Up in smoke.
“Next Scott bangs on the door, all irate, yelling: “Is Nicky in there”. I answer the door. The mirror and lines are still on the table and Nicky is holding a napkin to her bleeding arm. Scott bursts in and sits at the desk, while I resume my seat at the table beside the mirror. Scott tells Nicky in a harsh tone: “if you and all your things are not out of here in a half-hour, I’m calling the police, and you’re both likely to get busted for drugs”. She paces the floor, bickering with him: “Why, who says so? How can you make me leave”? etc., in an indignant, proud tone. Scott explains that Gordon (the landlord’s rent collector and manager, who doesn’t live there) says she has to be out by tomorrow or he’ll lose his job. Scott says he’s not playing around and will have the police over if she and all her stuff are not out of the building soon, for good, despite any consequences. (He probably had twice the amount of drugs in his room that I had). I say little, trying to pacify them in their brief, stupid, pauses.
“They recriminate each other on past counts. She’s indignant that he had three Black whores over frequently. He points out (like a logician) that she broke the conditions under which she was let in, by bringing tricks upstairs, flagrantly in view, solicited from among the factory boys downstairs and had Blacks throwing rocks at all numbers of windows, calling for her. No two ways about it, she has to leave right away. I try to plead for one more night, to be as reasonable as Gordon. But Scott is adamant. So I turn to Nicky and say: “I’ve got it figured out, we’ll comply”. Scott and Nicky still bicker, while my mind is racing but I realize I can put her up in a motel and move all her stuff to my car. I tell this to Scott and ask him to leave so this can be done before the half-hour is up. He leaves. She’s still pacing the floor, wants to call Gordon but doesn’t know his number. Neither do I. She runs to Jim’s room. I quickly start putting away all the drugs and paraphernalia, doing the last two lines left out, expecting the worst. In three minutes I’m at Jim’s.
“They’re bickering as Jim complains Blacks were throwing rocks at his window this morning. I leave, not to amplify things. Then she’s back in my room with a phone book, trying to find Gordon’s number, which I physically stop, grabbing it out of her hands. She’s a little mad at me but relents and we start moving her bags to my car. Her two ‘johns’ are now at the front door, indiscreetly waiting. She tells me to run upstairs and throw her five dollars (she earlier gave me thirty, for our ‘new home’) from the window and tell her my phone number so she can call me later, to arrange the rest of the night. I run up, roll a wad of five one’s and my number with a rubber band and toss it to her. She crosses the street to the tow-truck boys and after a minute they drive off in a flurry. So I go downstairs to her and we decide she’ll return to the club, get shelter from a friend there staying at the Ritz (a sleazy motel) and call me later. On the way she tells me the two white boys deal fell through when they wanted to take her to a place pretty far away. She said she didn’t like gang bangs and would only do it if there was another girl, one on one so to speak, so they drove off.
“I come home and clean up my entire room. Then I head out the back door to get a beer nearby. But in the back-parking space I notice young Ken, the sculptor, trying to screw half a bowling ball (one cut right in half) onto the front fender of his car, in the dark, with bugle head screws. As this isn’t an easy operation I lend him a hand. We get my screw gun and I shoot a few in with difficulty from the wheel well. He desires a line so I buy a six pack and tell him I’ll be back with it after I get a phone call. I come back and write for forty minutes waiting for the call. Finally Jim comes over, says she called him after figuring out (after trying it ten times) my number was wrong. He tells me she’s entrenched for the night and safe.
“I find out the next day that from her motel room that night she snuck out three times, did three tricks and bought three more quarters of cheap coke. The last one she spilled into a cup of water by accident but not wanting to lose it she shot up the water in three, full syringe shots and got what she called ‘cotton fever’, pain shooting through the veins and tingling and dizziness and nausea. She told me this as we were sharing a sandwich the next day on a bus stop bench, around 1:30 (just after she got up), throwing half of her bread to the pigeons.
“She calls a quarter ‘chi chi”.
This crazy narrative goes on for another two weeks and twenty pages in my journal, too much to transcribe and too repetitive in scenes of depravity. I compared myself to Steven Crane in my mind, chasing around a whore, to journalize her life, calling his series: ‘Maggie, a girl of the streets’. But I also grew sick of her and the ordeal on me, the 4 a.m. calls for help and my own excessive use of speed, trying to keep up. So I’ll summarize and pick out some unforgettable sayings and quirks of this sad girl, till I abandon her.
“I had her clothes in my trunk but her stay at the Ritz was problematic, and she wanted me to keep them there for safety. It was all she had in the world and she needed the clothes for tricks. She’d call me up for rides, sometimes just for company and for two days, (being kicked out of the Ritz) a place to stay, so I snuck her back to my room and loft and miraculously didn’t get caught at it.
“Sept. 20th, Thurs. 8 to 9:30: At Mike’s where Maggie was (and where I brought Nicky). I hear from Mag. that Dale was coming back to town today. She was a whole year with her stepfather and mother in Pensacola, where her mother is very sick. Her plan is to get a real estate license, at which she’ll probably be really good. She is now middle aged. (strange I write this). I have no desire to know her.
“Friday, midnight. Heavy crash at 4:30 a.m. Nicky knocks on door at 6. I stumble to open it. She hugs me and asks me to get her a glass of water for shooting up. I do. She’s sitting at my table, does it and leaves within five minutes. I call her ‘Madam Butterfly’, she laughs…
“Sat. night, talking: At one point she surprises me. She mentions a Vietnam vet. she met earlier and that he seemed ‘crazy’. Then she says: ‘I suppose it’s inevitable they get that way’. The word ‘inevitable’ was way out of her league and made me wonder what intelligence was lurking in that head…Later on she’s in my loft, the curtain open. She takes off her shoes and socks, then her mini-skirt and begins picking at her dirty feet, (as she sometimes went barefoot).
“Then, in her dirty underwear, with her feet clapped together, picking at her jacket, taken off and in her lap, she reminded me of a chimp picking at lice. So I mentioned, as I watched her: ‘Your always picking at something’. “You’ve gotta do something” she replies: “What do you do? Read books a lot”. ‘Yea, and other things’ I said. Then I told her my friends Bones and Steve were going up the coast in a few days, for a week, fishing and that we could join them and get away. She gave me the look, “Me, fish?”. So I said: ‘No, just checking out the sights, vacationing’. She said she’d like to but her 200 dollar a day coke habit got in the way. This was touching a soft spot and she returned: “Don’t get on my case. Everybody’s got their vices. You’ve got yours”. I replied: ‘Yea, a ten dollar a day habit called ‘three meals’ ….
“Monday morning 4:30 a.m. Home after night at receiving studio’s with older punks (black-leather clad) and Dan (the Rev.). I ask Dan if he wants a try at taking in Nicky, (he’d helped many waifs before), but after my honest description of her, he’s hesitant. I hear her cough outside my window, open it and whistle to her as she’s walking away into the shadows, a place I wouldn’t dare go and she, white and defenceless, chasing a car that kept going. So she turns and calls me down, saying she wants socks from my car. I go and open the trunk, she leafs through her stuff, looking for a pair of white socks with three colored bands, finding only socks with two-color bands at the top. Then under the streetlight at 5 a.m., on the deserted street, by the trunk of my car, right beside me, she pulls off her pants and panties, saying: ‘it doesn’t matter’ and ‘they’re dirty’, puts on the socks and lace shoes and then her skimpy miniskirt, her long white legs and ‘sans underwear’, at five a.m. in a very bad ghetto. It astounds me right then, the dangers she takes, naked in a forest of wolves.
“At 8 I’m back at the warehouse with J.S. and Bruno in his room wanting to watch a Clint Eastwood movie at nine. At 8:40, Nicky pops in, (they all knew her) with 24 dollars, wanting a ride. I let her drive and we sail through town. Back at Bruno’s, sitting on the couch, uncomfortably close to Claire, she shoots up, watches a little then splits. At 11 p.m. I go to Doggie Diner for food. Nicky jumps out of a car on San Pablo and has money to score again and wants a ride. But just as we turn to walk back another car with a white, blond honks, stops and says she can score from the Black guy in the back. Up to my room, I eat as she is changes again and sits beside me in one piece of underwear, shooting the 2nd half of her score then pricks the needle into a vein in the back of her hand and pumping the blood in and out, getting mad at me for watching her do this.
“When she first got the packet she laid out a line for me and was mad when I only did half, calling me a ‘lightweight’. I told her coke didn’t affect everyone the same way. Then I said: ‘It’s good that both of us don’t like coke anyways if we want to be friends, because we won’t fight over it’. She said nothing back. I had some binoculars and suggested we go on the roof and look around. We went up through the bathroom windows and sat next to each other for 40 minutes. She was a little scared of heights and sat close by. We took turns with the binoc’s. I put my arm around her waist, my one sign of affection but she squirmed away, so I took it back. We just talked, smoked a cigarette together and at her suggestion returned to my room where she changed again and went out into the night, to her spot on San Pablo avenue. I walked halfway there with her, got a beer and went home. My dreams of saving her had suddenly died.
“Poor Nicky, she was incapable of intimacy or even talking about sex. I thought of this when upon returning and walking down the hall by Don’s room I heard a woman moaning with sexual pleasure, which N. would never know. I began to pity her for her isolation and alienation from so much of life. She had her C., her ‘tricks’, her chi-chi, her clothes and her brief hallucinations when high but little else. I pitied her like I would an abandoned child on the street, whom I was unable to help. And I noticed too that I lost interest in her. I’d seen enough of her sordid world to formulate the rest. I wanted a new quest. Her body too repelled me, (not that it ever attracted me) but it bothered me more over time. In tight jeans she looked sexy, but underneath I knew her skin was pale and puffy, off-white and smelly, as if rotting. Her eyes were haggard, sunken. Her arms a map of needle marks. I lost interest in recording details about her. How much shall I see of her after this week”?
These last notes are scribbled, almost illegible, reflecting my frayed state. I saw her less and less, taking better care of myself the following days. I did a side job with John and we spent almost all of the money eating a few large meals at an Italian restaurant two nights in a row, talking with him for hours. I don’t record our final splitting up but I do faintly remember pulling all her belongings from my trunk one bright day and setting the bundles in front of an open motel room door, as she stood inside, watching and wordless, and my saying ‘goodbye’.
In retrospect, Nicky was a study, my sketch of a simple being, trying to get to her core, what made her tick, by examining the smallest details of her gestures and words. I thought I might do this impartially. Not so. I was kind and sympathetic to a fault and went through personal trials and pains even, (in over-indulgence) to help her out those three weeks. But I did observe and record obsessively.
What did I learn? Very little, except that in a drug addled state, often disoriented and inebriated at all hours of day and night, the human brain still manages to cling to certain small vestiges of sanity, like the way she organized her clothes so carefully and remembered their order, how she caught at tiny moments of natural joy, with a twirl to a song, sometimes listening to me with pure attention to make sense of my meaning, or smiling at a favor, or a big word. These were the remnants of a mind nearly drowned, her own little life raft spinning down the maelstrom of the ghetto. Who knows if she survived, or how long?
“Sunt lacrimae rerum”.
Virgil: ‘These are the tears of reality’.
My friends must have thought me crazy for hanging out with her because they never saw the contents of my journal, my reason ‘why’. And when I took her to Mike and Maggie’s, or to Bruno’s, I did it to see her reaction to normal settings and people. None of them ever mentioned this brief tie I had with her. Only Jim told me I was crazy to associate with her. John Seebach, Bruno, Claire, John H. never mentioned it. They might have thought I was an idiot in love. But I’m guessing John and Bruno knew exactly what I was up to, from conversations and my other, odd collection of friends. Whatever their hidden thoughts, they were polite when I was with her and just as tight friends to me afterwards. That’s discretion. Then again, they knew I was odd and that’s what they liked in me.
As I’ve pointed out many times in this narrative, from the quote by Terence at the beginning, the salient feature, the unique quality that makes it rare, is my befriending people most unlike me, to see the chemistry that happens, to try to find a bonds that connect us all, like some universal language of human feeling which we all share and can understand, to look into each other’s eyes and see our mutual, troubled situations and try to relieve them with sympathy at least from the sadder facts of life. Because troubled it is to any thinking being on this planet, with:
“more to be endured than enjoyed”, as Samuel Johnson said.
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