Ryan hails from Pittsburgh, PA. When he is not working some form of menial labor in order to keep up his freedom payments, he investigates the fragments that make up the whole
I have to force out a shit before Jack arrives. We are working a shift together at the bar tonight, the super bowl, and it’s his turn to drive. The toilet seat is cold and my intestines are dense. A few pebbles drop into the bowl in a series of soft splashes, no need to wipe. My face is red and strained when I look into the mirror. Only a few beads of rubber soap pump out of the bottle and the hot water burns my dry wintry hands. Jack’s Cadillac beeps twice and I’m out the door before I have a chance to look at the tired in my eyes.
The bar is cold when we get there, cold and dark. The neon’s hang black and white and that guilty smell of all-purpose cleaner fills the air. Jack starts with the prep work right away. An acute case of dope sickness has been living in me for a few days. Nothing too serious, but it will keep me away from any tertiary labor tonight. Jack can handle it. He likes it. He is a madman, pure and simple. My own madness is different than his. It is more reserved, and subsequently, more severe. And together, as two beat up old hooligans with an affinity for junk, we spew our cumulative madness upon the world around us.
Only a few soggy old patrons spot the bar. The super bowl flashes and beeps up on the dusty flat screens. Jack fiddles in his stool while watching the game between pouring drinks. I sink deeper into the only comfortable chair in the joint, waiting.
“There is a power outage,” says Jack.
“Huh?” I say.
Jack drags on a cigarette with damp fingers and dry lips as he stares up at the TV. I follow Jack’s gaze and see that the lights in the stadium have gone out.
“When’s it getting here?” asks Jack as he stretches his arms above his head.
“I can’t stand waiting,”
“What do you want me to do?” I ask.
“Something,” Jack says as he sucks on a tooth before swiveling his stool and screaming down the bar, “Hey Delaware!”
Delaware, the mumbling spade with the crummy cocaine, strolls down towards our perch at the head of the bar. Cocaine, or any stimulant for that matter, can be used to stave off acute junk sickness for a small period of time.
“Schzza, boys, powahsout in da game man. We gonn haffa ball tho, right?” says Delaware.
“Hey Delaware, let me and Gus get a couple bumps,” says Jack.
“Sheat man, you know you guys is mah boys,” says Delaware as he smacks his lips together. He then slaps his big black hand on Jack’s shoulder and nods his head towards the bathroom.
We follow him back to the bathroom, leaving the bar to the patrons. After squeezing shoulder to shoulder into the sole graffiti ridden stall, Delaware passes key bumps around to us. The C tastes awful and burns the face.
“This shit is toxic Delaware,” says Jack.
“Yeah boys, here, lick on that key,” says Delaware holding the key up to Jack’s face.
“No dickhead,” says Jack.
“Issa BMW key man,” says Delaware
“What the fuck do I care what kinda key it is, get that shit outta my face,” says Jack as he wipes at his nose and flings the stall door open.
Delaware turns to me and offers me another bump. I take it.
After enough abuse, junk begins to live in one’s tissue. There is nothing one can do about it. One can kick and remain clean for years, but the junk tissue will still remain, lying dormant, waiting. After using for an extended period of time, waiting seems to be all a junky does. You wait for your man, you wait for a bowel movement, you wait for your phone to ring, you wait-to-wait, and then wait some more. Jack is not as patient as I am, although I’m sure he thinks the same about me. We rubberneck for another hour, waiting on our man. Finally, I call him. No answer. We wait another thirty minutes, call, no answer. Jack goes back with Delaware for another bump off the BMW key. I stay seated. I can wait. A dull hope always exists in the junky. Somewhere deep within his junk tissue, he knows there is hope for a score. The hope must remain dull however, for most times there is no score, only pain, and time.
The front door swings open, letting cold air filter into the smoky bar. It’s our man looking nonchalant as usual. He doesn’t use, which is both a good and bad thing. He most likely will never do us wrong, for he has no affliction to tend to, but he also will never understand the junky crave and therefore will always move at his own casual pace. He walks directly to the bathroom and I follow, again trusting the bar to the patrons. We pass Delaware and Jack on their way back to the bar. Jack is wiping at his nose and giving Delaware shit when we pass each other. Jack arches a subtle eyebrow in my direction as we pass and gives me a little tap on the shoulder. We will be good old friends for the rest of the evening.
The Superdome lights came back on sometime time while Jack and I were getting fixed in the back room. The bar room is easier to swallow now that we scored. We work diligently for an hour, watching the game between deeds, smoking cigarettes, and of course rambling along merrily. As soon as the game ends, the clientele begin crawling out the door. Jack wants another hit, so we bang one. Only a few poor old saps are left hanging around the bar when we return from the back room. We disinfect the bar with all-purpose cleaner and sweep up cigarette butts and cocktail napkins. It is only around midnight when the last patron (who was also the first patron and drank nothing but coca-cola all night) finds his way out the door.
“Let’s go to Frankie’s, spy on some women,” says Jack as we snap off the neon’s and lock the front door.
So we hop in Jack’s Caddy and pull away into the night, off to another bar. I spark a cigarette and pass it over to Jack. Old friends. Jack begins rambling as I light a cigarette of my own. An indiscernible frosted blackness rolls across my window as we float through the city going much faster than the speed limit. Blue cigarette smoke mingles with our warm intermittent ghost breath, before funneling out the crack in the window. Jack turns the dial up, and Townes Van Zandt croons through his dusty speakers. We have all the time in the world it seems. Jack avoids an unseen pothole as I finger the remaining junk in my pocket, trying to remember the bathroom configuration at Frankie’s.
Frankie’s is littered with gutter trash. The super bowl gives the ordinary degenerate an excuse to get extra-ordinarily drunk. Lately, I have not had much of a taste for the stuff. This is no surprise. Junk is selfish and does not like competition. Jack, on the other hand swims in the stuff.
We find two stools along the bank of beer taps. I order a bottle of Yuengling. Jack orders a glass of cold whiskey and a mouthful of coca-cola in a plastic cup. There are a handful of women bouncing about the room. Jack starts up with the rambling. I listen while scanning the room. He is talking about his college football days and how people do not realize who or what they are in the present tense, often thinking either too far ahead, or dwelling pointlessly in the past. I watch the bartender kick some drunken crustacean of a woman out the door. Somewhere along the way, Jacks’ words amalgamate into the din of the room. An hour passes, maybe two. Then, a paramount question cuts through the grey noise.
“Bang another one?” asks Jack.
“Yeah, alright,” I say.
We leave our drinks unattended and head for the tiny bathroom on the other side of the room. A curtain separates the toilet bowl from the urinal and sink. Jack sends me behind the curtain and I begin meticulously unwrapping a couple bags of scag while he works on a couple whiteheads in front of the mirror. Spells of different sorts come over the junky while he is under the influence. Jack has always been known to groom himself. I enjoy writing. Whatever the spell, it is always one that embodies the single mindedness that comes along with opiates. Just as I’m getting the second bag open, I hear a brief blare of the barroom as an outsider joins us in the tiny bathroom. I huff my share down, fling back the curtain and switch with Jack at the sink. The stranger staggers drunkenly about the urinal spraying urine all over the already wet tile floor. He is absolutely oblivious to our deed. Jack huffs his down in less than a second and we are back in our stools enjoying tobacco and the numb comfort of the high before the drunken piss dick even makes it out of the bathroom.
A couple of fellows obviously tweaked out on C camp out next to us. Jack nudges me. They look like father and son. The son is missing a shard of front teeth and talks and moves with charisma. His father drills cigarettes and dances erratically to BB King and Lucille. They take turns in the linoleum drug den. The son speaks quickly to his father. The father stays silent, only whispering quiet messages of observation to his son. The music on the jukebox changes to hip-hop and the father continues his erratic dance. Some type of physiological affliction must live in his being. Jack devours another glass of cold whiskey and I nibble on my beer, suddenly wishing I had not come. I swallow the cold shudder of depression and shove on.
“You see Ronny down there?” asks Jack.
“Huh, oh, yeah,” I say.
“And that blonde babe he’s with?”
I crane my neck up over Jack’s gigantic head and peer down the bar over half drunk glasses of beer and thick grey cigarette smoke. There is some blonde. I can’t get a look at her face. Large plumes of yellow hair crawl down onto her shoulders. Jack loses interest quickly.
“Lets get a shot Gus,” says Jack.
“Yeah, sure,” I say.
“Another hit too,” says Jack matter-of-factly.
“Yeah man, lets finish it off,” I say, suddenly wanting the weight of a serious junk affair.
“Yes sir!” says Jack.
We throw back some whiskey, and stand up in unison. The father and son seem to notice us for the first time and send us a head nod, also in unison, fellow junkies of a neighboring tribe, a different breed. There is a mutual respect, and sometimes a collaborative effort will materialize. Not tonight though. Jack wants the junk, and so do I. We rarely get in serious with the C. Delaware has most likely turned us off to that scene with his toxic baby powder, not to mention the shoddy state his clientele seem to be in.
We bang the rest of it in a few minutes and make it back out to our stools and discover the C junkies have split. I order a white Russian. Milk is kind to the junky. Jack orders more whiskey and we are off. For the next two hours we talk in low serious voices. We cover many topics. Jack often gets too excited and therefore cannot effectively make his point. He is a passionate individual.
Sporadically, the blonde makes her way near us, her face always veiled by yellow hair and smoke. Curves are easily discernable. Her body is built well. Her face is simply not there. At times it seems she is staring right at me, and still, there is an obstruction. A void sits where her face should be. I think I’m going mad. Jack also seems to be delving deeper into his own distinct and peculiar madness. As random patrons walk by he shoves his stool out, catching guts and breasts with the back of his stool. He then apologizes and laughs. I feel myself slipping down. Jack is laughing.
“Ronny!” screams Jack.
Ronny shuffles on down to us with the blonde. Her face is not there.
“Hey boys,” says Ronny.
“You got some weed Ron?” asks Jack.
“Yeah bud, I took some shrooms earlier in the week. I was at this sushi joint. I started thinking, what’s gonna happen when I turn 35? I’m not growin up,” says Ronny.
“Yeah, okay, let’s get outta here, go back to my place,” says Jack.
“Okay, I’m gonna bring Emily,” says Ronny.
“I don’t give a fuck Ronny, let’s go. Gus, grab the smokes,” says Jack.
“Huh, okay Jack,” I say.
I throw a cigarette in my mouth and follow Jack, Ronny, and the blonde with no face out the front door of Frankie’s and we all pile into Jack’s Caddy. The night is blurred by the warm brush strokes of junk. Off we go, careening home along the slick road like a slippery bullet shot from a junk hand, aimed by a drunken eye. We’ll hit our target; Jack is a hell of a shot.
We are inside Jack’s place now. It is warm, and condensation accumulates upon my glasses. Jack and I concoct some nonsensical cocktail of conversation in the kitchen amongst snowmelt footprints and blurry cabinet knobs. The room bites, and we are off into madness. Jack is way gone. We smoke and everything goes watercolors. After the smoke clears, and we are all left to our own abstract thoughts, the face of the blonde girl is revealed. I finally can see it. It is quite pretty. Pretty like a flower, like a painting. There is no desire.
Suddenly. Jack erupts.
“Gus! Let’s go, now or never,” says Jack.
“Where? You can’t go anywhere. I seen cops on the way here,” says Ronny.
Jack does not heed Ronny’s warning, and throws his large jacket onto his large shoulders. I stand up. I do not contest, for I am wrapped too deeply inside myself with my own infinite thoughts, personal and separate from the room. I trust Jack in this soggy moment of being and there is no other way. We hit the porch, climb back into the Caddy, and once again we are off.
“Can I get one of those smokes Gus?” asks Jack.
I pull out two, light them both, and pass him one.
“I’m taking you home,” says Jack.
I stare ahead into the grey void of winter night not saying a word. Jack is nearly mad beyond recognition. He drags absently on his cigarette as the Caddy slides and bounces along the icy pavement. His eyes are half closed. Bending down against the car door, hands cupped around the cigarette hanging from my lips, I roll my thumb along the spark wheel of my lighter three times before a flame holds. Our embers glow and pulse in the blackness of night travel. The road stretches out empty in front of us. We are both together and separate and infinite.
He takes a left when he should stay straight. Then he takes a right when he should take a left. We zigzag through the gridded urban streets all the way back to my apartment. There is no reason, for there is no concern. I am calm. We roll down my street slow. Jack throws the Caddy in park in front of my apartment and flicks his butt out into the winter blackness. I wait a moment, dragging on my cigarette, before reaching for the door. Jack stares forward, saying nothing.
“I’ll see you soon Jack,” I say, before opening my door.
Jack closes his eyes.
“Try and score on Monday,” Jack says, as I lean down to accept his goodbye.
“But you’ll be at work,” I contest.
“Save the junk, we’ll do it Tuesday,” Jack says.
I close the door and watch Jack drive off into the night. He truly is mad.