After exhausting their resources in the slums of Los Angeles, a junkie and his wife settle in London's "murder mile," the city's most violent and criminally corrupt section. Persevering past failed treatments, persistent temptation, urban ennui, and his wife's ruinous death wish, the nameless narrator fights to reclaim his life.
In prose that could peel paint from a car, Tony O'Neill re-creates the painfully comic, often tragic days of a recovering heroin addict.
They Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage
The first time I met Susan she overdosed on a combination of Valium and Ecstasy at a friend's birthday party at a Motel 6 on Hollywood Boulevard. My friends Sal, RP, and I dragged her blue face down to the 5:00 A.M. Hollywood streets below, and the filthy predawn drizzle on her face somehow brought her round. She blinked up at us and said: "I need a beer. And I want to shoot some pool."
I married her six months later. I had one broken marriage, one broken musical career, and a burgeoning heroin habit to contend with. I had nowhere I wanted to be, and neither did she. Without a strong pull in any other direction we decided to go down together.
I married my second wife the day the dissolution of marriage from the first disaster became final: we did it in the home of a Dominican notary public near Koreatown, having shot the last of our heroin and furiously smoked the last of the crack in the car parked outside. I was twenty-one years old.
Before the wedding we stopped at the storefront needle exchange on Cahuenga between Hollywood and Sunset. I wore a suit that had a few bloodstains on it and Susan wore a crumpled white dress. We dressed like that because the whole thing seemed slightly perverse to start off with, so why not go all out? Inside we received a few sideways glances, but nothing more. Needle exchanges are like porno bookstores or public toilets. Nobody wants to talk or even make eye contact unless it is absolutely necessary. The exchange had a front room where you could watch TV or get access to the Internet, as well as a table you could pick up lube and condoms at. I suppose that must have been for the meth freaks. In the back was a desk with a flip-top container for ¬people to dump used needles into, and a storeroom full of syringes of all shapes and sizes. We used the standard Terumo 28 gauge ½ cc insulin needles because we were new at this and our veins were not too screwed up yet. We had not yet begun to inject into our groins, necks, or the backs of our knees. But there was still time.
Todd was a dreadlocked ex-junkie who worked the exchange on Wednesdays. He had been in Narcotics Anonymous for almost ten years. He was a good guy, one of the few ¬people I knew in recovery who still gave a shit and tried to help those still strung out in a practical way. He doled out needles and advice every week for four hours on a strictly volunteer basis. He eyed us up and down as we dumped the old needles and requested a new hundred-count box.
"What's with the outfits?" He half smiled. "You two getting married or something?"
"Yup. We're on out way there now."
"Yeah." Todd sighed, sliding the box across to us, "Well, you know, congratulations."
My wife-to-be was a heroin-addicted thirty-two-year-old accountant. We married to keep me in the country as we were having such a good time getting high together. Meeting Susan was the moment that my drug use ceased to be a healthy product of my youth and recklessness and started to become the only thing that mattered to me. That old, drunken Irish fatalism that had been with me throughout my life suddenly resurfaced, and it was no longer enough to be high and having a good time. I needed to be higher. I needed to feel my heart pounding so hard it seemed as if it might burst loose from my ribcage. I needed to feel the palpitations and see my vision blurring, doubling. I needed to know that Death was here, in the room, and that I was too fast, too young, and too smart for him.
In the beginning we drove around in her eggshell-blue eighties Mercedes with the top rolled down, blasting punk rock from her tape player and pulling over to get high. We always had enough drugs. Heroin. Crack. Methamphetamine. We woke up and did drugs. We did drugs until we passed out. And the money was always there, the money I made writing music videos and the money she had saved from accounting jobs. The money would never run out, it seemed. And for her dollars, Susan had bought someone as completely into the idea of total destruction as she. It wasn't love, but there was the unspoken agreement that we would eventually die together.
The wedding was as brief and perfunctory as one could imagine. The house was a dimly lit, ramshackle little place. We signed the papers, high and twitchy, and since we didn't have any friends the old woman called her daughter, or her granddaughter, downstairs to act as witness. She was around sixteen years old and pissed off about being dragged away from her TV shows. She looked at us, silently chewing gum, and we shot back big stoned smiles at her. The whole thing was over in minutes. This now marked the second time that I had married someone while I was out of my mind on drugs. The first time was a rush job in Vegas to a vengeful blonde while ripped on booze and crystal meth. And now here, two years later, junked out of my brain and spun from smoking crack. I started singing Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" as we staggered out of the place and back into Susan's car.
We were renting a place in one of the poorer parts of Hollywood, a shabby building populated with burned-out drinkers and stoic old Armenian women. We moved in and never unpacked, so everything sat in cardboard boxes. The furniture that Susan had kept from her last divorce was stacked up in one corner, giving the apartment the look of someplace completely uninhabited by the living. The shades were drawn all day long. The only furniture we ever used was the couch, the coffee table where we divided the drugs, the television, and the filthy bed that we lay in moaning and cursing whenever the smack ran out.