Craig

 

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I was hanging out at my usual spot by the Cody’s Books corner when Craig walked up to me and said, “Hey Ace, are you interested in buying a 20 dollar bag of meth? If you got the dough, I got it all lined up.”
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“This isn’t going to be a complicated deal?” I asked.
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I always asked that question with Craig. From painful past experience. Having waited around for 6 or 7 hours on a dark street corner waiting for Craig to get back from one of his other “simple easy deals.”
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“No, I’ll be right back! I got it all set up in the Park!” insisted Craig, with that air of frantic urgency that Craig always had when involved with all things crystal methamphetamine (arms jerking up in the air as he talked, legs pacing back and forth, etc.). “I got a 20 myself. And with your 20 we could get a big sack and split it.”
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I hesitated for a moment and then said, “Okay.” As I made that sometimes disastrous commitment of pressing the $20 bill into Craig’s hand.
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As Craig bopped off towards the Park, I flashed on the memory of another time and a similar circumstance when  Craig walked off with my 20 dollar bill. Only to return six hours later, empty-handed, alas. But at least he returned my bill THAT time — a minor miracle in itself.  But what was odd was the bill itself. It was crumpled and wrinkled almost beyond belief, with this strange, glossy sheen to the surface of it. As if Craig had been frantically rubbing and caressing and folding and unfolding the bill non-stop, with enormous finger pressure for the entire 6 hours the bill was stuffed in his pocket. Crystal meth is a strange drug.
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About 15 LONG minutes later, Craig did in fact return.
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“Lets go for a walk,” he said
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“So how’d it go?” I asked as we walked down Haste Street, still not sure if he’d hand me back my bill (in God knows what condition) or the drugs (in God knows what amount and/or quality) or whether some strange, new complication had arisen calling for a private strategy session and a Re-thinking of Our Options. “Did you get it?”
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“Yeah, I got it,” said Craig. “Lets go somewhere and let me snort a line for scoring for you.”
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Craig handed me the little bag of meth as we walked side-by-side down the street. I quickly eyed the size and feel of the bag, sizing up the amount and the potential quality before I  jammed it into my pocket. I’m eager to get this transaction over. You can go to jail for this stuff after all. And annoyed by the unexpected complication of sharing a line with Craig (evidently he hadn’t had a $20 after all, so this was his way of getting a little something out of the deal).
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“Man, I hate this shit,” I muttered, letting Craig know I wanted this part of the transaction to be as short-and-sweet as possible.
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We’re both making slightly manic small-talk as we walk side-by-side down the street. I’m nervous and giddy with hopeful anticipation at the prospect of actually getting HIGH (my life has been so low lately, for so long), and, of course, we’re both trying hard to “act normal” — which flies in the face of our normal, abnormal behavior. We sing a few odd lines from songs by Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones (in retrospect, I guess it should have been “This could be the last time . . “). And I say: “It’s a whacky world, Craig.” An inside joke between me and Craig, told and re-told during the course of many previously-shared scenes of whackiness over the last 13 years on the scene. Ahh, the things we have seen, me and Craig. Two damaged, fucked-up, but eminently soulful, bums on the streets of Berkeley. Sheesh. (If you could look at some of the real-life movies that played out from behind our eye-balls you probably wouldn’t believe some of the scenes. For people like Craig live at that juncture where the surreal, the crazed, the bizarre, the demented, and the horrific, is the norm.)
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Craig led me around the corner and up the steps to the side porch of the First Presb Church. We both sat down on the floor, our backs resting against the church building. It was a fairly safe spot, we were blocked out of the sidewalk traffic, and we’d be able to spot anybody coming from any direction before they got to us. Craig — as crazy as he was — was a genius in that sense. In the middle of the most crowded city streets, he could ALWAYS find some little covey-hole, some safe little haven, where you could get high. A skill no doubt honed with animal grace by thousands and thousands of previous drug-related manuevers in the urban jungle. (Reminiscing after his death, virtually every person on the Berkeley street scene had cherished memories of “getting high with Craig” or “going to jail with Craig” And sometimes both, getting high AND going to jail with Craig). If there was a Tweeker Hall of Fame, Craig would certainly be a first-ballot inductee.
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“Lets be quick about this,” I whispered, handing Craig the tiny, zip-locked baggie.
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“Gimme your lighter, Ace.” He took my lighter and rolled it over the bag of meth, crushing the little rocks into a snortable powder. (“So THAT’S how you do it!” I thought. Previously, I had taken the meth out of the bag and crushed them with an exacto-knife — sometimes causing parts of the rock to go pinging off the mirror and into the unseen distance — always fun searching for those long-lost crumbs of meth, two days later, when you’re down to your last line. But leave it to Craig: the Expert. He was in fact the expert on all things Drugs. He had virtually dedicated his life to the pursuit, the study, and the consumption, of drugs.)
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Craig quickly poured out a line. “Gimme a dollar, Ace.” Craig expertly rolled up the bill and took a big, nostril-burning snort. AHHH!
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Craig handed me back the little bag of meth. “Give me back my dollar, too,” I said, a little too quickly. And I always felt bad about that, regret it. Because it was a cheap thing to say. But at this point, I had already given Craig $20, and now HE was the one getting high, and I STILL didn’t know how much was in the bag or if I’d gotten burned — still hadn’t had a chance to take a good look at my little, covert prize. So, at the LEAST, I wanted my dollar back. But its weird how these mundane interactions take on more of a resonance — and this haunted feeling — because they’re your LAST interactions with the guy. So it’s like I’m magnifying them. Searching for clues at the scene of the crime.
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We quickly got up and scurried down the steps (and now, EVERY time I pass that spot by the First Presb Church, I flashback to that last time with Craig, sitting there, crushing the meth with my lighter, etc. and for a moment I’ll think about ole’ Craig).
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Craig was strangely subdued as we walked back to the Ave. I could feel the heaviness of his spirit. He wasn’t his usual, herky-jerky self. In retrospect, I think he already knew. He had already made up his mind. To me it was just one more mundane afternoon on Telegraph, in a seemingly endless expanse of them. Isn’t it weird how we always think its going to last forever?
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Craig walked off and disappeared down the street.
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”Where’d you and Craig go?” said Psycho Joe with a leering, knowing grin on his face.
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“Nowhere,” I said.
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All the nosy bums on the corner had been watching the interactions between me and Craig — the whole crazy dance — and they all knew. Which was embarrassing. Because crystal meth is such a degenerate drug. And I was embarrassed that everyone knew about my degeneracy.
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“Its a good thing you left,” said Psycho Joe. “Because while you were gone the cops were just here busting those guys hanging out on the corner.” (Which just shows you how slim your margin-of-error can be on the streets).
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As I walked back towards my office, for some reason I started thinking about the whole mystique of the drug scene. Craig was kind of a Keith Richards-wannabe. And I was kind of a John Lennon-wannabe. And we had both bought into that whole trip. I thought about all the drug-related books, records and magazines of our youth that we had both avidly consumed. William Burroughs. Jim Carroll. Lou Reed. . Iggy Pop. Jim Morrison. William Blake.  All the great drug heroes of our youth. And all the exciting descriptions of their drug use. Mind-tripping to all these strange and taboo realms of reality. And the whole outlaw mystique that we bought into, hook-line-and-sinker. And the whole desperate need to just simply feel GOOD. To feel happy, to feel sensual pleasure, to feel contented, to feel love, to love and be loved. In a world that mostly seemed to offer pain, emptiness, and unfulfillment. Except for this fleeting thing we could sometimes grasp in a little, tiny, zip-locked baggie.
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I holed up in my office for 48 hours, snorting the speed and obsessively making these weird collages. Crystal meth has this bad combination of affects. It makes you incredibly stupid.  And it gives you this incredible amount of energy to act out your stupidity. So it’s a double whammy. The collages I would make while I was tweeking are a prime example. I would cut out all this photos from magazines and scotch tape them together into bigger pictures. I would reshape and alter the photos with my scissors and pens  and I could create virtually any picture that I could conger up from my demented imagination. And they’d be layered with all these layers of scotch tape, which made them glisten and shine under the electric lights adding a surreal affect. At some point, the collage would actually look incredibly beautiful. But as I got more and more wired I’d get more and more obsessive. If the photos weren’t lined up EXACTLY right, if they were a fraction of a millimeter off, I would re-cut the picture and re-line it up, and re-tape it, over and over. For hours. In an attempt to get it EXACTLY right. Until finally the collage was nothing but a big hopeless mess.
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So I’d toss it in the garbage and start on a new one.
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Anyways, after 48 hours of this non-stop manic stupidity holed up in my office, I finally collapsed in a heap and slept for a whole day.  I finally woke up the next afternoon with a splitting headache. I emerged from my hole and went back to the Ave looking for Craig. The meth had turned out to be pretty good, so I wanted to give him a 5 dollar tip for his trouble.
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When I got to the Cody’s Books corner I noticed Psycho Joe was talking with Fat Bill. Joe was holding up a little potted plant.  “And we could plant it in People’s Park,” he said, “and plant it right in Craig’s favorite spot where he always liked to hang out.”
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“What are you talking about?” I said.
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“Didn’t you hear?” said Fat Bill. “Craig stepped in front of a train yesterday morning.”
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I walked down the street feeling dizzy and stunned. My mind immediately started racing through the quickly-fading memories of my last interactions with Craig, searching for something, anything. Like holding each word we had said under a microscope.  Searching for clues. Was there anything I could have done differently?? Everything seemed very real and very unreal at the same time.   Nothing made sense. Well, one thing I was sure about. I wouldn’t be able to give Craig that goddamn 5 dollars.  That’s for sure.
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