Level Ground (Part One)

Thursday: I’m on the corner of 18th and Walnut. I’m at the Coffee House, which is usually my first stop in the morning. I order and watch the waitress go to get my coffee and I wonder what color her panties are and if she has a sex life and if she is wet, and then I remember that my sex drive is non-existent and I haven’t gotten an erection in months and that I’m constipated; my hands are clammy, and my dealer is late. This is a first for him. I come to the same coffee shop every day, at the same time, and wait. He shows up within the time it takes to pour my sugar and cream into my second cup of coffee. I’m on my fourth cup. I’m not sure if I’m on edge or if I have overloaded myself on caffeine. I pull my loose change out of my pocket and scatter it on the table. I have no intention in leaving a tip; in fact I put the exact amount of the bill down on the table and take a penny back. I could care less about the waitress and her panties and her sex life and her wet pussy.

I walk outside and walk across the street to Rittenhouse Park to wait for my phone call. It’s seven in the morning and the streets are packed with business men and students, while I’m waiting to get my fix. Everybody is working. The concrete path is covered in fresh cut grass and the smell is intoxicating. I always enjoyed that smell, it reminds me of my youth, when times were simpler, and when everything was still waiting to be discovered and when I had every opportunity to better myself.

The weather started to change, and the leaves just started falling. It’s a few weeks past Halloween and everything is starting to change dramatically. My father walks in from work while I’m at the kitchen table scribbling away in my notebook. I’m doing my homework as he goes to the fridge to grab a beer. He sits across from me and we look at each other and smile. That was the last time we saw each other, the last time we shared a smile, the last time my life was in order. The next day he died. That was the day I died. The day I gave up.

Mornings in Philadelphia only change when the seasons change. The joggers are out, mothers walking their children, and the occasional homeless person is stretching after a night of uncomfortable sleep. The warmth of the sunlight touches my face and it feels good, but it doesn’t help the knot in my stomach. My dealer still hasn’t called and I’m becoming irritable and all of the coffee is giving me cramps. I have to take a shit, but I’ll wait before I think about leaving. I lay my head back on a bench and wait. I hear the rattle of strollers passing me by. I keep my eyes closed; clenched, so I do not have to see disapproving looks of the mothers that pass by. “It’s an epidemic. They are everywhere, and so young. Such a shame, Margaret.” I hear a mother say. I want to scream. My phone rings.

This mattress is full of sounds; I toss and turn unable to sleep because every move I make can be heard, and I find that to be the most disturbing quality of the mattress. It is speaking for me, telling my secrets of a man who can’t sleep, who is trying to find the most comfortable position, and I try not to move, but it’s as if the mattress is intentionally trying to blow my cover. Fuck this mattress, and the springs that dig into my back. If I choose to stay awake I should be able to do so in peace and not have my business heard, or better yet have it thrown in my face. Every sound is just a reminder that I am a failure. I can’t even find a reliable REM cycle. This Mattress has to go. It will be gone.

The coffee maker is dripping. A little too slow for my taste, but I’m patient enough to wait for a full cup. Pour ten cups of water; five scoops of Folgers; turn the pot on and wait. I need coffee to start my day and I don’t have enough money to waste at that coffee shop and I don’t want to see that waitress and her presumptuous demeanor. I was a day person, a man that had a day job, and now I’m a junkie that wakes up in pain. No matter who you are everything in your life becomes routine. I always have coffee in the morning. Yes, even drug addicts have routines. Mine, however, is a little simpler. Wake up; make coffee; pan handle; score drugs and find a suitable place to lay my head. I had a home at one time, but now I am a perpetual couch hopper.

For the time being I am sleeping at Paul’s house, in the basement, or as he’d call it: his “office.” Waking up on the floor has become habit, and every night, I remember falling asleep, my eyelids getting heavy,  slowly closing, they shut and open in a sudden instant, and then they slowly shut again. This goes on for an hour before I finally pass out from exhaustion.

I wake up on the floor in Paul’s basement. The linoleum floor is cold but feels nice on my face. I lay there motionless for some time watching people’s feet walk by me. Some walk past, while others walk over me. The basement has a musty smell, like an unkempt house inhabited by an elderly couple waiting for death. I’ve gotten used to the smell, but I know it’s there; lurking around the basement like a plague. The floor is tarnished and cracking in spots and the tiles are outdated. My view of it all is askew. My stomach starts to tighten up and I start to feel sick and I don’t have the strength t to get up, but I have to one way or another. Luckily for me Paul is not only helping me out with a place to sleep, he is also my friend and one of my dealers. I wait for the commotion around me to disperse before I stand up and I stretch and crack my back. I check my phone and see a text message from Phil. Where the fuck are you? Call me! I ignore the text and walk up the creaky stairs of the basement to go take a piss in Paul’s powder room. I get in the bathroom, piss, throw up, wash my face, and stare into the mirror and regain my composure before finding Paul and getting dope before I leave. If Paul isn’t around I will call Phil. If Paul is around I’ll return to the bathroom to shoot up before I call Phil.



It’s Friday and the last day I slept was Tuesday after a night of drinking. I was with my co-worker Lou. “You’re just going to have to drink yourself to sleep,” he said. He was well aware of my insomnia, because as he told me it was “written on my face” and “I looked the hell.” Now on Friday I looked my normal self. Sunken in eyes, pale complexion, and sluggish. I was living my normal life of tireless days and restless nights. The alcohol did help, but that was also a growing factor. My body needed more from me; I needed to take care of myself.

My doctor suggested vitamins like how it’s suggested to a vegetarian for a lack of protein. I bought the vitamins, took them once, and eventually shelved them. Besides the alcohol and the occasional melatonin tablet I would only pop a Klonopin to ease my anxiety. So now besides being delusional I was also slightly euphoric, but not in a way to gain a numbness, but rather an existence of drifting from hour to hour; situation to situation.

I wanted to go to the gym before work, but I wasn’t sure if I would have enough time. I had to make a few sales before work, and I had to check on Drew. He’s been sleeping in my basement for a few days and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t sick before I left for work. I grew fond of him, and I only wished he knew that. I liked him the moment I spotted him. We met the night prior to Halloween.

The night I met Drew: I was on the back deck and I spotted you. “Nice Granny Shawl, what are you supposed to be?” I asked. You looked like you weren’t afraid of the consequences. I forget what you said. There was a cloud of darkness over you and you wanted to get punched in the face. You were wasted and bumming everyone out. You talked about how smart you were, but the average person thought you were an asshole. I talked to you for a little while, as more and more people became upset with you. Your friend asked me what you did, and I told him you really didn’t “do” anything; the combinations of your conversations were a little unsettling. People were yelling, as I was telling your friends to take you home. I might understand that you feel too smart for anyone to understand. But don’t the smartest people contain the most potential to attain happiness? I was your only friend besides your friends, Do you hate me now? Did you hate me then? Do you really have no idea any of this happened? Why would you lie and deny it happened?



Waiting for Drew. Tried calling. I know the motherfucker is avoiding me. I’ll give it five more minutes.



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