She was really reluctant, but I eventually wore her down. I watched with fascination as she melted an off-white Pez-sized rock into the Chore Boy scouring-pad copper stuffed into her stem-shaped glass pipe, which she kept caked inside with visible brown residue (it was a while before I found out why). When I took that first hit and heard that crackling sizzle whence rock cocaine derives its nickname, all the pain that had been wracking the bottom third of my body suddenly -- magically -- vanished! The "buzz," though substantial and momentarily debilitating (double-wheee!), was only a secondary thrill. The instant pain relief was, well, magical. No better word. And I was off and running....
At first, I preferred to sprinkle rock on marijuana, which tempered the intensity of coke's effects. Around early 2001, however, I bought my own glass pipe at a liquor store, ostensibly a vial for single-stem roses, very popular among dopers (the vial, not the rose), along with a package of Chore Boys. I smoked every second or third day, mindful of the potential for addiction, which was something I hadn't really experienced, never having even smoked cigarettes.
I was winding down my publishing business, gradually abdicating as managing editor to S.S. Crompton, a creator who'd been working with us since the early '90s. I had far fewer things to do than previously, but money was still coming in, and several months' worth of accounts receivable were due to arrive before my income would drop. For the first time in my adult life, I had lots of time to myself, plenty of cash coming in, and a growing addiction to feed...you don't need Dionne Warwick's psychic friends to figure out what happens next.
I never ran out of money. Especially once I decided to stop paying rent and let my landlord of nine years keep my two months' security deposit in lieu. All my work-at-home deadlines were still being met, and I was paying my other bills, but I consciously decided to strip down my life as much as possible. I figured I'd give up the house and crash with friends for a few weeks, maybe save up for a little studio apartment someplace where I could follow my increasingly smoky muse, wherever it might lead.
Either that, or I figured I'd die. Though now managing my pain, I did nothing about the underlying causes, and I was loathe to admit, even to myself, how sick I was. As long as I wasn't feeling it, I wasn't thinking about it.
Besides, if I was to die soon anyways, which seemed entirely possible, why not die with a stoned smile on my face? I'd been sober 20 years...for once, I told myself, convincingly, it was finally my turn to get messed up. I was tired of being the responsible one, the straight guy, the inveterate designated driver and sole voice of sober reason amidst a perpetually mind-altered mob.
I started packing my lifetime collection of debris for deep storage, had lawyers draft my will, and there was even this eulogy that I kept trying -- and failing -- to write for myself. It came as a surprise, though I suppose it shouldn't have, that I couldn't think of a single positive thing to say about myself or my life.
Up until that point, I'd always had my drugs delivered. All those dumbasses who get busted on Cops, they're usually spotted leaving crackhouses or tossing vials out the window when they get pulled over for a broken headlight. I was having $25-$50 worth of deliveries a day, sometimes more but rarely less, plus an extra $10 each time to cover cab fare, gas, and/or risk assessment.
Then, my main supplier's car broke down, and he asked me to come to him. The first time I found myself sitting in an actual crackhouse and "waiting for the man," as Lou Reed so aptly sang, I was in a Rolando apartment barren of furniture other than milk crates. Sheets and blankets were tacked over the windows, and an old TV set played hard-core porn with the sound off (or broken). I'd driven past the place a thousand times without ever once thinking "crackhouse." My guy wasn't there yet, though his name had gotten me in the door. I was by far the smallest and whitest guy among seven or eight disturbingly twitchy dudes.
They had a bit of rock and were passing the pipe around; when it got to me, I declined. I'd never smoked in front of anyone besides Olivia, and I frankly wasn't jonesing. I could still go days without smoking and not miss it -- much -- other than having to deal with the pain and spending an inordinate amount of time sleeping.
I learned that when you're in a crackhouse and you turn down crack, you're automatically assumed to be a narc. Later that day, several of the same guys jumped me alongside the 7-Eleven at 70th and El Cajon Boulevard, a block from my house on Amherst, dragging me behind a Dumpster. I have a missing back tooth from that beating. They stomped me so bad that I passed out through part of it. It hurt like hell, but not for long, because once I limped home, my elusive supplier finally arrived by cab. No hospital; I was so sick of doctors that nothing short of a severed limb could get me to see one.
Soon after the beating, I taped cardboard over several windows of my house, something my heroin-addict ex had also done, probably for much the same reason. Daylight, like everything else about the world outside, was scary, even painful, and definitely to be avoided. Not a good frame of mind for someone days away from becoming homeless. I found a more mobile supplier willing to make (now daily) deliveries to the house I was still packing up.
More and more, I dreaded venturing out. Ed McMahon could have been standing on my porch with a Publishers Clearing House camera crew, and I still wouldn't have opened my damn door -- not unless he had something to smoke and/or the correct lighter to smoke it with (durable torch style was preferred over fragile Bics, which Olivia claimed could explode).