Stalemate at Turk and Taylor

by Tom Pitts

The problem was finding a place to shoot up. I’d tried everything. Public buses, public bathrooms, people’s front stoops, in the parks, in parking lots where needles were hidden safely under the bumper of an immobilized car, it was a constant problem that needed constant solving.

One of the safest, most private places I could think of was the video arcade porno booths. The kind of joint that a guy went into with a roll of quarters in one hand and a hard-on in the other.

I’d done it before. There was a XXX porno shop beside the methadone clinic with the pay by the minute video booths hidden in back. I’d gone in and cooked up, and hit up by the light of thirty-six channels of endless sex.

It was maybe my third visit to the video arcade. I went into the booth, and started to set up shop. This included grabbing some newspaper from my bag and stuffing the glory hole to ensure complete privacy.

This time the paper popped back out. I stuffed it right back in. Again, it popped back out.

“Oh.”

There was someone on the other side pushing it out. I was so focused on finally having solitude that it didn’t even occur tome that that was what the fucking glory hole was there for in the first place. I had a needle in one hand, a spoon in the other. It was worse than being caught masturbating.

“No thanks!”  I said, replacing the paper. Loudly, I thought, but I guess not loudly enough, because the newspaper popped right back out. Goddamn it. I was pissed, I didn’t have all day. They made you buy a minimum three dollars in tokens and each of the tokens lasted only seconds it seemed. I had only so much light to unpack this shit, cook it up, and trickiest of all: find a vein.

At any moment I feared a big hard cock being shoved though the hole. Or a terrified voice shouting, “Hey what are you doing in there? That’s not beating off!”

I leaned over and shouted at the hole.

“Try another fuckin’ booth.” I shoved the paper back at the hole, and added, “Not interested.” An unnecessary appeasement in case I’d hurt the pervert’s feelings. I think he had figured out I’d be doing something other than what he was doing.

I went about my business quick.  My tiny bottle of water, the little rat-shit sized piece of black tar heroin, a shed of filter from my cigarette to draw it up through, and the reason for my urgency, a quarter gram of cocaine, ready to slide in once the junk was heated and dissolved.

I’d pump a few more tokens into the machine and look around for some fucking going on in a white room.  When I thought the light was the best, I’d take the spoon and twist it up into my sleeve, creating a tourniquet, and start poking around till I got something.

Afterward I’d try to stay in there, use up my tokens, check out the movies, but I never could. I’d flip around the channels, rubbing myself a little, but I had no interest, I was already satisfied. Then, the paranoia would set in, and I’d have to move on the next place, the next comfort zone.

*

It took a month or so before I felt like I had to go back to the booths again. It was late, the public pay toilets on Market Street were being serviced and it was too dangerous in the Tenderloin to just plunk down in a doorway and start fixing. The place beside the methadone clinic was too far away. It would only take a few minutes by bus, but that would require waiting for a bus, something I could not bear to do.

The closest places were the seediest joints in town. Turk and Taylor. The corner was widely known as the place you could buy any drug you could think of. I’d never think of buying there. It was a sure fire burn. It was crack dealers and people selling heavy duty meds. It’s where the homeless went to shop when they needed to self-medicate.

My presence down there was an exercise in self-denial. But I wasn’t gonna linger, I was gonna get this hit and then a bus ride wouldn’t seem so agonizing. After all, I hoped the next bus ride would take all night long.

The shop I picked was at 45 Taylor. It was next door to a halfway house a friend of mine stayed at when he got out of the pen. I walked in and browsed a few moments. It was the same stuff as the other joint. Dildos and DVDs. Same shit, different hole. I walked up to the counter and asked for tokens for the booths in back.

“Minimum three dollars,” said the clerk. Same as the other place. I didn’t say a word; I just forked over the three dollars and made my way toward the back. Once inside, I went through the same ritual as before. Only this time I noticed that the tokens didn’t give me as much time.

I was tearing cellophane with my teeth and drawing up water when I heard a knock. I froze. Fearful like a deer. Who would knock? Is that management? What do they want?  They’d have to assume I was jerking off and want privacy so I decided to ignore them and keep moving.

The red digits on the seconds counter fell as I hurried to assemble the hit. Dope, water, flame, coke, cotton.

Knock, knock, knock.

I had just drawn up the hit, I couldn’t have somebody pounding on the door when I had a needle in my vein, I had to answer.

“Fuckoff.” I called out. No sense in beating around the bush.

The knock came again, a little lighter this time.

“Fuckoff.” I repeated. A little louder this time.

But the knock came back, this time with a voice.

“Open up.” It was tough to make out, but it was a voice.

“Busy.” I answered. I wanted to kick the door open and scream What the fuck!, but I wanted that hit.

“Come on, man. Open up.” The voice was barely above a whisper. I knew it wasn’t management or the cops. It was almost pleading.

What?” I said, as sharply as possible. I still didn’t want to open that door. Then I heard the voice say something I couldn’t make out.  It was a question, I could tell, but who knew what?

The voice repeated the question.

Jesus Christ, I wasn’t gonna get rid of this guy. I didn’t know if he needed a light or if he was hitting me up for change, but I was going to have to open up that door.  I held the needle behind my back and cracked it open just a bit.

There was no one there.

Then, the voice repeated the question. Even with the door cracked, I still couldn’t understand the question. I open the door further to see where the person owning that voice went.

It was then I saw something move in the blackness in front of me.  I looked down and saw two yellowy eyes and a set of grinning teeth looking up. I recognized him immediately; it was as though I’d already seen him in my nightmares. He was a tiny black man,only about 4 and a half feet tall.  I’d seen him many times on Market Street handing out photocopied poetry to uninterested commuters. He was dreadlocked and dirty. His head was too big for his body and his yellow glassy eyes bulged out of that enormous head.

“What?” I repeated, in shock from seeing him there in the first place.  He asked the question again. “Can you what?” It still made no sense to me.

He slowed down.

“When you are done . . . can I eat your wad?”

I blinked, astonished. This is what he wanted? This stranger? Is this what this guy did all night? I was nauseated, disgusted, but most of all pissed off that he interrupted me for . . . this.

I held up the needle in front of his face.

“I’m trying to fix. Fuck off.”

But he just stood there expecting me to change my mind. Grinning, waiting.

After a pause he said, “I mean, after.”

“I’m fixing, I don’t have any . . . wads,” I said and slammed the door.

I went back to work. Wham. Slam. Pack up and get out. I was trying not to think about that little troll at the door, about what kind of death wish one must have to go and beg to gulp a stranger’s semen in a porno booth in the Tenderloin.

As soon as I opened the door, there he was. Still hoping I was going to change my mind, or maybe waiting for the next guy.

I thought to bitch to the clerk, but decided against it. Better to keep moving. Next time, I’d take the excruciating bus ride down to the train station and take my chances with the hobos in the public restrooms; anything to avoid suicidal deviants.

ς

Tom Pitts was born in Calgary, Canada, and relocated to San Francisco in 1984. After making two critically-acclaimed albums on Rough Trade Records, and the disintegration of his band, Short Dogs Grow, Tom got an education in street life first-hand while enduring a near-fatal bout with heroin. Today, he lives in San Francisco with his wife and three kids, working and writing.

The video is Tom performing Turk and Taylor at Lip Service West, August 13, 2010.

6 Responses to “Stalemate at Turk and Taylor”

  1. A heartbreakingly accurate depiction in the day in the life of a junkie. A pretty bright guy once told me, “It doesn’t matter how much dope costs. It could cost a penny. Just means we’d have bigger habits.” Ain’t that the truth, brother…

  2. […] when we came upon Turk and Taylor, we knew well to turn and head the other way. No need to tempt the […]

  3. I once told my first sponsor that the only way I would use again was if I had a lifetime supply of heroin…..He said, “That wouldn’t be very much would it?” So I decided to stay clean another day.

  4. This is a fantastic piece of writing. Why is it do interesting to read about people really down on their luck, in the shittiest of situations?

  5. dude quit stealing all my cool stories.lol just kidding i think we all been there.the worst time was when we were on our way to fresno to go up mount whitny we pulled into a rest area and the cornel want to know what all the dudes werewalking into the woods for he thought it was just drugs so went. when he came out i think that was the most ashen face i have ever seen on a live person. he didnt say a word till chico.

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