Dopefiend Excerpt: The End of the Line, Free Drug Treatment


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Spring rolled in hot.

One afternoon at the rehab facility, I (pictured, right) was sitting in the Vehicles Office with Aaron (not pictured), one of the drivers. Aaron had a broad forehead, a quick wit, and thin brown hair that he wore pushed straight back. We had the morning shuttle route, which left at 7 a.m., and was usually done by noon, having us both back at the facility by 2 p.m. Vehicles was a cushy job.

Reading the New York Times, Aaron tipped his thick glasses up onto his nose. I sipped coffee from a paper cup. Another driver, Keith, poked his head into the office and shook the shaggy mop of blonde hair from his eyes. Keith tapped his fist to his chest, and then held up three fingers.

Looking up from his paper, Aaron grinned and made the same gesture.

“What’s that?” I asked.

Wehicles,” Aaron said, tipping his glasses higher on his nose. He held up three splayed fingers to make a W.

Keith grinned.

Creasing my brow, I shrugged. “Wehicles?”

Aaron looked surreptitiously out the door and then whispered: “Wehicles is for white people.”

I laughed. All the drivers were white. During the morning shuttles, the radio was a flashpoint for tension. Black people wanted Soul on one end of the FM dial, while the white people liked Rock down the other end. I tuned to Soul going downtown, and then Rock after the van had emptied. I hushed the occasional impertinent request for Rock on the downtown leg with a soft, “Oh, I want to hear this one,” regardless of what was playing, and then conveniently forgot the request soon after. Sometimes I patiently dialed in a baseball game on the AM band. Baseball was like a balm for the tension caused by the radio.

“That’s true,” I said. “Why are all the drivers white?”

“Brothers don’t need a license,” Keith said. He cut his eyes toward the hallway outside the office and kept his voice low.

I nodded as if this made sense. But I couldn’t imagine anyone not having a driver’s license, much less an entire race without a license. Aaron explained that public transportation in New York City was so good, you didn’t need a license unless you lived in a suburb. The few white people at Rockford other than me were from Staten Island, The Rockaways, or Throggs Neck. Mostly the white people were older, had lost their jobs, lost their health insurance, and then succumbed to some sort of addiction, typically crack. Rockford was the end of the line, free drug treatment.

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Dopefiend Excerpt: Sunday Celebrations at Rockford


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Each week at Rockford, there was a Sunday celebration: families brought home-cooked meals, girlfriends appeared in tight jeans and teased hair, and sons mended family ties.

Aaron (not pictured) and I (pictured, far right) never participated.

He had a girlfriend in Manhattan, but she was ignoring him while he was in treatment. I occasionally wrote my mother carefully composed letters that never asked for anything, or even posed any questions she might feel compelled to answer. I didn’t want to pressure her. In prior treatment experiences, I had pushed for the organized reconciliation, the weekend visits. I couldn’t imagine going through all that again.

As the summer wore on, counselors began to disappear, with little explanation for their absence. Juan was gone. Rick was gone. A few others were gone. Aaron pointed out that they had actually relapsed and then had to be let go. When I suggested they might have gotten better jobs, Aaron laughed. He was shrewd.

“They’re junkies,” he said. “You can tell they’re in trouble, if their caseload suddenly gets cut.” This appeared to be true.

Miguel, who had pale yellow where the whites of his eyes should have been, had his caseload cut to a third of what it once had been. A few days later, he took his remaining charges into the courtyard, and then nodded off in his folding chair during group. One-by-one his clients stood, folded their chairs and then wandered off, until only Miguel was left in the courtyard, his chin upon his chest. News of the counselor’s relapses terrified me. It was exactly the kind of thing I could see myself doing.

A Stack of DOPEFIENDS at Barnes & Noble


Holly and I rarely go to Barnes & Noble. Usually if we want a book, we end up at one of the independent bookstores around here. But last night we did go to Barnes & Noble. Holly said, “Let’s go see if we can find your book.”

I said, “I am up for it!” or “Oh, yeah.” Or something like that.

When we got there, I couldn’t find DOPEFIEND in the memoir section. I felt bummed. I went to ask at the information desk and the lady said they did have it in stock!

She led me to the addiction and self-help section.

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I was a little overjoyed. This is the first time I walked into a bookstore where I wasn’t scheduled to speak and found my book. But I also felt a little bummed to find it in the self-help section. I’m not far from “How to Quit Drinking Without AA.” I bet the guy that wrote that book would be fun to have a drink with!

But then Holly pointed out that DOPEFIEND was only two shelves down from the porn section. One reason I married Holly is because she knows how to cheer me up!

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It worked! I felt much better!

Porn is edgy.

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Really Barnes & Noble? Really?

You put the self-help and addiction stuff right below the porn? I guess it makes a certain sense. If you’re addicted to porn, you won’t have to go far to find a book that can help!

Anyhow – short personal update – I am pumped! My book is on Amazon and in bookstores across the country and I finished up my first book tour last month. I recently got a royalty sheet from CRP. These things come out twice a year and keep you abreast of how your book is doing. Because of when mine was published, this statement was only for the first month or so of sales. While I haven’t earned through my advance yet, I did notice we’re about halfway through the initial print run. Time will tell, but I certainly feel as if I have learned a lot. I am already starting to mull ideas for the next work. I’ve got it narrowed down to one of two projects, which I’m not going to talk about much until I commit to one or the other.

Meanwhile, I want to do a reader’s guide for DOPEFIEND and I’m finishing up a few other short projects. The reader’s guide is going to be fabulous. I want to explore the spiritual values from each of the chapter heads and offer a few questions about the action in the story. Hopefully these will start some discussions here on the blog.

I’m also taking off from promoting DOPEFIEND over the holidays, but I’m trying to get a few things lined up for the spring.

Dopefiend Excerpt: Young Joey on His Bike in the Zoo


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I followed Joey up Swatara Street. He was still just a noodle of a boy, all sun-browned arms and skinned knees. We were trekking up the high school hill to pass a baseball—me carrying his stepdad’s glove, him loping three paces ahead. I hadn’t lived on this block in years and didn’t recognize many of the neighbors who sat out on their front porches. Joey knew everyone. He waved at some people across the street, then shouted to someone else sitting on a porch.

Sometimes he would stop, address someone on their porch. “My dad’s home,” he’d say. “He lives in New York.”

I’d nod, smile.

I felt vaguely uncomfortable meeting so many people, wondering how much they knew of my story, or if they knew anything at all. On these weekend visits, I tried to let Joey take charge. I followed him. We did whatever he wanted to do, as long as it didn’t cost too much.

We were halfway up the hill and it dawned on me how difficult it would be for me to reach out—wave, or just say hello—to that many people. “You’re popular, son,” I said. “People really like you.”

Joey stopped. I wasn’t expecting him to do that, and I strode past him and then looked over my shoulder to see what had caused him to pull up short. He was standing there with his mouth open.

“Me?” he asked.

“You didn’t know that?” I laughed. “You’re very outgoing. You know everyone, everyone knows you.”

His eyes welled up with emotion, and then he blushed—bright red strawberries across both his cheeks. I was surprised—as much by his reaction as by my ability to elicit it with such small praise.

He put his head down and started walking with me.

“I wasn’t like that when I was little,” I said. “I’m not even like that now, but I wish I were.” I didn’t want to overplay it or embarrass him, but I knew I’d said the right thing.

He needed my perspective. And I wanted to give it to him.

ReWrite: An Evening of Prose From Writers in Recovery


If you’re in San Francisco, come see me at Re Write: An Evening of Prose from Writers in Recovery. It’s a fabulous line up of recovering dopefiends, ne’er-do-wells and misfits, who all love to write. Get your tickets here. Click the flyer to open a PDF version of the flyer or go here for more details and a map.

I hope you can make it! I know just what I’m going to read.

The Only DOPEFIEND at Park Place Books


This is from Northwest bookfest in Kirkland yesterday. After the event, Holly and I walked over to Park Place Books, the bookseller for the event. There were no more copies of DOPEFIEND available in the store, but there had been a nice stack at the start of the day.

I met a lady in the book store who had been in the audience for the memoir panel and we chatted for about ten minutes. I felt incredibly authorly. She kept prefacing all her questions by saying, “If this is too personal…” But all her questions were fine. If you’re going to write memoir, you can’t shrink from questions about your life. We talked about the stigma associated with a drug history and the wisdom of publicly admitting to it. Note in the picture above I am still proudly wearing my author name tag. This is a full hour or two after the event. I was joking with Holly that I was going to stride purposefully through crowds on grounds, waving my hand in the air, repeating with urgency, “Excuse me! Excuse me! I am an author and I have an author event.” Holly laughed. Then she said, “You’re not really going to do that, are you?”

The lady in the Park Place Books was disappointed she couldn’t get a copy of DOPEFIEND (not as disappointed as me), but I encouraged her to go back to the event where I had signed the last of the DOPEFIENDS.

The Zoo; Steelton, Pennsylvania


the Zoo, Swatara Street, Steelton

The Zoo is the block in Steelton where my oldest son Tim grew up. He lived across the street from my mother. Mom’s house appears in the top center of this picture. She had the third house down from the empty lot.

The street in front of my mom’s house is Swatara Street. You might not be able to tell from this photo, but Swatara Street is actually two streets. Further up the block, the street forks and runs for two blocks along the side of a hill. At the end of the block pictured above, there is a difference in elevation between upper and lower Swatara Street of about twenty to twenty-five feet; this upper part is the Zoo.

Here is another, better angle of the same street that shows the fork. In the shot below, my mom’s house appears in the lower right.

Swatara Street fork

Tim lived with his mother and stepdad in the Zoo. My mother’s street address and my son’s street address were sequential. One time Tim’s stepdad told me he was going to get three sheets of plywood and cut out the letters Z-O-O and attach them to the roof of his front porch. I laughed. He was just kidding around.

Tim used to complain that the postman would see his last name on any mail that I sent him and drop it off at my mother’s house by mistake. One time when Tim was in elementary school, I sent him a package and jotted a little note on the outside: “Dear Mr. Postman, please deliver this package across the street to my son in the Zoo. Thank you!” When I called to see if Tim liked what I sent, he was upset. He told that I was never, ever, under any circumstances, to write a note to the postman on the outside of any of his packages again.

Ah, well. You never know.

If you want to have a relationship with a boy from a distance of some 200 miles away, you have to be willing to make a few mistakes. Things are going to get messy.

But you can never tell how things will turn out if you don’t get in there and give it a try.