Union Square park still has tons of junkies. It always shocks me when I see them because in Woodside, Sunnyside and L.I.C. I rarely see them. It brings back memories from when I lived in Manhattan in the 80s and when I lived more on the edge. They, dopefiends, were such a big part of my life. It is funny because even as a baby, before we moved into the projects on Avenue D, when we lived on 18th street between Broadway and 5th, the Junkies in Union Sq. Park were a part of my “general memory.” They used to buy my brother and I candy as a way of sucking up to my mom who’d watch us in the playground at the north end of the park.
Union Square Park is different than, say 108th and Lex, because there are lots of new junkies trying out the dopefiend lifestyle. College kids who have yet to be seasoned in rehab or detox. “Kids” for whom the game is still an adventure. They go through it with the grizzled determination of someone who wants to learn to like the taste of bourbon, or wheatgrass-juice or tofu. In the young junkie you can still see the remnants of who they wanted to be before they just wanted to stay high (or avoid withdrawal). Tattoos, Zen philosophy, Punk Rebellion, Be-Bop Jazz all register on the surface of their existence, as addiction eats away at the core of their beings. (again, I wrote some Haikus, we’ll see if I can put them here).
In Union Sq. Park/
Watch addiction’s infancy/
Capture some more souls/
I remember “Harvey the Junkie” who used to hang out at Tom’s loft. He was really pretty far down the swirl of Dopefiend existence, but he had also been at it for at least a couple of decades when I met him in ’80. He had philosophies and theories about how to exist as an addict (not his term). I hope to someday have the focus and patience to type them into a story or essay.
Harvey was an expert at dereliction. He always knew how to make himself and his contacts matter to the rookie addict. If he could cop for you he’d get a taste. If he could cop for someone who had more money, or a better set of circumstances he’s be off doing their bidding. There was always a “dopefiend-cost-benefit-analysis” that he could do instantaneously. Harvey always knew which side his bread was buttered on and how to monetize the lipid, bread, heat and labor. There was a poetic beauty to his “groveling self-interest.” Groveling self-interest isn’t quite right: he had an alien in him that was perfectly adapted to surviving. His addiction was like the acid spitting monster in Alien: it knew how to make the host do everything that was in his best interest. So when someone needed, say, methamphetamine he was immediately calculating their desire, need, addiction, level of experience, possible suppliers, amount of time to cop, possible extenders (cuts), and places to cut.
Once I was inside his tent and I watched these operations and calculations deployed on others I was amazed. It was like watching the cheetah stalk an ibex: there was a chance of escape, but it diminished at each move. Each request or demand of the money holding prey became a fulcrum for the lever that would move him into position to supply Harvey’s addiction. The more sensible the demand, the more untenable the purchaser’s position became. It was so counter-intuitive that looking out for one’s self and one’s interests could become liabilities, but what the rookie dopefiend forgets is that he is leaving the world of rational cause and effect and entering the “Junky-Zone.”
This is a place where the usual rules that we grew up believing (never “knowing”) don’t apply. Becoming a dopefiend is like traveling through the looking glass where everything is reversed. Not simply 180˚ like a physical mirror, the angles could change to a fairly predictable 90˚ or any variation of < 180˚. I guess there is a calculus of addiction. There is a mathematical formula for all of those souls scampering or gyrating around Union Square Park in the snow.
For the most part they feed on each other. There is no way to cheat someone who doesn’t want anything from the addicts that exist in the agar of the Union Square Petri Dish. However if the desire for anything illicit intrigues a “taxpayer” down into the agar the chemical looking-glass is activated and all angles change and all desires are bent and there is opportunity for a creative “desire chemist” like Harvey to experiment with incentive, need, desire, opportunity, legitimacy, and lust.
Now Harvey was a past-master of all of these equations, he was a pure genius, a Karl Rove of self-interest and “bending desire.” More often than not the people with these skills look like what they are, long-term-dope-fiends, whom few of us would deign to speak with.
But they are training the next generation of dopefiends who might just look like a grad-student with a hangover. Now in a decade “Pierre” will either be clean or look like the geniuses like Harvey on the periphery, but right now he will take you for everything you extend in your desire to secure your illicit wants. Some pot, Some Porn, A Hipster Tattooed Whore (either gender) might be the rabbit that leads you through the looking glass. But once you’re there, their rules apply.
It is like looking up through the surface of a calm pool, you can never just reach up and grab the poolside glass because you are in the warped perspective of liquid reality: weightless, but unable to gauge distance, perspective, value, or finally reality.
So if you go to Union Square Park, and you know how to watch, you can see these dramas playing out. You can watch the strata of addicts and addiction. You can watch the masters and their pawns. You can see it all right before your eyes if you know how to look. But remember you have to choose their reality. You have to ask for it.
Next time we’ll talk about the “honest” dopefiend, who simply goes and cops and you will never see in “needle park.”