We caught up with the Private Dealer at Danceteria on West Twenty-first Street.
He was sitting alone beside the stage, a gaunt man in a black shirt, aviator
glasses, a well-worn leather jacket. I was with a couple of rich kids - one was
making the introduction - and the Private Dealer greeted us with unsmiling
politeness. His face had the pallor of flesh seen underwater.
It was past midnight. The group scheduled to play was barely known, but chose
to be conventionally late. The lead singer had been married to one of those
decadent European rich so numerous in Manhattan nowadays - "International
White Trash," as the uncharitable put it - and there was a sizable splinter
group of fashionable uptown faces cruising among the downtown regulars, their
expressions mingling curiosity, distaste, alarm. We fetched drinks. Making small
talk would have been strenuous, what with the thudding of taped sound, and the
Private Dealer showed no inclination to try, but sat there, encased in his own
silence, like something embedded in Lucite.
The band was now very late. The only signs of life were sporadic scrapings
behind the curtain. The Private Dealer was clearly growing more impatient by the
minute. We left. He got into a Maserati the color of arterial blood. The three
of us followed in the rich girl's Mercedes. Although almost brand-new, it was
already dented and scarred by careless driving. The Private Dealer gunned his
way uptown, like somebody slashing a track through stinging weeds.
His apartment was in one of those purposefully anonymous towers where
Manhattan's high-priced East Side becomes the higher-priced Upper East Side, the
sort of place that's as popular with young Latin-American bankers as with Pan Am
stews crammed into two rooms. His own apartment was small, trim. A TV was
soundlessly flickering with Dirty Harry. The miscellany of record
albums_- Jimi Hendrix psychedelia - gave the impression of having been mostly
collected in the Sixties. There was several thousand dollars' worth of camera
equipment lying around, but not a single book - "I never read books" -
apart from Webster's Deluxe Unabridged and Collins'
German-English/English-German, German being the Private Dealer's native tongue.
The décor was austere, consisting mainly of a couple of plastic Oriental masks
on one wall and - an incongruously cozy touch - a stuffed toy penguin beside the
We seated ourselves. Behind his oblong desk, the Private Dealer became
immediately alert and attentive - the professional man. A mirror lay in front of
him. To his left were a telephone and a cubic instrument made of green plastic
with a handle attached. This turned out to be a pharmaceutical grinder. Sitting
on the right, neat as a table setting, were various utensils, including a
dessert spoon, a palette knife and an oblong of scarlet plastic that sported the
famous Coke logo. In front, over the mirror, stood a white-enameled scale,
accurate to a hundredth of a gram, and various receptacles for Quaaludes,
cocaine, hashish and so forth. A nine-inch standing glass phial held half an
ounce of white heroin. For this, the Private Dealer had paid one of his own
suppliers $4500. This was his stock. It might last three days.
The rich kids had reached a muttered understanding. "You want
coke?" the Private Dealer asked the girl.
She shook a petulant head. "Downtown," the boy said, meaning
They made their purchases and sidled off to a corner. Soon, their heads were
lowered and their backs were carefully turned to us in that way middle-class
kids have, as though they were doing something audacious, cliquish and a bit
embarrassing, like looking through a girlie magazine at prep school.
The Private Dealer removed his jacket, then his spectacles. His eyes were
hard, pale and oddly colorless, like glass. Working quickly and precisely, he
heaped the dessert spoon with a mixture of heroine and cocaine: the makings of a
"speedball." This he topped with bottled water - "I do not want
to get hepatitis," he said - and drew the liquid up into a hypodermic.
Without comment, he rolled up his sleeves, exposing a tangle of black veins,
like so much burned-out electrical circuitry, and jabbed the syringe into his
left forearm. It wasn't even done with nonchalance-mechanically, rather, like a
heavy smoker lighting up another cigarette. Nor did he let it for one moment
inhibit his conversational flow.
"I have a very strong notion of right and wrong, and that has not been
touched one drop," he told me. "For me, there are two basic
categories. You have human beings. And you have humanoids...."
Junkies being mostly humanoids, of course. Dealers tend to self-justification
by adopting one of two role models; the Pirate Chief or the Philosopher. This
dealer sees himself as the Philosopher. The rich kid who introduced me calls him
"my guru," only in part ironically. This, it turned out, is rather
more respect than the Private Dealer returns to his clientele. "I am in a
position where I can see a lot of the true personality of people," he told
me. "And I cannot accept their scale of values. It revolts me to see human
beings so fucking low. So low, man!"
But there seemed something almost dreamlike about his
indignation. His face, hard at the outset, had relaxed; his speech had grown
blurry. He has been doing business in Manhattan for seven years, he said, and is
currently grossing $500,000 a year. He won't deal at the street level. "New
York is an irrational city," he says. "It's everybody for himself. If
an American gets busted, he does a deal. And nobody blames him! He becomes a
rat-and people think he's smart!"
The Private Dealer told me that he comes from an ancient aristocratic
line, which may or may not be correct-"They all come from aristocratic
lines," one sour friend tells me- but it's certainly true that he tries to
run a class operation. He deals mostly with Europeans and a few well-heeled
Americans. He has had no problem building up such a client list. "It's like
a harrier has been put down," he told me. "Respectable people are
doing it. It happened very recently. And it has been quite, quite
Why? The Private Dealer, who is thirty-eight, a veteran of Sixties theoretic,
drifted into a sea of abstractions. "There are no stable reference points
in society now," he tells me while searching for a vein in his inner right
"You seem to he doing it every twenty minutes, I said.
"Yes," he agreed. "I shoot up too much." Like a radio
program on a drifting wave length, his speech had again altered. A few moments
before, he had been hoarse, slurred. Now he sounded crisp, neutral.
"Always speedballs?" I asked.
"How much heroin are you using?"
"A gram a day. [That would cost $12,500 a month, retail.] I am a real
junkie. I no longer get pleasure from it. I am not happy. I am not unhappy. It
is a necessity."
"How are your veins?"
"Terrible." He kneaded his right arm dispassionately, as though
checking a vegetable for ripeness. "They collapse." He sometimes
shoots in the legs, even the ankles. but has so far kept clear of such last
resorts as the neck, the penis or beside the eye. "I should quit fairly
soon," he added.
"A year is too long. I do not want to continue longer than six months.
Otherwise, I will lose."
Losing! He began to talk of this obsessively but imprecisely, and what he meant
was not death - not immediately, at any rate - but falling totally under the
drug's control. His voice had become high, squeaky, brittle, as if mimicking
Mickey Mouse. It was time to go.
The telephone, which had been ringing every few minutes, did so again. Another
client. "Come," the Private Dealer said brusquely and set to preparing
another fix. "Why the penguin?" I asked, at the door.
"It is my mascot," the Private Dealer said, a flicker of humor in his
pale eyes. "It is like me. Harmless."
The rich kids seemed husked in languor, as though returned to some larval phase
of being, but did manage to drop me off at home. It's a very adaptive drug,
heroin, in the beginning.
THE PRIVATE DEALER IS RIGHT. "RESPECTABLE people" are doing it. Heroin
has always had a kingdom, of course, but in past decades his subjects - on the
street, heroin is "boy," while cocaine is "girl" - have been
outlaws, rebel artists or socialites with a taste for the Negative Zone. The
Edie Sedgwicks, the acolytes of William Burroughs, Charlie Parker, Lou Reed. Not
any longer. "This is just recreational. I can handle it," one fellow
airily told me the other day. He hasn't read Burroughs, doesn't like Lou Reed
much and works in a Wall Street brokerage house. So far, he only snorts.
The social acceptability of smack has been ballooning in Europe. It is now
spreading to the United States. A multitude of reasons have been suggested. Some
belong to the domains of politics and economics. The current influx, for
instance, began with the fall of the shah. Quantities of Iranians began
exporting their assets in the form of drugs. The Persians, inept smugglers, were
thinned out last year, especially by British customs. Fresh floods began coming
in by way of Pakistan, and from the unpoliced Afghans, desperate for cash in
their guerrilla war against the Soviets.
European prices are, of late, low. Smack in London is $120 a gram, making it
cheaper than cocaine, which is usually poor stuff there anyway. Not only is it
one-third the price of American street goods, but it's very much stronger. And
another thing: scoring in Europe is not seen as a life-threatening affair. There
are pubs, bars and apartments in perfectly respectable parts of London, Paris,
Rome, Milan, Berlin and Barcelona. It is seen as daring, not dangerous, and has
certainly little in common with dealing, say, in the ghetto of New York's Lower
The effects of this new epidemic have been widespread but furtive, and seem to
come into focus only when some piece of symbolic wreckage bobs to the surface.
It was duly noted in the British press when the son of Sir Edmund Hillary, the
man who first climbed Everest, was busted for possession in Thailand; when the
son of Sir John Rennie, sometime head ofMl6 (Britain's CIA) was caught forging
methadone prescriptions; and when the daughter of John Cordle, a well-known
Conservative politician, was charged - on different occasions - with supporting
her habit by prostitution, shoplifting and serving as the '~paid concubine"
of a Saudi princeling. Late last year, a Rothschild granddaughter publicly
complained that her family won't finance her cure.
There are also the numerous deaths. Some make the papers, if the names are grand
enough and the circumstances sufficiently bizarre. Just one three-month period
witnessed the heroin ODs of a cousin of the King of Spain, a former British
debutante of the year and a nephew of the late shah, who exited in a
ten-dollar-a-night hostel in Madrid.
It is getting to be a la mode here, too. Last fall, the murdered body of a
Bennington preppie was found on the Lower East Side. He had been dealing drugs
at one of America's most expensive colleges. In Washington, an aide to Senator
Daniel Patrick Moynihan was indicted last month for possession of smack. He was
bright, much liked, a friend of various Kennedy kids.
Last December, there were two arrests at JFK Airport. On December 8th, Peter
Madok, once a lawyer for the Who, was picked up with more than four pounds of
Brazilian cocaine. Twelve days later, a young woman named Laurita Watson was
arrested. Her payload was four pounds of Indian heroin. Based on the information
gained from these arrests, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began its
investigation. In the subsequent months, 3500 telephone calls were secretly
recorded, and on May 19th, the DEA raided a townhouse, with a fancy West Side
address. The house belonged to Nik Cohn, author of Rock from the Beginning, Rock
Dreams and some haunting novels, but best known for the short story "Tribal
Rites of the New Saturday Night," which was the basis for the movie
Saturday Night Fever.
Cohn was arrested, as were fifteen others. Cohn was born in Ireland; among the
others arrested were two Englishmen - Lord Jermyn, heir to the marquis of
Bristol, and Ian Ben Brierley, a record producer whose marriage to Marianne
Faithfull had recently ended - as well as an American woman, Kathy Anday, a Wall
Street broker. Having known these four people, I find the notion that they may
be dealers preposterous. But it does seem as though certain major upper-class
taboos are eroding in the United States, as in Europe.
One possible reaction might be: so what? Is there a real difference between rich
kids on hard drugs and junkies in the ghetto or glue sniffers on
Yes. "I would rather deal with a hundred poor, black junkies than one
middle-class white addict," says Dr. Marie Nyswander of New York's
Rockefeller University Hospital. Heroin at least makes economic sense for the
jobless. "You can't afford a discotheque," she says. "But a
nickel bag will get you off." It was where the kids with prospects were
concerned that she found no sense at all.
And why smack of all drugs? There is a logic to it, of sorts. Hash and grass,
so-called expansive drugs, were well attuned to the Sixties, a time of affluence
and hope, when the work ethic could be treated with derision and when, it now
seems comical to recall, dope was considered radical. The same applies to acid,
too. Speed and coke, on the other hand, were tailor-made for the egotism of the
Seventies. Wonder drugs for a time when the sky seemed the limit.
But things have changed. There is a sense that we reached a peak without quite
noticing it and are sliding downhill. Heroin dulls pain, numbs despair. Also, we
are more knowing now. It's not that heroin seems better than it did, but that
the so-called glamour drugs now appear to be far worse than we thought. Hard
drugs for hard times.
WE LIVE IN A DRUGGED WORLD. Cocaine may be a jagged peak, heroin a rather steep
gulch, but all around us roll hills and and plains formed from pills, hv plants
and alcohol. It is a landscape of escape. Sometimes it appears that ever but
everybody is doing drugs.
"There are no good funerals in Switzerland anymore," a local doctor
told a of mine in Gstaad.
"What do you mean, doctor?"
"Nobody weeps anymore. Everybody is. taking Valium..."
The notion of the stolid Alpine race busily addling their cerebellums might
seem improbable, but Switzerland figures frequently, I found, in these sagas. The
cantons are, after all, a haunt of the rootless rich, a refuge for the world's
hot home for those expensive international schools. Anyway, it was at a school in
Lausanne that Erica first took heroin. She was thirteen.
Erica is now twenty-six. Her generation was the first of the new wave of
junkies. She is pale and beautiful. Her grandfather is a British industrialist
with great holdings. Her father is English. and her mother is now married to a
middle-aged New York preppie. They move from Fifth Avenue to Southampton to St.
Croix, their lives filled with drink and rage.
"I was doing pot and alcohol and snuff when I was ten," Erica says.
"So they sent me to Switzerland." She was separated from her sister,
Dodo, who is five years younger, and enrolled in an all-girls school, which she
found herself quite enjoying. Her two best friends were the French heiress to an
aperitif fortune and the American daughter of a pharmaceutical entrepreneur,
both of whom were as fucked up as herself. "We would have dances with the
other schools." Erica says. "Drugs were rampant."
At one such dance, she met a twenty-year-old boy who was a dealer. Soon, they
were having an affair, all the while doing acid, opium and snorting heroin. They
decided to get married. Erica was now fourteen. "I ran away," she says. "I
stuffed my bed. I left everything behind. All I took was a handbag. We went to
Zurich by train and flew to Istanbul."
Erica's memories of the Turkish city are hazy. A dingy room. Hash. An
electric guitar. Meandering trips to the pie shop or the Gulhane, the sleazy
pension where nomadic Westerners used to congregate, and which was reputedly run
by the cops. "I was there for two months," Erica says. "Then
Interpol found me, and I was stuck in the British consulate.
"My parents were fighting over who should have me. I mean, neither
wanted me. I remember the consul saying, 'I thoroughly understand why people
like you take off."
Neither parent came to Turkey.
"They finally plunked me on a plane to New York," Erica says. Her
journey had barely begun.
IT'S AN ODD FEELING, A SORT OF GUILTY pride, being part of what some users
call "the Club." "Tracks are like a membership card," says
one titled British user. "Only class people use heroin." Few will
actually admit to being junkies, though, even to themselves. Correction:
especially to themselves. One gets to know the litany by heart.
I am not a junkie because I only do it on weekends... because I only snort. ... because I only skin-pop.. .because I stop sometimes.. .because I won't up my
dose, audi stop if I start throwing up... because I am stopping forever,
Personal ethics shrivel. The truth ceases to have any objective reality.
Theft is the norm - theft from anybody. One couple, both addicts, both "in
love," were seen looking through each other's pockets and handbags while the
other was out of the room. So skilled do addicts become at lying that it often
takes a good while for parents, lovers and other interested parties to figure
out what is going on. One friend, Jonathan, in love with an addict, saw himself
as her savior. She would lie to him, saying "I want to get off it,"
or, "I'm really not doing much." Meanwhile, his cufflinks were
disappearing, along with his watch and several snuffboxes.
He invited her to stay with the family in the country. She loved rural peace,
she said. She spent most of the weekend in her room, throwing up.
His mother telephoned on Monday: "I think Alice has left something
"I found a syringe in my bathroom. Do you think she needs
At last, he called Alice's father, who was a doctor, of all things.
"Your daughter is an addict," Jonathan told him.
There was a pause. "Well, we can't talk to you right now," the
doctor told him. "We have to go to a dinner party."
In the end, Jonathan paid for Alice to enter a clinic, one of the more
expensive abbeys, then into a so-called halfway house for after-care. It didn't
take, but he had lost his taste for junkies. "They have this tremendous
feeling of superiority," he marvels. "We've lived through something
that none of you can understand."
ERICA WAS PICKED UP BY THE CUSTOMS AT JFK. She was carrying hash. Charges
weren't pressed, but it went on her record. This meant she couldn't get into a
private school. She was sent to a "good" public one, instead. This
meant lots more drugs, of course.
She vividly remembers the first time she saw somebody shoot up. She was
sixteen and in high school, hanging out with a girlfriend on the music scene.
"We'd go to parties for parties for Candy Darling and the New York
Dolls," she said. Basically, in retrospect, we were just sexual toys.
My friend was going with a roadie. He had this dumpy apartment and four
Dobermans. Anyway, there was a party after one show, and the roadie had no veins
left. So he jerked himself off and shot himself up in his penis. And the blood
splattered on the wall. I was just appalled. I was already scared of needles, so
I was snorting. Besides, I preferred amphetamines."
Erica notched up another first at this apartment. The customary party was
under way, but she noticed that one reveler was sitting silently, not
participating. A closer look revealed his party days were over. "I was
amazed at the offhand way people reacted," she said. "He's dead?
'Uh-huh.' 'Hey! Don't interrupt the party. We'll call the cops
She began to shoot upon a visit to Miami Beach with her current boyfriend.
"Not that I ever saw the beach," she said. "We used to go to a
lot of parties at Coral Gables. I went to at a psychiatrists' party once. There
was blood all over the place."
She decided it was time to get back to New York, and she began attending a
college upstate. She was eighteen now and seeing a psychiatrist, but found him
ineffectual. "He would just sit there, going, 'Uhhh, uhhh.' I was basically
being a pimp and a drug dealer. I knew a photographer in New York who would give
me drugs, which I would take back to school and sell. So these young preppie
girls from Texas or wherever would get all hooked up on Quaaludes. And he would
send a limo, and they would pose for beaver shots in their lynx
Events were racing too fast, too fantastically. When Erica's uneasiness
became a panic, she turned to her grandfather. The old industrialist was fond of
her still. She visited him in England and acted the lady. She even opened a new
factory-a real ribbon-cutting. "I was in London. shooting up, that same
evening." she says.
So she wasn't a lady, after all. She flew back to the United States and
checked into St. Mary's, a rehabilitation center in Minneapolis, at a cost of
$3000 per week. This was in 1981. It was here that she was later joined by her
Dodo is younger than Erica. She is twenty-one and pretty, with dark curly
hair and tender, heavy-lidded eyes. She also had first done smack in Europe,
snorting it in London once, then smoking it - "chasing the dragon's
tail" - at a dance in the country. The affair was attended by two members
of the royal family, and you couldn't get into an upstairs bathroom, what with
everybody doing coke or smack.
She then returned to Manhattan, where she worked for a theatrical agent. One
evening, she was at a swank restaurant, Mortimer's, with the usual smart, young
group, including a wry medical man who, because of his ready hand with the
harder drugs, rejoiced in the nickname "Doctor Death." They went on to
Xenon. Dodo found him attractive. Whether for that reason or another- "I am
still blocking so much," she says-she took him aside as they sat themselves
down at a table. "I really want to try it with you," she said. He
agreed to make a house call the following evening.
Dodo had been supposed to go to a party with her roommate, but she dawdled,
saying she would be along later. Doctor Death arrived at half past ten carrying
a black Gladstone bag, which he took into the bathroom with him. "He seemed
to be out there forever," she said. He came out at last. The bag was filled
with gleaming syringes. He turned off the main light, draped a pink slip over
the bedside lamp and went to work.
Dodo's progress was rapid. Soon, she was shooting every day and had moved in
with a young junkie, who would send her out to score in rotten neighborhoods.
She grew sallow and ill as she pumped all her money into her body. It was the
kited checks that alerted her family. Her mother threatened to bring in the
cops, and the young junkie hastily booted her out.
Dodo dolefully telephoned home, scored one last time in the East Village and
took the Long Island Rail Road to Southampton, where her mother told her that
she too had been booked into St. Mary's.
The following morning was sunny. "Dodo!" her mother shouted.
"There's a telephone call."
"Don't disturb me," Dodo bawled. "I'm trying to get a hit. I
She flew to Minneapolis in a good humor - unsurprisingly, because she had
shot her last bag in the plane's lavatory. "You know all I had
packed?" she says. "Evening dresses. I thought I was going to clean up
a bit, come back and start all over again."
SOME JUNKIES START AS SOON AS THEY CAN get their hands on the stuff. Some
start by accident (heroin is often white, like cocaine). One girl I know, Anna,
has used heroin twice, both times by mistake. The second time was at her own
party, in a darkened bathroom. She slumped like an unstringed marionette.
Her guests departed, but one girlfriend came back later, puzzled by Anna's
uncharacteristic collapse. She found her nostril-deep in vomit. "She saved
my life," says Anna.
Others get turned on deliberately. Several get some Draculoid pleasure from
enlarging the constituency; I call them Morphine Marys. Eddie James is a famous
Morphine Mary and, at twenty-nine, something of a cult figure in the upper-class
heroin world. His Anglo-Irish family is both grand and rich.
Eddie James was in Manhattan recently. He was far gone by then and would lock
himself in the bathroom of the guesthouse he was staying in continually.
Sometimes, he would sit in there as long as four hours, working the syringe in
and out, in and out, in and out, blood flowing down his arm.
Visions of power seized him. He once confided his most private dream.
"There are all these young girls." he said. 'Thirteen... fourteen...
And they are all pleading with me. Eddie! Give me heroin! Eddie! I'll do
The vision was barely a sensual one, though. Perhaps the reverse. "His
main fear was that he would be unable to satisfy girls sexually," says a
woman who put him up in Manhattan. They slept together sometimes, she says, but
chastely. "We slept like spoons." Why did he turn people on, then?
What did Eddie James want? "Cohorts."
AMY, WHO IS ONLY A "CHIPPER," OR OCCASIONAL user, wanted me to meet
somebody. He would, she said, be "interesting." The meeting was in the
Chelsea Hotel. The lobby was like neutral ground in a war zone on the evening I
arrived. A collection of oldsters was sitting around, watching impassively as a
spiky duo of punkettes shrilled at each other about rent money. I studied the
nondescript artwork until Amy materialized by the elevator.
My host was a French kid, heir to a department-store fortune, whose family
had managed to fast-shuffle various of their assets out of the socialist
government's paws back home. He was snuffling and snoozing on the bed. The room
was filled with a stench; it was like arriving on a planet where the dominant
life form was the dirty sock.
He turned toward us, muttering. The smudges under his eyes looked as if they
had been applied with wet chocolate. He is a performer. Some say not bad, but he
hasn't performed recently. "I pay $900 a month for this rat hole," he
said. "Go grab yourself a beer."
I negotiated the thousands of dollars' worth of sound equipment lying on the
shag carpeting and fetched a bottle from a busted refrigerator. The French kid
pulled some notes off a sizable wad and sank back into a coma while Amy scuttled
off to score.
There was a coded pattern of knocks at the door, and the French kid came to
life. Amy had returned with eight bags of "Toilet." Toilet, which is
dispensed from a scoring place of the same name on the Lower Fast Side, was
enjoying good junkie word of mouth at the time, but the French kid was
"It'll probably be no good," he said with the melancholy negativism
of the often ripped-off. "Nobody would lend me a spoon," Amy told him,
"but I've got fresh works." She heated water in a beer-bottle cap and
drew the smack into the syringe through the cotton-wool end of a Q-tip. She
knotted a Missoni scarf around her upper arm, and set to it. "It went in
like butter," she said contentedly.
It was the French kid's turn. "I'm sweating already," he said
"You shouldn't be sweating yet, " Amy told him, as she shot him
The telephone rang. He stalked over. "Call me back in fifteen minutes,
he barked. "I'm getting off."
Amy went into the bathroom and shut the door. The French kid slumped on his
gray sheets. His speech was slurred."Fuck!" he said. "I've
spilled beer over myself. This shit must be good."
Amy returned. "I just threw up." she said brightly. "On an
Amy showed me one of the remaining bags. I now saw that not only was it
called Toilet, but that each meticulously folded paper package was stamped with
the same amusing design, a red drawing of a toilet with its seat uplifted. I
imagined that this represented the management's view of its clientele, but on my
one visit to Toilet later on, I decided not to ask.
A BANNER WAS SLUNG ACROSS ONE OF THE LOWER EAST SIDE thoroughfares. It read
THIS LAND IS OUR LAND and was perhaps the detritus of some festival or other,
but it seemed loaded with special meaning. Erica, her boyfriend Jeff and I got
out of the cab at Twelfth Street and Avenue D, and walked-. past the once
handsome, now decrepit town houses of Tompkins Square, shuttered, with beer
bottles and busted appliances on the steps. It was early evening, and we trod
more quickly as we approached the block where Erica and Jeff proposed to
"Actually, I do get nervous over this," Erica confided. She paused
and added, "The danger is half the rush."
The night before, things had been a bit grim. She had gone alone to score at
a putrid hotel on Forty-second Street. and some bouncer type had called her a
bitch and worse, then slapped her around in the lobby. She is aware that street
people are easily nettled by her attitude and the way she looks, and this is
understandable. However raveled her shetlands, however beat-up her tweed jacket,
Erica always looks as if she could get a good table in any restaurant, which
isn't necessarily the correct look for across here in Alphabetville, so named
because of the odd way the avenues are lettered, not numbered, in this
unappealing part of the city.
A van was parked at the end of the street, rhythmically flashing its lights.
It was marked MORTUARY DIVISION, and a passerby told us that somebody had been
shot dead there a couple of hours ago. A few indifferent cops had, he said, come
and gone. Rosita's was eighty yards away. Rosita's has a good reputation, both
for its heroin and its safety, but this evening there was something about the
demeanor of some of the onlookers that bothered Jeff. "These guys aren't
dealers and they aren't buyers," he muttered, bunching into his blue
cashmere. "I don't like this. Let's get done and get out."
We joined the short line just as a college boy emerged from the doorway and
trotted jubilantly across the road. He climbed into a car full of hooting girls.
Some young guys were standing around; they were sallow, with darting eyes, and
light on the balls of their feet. "Shit," Jeff exclaimed. It was only
three weeks since he had been robbed just half a block from here. They had cut
his neck, though not too badly. An insect world: drones on heroin, killer bees
In Rosita's hallway, a black man appeared, dapper in a leather flying jacket.
"Show me your tracks," he said, as though requesting tickets for a
ride. "I'm with her," I said. Erica was waving her arm around. Her
milky underarm was marbled with blue-black veins, like Stilton cheese. The man
stuck out his palm. "I'll go up and get you some," he instructed.
Thirty dollars changed hands.
The modus operandi of scoring is constantly shifting. One club's owners have
grown so nervous that they have taken to lowering a basket from an upper floor.
The customer deposits his other money, watches the basket whisk skyward and
hopes it will return with the correct n-umber of nickel or dime bags. Rosita's
seemed more placid. Our connection returned, handed over some half-inch oblongs
of folded yellow legal paper and darted away.
A young woman walked in. Rosita. She caught sight of Erica's purchases and
was scornful. "Shit!" she said. "Ain't I told you never deal with
nobody but me? That stuff's no good. Look!"
She fished out some yellow oblongs of her own, and the differences were
plain, in size and in style. They sheepishly shelled out another forty dollars
"Now we need works," Erica decided. We walked off into the
deepening dusk, past Toilet, past Smiley's (whose merchandise is stamped with a
smiley face), stopping outside the door of a corner grocery where a group was
hanging out. "Works?" they offered invitingly. I walked into the
store, ran my eyes over the fruit and nuts, selecting cashews. "Something
tells me you just looking to make change," the store owner said.
Outside, a bushy-bearded man asked for three dollars for works. I
"I'm here all the time," he said irritably. "I do business
He took the money, slipped away and returned with a surgically packed syringe
"Where's the rest of it?" demanded Erica.
"You only said the point."
He produced the body to a syringe from his pocket. "This has been
used," Erica said petulantly, but she accepted it anyway.
Back in the studio, she poured some smack into a spoon, bent so that the bowl
would sit flat on the table, poured in water and heated it over a silver
candlestick, one of her few belongings that hadn't been pawned by her sister,
Dodo. Then, Erica tied up with a length of rubber tubing and searched for a
place to shoot. "I don't have any veins left," she complained. "I
find myself looking at other people's. It's rather a nasty habit." The
needle went in. "Shit! I skin-popped," she said. But blood began
welling out, dribbling over a copy of Bazaar. "I must have hit
something," she said. Silence.
Long moments later, she asked, "Should we go dancing?"
"You can do what you want. It adapts."
Time crept by.
"I know Jeff and I are going to stop," Erica suddenly
"Do you know that?" asked Jeff.
"I'm going to snap out of boredom. Being a junkie is like having a
THE DOCTOR IS WAITING. HEROIN IS next.
"Cocaine hit in the late Sixties, early Seventies," says the
Doctor, who works with addicts at Manhattan's Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic.
"The older middle-class people didn't try it till the mid-to
late-Seventies. Heroin hit a few years ago. The people who were able to handle
cocaine-which is most people, after all-began saying, 'I can handle this.'"
It is when the middle-class trendies start that the Doctor will know that smack
has finally made it.
The Doctor is in his early forties. His earliest professional experience of
smack came when he was working at the Fillmore East. He observed that when
revelers were on bad acid trips, their friends would hold them to the floor,
punch them on the chest and make them snort heroin. "One sniff and they'd
be straight," he says.
A relatively benign introduction, in fact, and the Doctor will tell you that
heroin causes less damage to the body than alcohol, for instance, which attacks
both vital organs and the brain. "You can die from barbiturate or alcohol
withdrawal," he says, "but not from opiate withdrawal." Not
directly, anyway. When he treated addicts at the Tombs, a New York prison, he
noticed that cold turkey was unpleasant, but it wasn't like Gene Hackman
sweating on a bed in The French Connection II. "But we were having one
suicide try a day," he says. "We asked ourselves why."
His answer is as follows. Drugs, he points out, tend to duplicate systems
that already are at work within the body, but at a much greater strength. Coke
and speed, for instance, simulate the fight-or-fly instincts of adrenaline. And
heroin? "Our internal opiates are probably responsible for maintaining
sanity," the Doctor says. "Opiates keep delusions and craziness
The problem is that when you take drugs that perform a bodily function much
more powerfully, the body simply says to itself, why should I bother? And it
shuts down. Even when you stop using the drug, the body may decide to remain
inoperative. Which means that cold turkey-the itches, the sniffles, the
soreness-can be just a curtain raiser for the main act.
"Sooner or later, you start feeling irritable, anxious. It's profound,
but subtle - a feeling of incompleteness, that everything is too much for you.
You don't feel any motivation. You get ominous feelings, a sense of
impending doom. You don't necessarily blame it on the drug. Perhaps you took it
with a whole bunch of other drugs."
How long does this last?
"Your mood stays awry for months and months. Nobody knows. Maybe
This is why so many former addicts relapse after extended junk-free periods.
The "crocodile brain" - the primitive part of the human brain, where
the pleasure centers are located - isn't feeling so hot. "The brain's own
internal chemicals haven't been coming back," he says. "It's feeling
bad. So it's telling the more rational parts of the brain, the cognitive parts:
Go! Get me some drugs! But make up a story. An excuse."
This is where the self-deception comes in: "Hey! I've left my Sony
Walkman with John. I'd better go around and pick it up." So John's a
dealer. But you never admit that's the reason you're going....
"We're seeing very rich people," he continues. "Their bodies
are in good shape. But they have lost the capacity for joy. They don't smile.
They have become like the walking dead."
At nine o'clock one recent evening, the Doctor was walking through the Lower
East Side. "There were dealers everywhere," he says. Wherever he
looked, he saw a grim tableau, unsettling, as in a dream. "It was
eerie," he says. "I kept on thinking of Invasion of the Body
Snatchers. Everybody had been taken over. Pod people."
Suddenly, to his relief, he saw a couple he knew walking toward him. Bright
kids who ran some sort of punk-chic store nearby. He greeted them with delight.
They greeted him with - that look. Sleepy alertness, a filmy brilliance in the
"'Oh, my God!' I told them. 'You guys have been taken over, too?' I said
it like a joke. But they knew what I meant. You lose your soul. I guess that's
what it is. Heroin steals your soul."
THE FIRST EIGHTEEN HOURS AT ST. MARY'S didn't trouble Dodo much. Then the
uneasiness started. "I hope they give me a Librium shot or something
soon," she said to a young man. "They do give drugs here, don't
He looked at her. "Listen, I've been here two weeks," he said,
"and I haven't had anything."
It then began. She had cramps and would lie in the bath for hours and hours.
She had a runny nose, chills, aches and the oddest orgasmic feeling, suggesting
that her body was coming back to life, but painfully.
She emerged some months ago and has joined an Alcoholics Anonymous group.
They meet once a week. She "slipped" once - a slip is what they call
it - but has now been clean for some months. "I think about it,
though," she confided. "I do miss my artificial paradise."
Dodo had just received a disturbing letter from an English friend, Lucinda.
She revealed that had been "dabbling" with you-know-what. This news
had floored Dodo - Lucinda's older brother had perished of an overdose only two
Everybody has a personal roll call of the dead, just as everybody knows the
Ultimate Junkie. Francesca, an addict and a New York heiress, decided to give up
heroin because of the condition of a friend of hers. So few were his veins that
once he had found one, he wouldn't remove the needle for days at a time.
-Instead, he would unscrew the body of the syringe, refill it and carefully
Erica also knew an Ultimate Junkie. He would go to score in Harlem, his
pockets bulging with dollars. She calls him "Death Tripper" and shuns
She is now, yet again, trying to get of smack. "I'm so ashamed of
myself, it's appalling," she says. "But I do need methadone. I tried
it with Valium. Four days later. I would be out scoring again."
The methadone regimen is tough, and she is deeply suspicious of the drug.
But, like her sister, Dodo, she is hanging on.
IT WAS SOME WEEKS LATER. THE PRIVATE Dealer had just been raided by two
gunmen. They had passed themselves off as police I officers, but the Private
Dealer didn't believe it. There had been no problem anyway - the doorman had
"I moved everything that evening," he said. "I saved $50,000
worth of business."
Would he be tightening security? Not a bit. "Paranoia is a fear of the
unknown," he said. "I know where the danger is. I have been in jail
twice and busted I don't know how many times, and I am still not paranoiac. I
haven't even changed my telephone number! I have an instinct."
He was high but calm, exuding a beatific contempt for the heroin mystique.
"For a of young people, it's the image. You're the cool guy, the guy who's
on smack. You're part of a minority. A little bit more adventurous, dangerous,
antisocial. I don't have anything to do with that," he said, plunging the needle
once again into his arm.
How long can he do without? "Right now?" he asks. "Probably
eight to ten hours, then I'd start to get symptoms. A pain in leg, my eyes get
red, and I have a touch fever. I have not stopped for sixteen months. He
recomputed. "Eighteen months," he sad., "It is now only smack
that keeps me normal. It has become my normality. Except it destroys my ability
to have other interests. I have no other life.
"I have this kind of bland contentment," he went on. "It is
something that has no taste, something that is flat, a contentment with no
reason. It is very, very dangerous. Time passes. But it is as if time has
Last time, I observed, he had told me that he was stopping. He corrected me
with precision. "I didn't say I was going to stop. I said I should stop.
That is very different. Every junkie is going to stop. It is a joke. But I cannot
go on like this for very long." His voice was light and seemed to be coming
from a great distance, like a breeze lifting an icy landscape. "My physical
situation will be very serious. . . . Socially, I will be very degraded.... And
economically, I will be zero." He held the refilled hypodermic in the air,
and with the cold, careful eye of a scholar studying an important but fragile
text, he focused his attention on his ruined arm.