Now maybe you’re wondering where I’m going with this story and what things are about. It is much later now, later than we all think. Casey joined the service and went to Vietnam. I stayed here and grew my hair long. Casey fought for his life and his sanity in a world that made all the rules disintegrate. My mind danced to the acid in the music, and the Beatles sang, “All you need is Love, Love, Love” while the bullets were flying somewhere else, and we marched and sang songs and the war ended and never stopped and Casey came home. Like other times, things were never the same again and we drifted apart.
He joined the DEA, which once was called the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and that was another kind of war. I became a writer, a poet, a teacher, and took a wrong turn and went to prison because of heroin addiction.
After prison my addiction to junk went wild. No school would touch me with a ten-foot ruler. The drifting from one dead-end job to another began and I began selling herb and hashish to supply my habit. One rule of thumb for a dealer is this: never sell the same drug that you do because you become your best customer and finally put yourself out of business.
I found myself working at a car wash in Livingston, New Jersey. My two favorite positions were either working the hot spray gun that washed the hubcaps or being the vacuum man. Those tasks kept me on the end of the car wash farthest away from the boss man. Also, being vacuum man got me into the car and, as I vacuumed the rug of the car with my right hand, my left hand was free to slip into the crack in the back of the seat for any spilled change.
Hank, the regular guy on the front end, and I would go through the car and take anything that we thought the customer would not miss. We’d throw it down on the cement near the wall and keep it there for a while, hidden under some dirt, until the end of the day. Then we’d split the booty. We’d take those trading stamps that grocery stores and gas stations would commonly give out on those days, or money, or look for roaches or packets of drugs under the mats or in the ash trays. Every once in a while a customer pulled back around and asked us if we found anything. Hank and I told them that we probably had sucked anything up in the vacuum without noticing. After all, our job was to vacuum out the ash trays and the rugs under the mats. If the booty was drugs, no one took it any farther than that and if they did, we were ready. Hank packed a small pistol with him everywhere he went.
Myself, I never carried a gun at that time in my life, and one day, when it was very slow due to a threatening storm, I asked him why he carried a pistol.
“Seth,” he said, “You know I live in the hardbound section of Newark. It ain’t like livin’ here in Livingston. The ‘burbs’ here are like candy-land. It jus’ ain’t real life. At night when I go drinkin’ at the bars, I never know wha’s goin’ to happen. Everyone packs, you know what I mean. Where I live if you go out wifout your gun it’s like goin’ out wifout your gott-damn clothes on. You dig?”
And that was that.
My customers always knew where to find me and I took care of business right under the eyes of all the citizens who came almost daily to wash their road machines. The guys I worked the front end with covered for me when I was doing deals or running into the bathroom to fix myself. They knew that I would light them up for free a few times a day just for the cover. Some days I would throw them a couple of joints to take home.
One day, I was chatting with the owner of the wash, a guy named Larry who sometimes would front me money to make a buy if I paid him back the total with a plus percentage, and we talked about the massive amounts of water drained off from the car wash. I don’t know why I asked but I was curious what his drainage bill was.
He laughed at that one.
“Drainage bill!” Larry guffawed. “Why, I rigged this up myself. All the drainage runs right down through a large pipe into the stream passing through that valley.”
He pointed at a stream that ran into the Passaic River some miles away.
“My God,” I said, “but what about the pollution?”