Witness writer Joe Schenkman’s stroll through New York City’s East 14th Street from the February, 1981 issue of High Times.
A VW Rabbit slows down rounding the curve at the bottom of Union Square Park West, and three pill pushers take off after it like dogs. “Run, you hungry motherfuckers!” yells Willie, who’s standing on a traffic island digging the scene. “The lowest of the lowly Tuinal Touts,” he explains. “Chase after a car like goddamn hounds, trying to sell a pill.” Just as the touts catch up to the Rabbit, the driver hits the gas, and the touts come panting back to Tuinal Corner coughing smoke.
Willie is the koolest dealer in the park. Not that that’s anything too kool in itself. But Willie doesn’t hang out on Tuinal Corner, or even in the park. He hangs out on the little traffic island at the side of the park, or on the corner across the street, or, more likely, at the OTB up 14th Street, where Willie specializes in figuring out every daily double, exacta, quinella and triple on a nine-race card of horse racing.
Willie doesn’t tout or hawk his wares like most dealers. He stands on the corner watching the girls glide by through rose-tinted shades, sipping on a beer in a bag through a straw. “The cops think you must be drinkin’ soda if you sip through a straw,” he explains. Very kool.
A black man in his mid 30s, Willie is a wholesale-retail Tuinal dealer, as well as a pharmaceutical pimp. A pharmaceutical pimp is a dealer with a string of ladies who get him pills. “It’s easier for women to get ‘scripts than men.” And around the macho streets of Placidyl Park, it’s easier for men to sell them. So Seconals, rather than sex, is the exchange here. Women also stand a much better chance with the hard-to-get units like Quaaludes, which happen to be one of Willies weaknesses. (He doesn’t do Tuinal.) Some of the pharmaceutical pimps think of themselves as “players” and like to dress the superstud, wide-brimmed, swallowtail Superfly look. Not Willie. He wears one of those brightly colored polyester beach hats with the pulled down brim they sell on 14th Street for a dollar, so his customers can spot him easily. Your basic $1.98 beach-hat priced-to-go look: about as colorful as the red card in a three-card monte game.
At the racetrack, a tout refers to the kind of sleazy trackrat who’s too tapped-out to bet himself, but offers “hot” feedbox tips to bettors willing to share their winnings should the tip pan out to be front burner stuff. In Union Square Park, tout is street slang for the type of luckless pill pusher who sells pills he doesn’t actually have. How this works is the tout assaults passers-by with all the subtlety of a country auctioneer, yelling “Tuies and Valium! Ts and Vs! Check ’em out!” Should he snag a customer, the tout says, “Wait right here,” and runs off to his man, who’s usually standing no farther than you could throw an empty pill bottle. A tout is also called a P.C., for percentage. The going rate is about ten or fifteen percent. If a tout sells a Valium for a buck, he makes a dime. No big deal. But when you add it all up, the action along the widened sidewalk before the entrance to Union Square Park called Tuinal Corner by the druggies there makes it the pill-pushingest little plaza in New York City.
Sometimes there are more than a dozen touts for each dealer, making competition heavy and customers weary. I’ve seen touts fight over customers. I’ve heard of them dying for less.
With the dealers so close by, one might wonder why the touts are needed. They’re not. No more needed than roaches in a tenement kitchen. But they’re there, scurrying around chattering the insect-junkie chant of Placidyl Park: “Tuies and Plaz! Tuies and Plaz!” (“Plaz” is short for Placidyl, a popular pill here that’s noted for its superstupor wallop.)
Some try coked-up hard-sell singsong jabber with the personal touch: “Check it out! Check it out! Got yo weed! Got yo speed! Coke, m’man, coke!… try it before you buy it! I see you reading High Times, there, ya must do sumpin’!
Others simply stumble up to you like zombies out of Night of the Living Dead, more concerned with instant sales than lasting clientele. It’s a good bet here that the so-called Tuinal capsules you buy from these bums may have been emptied and filled with baby powder if you’re lucky, PCP if you’re not. At best, a tout can hope to scrape together enough dimes off touting to make his own wholesale pill purchase from the dealer. Then, off dealing, he can hope to save enough to pay off a croaker to write him his own phony ‘script. And then, he can hope to buy more and more croakers off until he is Mr. Big Stuff himself: the man with the goodies, who turns over $65,000 to $100,000 annually off the roulette wheel, with his own network of touts, pharmaceutical pavement princesses, and maybe even, eventually, the double-parked Superfly Custom Cadillac that announces his presence, that even the cops (paid off, too) don’t even dare ticket. Dream on, Mr. Small Time. In the beginning history of the park back in the late 1700s, this was a “potter’s field” where the poor people of the city were buried. Now it offers the walking dead a quick-change chance for advance in the black market of our depressed economy.
Actually, Union Square Park is a pretty little park with its historical statues and beautiful trees towering over the flagstoned walkways. But it’s not even the kind of place you’d want to take your dog for a walk. The grounds are littered with Night Train Express wine bottles and smashed up brown plastic pill bottles. (Destroy the evidence, protect your croaker: I’ve seen pill pushers bite off prescription labels from the bottles and chew up the little pieces after closing shop.) Violence can hang as heavy as a Midwestern thundershower about to break the calm of a mild summer day. Everything might be kool, and then suddenly somebody’s being clubbed with a nine-iron golf club. (Golf clubs are favorite weapons in Union Square Park—a lot kooler to strut with, and not so clumsy or obvious as a baseball bat, though the Louisville Slugger is still popular with heavy hitters and strikeout artists alike.) But Union Square Park really has no boundary neighborhood to look after it, surrounded on all sides by businesses. So the pill pushers and poppers who use it as a business and social club (weather permitting) have set up shop here.
The park opens for business shortly before the neighborhood stores along funky 14th Street, low-budget, cut-rate bargain marts and choke ‘n’ pukes with names like Junkman’s Treasure Chest, National Outlet Center, Disco Donuts, Snackebob’s and the old White Rose Bar, a relic from another era, and the Jefferson Movie Theatre, which used to show Puerto Rican movies, but has been for sale or rent for at least a decade now.
The early birds are the park regulars: If you don’t see them there, it’s a good bet they’re in jail. There’s Shorty, a squat, beefy black man who usually wears a ring through his nose with a gold heart dangling off it, a shark’s-tooth earring and feather hanging off his left ear and a leather beret on his shaved dome. In spring and summer he wears a long-fringed leather vest with nothing underneath, and goes barefoot. (“It’s good for your feet,” he says.) Shorty is the loudest mouthed tout on the block. He touts like his life depends on it, and it does. Fresh out of detention after doing 38 days on four felony counts just for carrying two Tuinal and a couple of joints (or so he says: It’s been my experience that in jail, everybody is innocent, by their own account), he’s gotta raise the trial money. Shorty is the kind of pathetic trash certain reprobate cops like to beat up on, because they can get away with it. (Who cares?) Looking at me through his one good eye, he told me he was thrown in the back of the huge police van that some mornings is driven up over the curb and parked right at the bottom of the steps leading into the park as a sort of bad omen, warning, and makeshift jail. Shorty was thrown in the back of the truck, beat up, and left to nurse a broken nose for half a day before driven downtown to be booked. They use the most run-down, raggedy-ass van in the precinct for these Tuie Corner Roundups. Underneath the DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS sign on the side is the universal outlaw graffiti legend: COPS SUCK.
Captain Hook is another park regular, an old-time boxer who’s retired to the Night Train Express wine. He loves to box, and takes on the youngbloods of the park dawn to dusk, sparring with them until they tire him out and he has to sit down on the bench to catch his wind and grab a drink. But he’s never down longer than the count of ten before he’s back and pacing the benches, looking for another partner to trade jabs, roundhouse rights, and left hooks.
Flash is a wiry, tall black hustler. Not a dime bag to his name, but Flash has the fastest, baddest coked-up sounding rap I’ve heard. “The number 714 mean anything to you?” he asks, walking up to you with the confidence of a used car salesman. “See, I got your interest! That’s right! Used to be Rorers, now they’re Lemmons. Pharmaceutical name for methaqualone. I can sell ’em by the thousand, 24 bottles to the case, case closed, bottles sealed. Break open a bottle, snap one in half, test the clean break! Drop it to the bottom of a champagne glass and watch it bubble and fizz! Try it before you buy it! Only $2 a hit if you buy a thousand. Take ’em up to Xenon’s and sell ’em there for $5! Tha’s my Cadillac right there,” and he points to some hog parked on a meter along Union Square West. “You gotta phone? Okay, don’t bother—you just find a pay phone. You can be at that pay phone a certain time and I’ll call you.”
Boo is a 16-year-old high school junior who comes to the park after school to sell smoke and Black Beauties. He can make $50 on a good afternoon. His brother, Big Floyd, is another boxer, younger and fitter than Captain Hook, with legs the size of tree trunks, and massive shoulders and arms. A mellow man unless aroused by injustice, Big Floyd keeps an eye on his younger brother and the park scene in general.
The cops in the 13th Precinct have a word for the Tuinal touts who chase cars, the pharmaceutical pimps with their stables of methadone whores, the fences who wander through the park hawking freshly stolen gold chains, watches, or maybe a bottle of Brut men’s cologne, the Placidyl-pushing P.C.s who’ll cut each other’s throats over a dime customer, the crapshooters who roll the dice against the base of the statue of George Washington on the horse that looks like it’s about to take a shit, the scavengers who scrutinize the grounds for stray drugs that might have been dropped during a stoned downer deal (as does often happen), and all the other quick-change artists, three-card monte and chuck-a-luck dealers, boozers, losers, and hustlers that haunt the park. The official word around the precinct is “scum.”
I introduced a lady friend to Willie. “She likes the Quaaludes, Willie. Help her out.”
“Hell, she’d do better to help herself. Lessee… there’s a Dr. Shapiro up at Roosevelt Hospital who’ll write ya ‘scripts. Shouldn’t have any problem.”
“But what do I tell him?” asked Mary Ellen.
“Tell ’em anything. You’re a woman! Just open your mouth and bullshit woman problems. Tell him the first thing that pops into your head!”
Willie knows every scam in town, or so I believed, until Mary Ellen got back to me about this Dr. Shapiro.
“He wouldn’t gimme the time of day,” she snorted. “I think if I really nagged him, I might’ve gotten a one-time ‘script for Librium or phenobarbital, but no ‘ludes, no way. Tell your pal Willie he’s got more shit between his ears than he moves to the street in a month!”
“Hey, my man,” was Willie’s response, equally indignant. “She just went to the wrong Shapiro, is all.”
But Willie’s grand scam is his ‘Nam scam. Willie is a veteran of the Vietnam War. “So the doctors gimme these papers, see?” he says, digging into his pocket, “that say, in a nutshell, that if I ever stop gobbling Tuinal like a turkey, the whole ‘Nam War nightmare will flash back at me like Apocalypse Now, motherfucker, and ain’t no tellin’ what this trigger-happy n*gger might do!” He winks.
“Is that really true? I mean, you really see any heavy action?”
“Oh, hell no,” he laughs. “Broke my ring finger trying to chase down some Singapore whore, but that’s about it! But the war, y’see?… it’s all the excuse these croakers need to write ya up papers. As if they need excuses at all! Hell, pay ’em enough and they’ll write ya anything.”
Willie claims to have four different crooked croakers who write him Tuinal ‘scripts. This number naturally fluctuates. He had nine last year, but five of them got busted. “Ya probably read about them in the papers. Some of them had Swiss bank accounts and colonial estates upstate and expensive young mistresses who like rings ‘n’ things.” The croakers write Willie scripts for up to 30 Tuinal a week. But Willie doesn’t stop there, and neither do the greedy croakers.
He has up to four different identities he uses per doctor, enabling him to get close to 500 Tuinals a week. On a clear day, Willie can make $200 or $300. It’s a business. With its ups and downs, naturally.
“Four different identities?” I’m impressed.
“Yeah, it can get really confusing who I’m supposed to be,” laughs Willie. “The nurses, they straighten me out, and in return I do them li’l favors—get them the kind of drugs the ol’ croakers can’t get em, like weed and crystal meth. This one nurse, she says, ‘Ooh! Dat crystal’s so good! But Willie, y’know, I lost 17 pounds in the last two weeks. Don’t understand it!’ She don’t realize it’s the speed makin’ her lose weight and she’s a nurse.
“I go in to see her the other day and ask her if she’s got an appointment for William Thomas Jefferson, and she says, ‘Oh, no. Not today.’ And looks down at her charts and says, ‘Aren’t you Rubin Casanova Lopez III from over First Avenue?’ and I say, ‘Oh yeah… tha’s me!'” and he strokes his scraggly afro beard laughing about how a man as black as himself can be a Puerto Rican even for a minute.
The vast majority of people who hang out in Union Square Park are black, even though there are no nearby black neighborhoods. The rest are Puerto Ricans. White people use the park to buy drugs or to walk through to or from work. Quickly. A few white garbageheads from nearby methadone centers come over to hang out with their black and Puerto Rican friends. In fact, the park serves as an outdoor, fairweather social club for the dropouts, graduates, or lifers from the various methadone clinics, halfway houses, and rehabilitation programs that dot the nearby cobblestoned streets of Second Avenue. A bright, sunny summer day in the park can be like an alumni party. Proper introductory conversation gambits for such affairs are, “What clinic you go to? Didn’t I used to see you at Beth Israel?” like straights ask, “Were you London School of Economics or Inner Temple?” Some, like perpetual college students, have been in and out of Odyssey Houses for ten years.
A few days after meeting Willie, when I’ve gotten to know him better, we’re hanging out on Tuinal Corner one sunny beautiful spring morning. Willie has just finished his morning cup of tea and is starting on his first beer in a bag. He slips a straw into the beer and takes a sip, studying the morning line entries for Aqueduct race track in the Daily News. We’re trying to figure out the daily double when this young, blond beauty crossing 14th Street catches the attention of all. It’s not simply her youthful beauty, or her tank top that’s slipped up her stomach to reveal the perfect navel, but the manner she’s crossing. She’s practically being dragged across 14th Street toward us, with her arms thrown over the shoulders of her two young male escorts. When she reaches Tuinal Corner, the touts are all over her like sharks on a wounded dolphin.
“She’s too stoned to walk, and those touts are trying to cram more pills down her throat. It ain’t right. I don’t sell no pills to nobody already that fucked up,” proclaims Willie self-righteously.
“Y’ever notice how it’s always the white people here that you see walking into statues and trees? They really can’t handle it!”
Willie has to hold onto the wall to keep from cracking up and falling onto the sidewalk laughing. “That’s the kind of racist remark you can get away with and I can’t,” he says, regaining his composure. “But you’re right. It’s the Placidyl that does that.”
Ira Jaffe, who counsels methadone patients in a nearby clinic, categorizes most of these touts as “garbageheads.” “They’ll put anything into their bodies to get high, without discrimination. They might be on a methadone program. Then they get huge pill prescriptions from some croaker doctor who writes them out a ‘script for 30 Valiums, 30 Tuinals, and 30 Placidyls all at once. Then, to top it all off, they drink. These people have multiple addictions.” Ira estimates 20 percent of the people on methadone to be in this category of obsessive, self-destructive, multiple addiction.
Tuinal, Valium, Placidyl, Elavil, and Seconal are the top-selling drugs here, in about that order of popularity. Tuinal is equal parts Seconal and Amytal, packed into the jazziest colored bright-brown-and-turquoise-striped pill with an orange bullethead. It’s a heavy brain depressant, a barbiturate that may be habit forming, with “less than 1% idiosyncratic reactions” experienced by its users, the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR) informs us. It is the opinion of esteemed High Times editor Dean Latimer, a walking, talking PDR himself, that “most of these individuals on Tuie Corner belong to this elite 1 percent club of idiosyncratics, meaning the Tuinals stir ’em up rather than crank ’em down, in much the way overactive kids tend to be cooled out by schoolhouse-administered Ritalin.”
We all know about Valium, the most widely prescribed drug of the ’70s. The way Valium works is it releases a natural tranquilizer in the brain called GABA. Gabba gabba hey! Yeah, Ramones and Zippy fans, there really is a gabba!
Placidyl is a nonbarbiturate that the PDR informs us is an “oral hypnotic… the usual hypnotic dose inducing sleep within 15 minutes to one hour.” The “hypnotic” effect lasts up to five hours. Placidyl is a big green capsule slightly smaller than a zucchini. The space cases you see in the park, reeling methodically around as though they’re trying to maintain their balance on the hull of a ship plunging full-steam into a tropical gale, are Placidyl casualties.
“Elavil is a tricyclic antidepressant, nonbarbiturate pill that’s popular with certain nuthouse shrinks to prescribe to their, uh, clients,” Latimer informs me. “It taps down brain enzymes that make you weird, helping to make a certain kind of crazy person better.”
Quaaludes are more difficult to obtain than other pills because prescription qualifications involve a triplicate form, one copy of which goes to the health department in Albany. The other commodities require only the conventional white form. Those Quaaludes that are sold in the park are usually bootlegs.
Boot ‘ludes were recognized as a good buy for years, but now the Tuie Corner industry is highly suspicious of them. These things, usually big fat white pills stamped with a variety of bogus dyes—”Rohrer 714s,” that was funny, and “Lemon 741” was a legend in its time—are generally pressed in Colombia, where the marimba moguls have set up high-tech methaqualone factories, and they’re flown in here literally by the millions, along with Santa Marta weed. The only problem with these Latino ‘ludes is that they tend to have a little more methaqualone in them than the standard 300 milligrams, and pretty often there’s an antihistamine mixed in—some of the Colombian chemists seem to follow the formula for Mandrax, which includes stupor-inducing diphenhydramine along with methaqualone. “The result,” explains Latimer, “is that the customer tends to get the official therapeutic effect of the drug—eight straight hours of safe and restful sleep, sleep, sleep. Hell of a note. You get everything laid out, ribbed condoms and lines of coke and Ping-Pong paddles and peacock feathers—and you both just lay down and go straight to sleep!”
But now, so far this year, about every fifth boot ‘lude aficionado has been burnt with these new “Valium boots,” which look just like any other boot—slipshod die marks and all—but count upwards of 60 to 80 milligrams of diazepam, pure Valium! The effect is a day and a half of fuzzed-out, spacey stupor, total lapse of body coordination, and only a vague memory afterward of how shitty it felt. “Haldol,” a graduate of the Bellevue psycho ward, doing post-grad touting on the Tuie Corner campus, told me, “In the bin, when they just want to stow you somewhere for a couple of days and make sure you’re still there when they come back, they shoot you up with Haldol, haloperidol. I did one of those Valium boots last week and man, I could’ve sworn I was right back on the ward from Tuesday to Thursday night. And shit, I dunno, maybe I was.”
So since you can’t tell Valium boots from “real” boots, the boot market in New York is as depressed as a Westchester housewife whose diet doc just got popped by the DEA. In fact, the DEA is a prime suspect in the Valium-boot caper, among the Union Square cognoscenti. “It’s gotta be the Feds,” a speed freak guaranteed me one afternoon on a bench. Among half a dozen lurid conspiracy theories this crankshaft was percolating was this one: “It’s like the feds made poison moonshining during Prohibition, see, so now they put out poison ‘ludes. Who else could afford it? Valium goes for $1 for a ten-mil tab, boot ‘ludes go for $4 to $5 a tab. So every one of these Valium boots, with like 60 to 80 mils of diazepam in it, is really $6 to $8 of Valium selling for $4 to $5. Man, whoever’s putting these things out is taking a bath. And who’s dumb and rich enough to take a bath like that? The U.S. taxpayer, man. And that’s the name of that tune,” said the missile mouth.
Speed and weed are also sold. Pot, of course, is everywhere, and the dealer always tells you it’s good. But if you’re fast, you don’t last on Tuie Corner. Many is the tale of the New Jerseyites who drive up in old muscle cars and score a bag, only to find out half way through the Lincoln Tunnel that they’ve just spent $5 on a li’l brown envelope packed tightly with Bull Durham or cigarette butts. Sprayed catnip (treated with cat piss?), real grass (Tuie Turf), or even dirt (Union Square brown) are also popular late-night curb-service specials.
The Rasta reefer dealers who hang out on the north side of the park sell righteous reefer, however. Sad to say, one of the few busts I actually witnessed from many a day spent on the pews of the park that feel so much like jail (I wonder why) was a quiet Rastafarian who was handcuffed and marched away by two beefy plainclothesmen, whilst the Tuie touts brassily hawked their wares nearby. (Every now and then a Rasta will move a couple of suitcases full of Jamaican through Kennedy International Airport, good russet brown weed grown by his own homefolks, and try to peddle it some place open, like Tuie Corner. Since the cops, reportedly, don’t want to see the Rastas murdered by the Colombian wholesalers with mob connections, they tend to pick off these independent entrepreneurs, sort of for their own good.)
Actually, there are good drugs of all kinds to be had here, if you know where to go, and you’re kool. As a rule, the dealers have them simply because they take them, and keep the best for themselves and their friends. There’s also a guy here called Roadrunner, who’ll sell you an airplane ticket to anywhere in the world half-price. Depending on the day, there are also half-price bargain sales on hot goods liberated from Mays department store, located just across the street, for your shoplifting convenience.
Who buys these drugs? Mostly white folks who aren’t low-down enough to qualify for Medicaid cards, but like the down head and can afford to pay the inflated prices. Weekend party people keep Tuinal Corner open late into Friday and Saturday nights. The booze and barb blend that killed off so much talent in the past is still popular with some of the area’s nightclub patrons—some people never learn—and the truly motivated dealer can cash in on this big. They stroll over to Max’s Kansas City and stand right at the door like barkers shouting, “Ups and downs!”
“It sure saves on the bar tab, if you wanna get really loaded,” a young Ron Wood clone sporting a rooster shag layered haircut, a Tiger tattoo, and tight black T-shirt told me, washing down a few reds with his Heineken and slipping a quarter into the Bally Flip Flop machine.
Willie once told me he went to Kansas City to relax over a beer. “When I pay, I happen to pull out my pill bottle with a wad of bills. ‘Hey, you got the blues and reds,’ said my barstool neighbor. ‘Huh? Blues and reds?’ I said. I’d never heard ’em called that. ‘Tuinals.’ And he bought ’em all from me for $5 apiece,” Willie beamed. The Tuinals cost Willie about 40 cents apiece.
The Palladium, down 14th Street across from Burger King where the Placidyl zombies hang out, is also an easy target. When Joe Jackson or the Boomtown Rats play there, there’s sure to be downer dealers working the line outside for pill and pot sales.
It’s harder to generalize about the park’s buyers than sellers. Many different types come here. On a single afternoon, sitting on the Union Square park benches, I saw a white girl with long, Bombay black hair, black T-shirt with the Rolls-Royce logo across the front, black leather jacket, black scarf around her neck, black shoogy skin-tight pants, and fishnet stockings (black, natch), who can barely walk in her black, spike heels, wobbling around saying, “I need 30 Valiums for my head. I want a package deal,” in a desperate whine.
A couple of businessmen in three-piece suits come in on their lunch hour to buy a joint and smoke it on a bench. A gaggle of working girls do the same.
A jock in a jogging suit buys a bunch of black beauties. The dealer warns him not to take more than two. He takes them all. Within an hour, he’s betting people how fast he can run to 23rd Street and back. After another hour of quick round trips, he has to be scraped off the sidewalk by the St. Vincent’s Hospital Paramedic squad. On any good dealing day, the St. Vincent’s emergency van visits the corner at least three times, all efficiency, all in a day’s work, to take the overdoses off to the respirator units.
A blond stewardess-type who is paid for the painted-on plastic-smile look walks smack into the middle of the park, fearless as a Doberman, probably scoring ups to put on the smile, or downs to take it off. Though it’s traditional park macho to hassle women, the man selling drugs to a woman is always the gentleman. Business before pleasure.
There’s a guy stumbling around in circles saying, “Who got methadone? You got methadone?” He hasn’t made it out of a 50-foot radius for the past half hour, asking the same people over and over for his methadone. His teeth are chipped, and there are fresh scars and bruises all over his face, and homemade India ink and razor blade tattoos on his arm. La vida loco.
The cops’ relationship to all this is mostly to leave it alone, unless it’s an election year or unless there are complaints. But who’s gonna complain in a park full of nothing but dealers and buyers? When violence flares, as it regularly does, whether involving rival ethnic drug clans rumbling over turf, or a buyer who’s been beat coming back for revenge, the general consensus around the 13th Precinct is that these people deserve whatever they get. And they’re right, ethically at least. It’s a culture of outlaws administered by same. THIS PARK CLOSES AT DUSK, warn police signs at all the park’s entrances for all those who can read. Enter at your own risk.
“They’ve also learned we’re here to stay,” Willie’s friend T-Bone tells me. “Last year they hit us three days in a row, rounding up everybody they could catch into the paddy wagon. But they found out we just rolled straight back. This is our park.”
The surrounding community isn’t too happy about this. An invasion of “parasitic… drug addicts, pushers, and other criminals,” declaimed one petition circulating around the posh West Village, was threatening their almighty turf! Their naive attitude is remove the people and you remove the problem. Give ’em some kind of vanishing pill. And the real problem is invisible, or at least not as noticeable and obvious as a Placidyl parasite stumbling on the corner.
The problem is at the top with the immoral, crooked Medicaid-fraud doctors who write out ‘scripts for people like Willie faster than a coked-up High Times scribe hacking away at a deadline. These croakers can make more writing up phony ‘scripts than practicing real medicine. Willie has never seen a real patient yet in one of his doctors’ several reception rooms, and they’re always full of pillheads.
Then, there are the numerous methadone clinics that dot nearby Second Avenue like old scars in a junkie’s veins. A methadone patient, strapped for cash, can always step down his or her dose a little for a few weeks, and retail the surplus dope through Tuie Corner. A fortnight of mild sniffles and cramps, and maybe you’ve got the down payment on a decent, nonslum apartment, all to yourself.
What’s funny is to hear strung-out barb freaks talk about methadone with all the contempt of a Parisian vintner ranking out California Beaujolais. Everybody in the square seems to know, for instance, that Hitler’s chemists originally invented methadone and called it dolophine, after Adolf himself. Most of these people are liable to give up the ghost inside of ten years—from ODs, murder, blundering stoned into a 14th Street crosstown bus, or just plain malnutrition—but the last thing they’d ever consider is signing up for a long, straight life on methadone maintenance.
“You can kick a smack habit in three days,” sneers Willie. “Methadone, good luck kicking that shit ever.” Willie’s facts here aren’t far off, but he’s ignored the basic junkie condition in the first place. “If you’re ever into the shit for two years, you’re a junkie for life, in most cases,” Ira Jaffe reminds me. Then, Willie’s contempt for methadone may be subtly influenced by the fact that it’s the state interfering with private enterprise. No jive pusher could ever move enough 2-percent street smack to feed a methadone patient’s 200 per diem maintenance jones. Simple as that.
By Willie’s pillosophy, methadone is an evil agent of the state to keep the dangerous people mellow as Jell-O. ”They’re building people’s tolerances up until they’re vegetables, not toning them down.” Watching a black outpatient score a few loose jays and sheepishly decline repeated offers of cut-rate Placidyl, Willie snorts oracularly, “A chicken used to be able to fly, but it’s been so long, he’s forgotten how.”
“Why do you think they’re doing this?”
“Haven’t you heard? It’s to keep us n*ggers from stealing your people’s television sets.”
At this writing, there’s a war going on in Union Square Park. Besides the cops cracking down on the pushers because of the upcoming election, there’s a race war between the blacks and the Puerto Ricans over turf dominance. A black dealer was stabbed to death in the past week, and Willie doesn’t see the situation improving, or any hope for his people for that matter.
“If it was a football game, where would your money be?” I asked Willie.
“On the Puerto Ricans,” he answered without hesitation. “They’re younger, pushier, and hang together in gangs, and they aren’t afraid to die. I hate to say it, but a soul brother—it’s all he can do to keep his own shit together, let alone looking after his brothers. We’ve learned, growing up in the ghettos, that it’s everyone for himself. But them Puerto Ricans stick together. Shit, I don’t see why they gotta wanna hog it all—there’s enough money out here for everybody. Two years ago it was just blacks and whites. Puerto Ricans didn’t even know what a pill was.”
We paused, walking back from the liquor store, through one of Willie’s rare treks through the park, to watch as a young Puerto Rican dealer—one of the new high tech-breed pushers who rides a ten-speed bicycle and keeps his stash rolled into the bottom of his elastic-cuffed jogging pants—was proceeding to wallop an older black dealer with a bike chain with a heavy padlock on the end, while crowds of lunch hour tokers and jokers looked on.
“If we ever go to war with Iran or Afghanistan or one of them countries,” Willie stopped to pillosophize, “they should back the truck right up to Tuinal Corner and start the draft right here, because these motherfuckers’ll fight for drugs!”