Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dedicated To My Phish Friends In Portsmouth VA Tonight

This little story is dedicated to all my Phish friends who are in Portsmouth, VA tonight. 

Back in the day, I was quite the Phish fan, travelling around the country with the freedom of the road and good weed.  I met many of my life long friends through our mutual love of music…back in those innocent days of The Allman Brothers and the early 90s.  Back in the days of dancing and ecstasy and the innocent experimentation coupled with that freedom of youth.  Back then, my musical tastes were wandering and jamming, with dread locks, patuoli, and long hippie dresses. 

As time wore on, the music became harder…and so did the drugs.  I progressed to house music, dancing up the same sweat on a club on ecstasy.  And the club scene led to cocaine, crystal, ketamine, and creative cacophony.  One minute, I was dancing to DJ Archer at Mythos, and the next minute I was in the dark caverns of the Audubon Hotel. 

And the music became more angry and violent, as I more often abandoned the dance floor to slink upstairs to the rooms of the infamous “hotel” on St. Charles.  The buzz grew harder and more complex, as I woke most mornings aching from the want and need.  Thriving on the fuel of punk music and the screaming rage of the bands of the day, with little food to sustain my often-erratic stomach.  Over time, I passed up the rolled up dollar bill in search of something much quicker and more direct…and in no time the veins in my arms were marked with reds and light purples.  Purple turns to black, and all the music I dance to in the strip club screams of heroin and blood. 

Years and years have passed since even those years in the clubs of Bourbon Street, where my world was turned inside out.  I have been clean more than five years, and the music I listen to now is varied from black and white, depending on mood and state of mind.  There are days that I listen to Shannon Hoon wailing in his pain and desperation, while other days I crave Henry Rollins or Eyehategod.  There are days that Tom Waits bellows to my soul, while other days I relish in the brassy sound of Billie Holiday.  And there are still days that I crave that old hippie jam band I once travelled with.  Those days are not as frequent as they were in my twenties, but when they take hold…sometimes I listen to Phish for days. 

Phish was in town on Friday night, and I took my son to the show.  We both had a great time, and I met up with old friends, reminiscing about times long, long gone.  Some friends I managed to see at the show, and others I never caught sight of.  It is much different when you have a two year old at a show with you…your eyes are constantly focused on the little one, and many former acquaintances could have walked right by.  The band, along with quite a few of my friends, travelled to Raleigh last night, and are now in Portsmouth, VA…for another night of Phish.  I wish I could have attended another show, but the responsibilities of life call me once more…and, it is just not feasible.  Thinking about Portsmouth, though, brought an old story to mind that I have been meaning to tell.  Thanks guys (all my old pals in Portsmouth tonight), for the inspiration to finally get yet another story down on paper…

Those days of dope were tough living in Williamsburg, VA.  This place was not like New Orleans, where the dope was all over the place.  Sometimes, you had to get creative in the Burg…and most of the time that included a little road trip.  I often made the trip to Portsmouth to cop with a certain friend who had connections there. 

Now, the telling of this story would not be proper without an introduction to this character, whom I knew as “Space.”  Space had been in and out of the cycle of addiction for years, much like me and Liam….but not much like most of the people in the Burg.  Space had earned this nickname for a reason…and he was really all over the place. 

His long brown hair, hung oily in his unshaven face most of the time, and his thick camouflage jacket was often his uniform in the winter.  His dark brown eyes darted back and forth, until they would slightly close with the pleasure of heroin.  Space would silently settle down with the pleasure of a fat shot, but the rest of the time he was on full blast.  He was one of the craziest characters I have ever met.

One day, we are speeding towards Portsmouth, in search of dope in Space’s humongous truck.  Space sits in the driver’s seat, focusing on the road as best as he can, as he rambles on about the Breathalyzer in his truck.  I sit in the front seat, anticipating this little ride…in search of the good shit.   Sometimes, the dangers of the ride there are all worth the pleasure in the end. 

Space’s large, dark blue truck looms down the highway, with its camper top covering the bed, allowing tons of covered room for all kinds of shady shit.  The camper top is sprinkled with stickers of the rebel flag, and Space looks particularly unshaven and back woods.  He rambles on speeding towards our death on several instances…and I determine that Space is the worst driver I know. 

We arrive on the shitty side of Portsmouth and immediately begin trolling the streets looking for a dealer with pockets full of dope.  Space knows a lot of the dealers here, and I look at the beauty of this little place, as his eyes scan back and forth with the keen sense of a dope hound. 

The streets are speckled with old houses, full of character and years of neglect.  Neighbors sit on the porches in spotty locations, sipping libations from a paper sack.  The streets get smaller as we get deeper and deeper in to the heart of this place.  Chain link fences, and random corner stores.  The streets are a mixture of black and white pavement, giving the aged impression of grey and broken in bits that are descending to ash before out eyes. 

In front of us, a black man darts out with his head tucked down.  Space perks up, leaning his head forward and squinting his eyes.  Then, his eyebrows adamantly rise in recognition.  And his smile turns upside down, and his pursed face turns redder and redder.

“Yep!”  He yells.  “That mother fucker!  Yep, that is him!” 

I still think he is talking about the dope man, as Space floors it and the truck lurches forward.  Space leans his head out, shouting at the man.

“Yep, its me, mother fucker!”  he yells, as the man starts and takers off.  Space looks at me.

“That fucker owes me forty bucks!  Burned me on a couple a bags!”  he tells me as he presses more weight on the gas pedal. 

Before I know it, we are barreling down a small narrow road in a black neighborhood, in a huge pick up truck with its camper top decorated with the rebel flag.  Space is now yelling out the window that he is “gonna get the son of a bitch. “

I ducked my head down, slightly.  I was not sure if I was more mortified or more terrified, as Space speed down the neighborhood street chasing this man.  The man, also dipped his head, then turned, darting down a tight alley.  Space turned the large truck on a dime, following his target right down the alley.

I see the sides of buildings brushing right past the windows of the truck, and boards of the buildings on both sides of the alley fly by my side window, revealing sagging textures and chipping paint just inches out the open window.    In front of the looming truck, a skinny black man runs for his life.  Between the engine’s violent roars, Space screams about being burned and getting his money.  The man ducks to one side, and we come sailing out of the alley as the skinny black man in debt to my crazy friend has disappeared. 

The engine quiets a little, as Space’s food and mood begin to steady.  He just slows the truck down, focusing on the road.

“That asshole owes me money, and I WILL get it,” he says.  Then, his eyes begin to dart back and forth once more, looking for the dope.  Thankfully, his phone rang moments later.  It was his connection in Portsmouth, telling us to meet him at a nearby gas station because he has the goods. 

The rest of the trip went off without a hitch.  We easily scored, banged up in a diner parking lot, and rode blissfully back to the Burg with a pocket full of the good stuff.  I often rode to Portsmouth with Space, and each and every trip provided me with a great story to tell.  And at the time, I never feared for my life in Portsmouth because the need for dope refused to allow it.  Since I got clean, I have often looked back on those trips to Portsmouth with a mixture of terror and humor.  I can honestly say, I really did not want to visit Portsmouth again.

Until tonight.  I wish I were in Portsmouth tonight.  I would be dancing and enjoying Phish and the entire hippie fumes.  I would be miles away from those days of copping in the Portsmouth ghettos.  And miles and miles closer to here.  Even if those ghettos are lingering right around the corner from the show.   


  1. ....and I sit here, reading your story....only miles from Portsmouth. I'm sure that these wouldn't have to go as far from Portsmouth, and could stop off here in Va. Beach. At least, as far as I know. My son didn't seem to have any problem finding drugs here, even though it wasn't heroin. I'm sure there's plenty of that here too, sadly.
    Thanks for your writing....I enjoyed reading it. And I'm glad that you're not still riding with Space.

  2. I meant to wouldn't need to go as far *as Portsmouth...

  3. Your story telling always gets me right there with you in your adventure. Five years. I am so glad you have five years.

  4. Your stories of the street heroin addict life fascinate me.


  5. there's nothing more terrifying than riding fast in an automobile with a terrible, terrible driver. this is something that has occurred to me not a few times - though not in pursuit of something, usually more for kicks.

    that first bit, you talk about the music getting harder, you ever heard of Venetian Snares? dancing on an e to those un's can be jarring, jarring ain't even the word!


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