He who controls the methadone controls the universe!Methadone is one of a series of prescription opiates used to treat heroin addiction. Heroin - in case you have been living in a hobbit shire or something - is one of the most addictive illicit drugs known to man. People on heroin are a unique breed of addict, possibly only rivaled by the hardcore cocaine or meth addict. They will literally do anything they can to get more heroin thanks to a nasty side effect of heroin addiction called "withdrawal". You've probably seen it in the movies; a guy kicking the habit pukes his guts up for days, hallucinates, sweats like crazy, and generally thrashes around craving more junk. That's where methadone comes in. The government actually gives the junkies a more controlled version of heroin to wean them off of the substance. It may take months or years and it often doesn't work it all.
People who are on a methadone step-down program go to a methadone clinic usually three times a week to get their drugs. 95% of these people are only about half a step away from being sprawled in an alley with a heroin needle crammed into a blown out vein. They are neither the brightest nor the most stable bulbs, and a lot of them are really fucking terrifying people.
About six blocks from my apartment there's a methadone clinic. It's far enough away that I don't feel threatened by the creepy crawling drug monsters doing a home invasion to bridge the gap between methadone and their craving. Still, I was intrigued by the shady characters I saw and I thought maybe it would be a good idea to go to the methadone clinic and do an article on how crazy these people are. Well, I went on Saturday, and it was a pretty trying experience. It was tragic on many levels and horrifyingly hilarious on many more.
The clinic seems innocuous, with a tiny parking lot just adequate for three cars located next to an extremely busy six lane street here in Chicago. It has a name that is just the name of some generous soul who donated the building or the money to fund the building. I won't give you the name, but it starts with a "C". The structure itself is barely big enough to contain a small waiting room and a receiving area where the patients get their drugs through an armored revolving slot and then drink their cup of fun juice while the person behind the glass watches. The only other door off the lobby is a metal security door that someone has posted a hand-written "NO ENTER" sign on in English and Spanish. There are five filthy hard plastic chairs and a pile of decrepit magazines that look like they have not been swapped out since 1995. There are always more junkies in the lobby then there are chairs, sometimes by almost double. Usually there are five or six waiting outside smoking manically, pacing, or crouching against the wall mumbling.
My trip to the methadone clinic involved a brief conversation with the nurse and a trip through the "NO ENTER" sign where I met with Jake. Jake isn't really his name, but he's the enormously fat and extremely nice daytime security guard at the clinic. I told him I was writing an article about questions for methadone users for an independent college newspaper. Hey, college kids read SA, right? It could theoretically be considered a newspaper, right? Jake was pretty adamant about me not doing the article, citing all kinds of obviously fictitious laws about why I could not bother the junk-heads.
This junkie in Thailand takes her methadone in an environment about 500 times nicer than where Jake works.I changed the subject and told him I could conceivably write the article about him. He seemed to like this idea and told me a long and excessively convoluted story about a ten year old addict who came in trying to pick up his mother's methadone allotment. Jake explained that even though the kid brought his mother's photo ID ("the kind you get at one of those camera stores") they couldn't give it to anyone but the woman. So like an hour later the kid comes in with his mother, only she's in a beat up wheelchair and she's not talking. It turns out the kid wheeled his (or someone's) dead mother into the methadone clinic trying to get her drugs. Jake grabbed him when he tried to run and said the kid bit him and screamed "AIDS!". Luckily he didn't bite through Jake's shirt and the cops hauled the kid off.
We talked a little bit more and I managed to convince Jake that I would conduct my interviews at least ten feet away from the door, and that he'd hold onto my digital camera until I was done. He agreed to this idea on the condition that he got to read a copy of the article before it was published and that I would shop around a book about his life's story. I think he was kidding about the book thing. At least I didn't take it seriously.
So I went outside into one of the nicest days Chicago has had all year and spent the next two hours accosting junkies trying to queue up and get their fix. Jake interrupted me once claiming I was blocking the door, but other than that he left me alone to harass the addicts. I had not brought a tape recorder because I had intended this as a photo-heavy piece, which means that the answers to my inane questions are often expanded from an almost illegible shorthand scratch I did on a notebook. However, in some of the best cases the responses were so brief or striking that I have transcribed them exactly word-for-word.
I should note that I was extremely polite to the junkies and never tried to force my questions on them. To keep the extraneous text brief I have limited each junkie's description to the two words that immediately sprung into my head when I approached them.
Junkie #1 "Crazy Carl Lewis"
Description: Red-eyed and weaving
My Question: Who do you plan to vote for in the upcoming election?
His Answer: "My fucking dick in your ass. For president. In your asshole."
Junkie #2 "Jerry Springer Guest"
Description: Fat and children
My Question: Do you believe there should be a minimum wage?
Her Answer: "Hell yes I believe it. I believe it. I think minimum wage needs to be there for the kids. The minimum wage is (turns to daughter) what did I tell you about eating no chocolate before we go and see the doctor? What did I fucking tell you?"
Junkie #3 "Methuselah"
Description: Old and toothy
My Question: What is your favorite kind of songbird?
His Answer: "I like the lark. Like they say 'what a lark'. I always thought that was a (leaves suddenly seeing chair freed up inside)."
Junkie #4 "Original Gangster"
Description: Jive talk and spinnaz
My Question: Could communism work or is it a fundamentally flawed theory?
His Answer: "What college you go to? What college? (I say "DePaul"). Oh, DePaul, I played football for DePaul but then my scholarships ran up and whatnot. I can, can I, can I get ten dollars? I just need to get some gas in my car! It's right down the street there. Please, God Bless you if you help me. I just got out of jail and I need gas to get my car going and then go get back in school and whatnot."
Epilogue: I gave him the 38 cents I had in my pocket. He accosted me, slightly more relaxed, on his way out and repeated the same routine, only I said I was from "Delta City University" and he unwittingly said he played basketball for New Detroit. It should also be mentioned that on his way in I clearly saw him walk almost three blocks.
Junkie #5 "The Spitter"
Description: Mexican cowboy and scent of crypts
My Question: What is your favorite Disney movie?
His Answer: "The Emperor's Groove (he spits). Or Lion King (he spits as he is walking away too)."
Junkie #6 "Roid Rage"Most of the junkies I saw weren't as emaciated as this woman, but they all invariably looked as washed out. Junkie #7 "Wesley Willis"
Description: Giant and white
My Question: Even though Roid Rage agreed to answer a question for the article when I started to ask him "Fat or thin Elvis?" he started screaming before I even said the word "fat".
His Answer: "Look you fat fucking pussy shit, I told you I will, no fuck it, fuck you! FUCK YOU! I am done with your kind of - UNNNNNNN (he actually made the comic book sound for agony and rammed both fists against his temples)."
Description: Giant and black
My Question: Do you prefer to believe in creationism or evolution?
His Answer: "It is both. It is God created it all and then shit just grow. You have got God creates a seed and then a seed evolve into a tree. Like that. So I guess…if I had to pick I would say I believe God creationism and evolution."
Junkie #8 "Mommy Beanpole"
Description: Auschwitz and Planned Parenthood
My Question: Picard or Kirk?
Her Answer: "I ain't here to get no methadone. You put that in your article. You tell 'em I wasn't here to get no methadone with my baby."
By my estimation I asked about 70 people to answer a question. Roughly half of them agreed, and of those only the eight you see above were really worth quoting. However, the other half that rejected me included a lot more cut-ups that offered me some of their hilarious junkie wit. I jotted down the ones I thought were funny or ironic.
Rejection Notices From the Edge
"You get outta my face before I put your brain on your neck."
"I don't talk to no Jews." - I actually go this one twice!
"Fuck you all and fuck your mother right in her big old balloon animal ass."
"No, but thanks." - Most noticeable because it was said by an enormous transvestite with hideous makeup on and white power tattoos covering his arms.
"Go home and get yourself a real job." - Sound advice, but really, from someone headed into a methadone clinic?
"Don't stare at me! Don't even fuckin' look at me man! You ain't never seen a midget before?" - Said by a completely average if unwashed looking white guy in a dusty business suit.
"I'll talk to you after I got my shit." - A lot of people said something like this to me, but the guy who said exactly that was one of two people who had some kind of attack and left in an ambulance.
The whole experience was mostly just sad. I'm not one of those guys who hates all drug addicts and thinks they're total scum. It's more like they made one or two really bad decisions and then got infected with some kind of disease that turned them into a monster. The junkies with kids were especially dismaying, and there were a lot of them, but in my mind they were sort of offset by the handful of people who were just complete assholes. After I could take no more I went inside the clinic and got my camera back from Jake. I asked to take a picture with him but he declined.
If you enjoyed this article let me know. It was a lot of work but if people found it funny or interesting I'd be willing to do it again and try to convince my girlfriend to waste a Saturday afternoon by taking pictures from across the street of all of the junkies.
I was able to pull some strings and secure an advance copy of this year’s PAX panel schedule. Enjoy!
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