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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ON THE SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK: JUNKIES, JUNKIES EVERYWHERE (and other stuff)

I don't know what the fuck was going on, but when I did my weekly run to Manhattan's Lower East Side on Saturday it seemed like every junkie in the known universe was out in full force.

When I stepped off the R train at 8th Street and made my way east to Kim's Video I strolled past a decently-dressed bald dude who was curled up in a foetal position next to a building, out cold and covered with piss. Someone else's piss, not his. My first thought was, "Wow! That must have been some night at McSorley's!," but less than a block later I came across the punk-rocker stereotype whose image graces the top of this post; the guy couldn't have been a day over twenty-two and is one of the fit yet obviously addicted young derelicts who hang out in front of Trash & Vaudeville and beg passersby for cash that they will spend on smack, cheap items off the dollar value menu at the McDonald's around the corner, more smack, and cheap stickers and buttons depicting long-defunct punk acts from Trash & Vaudeville.

But directly across the street from homeboy's masterful corpse impersonation was this wonderful van, offering a colorful counterpoint to the slumbering testament to narcotic squalor.



Nothing like a hand-crafted acid trip on wheels to put a smile on my face!


Passing over onto St. Mark's Place I neared Trash & Vaudeville and, to my horror, witnessed a saggy old lady whose arms were festooned from the bite of the needle, obliviously changing out of her clothes right there on the sidewalk. It was just past noon on a beautiful, sunny day, so there was no way anyone on the street could have missed this ballet of hard core drug addiction and possible senile dementia, but just like nearly every other totally fucked-up thing that occurs every .03 seconds on the sidewalks of New York City the lady's impromptu underwear show was met with a seasoned indifference, most likely because a grandma-aged wasteoid covered with bruises and track marks — to say nothing of her stained bra that looked like it held two long, floppy salamis — isn't necessarily entertaining, just sad and pathetic.

I figured that Kim's Video would offer a haven away from the street horrors, but what the fuck was I thinking? I've been in there and seen some of the most bizarre humans ever to draw breath, and Saturday was no exception. A young and shaky junkie couple attempted to sell used DVDs for quick smack money, but the weary sales person just rolled her eyes and told them that Kim's didn't accept bootleg discs that had been shot with a home video camera in a movie theater, much less ones that were scratched up beyond all hope of actual play.

(NOTE TO NON-NEW YORKERS: you can spot a bootleg DVD a mile away thanks to package art that wouldn't pass muster in a beginner's Photoshop class, and copy that reads like, "SPIDER-MANN 3 movie excellent becoming of thrills and action thrills. It is a goodd movie yes!" And if you get a chance to watch one of these wonders, the camera often moves to odd angles and stays that way, cutting off three quarters of the image — which is nearly always dark and murky — to say nothing of the added bonus of seeing silhouettes of theater seats and the audience members — who frequently walk about and pause in front of the cinema screen for minutes at a time — noisy, uncouth louts who scream and yell throughout, often in a vain attempt to control their horrendous offspring. And now, back to the narrative.)

Then, as I perused the new releases, another shaky sort twitched his way along the racks. This guy set off all my THIS IS A CRAZY PERSON alarms as he sidled past me, his every available bit of skin, excepting his face, covered with some of the most amateurishly-rendered tattoos I've ever seen, each one emitting that sour reek singular to the tattooed unwashed. However, I was fascinated by his backpack, a standard number that had been given its own life by a surface-covering festooning of bendy toy cartoon characters, most of whom were the cast of FAMILY GUY. Anyway, the dude eventually made it to the checkout counter with an armload of discs, but when they had been wrung up and the guy revealed he had no money he suggested that the store allow him to pay them back at the end of the day because he was "good for it." That idea was shot down in flames and he was immediately escorted off premises, but I had to wonder if he really was "good for it" since it is not uncommon for junkies to mug and even murder pedestrians in the area for their meager pocket change, especially once you got over to the section known as Alphabet City. Hey, the guy could have gotten lucky in a couple of hours, caved in the skull of a hapless tourist and returned with what he owed, right down to the penny.

Loaded down with my own stack of movies, I headed around the corner to the local McDonalds in search of a small Chicken McNuggets — which for all I know were fashioned from the meat of the area's deceased homeless, or would that be the burgers? — and a Hi-C orange drink to keep my blood sugar in check, but when I sat down I was once more surrounded by, you guessed it, junkies.

To my left was assembled three tables full of Black and Hispanic women in their thirties, all of whom displayed the slow-motion, spaced-out behavior and speech common to heroin addicts, and their conversation was a disturbing symphony of ghetto drawl and stoned vitriol. Sounding just like Mel Blanc doing his dead-on Stepin Fetchit impersonation, the largest of the women slurred at a would-be Bic Mac thief, "Gurl, getcho monkey hands offa mah gawdamn burguh, muthafukka...," a warning stated without a hint of threat because the chick was simply too out of it to do anything other than lurch and drone. The rest of her companions were no better off, each practically passing out on the tabletops and occasionally allowing bits of half-chewed food to fall from their mostly-toothless maws onto their breasts and laps. If George Romero ever shot a commercial for the McDonald's chain, it would probably have looked just like this:

George A. Romero's I'M LOVIN' IT.

Usually I can hang on the Lower East Side for hours at a time, but the heroin-driven living Breughel painting I found myself in that Saturday was too much even for my weirdness-hardened ass, so I finished my snack and made my way south along Bowery, a path that ironically took me right past the neighborhood's methadone clinic, outside of which were about a half dozen addicts and homeless, among whom could be counted a redhead with horrible teeth whose accent was the textbook example of the endangered, old school Bronx squawk. So Irish-looking that she'd make Seamus O'Leprechaun say, "Damn!," this woman seriously attempted to give advice on furniture-buying — ??? — to anyone within earshot, a sad waste of an obvious gift of blarney. Lesson learned from this: choose your audience wisely, and don't attempt an erudite lecture while zonked on horse.

That display only added to my growing malaise, but then I passed a sidewalk sale full of all manner of whacked-out crap, and this painting stared me down, as if to say, "Haven't you seen enough depressing shit today, boy? Go back to Brooklyn. NOW!"

When a crude painting of Hannibal Lecter tells you to get your ass home, you'd fucking well better listen, so I made like a bakery truck and hauled buns back to the Slope. Seriously, man, a fucking talking painting is some scary shit!

3 comments:

Jennifer Vandestienne Gillow said...

LOTSA FOLKS NODDING OUT IN CHELSEA AT ALL HOURS. I'm talking lunchtime, breakfast time... anytime.
The sad folks are "almost-falling" everywhere!

Nicole V. said...

Just be happy that you didn't know all these junkies. That's a real bummer. You don't want piss covered sleepy man to holler at you as you pass by - "Hey, Bunche! Is that you man?"

Jennifer Vandestienne Gillow said...

yeah colie, you prolly right!