I pulled on a well-worn pair of black high top Doc Martins. I had on a baggy pair of shorts and a tight black t-shirt a local punk band’s logo. We opened the main door and walked onto the porch. Below the wooden slats of the porch, I could see the water dancing around in the sunlight. The water was all the way up to the bottom of the porch.
Out here, all I could see was water. The sound of water lapping onto the sides of the old house rhythmically pounded my ears. You couldn’t see the bottom. The water was black with all kinds of debris floating around in it, branches, and leaves, and Styrofoam containers. There was dirt and slime, and the sun reflected rainbow colored oil patterns all over the top of the water. It seemed choppy in parts, like it might be flowing. Maybe it was still rising. I could not tell.
Stepping into the water, it was warm like piss. It was warm, and wet, and fluid. It was all around me, sinking into the pores of my skin and weighing my clothes down on me until they hung sagging off my skinny frame. I wasn’t always this skinny. That was one major advantage to the constant bounce between sickness and wealth that every hard-core junky comes to know.
Undoubtedly, the humidity had only gotten worse with all this extra moisture flowing through the streets of the city. The sun was rising, and I knew pretty soon the heat would be choking down on us relentlessly. I thought before long the sun would be blazing.
I did not notice the smell then. It must have taken a couple of days of heat and humidity in the midst of these river streets for the smell of death and decay to really permeate the air. A couple of days from that moment, the smell of death would be so deep in my hair that I feared it would never wash off. That smell is a smell that I will never forget. Every now and again I get a strange whiff of something that reminds of that Hurricane smell of death and destruction, and I am brought right back to that place in my mind.
When I stood in the middle of the street, the water was up to my chest. I slowly pushed my way through it. It was a long and rather arduous process to wade through chest deep water. I kept my arms high enough to stay above the water, pulling them back and forth while dragging the rest of my body behind. I swayed back and forth pulling and steadying with my arms. I could feel my thighs burning from the physical workout.
We headed straight for the Esplanade Pharmacy, which was about twelve blocks away from the apartment. Liam said he had been standing there when someone threw a brick through the window. He went in after them, grabbing whatever he could with his limited knowledge of pharmaceuticals and their mysterious names. We had to hurry back there because it will not be long before the pharmacy’s shelves were bare.
The water was lower when we got to the pharmacy. It stood waist high when I was standing on the sidewalk, and on the neutral ground it only rose to my thighs. When we got to the Esplanade Pharmacy, it was dark inside like all the other buildings. This pharmacy intrigued me since I moved to New Orleans. I passed this place on my way to City Park. I always thought it looked like a place you could get a fake prescription for anything you wanted.
I had been into the Esplanade Pharmacy many times in the past few years since I moved to the Treme several years earlier. I often met the dope man a block from there, and I always stopped and call him from the payphone that stood on the side of the pharmacy. I went inside any day that I had an extra dollar or two and buy a cold Coca-Cola. There is nothing quite as good as a cold coke, except dope when your entire body is screaming at you from need and lack. The pharmacy was raised up from the rest of the store, behind Plexiglas in the back. In the front of the Esplanade Pharmacy was a convenient store big enough to have couple of aisles of groceries as well as a couple of well stocked tall coolers with sliding glass doors. It always smelled funny in there, like old chemicals, like stale medicine. Sterile, yet rotten to the core.
We cautiously looked both ways, making sure no one saw us as we pulled open the door forcing its weight against the weight of the water. It was really dark when the door shut behind us, and I groped around in the dark, unaware of what lay directly in front of me. We floated a large, empty, plastic cooler on top of the water. We had not thought to bring a flashlight, but Liam found a box with a couple of lighters that was still dry. He held one up to light our way with the flame flickering only slightly in the still air. All kinds of trash floated around. It looked like people had been devouring snacks and drinks in here, discarding the wrappers and bottles in their haste.
We climbed up, almost out of the water and onto the platform that held the pharmacy. The raised floor behind the Plexiglas still had at least two inches of water. The water sloshed under our feet as we tried to be quiet. Slish, slosh. Slish, slosh. Slish, slosh. Several rows of those cheap, white metal shelves held pills, and liquids, and powders sitting neatly in lines. Bottles floated in those inches of water, but I did not bother with those.
Liam held the open flame up so I could read the labels. Quickly, I turned the bottles around to see what sweet treat hid inside. Making quick decisions, I pulled nearly every third bottle into the cooler. Nervously, I searched through those shelves for what seemed like an eternity. If any authorities came in, we would be cornered. Not that we had seen any authorities, but this was New Orleans…there had to be some cops somewhere doing some fucked up shit!
With the he cooler was nearly full, and we began our escape. Just before we stepped down from the pharmacy, I noticed some bottles and boxes below the empty open cash register. I just pulled them all into the cooler without looking. I retrieved a big one from the water that had fallen out of the overflowing cooler. I held it tightly in my hand. No one was in sight, so Liam and I ducked out.
Back in the sun’s light, I looked down at my hand. I was holding a huge bottle of Tylenol with Codeine, quantity 1000 count. It felt mostly full. We made a beeline back to the apartment to sort through the stolen treasure in the dark before our friends saw this pirated booty. A junky always keeps most for himself.
The cooler overflowed with bottles and boxes of all different shapes and sizes. Fentanyl patches in 100mg, 50 mg, and 25mg. Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin. Haloperidol in pills and liquid 2mg, 4mg, 10mg, and 25 mg. Seroquel, Trazedone, Thorazine, and Lamictal. Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Dilaudid, and Phenergan with Codeine Cough Syrup. It truly was a glorious sight. I thought with this shit, I would never be dope sick again.
We stashed pills all over and then proceeded to get high. We covered our legs with little Fentanyl patches, ate handfuls of pills, and cut open the big Fentanyl patches and shot up the liquid that lay waiting inside. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. Oh my fucking god. I had an orgasm right there; shaking and twisting from involuntary pleasure before I could even take the needle out of my arm. We stashed the entire booty, and we went out into the waters again on a mission for liquor.