a degenerate’s manifesto: chapter 14

Every day was exactly the same.

I’d wake up around noon. There’d be stale coffee in the pot. You could reheat it and lump in enough sugar and milk to kill the dead taste of preservatives and chemicals. Or make a fresh cup, at least as fresh as instant coffee could be. It usually depended on when payday was.  Or on how hung over you were.

If I could stand it, Foley would be on my couch. I figured I owned him at least a tough old sofa and dirty blanket. He didn’t like to be at home anymore since his mom and Jerry the Mechanic had become less than subtle about their love tryst. Something about hearing your mother scream in sexual ecstasy that makes it hard to get in eight hours on a weeknight.

Amy would be in bed, arm around my chest, face down on the pillow. I could never sleep like that, and admired her for it. I’d have to try very hard to get out of bed without waking her, though secretly relieved when she’d stir and those mystifying green eyes would greet me. Half expected her to be gone. Wouldn’t have surprise me and I doubt I’d blame her.

In the morning, the three of us would spark a joint, maybe pour an Irish coffee or two, and watch cartoons or bullshit about music.  Listening to Foley argue the merits of Def Leppard while Amy sullenly denied him any slack on the artistic merits of “Pyromania” reassured me that she was the one. I think he half kept expecting me to back him but I liked to stay out of it and watch them trade barbs. He’d leave for work, and Amy and I would take a walk, sit on the swing sets in the park until kids would show up and ask for a turn. Another joint, semi-awkward couch-fuck set to Dinosaur Jr, then Saved By the Bell at four.

Every day was exactly the same. Every day was perfect.

An errant nine in place of a three on the delivery renewal form sent the morning paper on our doorstep every day of the week except for Saturdays and statutory holidays. I didn’t order it, didn’t pay for it. It was merely a consistent mistake. I imagined the true subscriber calling the newspaper switchboard everyday demanding his copy, yet somehow the error never being rectified. Perhaps this bothersome issue caused the subscriber to beat his wife, distracted him at work. Maybe he had a drink every night and cursed the publisher as if he took his first born. Each day when I’d open my door to grab my free newspaper, I half expected a brute to be standing on my doormat, ready to take revenge on six weeks of delivery fault that neither of us had control over. I’d think about those types of things and construct elaborate back stories as to why I received a free newspaper subscription. Or why the women in the park was shouting at her dog for defecating by a tree. Or how a three year old child was shirtless in the street at ten o’clock at night, holding an apple and handful of cigarette butts. It’s not that I was bothered by those things, no. The synapses in my brain misfired and had to explain them lest I spend the rest of the day dwelling on something so trivial.

Sparking a three paper joint and debating leaving the city for the woods or the mountains or somewhere Osama was less likely to strike, the morning of September 11 was anything but a normal day.  Aside from the moment of utter national panic, confusion, and yet somehow grossly unifying, patriotism, September 11, 2001 was the day in which Foley smashed a word-plane into my brain-tower.

“Let’s rob a drug dealer!”

I took a long drag of my cigarette. The kind of puff where you expect to have a thought, a response formulated by the exhale. Not so. I took another puff. Foley stared at me, oddly beaming.

“I said, let’s rob a drug dealer, Danny!”

I asked if he had seen the news today.

“Yeah, it’s messed up. But shit, we don’t live in New York. Fuck those assholes.”

I asked him if he needed money.

“Not specifically.”

I asked him if he was sure he didn’t need any money.

“Danny, fucking listen to me! I have the plan. THE plan!”

Three blocks from my apartment was what was known as Sugar Alley. Local methamphetamine enthusiasts had taken to hanging in the crevices behind Douglas Steele & Scrap and Ace Pawnbrokers.  Those of you vaguely familiar with the drug trade or really anyone who has seen an eight minute segment on addiction on 20/20 or Inside Edition should know that the sale of copper and other scrap metals greatly aids the acquisition of cheap, highly addictive drugs. Such as methamphetamines. Such as crystal meth.

The alley behind these two businesses allowed addicts to safely sell the scrap metal or car radios they had stolen and use their newfound wealth to purchase cold hard psychostimulants not twenty feet from the store. A common sight was a junkie would be seen hauling a hundred pounds of telephone wire, chain link fence or pipe in a busted shopping cart, only to round the corner ten minutes later buzzing with a euphoric glare and shaking like a broken washing machine. Metal for meth. Fucking capitalism at its finest.

Foley discovered Sugar Alley one afternoon when Jerry the Mechanic had sent the young apprentice to redeem three hundred pounds of scrap engine block for roughly eighty six dollars. He was in line with a bevy of seedy characters, oblivious to what was going on until he ran across the street for cigarettes and Mountain Dew.

Junkie in. Junkie out. Junkie around the corner. Junkie happy.

Addicts would exchange their load for ten, twenty dollars, walk behind the store to a bevy of dealers- some in lawn chairs with stereos blasting, others trying and failing to look coy- then proceeded to smoke or slam the shit in broad daylight. At first, Foley was impressed with the openness of the drug taking, but upset that he still couldn’t have a beer while driving or smoke weed at a concert. But soon, as he began to make weekly trips to Douglas Steele & Scrap, Foley started to pick up on how things really worked.

The dealers, the lawn chair jockey middle class but angry at dad white kids would take the money, and then send the junkie ten or so feet to another dealer. He’d grab the small amount of narcotic from a stash spot, then stuff the money in a dummy object- Foley said it was usually a Kleenex box, sometimes a tennis ball with a slit in it- that was pushed into a shallow sewer grating. He deduced this was so if the police ever did bother to do their jobs, the dealer would be found clean and had the option of narcing on the mule or claiming ignorance. Money separate from the product, he figured. The box in the gutter was hidden well enough for it to be left for a few hours and picked up later if things went haywire. The addicts were too far gone to notice this simple method of business. But not Foley.

“It’s so fucking simple, Danny,” Foley beamed, “We call 911 from the payphone across the street. As soon as the sirens get close, everyone will scatter. We wait until the coast is clear, and then grab the stash box. Simple.”

I asked how much money could possibly be in the box to make such a risk worthwhile.

“Couple hundred bucks, maybe a grand. And there’d be the drugs, maybe some pills.”

I told him I didn’t need pills.

“Jerry will buy them.”

I asked how many people he told about his plan.

“Just Jerry. He thinks it’ll work. He’ll buy the pills, man!”

I asked what Chris thought.

“College boy doesn’t have anything to do with this.” Foley lit a cigarette, handed it to me and then lit another. “I don’t trust him like I trust you, Danny.”

Once again I asked him if he had seen the news that day.

“This is the thing, man. Drugs are fucking up the community. Well, not weed but you know what I mean. And drugs- not weed- fund terrorists like those cocksuckers who flew those airplanes in to the buildings. This is like, patriotism, man. As real as it gets!”

I fashioned myself a degenerate, sure, and I had accepted the fact that I was not in the upper tier of morality. Theft was old hat. We shoplifted candy bars and soda from the gas station near our high school when we were fifteen. We left strange pubs without paying. Chris had me and Foley watch guard as he tried on and then walked out with a new pair of dress shoes for his first Washington State admissions interview. This was usually out of necessity: we were all poor, But this, the “meth rip” as we’d come to call it, was an escalation. If carried the risk of more than prosecution and a fine. You don’t get shot in the chest for stealing shoes from Sears.

I told him I’d have to think about it.  But I didn’t. I wanted that ring for Amy. And I knew I’d be the one to make the grab, because I was faster and more ballsy than Foley ever hoped to be. The days when people crossed the hall when they saw the gash on his face were long gone. And I knew I’d cheat Foley on his cut. I’d lie to my best friend and take more. I’d probably even try some of the meth. Perhaps as a victory lap.

Foley suggested we wait until welfare Wednesday to do the grab. More addicts means more money. I didn’t like his insinuation that most people on welfare are also meth addicts. He apologized, but said we’d have six days to plan our heist. Six days to change our minds.

Later that afternoon I cashed my pay check and drove to the jeweller in Seattle to put a down payment on the ring. I’d be eating ramen for the next few nights and not have a penny for alcohol, but that would be for the best. Calm the nerves, keep me focused. If I didn’t get drunk, didn’t get stoned, I’d be in better shape; maybe go for a few jogs, get the free weights out of the closest. Shake the cobwebs. One thought, one goal.

I’d have lot of fucking running to do.

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