Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
With its drug-crazed paranoids and criminals, scenes of anonymous sex and endless searches for a better high, Leaving Dirty Jersey is James Salant’s remarkably unglamorous account of the meth-fueled year he spent in motel rooms and trailers—-and a breakup letter to the tough kid he so desperately needed to be. Read an interview with Salant here.
The room was filling with smoke, and I had that feeling you get when people you’ve known separately are hanging out and getting along. I figured if I could just get a little higher the situation would be perfect, so I went into the bathroom and finished off the heroin with a shot that looked like creamy chocolate milk. I thought I would throw up, but the lump in my throat receded, and after a few minutes of clutching my knees and staring at the floor, the nausea passed, and I floated back through the smoke and lay down on the far side of the bed. Brady asked me if I was all right.
“Of course,” I said, “but I might just pass out here, so you guys stay as long you want.”
“Go for it,” said Danny, laughing. “I’m gonna pack another bowl here, this time from the emergency stash, ’cause—no offense, Jim—what you got here is good, but I wanna taste some of this rocket fuel.”
“Whad’ya got there?” said Brady. “You think this is better?”
I began to nod.
Lamplight shimmered in the smoke, which sailed past me at a steady, disorienting pace, and then it was the room that was moving. “This one’s done,” I heard; “one more?” and then, “Why not?” I lost track of it all, feeling warm and cozy. There was laughter, and flicking lighters, and Danny’s voice coming from somewhere, a dream, maybe, or a muffled radio, noise from an infomercial at two in the morning:
“Check this out—Brady’s so fuckin’ scandalous, he hit the neck of my pipe.”
It was a joking tone, must have been, some friendly ball-breaking, because hitting the neck of a pipe is not a big deal. It’s like asking for a sip and taking a gulp. That’s all.
“No, I didn’t,” said Brady.
“Oh, c’mon. Yeah, you did.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, did you hit it, Nicole?”
“So then, you hit it, Brady—’cause I know I didn’t.”
“No, Danny—I already said, I didn’t hit it.”
“Well, check this out, Brady—there’s only three of us here, and I know I didn’t hit it, and my girl’s sayin’ she didn’t. So then if you’re sayin’ you didn’t, you’re callin’ my girl a liar. You’re disrespectin’ my girl. And you better not be disrespectin’ my girl, Brady, or you’ll get fuckin’ smashed up in here.”
When I heard the word “smashed,” I managed to lift my head off the pillow. They were still sitting, Brady in his chair and Danny on the edge of the bed leaning toward him.
“All I know is I didn’t hit the neck of your pipe, you son of a bitch,” said Brady.
He leaned back and slouched all the way into his chair so that his shoulders rested against the back cushion, as if to say, See? Look how relaxed I am—and that’s the end of it. I was lying on my back, only half conscious, straining to keep my head up. Over there, somewhere, the feeling was incredibly tense, but only over there. I was warm and cozy, dimly aware, and when Brady leaned back, I fi gured it was all okay. I closed my eyes and didn’t see Danny pick up the blowtorch and use it to split Brady’s head open. The sound was like a muffled cymbal, and the blowtorch fell to the floor.
I jumped up. Brady was backpedaling across the room, stumbling and covering his head, while Danny threw wild punches at his shoulders and forearms. They moved together in a frenzy of arms and grunts, bumping into the table and knocking over chairs, Brady with a shocked look on his face that said he just wanted this to stop. When for a split second Danny cornered him against the wall, they instantly twirled around and started across the room again. It didn’t seem possible for them to stop moving.
I surprised myself by getting behind Danny. I grabbed him around his chest and arms, pulled him across the room, and said, “Calm down.”
“Brady, don’t you ever fuckin’ disrespect my girl!” Danny shouted.
He didn’t struggle much. He took a few deep breaths and then seemed to realize I was holding him.
“Get off me!” he growled, though it was understood that he was done fighting.
“Keep it down, man,” I said as I let him go. “It’s late at night. This is my fucking room.”
Danny mumbled a sorry, then told Nicole to get whatever stuff they’d brought. Brady stumbled to the bed and sat down. He blinked rapidly with his mouth hanging open; he rocked and pressed his palm against his forehead while Nicole picked up the blowtorch from a corner of the room. Halfway out the door, Danny looked back at Brady, then shook his head and left. Brady kept rocking on the bed.
“Are you all right?” I said.
“What do you think?” he snapped.
He jumped up and went into the bathroom and a few moments later I heard him, a scared voice—”Oh, fuck!”—and I knew he had just looked in the mirror. He came back into the room, and there was a line, practically black, that ran from his right eyebrow to his hairline. It was speckled with blue paint chips.
Text copyright © 2007 by James Salant. Published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.