The streets were still wet when I got off work. The snobbishly rich were out in the blinding, white sun walking their dogs - San Diego being the dog walking capitol of the country.
I darted around the corner and entered Mr. Lee’s Café. A small, hole in the wall diner. The long, high ceiling restaurant was the last of its kind in downtown - all other family owned restaurants had gone out of business, replaced by high-end fusion eateries and condos, all in the name of urban renewal.
Lee’s was owned by an ancient Chinese man and his wife - quite popular with the hobo crowd. A plate of eggs, ham, toast, hash browns, and a coffee still ran you about one-fifty.
I entered the joint with the smell of grease and unwashed bodies that wafted thick through the tight air. The café had a long diner counter that ran the length of the room, it was wood and warped, rusted, steel stools lined the counter and there was a beaver board wall with hooks for hats and coats.
At one end, in front of the dusty, glass-pane window, sat a ragged man - gray hair a tangled mane, bush of beard, layered dirty clothes - he sat sipping his coffee, staring into nothing, listening to the tinny crackle of the small, portable radio attached to his cart that held all his dreams and possessions.
The four others at the counter were sullen, ratty, old phantoms of the night streets - they too, sat solemnly and sipped coffee or shoved yellow messes of breakfast into their slobbering holes. No one looked up as I entered, except a bloated, black man with cataracts in his left eye.
With a loud screech of metal on spotted, dirty linoleum, I sat at the counter as Miss Lee asked for my order with weary apathy.
“Coffee.” I croaked.
In the dark and dirty back kitchen, the fryer and grill worked over time as Mr. Lee prepared various orders.
From a storage room wobbled a massive, squat woman with long, straight brown hair and great, tumbling breasts that over lapped her bloated stomach. As she walked to the back of the counter, her green eyes, that were hidden behind large, oval, horned rimmed glasses, caught my glance.
She smiled genuinely, “Oh muh God! Haven’t seen you in a while!”
“Hey, Darlene.” I wheezed. “I been working and doin’, you know.”
She wiped the counter in front of me, “Well after you eat, why don’t you head over to my apartment for a visit. I got something I wanna show you.”
Ms. Lee placed the coffee in front of me, I said to Darlene as I stirred in sugar and milk, “Sure. When do you get off?”
“At eleven this morning. I hafta take little Bobby for a haircut before our appointment with the CPS tomorrow. You wanna wait for me?”
“Okay. I’ll hang out at the mall and meet you back here at eleven.” I agreed, then pointed at the pen written menu plastered on the wall mixed in with the Buddha shrine. “And I’ll take a number three.” Number three was the cheap breakfast I had mentioned before.
Darlene was a woman whom I had met once as I lay on the slab at a local blood bank. I used to sell my plasma for money to score for my dope. She was a chatterbox, but a good person. I had never seen her mean or angry, just a little worried about her weight. On one of our long tirades at the plasma center, we both confided that we were addicts.
In her apartment on the fringes of skid row, Darlene shacked with her lover - a gangly, snaggle-toothed tweeker named Frank. He would cook up messes of whack shit in their small kitchen as the two kids from a previous, hellish romance played on the floor in the living room.
Before, I would hang around every day, scoring and partying with these two hillbilly tweekers. Running errands, keeping Darlene company; while Frank transported his home-made speed all over the southwest.
Things went sour real fast. Unbeknownst to Frank, Darlene had a romantic interest in me and freaked out when she found out I was queer. It hit her hard. And, Frank being the stereotypical, tweeking, red-neck homophobe didn’t help matters much. After a few verbal confrontations with Frank, I dropped out for a few months – though, I missed getting that free dope. That was then and over time; I guess, she held no hard feelings.
So, I met Darlene standing out front of Lee’s Café smoking a cigarette at eleven. We hopped the trolley the few blocks up to her building - an ancient pile of red brick that served as low-rent housing for welfare recipients and ghostly elderly. We slowly crawled up the warped, wooden staircase - six floors - the steps creaked under her titanic weight.
The apartment was cluttered and musty. Overstuffed couches from the Salvation Army clogged the room - various objects laid about that gave the impression that some large beast trampled through. Wadded clothes, dirty dishes piled on every table; crumpled newspapers littered the dirty, green carpeted floor. Everything was worn and second hand, save for the shiny, brand new fifty-two inch flat screen television that dominated the room.
I sat on one of the ratty couches in the corner, contemplating out the window - a warm breeze blew in ruffling the yellowed, laced curtains. “Where’s Frank?”
“He had a delivery job to San Bernardino - he won’t be back for another day or two, I guess.” Darlene said absently as she meandered into the kitchen. “Want some Pepsi?” She hollered back, opening the fridge. Returning back into the room, holding two plastic glasses, Darlene passed me mine and smiled, “You wanna smoke?”
I looked into her plump face, all the junk cells in my body lit up - I felt a lift, like when you met an old lover and you know you are going to have sex again.
I stood up, “Sure, Darlene - whacha got for me?”
“Go into the kitchen.” She smirked, falling into a green recliner that poofed out dust and groaned in disapproval.
I casually walked into the small kitchen and stopped in my tracks. Piles of dirty, greasy plates and utensils mounded up in the corner next to the stained sink.
On the untidy dining table was Frank’s meth lab - an assortment of Sudafed pills, a collection of chemical bottles, hoses, and pressurized cylinders.
One of the major problems with homemade dope was that those crazy kitchen chemists threw in a bunch of fertilizer and No-Doze and Sudafed and gasoline and who knew what the hell else and you ended up with some seriously toxic shit.
As every addict knew, there were a couple of ways to make meth and many common ingredients were used. Believe it or not, most of the ingredients used to make meth could be found right in the home.
Meth could be manufactured from a very easy recipe and be cooked and ready in six to eight hours in makeshift labs where the cookware could be relocated to avoid detection from the law of any fumes or vapors that were associated with the making of the drug. It cost about $50 to $140 to make one ounce that could be sold for as much as $1200.
Some examples of chemicals used to produce meth included, but are not limited to: Ether - Benzene - Methanol - Methylene Chloride - Trichloroethylene - Toluene - Muriatic Acid - Sodium Hydroxide - Table Salt - Ammonia - Pseudoephedrine - Hydrochloric Acid - Drain Cleaner - Battery Acid - Lye - Lantern Fuel - Anti-Freeze - Anhydrous Ammonia - Red Phosphorous - Iodine and whatever other crazy crap that could be thrown in.
Those lingering chemicals caused nausea, headaches, dizziness, skin burns and eye irritation. It could affect soil, ground water, air, furniture, and structure materials, such as flooring, vents, and walls. Many of the contaminants present when making meth were harmful to humans or pets if exposed to them. Cases had been reported that where children and adults lived in a house or other structures that were former meth labs, the inhabitants encountered serious health problems long after the lab had been deconstructed.
Labs were frequently abandoned in paranoid lieu of a bust and the potentially explosive and very toxic chemicals were often left behind.
Chemicals may also be burned or dumped in woods or along roads that caused a deadly hazard to the natural surroundings.
It is a well-known fact, that the most common of chemicals used to start the meth-making process were over-the-counter cold and asthma medications which contained ephedrine or pseudo ephedrine as decongestants or stimulants.
Empty Sudafed boxes overflowed the little, plastic trash can in the kitchen, but that wasn’t what stopped me. Sitting on the filthy counter was a plate that held a big pile of methamphetamine - it resembled a slice of crumbling birthday cake. I had never seen so much tweek at once in my life - I began to shake, felt my heart ping.
“The aluminum foil is in the cupboard, dear - take what you want. Bring me a little, will you?” Darlene called from the living room.
I grabbed the box of foil and placed several large crumbs into a napkin and walked into the living room. Darlene was sitting there with her works out next to her on an end table.
With speed, I hated to snort it - I preferred smoking. I obtained a better rush and it didn’t fuck up my nostrils. That gunky tasting residue lodged in the back of your throat never appealed to me. Yeah, I know - what about your teeth?
It is a long winded, boring fact that the chemicals used in meth production will rot out your teeth - I guess, I had been blessed with strong choppers and unlike many a junky that I know, I do keep up personal hygiene. No meth mouth for me.
However, Darlene was a skin popper. She enjoyed jabbing that needle into her haunches. Claimed there was no rush like it - I just don’t like needles. Injection was a popular method, also known as slamming, but carried quite serious risks.
The hydrochloride salt of meth is soluble in water; injection users may use any dose from 125 mg to over a gram, using a small needle. This dosage range may be fatal to non-addicts. Not so for the experienced addict, who rapidly develops a tolerance to the drug. Injection users often broke out in skin rashes (called ‘speed bumps’) and infections at the site of injection.
Too each their own and at that moment I wasn’t going to categorically analyze the matter, I just wanted to get high.
We went to work - I found an ink pen, popped out the ink reservoir and discarded it, using the casing for a straw. Ripping off a two inch wide strip of aluminum, I creased it length-wise to get that preferred groove down the middle. Placing a nice sized rock in the middle of the groove, I put the pen casing to my mouth, lit the underside of the aluminum strip with my lighter.
Heated, the speck dissolved into mercury like liquid, spewing gray resinous smoke - I tilted the strip downward, letting the liquid ooze along the groove, following with my straw, inhaling the smoke as it crept.
Instantly, I felt that static charge as it rushed and pulsed up from my lungs, up the spine, across the back of the head, to my forehead - I could feel my hairs prickling. My heart pounded and my sweat-filmed body quivered as I flicked the lighter over and over and over again under the strip, mechanically following the liquid dope up and down, up and down, up and down.
Darlene put some dope in a blackened spoon - held a lighter under the spoon until the meth dissolved. Grabbing a syringe, she sucked the liquid up with a needle. Leaning to her side, she pulled down her black sweatpants, exposing her unappetizing person to my fucked up gleam. A mass of white skin glowed, pockmarked by acne and red puncture sores - the smell of dirty ass and vagina punched me in the nostrils.
She somehow found a vein in that plateau of rippled dimples and jabbed the syringe in, pushing down the plunger.
She pulled up her pants, sat back and sighed, “So, this some good shit or what?”
I was shaking, hunched over my aluminum strip, feeling like a fat kid in a candy store. I glanced at her and curtly nodded.
Darlene chuckled, “Frank left me a lot - so do what ya want.”
Oh shit, I thought.
When I finished the dope that I had first brought out, I quickly returned to the kitchen and got more - and more and more.
All day, Darlene and I smoked and shot that shit like there was no tomorrow. Eyes wide and aware, mouths grinding and chewing, bodies tweeked in jittering jerks - Darlene and I sat and joked and laughed, spun out on all that dope.
She looked at me and realized I looked haggard. “When was the last time you slept, sweetie?”
“I don’t know – days?” I sighed.
“Why don’t you go into my room and lay down - try to get some sleep.” Her motherly instincts apparently coming through.
I stood up and agreed - made my way to the bed room. A queen-size mattress lay in the middle of the room covered in rumpled, musty blankets. I took my shoes off and lay down.
Every tweeker will tell you they have a distinctive habit when they are spun. This varied from individual to individual - hearing voices, seeing shadows; whatever - mine was hearing fucking.
I lay in the bed and on the other side of the grimy, plaster walls; I distinctly heard the muffled sounds of someone having sex. Thumpthumpthump went a bed against the wall. I rolled over; put my ear against the cold wall.
“Yeah! Oh God, yeah! Fuck me, baby!” Moaned some bitch.
Between gasps and lunges, a young sounding man grunted, “Yeah! Take…all…that…dick, baby!”
I lay against the cold wall, twitching and sweating, listened to the moans from the adjacent apartment.
Didn’t even think of pleasuring myself - on this much tweek, my dick was shriveled to a useless nub. It must’ve been two hours I laid prone and listened with an attentive ear at that couple - funny thing was, in reality, on the other side of the wall, there was nothing, six floors down to a parking lot.
It became quiet and I adjusted myself into a more comfortable position. My mouth chewed and teeth ground, I looked out the window.
The sky was a harsh, bright blue - the trees a vibrant green swaying slowly in a breeze. Then, they began morphing into Disney characters - a duck, a mouse, a dog.
I smiled, thinking, Damn, this is some good shit.
Hours passed and I wasn’t sleeping. I popped up off of the bed and returned to the living room. Darlene was sitting there twitching, holding a cup of coffee in one hand - her syringe rested on the arm of the chair.
“Did you get any sleep?” She asked.
I sat on the couch, grabbed the strip of aluminum, “Nope.”
“You gonna work tonight?” She croaked.
“No.” I said, exhaling smoke. “As a matter of fact, I’m off.”
Leering, she smiled coyly, “So, you wanna stay the night here?”
I continued smoking dope, not looking up, “I can’t. I have to get back to Tijuana. I hafta do something.”
She looked at me hurt. Took a sip of her coffee as I inhaled the rest of the dope. I put the aluminum strip on the end-table and sat listening down into myself.
I needed to get some sleep - my body felt doughy, gummy, exhausted - blanketed by the electrical charge from the drug coursing through my muscles. My eyes stung and my mouth tasted foul and evil.
A few moments passed, I blurted, “Darlene, can I take a bag with me. I’ll get you back in a couple of days when I get paid.”
“Of course.” She sighed. She handed me a small zip-lock bag. “Here. Go in the kitchen and get what you want. But, I need you to pay me - Frank will get pissed if you don’t.”
In the kitchen, I filled the bag to the point of bursting. I gleaned the rim of the plate with a finger and brushed my gums with it - a tingling feeling washed over them.
I stood a moment, pondered the idea of shoving the rest of the dope on the plate into my pants pocket. Nah. I returned to the living room.
Darlene and I said our goodbyes and I walked the six flights down into the cool night. The stars twinkled and the traffic breathed. Jumping a trolley - I headed back to Mexico. I stood there in the back of the car, keeping an eye out for security.
Eyes shifted as the trolley rumbled, I glanced at the other passengers. I knew they were staring at me - what did they see? Was I that spun out that I didn’t fade into the shadows? Standing there in oversized, dirty jeans, wrinkled sports shirt, greasy, sweaty, pale face behind black, horn rimmed glasses - I twitched and swung my head back and forth in mechanical clicks.
Obviously, I didn’t care. All I thought was, I need to get some sleep.