Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I have no idea where I am. Actually, that's not true-I do know where I am but I could have never imagined that such a place existed in New York City. While it sounds incredibly naive and sheltered (both of which I probably am), my new surroundings are so unfamiliar to me even though I've lived in this city for close to a decade. I feel like I am on a set of an old John Singleton movie, or I am living within a lyric of a Tupac song. I stick out like...well, like a Jewish white man in East Harlem (really, is there even a more vivid analogy than that?). I am told that I'm currently in the capitol of meth addicts, not exactly the sort of claim you proudly announce on bumper stickers to attract tourists. In my eight years of living almost thirty blocks away from here, I was completely oblivious and unaware of these conditions. I understood that bad neighborhoods existed but in my mind's eye, I visualized something from the movies or TV, where there was indeed poverty and anarchy but both were controlled. Around the corner is an honest-to-God slaughterhouse, ostensibly a garage that people can enter and pick a chicken, or a rabbit--yes, a rabbit--to take home for dinner that night. While walking by this makeshift take-out spot (take-out, in more ways than one), I may as well have been in a third world country. There are some homeless people walking up and down the streets pushing stolen shopping carts as if these streets were their aisles and the refuge strewn curbside were items on sale. Not too far away, there is a recycling center, which has a line like one of Manhattan's hottest club. It's not that the residents of East Harlem are environmentally conscious, although that may be an after-thought. The cans that they've collected are their paychecks, their credit cards, their wages. If cans were truly a invaluable commodity, some of these people would live thirty blocks south.

On my first day of field practice, I escort a 34-year old client who I will refer to as "Phil" to a methadone clinic where they are trying to wean him off heroin. Phil has been addicted to heroin since he was eleven. When I was buying comic books and drinking strawberry milkshakes, Phil was smoking crack. He's trying to break his habit but at this point it's too difficult. There is a warrant out for his arrest and he's trying to lay low and to the best of his ability, stay clean. But there is little hope for Phil. He knows it and so does everyone around him. He's just buying his time until the cycle of addiction starts again. I try to make small talk with Phil but I am a bit awkward about it. I've never had a hard time before but how do you talk about the weather when you're heading over to a meth clinic. But I do the best I can and therein learn that Phil thinks it's too hot outside and that he likes to walk instead of talking the bus. Phil walks side-to-side like he has a slight case of hernia (he doesn't) and he has the verbal skills of a down-syndrome child. I'm told that twenty years of heroin can fry a significant amount of brain cells. I would say "fry" is a subtle word. "Annihilate" is more appropriate.

After we drop Phil off for his appointment, I head back to the office to catch up on some reading. I quickly absorbed the paper work of the future clients I will be working with [we now call them "consumers" or "clients." Never "patients"]. Cases range from psychosis to schizophrenia to some other symptoms I couldn't possibly even spell. These are not the sort of people I hang out with on a regular basis. At thirty years old, I am entering a new world. Strange that it exists only minutes away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

welcome to the world! good luck arye!

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you need to get a clue. and fast.

9:05 AM  

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