Celebrating 30 Years Loaded in The Work Force
I was a nurse, a stripper, a yoga counter girl, a reporter and so much more. Mainly, I was just an addict with a bunch of jobs.
Let us begin with the gin and lemonade, thrust across the table at me in a spotty glass tumbler. It was shortly after three in the afternoon on a Saturday. I can be relatively precise about the time of day because I worked the 6 am to 3 pm shift as a nurses’ aide at the local nursing home. My first job. It was the middle of January; that kind of nowhere permanent dusk exclusive to New England.
One of my patients had died late into my shift and I had discovered her, cooling in the discount bed. I had time enough to realize how dreadful it was that she had been alone when she rattled her last. Alone in this miserable room. I turned to run and collided with Magda, the head nurses’ aide and Teutonic alkie-in-chief. Sobbing, I pressed my cheek against the bodice of Magda’s uniform, which barely contained her impressive rack.
Cocaine was invented for jobs that send tears of boredom streaming down your cheeks.
“Right before we get out of here we have this shit?” Magda let loose a stream of curses, seized my wrist, and jerked me out of the room. “We need to clean her up and then we’re going. To party.”
A few minutes later I watched as Magda, humming to herself, swabbed the old stiff down, sponging her belly, her gray thighs, her sparse pubic hair. Magda furled the body bag, and jutted her chin at me. “Give me a hand, would you? You help me get it in here.”
Printed on the side of the body bag: Use Only In Case Of Death. I was 16, saving up for a class trip to France, and I was ready to welcome in a new skillset. How to drink and drug after, during, and before work.
The above scenario would be repeated as a seven-step process for the next 30 years, and the only variables were my job descriptions and my take-home pay. 1. Obtain a job that manages to be dangerous, stressful, and/or boring. 2. Immediately identify the other addict who works there. Befriend that person. 3. Use their drugs with them. 4. Arrive at work several hours or days late, wasted, dirty, inappropriately dressed, manic. 5. Stop arriving at work. 6. Detox yourself. 7. See #1.
The nurses’ aide job ended (I think) once I left for France. My relationship with Magda had ended some weeks before that; nursing home brass fired her after one final frowsy afternoon. Usually the boxcutter tongue was kept sotto voce; not so on her final day. Magda breezed into work, traipsing sideways, butter blonde hair undone and streaming from under her cap, industrial beige brassiere peeping out between missing buttons gaping on her uniform’s bodice. Later, she was found in the shower room while her patient sat naked and vacantly morose in his shower chair. Magda was leaning against the tiles, snoring.
From here, my teen work career was a long skid down, unless you count freebase, acid, nitrous, weed, and booze scored from the (surprise!) restaurant kitchen job as a lateral move. Can a kitchen operate without hard drugs? I’m sure there are one or two fine establishments where the help’s bloodstreams are squeaky clean; they didn’t look like this place, nicknamed The Crusty Rubber, where the windows were portholes and the walls were covered with distressed wood, fishing nets and plastic crayfish. There was an in-house drug dealer/line chef who took a shine to me. I’d like to interrupt here to say my father and grandfather had one career each. And they each did one drug. Maybe two. I’ve had at least eight careers and I’ve done an encyclopedia of chemicals. There has to be a correlation.
Okay. Nineteen, a college dropout. The word “townie” tortures me, comes to me in a whisper. Over and over. Is there a drug for that? I’m starting to get a little hopeless, if you must know. It had occurred to me that I could be a salad-making specialist and freebase hound for the rest of my life.
I’d like to report that one night, tripping balls and trying to make salads, that I saw the light, went back to college, and everything was mended. It wasn’t. But intervention did occur in the form of a used Band-Aid. It had come off my finger and ended up on someone’s fork. Finally! My first firing pushed me back to college, with lab fees and drugs paid for with an endless stack of sweaty ones, fives, and hundreds.
Yes, that would be stripping. Back when it was actually stripping: You walked out and took off your costume slowly, sort of, song by song, as you stared into the middle distance. You made conversation and hustled sugary drinks served in two-piece champagne flutes. This process was boring, and cocaine was invented for jobs that send tears of boredom streaming down your cheeks. Cocaine, best served with bluish neon light, snorted out of a gold pinkie nail, if you must know, and all the better if the gold pinkie nail (and the cocaine) was someone else’s.
And then weed to write about feminism back in the dorm. Weed so good, one hit was a ball-peen hammer to the back of the head, two was a nude coughing fit during my shift as a substitute figure model.
Now it gets a little blurry. My job description is cocaine and beer. I’m in the titty bar, no wider than a wide hallway. I’ve got my shoes in my hands, yelling over a Stevie Nicks song. Perhaps I was kicked out earlier in the evening and I’ve come to collect my pay.
Everything before this moment would be plain old doing drugs. Everything after would be relapsing, because I went to my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting the following night. NA ruined me. See, I could deal with the shame, the disgust with who I was. But NA bequeathed me guilt and disgust for what I did when I was at work. And then I met my husband.
By husband, I mean heroin, of course. But first, pre-marriage, look upon an interlude in a Madison Square Park aerie, my own cubby overlooking the city. A phone, a brace of business cards, and a huge computer, all mine. Squeaky clean save for a couple of treatable STDs.
Seen enough? We’ll leave there and go to the time Kurt Cobain died and swing ska music took over. I can hear my great grandmother now (may her memory be a nightmare): This is the time you pick to become a rock critic?
I know, I know, it sucked. Still, there were some pieces of golden corn stuck in the steaming log and I picked them out as best as I could. Until I started using ball-peen weed, then coke, then vodka, and then heroin, and then heroin and coke and vodka, and I started showing up to the office in a filthy silk shirt unbuttoned to my waist and jeans on under my leather pants because my ass fell off.
After countless rounds of Jenga and a few sips of methadone I was hired as a cashier at a yoga studio where I became more smug (if that was possible) and a semi-vegan. My doughy, bendy self had seen the light. I was the door girl with Krishna as my thug bodyguard. I had hairy armpits. I wore Prada peau de soie slingbacks with a sari. I should have fucking killed myself.
In any case, I got my chance when a bipolar co-worker gave me a snarf of cheap coke in the yoga office and I was back home again, doing coke at work. Coke at work, coke at work: It has such a nice cold tang to it, yes? Heroin at work just doesn’t have the same ring. Heroin at work doesn’t ring at all.
You can see where this is going. Eventually I ended up unemployed, which allowed for heroin at home. Aah, that sounds much better. Now comes the death spiral, or at the very least, the long time I spent on the toilet.
Apparently I didn’t die. I guess I just went back to work after I got clean again. For my most recent jobs (telemarketer, running store clerk, historic home tour guide, newspaper reporter, teacher) I kept to the most obvious (and perhaps the most hideous) substances of all. Cigarettes, but even those fell away. Marathon running, talking about marathon running, domestic partnership, colonics, blogging, Motrin 800, and rivers of coffee. Sugar, when I can get it. High fructose corn syrup.
It is not easy to find appropriate jobs to enhance the effects of these drugs. Still, I keep going to work.
Jaime Neptune is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about saying goodbye to her inmate husband.