The First and Last Time I Helped a Girl Shoot Up Heroin into Her Veins
Living with 4 Roommates in a One Bedroom
In late 1994, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida, on Clematis Street, above O’Shea’s Pub, an Irish watering hole frequented by writers, poets, and artists. At the time, I was in my twenties, and shared the apartment with 3 other guys. My rent amounted to about $67.50 a month, which allowed us to do what we wanted for a living. I worked as a busboy at a dance club across the street, and started publishing my own ‘zine (small magazine) that featured musicians & artists & other creative types in downtown West Palm Beach. Angel Lozada, another roommate, started his own lawn mowing business. And, after his lawn equipment was stolen from his car, he would bring it upstairs to the apartment every evening after returning home from work. The entire apartment wreaked of gasoline and the fuel-oil mixture required for high-end hedgers. Another roomate was Fredrick Waters, who had his own flier business. Yes, he earned money by making fliers for local businesses and distributing them at places nearby. (This was the 90’s form of social media. To be honest, it was less restrictive than Facebook and Twitter, so expect it to make a comeback when those giants collapse under the weight of their suffocating rules and endless avalanche of well-meaning but-very-unoriginal-duck-faced-selfie-picture-takers.) The other roommates included a Phil Gilmoure, an enterprising people-person who hustled odd jobs, whose currency was his charm and authentic chuckle, and Gary Greenwald, a shy, but highly intelligent computer wiz.
Keeping track of it all
While living there, I set up a typewriter at the end of a long, narrow closet. I found some computer paper, the kind with the perforated lines, and placed the entire stack in the box on the floor, feeding the top page into the typewriter roll. I planned to type without editing, like Kerouac did with “On The Road”. My goal was to pour my thoughts onto paper every day, whenever I felt inspired to do so, and to share these stories unedited.
Community College and the Almost Degree
It had been a few years since community college, and one class had kept me from my 2-year journalism degree. College Algebra. I took it three times. The last time I took it, I spent hours every day in the library, going over the formulas, trying to get it down. When the test arrived, I failed them. Call it a glitch. Call it an excuse. Whatever it was, something happened. Frustrated, I dropped out.
the FLO ‘zine
After dropping out of college, I applied for numerous journalism jobs, as an intern, as a writer, as a photographer. I did not get any jobs. So, I started my own ‘zine (small magazine). the FLO (Flying Low On the radar) featured artists, writers, poets, musicians, even renegade realtors like Lawrence Corning and his downtown preservation group, in the downtown West Palm Beach, Florida area. This magazine was my key to the downtown, my flashlight to interesting characters that inhabited this place. And, with ‘the FLO’, I became well-known, as the bicycle-riding, raggedy-dressed twenty-something who ran his own magazine that drew a small, yet dedicated fan base.
Meeting the Fringe People of the 90's
Living in the small, 2nd floor walkup apartment, sharing it with 4 other creative types, above a popular Irish Pub (O’Shea’s) on a popular street (Clematis Street), and producing the magazine, and working at Respectable Street Cafe (RSC), I met a plethora of people on the fringe, the alternative kids, who had tattoos and wore Doc Martens before it was the norm.
A few of them were drug-users.
Liz was a heroin addict, an avid reader, a pretty and smart girl. She ended up visiting me at my place. I’d make grilled cheese sandwiches and we’d eat and talk. Then, she’d go into my bathroom and shoot heroin. One day, she asked for help to put the needle into her arm. I helped her. I wrote about this experience in bicycledays, my journal from 1994–1995, that documented my experiences at the time, that I typed rapid-fire, using the perforated paper that unfolded accordian-like from the stack in the box on the floor below, and, as I typed, folded over the roll and fell back onto the ground, so I didn’t have to reload the paper. The following is from that journal …
journal entry from ‘bicycledays’
of how our lives are measured in moments and how those moments are picked by culture vultures, sweeped between their (our) claws, suspended above what’s real and then later, return in watered down messages, court reporters symbols, politically correct heiroglyphics.
She wouldn’t want it any other way.
“Now when I find a vein I want you to pull it.”
“Aren’t I supposed to push it?”
“No. Pull it.”
I followed her instructions and it reminded me of high school chemistry class and I felt tremendously sad and slightly nostalgic as I withdrew the plastic plunger. Blood spit into the mixture of heroin and water.
“See. You got it. Now push it.”
In a painfully careful motion, my fingers slowly prodded the plunger.
“Yeah, that’s it.” Her head fell back. “Keep going. All right. That’s good.”
Her hand slowly took the needle from the vein. A thick, tiny pool of blood appeared at the surface.
“You did good.” She smiled. Sighed. “I’m high. Wow. Whoa … “
I watched for the heroin to take effect. She began talking nonsense. The words weren’t even connected by verbs. Her eyes, I noticed, became clouded broken bits of blue glass. Beautiful and lost and lovely and sad. All those discarded emotions flowing through her slurred words.
Gary sat in the living room and played Atari. The psuedo Jaws theme song served as appropriate background music when Liz walked into the room and sat down in front of the mirror behind the hallway door. And Liz is arranging her hair and gazing into the mirror and gargling her words. Sitting crosslegged, she’s swaing to the music inside her.
. . . . . . .
You can read the full ‘bicycledays’ journal at http://www.kriskemp.com
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