Up all night again. It was getting to be a ritual. Pedal all week like fools, pumping ourselves up and down the streets of San Francisco, then, when Friday night came, did we rest? Fuck no. We slammed crystal meth straight into our veins. This was 1985. That was real crystal meth—the real deal. Clenched and clamped, John Adonis and I would sit in my room at 137 Pierce and strum guitars till our fingers bled.
That Saturday morning was no different. We sat sweating in the cold winter morning, both of us with burning cigarettes hanging out of our mouths, beams of sunlight streaming though the drafty Victorian windows—playing awful, sounding awful. My roommate had an all-night poker game still going down the hall. They sat in the kitchen guzzling beer and bellowing at each other, nobody really sure if a straight beat a flush or a flush beat a straight. Their overblown curses punctuated only by the slamming of the fridge door. Assholes we couldn’t stand making so much noise we barely even heard the bell.
I went to check. We had one of those old style Victorians with a cast iron lever at the top of the stairs to operate the front door. I pulled and swung it open to see the prettiest girl I knew in San Francisco standing on my front stoop. She was also the most fucked up girl I knew in San Francisco. She was the girlfriend of a heroin dealer that lived in a meat locker behind a liquor store on Haight Street. The meat locker had carpet and furniture and pictures on the walls, but it was still a meat locker.
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” was all she could gush before the tears started. She ran up the stairs and into my arms. It was the closest I’d ever been to the prettiest girl. She smelled awful.
“That motherfucker,” she cried. “That fucking asshole.”
I swept her back into my room before the poker playing meatheads could hear her female voice. John was as surprised to see her as I was.
She saw John and went straight from my arms to his.
“That asshole. That dick. He took everything. Everything … all the money … all the pills … everything.” She was sobbing and hyperventilating. She told us a tale that painted her boyfriend, TK, as a cold and calculating asshole. It seemed unreal. Maybe it was.
“So what are you gonna do?” I asked.
“Fuck him. I grabbed his jacket, got as many of the pills as I could and took ‘em.”
They had been collecting pills for months, waiting for the day they both summoned enough courage to leave town and kick together. There were chloral hydrates, valiums, blood pressure medications, you name it.
“All right,” said John, “let’s see what you got.”
“No,” she said. “I took ‘em.”
And right as she’s telling us, she begins to wilt. Her words slow down. She moves as though she is underwater. She is melting right in front of us.
“How long ago?” I can hear the fear in my own voice.
“Just now,” she said like it was nothing, no big deal, and fell backward onto the mattress.
“Shit,” said John. “She’s gonna O.D. right now, right here.”
Shelly’s face had started to lose color. I reached out to prop her up a bit and she felt heavy. That was dead weight.
“Fuck him,” she mumbled and flopped to the floor.
“Oh shit, what are we gonna do?” I pleaded as I shoved her back upright. She absently grabbed at her arm and began to pump it, readying for a shot. I watched her little fingers squeeze around her biceps as her eyes rolled back into her head. TK spent all day, every day, getting her to pump up those arms, pump up those veins. Now she was doing it in her sleep. Her pretty face was a little more white. She stopped pumping. Her pretty face was a little more blue.
“Should we call an ambulance?” asked John.
“Fuck no!” I said, but I had no other ideas. “What should we do?”
“How?” I asked.
“How with speed? She’s too fucked up to snort it. TK can’t even hit her when she’s awake. I don’t even have a rig.”
“OK, well, she might die then,” said John in his matter-of-fact way.
“What do mean?” My voice was beginning to squeak.
“I mean she might die. I mean, look at her.”
I didn’t want to. The prettiest girl I knew was dying on my bedroom floor. I didn’t even think she knew where I lived.
“She’s already pumping her veins up. It’s worth a shot,” said John.
“How am I going to get it into her? I told you, I don’t have a rig. That last one’s in the trash.”
Shelly slumped over onto the floor.
“Well, you better dig it out then,” was all he said. I grabbed an empty sixteen-ounce beer can and gave it a shake. Nope. I tried another. Nope. Tried a third. Bingo. It took a moment to shake the rig out of there. There was no lid on the point and the needle kept getting caught on the lip of the can. Finally, I shook it loose.
John was busy mixing water with the last of our speed. He dropped in the tiny bit of cigarette filter we used to strain the stuff through and turned to me for the outfit. I was holding it up in the sunlight. It was hopeless. The needle on the rig was bent all the way over. I thought if I straightened it, the point would surely break off. I applied a little pressure and it worked. It was in no way straight, not even close. John looked up at the rig, bent and gnarled as a fishhook, and handed me the spoon.
I tried to suck the speed up through the filter but my hands were shaking and the rig was bent. The needle kept scraping against the bottom of the spoon. So now I had an incredibly dull rig with a bent and barbed point and a nearly dead girl, with no veins and no blood pressure, to hit up.
“You want me to try to hit her?”
“Okay. I’ll try if you can’t get it.”
I got down there and gave it a blind jab. She wasn’t feeling anything or she was too paralyzed to say, “Ouch.” I began digging and poking and digging and poking in her dead flesh. I pulled it out and gave it another try. Again I poked and prodded, hoping the bent needle wouldn’t snap off and be lost forever in the thin layer of meat under her skin. Then, bam, it registered. Thank you, God. I held one hand steady with the other and pushed the plunger in.
It was as though someone had taken their finger off a record album. Her eyes fluttered. The light squeaks that were her murmurs now gained a little volume, a little strength. That was it. We saved her life. John and I sat with our jaws slack, staring at our miracle.
Shelly was oblivious to what had gone on. She was still mumbling something about TK. She wrapped her right hand around her left bicep and began pumping her arm again.
“I’m pumping, TK. I’m pumping,” she said with her eyes closed.
“Shelly,” he repeated. She opened her eyes and looked around, wondering how she had got there.
“What the fuck?” she said. She looked irritated. Then she stood up and said, “That asshole.”
She stood there wavering a minute, her unfocused brain trying to take it all in. She took a few steps, reached out to grab a door, and opened my closet.
“How the fuck do I get out of here?” her voice on the verge of tears once more. Before waiting for an answer, she yanked at the other door and found her way out. John and I listened to her stumble down the stairs like an old drunk. We went to the window to watch her teeter across the street in the direction of the meat locker. She turned the corner and was gone. That was the first time I hit somebody else up. It was also the first time I saved a life. Somehow, I didn’t feel like a hero.
Tom Pitts got his rock n roll education with Short Dogs Grow in the late eighties. After two albums with Rough Trade records, he succumbed to the lifestyle. That's where he got his real education--firsthand on the streets of San Francisco. His work has appeared in Junk, Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Punk Globe, Darkest Before the Dawn and others. He’s also been a popular contributor Lip Service West. Contact him at: