Dope Sick Angel
THE CAFFIN AVENUE METHADONE CLINIC, four blocks from Fat’s Domino’s house, right on Caffin Avenue, off of St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans, was a drab grey two story anonymous building on a side street except the nearly two dozen dope fiends lined up at five am, in pitch dark in the dim dull burnt orange street lights. Skinny black crack heads could be seen darting around corners like ghosts of New Orleans sultry past. The line went from the parking lot up a flight of stairs to a landing that went around the entire front of the second floor. When you went in the door it was just a phony wood paneled area with cheap chairs lines the walls except where a big fat black women could be seen handing out little clear cups of raspberry colored weak juice thru a thick Plexiglas sliding window. As soon as you stepped in the door you had to sign a list and then wait four your name to be called. Sitting in there with a small percentage of the crime problem in the city; small time thieves, unemployable, broke down dope fiends, I couldn’t begin to describe this sorry lot except to say there wasn’t a lot of hope for most of these mopes.
THIS WAS ONLY THE SECOND clinic I had ever been in and in my mind, just an experience I’d later be able to write about. I’d always heard how hard it was to kick methadone and I guess I had to find out. I have kicked everything you can imagine, even cigarettes and alcohol, and nothing comes close to the living hell of kicking Methadone. The first clinic was “The Tulane Clinic,” right on Tulane Avenue and a side street just two blocks from the Orleans Parish Prison. Paid an old descript black man who said he was a doctor a hundred and forty bucks and showed him my tracks, he gave me a sip of the devil’s elixir and I was on the bus. You could show up and get in a line of fifteen or twenty dope fiends when they opened or wait until eight fifty, or ten minutes before they closed at nine am, and go straight to the window. After six weeks on that clinic I “Jumped Off,” jumped in my car and drove to Florida and drove from Rest Area to Rest Area, throwing up dyeing, feeling like the worst Flu you can imagine. Dying of thirst but one sip of water will send you into five minutes of dry heaves hanging on the edge of a picnic bench at the farthest picnic area available in the middle of the beautiful afternoon. I finally had a “Come to the Devil Meeting,” in the wee hours of the morning right there in the front seat of that Cutlass Supreme, in a lonely parking lot along the interstate. This was the first time I got called on the carpet by the Demon himself, the second time was when I kicked this shit again, later that same year, and I never messed with it again. But you know what this son of a bitch wanted? He wanted what I wanted to give more than my very next breath; he wanted ever sip of that pernicious pink juice back, and all of it. My stomach felt like two giant hands were just wrenching my guts trying to wring out every drop of it. Days and days this went on. The second time I kicked it was on the second floor of a beautiful beach home I had rented in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a hundred yards off the white sandy beach from the Gulf of Mexico just forty five minutes from New Orleans. Tossing and turning and cursing and cussing and you would sell your left nut for five minutes of sleep. Oh, my God, I am begging, do not ever mess with Methadone and if you do, don’t go longer than six weeks because unless you want a little sit down with Devil himself, don’t mess with the pernicious substance, probably on par with the new Bath Salts, also created in a Government laboratory, in its range and depth of misery it will cause.
WHEN THE DEVIL showed up he was pissed and he wasn’t take no for an answer. I swear every word of this is true. I was lying in my beautiful queen sized luxury bed in a seven hundred and fifty thousand dollar home that cost me two hundred dollars a month to pay someone to mow the yard. Peninsula porch on the second floor looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by doctors and lawyers vacation homes, it took a week or so to get used to the gently crashes of the water on the surf and constant breeze. You know what he wanted this time? He wanted me to curse God…. Most of what I write is true and I am prone to making stuff up, but trust me just this once; just like in the Book of Job, we went ‘round in ‘round in my mind and I resisted at every front. Growing up a Baptist in the Deep South, cursing God and you would lose your religion. You’d be excommunicated I imagined. Condemned to Hell. Same deal, raging fever, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat or drink and miserable in the lap of luxury, and just when swan diving off the balcony became a viable exit strategy, my bed was surrounded by Angels. I don’t know how many and I only seen them in my mind, there were many of them, I’d say at least eight or nine, maybe more, completely surrounding my bed, even the head board where the wall was, bent at the knees on the floor; they were there for me. I say they were in my mind but trust again, they were there....
THEY ASSEMBLED THEMSELVES around my bed, the one's closest to me at my immediate right, grabbed my right arm like you would someone in need of help, and I felt a warm embrace. It took a moment to realize what was happening and they seemed to know I needed time to absorb this. The very instant they got there, no words were spoken, just like in The Bible:
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. –Psalms 19
The moment they showed up, my fever broke, I relaxed and felt like I had reached a pinnacle and now would be alright, and was able to fall asleep until dawn for the first time in nearly two weeks. I had kicked it all by myself....
One good slug off this stuff and all was right with the world… It took probably twenty to forty minutes to feel it depending on how bad you needed it. We called it the “Golden Hour,” because of the warm golden hue you feel absorb you. The "Golden Hour," in medicine, it is said, you have one hour to get to a hospital once you start feeling like someone’s digging an arrow in your left shoulder without analgesic, signaling a impending heart attack. Like sliding your foot into well worn pair of leather shoes and smell of worn leather, Grand Ma's house and summer Gulf Breeze all in one, you feel like if you were just told your whole family was killed in a car accident, you’d feel like, oh well it will be alright, I mean nothing matters, everything is fine, no hurry, got to go to jail?, no problem, until that shit wears off.
I must confess, being a child of the Seventies, I did have a slight ulterior motive. I had read in Abraham Maslow’s writing that you could induce a religious experience, as I had by this measure, and trust me it worked, but it ain’t for the faint of heart…