The Ice Cream Cone Incident
Got a call today. It was from Tom Pitts's daughter, Lula. She's four.
"Why did you throw an ice cream cone at my daddy?"
Sort of like this scene from Kill Bill Vol. I: (You can skip ahead to the 9:50 mark)
Except for the part about being lethal assassins and using knives. Tom and I were junkies, and I used an ice cream cone.
We were down at the gas station on 17th and South Van Ess, a favorite hangout for cabbies and hookers, because the gas was cheap and they sold these little air fresheners that came in little glass tubes that could be used for crack pipes (they also sold other crack essentials, like Brill-O pads). And they sold $1 ice cream cones.
The hierarchy of needs in the life of a junkie are as such: drugs, more drugs, drugs for later, a place to do the drugs, cigarettes, food, and sleep, Maslow be damned. When you could find food--and, yes, ice cream counted--for a fucking dollar, you had to be all over that shit. That took care of, like, three of the food groups, dairy and sugar, and throw in a hearty serving of bread, because that shit came with a cone.
So Tom Pitts and I were down at the gas station. Tom and I were thick as thieves, running partners, buddy/buddy. It wasn't like a Batman and Robin relationship, more like two sniveling, sickly Robins without the acrobatic skills. For most of whatever year this was ('97? '98? '99?), we were almost constantly together. Or at least that is how my drug-damaged brain recalls it. If you've read this blog, you know what a big fan of Tom Pitts I am. Now sober and responsible, he's a terrific writer, a great dad, and one righteous mutherfucker. But on this particular day he was pissing me off.
"Why did I throw that ice cream cone at you?" I ask Tom when Lula hands him back the phone.
"I think because you wanted me to go with you to rob Gavin or something. And I wanted to go down to 16th Street because Ronnie was running those 1-and-1s for the Mexicans."
I don't think Tom's memory is any better than mine. First, I never "robbed" Gavin. I simply hung around him long enough in an imposing manner that he would give me his drugs. Second, this was before the aforementioned Ronnie was slinging for the Mexicans. But the gist is probably right. In short, Joe wasn't getting his way, and so he threw a temper tantrum. And then he threw an ice cream cone.
I still remember the sight of Tom walking away from the gas station, ice cream cone stuck to the back of his bomber jacket that he wore everywhere, because we all only had one outfit (it's not like we could do laundry). And I remember his turning around and saying, "What the fuck!" And then he kept on walking.
In 2005, I hadn't seen Tom Pitts in six, seven years. I figured it was 50/50 that he was dead. I'd been writing about him a lot (Tom is a major character in my memoir), because some people just make that kind of impression on you. Most of what they tell you about drugs is true. At least the parts about heroin. It's like living in a nightmare. The best of times are so short-lived, and the misery gets compounded daily. It's an endless want--more drugs, more rest, more love, more, more, more. But one of the things that isn't true is that the people you use with aren't your "real" friends. My best friends today, Tom, Dan, Big Tom, Soupy, Troy, et al, were all people I used with, and if I ever found myself in a pinch, real trouble, these would be the first people who'd help me out. I think.
Then again, none of us find ourselves in real "pinches" anymore. Because we grew the fuck up. The number one method for getting sober isn't AA, and it isn't religion or any other program. It's maturing out of it. You simply get to the point where enough is enough, and you do something about it. Or you die. I've had a few friends die, more than a few actually. But most of my friends from those days made it out.
When I finally managed to locate Tom Pitts, I was in grad school in Miami, and I tracked him down via the Internet and mutual acquaintances. I still have the e-mail. All it said was, "So you got out too, eh?" And there was a phone number.
Tom Pitts was one of groomsmen for my my wedding a few weeks ago. All the shit we went through together, to have him standing up there with me, as I married the mother of my son, fuck, man, that's like Lion King shit, the circle of life or something.
These days our kids can hang out together. And we have housewarmings and birthday parties. And when I see Tom, yeah, we still talk about those days, and I imagine someone overhearing us might think we're telling war stories, like a twisted version of glory days. But I don't think we do it because we want to live in the past; I think in a weird way it's to be proud of how far we've come, and to appreciate all that we got now. And we got a lot.
Even if "Joe Pifford" has to answer the occasional question from a 4-year-old about why he threw an ice cream cone at her daddy.