Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Power Trip: Heroin

The N-word and the C-word are the two most dangerous terms in the English language. Steady at No. 3 is “heroin,” which won’t get you punched, but might kill ya.

As today’s rebel youth are embracing the deadly drug, you wonder why they choose to ride this roller coaster without seat belts.

The easy explanation is that smack replaces fear, hopelessness and insecurity with euphoria. But I think another reason for heroin’s revival is that the word is just so tough. The first part is “hero” and the second part is “in” — two things we’d love to be — and when you put them together, you conjure up striking images of shadow people lighting the bottoms of spoons and biting tubing and sticking needles into their skin. Heroin imagery always has a hip soundtrack, whether it’s the Velvet Underground or some crazy cool jazz or the garage instrumental “Apache” that Quentin Tarantino used to underscore John Travolta’s smack-induced bliss in Pulp Fiction.

In this age of advertising and promotion, heroin has benefited from one of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time and the dealers didn’t have to pay a cent. You know, when you see a product in a movie, like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in “E.T.”, the company usually pays some money out of the advertising budget. But no one pays a studio when heroin is shown. The creative element of society is doing all this great P.R. work because heroin is just too powerful to deny. Plus it’s got all those cool nicknames. Tell me Madison Avenue didn’t come up with “China white.”

Heroin is a badass club that’s easy to join. In fact, you can get in on all the chills and spills for only $30. Or maybe it’s $20 and my friend kept $10 for himself.

I’m referring to a co-worker in Chicago, where I lived from ’88 to ’92, who asked me to ride with him to the South Side. He was going to get some heroin and, I don’t know, it just seemed like a cool thing to be part of. Heroin. South Side. What could go wrong?

Anyway, we got to the Hyde Park brownstone and he was about to go inside when I asked him what was the minimum amount one could buy. “Thirty dollars,” he said. I extracted a couple of bills and asked him to get me some. I just wanted to try it, to see what all the fuss was about. I looked at it as a learning experience. Plus, I was tired of lying whenever anyone asked me if I’d ever done heroin.

Thirty bucks doesn’t get you much heroin, but I practically got high just holding the little plastic bag of beige powder. I stuck the bag in my shirt pocket and headed to my favorite local hangout. Heroin holder coming through.

Some of my friends were there and I got in a conversation with one of them. Motioning him to move a little closer, I whispered, “Hey, man, do you want to do some H?” You should have seen the look on his face as he declined. He was trying to be hip about it — “No, man, I haven’t done any in years” — but you could tell he was knocked for a loop. I was kinda relieved he didn’t accept because I didn’t have enough heroin to make a duck walk funny.

For the next two or three weeks, I rarely was without my smidgen of heroin. It seemed that every morning I was looking for my heroin and my car keys, so I could get going. I even thought about getting a hook for my heroin by the front door. I wasn’t interested in taking the drug, just taking it with me.

I ended up leaving it in my shirt pocket and then throwing it in with the wash. Thirty bucks down the drain, but I got my money’s worth.

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