By Marc D. Goldfinger
SPARE CHANGE NEWS
The radio in my 1955 Buick was humming as my friend Jack and I sat in a parking lot in the South Mountain Reservation in South Orange, New Jersey, loaded on codeine-based cough syrup and Doriden, a hypnotic used for sleep and to decrease agitation among patients in nursing homes, which boosted the high of the cough syrup. By this time I was drinking two bottles a day of Robitussin A-C, an exempt narcotic back in the day, which one could buy from almost any drug store just by signing your name. Things have changed.
About one year later, Joey Marantino slipped the first needle into my vein, the eyedropper filled with heroin. I had graduated. I loved it more than anything else. I couldn’t imagine living without it. Daily trips into New York City and then, one morning at 2am, my father stuck a pin in the lock on my bedroom door and walked in while I was shooting.
I looked up at him and said, “Could you close the door so I don’t miss my shot.” He freaked out and told me I had a choice — to stop using immediately or get out of the house. For me, the choice was simple. I moved into a condemned tenement in New York City and experienced homelessness for the first, but not the last, time. It was 1964.
My first arrest took place in West Orange, New Jersey. I was with my friend Angela, and she slipped off the stool in the diner and couldn’t get up, and while I was carrying her out, leaning on my shoulder, the plainclothes came in and arrested us.
They beat me for what seemed like hours and then put me in a cell next to Angela. Suddenly I smelled smoke. Angela had lit her mattress on fire. They don’t give us mattresses in our cells anymore.
The world moved on. I suffered countless arrests for sale of marijuana, possession of heroin, possession of cocaine, harboring a fugitive, flight to avoid prosecution where I was on the run for two years with a woman friend who was wanted in two states for dealing and armed robbery. Heather always tried to talk me into armed robbery but I always felt, from a previous experience, that if you carry a gun the odds are that you will use it. I almost did once but that’s another story which you can find on my website, previously published in Spare Change News, called A Tale Of Two Bullets.
My status as fugitive ended in Sandy, Oregon, and I was brought back to Massachusetts to serve two years and I was barred from returning to Oregon. If I returned to Oregon, my charges there would be re-instated and I would wind up serving five years. The prisons in Oregon had some inhumane practices, like no sheets on the beds and no milk or fresh fruit and I smuggled letters out to the prison commissioners and caused a lot of trouble there so they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse — drop my fight against Rendition back to Massachusetts and they wouldn’t keep those charges on me — if I didn’t come back.
My lawyer, hired by my connection, said it was a real good deal. I was in no position to argue the point. At that time my bail was $150,000 cash; my girl-friend’s bail was $75,000 cash.
It was all down hill from there. I did my time at the Worcester House of Correction, a misnomer if I say so myself, and within one hour of my release I was in the Great Brook Valley Projects copping dope. The year was 1983.
The arrests continued, most of them in Massachusetts for possession of heroin and hypodermic needles and I was court mandated to methadone maintenance for two years. I was on 3 or 4 different clinics for the next five years, living in one-room occupancies or staying on the streets. My hustle was gone.
All I could think of was the next high. I was married again to a woman named Sascha who was both an alcoholic and a junkie. Me, I was strictly a doper — I always hated alcohol. We both got kicked off the last clinic and went back to shooting heroin and, by this time, we were reduced to begging on the streets. Sascha had a better con than I, and then, in March of 1993 we saw a woman selling Spare Change News.
We asked her what that was about and she told us. She said to just go to the Old Cambridge Baptist Church and look for the Spare Change office. The Distribution Supervisor, a guy named Jerry at the time, signed us both up and gave us each ten papers for free and launched our careers.
Again, Sascha had more hustle than me and moved papers much quicker but, because we were married, when we didn’t rip each other off, we split the money and I would go cop the dope. Sascha was always afraid of copping because of the arrests we both had taken in Worcester. She hated those holding cells. I didn’t like them either but I knew that it was just part of the game. The cops were on one side of the checkerboard and we were on the other.
Selling Spare Change News was the first honest job both of us had in over 5 years. To say that we were unemployable because of our addiction was an understatement. But for the first time I felt a sense of accomplishment about what I was doing. I was earning my money honestly and that felt good.
My attempts to kick heroin increased. I was going to detox almost every month. I started selling the paper in March of 1993 and my first poems went into the paper in May of the same year. My final stint in detox for a long time was in March of 1994 and I managed to stay abstinent with the help of honest work at Spare Change News, support groups, and continued therapy with a psychiatrist who was giving me anti-depressant medication.
After my first six months clean, one day at a time, the job of Editor of Spare Change News opened up. I had just finished a three-month computer course, which had been funded by the Big Dig, and I stepped warily into the position. We formed an Editorial Committee and re-instated a new Board of Directors.
I remained head of the Editorial Committee from September of 1994 until the end of February of 1996 and then I went back to vending on the streets full-time because I actually made more money selling the paper.
Sascha, who was separated from me, passed away and I got involved in another unhealthy relationship and relapsed in February of 1998. I shot heroin for another year and two months. During that period I went into detox more than 7 times. I tried to quit over and over again. Finally, at the advice of a counselor at Spaulding Detox, I broke up with my partner and moved into a drug program in Salem. I used to take the commuter rail into Cambridge and sold the paper in Central Square. I almost relapsed again and put myself into a stricter drug program called Moore’s Way on 23 Duncan Street in Gloucester. I had my own room and kitchen there, and a view of the ocean from my window.
I thought I was in paradise. Again, I took the commuter rail down and sold the paper 5 days a week in Central Square. When I first got clean I met my new wife, Mary Esther, in 1994. We became fast friends and then, while I was living in the drug program in Salem in 1999, we began to date casually.
On April 7th, 2001, while I was staying with Mary Esther on furlough from my drug program in Gloucester, she suffered an attack of sepsis, which is almost always fatal. Miraculously, she lived thanks to the quick thinking of an Asian doctor at Mount Auburn Hospital.
I was still working for Spare Change News, Mary Esther and I were deeply in love and so we became engaged to be married. We were married on June 22nd, 2002 and this year, as Spare Change News celebrates its 20th anniversary on June 21st, Mary Esther and I will be celebrating our 10th anniversary on June 22nd.
I’m still affiliated with Spare Change News as their Poetry Editor and regular Columnist. Mary Esther and I are still happily married. And last, but certainly not least, I have been off heroin for a long, long time, one day at a time. So, in many ways, this is a success story and I didn’t do it alone. All of you are part of this story and I’ll fill in the gaps as time goes on. Peace to all of you.
Marc D. Goldfinger is a formerly homeless vendor who is now housed. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via his web page Marc D. Goldfinger. Marc also has books on www.smashwords.net that can be downloaded for $2.99.