Heroin Overdose is something you cannot plan for. It happens when it happens and years ago the threat was always fatal. If you phoned in an accidental overdose you were most often charged with attempted murder and least of all position of narcotics and whatever other misdemeanor the police felt justified to charge you with.
Not only was in not legally safe to phone in an OD, calling paramedics always led to arrest too. Narcan was not available to be carried by users of heroin. Unfortunately death was most often fatal.
Living with a dope habit wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Unless of course you enjoy living life in constant fear of being dope sick, mourning dead friends, and constantly hustling for your next fix. Gratitude comes hard when you’re living the street junky life. Getting sober is overrated plus who would you have to hang out with if you kicked, what would you do, how would you spend your days.
It wasn’t in the cards for me. I wasn’t planning on grieving my street junky life anytime soon. If a heroin overdose took me I knew i would at least go down doing something I loved. Its more I can say for many others.
“We’re on easy street. And it feels so sweet. ‘Cause the world is ’bout a treat. When you’re on easy street!”
“Up to Lexington 1-2-5…“
Yesterday, I went to the NYS DMV on 125th, Spanish Harlem NYC. When I came up out of the subway, the thick smell of marijuana and K2 stifled me.
I looked along the North- West side of Lexington and the image brought me back in time. I stood there frozen.
Why was I here?
My body wouldn’t move until a man gently put his hand on my shoulder and asked me –
“Yeah, man, thanks. I just got stuck in my head for a minute.”
“Whatever man, just move outta the way of the step. People need to get by and your ass is in the way.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry.”
I started walking North turned left on 126 and headed towards Madison. I was walking fast looking all around me. I was standing near the corner to Park and 126 and a guy asked me what I was looking for. Was he asking me if I wanted to cop? Or just concerned at how frazzled I looked.
“No man, I’m good. Just disoriented. I can’t find the DMV.”
“You’re heading the wrong way. It’s behind you on 1.2.5. Between Lex and 3rd. The close in 30 minutes so you better hurry your ass. You sure you ain’t lookin’ I got the bomb man.”
“Maybe 10 years ago, but I’m good.”
He was doing a bit of both – Selling drugs and public service. Bonus.
I turned around and got my ass out of there. I should’ve walked back down in the subway and got my ass out of there, but I needed to go to DMV. I found the building, went inside, took a ticket and waited.
I started drifting back in time. I remembered the first time I came up to 125. it was 1985 or 86. I wasn’t old enough to drink booze legally, but I wasn’t there to drink. I was following the advice in the song by Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, “Waiting on my Man.”
Yeah, Lou Reed’s words were like an anthem to me. I followed his advice and jumped a 6-train to Lexington 1-2-5 and found one of the best dope stamps I ever shot in NYC. I knew the dope on the streets in Harlem had to be stellar, why else would he sing about that spot.
At first, I felt out of place just like I did today, but it didn’t take long to shake that feeling. I knew I’d find someone to serve me. Unlike Lou, I didn’t have to wait, I’d my choice of dealers running up to me.
I was 17.
My only care in the world was coping great dope.
I just hung around and waited. I watched the foot traffic. There wasn’t a cop in sight, and it seemed everyone was involved in a hustle. I posted up against a wall , took out a cigarette and smoked.
A few prostitutes made there way over to me-
“What’s a pretty young white boy doing uptown?”
“Looking for dope.”
“You ain’t no junkie, boy.”
The girl an old fake ass fur coat that looked like a muskrat said, “We’ll help you cop, but you gotta come party with us, sweetie?”
“No thanks. I got this.”
“Aint no one gonna serve you,” said the youngest of the three. She looked mean. She scared me. In my heart, I felt she wasn’t lying, but I wasn’t about to hand over my money. “Give your money here. I get you what you lookin’ for. I get you the Runaway Train, boy. You’ll never be the same.”
The third one chimed in, ” And your white dick get so hard we’ll fuck all night. You’ll see.”
And the second prostitute says,”You too young to get served up here.” These guys soon as rob you than serve you.”
I said no thanks and walked away.
And all together they yelled back, “You’ll be back, sweety. You see. We ain’t playin’ wityou.” It almost sounded rehearsed.
It didn’t take long to find someone to serve me because I ran into Kevin from the Lower. He saw me leaning on a wall. He came over and knew what I was there for, so he brought me over and introduced me to a guy selling, the stamp one of the prostitutes mentioned.
The Runaway Train.
Eventually, the name changed to Tombstone because too many people OD’d from it. Whenever people started OD’ing the name stamped on the baggies changed. I didn’t care what the stamp read because the bags were fat and the dope was incredible. I got a bundle for forty dollars. I knew I could sell this shit upstate for 30 a bag without any problems.
We copped on the corner by a Kennedy Fried Chicken. I could never wait until I got back to my neighborhood to work up a shot. I left Kevin and down 125th Street and found a church stoop to fix upon.
I knew it was probably not a good idea to shoot up here, but I was hidden from the public eye. I also convinced myself that I was getting to be a little bit sick. I fixed up and watched the needle fill with my blood. The dope was dark, and I could barely see the first drip of blood swim into the plunger. I could taste it before I even pushed the plunger.
I pushed the shot, and my head was swimming. Fucking amazing; the euphoria kept climbing. The rush was overpowering. I went to the special place in my head; the place where I was safe. Swimming in warm waters, protected from all the evil thoughts that lurked in my head. The warmth kept coming, and my body soared higher.
I was lost in nothingness. The place I was safest. For some reason, I only put one bag in the cooker. I was glad that I was responsible and actually tested the dope for a change. I think I would have OD’d if I fixed-up more than one bag. I would have died in Harlem. I use to joke about wanting to die. I never wanted to die. I wanted the pain of my life to subside, and this is what dope did for me. It took away all the hurt, pain anger, and rejection I felt and let me feel safe in a world where no one gave a fuck about me.
If I died, I would never be able to feel this good. Dope kept me alive.
I spent the next 45 minutes, on that stoop trying to put that little orange cap on my needle. It took everything I had to complete this impossible task. I would almost get it and then nod out. I would bring myself out of the nod because the uncapped needle would pierce my finger. By the time I had finished the impossible, my hand was a bloody mess, but I still felt so warm, so safe, and so fucking good.
I walked back to the corner and spent all my money on this stamp and headed back to the Lower East Side. I had to find Crisis and get her well. She still smoked dope on tinfoil. The needle scared her for many reasons, and she was right to be scared of it because the addiction to the needle is powerful.
I saw a friend of mine he asked if ai had any dope. He was sick. I handed him a bag and left to find Crisis.
He took the bag. As he was walking away, he turned back and yelled, “Hey I almost forgot- That guy Richie from Utica is around looking for you! See you, man. Thanks!”
“Later man. That shits gonna make you suck your own dick!” I yelled back at him.
Supply and Demand
I walked down towards the park in search of Richie. This made my day. I could cop him this shit and get a great price and make enough dope for Kevin. Crisis and me to last the rest of the week. I loved when little surprises like this popped up. I found Richie looking out of place, quietly sitting on a bench in Thompkins. I walked over to him and tried to strike up a conversation. The dope was riding in me pretty heavy again. I kept nodding off. I was in a better than usual mood and life didn’t seem all that bad. One of Lou Reed’s Perfect Days, indeed.
Richie and I talked about Utica for a bit, who was in jail for petit crimes, who was selling shitty dope, who was getting more strung out than there money could handle, who was robbing who, and unfortunately who over-dosed recently. All the typical junkie gossip.
Unfortunately, two of my friends met their demise or found freedom, (entirely subjective) at the hands of a new stamp in Utica. Everyone said the dope was mixed with a horse tranquilizer and some other type of synthetic morphine. This was before the days of Fentanyl.
For me to hear two friends were dead from a heroin overdose brought crippling sadness to a perfect day. I’ve lost friends in the city, but no one from back home had died becuase of this disease. It was all about to change.
Timmy was the first heroin overdose
Timmy Od’d while leaving a restroom he fixed up in. The bathroom was in a supermarket near the projects. He was the first of many victims of this new stamp. He copped in the parking lot of the grocery store nearest to the Adrian Terrace projects and used the same bathroom to work up. He didn’t overdose in the bathroom. He made it to the first aisle, and while he was walking out, he fell to the floor and died. He was white as a ghost by the time the paramedics arrived.
Johnny was the second to pass from an accidental heroin overdose.
He drove his car into a tree and died on impact. Johnny loved to shoot in his neck, using the rearview mirror to work up, while driving incredibly fast. It is suspected that when the dope hit his brain, his foot pressed the gas-peddle to the floorboards and he drove into a tree at a 65 miles an hour.
They were gone. My friends. Two of the three who turned me on to this life. He introduced me to heroin. I told Richie I had some kick-ass dope and I would work him up a shot. I didn’t want to give him a full bag because I was scared that he might not be able to handle it either. I didn’t want to lose another friend.
We worked up sitting on a bench in Thompkins.
Richies veins were plump and juicy.
He raised his shirt sleeve and slipped it in.
It wasn’t long before he was nodding out on the bench with me and we just slipped in and out of consciousness trying to talk and enjoying the warmth with the heroine running in our veins. Life was alright.
Up to Lexington 1-2-5
Finally, we were able to get our senses back in check. Richie told me he wanted to get a brick of dope and couple 8-balls of coke. He said he definitely wanted the shit – he just shot up.
We left the park and headed for the 6 train. We stumbled our way up St. Mark’s Place plowing through the littered needles and spent dope bags along the street. He was amazed at how different the city was from Utica. It was the first time he had been to NYC, and when a small town kid hits the big city, it’s the epitome of “The kid in a candy store,” cliche.
He asked why we had to go to Harlem when we could cop in this neighborhood. His friends upstate told him he’d be fine once he found St. Marks Place. I said, “You want the dope that killed Elvis, right?”
He laughed. I shook my head and said, “Spanish Harlem it is, then.” He insisted that we could cop right here. I could tell he didn’t trust me. And he had no reason too. But I could get him dope that would make him a hit in Utica. He’d sell out in a day or two and be back for more.
I saw dollar signs and a possible way out from hustling all day every day. A few customers coming down from Upstate several times a week would put me on easy street. I whistled along to the song Living on Easy street buzzing in my head.
The trip to Harlem was uneventful. Nodding away our ride on the 6. I had him wait where I got off early and went and copped. I told him I got 12 bundles and gave him 10. He argued for a second and then I said I didn’t have to tell you how many I got. I just could’ve taken 2 or 5 for what it is worth. I was able to cop a brick of 12 bundles of 12 bags each for 400. I bought 4 more for the other 100 bucks. Not bad. I just made two to three days worth of dope without to much hassle.
I whistled Easy Street again and added a little swag to my step.
We headed back down to the Lower East Side. I went to one of the hundred Bodegas that I could cop dimes of coke, at the time. I went inside and grabbed a couple 25 cent Huggie sugar water drinks, the drinks which look like small barrels and have tin foil tops. I walked up to the counter, reached into my pocket and put the drinks down with 150 cash under it and 50 cents for the drinks. The Spanish worker took the money, put my bottles in the bag, with the coke and handed it to me. I gave Richie the bag minus 5 dimes of coke. I sold them to him as Dubs. I made out pretty well, and so did Richie. He was happy with his score-10 bundles and over 6 grams of Coke. We walked back to his van and begged him not to shoot more than a half of bag of the shit.
We worked up a couple of speedballs from his stash in the back of his van. I got pretty twisted and nodded out again. When I came too, I told him I had better split and get back to the streets to find Crisis. I needed to make some money. I didn’t really, but I didn’t want him to know my business and how much I made off of him.
We said our goodbyes and I said I would run into him the next time he was in town. I assured him it would be soon and we were going to make a killing on this dope.
“Have fun,” I added as a I closed the van door. It was the last time I would ever see Richie alive.
Richie was the third but not the last heroin overdose I would deal with over the next 12 years.
I walked down 9th Street a few days later and noticed Richie’s van was still parked where it was when I left him. I thought that was strange. I thought maybe he decided to stay a bit or got to high to drive. I banged on the door, but they weren’t any reply. No big deal. I kept walking.
Several times a day, over the next week, I went by his van and pounded on the back door. Looked in the windows, but couldn’t see a thing because they were all covered. He had a curtain installed to obscure the view, through the windshield, into the back of the van and tried the handles again, but they were always locked.
One night I ran into my friend Kevin and told him about the van, the dope, and my suspicion. I knew Richie was in the back of that van. Kevin and I went to where the van was parked. We duct-taped up the back window and hit with a rock. It popped after several tries. I pushed the glass away and popped the lock. The smell hit me. I gagged. I couldn’t go inside, so Kevin did. He picked through Richie’s pockets, got the drugs and extra money.
We walked away as calmly as possible.
My heart was pounded.
Tears were coming.
My stomach let go, and I started puking violently. Kevin walked me over to a bench. I sat there with my head between my legs trying to not hyperventilate.
Keven put all the drugs and cash in my pocket and walked over to a cop car that was passing by. He told them about the van. I saw him pointing towards it. He came back to me and said we have to go. We went back to the squat he was staying in on 3rd in between B and C. He helped me climb the rope ladder up the 3 flights.
No matter how much dope and coke I worked up the site of Richie lying there in his underwear dead with a needle in his arm wouldn’t get out of my head. It’s been many years, almost a lifetime since that night but if I close my eyes I can still see the image that burned into my brain. The image should’ve created a desire for change. Instead, the moment I opened the door to his van, on 9th Street, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, sometime in the late 1980s only pushed me further downward.
Fuck-there’s nothing easy about living on Easy Street.