Archive for heroin addiction

A String of Lights

Posted in Allison McCabe, Junk 5: Fall 2011 with tags , , , , on November 15, 2011 by Tim Elhajj

by Allison McCabe

The valley’s not really magic. When I was a kid I thought it was, because when you drive north on the 405 there’s a moment when you come over the hill and you see the valley laid out beneath you. At night the lights on the buildings glitter red and white and yellow. Those San Fernando cities—Van Nuys, North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks—are indistinguishable at night, each square block a mirror image of the previous one, boundaries dissolved.

So first there were the lights against a black background as we crested, then descended. My daddy used to say: “Look at the sparkly jewels. We are going down into the Seven Dwarves’ Diamond Mine.” Maybe we sang.

Then later, after my dad had been dead for a couple of years and I had little reason to navigate those dusty valley streets, I returned for the dope. I didn’t know about downtown or Bonnie Brae in those days. But my friend had introduced me to his dealer in exchange for two hundred dollars cash and a twenty dollar balloon.

Dope made the valley magic again.

I would take the 405 north, but usually in the daytime. I still felt the sharp-edged pleasure of that nostalgia as I came over the hill. The dealer would tell me where to meet him: a Thrifty or Ralph’s parking lot, the alley behind a bar, some random residential corner. I would park and keep my eyes trained on the rear view mirror, the reflection of the street, heated air shimmering low over the asphalt.

Sometimes, after I copped, I would drive by my dad’s old house. From the outside, it looked the same: wooden fences with chipped white paint sagging under the weight of pine needles, the huge tree in the front yard, the cement stairs and porch under the living room windows. I always slowed and looked for signs of a child–a brightly colored ball, a big wheel, walnuts on the porch for the squirrels.

It was impossible to make it back over the hill without getting high. So I usually wouldn’t take the freeway back. I’d take Laurel or Coldwater so I could turn onto some quiet street, park, and get high. In those days I smoked it, so I always had aluminum foil in the car. Sometimes, if I wasn’t afraid of nodding off, I detoured onto Mulholland for the view. After I got high I wasn’t sick anymore, and I didn’t feel the nostalgia.

The childhood memories are mostly still distorted. But I do remember the squirrels coming right up to the welcome mat and picking up the nuts in their little hands. I watched them from inside, my face pressed against the window, trying hard to stay quiet so I wouldn’t scare them away.

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Higher Ground

Posted in Grady Phelan, Junk 5: Fall 2011 with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by Tim Elhajj

by Grady Phelan

The symptoms are all too familiar.

Your calves are on fire. Muscles cramp. Lower back aches like dead weight. Fingers and toes feel numb. Head pounds, skin itches, sweat dries. You have a runny nose, watery eyes, stiff joints, ass rash, and bruises peppering your limbs. The pain will linger for days. The discomfort is so consuming, so inescapable that, despite your body odor, you haven’t bothered to shower or even change clothes in nearly a week.

Your doctor, if consulted by phone, might presume you fell off the wagon, that you’re lying in bed, that after going on a heroin binge you’re suffering through withdrawal. But at 4,587 feet, alone atop Wright Peak, you know such a diagnosis would be wrong.

For starters, cell reception is spotty at best this deep in the Adirondacks. And you’re far from flat. You’re standing. On a mountain. In snowshoes. At sunrise. By yourself. You’ve been winter hiking and ice climbing the entire vacation, which is why you’re so beat up, so ragged out. Your body feels like a bag of bones, yet you haven’t used junk in a decade. You’re not jonesing. Much to the contrary—at the moment, you’re pretty damn high.

You climbed more than a hundred mountains last year, soaking up alpine views from the Catskills to Colorado. Not much has changed. The substance may be different, but once again, you’re hooked. The wilderness still calls. You still walk through sketchy areas in the dark. Still disappear for days on end. Still push your luck. Still leave loved ones to worry. Still run around chasing dreams.

A friend wonders why you replaced heroin with mountains, failing to realize the question he’s asking is why anyone uses junk in the first place. “It seems so extreme. You put yourself through hell. And it’s dangerous.” You try to explain: it’s not easy, but once you’ve kicked dope a few times, climbing a mountain is no big deal. He asks what you’re looking for. In the heroin days, it wasn’t God, only heaven. Now, it’s about getting to higher ground.

People warn you about going solo. They say it’s risky, especially in winter. But if you’ve learned anything from smack, it’s how to push the envelope without bursting into flames. You still crave that out-of-body experience, to see yourself standing in snow on a summit—the same way you once, nodding from half a bundle, watched from above as you lay to waste on a bathroom floor. Addiction is peeking over the edge without going too far, scaling mountains without falling off them, if only so you’ll be able to climb another day.

You have faith. You believe in yourself.

And so do I.

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Stalemate at Turk and Taylor

Posted in Junk 4: Summer 2011, Tom Pitts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2011 by Editors

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.


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.

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What Kind of Father Am I?

Posted in Junk 1: Fall 2010, Tim Elhajj with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by Editors

by Tim Elhajj

Twenty-some years ago, I took my son to a Pennsylvania amusement park named for a chocolate bar and discovered I had a lot to learn about being a father. He was a chipper boy of about three-and-a-half. It was a bright summer’s day and we were having a good time. He insisted we ride a wild roller coaster that included a loop-the-loop. It seemed like a bad idea to me, but he was relentless: He tugged at my pant leg, screwed up his little sun-baked face and whined. I would have stood a better chance of denying him, had I felt a little more secure in my ability to father him. Or, perhaps, if I had a better sense of the kind of father I wanted to be. As it was, I had neither. Shortly after he was born, his mother had taken him and left me, and my father was dead and gone, leaving me with only the vague notion that I ought to be able to do a better job than he had done with me. It seemed simple enough. But I only had the boy for the afternoon. And more than anything else, I wanted to make him happy.

“You want to ride the SooperDooperLooper?” I asked.

He literally leapt into the air and bounced in a ring around me. His blond crew cut shone, his blue eyes glittered with anticipation.

Part of the SooperDooperLooper’s popularity is its low height requirement. Even so, I had to grab Timmy by his armpit and nudge him half an inch skyward to meet the bar. I nodded to the timid teenager collecting tickets and said, “He’s good.”

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Jimi Don’t Play Here No More

Posted in Junk 1: Fall 2010, Tim Elhajj with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by Editors

by Tim Elhajj

After getting booted from high school three times, I joined the military. Three years into my enlistment, the Navy cut me loose. I moved back to Pennsylvania and got married, but then my wife split, taking our baby boy with her. I was a 24-year-old cyclone of poor decisions.

In time, I landed in county jail. At least nobody gets thrown out of jail. Drug treatment followed, but even that didn’t work: I went to AA meetings high. One night a woman named Alice pulled me aside and hissed: “You are going to die!”

I told her the obvious: “We’re all going to die, Alice.”

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