Walk Down Misery Street

The more I learned about the Big Apple, the more I fell in love with it. I loved its damp, its fog enveloping the tops of the skyscrapers, the 100-degree summer heat, the falling leaves in autumn, the four-lined avenues, the ocean bays, the wind, the sleet. New York, New York!

But I discovered another city within the “capital of the world” whose existence I had not suspected. It is an underground city not marked on any map, although it is densely populated. I noticed here and there the active drug users: the skinny young men standing on street corners, shifting impatiently from one foot to the other. I saw them on buses and in the subway when they tried to pickpocket someone or steal a woman’s purse. Some worked in stores, taxicabs, and restaurants.

Every morning, the superintendent of our building would sweep the sidewalk near the entrance. He was surprised when I told him that the little empty plastic bags he was throwing into the trash used to be filled with cocaine. (A man living on the third floor of the building was a middleman drug dealer who also dipped and dabbed.)

I would see patients of mine—past, present, and future ones—in bars, barbershops, and auto repair shops. Of course, I would also see them next to the liquor stores. Vicky and I went into an expensive boutique on Park Avenue and I suddenly recognized my patient—she was trying to remove electronic tags discreetly from some expensive shirts. At a bar not far from Wall Street, a man wearing the business suit of a stockbroker came out of the restroom; he was twitching after snorting a line of coke. The shattered right window of someone’s car told me that a drug user had broken the glass at night and stolen the GPS from the glove compartment to sell for a few bags. One clerk at the post office who was fumbling with a package for nearly a half an hour was nodding out on methadone.

I don’t wish to say that New York is a city of drug users. Most likely, there are no more of them in the “capital of the world” than in any other major urban area. But now I clearly distinguish this world.

Once, when Victoria and I were on our way to my place, I was stupid enough to share my observations with her. She said, “If you want me to come live with you, find an apartment in a better area.” However, she softened her tone after we walked about the area she was living in and I pointed out what she had never paid attention to before. Although the neighborhood was considered good, even there “my friends” (as she called them) abounded.