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Bone in the throat, p.9
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       Bone in the Throat, p.9

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "What did you tell him?" asked Al.

  "Michael? I didn't tell him anything. I don't really know anything. I mean, I know who was down there, Sally and Tommy and all. But what am I going to say? I told him maybe the porters did it trying to scrape out a pot or something."

  "That satisfy him?"

  "I guess so."

  "So what are you telling me, Harvey," said Al. "Sally is dropping by your kitchen in the middle of the night to play with knives? Is that what you're telling me, Harvey?"

  "I don't know. I don't know who did it. I just know Sally and Tommy were there that night."

  "Maybe it was somebody else," said Al.

  "Everybody in the place knew about that fuckin' knife. Nobody was to touch it. Chef told everybody. Cooks, waiters, dishwashers, porters. He told them all a million times. Somebody put a little ding in it one time, he called a staff meeting to tell everybody not to touch his damn knife."

  "And it wasn't the porters," said Al.

  "The porters weren't there," said Harvey.

  "Right, right," said Al.

  "Anyway I thought about that today when I'm talking to Sally."

  "Anything unusual about the place when you came in?"

  "When?"

  "The day after Sally used the place."

  "Unusual. Like what?"

  "Like how did the place look? Ashtrays full of mysterious cigar butts? Any booze missing? Sinatra tapes you didn't previously own left in the machine? Anybody cook anything? Maybe Sally just had a few friends over for a late supper. Fucked up the knife cutting lamb chops for some buddies. You see any dirty plates with some half-eaten lamb chops on them? Help me out here."

  "No. I was the first one in. There was no plates. Somebody did them all."

  Eighteen

  The chef stepped reluctantly into the shower. The bathroom was filled with steam. It was a hot day, but he broke into goose bumps. The drain wasn't working well, and soon empty bottles of shampoo and conditioner were bobbing around him in the ankle-deep water, souvenirs of a long-gone girlfriend.

  Teeth chattering, the chef turned off the water and wrapped himself tightly in a dirty towel. He stood shivering in front of the mirror.

  His face in the bathroom mirror was pale and bloodless. Tiny pupils floated around in watery, bloodshot eyes. His thick brown hair was too long, sticking up at odd angles, and his sideburns were uneven. The chef opened his mouth and grimaced at himself, examining his teeth. One tooth was missing on the right side, but you couldn't see it; there was one crumbling molar on the left, also invisible to the casual observer, and a chipped eyetooth.

  The chef moved his eyes down over his naked, bony chest: protruding ribs, the stomach that was showing the beginnings of a paunch. He examined his arms. There were no tracks to speak of, only a small, yellowish bruise in the crook of his left arm. He walked into the living area of his narrow apartment and put a CD into a portable player. He looked around the room.

  The chef was suddenly struck by how little remained in the way of possessions from his previous lives. There was a mattress on the floor, a twenty-one-inch TV set, the CD player, a few CDs, the tiny speakers. A few cables lay useless on a bare shelf, left behind when he sold the tuner, amplifier, cassette deck, turntable, and big speakers. The records were gone too—sold off with most of his books. He'd actually stood there in the street, selling his treasured collection of cookbooks, the classic LPs from the sixties and seventies, many of them irreplaceable. The first Stooges album . . . that Yard-birds record that was only on the shelf a week before they pulled it . . . the Dolls records . . . that Nazz album, the one with the red vinyl. . . All gone. Sold for as little as a dollar each.

  The Velvet Underground played "Sweet Jane" in the background while he dressed. He selected a long-sleeve three-button T-shirt from his closet, first sniffing it to determine if it was clean enough. He put on a pair of tight black Levi's, ripped in the knee; tube socks; and a pair of black elkskin cowboy boots with damaged heels.

  He rummaged around in the pile of unpaid bills and unopened mail on the top of his desk (not a desk really; just a sheet of plywood resting on cinder blocks and milk crates). Underneath a rent notice, he found the white pamphlet he was looking for. He folded it neatly and slipped it into his pants pocket. He took a last look at himself in the bathroom mirror, ran his hands through his hair, turned off the music, and let himself out the door.

  He was sniffling and covered with a sickly sweat by the time he reached Cooper Square. He checked the address on the pamphlet and walked into an anonymous, municipal-type building through double glass doors. A security guard stopped him just inside the lobby.

  "Who do you want to see?" demanded the guard.

  "I'd like to see Mr. James, the director of Intake," said the chef.

  "And your name is?"

  "Ricard . . . Michael Ricard. I spoke to him on the phone."

  The security guard stepped over to a small desk and turned down a clock radio playing soca music. He pressed the intercom button and paged Mr. James to come to the front desk. There was a short wait. The elevator doors opened, and a stout black man with a shaved head and military bearing emerged, looking distracted and in a hurry.

  "Mr. Ricard," he said, shaking the chef's hand like he was taking his pulse. "If you'd come with me, please."

  They took the elevator to the second floor and walked down a long hall that smelled of disinfectant. The walls were painted institutional green. The floor was gray linoleum, worn through in spots. The chef noticed posters scotch-taped to the walls, saying things like DO NOT LOITER IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD and REMEMBER TO THOROUGHLY CLEAN AND STERILIZE YOUR WORKS.

  They passed a long line of identical cubicles. The doors were open, and inside each one, the chef could see a bored counselor sitting at a desk, with maybe a potted plant and a file cabinet. In each room, an animated junkie sat in a chair on the other side of the desk, spinning a tale of woe. The chef heard one loud voice, protesting an injustice. "I was jus' standin there," said the voice. "I wasn't doin no drugs. I wasn't lookin for no drugs . . . They took my bottle off a me. Man said he was gonna put a cap in my ass! I said 'Whassup with that?' Now you tellin me I gotta go back to six-day? That's cold. Really cold . . ."

  Mr. James led him down another hallway and into a large room, overlit with dirty fluorescent lights, where there were two badly formed lines of impatient and loudly complaining junkies waiting for the two bullnecked nurses at the counter to dispense methadone.

  As each junkie reached the head of the line, the nurse put bright orange diskettes into a clear plastic cup, added hot water from a coffee urn, and handed it over. The person being medicated would add orange drink to the cup from the plastic pitchers on the counter and then stir the mixture with thin wooden stirrers. It was typically a swollen, puffy-fingered hand, covered with purple stripes and scar tissue, that would raise cup to mouth.

  They drank greedily. Adding more orange drink to the cup, they would stir again, drink once more, the people on line behind them growing more impatient.

  Mr. James led the chef back to a small office with a view of an air shaft. He motioned to a vinyl-backed chair, and the chef sat down. Mr. James took a clean file from his gray metal desk and sat down on the window sill. He started by asking the chef for his full name, current address, and age.

  "Mr. Ricard, how long have you been using heroin?"

  "A little over three years, regularly," answered the chef.

  "By regularly, you mean every day?"

  "Yes."

  "And how much heroin do you use on a daily basis at present?"

  "Don't know, it depends . . . Three, four, five, sometimes six dime bags. Depends we're talking downtown bags or midtown bags. Two or three midtown bags will get me through."

  "You shoot it?"

  "Only in the last like six months. I just started. That's why I'm in such a rush to get on the program. I think, I know I've crossed some sort of line. I used to snort it. I got my habit
snorting."

  "You share your works?"

  "Never," said the chef proudly. "I buy a new set every time. I never share."

  "You're addicted to heroin?"

  "I'm addicted to heroin," said the chef.

  "Because that's not a lot. That's not a lot of heroin. Have you considered seven-day detox?"

  "I can't. I work. I still have a good job. I can't disappear for a week, a month. I got responsibilities. I've tried to kick on my own. It didn't work out."

  "Three years is not a long time."

  "Really?"

  "Most of our patients have been using for much longer by the time they get here. Most of them ten years or more. Some have been using as long as thirty years."

  The chef just nodded.

  "Use heroin today?" asked Mr. James.

  "Not yet," answered the chef. "But I'm sick now."

  "Use any other drugs?"

  "Today?"

  "In general."

  "Well," said the chef, hesitating.

  "Cocaine?"

  "Occasionally."

  "What's occasionally?"

  "One or two times a month."

  "Crack or powder?"

  "Powder. I've done the other thing, but mostly just powder."

  "Depressants or hypnotics?"

  "Not really. I'll score some Valium on the street sometimes if I can't get to sleep and I can't get any dope."

  "Amphetamines? Speed?"

  "No. Never."

  "Street methadone?"

  "A couple of times I've bought it when I can't get heroin."

  "How about alcohol?"

  "I can't. I can't drink when I'm doing dope. It doesn't sit in my stomach right."

  "What about when you don't have heroin?"

  "Like a fish. To excess. Whatever it takes to knock myself out."

  "Marijuana?"

  "Yeah. Every day."

  Mr. James wrote something in the file.

  "Prescription drugs. Are you currently being treated by a doctor for any illness or condition with prescription drugs?"

  "No."

  "Okay," said Mr. James, slamming the file shut. "Mr. Ricard, as you know, as I explained on the phone, there's a waiting list to enter this program. There are a lot of people who'd like to get in, and most of them have drug problems far more serious than yours. Many of them have been on other programs. Have you been on any other program?"

  "No," said the chef.

  Mr. James opened the file and made a small notation before shutting it again. "As I said on the phone, there's a waiting list."

  "I had hoped, I like to think that I would be a patient with a good chance of success," said the chef.

  "You say you're serious about rehabilitating yourself—" continued Mr. James, oblivious to the pleading tone creeping into the chef's voice.

  "Very serious," said the chef eagerly. "I have to get out of the life. As soon as I can."

  Mr. James continued as if he hadn't heard him. "You know this program, this clinic in particular, has been recognized by the state as the best, most effective in the country" He pointed to a state-issued license and a certificate of commendation in a frame on the wall. "You were sensible to come here."

  "I'd like to know if—"

  Mr. James cut him off. "You know what methadone maintenance is? You know what that means?"

  "It means I get on and stay on, for an extended period."

  "Exactly. You're sure that's the right option for you? There's counseling and various detox programs."

  "Mr. James, I'm a chef. I can't get away and go to Minneapolis. I can't do that."

  "You say you're a chef?"

  "Yes."

  "My son's a chef," said Mr. James, warming to the subject. "He's a garde-manger at the Sheraton."

  "Oh, really?"

  "He went to school for it, too. He graduated from the New York School of Restaurant Arts."

  "Yeah? I've seen their ads on TV. They're supposed to be good," lied the chef.

  "Once you're in the program—assuming the doctor sees you, I okay you—-it's usually a long-term commitment. We encourage patients to stay with it, sometimes for many years. We have found that the longer a person stays on the program, the less likely he or she will return to heroin."

  "I've read the literature," said the chef.

  "So you understand."

  "I'm a desperate man, Mr. James," said the chef, half smiling, trying his best to be disarming. He looked for encouragement in Mr. James's eyes, saw only zeal, a faraway look, like that of a religious fanatic. "I want to get off dope. I don't want to find myself, in a few months or a year, slipping back into it. I want to be sure. I want out of the life. I don't want to have to score on the street anymore. I want to stop having to look for dope every day If that means staying on the program for life, that's fine. I don't want any chance—any chance that I could fall back. I don't want to risk it. I don't want to have to think about it." The chef looked Mr. James in the face. "I don't want to have to trust myself."

  "You understand, once you're admitted, you'll have to give a urine sample on a weekly basis. Or more frequently if requested by your counselor."

  "That's fine.

  "That means no other drugs. If your urine comes up positive for any other drugs, then you're going to have a big problem. If it comes up negative for methadone you'll have a problem. No messing around with your dose—you must take your medication every day. If we find, if the counselor assigned to you thinks you have misused your medication, you can be thrown out of the program. That means, not taking your methadone, selling your methadone, losing your take-home bottles, going on another program simultaneously. When you start here, you'll come in five days a week to be medicated. The sixth day you go to Saturday Clinic on 124th Street. They'll give you your Saturday dose and one take-home bottle. If your urines are clean, no other problems, your counselor can recommend a change in your schedule."

  "What's the best schedule you can get?"

  "One or two times a week, if it is felt that it's indicated, if it's approved by me. You screw around with your take-homes, we find out you're loitering in the neighborhood near the clinic, you have a dirty urine—you go right back to a six-day schedule, or worse."

  "I understand," said the chef.

  "Okay, Mr. Ricard," said Mr. James, consulting a calendar and a sheet of paper in the middle of a clipboard, "I can schedule you a doctor's appointment here in three weeks." He consulted a desk calendar. "That'll be the third, ten o'clock in the morning. You'll be examined by the doctor before you can be medicated. After the examination, you can get your methadone right away."

  "Three weeks?"

  "That's the best I can do," said Mr. James.

  "But what do I do till then?"

  "I can't tell you what to do or not to do."

  "I have to keep scoring on the street till then? I have to keep doing dope?"

  "I'm not saying that," said Mr. James.

  "What should I do?"

  "You should return here in three weeks. That's the soonest there's a place. You're still interested? You'll show up the third?"

  "Yes," said the chef glumly. "I'll be here."

  "Okay, then." Mr. James stood up and opened his office door. He let the chef out and closed and locked the door behind them. He walked the chef to the elevator and shook his hand.

  "There's no way to get in sooner?" asked the chef.

  "Sorry. See you the third."

  Nineteen

  The chef took the elevator down and walked out into the afternoon sun, soca music fading away behind him.

  Across the street were a row of benches set alongside a small triangular park where office workers and students on lunch break sat munching Sabrett hot dogs or eating salads from plastic deli containers. Old men fed pigeons; a few of them, homeless, bare-chested, their shirts balled up as pillows, slept in the hot sun. The chef sat down, his legs tormenting him. He held his face in his hands and started to cry.

  Th
ere was a voice behind him. "Hot sixty, hot sixty, got a hot sixty right here."

  It was a skeletal black man with long, purple tracks on his neck. He had the pupilless cartoon bunny eyes and Popeye arms of a long-term junkie. He wore dirty gray sweatpants, loose at the hips, with his underpants pulled up near his navel. He didn't have a shirt. His filthy toes poked through holes in his high-top sneakers.

  "What?" asked the chef.

  "Hot sixty, B. Sixty milligrams, still warm," said the man. He held up a small screw-top bottle with orange liquid inside.

  "How much?" asked the chef.

  "Thirty dollar," said the man, putting the bottle back in a crumpled brown paper bag.

  "I don't have it," said the chef dejectedly. "I just don't have it."

  The man continued down the row of benches. "Hot sixty. Hot sixty."

  The chef bent over and retrieved a twenty-dollar bill from inside his sock. He folded it up and held it tightly in his fist. His aching legs carried him east.

  At Third Street, he crossed Avenue A, then B, then C. He heard the distant shout of "Open! Toilet's open!" A man holding a can waved at him and said "Green light. Got it good." He continued walking. A voice on a rooftop cried out, "Feo! Feo!" Someone asked him "Whassup, whassup?" "Yo, Flaco! Hey, Flaco!" He kept walking.

  He passed a restless line of customers jostling each other outside a burned-out tenement. A heavily muscled Dominican holding a baseball bat was yelling, "Have your money out the long way. No singles. No talking on the line. Have your money ready."

 
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