PCP, LSD, Quaaludes, opium, hashish, speed, barbiturates, morphine, and, now, cocaine.
Recently, Ron had fired up a paycheck or two worth of cocaine “just for curiosity's
sake.” If a person, especially a man, has cocaine, the odds of a sexual conquest increase
exponentially, according to Ron. It sure doesn't do it for me.
But the false pleasure has drawbacks.
“You have the feeling, but you regret it the next day. You only regret it because you
could have spent the money on bills or something.”
Booting cocaine is the last thing a regular abuser will mention in conversation - even to
the closest of friends. You know the feeling when somebody orders a pizza, and
everybody is really slow to grab a piece, but the second one goes quickly until everyone in
the room notices that the slices are going at a supersonic rate, and the feeling of greed
overtakes you? You want to grab as many pieces as you can, nest them and make your
own little winter stash since you paid the most for the pie, and everybody else is
sandbagging on the Dutch. I only did coke back then on my birthday. I figure since it's
been more than 10 years, the chance of me dying on my birthday has been slashed to 400
squared. Champagne, a steak and coke. Never mainlined, however. I always throw up in a
doctor's office when the needle is unsheathed. I would have never made a good mechanic.
Ron did it once. He has no plans to do it again.
See Page 27. I lost the rest of this story somewhere between moves or evictions.
The story was about an acquaintance who later became a friend and then an
acquaintance and then a memory. The mechanic, he was, not in the strictest sense of the
word, but as a pharmaceutical engineer of sorts. He was in his early 20s and lived in the
apartment complex I always visited to get a dip in the pool.
We smoked together, and drank together, and later I learned that he had a favorite
leaning toward shooting up something or another. So I asked him once if he'd let me
interview him as a story for FOCUS without using his name. Oh my god, it may have been
a mistake. He said he had been to prison or to reform school or something or another.
Describing the experience of mainlining, he told me how to do it, a medicinal feat, and as I
type, smoking a big one, I wonder if I should have used or exploited, in modern terms, his
addiction to the community in such graphic terms. It was graphic. Giving people the recipe
without supplying the culinary delights is considered a sin of omission. But if you leave
out a few important parts, it could be considered copacetic. Throwing caution to the wind,
I decided to expose this whole insidious endeavor as was and try to educate myself as well
as alert the local public that this type of behavior was going on. He was finally assaulted
by the Hickory Police Department after they responded to a report at his complex, it
wasn't that complex, just an apartment grouping, and shot the heck out of him. He used to
mess around with his firearms, and one day he kind of lost control with a gun.
The weird part was after I left Hickory and had returned to learn Ron had been in a
shootout at his apartment with the Hickory Police Department and was in the hospital
after the cops shot him.
I'll never forget the crazed, glazed look in his spaced-out eyes the day he ran me out of
his apartment with a loaded .22 rifle in his hand. There's a 22-caliber bullet in his body to
prove that there was one day that proved to be too much of a day for him.
“All I remember is everything went from light to dim to dark,” Ronnie said. “I smelled
gunpowder, and both of my hands felt like they went to sleep. Paramedics came.”
The wound was self-inflicted. He had been only 18 and gulped almost as many
Quaaludes on top of a bunch of liquor.
“Next thing I remember is waking up in intensive care the next day. I was ...wild.”
Once, doing a handful of Valium, 10 hits of purple microdot acid and mucho reefer,
“My best friend and my girlfriend were there, and I beat the hell out of him.”
Enter the counselors.
“They said, “We don't know what you're going to do next.”
So it was into the psychiatric ward where he encountered fellatio from a disturbed
woman. Later he was serving three two-year sentences for possession of LSD with intent
to sell, a probation violation, driving while intoxicated and assault. Then, there was only
time under the hoosegow.
“It sucked. Time went by slowly.”
Mean spirits. Guards were selling dope. And crime. “I did it for the single reason I
liked to pass the time,” he said of his art. “A write-up'll cost you 30 extra days. People
steal you blind.” He drew pictures to whittle away the time and avoid “write-ups,”
bad marks on his prison record. Guards only turned their heads. And his art was good,
kind of between Ralph Steadman and Dali.
“I don't think prison changes anybody, but it makes you think about something before
you do it again.”
Soon he booted some cocaine. The first transgression in abuse of the ever-so popular
alkaloid. All this madness over C17H2NO4, the intrepid alkaloid that coerces rational
behavior into irrational chemical romance. Then came what Lynryd Skynyrd called “The
Needle And The Spoon.” Yes, there are mechanics in Catawba County.
“Just get a gram of cocaine, all right? And get a coffee cup and lukewarm water to
match your body temperature. They were fresh needles. We bought them from the store.
Disposables. No problem to get 'em. They're for insulin. Take a syringe and sort of ...get a
little bit of coke, dilute it in a spoon. Just a little bit of water, enough to make it mellow.
Take a filter off the end of a fresh cigarette - this is make-do running up - stick it in the
diluted coke and water, stick the needle in the filter and draw it up. Bring out the air in it;
tighten your arm up and put it to your vein and sock it in there.” Ronnie said he did it one
night and never plans to do it again. It had been the first time in his life.
Three-two-one. That's all it takes. Second before the tsunami.
“You feel a head rush. It's like snorting a lot. And it's instantaneous. It feels good. I like
to snort it. I don't think I'll ever use a needle again. There's too much bad going around.”
Recent busts, publicity and public interest in the cocaine problem has cokeheads diving
for cover, according to Ronnie, but it also has regular users, who normally would never
dream of selling, starting to deal.
Being a mechanic is a tough job for those unaccustomed to medical procedures -
especially when the abuser is three sheets to the wind. “I wouldn't recommend it,” Ronnie
said. “If you want o get hooked on it, your mind is baked, and you'll get nowhere in life. It
ain't like I've done it for a long time. I ain't no damned junkie. I just like to sit down and
drink beer or liquor and smoke pot.”
This was all from a guy in good shape, with good looks and who make money to
support himself by shooting staples into the bottoms of furniture pieces with a gun.
If a man has cocaine, the chances of his having sexual intercourse are not diminished if he
plies prospective conquests of the 80s with the alkaloid at a local bar, according to
Ronnie, who claims there is a certain genre of humanoid - the coke whore. They are one
sub-species not talked about much in the national media.
“They always want more,” he said. “If you get around a woman who does it a lot and
enjoys it, has that high, they'll always want more. Give me a line, and I'll give you some.
It's a different type of person. They want to get that pleasure, man. You have the feeling,
but you regret it the next day. You only regret it because you could have spent the money
on bills or something.” Last time I saw him was the day I ran out of his apartment as he
brandished a .30-.30, loaded, running around drunk on payday liquor. The cops shot him
I knew where he was coming from, partially. I never spent much cash on cocaine.
When I did do it in the 1980s, I'd spend $100 or $90 for a gram around my birthday,
buying a bottle of champagne and a ribeye steak to chargrill. Cocaine never did much for
me. I never enjoyed it at all. It did nothing but strip me of sexual progress. The last time I
did cocaine was in the parking lot of a Blowing Rock restaurant after walking outside with
Merle Watson to his Blazer. It had just started to snow outside.
“Cold out there tonight,” he said.
“Cold enough. I appreciate the buzz.”
“You still working at the newspaper?”
“Nah, I got fired.”
“It's probably the best thing to ever happen to you.”
Later on they found Merle with the plowing blade of his tractor in his back after it
apparently flipped over on his. His neighbor told me Merle had been drinking wine. I'll
never forget what he told me, that it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
It wasn't, although it could have been, but I felt better knowing that it could have been the
The day I got fired at the Watauga Democrat in Boone in 1985 it was a February day
135 degrees below on Grandfather Mountain with the windchill factor. They would say
that it would get so cold in Boone that a calf froze once before hitting the ground after
birth. I hadn't been in at work for a day, and when they called Dottie's house in Chapel
Hills, it was Mike Legette on the telephone. Mike was a sports geek, very professional,
taking the business so seriously and often too seriously. The power had been out for two
“So Tim, where ya been?”
below zero, for God's sake!”
“Sandy told me to give you a call and see if you'd let me come out in my car and give
you a lift.”
“Listen, Mike. The phone's been out. It's so cold somebody said a calf froze out in
Sugar Grove while it was being born and was hard before it hit the ground. I don't think
it's safe to be out in this weather. It's not safe for you. It's not safe for me. If you were to
break down out there, you'd freeze to death.”
“All righty. Stay warm. You got two girls out there?”
“Count 'em. Two. Two mints in one. Take it easy, Mike. This ain't a Mets game. Come
to. Am I going to have to wave some bills over your nose like Mr. Drysdale? You worry
about the high school box scores. Loose a few nights sleep over a Watauga High game.”
Another snort of cocaine and I wasn't thinking about how the heat wasn't doing much
good near the windowpanes. I wasn't thinking about the evaluation sheets they had
distributed at work a few months before. I didn't realize I was about to be weeded like a
clover under a Lawn Boy.
When Dottie and Dee drove me into town the next morning, the sun was out when I
opened the glass door of the Watauga Democrat for the last time. I had my suitcase with
me. Main Street was covered with dirty mounds of caked snowdrifts, embedded with
cigarette butts and soda pop tops. Sandra was shaking when she told me I was fired. I
don't know what was going on in her head, but I know I was about to cry.
Is this Armfield talking? Who's firing me? Mr. Coffey was the managing editor, and his
wife, good bless her heart, was Rachel Rivers-Coffey. I'll never forget the day the big boss
walked in and called me a “communist.” He would head up the N.C. Press Association
later one day, and he called me a “communist.” There was the day “Bill,” an old codger
who showed up every day, but I never knew exactly what it was that he did besides stack
papers and tie up bundles with the electric string bundler downstairs on the dock while on
Monday mornings everyone would meet and roll four-foot 900-pound Bowater newspaper
spindles out of freightliners. Bill always saw bats in his coffee. “Whatcha waving at, Bill?”
I was hungover. Frost spotted the breakroom window. “Damned bats!”
Sandra was mad. I miss her. Female editors are great to work with. The guys are
bastards, especially if you lack tits and a slit. The editor of the Chapel Hill newspaper once
told me in mid-interview that if I was black and female I would have the job. Straight up.
“That's all you ever say is “gyah, lea.” Is that all you can say?” That's all I can get to
tumble out of my mouth, yes. Me, the loudmouth, the smart-assed, censored, rebel writer
with a ax to grind with anyone with a good reputation and nowhere to hide.
After several moments of painful silence, I stood up and said, “I appreciate it.” Then I
gave her a kiss on the cheek that I never was sure if it made its mark actually or not, but it
was the thought that mattered. It wasn't a kiss of Judas, but the kiss of a mixed up
journalist about to smooch goodbye the source of income that was financing his apartment
on Clint Norris Road and his screwed lifestyle of chasing ambulances down mountain roads
in the middle of the night.
I feel very embarrassed when I sit down to write. Especially about others. It's so very
personal that I always hope and wish and pray that no one will ever read it. But
always it seems that the next day one of so-many-thousand people pick my utterances up
and read them and languish then and talk about them at work and pass along the thought
for the rest of the day until the sun goes down and beyond. You have to readily be careful
what you say. Having an audience like that, it's not really a following, is like having a
Sunday School class or a nature study class with which you feel very close to. Maybe it's
more like a New Age masturbation session. I hope nobody takes me that seriously ever,
but I am inclined to think that they do. It's the ultimate power. Mind control.
What a terrifying responsibility. I always have to think about the youthful child, the one
I used to be, and think what I would have thought about someone trying to push this type
of garbage down my throat. When I think my nephews and my niece would be reading
whatever I write when they get old enough the comprehend what it is I'm uttering, I look
at the tidal wave of blood and duck, diving for the bottom of the frothy sanguine foam,
teething the tiny miniature crabs and biting heir pinchers off. It's the big boys that I am
after. I know they are listening to me. I feel their presence. Their collective breath warms
my neck hairs and curls my toes, enticing gooseflesh. There is a file somewhere. There's a
little bit of the paranoid in all of us.
All hail the Serotonin C 10H 12N 2O sending high-pitched electrical impulses and
transmissions from my jangled nerve cells' network to another. A panic attack has
returned. You know how just after your lids begin to droop in mid-sermon, and
unfortunately for you the preacherman has decided to focus in on you - like he's making
eye contact with you, totally ignoring everyone else in the sanctuary? My throat constricts
like it’s full of fresh pine sawdust.
The reason I suggested an autopsy as a possible story idea was probably a selfishly
arranged treat for myself. I had always wanted to see what it was like. Something
voyeuristic and prurient had been tempting me to set up such an article. I was covering the
Caton Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees.
Sometimes hospital boards like this one have big fancy meals before a meeting to
butter you up. It didn't matter that there had been asbestos in their baby wing to me. When
I was without wheels one winter night, I had to walk and hitchhike from my apartment to
a meeting about seven miles away in the freezing rain. Once I picked up a hitchhiker after
one of those hospital board meetings. She was a stripper. Hospital board meetings were
always boring - executive sessions, long reports, cigarette breaks. On the way to the
hospital the autopsy I partook of an anti-nausea medicine to attack the anticipated nausea
involved when viewing such a macabre scene.
When I arrived at noon the smarmy hospital representative to whom I had suggested
the idea met me and accompanied me to the Pathology Department which was on the
Why are pathology departments usually in the basement? Why not put them on the top
floor? You're closer to heaven. Maybe it wouldn't take you as long to ascend. If you're
really proud of a department and its work, why not promote it to a top floor office? If
you're not particularly proud of the department and want to shield the public from it, then
the bowel of a building is the perfect place to situate it. Maybe a board would not want to
locate the morgue on the same floor as the baby wing. Hospitals refrain from publicizing
the fact that there's a chance you'll go out like Andy Warhol.
“Pathology is kind of a trap door for mistakes, botched operations and the medical
field's worst nightmare and controlled sample group, the will of God,” I told Charlie, over
a Milwaukee's Best the night before. Our cigarette smoke fogged his manufactured home
like pesticide on summer North Carolina rural roads in the 60s. He loved cheap beer, and
I’d be broke as hell, splurging on Heineken, running out quicker. I borrowed a lot of
money from Charlie to drink, and I promise to pay it back. I owe a lot of people a lot of
“There's something remotely ironic about placing such an entrance department to such
an exit lab, and that is unsettling with the public,” he said. “Oh yeah, Cosell was drinking a
screwdriver at the booster club thing today. You should have heard what he called Ali.”
“People don't want to be reminded that they are going to expire at a certain point in
their lives. They want to go through life without worrying about death. Certainly when
patients enter the hospital they don't want to see 'Pathology' pasted on any signs in the
The hallways of medicine are filled with signs leading to restrooms, the cafeteria, X-ray
and the information desk, but you never see a sign for 'Pathology.' They don't want you to
know it's there. It's poor luck, bad ju-ju to look at such a sign when you are being
Also physicians themselves are a little nervous about that department also because it's
kind of a scrap trash can where legal culpability can transform the most successful doctor
into a lupine beast. Even the doctors stay out of the pathologist's way. When I called the
snake doctor from Roto-Rootman the other day, he told some zany tales about the
weirdest call he's made, but none struck me as bizarre as the calls he got from a funeral
home which had a clogged sewage pipe from body parts which had been too
large after having been chewed by a grinder.
What lurks in such a hospital department to make administrations so shy about
admitting its existence?
When I pulled into the parking lot of the hospital, I ran down the window to let some
of the sweet blue smoke out. The security guard was taking notice. Grabbing my
notebook, I made my daily scramble for a pen, looking under old Village Voices, rusty
beer cans and documents scrammed in the glove compartment of my Comet. When I
entered the hospital, I looked for a pathology department sign, and when I gave up on that
plan, I decided to ask someone where it was. Downstairs the department had more
employees than I had expected. Trying to defuse my anxiety about the autopsy, I winked
at the nurse's and made sexual comments.
“Are you married?”
“No, but I have a boyfriend. Are you looking for someone in particular?” Snide.
Flipping chart pages with a pencil in her mouth.
“Ah, yeah. I'm early. I'm with the Record. Looking for....”
The door to the office opened, and there was a man in a white lab coat, opening his
mouth to take a wide chomp on the source of the only smell to penetrate the clinical
hospital smell in the hall. The pathologist was eating a cheeseburger. His manicured
fingers clutched the beef sandwich, its mustard dripped on his worn loafers. It was 12:10
p.m., and I suppose he had a right to sneak in lunch. You have to eat when the bodies are
stacked up like jets at O'Hare Airport. Maybe he was attempting to make an impression on
me, a Dirty Harry type of psychological ploy to try and assure me that his job didn't get to
“How do you do? Sorry, but I haven't got one for you.”
“That's okay, man. Go right ahead. Don't let me slow you down any. I'm going to eat
“I understand. Are you ready? This won't be bad. Are you squeamish?”
“If you're waiting on me, you're backing up.”
I followed this mad scientist guy into the lab where a nurse was slipping a slide under
“This is where we examine samples, blood samples, cell samples, samples of the brain
and other things to determine the cause of death. It's a little like being a detective, which
you'll see in a minute. Cheryl here is preparing a slide to examine skin retrieved from the
fingernails of a murder suspect who is accused of strangling his best friend to death.”
“Oh really? I have to admit, I've been kind of apprehensive about this interview all
week. This must be the one from yesterday.”
“I know. Relax. I think you'll find this tour quite interesting. It's going to make a
“I'm glad you think so. I've set up a photograph, so the photographer will be contacting
you soon to set it up. Something less dramatic. My deadline is Friday. It will probably run
“I didn't want him here today getting a shot of me passing out all over the floor.”
The pathologist smiled at me, his long, thin face bearing a whisker shadow before
becoming cloaked underneath a cotton mask.
“You'll be fine.”
All I could think about was Boris Karloff and Fangora magazine, but this guy was in h
his late 30s. Crumpling the wax paper, saturated with fatty cattle oil, the pathologist
tossed it in a trash can and said, “Come with me,” wiping his rubber gloves on his apron.
We went into the room of horrors.
“You'll have to put one of these on.”
Wrapping the white mouth patch over my face, I looked at the hospital administration
representative as he waltzed in. He looked uneasy. From his disconcerting stare, I
could tell he didn't want me doing the story, no matter how patronizing he seemed.
Newspapers never allow a reporter to show anyone a story before it comes out.
He said, “Oh, I've seen a dozen autopsies. Is this your first one? Don't look so frail,
Tim! You'll be fine, old boy. You'll only have to leave the room once. You'll see.”
It was the most immaculately clean room I had ever seen, totally white with shiny
stainless steel examination tables built with chrome indented pools to catch the liquids and
The pathologist said, “Our man is on the way. He just left the funeral home. He's a
driver for the home and drops them off. This particular subject we are working on today is