Lucky Stars

I spent the last moments of 2004 outside the Valley, opting instead for the tranquil nothingness of Thousand Oaks, where my family commingled with my cousin’s family. It’s an environment beautiful in its Stepfordness. A rockin’ new year it wasn’t. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After dinner, we quickly broke up into groups – men outside, women in. Kids upstairs. Maybe it’s the end of the year blues. Maybe it’s the feeling of being out there at the end of the earth (Jesus, it’s nice to look up into the sky and actually see stars) that brings out the fatalist in all of us. We talked politics, tsunamis, and what ifs. I counted my own lucky stars.

My cousin and I began taking stock, marveling at the breakneck pace with which the pages fly from the calendar as we navigate encroaching middle age. And we reveled in the glorious stupidity of youth. When we were bulletproof. My own personal laundry list of rocket science involved many instances of ingesting cocaine, followed by strenuous games of basketball and tennis. Good times. We laughed. Then we knocked wood.

We had a thoroughly suburban, middle-class buzz going: several very good bottles of wine, some pot, a fat Domincan cigar. My cousin talked of back pain, of chest pain, of stress pain. He’s only 37. He mentioned the time he popped a Vioxx (prior to its recall) on the morning of a long mountain bike ride. At one point on the ride, he believed he was having a heart attack. Scary shit.

But as we played My-Drug-Story-Can-Top-Yours, my mind drifted, to others who’ve entered my life for purely narcotic reasons. I thought about a dealer I once knew, and was always curious to know better. I think I always liked the idea of ingesting a particular drug more than the actual drug taking, because it was never as fun as I thought it would be. And besides, life was miserable when the drugs wore off. For that same reason, I think I enjoyed the process of buying drugs more than taking them. I dug the danger, the illicit vibe of being somewhere where something bad could happen at any moment. It was a game – how long could I hang out at the dealer’s house, and would this be the time something horrific happened while I was there … and would I get in trouble?

I pumped up the drama in my head, but the truth was my dealer was just a grown suburban kid like me. We’d graduated from the same high school, though he’d finished a decade earlier. He still lived in the house in which he grew up, near the VA Hospital in North Hills (formerly Sepulveda, though it’ll always be Sepulveda in my heart). I believe he inherited it from his parents. It wasn’t Ozzie and Harriet, but it wasn’t high-end creepy, either. It was just another unassuming house on an unassuming Valley street.

I liked to visit during the day, during regular business hours. I couldn’t avoid night time calls altogether, though, and I remember that’s when the bloodsuckers hung around. They sat silently in front of the TV. Burnouts. Zombies. Not too keen on shooting the breeze.

Yet the dealer himself seemed completely together, in spite of joining in with each customer in the ritual sampling of the product. Lord knows how many visitors he had every day.

I only came to the house to buy drugs, but we never talked about them. We never even acknowledged using them, even as I was using them. We talked about everything else – sports, music, restaurants, high school teachers. Anything but drugs.

Of course, I didn’t want to think I was just there to buy drugs, even though I was just there to buy drugs. And I liked the guy. We even spoke vaguely about going to a Dodger game, but it just never happened. You don’t become friends with people who do that. At least I didn’t.

I eventually had one too many mornings after and moved on to less destructive vices. From friends, I’d heard the police caught up with the dealer and he was arrested, though I have no idea if he did serious time. This made me sad. Because if ever there were a dealer with a heart of gold, this was the guy. At least that’s what I imagined.

I looked up at the stars, raised my wine glass and toasted with my cousin. And I hoped that my old dealer came out of it all in one piece. Here’s to 2005. Here’s to life.