It was late December and I had just started the first year of my Ph.D. program at McGill University. I was moving like a bat out of hell to get into the metro stop just across from Ben’s Deli because it really was - that evening at least - colder than the heart of an Estonian gangster. The previous night the mercury had dropped to -39 C°, and tonight wasn’t feeling much toastier. When I descended down into the bowels of the subway system I was overcome by the characteristic smell of stale garlic and carbon monoxide. I never knew why it smelled like that. It just did.
I passed by the mad woman in front of the magazine stand, the one who would always just sit there and mumble to herself and mime playing the violin. Her hands never really touched the strings – she would just drool on herself as she pretended to play, her left eyeball staring out at the passersby through a hole in her sunglasses where the lens used to be. A troglodyte gargoyle cyclops. I moved right by her and strolled past the Harvey’s. There was an entire underground network of malls and restaurants that provided the residents of Montreal a means of satisfying their needs and desires without having to confront the harsh realities of winter that loomed above. You could get anything and everything down there: snow shovels, condoms, fake Mexican food, golf clubs, Ouzo… I was on such a subterranean quest, heading to see a Chinese doctor for a bottle full of Valium or sleepers because I just could not handle any more of my Rousseau seminar without dope. The stiff who taught the class was a stale old academic who read his notes off ancient, jaundiced index cards. I was already at the point where I had to pound two or three drinks at the university pub just to be able to get through the class.
I figured that hitting up a physician who had storefront in an underground-mall-slash-metro-stop would be a good idea. I mean, what sort of fly-by-night quack would set up shop between a falafel hut and one of those Vietnamese nail boutiques? But as I would come to learn over the years - during the long and painstaking process of honing my craft - location is not always a reliable indicator of a man’s willingness to divorce himself from the pesky constraints of the Hippocratic Oath, even if breaking said oath may lead to a fatter pocketbook for the quack in question. Finding the right kind of fellow (I could rarely hustle female practitioners, but don’t let’s get off track…) was ninety per cent of the task, as I would later learn, and knowing whether that particular doctor was on my wavelength or not was something that I would one day be able to suss out in less than thirty seconds.
That day had not yet come…
I passed by a middle-aged woman in a pink smock who was smoking outside the doctor’s office. She and her cloud of acrid fumes followed me inside.
She walked behind a little counter, sprayed a blast of Binaca into her mouth, and wiped a smudge of lipstick off her teeth.
“Ouais, je peux t’aider?…” she asked
“Je n’ai pas de rendez-vous, mais…”
“Do you hass yar assurance card?” she interrupted. She heard my American accent and had decided that academic French should give way to broken English.
I passed her my state health card. I was married to a Canadian. I had a state health card.
“Do you come here before?” she said.
“Why do you come here?” she continued.
“To see the doctor…”
Of course to see the fucking doctor… That was stupid of me.
“But for why?” she pointed out, exasperated.
“Oh… for medicine. I need a prescription,” I said.
“For which medicine?” she asked.
“Restoril,” I answered.
Seven seconds elapsed.
“That is to sleep?” she continued in her thick Quebec accent. “Are you have insomnie?”
“Not all the time,” I reassured her. “I travel a lot. For my job, you know, and…”
“You pay first,” she interrupted again.
I mean, business is business…
I spent about twenty minutes in a thoroughly empty waiting room before the nurse called me back. She walked me past a big storage room that was filled with plaster of Paris statuettes of the Virgin of Guadalupe and other cheap catholic souvenir trinkets with Chinese characters printed on them. This guy was going to be a pushover, I told myself.
When I walked inside the doctor’s examination room I could tell right away things were a little off. First of all, there was shag carpeting, everywhere. In a doctor’s office. I mean there were alcohol bottles and swabs and cupboards full of syringes and an examination table, but it was all on wall-to-wall shag carpeting. Then there was his desk, which was some sort of red and gold fake 18th century French bureau, and he was sitting behind it in what could only be described, really, as a diminutive throne that, despite its tiny size, made the even smaller little Chinese man upon it seem like a dwarf. He was old, like maybe seventy-five years old, and he had coke-bottle glasses and a mole the size of a dime on his emaciated face. I no longer felt confident.
He didn’t bother to ask my name.
“Mr. Louis, my nurse say you no sleep,” he blurted out. His accent wasn’t quite as thick as hers and he was confident about getting the ball rolling in English.
“Well,” I said nervously. “Sometimes…”
I paused. I wasn’t very well rehearsed, and being prepared is really what it’s all about. I didn’t know what to say next.
“Every night?” he asked.
“No,” I said. I figured if the problem appeared to be chronic he might balk at the notion of dishing out sleeping pills. “I travel a lot. I can’t sleep in hotels…”
I thought that was pretty clever.
“You too young for Restoril. No good for you.”
He got up and walked back into an adjacent room and came back with a Xeroxed yellow sheet of paper. He handed it to me.
“Rules for Golden Sleep” he said, accenting each syllable as if it were some sort of precious sutra.
I looked down at the piece of paper. He wasn’t kidding. I cast my eyes upon a list of useless old clichés as time-honored and worthless as divining rods and four-leaf clovers: drink warm milk, clear your mind, breathe deeply. Frustration started to mount, equal parts panic and anger, and I found myself just improvising.
“Hey, look…” I was bargaining now. “Like I said, I don’t want to take something every night, but these rules… I don’t…”
He held up his hand and interrupted me, then reached into his desk drawer. He took two Restorils from a prescription bottle and passed them to me.
“For emergency only!” he insisted.
Now I don’t know what was stranger – the fact that this skinny weirdo doctor who looked like a closet morphine addict actually had a bottle of Restoril just sitting within arms length, or the fact that he was perched upon a piece of furniture fit for Marie Antoinette.
I stood up and left without saying a word.
I quickly came to the realization that if I wanted to get dope whenever I needed it in this city I would need to brush up on certain skills. This realization was firmly cemented in my brain when I tried to run down a heroin connection over the span of about two weeks. Now mind you, I was no full-tilt addict at this time, but I was into pharmaceuticals, which essentially means painkillers, which essentially means opiates. Heroin would do just fine, I told myself, because it wouldn’t be as easy to get and it would certainly be more expensive here. It most definitely would not become a problem…
I had already taken a couple of trips on the train down to New York and it was awash in angelically pure-white Afghani dope. This was before Giuliani had turned the island into an emporium of Starbuck’s franchises and non-smoking bars, so I figured if this was the reality in Manhattan, then it couldn’t be that big a problem to find a connection in Montreal, which is right on the Saint Lawrence River in a major metropolis of a country where drug paranoia wasn’t a fraction of what it was (or is) in the states. What I failed to account for was that the city’s drug trade was run by bikers, which meant plenty of speed, coke, and marijuana. Unless you knew the right people, you could not easily cop heroin on the street. And copping on the street was my only choice. I could by no means approach fellow doctoral students or professors or my wife’s friends and family and casually blurt out: “By the way, do you know anyone who does heroin?...” That would be tantamount to expressing an interest in Satanism or child pornography. I mean, I had considered stealing some prescription pads from my wife’s uncle, who was a physician, but it was early on in my marriage and I was more or less certain that if discovered, this would earn me a one-way ticket to divorce court. So I headed downtown.
The first night, I went to the corner of Saint-Catherine and Saint-Laurent and hung out in front of a Burger King where the prostitutes always congregated. This was a desperate move, but I figured that if I offered to turn one of them on to a couple of bags of dope it would be like a sort of entrée, a move toward finding a more permanent source.
I turned out to be wrong in my assumption. The closest I got was a taxi ride into the west end with some chick who disappeared into an apartment building and came back with what turned out to be something that looked and tasted like powdered make-up from a woman’s compact.
Worse yet was the needle exchange, my next bright idea. Progressive Canadian city that it is, of course Montreal had a needle exchange. It was appropriately and somewhat wittily baptized “Cactus” and it was easy to find – just a couple of blocks away from the red-light district. Of course, everybody in Montreal did speed and coke, so that’s what they shot: speed and coke. Obviously, that is what they would have access to. Logic, however, does not sprout from seeds of desperation, and I stupidly decided to roll the dice.
The guy I cornered outside the exchange was a nice enough sort, but man was he a wreck: a miserably poor Moroccan immigrant named Faroush who looked like he probably had full-blown AIDS. He said he could score heroin, and I told him I would get him high, so we beat it to the eastern end of Saint-Catherine, where all the gay bars were and where his connection was. He disappeared up the stairs behind a club called “L’Obelisk Rouge”. I was surprised when he came right back out with a smile on his face. I really thought I had hit pay dirt.
We jaywalked and crept into a porno theatre across the street. Then we slipped into a little booth that had a grimy bench in it, and that meant a tight squeeze for two people. I went in first and he closed the curtain behind us. He asked me for a quarter and I gave it to him, and then he popped it into a slot that controlled a little arcade-size video unit which started playing a clip of some big, hairy brute penetrating what looked to be a teenage boy. The floor was sticky with cum. He turned to me:
“I could only get coke,” he said.
My heart sank….
“Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s just do the coke.”
He took out a tiny plastic baggie and filled it with a little water from a bottle he had been carrying. He didn’t even cook the dope, which meant he was shooting meth, and that meant he had probably not even gotten coke for me. Probably meth. Fuck. He just stuck the syringe into the baggie, drew up the solution, and slammed it right in front of me. The next thing I know he was offering me his rig, which still had a bubble of blood at the tip of the needle.
I admired his thriftiness, but politely declined…
I had tried hustling doctors before, but I would often come away empty handed. I had no time for fruitless endeavor, and certainly neither the time nor the inclination to spend the next few weeks bobsledding through downtown Montreal in hope of finding a connection amidst a backwash of speed freaks and hookers. This being the case, I decided to do what I do best: hit the books.
I would need manuals on nursing, a copy of both the Canadian and the American Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR), a Merck Index, and some sort of pharmaceutical manual. At the time, I didn’t know I would need all of these things, but I would come to discover that with these five sources I could basically sell any fairly compassionate doctor on the idea that I had one of a myriad of benign maladies requiring either opiates or hypnotics.
I didn’t want to work out of the library at McGill because I just knew too many people there, so I set up shop in the reference library at the University of Quebec in Montreal, at the downtown campus located right above the Berri metro stop. No one noticed me or my questionable stack of reading material, and I didn’t have to brave the elements to get there. I decided that the first thing to do was to settle on an affliction. I went with migraines. I discovered that the pain is often only on one side of the head. The pain often migrates. Pain is routinely accompanied by sensitivity to light and sometimes nausea. Migraines also typically run in families, so I decided to give them to my mother as well. The other reason I chose migraines is that doctors usually prescribe Fiorinal with codeine for this particular ailment. This is swell stuff, a mixture of a barbiturate called Butalbital and a good thirty milligrams of codeine. I had used it in the states, but I decided to check the Canadian PDR before hitting a doctor’s office, which turned out to be a smart decision. Doctors and pharmacies in Canada refer to grains, not milligrams, when writing prescriptions for this drug. They write for “Fiorinal C½”, and not “Fiorinal w/codeine #3”. I also liked using the PDR because it provided photographs of the drugs. Doctors sometimes ask what the pill looks like to make sure that you’re not in there hustling for someone else, and in this case the capsule was a different color from the one I’d gotten in the states. The PDR also armed me with what would turn out to be my nuclear warhead: Inderal.
The nice thing about being a scholar or a university student is that you have no fixed schedule and a lot of free time. This is what I liked most about academia: the fact that I could get away with a lot of shit that I otherwise couldn’t have had I chosen some sort of straight job. Long story short, getting to a doctor’s office during business hours – anytime and anywhere – was never a problem.
It was a Thursday morning and I took the metro under the river to the Longeuil stop, where there was a walk-in medical clinic just steps away. Given the results of my last fiasco, I decided not to choose a doctor’s office for the simple fact that it seemed shady. Using shadiness as a criterion always turns out to be a bad decision, and one that more often than not just doesn’t pay dividends. The place I picked was by no means dodgy, but joints like this next to metro stops are generally like restaurants that survive by means of a quick turnover rate. Doctors in these clinics want to get people in and out, and they are not going to make a fuss over some chickenshit business like a codeine prescription. It’s just a matter of recognizing the boundaries and doing a little dance with them.
As I alluded to earlier, I did have a little ace in the hole. Before I had come to the clinic, I took twenty milligrams of Inderal, a beta blocker that is given to heart patients as well as to people who suffer from anxiety in certain social situations, such as public speaking. It lowers one’s blood pressure and helps prevent things like sweaty palms. I had some left over from when a cardiologist gave them to me last year. I had been drinking so much coffee that I’d acquired an irregular heartbeat, which had long since disappeared, but luckily I had held on to the Inderal, and it would come in handy over the next decade as I hustled doctors out of thousands of unnecessary pills. I was very fortunate to have stumbled across the reference to this particular medication for one more very important reason: it is also used in the treatment of migraines…
I was sitting in a little plastic chair when they called my name. I followed a nurse down the hall. She dropped me off in a little cubicle with a huge poster filled with pictures and warnings about the telltale signs of oral cancer. The doctor came in almost immediately. He was young, white, kind of uptight looking. He was tall and thin and wore ugly shoes and had glasses with cheap wire frames. He looked like one of those guys that had probably gone in the hole for a couple of hundred grand just to get through medical school.
“Can you take off your shirt, please?”
He didn’t even ask my name. He didn’t even tell me his and he didn’t wear a nametag, either. This guy was all business.
He took my blood pressure.
“110 over 60. That’s really good. You work out a lot?” he asked.
“I play a lot of basketball…”
Boy, that Inderal was really working.
Finally, he got around to the question I knew he would ask:
“Have you ever tried Inderal? It’s non-narcotic.”
“As a matter of fact,” I replied ever so naturally, “I have. Didn’t do a thing. Really, Fiorinal and codeine is the only medication that has ever worked...”
A half-hour later I was filling my prescription.
The smell of grease from the poutine restaurant washed over me in all its pleasant deadness and as I pounded the pavement my body felt heavier than the concrete I was treading over. I no longer gave a fuck about the weather. That’s the nice thing about large loads of opiates peppered with just a smidgen of hypnotics: it’s a body thing, not a head thing. It doesn’t make you into a nitwit, like pot does. You don’t become a neurotic, jabbering fiend, which is the problem with coke. It just makes you feel good. Heavy as cement. With me at least, as goes the body, so goes the mind. This is both the beauty and the danger of messing about with the poppy: the body/mind connection is being taken to a place where all lines of demarcation become blurred. Eventually, there is no body and mind, but rather one throbbing mass of undifferentiated plasma that grooves and heaves and responds to the song of only one very specific muse. I’m getting off track…
I passed by the shitty little poutine shop and ducked into the dive bar next door. The guy up onstage was playing a fairly decent cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Motel Time”. I felt right at home. I had made my way over to the bar and was halfway through my second Cuervo on the rocks when some skinny freak with a mullet and a pencil-thin moustache started up a conversation. He looked like John Waters with a bad haircut.
“You like this shit?”
He was talking about the music.
“It’s what it is,” I said. “Doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not.”
“That’s right!” he answered. “I hate all this cutsey, ironic, pop-culture crap. Hip hop songs that sample Jackson 5 records. Quentin Tarantino movies. You know I had a girlfriend in the eighties who used to go to Dyansty parties, for fuck’s sake. She’d dress up in Armani and do coke and watch Joan Collins strut around on a big screen… Enormous dance floor with a big huge disco ball... It was nauseating. She dragged me to one of those things.”
People get philosophical when they’re comfortably plowed.
“I know what you mean,” I said. “Like people who watch Johnny Guitar, but not because they like it. They think it’s camp. They make clever comments about how Joan Crawford looks like a bulldyke.”
“Exactly!” he cheered. We smashed our glasses together in an impromptu toast. “Do you like Johnny Guitar?”
“I love Johnny Guitar. I cry when I watch Johnny Guitar.”
He was now feeling relaxed enough to ask my name.
“Louis,” I said.
“Cool. Fuckin’ Joe Louis…”
He stopped talking. He pulled out his wallet and started to bring forth a forest’s worth of folded up little papers. They were prescriptions. He’d seen me dig into my pocket and open up a bottle for my last dose so he figured we were kindred spirits.
“Check this out,” he said.
He produced and endless series of script for codeine, and more importantly, Doriden. It was like the i-ching. It was serendipity. He was showing me a stack of forged prescriptions for loads: a diabolical combination of codeine and Doriden that was better than anything on earth except pure, uncut heroin. When taken together, the two drugs created a sort of synthetic morphine high that lasted a good eight hours. I always thought that the crazed alchemist who discovered the concoction should have gotten a Nobel Prize or something. It was my entrée into the world of pharmaceuticals, and as far as I was concerned it was also the Holy Grail.
“Where do you get the script?” I asked.
“Girlfriend. She’s a nurse.”
“And doctors just write this shit for her?”
I was perplexed.
“Not exactly,” he said. “Doctors in hospitals leave their prescription pads lying all over the place. Fuckin’ unattended, man. Now and then she just pulls a few leaves off any pad she sees lying around. We write the script ourselves. Got a shitload of blanks at home…”
There are certain advantages to becoming a dope fiend later in life. I mean I had always used drugs, but devoting myself to a lifestyle - becoming part of a subculture that had meaningful rituals and codes of comportment – that came later. Therefore, I tended not only to have a very philosophically sound and baroquely constructed rationale behind my choice of life path, but I also was not as reckless as the average junkie. I had sewn my wild oats. I had spit in the devil’s eye on more than one occasion and lived to tell the tale. I had been to jail. I knew how to play this game with the utmost caution and discretion, and I was possessed of no imbecilic urge to tempt fate.
This reasoning, which was little more than hubris, led me to do just that.
Forging prescriptions is not an activity to be entered into in a casual or foolhardy manner. In the United States, it is a Class A felony, and you can do seven years in a state penitentiary if caught. So when I looked up that misfit Daryl who I’d run into at the bar the other night, I knew that I was, in a manner of speaking, getting ready to cross the Rubicon.
I knocked on the door. His girlfriend answered.
“Hey man,” she slurred. She looked really loaded and I was jealous. Excited, too, because I felt like I was minutes away from possessing the Hope Diamond or the Ark of the Covenant.
She invited me in, but there was no eye contact. Her gaze, wary and sluggishly apprehensive, was glued to some unidentified point on the horizon. She was real thin, almost gaunt, and frail looking. It was a shock to my system that she was able to slam the door behind her with such sheer force.
“Louis…” Daryl yawned out in one long indistinguishable syllable. He was sitting on the couch in front of the coffee table, using a plastic pill crusher to pulverize a four milligram tablet of Dilaudid. Lucy, his girlfriend, sat down next to him and tied off with a piece of surgical tubing. There was a mountain full of clean needles next to her, the perks of her chosen profession. Copies of Popular Mechanics were strewn all over the coffee table, along with some dog-eared, paperback versions of Edgar Cayce books.
He cooked the dope and passed the rig to Lucy, who administered the dose with the expert touch of a phlebotomist. I mean she was a nurse for chrissakes…
“I’m gonna try’n have a shit,” she blurted out before heading to the bathroom.
After she disappeared, Daryl turned to me and said:
“I ain’t on the kit. Don’t know how she gets away with it, her job and all. Puts so fuckin’ much foundation on her arms she looks like Bela Lugosi…”
I sat down in the chair across from him.
“Wanna do a line of oxy?”
How could I refuse? He crushed up 80 milligrams and drew out two nice fat lines.
“Dilaudid’s nice to slam, but this snorts up a lot better.”
He was right. I was now utterly focused and relaxed at the same time, ready for the master class that Daryl was about to teach. He had a half-dozen prescriptions spread out in front of him and a couple big fat textbooks on the end table to his immediate left. He started by teaching me how to use Latin abbreviations. He explained how to indicate dosages for tablets, powders, and even liquid solution. Everything was mapped out, from what pharmacies to hit and when, right down to how sloppy I should be when forging the doctor’s name. At certain points in the presentation, he’d stop and quiz me.
“What if the pharmacist asks for your phone number?” he said.
“Make one up…”
“That’s really clever,” he laughed. “So say that you’re at a pharmacy on a Saturday. They can’t call the doctor. Office is fuckin’ closed. So they call the number you give on the script and ask to speak to whatever fuckin’ non-existent person’s name you scribbled down on that piece of paper. What then?”
I pondered the professor’s query and prepared my defense.
“A fax number,” I said. “Give ’em some fax number, say some locksmith’s shop or whatever, and no matter how many times they call, they just get that annoying electronic squeal. I just say Sorry, I had to leave my fax machine on. I am receiving important official documents…”
“Now you’re thinking…”
It goes without saying that my access to pharmaceutical drugs became virtually unlimited during my séjour in Montreal. But not before looking up an old friend…
My first roommate in this frozen metropolis was Chantal, a very laid back and thoroughly pleasant fortyish female who had been sucked dry by the excesses involved in growing up during Quebec’s FLQ-René Lévesque-separatist years, a short window of leftist awakening before the Parti Québecois turned nationalist and quasi-racist. Chantal dealt pot to half the island and she would hole up in her bedroom for days on end doing blow with her cokehead boyfriend, the two of them chattering right through dawn’s early light. Her bedroom was to my immediate right, and to my left was a sort of sitting room, no more than six feet by six feet, which she rented out to Ghislaine, a prostitute who would get up every morning and hack out a staggering quantity of indigestible and amorphous phlegm from her lungs into the toilet after staying up all night and smoking cocaine in every conceivable manner with a host of frighteningly decrepit middle-aged businessmen that would stagger from her lair with their protruding, bloodshot eyeballs threatening to explode from their very orbits. I didn’t spend a lot of time there because those two chambers on either side of my room functioned like the speakers in a schizophrenic’s headset.
Still, I had always gotten along swimmingly with Chantal, and when I stopped by her house with a fifth of bourbon her haggard face seemed to unwrinkle with a hint of relief. We both sat down at the kitchen table while she ate a bowl of yogurt and smoked a cigarette at the same time. After some small talk I dove right in.
“Remember those prescription pads? Your father’s?” I started.
“Do you have insomnia again?”
She began laughing so hard that yogurt almost squirted out her nose. She got up and went into her bedroom, then came back out with a three-quarter inch stack of script. When she sat back down, she reached for a pen.
“What do you want me to write?” she asked.
“Nothing. Can I buy a whole pad from you? Like that one?
“You can have it. I’ve got a shoe box full of these…”
On the way home I filled two forged prescriptions: one for Percodan and one for Valium. It was so easy to do for the first couple of months that I finally decided I’d really go for broke and try forging a morphine prescription.
I figured I should keep it easy and write for tablets instead of liquid solution. I didn’t want to write for solution and syringes because most people who are getting that stuff, quite frankly, are dying of cancer. It would have made me nervous to try something that risky this early in the game. I mean I did toy with the idea of getting a wheelchair and an oxygen tank at one point – you know, really pushing the envelope - but my better judgment prevailed. I just wrote for thirty milligrams morphine IR, instant release. If you’re going to crush a tablet to slam or to snort, you never want time-released dope. It’s impossible to shoot and even when you snort it, it doesn’t come on right. Also, I wrote for one hundred tablets. Daryl had been careful to explain to me that quantity was rarely if ever a cause for alarm with pharmacists. In fact, whether or not your script gets filled is often the result of some unseen, subjective process: a vibe the pharmacist gets about whether or not he likes your lousy face. That simple.
I took half a dozen Percocet, two Valium, and washed them all down with a quart of Labatt’s. I wanted to have my head just right when I did this thing. I’d picked out a pharmacy in Westmount, in the English speaking side of town, because I still had an inferiority complex about my accent in French. I didn’t want to be fretting over my verbal performance in a situation that would require me to be quick on my toes.
I walked into the place towards closing time on a Saturday. The guy behind the counter was an affable, shriveled old prune of a man who looked like an extra from The Andy Griffith Show.
It was the overarticulated voice of a barber from the old west.
“Usually I call the doctor to verify diagnosis on a prescription like this. What seems to be the problem? Young fellow like you…”
“I have a parietal lobe brain tumor,” I answered, stern and serious as any man on a sure path towards doom. “The radiation is making me nauseous. Doctor said the morphine would help with that, as well as the pain and diarrhea.”
“My goodness…” he sighed, almost going pale. “Give me ten minutes.”
The morphine was consumed with indiscriminate haste that evening. My wife was out of town, and I’d rented a copy of Visconti’s The Damned to pop in the VCR later. I never got around to watching it, though. I turned on the T.V. instead and drifted into a rerun of Lawrence of Arabia. Every time there was a commercial, I would crush up some more dope and chase down some Valium with a couple of beers. I passed out before Peter O’Toole made it to Damascus.
The next morning the sun cut a swath of optimism into the dewy ground. I made a cup of coffee, snorted some more morphine, and sat out on my balcony to smoke a cigarette while the spring sun chased away the last of the winter’s frost. The phone rang and I turned my head toward the answering machine. It was the department secretary telling me my withdrawal from the Rousseau seminar had been approved by professor Rioux. From where I was sitting on the balcony, I could see that my bottle of morphine had fallen from the nightstand and the pills were covering the hardwood floor. There was one that hadn’t fallen flat, but rather stood vertical, like a stray spare tire, like a spinning top that had stopped spinning just long enough to ask me to come and dance.
At American Ethnography we concern ourselves with scientific descriptions of human customs. We dig on systematic data collection and testable descriptions of the world, and sometimes we’ll stumble upon an academic work on human culture so spellbinding it’s like a one way ticket to Flipsville.
But you don’t have to do much grinding with the social sciences before you see that now and then the scientific method yields not much more than academic jive – some square uptight nowhere drag which only muddles reality, like if somebody is doing a number on someone. That’s when it’s time to tear it down, soup it up and strip it for speed.
Because it turns out the least factual description can sometimes be the most accurate – in other words there’s truth to be found in fiction. Which is why we mentioned to writer Paul Knobloch that we were looking for some good material on … well, what do you have? Mr. Knobloch is a straight out ding-dong-daddy, so we figured he would know his groceries. “I guess I can fake some action,” he mumbled, and sure enough, a few days later he slapped us with a story he’s called “Graduate School.” Set in a depraved and desperate Montreal underworld it’s a pitiless and darkly comic exposé of a dope hungry intellectual who educates himself in the art of hustling access to the contents of pharmacy cabinets. We’re proud we’ve been allowed to share with our readers this real gone piece of fictional autoethnography.
Paul Knobloch is a French-to-English translator of jazz age crime and surrealism. He is also a knower of things.