The Addict’s Almanac, Part 1

August 6, 2008

The smoky interior of the Roxy, with its smells of clove cigarettes, coffee, and greasy diner food, is an oasis. Those old familiar pulp fiction posters on the wall and the same Skinny Puppy songs playing on the jukebox. Small groups cluster at tables and in the booths. Gothic kids and punk rockers drinking the all-night coffee and chain smoking. Flamboyant gay guys sitting at the bar talking loud and looking around to see if anyone is paying attention. No one is.

I spot an associate sitting by himself at one of the small two-person tables and make my way over. His name is Joe but he goes by Ashes, and Ashes looks loaded. He barely looks up when I sit down and from the length of the ash on his smoke I can tell he was on the nod. His hooded eyes finally look up and find mine as the waiter takes my order for coffee and toast. He tucks a long strand of greasy hair behind his ear and through missing teeth tells me I look like hell. Coming from him this is truly something.

Ashes has been on the streets a long time. He was already “old” when I first hit the dope road all those years ago. Beneath his long and tattered leather jacket and his Sisters Of Mercy T-shirt his thin frame shows the wear of the longtime dope fiend. His arms are covered in homemade tattoos and scars from past abscesses. He is somewhere in his late 30s but looks a decade older. Anybody with eyes would make him for an addict. He’s about as trustworthy as a rented snake, and he is the closest thing I have to a friend at this moment.

My first question is, of course, is he holding and second, can I get him to kick down a little something. Even a rinse would set me straight and buy me some time to make a plan. No junky wants to give up any dope ever, but I have some leverage as he has no hustle and he knows I will make some money today. He supports his habit by spare changing in the transit mall. Not a sure thing, even on a good day. A real loser’s gambit. Real bottom of the food chain shit. So I get him to agree to get me well as long as I take him along on whatever scheme I cook up for the day.

In order for me to get the fix, we first have to go back to the squat he shares with some other scumbags under the Jackson Street overpass. We leave at once. Fuck the coffee and toast. It’s only a few blocks away and as we make our way to the spot, morning people are beginning their day. Office workers are emerging with their overpriced Starbucks beverages and service workers are on their way to their shitty jobs serving shitty food to shitty people.

The pedestrians avoid eye contact and keep moving. They’re not scared, just seen it all too many times. Anybody that lives or works downtown is so used to this that it’s like rain to them. Something unpleasant but inevitable, just part of the city. When we finally reach the overpass and duck down through the hole in the freeway fence the smell of shit is a shock. The whole side of the embankment is dotted with small white flags of used toilet paper marking each pile of human excrement. There are no public bathrooms open at night in this area of Portland so people do what they have to do whereever they can. No matter how many squats I’ve been in, the smell of piss and shit always takes my breath away for a moment. This is the bottom. Truly, it would be hard to fall any lower than this. Maybe dying of AIDS in a welfare hospital would be worse. Maybe.

The squats that line the freeway overpasses are like catch basins for the refuse of the city. The mentally ill, sexual deviants, illegal immigrants, wanted fugitives, hardcore drunks, prostitutes, crusty train-hopping kids, tweakers, junkies, the unlucky, and the unloved. We all have called these places home. For a night, for a week, even years for some. It’s easy to fly below the radar here. No rent, no responsibility, and nothing to worry about besides where the cops are and where your next fix or your next bottle is coming from.

My next fix is coming from Ashes and he is unrolling his works from a piece of leather he had up his sleeve. “There’s not much here to go around” he says, but he is willing to share a little, after he gets his, of course. I watch trembling in anticipation while he prepares his shot and as he draws up the black water from the spoon my stomach does flip flops like maybe I’m gonna puke or shit my pants. But I don’t.

Ashes has no veins so he just shoves the point in his shoulder and slowly pushes down the plunger with a slight grimace of pain. “I left a good rinse for you” he says, gesturing towards his spoon. Upon examination there is a light brown residue on the spoon and in the tiny piece of cotton stuck to the bottom.

I look around at the spectral figures in the darkened squat. Most still in their bedrolls and sleeping bags. It’s hard to spot a familiar face so I just ask out loud if anybody has a clean point. Nearby, what I had mistaken for a pile of trash and old rags stirs and by some miracle this small girl who I hadn’t even noticed says she might. She begins to dig in her pack and pulls out the familiar brown paper bag of the Outside In needle exchange. She tosses the bag to me and tells me to keep it; she says she is trying to kick.

I don’t want to think about what I might have done if there wasn’t a clean point available. Sharing needles under a bridge is not anything I want to experience. I’ve been lucky and I know it. I want to hug this tiny female savior but we don’t know each other. I wish I had a million dollars to give her. She may have just saved my life and I tell her so as my way of thanking her. She merely shrugs and rolls back over so she doesn’t have to watch us shoot dope in front of her.

I have to be careful. I’ve only been out of jail a few hours. I don’t even have laces in my boots yet and am still carrying the clear plastic property bag with all my shit in it. Many junkies have gotten out of jail only to OD with their first shot. They dumbly do the amount they were used to doing before being locked up. Not realizing that the time inside has lowered their tolerance. From what Ashes has left me I definitely don’t have to worry about an OD so I prepare the meager fix and do my thing.

It hits me first in the muscles of my jaw and with a slight burn up my arm. No euphoria, no rush, just a slight sensation of relief. It wasn’t much but it will have to do. I know I will have to make some money soon and my first thought is Home Depot. It’s a bus ride but pretty much a sure thing. They give you up to $100 cash back on returned merchandise. You don’t even need to have a receipt.

The hustle works like this. A guy goes in and shoplifts $99 worth of whatever. This guy is known as a booster. Another guy waits outside. The booster takes the stuff out of the store and hands it over to the guy who waited out side. This guy is called a returner. The returner then goes inside the store and returns the merchandise for cash. This is known as “the boost and return” Another variation on this is to hang around outside the store picking up receipts or getting receipts out of the trash. Then you go into the store and steal the exact item on the receipt and return it for the cash.

The only thing required to do returns is a valid ID Once you have done three returns your ID is burnt and store cuts you off. So boosters are always looking for new returners with clean ID who don’t look like disreputable dope fiends. Right now I need someone with a clean ID to take the bus to with me to the Beaverton and put some work in.

Ashes is not an option. He doesn’t even have ID and any loss prevention guy would make him instantly. I tell him to help me find someone to do returns and I will kick down some cash on top of the shitty little shot I already owe him. The small girl in the corner who gave me the rigs has overheard all this and it is too much for her. She stands right up and says “fuck kicking! I want in.” I feel kind of bad for dragging her into my madness but she says she has clean ID and in the light is actually pretty cute in a beat kind of way.

She stands probably 5-feet tall and is no more than 100 pounds. She has black dreads pulled back into a ponytail, large expressive eyes, pale skin, and very red lips. She says her name is Zoey but she goes by Squeak. Appropriate. She is wearing black Carhart bibs and a Venom shirt but says she has just the outfit for our expedition. After digging in her impossibly large pack she finally finds what she is after and with a giggle she gets back under her blankets. Some rustling around and a small amount of cussing later she emerges virtually unrecognizable. Some worn Gap khakis, a striped Columbia sportswear sweater, and her dreads pulled back in a bright knit stocking hat have transformed her into someone the Home Depot clerk probably won’t look twice at. Her new look has Ashes and me laughing, and that gets her a little pissed off, but after a minute she starts laughing too. With that laugh and seeing her smile for the first time I realize she is more than kinda cute. She is a very pretty girl. Petite and delicate features highlight the playful light that shines from her eyes, and if I’m not mistaken, that light is being directed at me.

Tye Doudy is 33 years old and lives in Portland. His stories are all true and told in the hopes that others may learn from his mistakes. This is the first in a series of articles about his life. He can be reached at wurmstar@gmail.com. This article appeared in the July 25, edition of Street Roots.

Posted by Israel Bayer

5 responses to “The Addict’s Almanac, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Addict’s Almanac, Part II « For those who can’t afford free speech

  2. Pingback: Street Roots wins honors from Society of Professional Journalists « For those who can’t afford free speech

  3. Tye Doudy…I hope you are doing well you crazy boy.

  4. Pingback: A hard look at addiction and Street Roots vendors « For those who can’t afford free speech

  5. Pingback: Award winning Addict’s Almanac returns « For those who can’t afford free speech

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