#27 - New York City Junkies and Narrow Escapes (Mp3)

My old neighbourhood on the Lower East Side has been “white-painted” and is now a very expensive area to live. There was rent control when I lived there. The buildings were 5 story tenements with little shops here and there.

I became friends with a lady called Fran, who lived across the street from us, She had been a model. She had good bones in her face, so she photographed well. Fran had a girlfriend named Murt. Fran lived on the 2nd floor and Murt was on the 5th floor in the same building. There was a fire escape outside their kitchen windows that ran up to the roof. So, you could go out the 2nd floor window and go up to the 5th using the metal fire escape stairs, if you wanted to.

Murt, who was built like a brick back house, dearly loved Fran. She had a heart of gold and a tender one at that. She was totally devoted to Fran.

There were many junkies on the Lower East Side. Heroin was a plague. The poor junkies had to support their habits so they stole. The way it works with a junkie is you start with your own family and you clean them out, then you move on to friends, then you move on to 'easy marks'.

In this case an ordinary junkie, skinny and raggedy, was trying to cover his habit. In the middle of the night, using the fire escape, he found a way to open the window to Apartment 2, Fran's apartment. Fran had a huge dog with a very deep bark. His name was Malcolm. His hugeness was due in part to the fact that he had an absolute wealth of long, golden hair. How much was hair and how much was dog was hard to say.

When the junkie invaded Fran’s apartment the dog, not right away because he was a heavy sleeper, eventually woke up. He noticed the intruder and he said. “WOOF!!!” It was aa basso profundo “WOOF”. You knew right away, even in the dark, that this was not a Chihuahua you were dealing with. It only took one deep bark for the junkie to decide to head back out the window to the fire escape.

Junkies, for reasons known only to themselves, when they're fleeing don't go down, they go up towards the roof of the building. As he was heading up the dog poked his head out the window and went Woof! Woof! Woof! This woke up Murt in Apartment #5 above, so she opened her window on the fire escape and looked out. Murt said something profound and profane and the junkie saw that he was trapped. He was well and truly trapped between the Dyke and the dog – or so you might think.

There was a lane way between that building and the next and it was about 3 cars wide. The next building also had a fire escape. It was raining which made the fire escapes slippery. It was not an easy leap from one building's fire escape to the other. That junkie was inspired by fear and the need to escape. He was armored with that kind of immortality which inspires the junkie, who somehow survives in spite of all. He made an Olympic leap. He leapt from fire escape to fire escape, over that lane way, and against all odds he made it! He absolutely made it! My God, they are immortal, until they take an overdose.

A side note: Later on Fran broke Murt's tender heart by taking up with a male biker groupie, getting pregnant and moving to Brooklyn.

Another time, Tina, who was a well known lady of the evening, navigated an impossible barrier. In back of our building was a cement back yard of sorts and between our back yard and the next building was a tall board fence. My significant other, Kelly, had added barbed wire to this tall fence which made it a significant barrier.

Tina, high as a kite on heroin and wearing fishnet stockings, a mini skirt, a nylon blouse and a significantly tall wig, managed to navigate her way over that barbed wire barrier without a single rip, tear or abrasion. Lord knows why she didn't just walk in the front door but, fueled by dope and propelled by significant profanity, she did cross over that jagged barrier. Junkies are immortal.

There was a fellow called Spain who lived across the street. We knew him. He worked at looking after buildings and was a meat packer with a special recipe for corned beef which kept him employed. He used to keep one or two of these junkie ladies in his apartment. He had one complaint. When they put in the needle they had to tie something around their arm to bring the vein up and he said, “Every time, when they need to shoot up, they cut off a lamp cord. It's always a new lamp cord. Could be an old one on the floor already cut. Never mind. They would cut the new lamp cord! Tie off. Shoot up and that's it! I'm forever replacing lamp cords.”

If you want to know what happened to the gangs in West Side Story I can tell you. Heroin got them and ended it all. Gang members, particularly the leaders, became addicted. I knew one of them. This fine flourish of manhood just petered out into being a junkie. That's life. That was New York in the 60s.

 

© Sonia Brock 2005
http://www.soniabrock.com

Feed: http://www.soniabrock.com/Podcasts/chatham1.xml

* Note: the songclip in the Podcast intro is from a wax cylinder collection at
http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/