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"Addicts are us, messed up losers—you know the kind: coke heads, overeaters, serious self-harmers/suicide groupies, sex addicts—each of them so completely fucked up they finally end up in a kind of terminal rehab center which is what this place was.
Yes, the Big House gave such places free reign to run themselves as they saw fit. They were after all evaluation centers to review the clients’ varying addictions and to best access what the next step was, that was what Executive Management said, what they did however was another matter.
Joe knew. He had taken the job happily ages ago but now he found his second thoughts had third, fourth and fifth thoughts.
But there was worse, there always is.
Joe sighed. He was Director, Houseman, whatever anyone wanted to call it—that was okay with him.
In truth, he ran the place—this weigh station, recovery home, haven—care facility.
Actually, he thought of it as ‘losers are us.’ The place where the lost, the hopeless, the monumentally fucked up finally end up—in short it was the repository for addicts. He ran the men’s section.
He saw the new batch arrive in the van nicknamed Pegasus. Someone with a misplaced sense of humor named it that because if that horse flew, these poor bastards were now to be grounded for an indeterminate time (to say the least).
The staff were like that. It made things less tense. Why not have a sense of fun—a joke or two. It helped to relieve the stress. And there was plenty of stress.
Joe took a deep breath. This was the most important part of his job. He had to greet them. Poor bastards were always confused. Well, it was daunting coming to a place like this especially when there was no choice.
When he saw them he wasn’t surprised. They all looked the same, unified by desperation and denial. Their features and manner marked by what they were, what they had become. Losers.
He managed a smile as he waved. He didn’t like to wave, he thought it could be taken as a kind of mocking and the last thing he wished to do was appear uncaring. Worse than that, he didn’t want to look smug. That would be cruel and things were bad enough for them as it was.
As always he managed something like a smile when he welcomed them:
“We are going to sort you out-to evaluate you and send you on your way. It’s not so bad you’ll see.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’? I just see you, man.”
Ah trouble, right away and in the shape of a skinny little kid with attitude.
Scott, recent jailbird and dull-eyed wonder at 19 was not impressed. “This place sucks!”
“But you just got here! Give us time!”
Scott lets loose a stream of abuse but Joe wasn’t bothered. “Your nose is bleeding Scott.”
“How do you know my name?”
“We get briefed.”
“Yeah, so what does that make me?”
It was always the same. “It makes you putty in the system’s hands kid, better get used to it.”
“Look, the judge told me he was sending me here and that was it.”
“Which judge was that, Scott?”
“I don’t know—the one I just saw. What’s it to you anyway?”
A murmur of laughter from the other losers and Scott looked proud of himself.
No one said anything. The only reaction was from Albert who deliberately let one monumental fart rip as a kind of comment.
“That’s disgusting!” This they nearly all responded to—waving their hands in front of their faces. “Christ almighty!”
Albert didn’t laugh—he was the most seriously disturbed. He wore bracelets on both his wrists. These were the white dressings that covered his most recent suicide attempt, even his scars had scars. Poor Al.
Joe knew. He had the notes. Predestination came into it as far as Joe thought. In Al’s case he had a crazy mother who tried to drown him when he was ten.
“Why did you do that Mrs. Fugle?”
“The voices told me, your honor. Blame them!”
Mom went to the state hospital and little Al got shuffled around in a succession of foster homes where he was beaten or abused in some way. He came to both expect and like the abuse. To him, it was attention. And any attention was better than none. Poor Al.
By the time he went to high school he was fitted out with a nice green and white Viking football helmet because he liked to run down the halls crashing head first into the walls.
The other kids (those deemed normal) laughed—because they weren’t crazy, not like Al anyway.
Al used to laugh too, not understanding the joke was on him.
Eventually he left school and found himself working with some charitable concern that had him making ash trays but their supplier died and his son didn’t want to bother with that charity ‘crap’ as he called it so the charitable concern looked elsewhere but their days were numbered anyway because their funds were cut off when the new governor was elected.
Go fight City Hall, yeah and if you think that’s bad try the State Capitol sometime.
Talk about inaction and buck passing!
Joe knew Al was a write off, always had been hopeless, fated for a front row seat by a window with lots of bars on it and if that didn’t pan out, there was always a halfway house which most likely Al would have forgotten the address of, winding up in the street, where he would live under a bypass with other damaged souls. Some of them even got to like it. Al probably would have but he was fated to go to Big House for what they termed counselling. A social worker, sincere and really committed to her profession saw him. She wanted to help him, she wanted to help everyone. Another kind of addiction? Maybe.
Now the others, each of them with a story.
So what was Scott’s story? Ah Scott. Both parents were addicts, Mom sold herself for nickel bags on the street until she OD’d in an alley with a furious pimp pissed off because she hadn’t turned any tricks that night. Meanwhile Scott’s dad was run over on the way to the VA hospital where he was being treated for various medical conditions he had sustained as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. He also had an addiction to morphine all this from having served in a war he no longer recalled having been in.
With both parents gone, Scott found himself in and out of teen homes and what they call social care centers. Not the kind of places a kid should be in because some of the staff liked to molest young boys.
Ever resourceful, Scott learned to use a switchblade. “I’m going to cut it off Mack so you ain’t never going to be able to use it again.”
Slice, slice only he missed and the perv tried to kill him by pushing him out of a 3 story window but Scott didn’t die. His legs got mangled but they fixed him up really good in St. Clare’s Hospital where an old lady felt so sorry for him she gave him 20 dollars to buy a robe, but he bought crack with it instead.
“What do I need a robe for?”
He gets sent up to Riker’ s when he pulls a heist in Washington Heights that’s supposed to be a sure thing—some liquor store. His partner gets shot through the right eye and is dead at the scene and Scott is caught.
The detective who collars him comes from the 34th precinct. He’s just come back on duty after bereavement leave. His daughter was run over and killed by joy riders, high on crack.
This cop has no time for druggies. “Here’s one Sarge.”
The desk sergeant takes a look at the kid and actually feels sorry for him but Scott who is his own worst enemy spits on him and gets cracked in the head for it.
Night court hours later and a nice bus ride to Riker’s where he meets a few queens and gets initiated.
After two weeks, he’s tried to hang himself and cut his throat with a broken plastic fork after which he somehow gets up to the roof threatening to jump.
They talked him down.
He gets expressed over to Bellevue where he gets shot full of Thorazine—winds up being assessed for two months and finally (somehow) winds up with a crack habit far worse than the one he ever had.
But there were ways and means. One orderly supplied anyone who wanted anything with as much as they wanted for the right price. Scott knew how to turn a buck either by stealing or screwing. He wasn’t fussy. Not with his habit (or any habit).
They liked him too. Especially the accommodating orderly (‘how much do you want to buy today?’, wink). Scott didn’t swing that way, but a freebie was a freebie, until he got fed up one night and decided to crack open the supplier’s skull. Enough was enough after all. Besides, just looking at him made Scott feel crawly. No one knew how the orderly came to be lying in his own blood with most of the right side of his head bashed in. It was no big deal either, just another incident report and a short interview with a detective. Then Hart Island received another pauper because the orderly’s boyfriend didn’t approve of his lover’s affairs and wasn’t about to pay for a funeral.
Life, such as it was went on for Scott and he got released and was sent to a hostel that was run by a church. Things were looking up but some pusher he owed money to, spotted him and instead of beating him up, shot him up with enough drugs to kill him.
That’s when the hallucinations started. Like the Shadow Man paying him regular nightly visits. He had seen the Shadow Man a great deal, despite the drugs and glue sniffing (his earlier days), one of many fuzzy memories. Recently Scott asked him who he was—he wasn’t in the mood for any abusive crap as in ‘sexual’ but the shadow didn’t speak..."
End of excerpt based on Big House which appears in the collection.
That and a whole lot more:
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