Inwood Stories

Grand Union

When I was 16 I worked as a cashier at Grand Union, a grocery store in NYC. Most of us who worked at that age worked in grocery stores, some as bag boys, some as delivery boys, and some as stockboys. I worked as a stockboy for awhile, but being a cashier was much better suited for a person using heroin. We were all bonded and all our "mistakes" on the register were covered by insurance. We would make money by "forgetting" to ring certain items up, or by bringing in coupons and cashing them in. There were other ways to scam, too. I would usually work it out so I made an extra $10 a night. This was plenty for a 16-year-old kid who was still experimenting with junk and not really addicted.

For the longest time I would only do dope on the weekends, especially while I was in a Catholic high school. Up until my 11th grade I did want to do well in school, but by the time I got toward the end of 11th grade I didn't give a shit.

So during my weekend warrior junkie regime I had one friend, this guy D.J., who would always try to tempt me with dope. Even before I started getting high he was always trying to get me to use, I think in a case of misery loves company. D.J. had a nickname for me no one else used, and I in turn called him Gagak. His family was one of those big Irish families. There was a history of diabetes in his family, so he always had works. He used to steal his brother's glass syringes with the stainless steel spikes.

D.J.'s dad was a longshoreman, one of those who were big on the docks, and probably made more money scamming than on the books. When these guys retired from the docks they would move their families from the older tenements of Hell's Kitchen up to the post-World War I buildings of Inwood.

D.J. and I shared another hobby besides heroin, and that was raising pigeons. Pigeons were a really big thing when I grew up and were lots of fun. We didn't raise homing pigeons, which were expensive and too much work. We raised what they called fancies, that we bought for a dollar or two in the stores over in the Arthur Ave. section of the Bronx. This was an Italian neighborhood and we always had to be on our toes there. The Italians and Irish didn't get along in those days.

D.J. and I had a coop together down by the Speedway, right off the East River in the back of a parking lot. In this coop with D.J. and I was the Postman. Of course, this was years before he became a postman and became as crazy as he was in later years, but he was still a scary guy. We got all our materials for the coop by raiding construction sites. On one trip, D.J. and the Postman and I had a shopping cart loaded with bags of cement, long planks and assorted other goodies. The cement weighed down the cart and made it veer to the right all the way down Broadway on the long trip down to the coop. After getting the cart down to the spot where the coop was, we mixed it and poured it and made a concrete floor for our coop. We would also steal locks, big potato locks to use on the coop, because the biggest problem with having a coop was the robberies. There were kids, mainly Puerto Rican but not always, that would walk around looking up in the sky for the big flocks of pigeons flying around a rooftop. This was the way to find a coop. D.J. had these keys, master keys for potato locks, so we'd walk around the hood looking for locks that our key would work in.

One day, D.J. calls me up and tells me he wants to get me high. At first I wasn't interested, it being a weekday, and the fact I had to go to work in 2 hours didn't help. But he talked me into it. He told me to meet him at the coop. The coop was about 5 1/2 to 6 feet high and was big enough to walk into, so it was called a walk-in coop; clever, huh? I met him down there and he had these 6-dollar pound bags from the Heights. A pound bag was normally a $5 bag, but when you were a white boy you usually paid a dollar more. The bags he had were huge. Pound bags normally came double-bagged because they held so much dope they tended to leak. So the bag would be a glassine bag folded over once and filled to the fold with dope. Then this bag was slipped into another glassine bag that was folded and then taped shut.

So I get to the coop and D.J. has already gotten high, and man is he high. At this point I'm still skin popping. Still haven't made the move to mainlining. D.J. suggests I be careful and not main it, not a problem as I don't main. D.J. hands me half of one of these $6 pounds; it's huge, a very full bag. At this time, the dope in Inwood wasn't bad, especially from this area of the Heights it came from. This dope came from Fungito Village; most of the dealers there copped in Spanish Harlem. Spanish Harlem was also where there was a community of Italians, Italians who had good drug connections. So this would filter down to the Puerto Ricans in that hood. When I first started getting high you could get capsules filled with heroin, good heroin for 75 cents. But they seldom made it up to Inwood in that form. Puerto Rican junkies from Inwood would get them, put them in glassine bags and sell them for 2 or 3 bucks, or maybe 2 for 5 bucks.

D.J. hands me the bag, and sits down to nod out. I cook up the contents of the bag. I still have a fairly low resistance but I'm thinking, "It's only a half a bag". So I cook it, draw it up and skin pop it into my upper arm. Usually it takes 15 minutes or so to hit you.

So I clean the works, give them back to D.J. and we walk back to where we live. Now D.J. is high as shit, and when D.J. got high like that he puked, and puked a lot. I can still picture him, standing in between 2 parked cars, velocity vomiting and yelling, "Don't look at me; don't look at me when I'm puking!" Of course, no one was ever looking at him, but he was always afraid someone would.

D.J. was already a slow walker; he was never an athlete. Actually, D.J. was a fat kid, the kid that all the older guys in the hood would give change to just to see how much he would eat. He'd get a pocket full of change and go into Eli's Candy Store, and load up on ice cream, soda, potato chips, dropping ice cream all over his shirt as he struggled to eat it all before it melted. So D.J. still walked like he had an armful of ice cream and other goodies.

This time he was so stoned and puking every few feet, I had to leave him. I had to go home for dinner and then go to work. So I hurry home, but as I do I start to feel the dope, and it keeps coming on. If I had mainlined it, I'd have surely OD'd. By the time I get home I know I'm screwed. If I went home and didn't eat dinner my parents would know I was high. This wasn't long after I had confessed all my drug use to my parents and my mom attended all kinds of meetings to find out the "warning signs" of drug use. Loss of appetite was a definite sign. So I was forced to eat.

It was pork chop night in the Driscoll household. Pork chops with applesauce on them, mashed potatoes - we ALWAYS had mashed potatoes at home, unless we were eating spaghetti, or Spanish rice or Peppered Steak. So I scarfed down dinner, because I was getting late for work. My mom looked at me a little funny but I don't think she knew I was high. After dinner, I left the house. We lived on the third floor, and by the time I hit the vestibule of the building I was doing a D.J. and puking, velocity puking my dinner up in the hallway. I didn't have the time or the inclination to clean it up. If I'd gone back upstairs for a mop and bucket it would been a sure sign to Mom that I was high. So I just left it and went to work.

At the Grand Union, the workers had a reputation for being hard drinkers. We'd come in drunk, or drink during work, especially if we were on the night crew. The night crew stocked the shelves and did inventories and stuff like that. Once the work was done the drinking began. But I was the only one shooting dope there. A few of the guys smoked a little weed, but the bulk of them were wetheads.

So I'm at the register and VERY VERY high, doing my best not to nod out at the register. I'm feeling ok, thinking I've exhausted the dinner that I scarfed down earlier and was kind of enjoying the high. I only had a few hours left, I was pretty confident I could get done and then go to the park and nod for an hour or two and go home. Well, it didn't work out that way.

All of a sudden, after ringing up a particularly big order, I got hit with an unusually strong wave of nausea. I was trapped in my little space by the register; I looked around quickly just after hitting the total button and wham! Out it came! Right into the cash drawer. Quite a large stream and the remainder of my dinner. My customers were an older woman and her daughter who was just about my age. They couldn't believe it, and I tried to carry on like nothing had happened. I went to hand her the change when I realized the change was dripping in puke. She recoiled and asked me, "Are you all right?" There was not a whole lot I could say at this point, and the manager of the place came running over and told me to go to the bathroom.

I more or less staggered into the back room and cleaned myself up. All my friends were laughing. I went back into the manager's office and he yelled, "That's what you get for drinking on the job!" I tried to tell him I wasn't drunk until I realized it's better to be caught drunk at work than high on heroin. Then I looked around the office and saw the manager had strung a clothesline up all around his office and hanging from the line was dollar bills he had washed off. He asked me if I wanted him to call my parents to come get me and I had to squash that idea. If he called my parents and told them I'd thrown up on the job, they would've realized it was me that threw up in our hallway. So I got out of there, went to the schoolyard of JHS 52 and nodded blissfully for hours.




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