Here’s a place I don’t go anymore. Get on the “F” anywhere, take it, bells ringing and all, air-conditioning in the summer, out to Roosevelt Avenue, there you change to the number seven train, old clanky, interior dry as a bone, people grim, canned, to the very end of the line, Main Street Flushing. Come up, into the street, Alexander’s, Gertz, finally past the intersection into the area of small brick buildings, down a couple of concrete steps, note the security system warning on his dark red door, step in to the bright nightmare of Dr. Title’s office. Sign. Sign your name on the clip-board. Eileen Collins. I chose this name eight years ago on my first trip to the doctor’s because of my best estranged friend who had that last name. She’s a nurse, her husband’s a doctor, they would abhor this action, using her retired moniker as the key to my life of endless mornings. Wake up. Again, and again. Turquoise pills that break neatly because of the indented line across their circumference. Made for breaking, made for sharing. Alice loved those halves a lot. I made some friendships this way. Hello. Would you like a good pill? I love these. Salty, then just behind the tongue those little glands would go blinng at the familiar taste. Wheee. Not the strongest pills, or the roughest, or the smoothest, but just the prettiest, my blue pills. I got 84 each month for seven years. At first I’d sell you ten, I’d give you six, I’d pay back the money I owe you by letting you have 16 free, acid from Ann in exchange. Eventually times got hard and I sold them all to Harry at the Strand. Nervously bounding down the stairs to the basement. Hi. Two wry grins, and boomp back up the stairs to the street, free. Or one more stop.
Ellen was Sherryl’s friend, in medical school, Ellen did a lot of speed. I was 15 pounds heavier than her, I was perfect. She borrowed a car and we drove down the BQE to the doctor’s the first day, eight years ago. I had no interest, really, not doing drugs, just drinking a lot as always. I agreed to take 15 anyhow from that first lot, I took one hesitantly. It wasn’t so great. It just made me feel a little different, nervous, not hungry, yoghurt was fine. Coffee and cigarettes were sweeter I noticed and … xeroxing at work was a joy! Flash, flash, flash, I loved watching the sheets kick out of the machine, I began to time it with a little twist of my hip, bend my knee. I loved the exquisite calm of xeroxing. I had a notebook where I put my thoughts. Dry Imager. That was the name of a small poem I wrote around this time.
I was going to Alice’s workshop on Fridays and I would give her a few in the bar afterwards to make her like me and she did. Eventually she liked me anyway but now at least she liked me. I drank bourbon with my blue pills and one night I fell down in Phoebe’s on this combination and another time I fell down in the Locale. It was really embarrassing. A) I was with a bunch of older writers who were allowing me to hang out with them and I was doing well and B) the bartender rushed over and put ice on my nose, I believe, as if I were a dog and I realized I knew him. I had waitresed at the last bar he worked in. I was such a drunk. It showed.
In my real lofty voice I want to tell you this is a sentimental journey I don’t take anymore—at least since last March and I realize I have taken this trip with more regularity than any other action repeated in my life in the ten years I’ve lived in New York. The trip to Dr. Title’s was home. The waiting was excruciating. You never saw a good looking person in Dr. Title’s office. Or even cute. Big thighs in jeans. Just big immense thighs. Since this was all going on in Queens everthing was synthetic. Blouses, purses, shoes, paintings on the wall, vinyl chairs, my name—I couldn’t believe these people were real. “Sargent,” the nurse behind the desk would call. A fat lady would get up. Sargent, the nurse would repeat, handing “Sargent” her card. Eileen Collins. I was called next. Hi, I said dryly. I felt tiny. What’s that little bitch doing up there I felt the collective angry fat in the room aiming at me. “Now, we want to get into a bikini this summer,” the worm beamed at me, “so Miss Collins, we’re going to have to work a little harder. Watch the breads,” very slowly he spoke “no … sweets,” he flirted, “and I’m sure” … he heaved the time-worn card into a stack of others … “we’ll see some progress,” he dinged the bell for the next cow to come in through the door, “next month.” What a cynical bastard I thought to myself, dropping the tinkling container of pills into my bag. I was usually unscrewing the lid in his hall-way, slipping the two into my jean pockets.
I stopped in the Barn-hill pub to wash them down. And wait. Early days had me getting off someplace between Queens and Manhattan on the “F.” I’d be looking out at the blackening sky over industrial Queens, and boom the flatness of a pane of glass would come over my feelings, all smoothed down and graphic, I could look at them. As pieces of business. There. And often a good solution would come along. I’d marry this guy, or go to New Hampshire this summer. Leave New York when I was 30. I must. To have any integrity at all. Good, Settled, now what can I do tonight.
But I don’t know, I suppose it was the introduction of Barbara to my ritual. As all rituals are, it was private. Maybe I’d stop at the donut shop on the right side of Roosevelt Ave as I was heading back to the train. It was the most synthetic donut shop. Thin sandwiches were served, old women, a few clean men, me, smoking a cigarette with coffee. Perfectly slipping my plastic lighter in and out of the correct pocket, controlling my change, just nervously shifting things before the descent into the subway again and the big shift, into the speedy weekend. This coffee shop was merely a discipline. “Let’s go in there and get a beer” suggested Barbara. No, I always go to that coffee shop up there … “what do you do that for? I’m getting a beer. C’mon.”
It was very dark inside, a classic brown bar. Old New York. Young guys after work, older guys, guys who really lived there, cheap cold beer, good juke box. We’d stay there for one, two three beers. Make friends. Get drinks bought. Eventually be on the train, the empty main street flushing, that late in the day, no one’s going into Manhattan. I am. I’ve got a tall can of Schlitz and I’m even smoking on the train. I’m around 30, I’m with my girlfriend. Everything’s okay. I’m full of poems.
That was the Barn-hill pub. Very dutch, to my mind. Certain experiences are like cigars, which I have never smoked. Certain experiences are like being around cigars. Accepting that about where you are. Everyone wanted to see me on Fridays. Julie and Greg. Julie. I’d go down to Prescott’s where she was bartending and I hand hers over. Did you take one yet, she’d ask? Julie had caught the habit in childhood. A doctor’s daughter. Yeah. How many. I signed two. Big deal all of this but I felt like a dealer. Around Ted’s funeral I was cabbing downtown from the Strand, smoking a Marlboro in my favorite striped shirt. It was a gorgeous sunny day, my best friend had just died and I was getting Alice some pills, one last trip, and I felt great. I was heading late to work. Work was Irving Trust, paper department facing the green statue of Trinity Church, work was counting credits and debits, doing this and watching the statue, drinking coffee, smoking, doing that. I was told it was the kind of job you did to get better. Everyone around me looked worse than anyone I’d had around me before. But for the cab ride down I was a cocaine dealer. It just happened like that. I forgot Ted, the job, that I was merely buying pills, blue pills for 35 dollars selling them for 100 and getting drunk on the profit one night. I forgot that and this is what my trip was all about. Go someplace out of your life come back new, bring it around and make a little money. Clean your apartment. Write some.