Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn, novel-in-progress.
The coke parties were my favorite. It was when everyone was happiest. Everyone usually meant my mother, father, and their friends, Tony and Dina.
My mother would tell me—Tony and Dina are coming over tonight—and I knew that meant a coke party and I got excited.
The coke turned them into children again. Or a peculiar breed of children with waxy glowing faces and eyes full of fire. Good fire. Not dragon-fire or hell-fire. The fire of all-night magic.
Tony, who worked sanitation with my father, was a barrel-chested Italian man with tattoos and two thick dark rugs for eyebrows. Like two baby Muppets had sprouted above his eyes. Tony loved to laugh. It was a high-pitched, wheezing laugh, a dolphin squeal that didn’t match his muscles and tattoos.
His wife, Dina, was the smart one in the bunch. That’s how I thought of her because she was a college graduate. She was the only college graduate I knew. No one in my family had graduated college. My father had dropped out in sixth grade, my mother in eighth grade. Because Debby was the smart one I always found it odd that she did coke with the others. I suppose I thought college graduates didn’t do coke, that they were too smart or too good for it. Maybe I thought higher education meant higher living, I don’t know.
Yet I was glad Dina did coke with them, because then everyone was unified in their happiness. Later when my mother quit doing coke and my father continued doing it, the unity dissolved and was replaced by violent discord.
The kitchen was where the action took place. As soon as Tony and Dina entered our apartment, my father would press—Tony did you get the stuff. Tony, smiling big, would put my father’s mind at ease—Yea Louie I got the stuff. And both of them would enliven with anticipation.
Seated at the kitchen table, Tony or my father would razor-cut lines on a small mirror engraved with a Heinken logo.
(I found that mirror about fifteen minutes ago in one of my father’s kitchen drawers. The past is never dead, Faulkner said, it’s not even past. I thought of that. And wondered when was the last time lines had been snorted off the mirror.)
I loved the exactitude of the ritual. The methodical dicing of the lines. The cut plastic straw or rolled-up bill passed around. The vacuum-sucking snorts, and the finicky staccato inhalations draining the residue lining the inside of the nostrils.
My father never let me stay in the kitchen when they snorted. He’d tell me to go in the living room and watch TV. Fortunately, the kitchen was adjacent to the living room, and leaning against the base of the recliner, “watching TV,” I’d angle myself just so and watch them through the doorway. Yet listening to them brought even greater pleasure than watching them.
The din of their voices, growing bright and electric, the ripples of laughter, with Tony’s pitch reaching kettle-steam frequencies.
On those nights they talked and talked and talked, bright ribbons of noise in which they wrapped themselves. I savored and cherished their communion. It was like being coked-up through osmosis.
Their joy was my joy, their cheer my cheer, their energy my energy.
It was togetherness, albeit a second-rate version, for it only lasted as long as the effects of the drug did. The aftermath of the coke parties, the post-script, was never any good.
When we were all high, it was great. The comedowns, on the other hand, left jus jangled.
In those periods, the magic of childhood dimmed and we darkened and grew old before our time.
Between childhood and death lay an inclement center which refused to keep still.