On Being a Teenage Crackhead

I first heard about Michael Rages from my best friend, Travis. He made a whispered allusion to Michael having the best rocks, by which I mean crack, and of being generous with it. Travis didn’t mention what Michael wanted in return. I would learn that on my own, like most things in life.

One night Travis and I were in the Nuthouse bar, one of the few dirty bars left in Palo Alto. Back then, there were still working-class and Supplementary Security Income drunks sitting at the main bar. You know, the types who had a certain bar stool that was theirs.

Back then, people still did lines in the bathroom on dirty toilet tops, and meth heads had found the sweet spot where the alcohol had them relaxed, the speed had them sharp and the combo was good for a game of pool. There were fringe types, pool hustlers, Stanford students and the occasional parolee. This was 1994, before everyone was online. People still went out to connect. 

Michael Rages walked in and Travis pointed him out. He was hard to miss: 6-foot-3 with dark black skin. He had large, piercing light-brown eyes that scanned the room. He was both menacing and handsome. He came straight over to us.

I kind of wanted him to shoot me. Maybe it would change things for the better.

“Hello, young men.”

His voice was radio smooth. He was educated and well-dressed but still had a foot in a harder world. His game was to lure young White boys to his apartment in a neighborhood called Whiskey Gulch where he would get them lit up on smoking cocaine and then, as they fiended for more, issue the ultimatum: Get your dick out or no more crack.

Not a bad deal, really, and nothing most women haven’t endured many times over, giving your body over to someone you don’t really want to give it over to.

But at least it wasn’t butt crack and bending over. Always curious about people, I once asked Michael Rages, “What happened to you?”

“Oh, they forced me against my will when I was a kid; they held me down and they …” He trailed off, but I got the drift. There weren’t going to be any more details.

Michael Rages would turn psychotic after a few hours of smoking crack. As many do, especially longtime users. Crack will eventually have you on the floor searching in vain for anything that looks remotely white and crack-like.

That’s most likely what you’re seeing whenever you’re in a rough neighborhood and you spot a “homeless crackhead” searching the ground. It might be funny to a person who’s never suffered the depths of addiction, but it’s incredibly painful and torturous for the person trapped in the brutal grind of addiction. I always found “the comedown” a seriously lacking description for that gut-wrenching depression.

When he lit up, Michael would accuse the people who always seemed to be at his place of using an invisible fishing line to “fish” the rocks out of his glass pipe.

You see, as the rocks dwindle and you know you’re going to run out, dread and fear, blended with paranoia and psychosis, kick in. All sorts of narratives become real to you. “Night of the Living Baseheads,” by Public Enemy, captures the mood well. Listen to it. 

One night I mocked Michael and his asinine accusations. Everyone else froze as he ranted and made vague threats of violence.

I was disgusted with myself for being caught up in all of this and told him he was fucking crazy. I grew up with crazy; crazy makes me crazy and I don’t give a fuck. Michael didn’t like my attitude and pulled a gun out. He wasn’t pointing it at anyone in particular, just waving it around.

The gun went off and the bullet went into the wall a few feet from me.

I wasn’t scared. In fact, I kind of wanted him to shoot me. Maybe it would change things for the better. Dead or not, either way.

I don’t like guns, but I see why scared men are attracted to them. They give you a false sense of power.

The one time I used one, I “borrowed” it from my wife because I was pissed that I had just been ripped off in Whiskey Gulch. There was a street, O’Connor, where most of the apartments were rented by the area dope runners, who were primarily Mexican. One complex, in particular. was a dope dealer hub.

In the ’80s and ’90s it wasn’t uncommon for the police to surround the whole complex, arrest everyone and sort it out later. That happened to my brother. He got out of jail by using my name, and I had to deal with the consequences for years.

The guy who robbed me was Black and had that just-out-of-jail buff thing going on. He basically forced my money out of me by saying no Mexican would deal with me. I realized that he was doing this to all the scared White people who showed up every five minutes trying to score dope.

I returned with my wife’s gun and robbed the guy who’d robbed me. It felt good to stick a gun in his face and watch him cower. I got all my money back plus his and some dope too. The scary part was I did it in broad daylight. Any cop driving by might have shot me, or at least arrested me. But maybe, in hindsight, they wouldn’t have. A possible benefit of being White.

I saw Michael Rages one more time to score some shit. Something seemed wrong, though I didn’t know what. Later, he was gone. Just gone. Eventually, we found out he had died of AIDS. Which meant exactly what you might think it meant: We had to find someone else to score from. You were looking for pity? Look elsewhere.