smoked crack. But before all that, Im sitting here at my
aunts house watching the days go by. In the morning I wake
up and eat cereal with soymilk. Every third day I shower; every
second day I shave.
work on a busy street across from shiny glass buildings and concrete
parking lots. I have three bosses. They own my restaurant but
Ive never met them. I hear they sometimes come in to eat
and spy and generally feel like big shots. But Vincent Price could
eat a 64-ounce steak at table four and Id never notice.
All I ever see are the working mouths chewing, tipping, leaving,
feel the dull throb in my head. The one-more-cigarette fix; the
panic. I know its because Im nubile. I see the newspaper,
the soymilk, the blurred porno on channel 97, the nicotine, and
the job only approximately satiate my appetites.
see the street signs here. The manicured lawns, petite trees,
matching mailboxes, and blacktop driveways. I see the serenity.
The calm. The ease.
I fantasize about walking across the pavement and knocking on
my neighbors door. Shes a pudgy white woman in her
late 40s with a mass of red hair piled on her head. I watch her
make breakfast every Sunday for her boyfriend. Sometimes its
pancakes. Sometimes its eggs. He drives there every Saturday
night in a blue Ford filed with ladder extensions and chrome toolboxes.
wonder what shed say if I told her that Id come across
the street wondering why he never cooks for her. Or to ask why
they never eat bacon. I envision shed be baffled, look at
me crazily and show me her teeth before closing the door. "How
bored have we become," Id ask to her Easter wreath.
bored have I become that Ioften return Blockbuster videos on time?
How bored have we become that you pull the weeds in your yard
on holidays? Im so bored that I smoked crack," Id
say. That bored.
first real counter-culture hero was Neal Cassady: A motor-mouthed
machine talking all his womanizing exploits and bigger-than-life
mischief into the ground and back out again until the congregation
was nodding along. But I only knew Cassady from books and I needed
real heroes. But the fascination with attention deprived, run-along-with-the-soliloquy-of-life
leviathans stayed with me.
I met Darnel. He was a gangly, older black man with a receding
hairline and blotchy skin. He wore faded, long-sleeve polo shirts
and strange pantsalways stonewashed and black or baggy,
and blue. Darnel epitomized the absence of style but hed
tell metearing on four-hour monologues about his importance,
beauty, charismauntil I believed every damn word.
met at work. I thought we lived the same blindingly dull lives.
Crowed into bar tables obsessing over minutia, we drank beer to
dull the mania of waiting tables. Then one night it happened.
Like in high school, when I smoked pot at 6 a.m. while crammed
in a van then begged my chums to drag my burning torso to the
clinic, giddy hero worship led me astray.
do you want to do?" Darnel presented the sentence with verve,
a touch of sex appeal, eyes to the sky. His pervasive sexual innuendo
had long since become a joke. He chased me, tossing arcane one-liners
into discourse, and I rebuffed his every advance. I believed he
had wisdom to impart, so I remained willing to tag along. And
he allowed my adoration, thinking hed eventually slide into
Im driving my car, too drunk to operate, hurling toward
downtown nowhere at indeterminable paranoid speeds. Winding through
the projects. Left, then right, then three rights. Another left.
Stop signs, brick buildings, a toddler waddling along the corner,
and then we stop.
over. Lock the doors and chill, my people dont like white
folks too much," he said.
and kind of crouch down a bit. Its better if they dont
got out of the car and wandered between the buildings, shuffling
his feet and, eyes to the pavement, disappeared. Fifteen minutes
later, my smile faded. Four or five teenagers wobbled around my
car on bicycles. Every time I turned my head they roared with
laughter, leaving me feeling like an 8-year-old from Arkansas
wrapped in a white sheet and wearing a glowing yellow fez.
a few more minutes, Darnel arrived, apologetic and shaken.
I had a thing. They wanted me to stay...I needed to go...with
you and the car and street...waiting...sorrysorrysorry. God, I
mean, have you even ever done this before?"
assured him I had. In reality, all I knew was we were talking
about a drug and that we had driven to the projects to get it.
Even later, when he showed me the twisted plastic bag and dumped
the clumped, crumbly white powder onto his table I was unsure
what we were doing. It appeared not unlike damp laundry detergent.
I kind of knew what crack was supposed to look like, but who actually
smokes crack? Smoking crack is a spoof, a joke among the ranks
of "your mommas so fat." It isnt a lifestyle.
as the slightly sweet, opium-esque mint smoke filled my lungs,
Darnel turned to me and, in what I have affectionately dubbed
the crackhead mumble, he asked, "watchawannapaycars?"
by the over-handed mixture of cough syrup, Superglue, and nitrous
oxide, I mumbled back, "uh? wannapaycars?"
he drooled. "wannapaycards."
he said, head lolling back into the couch.
play," I said.
I said. "watchawannapay...?"
now understood why crackheads moved so slowly; it takes a while
for their brains to catch up to the action.
an hour or five minutes, one of Darnels friends scuttled
into the room. They mumbled incoherently at one another. We decided
to play two-person hearts. Darnel flicked on a fuzzy, black and
white television. His friend left. I think I dropped a glass.
He had a purple wall and a heating pipe that looked like a sycamore.
The couch was scratchy. I smoked cigarettes. Flickering TV humming,
we slipped away as playing cards revealed themselves.