The red dress
Consistency is a great virtue in the success of any plan in life and I must say, of all the people I’ve met, Dave was the most regular in every detail of his daily routine, down to a scientific degree of accuracy. Each day was a perfect repetition of the day before, a ritual, with each act occurring at the same minute and place with unwavering exactitude, a wonder to behold, interrupted only by the brief, titillating, once a week visits of Felicia.
At seven a.m., his alarm set, he bathed, dressed, and went out the door. The sound of his loud Datsun ‘Z’ starting up was like an alarm to us, with Lindsey and I in our bed, waking us up to a few kisses and another day. Dave was on his way to the Methadone clinic in downtown Oakland and had to get there before it opened at eight, because there was always a long line and he had to find three willing partners to meet his daily ‘quota’.
It consisted of this. He would go in and get his dosage, eighty milligrams of Methadone, served in a little cup. Then he would supplement this, right outside the door of the clinic, and out of the view of the nurses, with three additional eighty milligram doses delivered to him by three other participants in the program by what he called ‘spit backs.' They would take their dose at the counter and pretend to swallow it, but once outside spit the contents of their mouths into a wide mouth bottle he was holding.
He would estimate the volume of each ‘spit’ and pay them a dollar for each milligram, which they’d then use to buy the real stuff, heroin, to shoot up, much preferable to methadone as a daily ‘high’. He told me he preferred using girls in this transaction and that with practice some of them could disgorge the whole amount with ease, while he handed them the eighty dollars which they promptly spent on the real thing, available within a block of the clinic.
I asked him once why he didn’t just use those 240 dollars and buy the ‘real thing’. He had two reasons. No matter what dose of heroin you took you needed more than that the next day to reach the same ‘high’, a bad equation. He also explained that he couldn’t risk being kicked off the Methadone program, because without money, he’d be in real agony. And part of the program was that they made all participants take random piss tests and if they found any of the real stuff in your system, you were kicked out for some probationary period. By only doing Methadone he was safe and at that dosage, pleasantly high all day.
With this extra plastic bottle of doses tucked away he made two more stops on his way home. The first was what he called ‘Valium Park’, a small park in the slums where a group of old black men with Valium prescriptions sat on benches each morning until they were sold out. He would buy fifteen of the ‘blues' on his way home for ten dollars apiece (their best customer) and head off to a liquor store across the street for two cans of ‘Old Milwaukee’, (where they would shortly follow with his money for bottles of ‘hooch’). This was the catalyst for the chemical reaction he desired as soon as he got home.
Around nine he would burst into the living room all aglow, rush to the coffee table, unpocket his treasures, crack open the first beer, and with one big gulp swallow down all fifteen Valiums from the palm of his hand. Next was the Methadone. He’d eyeball the slimy, spit laden, liquid for a moment, swirl it around in its jar like a wine connoisseur about to sample a new vintage, then down the hatch, the whole amount, followed by another swig of beer. His day was now complete. The work was done. The rest was pure coasting in one long, happy glow.
Next, he would pull off his shoes, (army boots) and often his clothes down to his long johns, kick back on the couch, beer in hand and turn on the T.V. At ten ‘Perry Mason’ came on and I’d often watch it with him. I was always surprised at how sharp his mind was at this point because he’d just consumed, right in front of me, an amount of drugs that would have instantly killed me, and another dozen like me. We both paid extreme attention to this show, like a game show, because it was filled with clever little clues and hints as to its outcome. And I must admit, with each of us scanning every detail of the unfolding mystery, he’d pick out the culprit before I could, and long before it was revealed at the end. We talked a lot during each show, and he’d point out to me the salient clues.
Shortly after this show he’d begin to ‘nod’, his head drooping down, then bobbing up again a few times as if fighting sleep. But it would always win and whatever position he was in when it hit, his eyes would close, and he’d begin snoring. Often, I’d have to pluck a lit cigarette out of his hand, it came on so sudden. His fingers were welts of burn marks. He was usually sitting on the couch but sometimes he’d slide down on his knees to the floor, trying to deal with his cigarette, the coffee table and ashtray right in front of him and in this position he’d nod off, his butt on his heels, his head bowed forwards, like a statue in perfect balance, to sleep and snore for two hours, a genuflection to Methadone and the God Morpheus, an acolyte of opium, looking like some Hindu Buddha statue in prayer.
After an hour or two of this deep sleep (which happened every day) he’d wake up and seem, surprisingly sober and normal, ready to go about whatever business the day held for him. He’d make and eat breakfast, drink coffee and be on an active and even keel the rest of the day, lasting until bedtime.
He told me he'd become a heroin addict some five years earlier while visiting Amsterdam for six months. His parents were rich, and he said his grandmother was one of the richest women in Israel, (the third richest, if I remember correctly). He was an only child, no siblings.
His parents lived in Berkeley. His mother was a senior administrator at a huge pharmacological firm, Pfizer. His father was a senior professor in the chemistry department at Berkeley, both with P.H.D.’s in chemistry. So he had chemistry in his blood, so to speak, in more ways than one.
He lived and breathed and I’m sure he even dreamed chemistry. His first toy was probably a chemistry set. They still sold those in the sixties. I had a 'Gilberts’ at thirteen. He would often rattle off a list of molecules and give each of them their atomic (molar) weight or take a piece of paper and draw out the formula to some larger compound covering half the page, with the atomic bonds and numbers all exact. Then he would hand it to me and nonchalantly say: “Not many people in the world can do that”.
He had few possessions with him, his small T.V., his guns (he had several) but also a large chemistry reference book (as big as a telephone book) which he kept on the coffee table and would pick up and read, the Merck index. He would mumble the molecular weights to obscure chemicals while watching T.V. It would be like me looking up big words that came to mind in my fat, Greek lexicon. But this is what his mind dwelled on, and he was a genius at it. He knew combinations the D.E.A. (and no one else in the world) ever dreamt were even possible. But they would have paid millions of dollars to know. He once boasted he could make anything out of anything, and I believed him. And there he was, sitting in his dirty long johns on our couch. Lindsey didn’t see it, (she hardly saw anything), but I did, very quickly, within the first few weeks. The possibilities with him were limitless, and we were his only friends.
Life in our new quarters was harmonious, with bumps along the way of course, as with any ‘ménage a trois’. Dave was much happier because he was so miserable and alone before. But part of his plan (and had been all along) was to get inside Lindsey’s pants, which was not outside the realm of possibilities, given her nature. But he was slow and discreet in this scheme, biding his time, in part, because in these early days we were like young honeymooners, kissing and hugging half the day and also because he quickly grew to like me as a friend. He even told me, not long after we were watching ‘Perry Mason’ together every morning, that he enjoyed my company much more than hers.
I’d told everyone (since early October) that I was returning to Niagara Falls that year for two weeks, for Christmas, and he waited for my absence to make his move. I bought my ticket by selling more of his drugs at the warehouse and he made his score with her and left it off a few days before I got back. I found out about the affair as soon as I returned. Inside the door to the apartment there were fourteen empty pizza boxes stacked up, a stack so high you could sit on it like a chair, the exact number of days I’d been gone. They weren’t even different pizza boxes, they were all the same, ‘Domino’s'.
I shook my head at their lack of imagination. But I saw right away that they’d been ‘holed up’ the whole time. Lindsey just couldn’t keep a secret and spilled it out to me the minute we closed our bedroom door the first night of my return, as we proceeded to have great sex. But Dave and I remained as close friends as ever, even closer now that this hurdle had passed and our ‘ménage a trois’ consummated.
He was visibly glad to have me back, relieved of the burden of dealing with her, (her inane, often incomprehensible, replies to the simplest remarks). He was done with her completely and in a more drawn out, painful way, so was I. Events had happened before I left that put her in a much different category in my mind, one with an expiration date.
The thing that eroded and soon destroyed my love for her was that she would sleep with anyone and everyone. It was a ‘French’ attitude towards sex, and she’d been sent to France, ironically, by a priest, to correct that very disposition.
When I was seventeen my parents took me back to France for a two-week summer vacation, to visit all the friends we’d left seven years earlier, as I lived in that country from six to ten. I was sent to stay a few days with my childhood friend ‘Ives’. But he’d changed so much I hardly recognized him or wanted to, he was so shy and introverted. We were at their family beach house, and his sister who was five years older than me, and his brother Giles, decided to throw a large party without any adult supervision. She was in charge of the place, along with her boyfriend, the entire time.
It was the summer of 1971. They had a keg of wine and thirty guests and got me rattling off about California, L.S.D. trips and ‘Pink Floyd’, which to them was all exciting and unknown, commonplace to me. But I drank the glasses of wine they kept refilling to a final, vomiting excess and the next morning, with a terrible hangover, sitting with ‘Giles’ at a bistro and sipping on some shot glass of green liquor, which the waiter brought me after I thought I’d ordered a soda, (my French was poor) a very cute girlfriend of his (one of many) comes over and sits with us and joins in our conversation. As we got up to leave, she turned to me and said: ‘I like you. Would you like to come to my bedroom now and sleep with me’? I blushed and declined, though she was beautiful. I could drop hits of acid without a qualm but was shocked at the suddenness of this proposition and then the thought of getting a strange girl pregnant in a foreign land.
The French offer.images.jpg
Lindsey had the same sexual freedom as this girl. I found out she slept with most of my friends in our one year, on and off, relationship. I know she slept with Bones and May together (as May told me), John Seebach and ‘C’, as they confessed to me straight up. But most of these tryst’s happened when we were already broken up, so it didn’t matter. In fact, if anything, I thanked them for their honesty, and in May’s case, reciprocity. As I began to catch a hint of her promiscuity I wrote as early as mid-October: “Sex was neither as naked nor as intimate as the conversations we had”. But this was pure ‘prevarication’ and ‘premonition’ on my part, not directly addressing the problem, still dreaming of a monogamous love affair, the only kind I ever dreamt of.
At one point in her strange history, some four years earlier in New Jersey, she sought the advice of a Catholic priest about her sexual promiscuity. Their talks proceeded apace over the following weeks, all the way from the confessional to the bedroom. But the priest developed some hair-splitting theological doubts after many orgasms in bed with her. He resolved this complicated conundrum by arranging for her to go to Paris, all expenses paid by charitable church donors, to live there with a group of nuns for three months, hoping no doubt that their good example might chasten her prurience. She stayed the whole summer, but the experiment failed miserably. She told me that she found a way of sneaking out of the convent every night and would have sex with any chance waiter or taxi driver she met on her sprees. She said she had more sex in Paris, living in a convent, than anywhere ever. Paris is the city of love.
She wasn’t a nymphomaniac, just affable and ‘easy’. She looked upon a quick tumble in bed as a way of breaking the ice, a conversation starter, something like what a handshake or a ‘hello’ would be to others. The strange fact that she continued in this habit after she fell deeply in love with me (which I could tell from the devastating grief she suffered when I told her I was breaking up with her), I’ll never fathom.
The dark clouds gathered over the month of November and finally the storm burst one night in one loud thunderclap. It wasn’t the end. It was the beginning of tearful apologies on one’s knees and pitiful whimpering. I’d never seen this before and temporarily fell for it.
What a strange dish of good and bad was served up to me by fate at this time, like a platter of exotic appetizers at a swank party, which I’d never seen before, presented to my taste, some delicious and others poisonous. Some new hopes were realized beyond my wildest dreams of avarice. Others, yearnings of the heart, were deep and devastating disappointments, as they seemed so close to attainment. But like the vision Aeneas sees of his dead wife Creusa in Hades, it vanishes the moment he tries to embrace it.
I’d broken away from the party life of the last two years and which was headed for disaster if it continued. I helped build a cozy, little nest with Lindsey and Dave, away from the rest of the world, so far away that in the four months we lived there we had only one visitor from my set of old friends, John Seebach. He came by twice. One evening (Nov. 15th) he spent a few hours with the three of us, impressing Dave with his lively conversation and invited us for a night out on the town.
I did sneak out a few times to my old haunts, sometimes with Lindsey, sometimes alone. But I did settle down with her and Dave to a much healthier lifestyle, hardly doing any speed, eating, and sleeping regularly.
Living for the first time close to downtown Oakland, I discovered a great, used bookstore (a relic of a former age of affluence and culture, pre- 1940's), ‘Holmes’s’ and in it an eight-volume set of Chamber’s ‘Cyclopedia of English Lit.’. I bought it, brought it home and began reading voraciously, the same way I did everything in my life, with drugs, with friends, with solitude, and with love, intemperately.
We stayed inside most days, except for small errands and Dave’s morning pilgrimage. Lindsey cooked and cleaned, did all our laundry, shopped for groceries, and read romances beside me, snuggled up. Dave had his drug and T.V. routine. I read for hours and hours, right between them on the couch, the T.V. not bothering me at all while he enjoyed our company and sporadic conversation, our warm, surrogate presence. We were all happy.
The storm erupted when it came time to pay the December rent. Dave had money, (to put it mildly, a super-abundance of it). I had my share. But Lindsey was short. When we moved in Dave made it clear we each had to pay a third of all the expenses. He was paranoid of others taking advantage of him. We both swore and agreed, hands upheld, like a boy scout oath.
Without telling me (though I would have easily supplied the deficiency) Lindsey took it upon herself to get the amount she needed in a way I never imagined. She had the skill sets and the connections (the phone numbers) to accomplish it. It was prostitution.
I’d been out that afternoon, probably to a bookstore, so I didn’t see her primp and prep herself for the occasion. If I had I would surely have stopped her. I came home at dinnertime with Dave telling me that Lindsey was out and might not be back till late. ‘Fine’, I thought. ‘I’ll just stay up and read my ‘cyclopedia’ in the living room till she gets home. Then we’ll go to bed and have sex’. Dave retired early. I enjoyed the long hours of reading that night, sometimes pausing and wondering why Lindsey wasn’t back yet. About two a.m. the door opened. She walked in and what a sight struck my eyes.
She was wearing the proverbial ‘red dress’, one I’d never seen her in, extremely tight and sexy. Her hair was done up differently. She was wearing black fishnet stockings and red high heels, with a shiny, black purse on her arm, fake gold jewelry on her neck and wrists, bright red lipstick, and an overpowering scent of perfume. She walked right up to me, pulled me up from the couch with both her hands and gave me a tight hug and a slippery, wet kiss.
Then she told me she’d just attended a special businessman’s party, a gang bang, giving eight blow jobs in the course of two hours, making over five hundred dollars, which she showed me, ripping the dirty wad from her purse.
There are a few times in everyone’s life, I suppose, when they received a piece of news that can only be described as ‘devastating’. The sudden death of a parent or sibling, some cataclysmic world event, some unforeseen financial ruin. But tonight, this scene fit the bill. I ran downstairs, slammed the door to our bedroom and jammed a chair under the doorknob so it couldn’t be opened.
Lindsey quickly followed and was outside the door, sobbing and pleading, begging me to let her in. But I didn’t. I paced the floor, yelling back at her how she’d ruined everything, how we could never be together again, how it was all over. This went on for an hour. I wondered, with all this shouting, that Dave kept to his bed in the room right next to ours. But sometimes it’s best not to interfere in other people’s matters, especially when raging emotions are involved.
Finally, I gave in to her sobbing pleas, opened the door, accepted one hug, then went upstairs, alone, to write some ten pages in my notebook (which I tore out and tore up the next day, as they were filled with pure anger and no logic, the only time I ever did this) while she went to bed. Towards dawn I joined her in bed for a few hours of sleep. The episode was over, one pillow drenched in tears.
Lindsey and I made a temporary truce. She swore she’d never do such a thing again. My two-week trip to Canada also helped calm this upheaval. I knew she was going to sleep with Dave but that didn’t bother me. I liked him more every day, felt for his sad state, his abject shape and addiction. I admired him for his vast knowledge despite these afflictions. His strong mind had risen above his physical flaws. And in my long conversations with him I hinted at this admiration, stoked his self-esteem even, and we became closer and more intimate friends with each passing day. Two intellectuals, living together, even though their fields of interest are vastly different, develop a deep respect for each other, because they have a rare common bond, intelligent and active minds. They also have a gift of communication that comes with it, and a perception that doesn't even require communication.
When he would sketch out for me on some crumpled piece of paper some long chemical chains of molecules with all the moles and symbols included, looking like some Buckminster Fuller design for a building, I was truly impressed by it and said so, though it was as unintelligible to me as Chinese. Yet I knew it was exact and a rare mental feat.
The first few times he'd pass the sheet to Lindsay too. But she'd glance at it and hand it back without comment. He ignored her after these first trials. But when he handed it to me, I'd try to read it like a map, with close attention, sitting beside him. He'd point out valences, symmetries and how certain numbers in sections all balanced out. At the end I'd honestly say: "Wow Dave, how can you remember all these bonds and weights in your head?" Then he'd smile, take the paper back and crumple it up as if it were nothing, but say: "not many people in the world can do that."
I, without him ever saying a word about it, impressed him by sitting in the living room and reading 'Chamber's cyclopedia' for eight hours straight, immersed in it, with only a glass of water beside me. He knew that it was complex literature and that we were both rare individuals. That's the remarkable thing about intelligence, it can recognize its equals without the need for words, but mutual respect forms a deep bond.