Fishing in Public

Needled

Hey brethren! How’s things? OK? Me, I’m having a day of it.

So I’m walking uptown by Longfellow’s statue on my daily jaunt to Fresh Approach and I come across two things that change my mood and my itinerary. On Congo I found an Easy Touch 1 cc. disposable syringe. And on Dow Street, one King James Family Bible, abridged. And smash, like a Willie Mays homerun, it caught me right in the noggin. I do believe the Lord has designated me to sound the alarm on this huge problem.

About 50 years ago, Portland, Maine turned into “Speed City.” Everyone who was anyone just had to keep a dime of speed to shoot. So you’d need a syringe to shoot it with, but you see, they used to be a lot more difficult to get. Back in them days we’d find a diabetic and procure his syringes. And then we wouldn’t let go of ’em. No, no, no. We’d clean them, with alcohol, bleach, peroxide — you know, germ-killers, dude.

But the trouble was things like bad cleaning habits, no time to clean ’em, simple forgetfulness — all kinds of stuff — so that you turn around and bang, someone’s got a case of hep. Hepatitis, that is. That was the terror back then. Soon enough, most of us ended up with hep C. You mostly don’t die from it, but boy you’d wish to fuck you did. Your skin turned an ugly shade of brown. Eyes too. Not a pretty picture. High as all get out most of the time, though.

Things stayed quiet for a while after that. AIDS came around the time cocaine blew into town. And then syringes took a new course. There was a lot more around. We didn’t have to wash ’em anymore — with that many around, it made re-use unnecessary. But then again, somebody had to be re-using, eh? I don’t remember any big drops in AIDS when all the needles showed up. I guess for some folks it was full steam ahead, “Fuck the AIDS!” And who knows what else?

When I was into playing snoballs, somehow I got nominated to take care of the used, no-good sets of works. I threw them in the sewers ’cause I didn’t know any better. Maybe a dumpster.

After a couple trips out West, I finally returned, and of course we’d managed to stay in touch with our convenient diabetic, so we’d always have the fixin’s at our disposal. And then, lo and behold, I’m enrolled in a methadone facility. I stopped shootin’, happy in my heart knowing I had made the right decision. I stayed way out of touch with the dope scene, and all my friends had O.D.’d or what have you. I didn’t know a goddamn thing about syringes anymore, except seeing ’em all over the place. So I decided to do some investigating.

Boy, joining the clinic kept me farther out of the loop than I thought! It’s a whole new world out here, ain’t it? For instance, I had no idea there’s a health clinic on India Street giving out free syringes. Yeah, someone gave me the word yesterday that they even bring them down to Preble Street Resource Center, I guess for convenience. And to think how back then we once made our own syringe using an air-pump pin for footballs. How abysmal.

Anyway, it’s called the Needle Exchange, and ironically enough, it’s in a building where I’d painted the railings many years before, the time I got tested for AIDS (negative, by the way). And sure enough, I’m at the right place: there’s a syringe cap laying beside the rubbish container. I doubt if anyone would have noticed but an ex-junkie like me.

So I went inside and had a chat with a woman named Laura, who is a nice, gentle person, not the type of misanthrope I’d pictured running such an operation. Actually, the place is so welcoming that I finished writing this column at a picnic table on their lawn.

Now, I’m fortunate I live across the street from a police substation, which I’m visiting all the time with spikes I find in the neighborhood. But what about people who don’t have a cop shop, or a sharps box, or a clinic to bring needles to? Laura said she thinks the only other program like this is in Lewiston.

Now, I may be a little slow, but doesn’t that leave the rest of the state out to dry? What do they do in a place like Augusta? I’ve been there, and I didn’t see any sharps boxes or needle clinics. I’ll tell you: they share dirty needles, and then those end up on the street.        So here’s what it boils down to: Maine needs more needle exchanges and sharps boxes in public places. Just imagine the worst thing of all to happen. Your child picks up a cute little orange toy. “Don’t touch,” you say. Too late. You notice a drop of blood on their cute little fingers. Now what do you say?