamp.” It’s a fancy term for choking the living shit out of someone with one hand. That’s what Loomis’ boot did to me back there before he slammed my fucking head into the windshield. It’s like an automatic police reaction out here. I was lucky. All I got was the C-clamp. Sometimes they shake the shit out of you when they slap one on. That can kill you. I’ve seen cops shake a dealer by the neck like he’s a fucking rag doll. One guy actually started turning blue. It did keep him from swallowing the dope, though. Of course, sometimes they forego the C-clamp and just slap a full-blown chokehold on the guy. They’re not supposed to do that anymore, but some of them still do. I guess they didn’t get the memo. Have you ever seen a cop choke someone out? Man, they’ve got it down to a fucking science! They slam their palm against the guy’s shoulder to spin him around, throw an arm across his neck, take him down and squeeze like a fucking boa constrictor. The whole thing takes about a second. You have to see it to believe it. And take it from me, it’s fucking brutal. Sometimes the guy’s head looks like it’s going to pop like a zit. I’ve seen guys turn three shades of red in the face in about six seconds from the pressure. The cops choke the guy’s ass out and the son of a bitch wakes up a few minutes later in the back of the cop car in handcuffs and sitting in his own shit. Being choked out makes you shit yourself, or so I’ve heard. Fortunately, I’ve never been choked out. But I’ll bet every fucking dope dealer out here has. Take it from me: dealing dope is a hard life.

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