Let’s just say that I’ve had a number of low points in life.
I had this buddy, Terrance, who was into Bukowski and porn in which women tied men’s ballsacks to staircase banisters and made the men ass f-ck them while moving as little and as much as possible at the same time, so as not to rip said ballsack from the male body but to also create/endure as much penetration/pain as possible.
Terrance wanted to co-write a screenplay with me once and we started with a clown atop a sand dune in the middle of the desert — for no reason, just because a clown on a sand dune sounded awesome — and other than that I remember a character called The Great Author. This was probably some brilliant-not-so-brilliant stuff.
Terrance and I once talked a girl into getting naked with us. Nothing else happened. We just kicked it in Terrance’s apartment, drinking, smoking cigarettes, all of us naked. When we got tired, we put on our clothes again and the girl went home. But later, as you might expect, Terrance slept with her.
So, also as you might expect, when Terrance started smoking crack, I was right there with him.
The first time I hit it nothing happened. I remember the rock melting like an ice cube under the lighter’s flame. I remember that I was scared. I thought, Okay, I’m smoking crack. Then: nothing. No high. Terrance got all geetered out and kept changing the CDs after having heard 22 seconds of one song then he’d hit the pipe again, and again. He kept offering it to me, but I figured it just wasn’t going to happen. So that first hit was the last, for that night.
The second time I smoked crack, Terrace and I were at a mutual friend’s house, the home of this married couple, crackheads. They had a Yorkshire terrier and the house was immaculate. I don’t think they employed a cleaning service, and I imagine that all they did was get high on this sh-t and clean clean clean.
This was in Reno, Nevada, in the 1990s, and speed was just starting to make its way in the world, especially in the high desert, and crack was on its way out, and coke hadn’t yet had the resurgence it would gain in the early 2000s, and heroin hadn’t yet had its equal early millennial comeback. Crack it was, and the casinos glittered from afar in the night, and nothing ever closed.
We were at this couple’s house on Reno’s south side, past the airport, and throughout the night planes screamed in right overhead to land, past Rattlesnake Mountain, which was named such for reasons I don’t want to know. Again, the crack melted like a bar of soap on fast-forward. It bubbled and hissed and steamed and smoked, and I sucked it up. It tasted, even, a little like soap. Some kind of f-cked chemical Ivory. Then it hit me.
The high was almost indescribable. This is what people say when they say that they’ve done crack. Euphoria washed over me. I felt elated, a welling of good emotion, like I knew that something wonderful was about to happen and I just couldn’t wait for whoever it was to bust through that door and Surprise! Happy Birthday! or whatever. My heart rate jumped. This lasted mere seconds. Then I broke out in a cold sweat. Nausea came next. I thought I would puke. Everything got spinny. Then just as quickly the nausea and spins went away, replaced with the overwhelming euphoria. It went like this, in cycles, for about a half an hour. I lay on this couple’s front lawn, Terrance next to me, the wing lights of 727s trailing in as they landed at Reno Tahoe International, along with the roar of their engines, and the billions of stars that shone through past the city’s casinos.
When the high subsided I met yet another feeling I can barely describe. As messed up as the above experience sounds, I wanted it again. I craved it. That’s crack. I’ll maintain that the hardest thing I’ve ever had to quit was cigarettes, but I’ve never felt anything so powerful in its immediate tug. I don’t know how much crack we smoked that night but nothing would ever approximate that initial high.
A few weeks later James Taylor played the Reno Hilton, a hotel-casino that once hosted an outdoor summer concert series; today this hotel-casino is called the Grand Sierra. Terrance and I stood in the stands and passed joints and sucked down the seven-dollar Cape Cods that they were selling. The night came on, with the sunset fading away, like something out of a—well — like something out of a James Taylor song. I got pretty buzzed.
I’d driven us to the concert in my Dodge pickup. I knew we’d be partying, so I’d parked blocks away, in a neighborhood far from where I suspected the police might be lurking for drunk-and-driving concert goers. Also, I knew and had known for at least two weeks that I had a headlight out. You can see where this is going.
But that’s not it — or at least, not only. We left the concert after the last song — “Mexico” — and, no I’m not ashamed to say that I actually like James Taylor, and we walked these thirteen or fourteen blocks to my truck, and once we got there, we decided to revisit our married couple friends with the crack habit, for we were forming our own distinct crack habit to accompany theirs.
An hour later, the buzz I’d felt from the vodka had been replaced, strung out as I was on crack. And not only had we smoked a grip at this couple’s house, but we’d walked out of there holding our own little inch-by-inch squared baggies filled with rocks for later. It proved to be looking up to one hell of a night.
I kept off Virginia Street and any other main roads, and meandered through the neighborhoods, as we made our way from Reno’s south side up to the Lakeside neighborhood where Terrance lived, where we planned to keep the party going. It was when I came to a four-way intersection that I met the cop coming at me, from the opposite direction.
I knew the headlight was out, and here’s the thing about crack (and many other drugs, for that matter): It makes you hyper-aware of everything, especially whatever faults you might have, or those that might affect your situation. I know that this is a false sense of security against failure. It’s more likely that in this hyper-awareness a crackhead’s missing eighteen things for the one thing he manages to cover, but still. I knew I had that headlight out, and once I and the cop both accelerated through that intersection, I kept my eyes on my rearview. When I saw the cop’s brake lights go up, I knew he was flipping a bitch and coming after my ass. It was a Friday. Post-concert. Prime DUI time.
I turned right into an apartment complex immediately, drove around the back, and parked, and when Terrance and I got out of the truck, I ditched the keys in a bush, and we chilled out for about a half an hour, sitting on the steps that led to whoever might have lived at this place. Had you lived at this apartment building in the mid 1990s, and had you stepped outside your apartment at this time, you’d have come across two young white dudes smoking cigarettes, hopped up on crack, sitting on your steps in front of your apartment, scared, and trying to keep from going to jail.
After this half-hour passed, I dug around in the leaves and dirt under the bush into which I’d tossed my keys and, once I found and retrieved them, we kept on our way, thinking we’d outsmarted that cop. Again, you can see where this is going.
Of course a couple blocks later we came across the cop again. It must’ve been the same cop; I don’t know how there could be that many cruisers out and in the same neighborhood. But anyway, this time I was turning right, and the cop pulled up to the intersection (me with my blinker already on) and he was at my left, heading in the direction in which I planned to turn.
Perhaps it was at that moment, or maybe it was after, when I’d already turned and the rollers lit up when the cop pulled me over, but I’d made up my mind: I was going to jail, and there was nothing I could do to stop that. A strange tranquility overcame me. My nerves relaxed. My heart rate slowed. I stopped sweating. I decided that there was no point in arguing with the officer, that I was simply going to cooperate. I wasn’t going to tell the truth. I wasn’t that dumb. But I wasn’t going to be a pain in the ass, either. The plastic steering wheel in my hand, the streetlights. Terrance at my side, breathing heavy and saying, f-ck, f-ck, the f-cking cops, the f-cking cops, man. And I was cool. I just cooled out.
My window was already rolled down, license and registration in-hand, when the officer stepped forward, flashlight shining. He said he’d pulled me over for the missing headlight. I lied: “Yes, I realized that just this evening.” I needed to get that fixed, etcetera. The officer asked if I’d been drinking. I equivocated. Well, I lied. I said that, yes, we’d been to the James Taylor concert, and I’d had a couple drinks. How many? the cop wanted to know. I said two, but it’d been more like seven — and then there was the weed and, of course, the crack just after, and the crack that sat nestled in its baggy in my pocket as I sat there in the driver’s seat talking to the cop at this exact moment.
There were two of them. They asked us to step out of the car. One cop talked to Terrance and the other cop talked to me. I can only begin to explain how sober I felt. It was like the tranquility that had washed over me had taken with it the turbulence of the cops, of being high, of the missing headlight — everything — and I simply knew — I was absolutely convinced — that I was going to jail, and I knew not to fight it, and I was calm. The cop pulled me to the curb and asked me questions, shined his flashlight in my eyes. He never gave me the stereotypical field sobriety tests. All he asked me to do was follow his pen as he waved it slowly in front of my face. The cop who was talking to Terrance kept to Terrance and he never talked to me.
The cops retired to their cop car where they talked for god knows how long, but it must’ve been the interminable amount of time that cops take in doing such things but I don’t remember exactly. All I know is that they left me and Terrance standing there, kind of leaning against a fence that butted up against the sidewalk next to the curb against which I’d pulled when the cops’ lights came up. We didn’t talk to each other.
Finally, the officer who’d questioned me returned. He pulled me aside, returning my license and registration. He said, “You seem perfectly fine to me, but my partner’s a little concerned about your buddy there. His eyes are dilated and his heart rate’s up, he’s sweating. What’s going on?”
I said, “He’s been arrested before, so I think he just doesn’t like cops very much.” This was all true, or at least true from what Terrance had told me in the stories we told one another. I didn’t have to mention the fact that he might have dilated pupils from crack, that his heart rate might be accelerated from crack — not that I would have, but I didn’t have to lie. The cop, my cop, considered this, just like you might imagine a cop in a television show would consider it: he turned his head slightly, flashlight-in-hand, and thought for a minute. Then he said, “I can understand that. Get home and get off the roads tonight, and don’t drive anymore till you get that headlight fixed.”
And that was that. And Terrance and I got back to Terrance’s apartment, and we got high again, and we smoked all the crack we had that night and I think we listened to a lot of the Beatles’ White Album and to a lot of Al Green. Either way, I wasn’t going to jail, and I wasn’t hanging out with Terrance much more after that night, because I figured I was done with this whole crack sh-t, and Terrance, well, he got really bad on it, and he lost some teeth.