Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Health Food and Heroin - Acquiring Culinary Skills Part One

WARNING TO PEOPLE IN RECOVERY: This post is about acquiring skills I use as a sober coach - in this case diet/nutrition/holistic practices. I always include recovery topics with my real life story blogs but because part one heavily drug using-centric, it may not be suitable for newcomers until part 2 is posted later this week.

Unconventional training. Acquiring skills I use as a sober coach - Culinary Skills : PART ONE of TWO

Alphabet City 1979. Operation Pressure Point was in full force in New York's East Village. For heroin addicts this meant waiting in dark buildings to get frisked for a wire tap and showing satisfactory track marks in order to get served. It also meant endlessly circling the block trying to look inconspicuous while local news camera rolled down the street and police were everywhere. Of course, in a neighborhood consisting of dilapidated vacant buildings, it was obvious why anyone was there.

You couldn't get a cab to take you in and you definitely couldn't find one to take you out of Alphabet City. Although Debbie and I lived at 14th and 3rd, anything could happen on the way back from Avenue D. Taxi Driver had been filmed outside of our building a few years earlier and pimps and underage hookers still prowled 3rd Avenue from the parking lots at 9th Street to the Peep Show at 15th. In our punk rock attire of spandex pants and 5" stiletto heels, who knows what the cabbies thought we were when we flagged them down but we never had trouble getting them to take us deep into the heart of the action day or night. To sweeten the deal, I'd leave Debbie in the car as eye candy. A six foot tall blond beauty, she could have been as successful a model as Jerry Hall or Patti Hansen had she the ambition. Instead, Debbie was satisfied with the simple life: shopping, TV, heroin and a fiance in the Clash. We'd pull onto the dope block and I'd jump out of the car spewing my well-rehearsed "She's going to wait in the car while I run up and borrow some records. be right back." We thought we were so slick - until a driver turned around and handed me forty bucks "Get some records for me too." This is how I met Marty.

One afternoon, I was waiting in the front seat of Marty's taxi while he scored for us on Eldridge Street. Suddenly, all the parked panel vans surrounding me burst open and dozens of armed men wearing Swat Team vests ran around the cab, heading in Marty's direction. The next month, that bust appeared in Life Magazine complete with glossy photos. Soon after, I moved back to Canada, enrolled at the University of Toronto and started driving a cab.

I drove before crack. Had I waited a few more years, I probably wouldn't have done it. With crack came a new level of violence. As it was, in 1980, I was the only woman of any age driving a taxi in Toronto. I truly believed my street smarts from two years in the lower east side drug culture made me invincible. Really, I was just lucky that the shock factor of seeing a cute 20 year old in the driver's seat unnerved everyone - including would-be bad guys. No one could sit down without engaging me in conversation.

People love tipping cab drivers with drugs. Mostly weed. And every joint was prefaced with "Don't smoke this until you get home cuz it will fuck you up." but we're talking Toronto Home-Grown (before hydroponics) so I'd usually light up as soon as they got out. One slow Sunday afternoon, I pulled the car onto a deserted street and smoked a joint someone had just given me. My skin immediately felt like it was covered in a thin coating of rubber cement or cold smooth wax. I became afraid to look in the mirror and started to hyperventilate. The radio dispatcher started calling out car numbers and locations. It was getting busy. I practiced saying my number out loud but my voice sounded distorted and monotone. I didn't even know if I could hold the microphone. I shut off the radio and sat in eerie silence.

At that very moment, the rear door opened and an elderly man stuck his head in.

"Are you available?"

Speaking was out of the question so I nodded and started the engine. It took a few minutes for them to get seated. I began driving. This couple didn't speak and didn't move. I was sure they could smell the weed and were memorizing my name and license to report me. When I finally pulled myself together, I didn't know where I was. Nothing looked familiar. My head started up, "Where am I? Fuck - what street is this? Those people know I'm high and lost! They think I'm running the meter up on them. That's why they're so fucking quiet. They're probably terrified." I glanced in the rear-view mirror. Hand in hand, heads bobbing, they were hard to read. I was in nervous breakdown mode until I saw a street sign at an intersection in the distance.

"Excuse me - what's the address again?" My voice reverberated in a sort of made-for-TV drug scene distortion. I hoped they didn't notice but at this point I didn't care. I just wanted them out of my car. When I finally got to their destination, I almost wept. After that, I saved all my tips until I got home.

After work, I'd unwind with a joint and television. At 4am my choices were limited to religious programming or anti-drug public service announcements. Some times they were ironic and other times all they did was fuel existential despair. Stoned with the munchies and no food at home, I became engrossed in a Better Homes and Gardens cook book offer. "Order now and receive your first book for free and we will send you a new book every month. If you're not completely satisfied, cancel your subscription and keep the book." It was a win-win book deal so I made the call. A few days later when my first cookbook arrived, I'd forgotten I'd ordered it. A month later a large box arrived with the other 49 books and a bill for close to two hundred dollars. I'd meant to cancel the subscription. The box remained unopened for another year.


  1. Fascinating, sad, compelling, insightful! Unless sharing these memories has an adverse affect on your soul, please, please, please, NEVER STOP WRITING! Maybe it's being acquainted with you that makes this blog so much more meaningful. Thank you for sharing. Ray

  2. Funny thing, but not so funny, I had that cookbook and the 49 others.. I never remembered ordering....You captured the early 80's... and the easy partyin in the 70's,...which "we" all felt that, the fear, normalcy in the odd.. but just kept repeating... Sad, and the good news ONLY is we lived to share and help, if we can another.
    Grateful I wasn't shot or stabbed..


  3. Love your writing Patty. You turn it out FEIRCE sister. Had a vision of the Peep show upi mentioned St Anne Hotel on 13, very evocative. I remember at the time thinking I was working a Bianca Jagger but in reality it was probably more Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. Speaking of which you were probably one of two women taxi drivers in North America at the time. I had forgotten those book/record of the month club. Score like 20 albums and then had to leave town. Imagine being in the tombs and getting asked what ya i n for. Grand larceny of culinary skills. genius honey!

  4. Informative and nice blog, I'm enjoy it when i read this blog...