Nothing surprised me anymore. I watched a guy mix up a shot of crystal meth and distilled water and – right there at the seat of this car as we were parked on Hollywood Boulevard – whip down his pants and shoot it up right into his groin. Broad daylight. I was spun off of shooting speed too but I had seen enough crazy scenes on crank that I was really unflappable at this point. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, during a baking Los Angeles heat wave. I asked him if it hurt fixing there.
“Only the first few times” he told me, “But I’ve done it so often now that the hole never really closes up. I get a hit first time every time, so whatever. I just stick it in there and wham! Blood pops right up like I had willed it…”
I felt trapped and sick, my habit outstripping my income and my ability to work. Systematically, over a period of 4 months I had managed to alienate every single person I knew who was prepared to pay me to write. I could no longer keep a fixed address, staying in short let motels, friend’s houses, even sleeping in the back of my car. In an effort to straighten myself out I had briefly flirted with methadone treatment at a clinic in Hollywood but it was hardly an encouraging experience. The clinic was right around the corner from where I was staying at the time, a roach ridden hooker motel on Wilcox between Hollywood and Sunset called the Mark Twain. I was there out of pure economics – it cost 174 dollars a week and they didn’t require a security deposit. As depressing as The Mark Twain was, with its many shades of brown upholstery in the hallways and lime-green bedsit-room with dilapidated 1920’s bathroom fixtures and one barred window which looked out over a parking lot were on Sundays they gave soup to the drunks and the street kids who spat and grizzled and fought over it, there were some advantages that came with having this particular Hollywood address. The only needle exchange in Hollywood was a 5-minute walk on Cueanga, right across from a queer bar - which opened at 6am - where I sometimes hung out when I was shooting methadrine and I couldn’t sleep. And then, when I was tired and broke and trying to figure a way out of my predicament there was the methadone clinic, which was 5 mins or less in the opposite direction.
It was an ugly place and the karma was wrong from the start. I was pretty fucked up by this time, shooting Mexican tar heroin and cocaine every day, sometimes up to 15 or 20 shots a day (maybe more on occasions). Everything I owned was in and out of a pawnshop on Fairfax Avenue, including my keyboard so I couldn’t play music and my word processor so I could only write longhand. I had an appointment for nine the next morning to be assessed and dosed and I stayed up the entire night in a state of fidgety excitement fixing speedballs in the backs of my hand and my feet (my leg and arm veins where pretty much all gone by now) thinking that here was a chance to quit and sort my life out. The typical excitement of the junky who has just made a promise but hasn’t had to follow through on it yet. At 8:30 I made my way down to the clinic, with 2 shots of cocaine in my jacket pocket since I had heard that the assessment could take a while. I had stopped shooting dope around 3am, as they needed me to be sick before they could dose me. By 8:30 my pupils were as big as saucers and I was soaked in a sticky layer of junk sweat while the coke I was shooting worsened my sporadic twitches. I guess I looked like a crazy homeless guy, definitely a lot older than my 22 years.
The clinic was around the back of a cheque-cashing place that I new pretty well on the corner of Hollywood and Cueanga (I had passed a couple of bum cheques there when I was desperate and ballsy enough, and didn’t look too much like a junky and a thief). There were two black guys on the door, like I was trying to get into some trendy Hollywood nightclub. They looked me up and down before letting me through the open door and up the staircase. I wondered who they were there to keep out.
Inside the clinic was a trip. It was a methadone clinic as well as a place for pre and post sex change’s to get medication and counselling. The waiting room was full of these hard looking Latino drag queens with permanent makeup and huge tits, and it was hard to tell who was post-op and who was pre-op. They all looked like they could kick the shit out of you. It was some scene, man. Outside these same queens would hawk their medication to the junkies as they left, mostly sleepers or hypnotics, occasionally a Dilaudid would turn up for sale but they could fetch 40 dollars a pill since they were so hard to get hold of.
The methadone patients seemed like typical LA / Hollywood gutter junkies mixed with the more rock and roll type kids who got a habit off smoking heroin on aluminium foil. I was assessed by some old Asian doctor who told me, after checking my injection sites and how sick I was, that I should start off on 80mls. First I would get 40 and then I had to wait. If I was still standing after 30 minutes I would get my other 40. I paid him 12 dollars, went up to the glass counter with my slip and waited in line. In front of me what looked like an 80-year-old woman in pancake make-up and a black witchy bonnet was passed a cup through the glass partition. She was supporting herself on a walking stick, and in her efforts to take the cup she had to place the stick against the counter and balance herself precariously against the wall. Her hand trembled as she reached for the meth and froze as she tottered on her heels in a gravity defying slow motion and it seemed she was about to slip. Instinctively I moved forwards to support her, but I was grabbed by one of the workers and hauled back to were I was standing. The guy who had grabbed me, an improbably large hick white kid with cross eyes pointed to a black line in the floor and mumbled “Don’t cross the line. Cross the line again and ya don’t git dosed.”
Meanwhile the old lady was still going through the improbably long pantomime of trying to raise the plastic cup of pink liquid to her lips while remaining upright. The trembling cup crawled towards her puckered lips. I felt my guts churn and loosen more, and got the idea that I might fall over soon.
“C’mon you old fuck!” someone behind me yelled, getting a few “Yeahs!” of approval. I thought that was kind of fucked up, but when she finally got the methadone down and insisted on adding some water to her cup, swilling it around and repeating the whole bullshit thing again I found myself cursing her also.
I got my dose passed to me through the glass partition and I downed it quickly. It tasted strong, aniseed - like. My first hit of methadone. I was about to walk away when the Chinese lady behind the counter said, “Wait!”
I looked at her questioningly and she pointed at her mouth sternly. Mouth. She wanted me to open my mouth to be sure I wasn’t going to spit it out to sell later for dope money…
Waiting for my juice to hit, I settled down into the bathroom to take a hit of coke. My only working vein was between my 2nd and 3rd finger on my right hand and to get to it I had to slip off the gold and onyx ring I wore on that hand. I stared at the ring for a second. It had been passed on to me when I was just 7 by a family friend I had loved dearly named Frank Barret who lived next door to my godmother Sally and who had kept me entertained every Saturday when mother was out shopping and my father was working. Frank had become another father figure to me and when he died of cancer I was so distraught I couldn’t go to school for 3 days, crying myself to sleep in a kind of grief stricken daze. He was the first person I knew who died on me. The concept that he just wasn’t there anymore made no sense to me. That the ashes they where spreading on the ground were all that was left of my Frank, who laughed with me and bought me toys made no sense at all yet hurt with a painful intensity. I remember the day when they held the service, a misty churchyard, a handful of mourners and the confusion of realizing that people die, suddenly and without any reason.
His son had given the ring – the one he wore on his pinkie – to me some weeks after the funeral. He said that one of Frank’s last wishes was that I should have it. Of course it didn’t fit, but I kept it next to my bed until I tuned 17 and filled out enough to slip it onto my own hand. Throughout all of the turmoil, the record deals, London, the tours, Los Angeles, addiction and homelessness I had kept the ring on me at all times. I had never taken it to the pawnshop.
I still felt some of that youthful distress in my chest as I slipped it off my finger and placed it on the toilet cistern, slipping the belt around my arm. What would Frank think of this? Maybe the same kind of sadness that I felt when he died. Maybe the same lack of comprehension. I don’t know. I pumped and flexed to get the vein up and slipped the needle in, drawing blood after a few minutes poking around painfully in my knuckle. Black – red blood flooded into the barrel and I slowly pushed the coke home. I felt it hit, tasted it and stared open-mouthed at the door. The door. Someone was pounding on the door.
“Hurry up in there! You still in there O’Neill? Time for your dose!”
“Yeah…” I yelled, jumping up, slipping my belt though my jeans and grabbing my works before heading out.
I was back at The Mark Twain later when I realized that I had left the ring in the bathroom. The clinic was closed for the day, and I was tired and broke and this was the final straw. I tore the room apart in a hopeless rage, finishing up lying on the bed in the foetal position groaning with despair as I imagined where the ring could have ended up – sold for a 10-dollar rock. Flushed down the toilet. On the hand of some fucking gutter junky bastard thief. Jesus fucking Christ! I was the stupidest person alive!
Of course when I went back the next day, the ring was gone. Of course no one had handed it in. In a moment of naivety I even put up a sign offering a reward for its return that I couldn’t pay stressing the lack of value in the ring and its sentimental meaning to me. No one ever called and that part of my life was now gone forever.
Soon my days turned from the horror of scoring, hustling and fixing to a different kind of horror. The waking death of the methadone clinic. Never quite sick, never quite high I sleepwalked through the first two weeks before they started cutting me down 10 mls a week.
When I was down to 40mls a day, I was sick all of the time and made it to the clinic 5 mins late one day. I had been unable to leave the bathroom that morning for fear that I would vomit, shit my pants or both as soon as I got out into the hallway. At the door to the clinic the two black guys barred my way, telling me I was too late. I’d have to come back tomorrow, they said. I freaked out.
“What the fuck do you mean ‘come back tomorrow’? Tomorrow’s too fucking late!”
I sat in the parking lot, considering my fate. I had 12 dollars and I was sick. I had 300 coming tomorrow from some writing I managed to do months back, but that was no help to me now. I watched a tall, heavy-set blond girl go through the same routine with the guys at the door. Sorry, the bigger of the two guys was saying, but you is too late. Come back tomorrow. This girl was having none of it and she had a hell of a lot more energy than I had. Man, she called them all kind of names “You dumb motherfucking niggers I need to get fixed! Don’t give me that fucking bullshit man!” but they just laughed at this crazy junky whore. She walked away and slowed up as she approached me.
“You get locked out too?” she asked looking down on me, thankfully blocking out the early afternoon sun a little.
“Yeah. Those guys are fucking pricks.”
“You got your twelve dollars?”
I nodded and stood up. She had a little dope on her, which we cooked up in her car, right there in the Thrifty parking lot and shot. Then we went back to her boyfriend’s place, explained what had happened, pooled our money with him and went downtown to score. She told me her name was Suzie.
“Tony” I told her, shaking her track marked hand.
That was the last time I’d go near a methadone clinic for another year and a half.