What’s a nice gun like you doing in a place like this?
A writer is often called upon to take a memory that they’d prefer to leave full of cobwebs hidden away in the memory attic and bring it back to life for retelling. I’m told its therapeutic but truthfully I fear it may be the proverbial camel breaking straw that may release my inner serial killer. Maybe that’s harsh, more the harmless psychopath that dwells locked in the caverns of my id. But for the sake of art I will lurch head first into the darker depths of my era of depression an relive this horror in words. No, not THE depression, I’m not THAT old, my depression, the confused, self medicating years of my youth spent in the absence of light. I have a somewhat sordid past to begin with so there is the possibility this is a dangerous exercise that could unleash the devils warrior that may be lurking about in the hopes of finding a portal into the mortal. Ergo (I love using that word) I put forth a disclaimer or two. First, there are no innocent people in need of protection but names were changed anyway to make them sound more badass. Second, this story may or may not be true and may or may not be based on real life experience. Either way, it could happen to you. Here then is a tale of one night when my darkness encountered the darkness of a gun barrel. The night I was held at gunpoint.
Like most big cities New York has an underground drug market. On the Lower East Side you can get it all. Pot, pills, coke, dope, pretty much any drug you want, you just needed to know where to go and how its sold. On 14th street give the two finger V sign and you’ll attract valium salesmen, down on Third Ave listen for the word “sense” and you have pot. Coke is by Tompkins Park, and heroin is in the famed alphabet city. Life had dealt me some major blows, leaving me living in a tiny room with no family connections. I had used a lot of different drugs but my depression was at an all time low, even I didn’t want to hang out with me. I found solace in drinking booze and sniffing bags of heroin to take me away. It was a very dangerous game to play, one because its an unforgiving high and if you let it get you it won’t let go, and two because to cop it you had to go into the belly of the beast of the city where not a single soul can be trusted. But when you don’t give a shit about anything, even your pathetic life, it’s a risk worth taking. So I did, I went down on occasion to cop some dope. The dealers have people they call steerers, who steer you to the sellers. It’s a labyrinth designed to protect the dealers in which you encounter three people before finding the one holding the dope. This hot July night I was gamed by a junkie who posed as a steerer.
“Hey Bro, you looking for some good dope? Mr. T, the best shit in town right around the corner.” Mr. T was legendary dope, very strong and a real prize among users. In an attempt to let him know I knew my shit I asked, “Old executive or double Dee?” This Latin dude stared at me. He has very tight curled hair parted in the middle and a pock marked worn face partially covered by a weak goatee. “Hey look Bro, you be talking to Culebro, I da man wit da plan G. You want the real deal Hollyfield Exec or you wanna get that cheap ass double dee shit from the negritos Yo? Follow the Culebro if you want the good dope son I ain’t got time to play games boy the fucking man is all over this place. Come on ahead or get the fuck out!” I made a shit decision, I followed The Culebro.
It’s not uncommon for dope to be sold in an abandoned building. No neighbors, easy exits for the dealers, and no one to tip off the cops. But this abandoned building was just that, abandoned. I followed Culebro up to the third floor, the stairwells lit by candlelight. I thought that was a good sign, that usually the habits of a smart operation. Or an operation no longer in use. As soon as we entered the hallway on the third floor Culebro pushed me up against the wall and stuck a handgun to my head. “Okay blanquito, how much you gonna die for tonight?”
I’ve often heard the phrase “shit a brick” to describe a profound fear. First let me say that if one were to shit even little pieces of broken mortar it would take a great deal of effort and concentration, both of which were in short supply. I assure you bowel movement would be amongst the last thoughts one has with a loaded pistol poised at ones forehead. Nor would my thoughts cause me to perspire bullets. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. That would have at the very least offered some entertainment. Most of went through my head was more like, “Oh fuck. Oh shit. That’s a fucking gun! What the fuck am I gonna do now. This fucker is crazy and he’s gonna shoot me.” I also entertained the thought of being a statistic in tomorrows police blotter. Unknown twenty something found dead in center of chalk line on Lower East Side. Me, reduced to a thin line of white chalk! But that was a fleeting thought, what I instinctively knew was I had to escape or die. But how to approach this escape? Beg? “Oh please man please…don’t. I have a family somewhere maybe I’ll have children someday.” No, that won’t work. Calm reasoning? “Hey look man, this is a mistake, I’m not worth it. I have no money, the gun will make noise and cops will be up here in seconds.” No, cops aren’t anywhere near this area, its one of the poorest in the city. Here gunshots and sirens are like birdcalls in the morning. No go. Bargain? “Look man, I have plenty of cash in my apartment in the village, we can take the subway over and I’ll go up and get it all for you. I won’t tell anyone, I swear.” Right! He seems like such a trusting soul. Options are limiting rapidly. Then it hit me. My bright idea.
Living in the city that never sleeps has some unwritten, unspoken rules. There is a good chance that at some point you are going to get ripped off. Mugged. Always split up your cash an always have some cash somewhere. You never want to carry a lot of cash around but you always need something. If you get mugged and have at least a little cash you chances are good it’s a druggie looking for quick cash and will take your money and flee. Roll it up in bundles to make it look like more than it I. A well rolled wad of single can look like a major score, and most times the thief doesn’t stop and count. If you have nothing you run the risk of pissing them off and turning them bat shit crazy. I had my own strategy because purchasing drugs on the street was an art. Hundreds of scammers and muggers. I place my drug purchase money in my front pocket, a small wad of singles in my left, and a roll of cash in each sock. That way if I get mugged before copping I can still cop, and if its after I can give them money and they won’t know I have drugs. But this situation was different. This dude knew I had drug money and he wanted it. He doesn’t realize I live here, he thinks I’m a B&T. B&T is slang for Bridge and Tunnel, a reference to the fact that kids come from the suburbs of Connecticut, New jersey or Long Island to come to play in the big city by driving through the tunnel or over a bridge. Easy prey. But I was no longer B&T, I had been living in the city for four years now and knew a lot of tricks. I opted for one I practiced in my mind but never in a real life situation. I sprung into action.
With my hands in the air I said, “hold on man, hold on. I have some more cash here in my sock.” I slowly reached down towards my foot and removed a wad of singles wrapped in a twenty to show him. Then I flung it up in the air using my thumb to separate the bills and it looked like bills from heaven. It was just the distraction I needed and as he greedily started grabbing for the bills he lowered his gun and I fled like the track star I could have been if I applied myself. (that’s what my Mom always told me). I didn’t stop running until I reached the village, and I absolutely learned my lesson about dope. I’ll never cop anything in that neighborhood again!
What’s a nice gun like you doing in a place like this?