Addict’s Almanac part 2

The Addict’s Almanac –Episode 2 of a diary series.  For the first in this series see the September issue of Streetvibes.

Tye Dowdy is 33 years old and lives in Portland, USA. In this column he takes readers on a journey through extraordinary moments in his life. His true stories read like a diary. He hopes, he says, that others may learn from his mistakes. Tye likes to hear from his readers, and can be reached at

Zoey and I get off of the Max train at the Pioneer Square stop. After doing the score at Home Depot, we are both in a hurry to get some drugs. I look up at the giant clock that stands in the corner of the square and see that the time is 5:30 p.m. It’s getting late and we need to make it across the river to the Hawthorne neighborhood to page my heroin dealer Julio. We quickly walk the few blocks to the bus stop and in no time are boarding the No. 14 to Southeast Portland.

When we get off the bus, there is already someone standing at the pay phone. Only a few of the pay phones over here take inbound calls and since you have to page your dealer and wait for him to call you back, it seems like there are always sketchy people hanging around these phones waiting for their call.

This guy is somewhere in his mid 40s. He has to be around 6-feet tall and he can’t weigh over 120 pounds. His dingy jean jacket and worn camouflage fatigue pants hang on him like rags on some kind of junk scarecrow. His face is a lunar landscape, pockmarked and scarred with the pits and white spots of a long-time coke fiend. He has deep-set, intense blue eyes, and his cheekbones jut out of his face at stark angles, casting dark shadows under the streetlights.

I need to use this payphone. It’s simply too far to another phone that calls back, and too late to make it there before Julio stops working. Zoey looks at me expectantly as if I know what to do with this guy. I decide the direct approach is best so I simply walk up to the guy and ask him if he is waiting for a call back. The guy doesn’t answer at first and steps backward, closer to the payphone like a dog guarding a bone. He looks me over and then looks over my shoulder at Zoey who has hung back a few feet.
“You guys cops?” he asks.
“Are we fucking cops?” I say and start laughing because the idea seems so absurd. This guy is not laughing. In fact, he is starting to look more agitated by the second.
“Look guy,” I say, and begin to roll up the sleeve of my shirt to show him the tattoos and track marks that cover my arms. “Would a cop have tats and tracks? We just need to page someone.”

The guy takes a moment to think things over and then asks if we can cop for him too.
He says he has been waiting for almost two hours and he doesn’t think his dealer is coming. I ask him what he wants and he tells me he needs a “two and two.” This is slang for two bags of black and two bags of white, or two heroin and two coke. “Okay, no problem, how much money do you have?”
“Enough” he says suspiciously. “How long does your guy take?”
I tell him that Julio usually comes pretty quickly, like 20 minutes or so, but that I have to page him now. He says “do it” and steps away from in front of the phone. I quickly drop in two quarters and dial Julio’s pager, key in the phone number of the payphone and press pound.

We stand there waiting silently, each of us in our personal hell of uncertainty. Will he call back? Is it too late? Just being here at this familiar payphone is doing funny things to my head. I have been here so many times before. Through the seasons I have stood on this spot, my slow dissipation marking the passing of the years. I think about all that has come to pass in my time on the streets. I remember being forced to come here in the days when I still had an apartment and a job but had stopped paying my phone bill. I think of the many hours of my life spent waiting on this corner and others. As William S. Burroughs so rightly put it, “being a junky is all waiting.”

After just a few moments, the payphone rings and I pick it up before the second ring. “Julio?”
“Who ees dees?”
“Hey man, it’s Wurm. Can you come and meet me?”
“Hokay, fourteen and Hawtorn, two block nort.”
“How long?”
“Tweenty meenutes.”
I hang up the phone and tell Zoey and the Scarecrow it’s going to be 20 minutes. I also tell the Scarecrow that he can’t get in the car and that he’s going to have to trust me with his money. He says that is no problem since Zoey will be waiting too and he knows I’m not gonna just ditch “such a pretty girl.”

The way he says this is a little creepy. The fact that whenever he looks at her too long he begins to lick his thin lips is also a little creepy. More than creepy is the fact that he keeps scratching his self. By “his self” I mean his crotch, his arm pits, his ankles, and around his waist band. He does this absentmindedly with a vacant look in his eyes. I think that he’s probably harmless, then laugh inwardly. Harmless, right. Harmless like cancer. Harmless like a dirty needle. Harmless like an alligator.

I go over to where Zoey has sat down on the curb with her pack. “Look, you’re gonna have to wait here with this guy while I go with Julio, OK?”
“No problem” she says.
“I want you to take this,” I say, and hand her my large folding pocket knife. “It’s really sharp, so be careful.” Zoey looks away and when she looks back there are tears in her eyes. I’m startled to see her so suddenly upset. I wonder if I said or did something to have hurt her feelings. I wonder if she thinks I’m going to abandon her here with the scarecrow guy.

“What’s wrong?” I ask her. “Nothing,” she says, wiping her eyes with her sleeve and trying to play it off.
“No really, what’s wrong”?
“Nothing’s wrong. You just giving me your knife and all, well, that’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me.”
I grab her hand with one hand and put my other hand on her cheek. I turn her face towards mine, forcing her to make eye contact.
“I will be right back, I promise,” I tell her, and she says, “I know, just try to hurry, this guy is gross.”

I remember that I am supposed to be looking out for Julio in his little blue Ford Focus. I begin to scan the cars coming down the road towards us. Each set of headlights brings new hope and my heart races with the passing vehicles.

Scarecrow is watching the cars too, even though he doesn’t know what car he is looking for. He keeps asking “is that him?” at regular intervals, causing me to be even more nervous. This close to scoring I am a mess. The dull ache in my bowels has become a hot twisting knife. Again I feel like if I’m not careful I could shit my pants. I am sweating profusely and am shivering with the night chill. Goosebumps have broken out on my arms and neck. My nose is running and I keep wiping it on my sleeve leaving a dark and hardening trail there.

Anxiety courses through my body like electric current. My poor dopesick bones act as an antenna, tuning into to the junk frequencies passing between us three and over the entire city. Tuning in to all the dope fiends spread out across these grey avenues. In cheap hotel rooms and flop houses. In basements in Northeast Portland and in condos downtown. In lofts in the Pearl District and in trailers on 82nd Avenue. Sick or gowed out on the couch. A small pulse beats in these wretched and scared veins for each shackled soul.

We are all running on the same clock. The quickening rhythm of heroin addiction. Scoring, looking to score, getting money to score, always on the move or on the nod. The junk clock ticks away between shots. The courses of our lives charted in the thin scars that mark the paths of our veins. On our wrists and down our necks the story is told. Abscess scars and jail tattoos serve as medals in this tattered addict’s army.

A small blue sedan has pulled over and is flashing its lights. Julio has passed us and parked halfway down the block. I tell Zoey and the Scarecrow, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.” I take the money from Scarecrow’s outstretched hand then walk quickly but casually down the sidewalk towards the car.

By Tye Doudy

Reprinted from Street Roots

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