Walk Down Misery Street

Liza finally shook off the intoxicating daydream that had pulled her for a short time into the distant past. Hearing about alcohol—after heroin—she looked at me with pity as if to say, “Poor guy, he knows nothing about life.”

“Is it really possible to compare alcohol with heroin? Pete, what are you talking about?! Why did they give you a substance abuse certificate? Alcohol is hogwash that destroys the mind and body. Of course, I also drank to help with dope withdrawal or just to be buzzed. But what is an alcoholic? He gets ten-fifteen bucks, goes to the store, buys a pint of booze, and drinks at home. He cries about his unhappy life and collapses into sleep. He is pathetic. No offense, dear. I know that you Russians have a special love for alcohol. Mother Russia, glug, glug!” She formed her fingers around an imaginary bottle and lifted it to her open mouth. Then she squished her face up humorously, as if she had just downed a bottle of bitter vodka.

We both laughed.


In addition to the patients who were mandated for treatment, several “volunteers,” those who came of their own volition, attended the clinic.

Among these were a handful of seniors: three men of about sixty-five years of age. One was Italian, another Puerto Rican, and the third Jewish. It was amazing how they had managed to live to such an age.

Active drug users rarely make it to fifty years old. They die from an overdose or a blood infection, or from bullets and accidents they had while they were intoxicated. But this “trinity” had miraculously survived. Two of them had been friends since their youth, beginning back in the glorious 1960-70s.

All three, of course, looked like old men, sick and tormented. Sometimes I would see one of them hobbling along the corridor with a cane. I’d wave to him in greeting and go to my office. I’d make a couple of phone calls, write progress notes on a patient’s chart, exchange a few words with Liza, come out of my office, and that same patient would still be in the corridor, having made it only halfway down the hall. It was difficult for him to move with swollen legs and a belly distended from cirrhosis of the liver. And he had no strength in his arms.