PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE, or PUSHING ROCKS UP MONTROSE AVENUE
David Frank is the man behind the Rocks and Blows zine. Its second installment featured this piece in the leadoff spot. To order, send a buck to Rocks and Blows, 1002 W. Montrose, Box 194, Chicago IL 60613.
As I surveyed the room for the thousandth time, I realized once more that there was nothing left to sell. Not just in this room -- nothing left to sell in the entire apartment. Nothing survived the great purge of our material possessions. I looked over the various empty spaces, taking a mental note of where each object once stood. My record collection used to be housed in crates against the back wall. I had over 300 great albums, valuable records that I sold for way less than they were worth. I had a limited-edition Jawbreaker "Chesterfield King" EP, a Husker Du Flip Your Wig on a cool neon purple vinyl, a first pressing copy of Muhoney's Superfuzz Bigmuff -- those are just a few examples. And they're all gone.
It took three separate purges to rid myself of my entire collection. The first purge was, I told myself, just getting rid off some of the crap I'll never listen to again. I was just clearing up space, getting rid of some ballast. The fact that I was spending the $300 bucks I got for 'em on heroin was just a fitting tribute to the iconoclastic nature of the records themselves. By the second wave, however, I could no longer entertain such notions. I sold off the brunt of my collection for $350, saving only my top 30 or so favorites. Gone were all of my Clash records, my Joy Division records with the all-important "Made in England" stickers on the sleeve. I even sold off my Rites of Spring seven-inch. Those 150 records had taken me at least 10 years to acquire. They had entertained me for thousands of hours. And with those 150 records, I was able to stay high for three days. I try not to even think about the final record purge, because that's when I sold off my Replacements records and had to say to myself, "I'm selling off my all time favorite band's records to buy heroin. I am a helpless junky." But covered in sweat and thoroughly dopesick, I gathered my courage, stumbled in to Reckless Records on Broadway, and sold out my favorite band of all time.
Most of the other stuff was easier to sell: I took two PlayStations that I'd been given for two separate Hanukkahs to the pawn shop swearing that I would get them out before the 30 days was up. Jewelry that Joanna or I had acquired over the years was always pretty easy to part with. I sold clothes, books, furniture, a scanner, and anything else that I could find in my house, or anyone else's for that matter. The only other artifact that hurt me as much as the records was the amp and guitar. Not only was the guitar a fender Stratocaster and the amp a Fender Pro Reverb (1971 or maybe '72) with Celestion speakers, they had both traveled cross-country with me and my old band three times. I had written countless songs with them, been on a hundred stages in maybe 50 different cities with them, and I still played often. The $400 insult that I received for the both of them combined kept me high for about three days and all right for a fourth.
Now there was nothing left to sell. I stood in the center of my apartment tallying up my lost possessions and feeling the relentless advance of withdrawal, trying hard to disbelieve what my eyes clearly told me. Seeing the hopelessness of the situation I started to get a little frantic. I moved quickly through the house checking every pocket of every pair of pants that lay strewn about the floor. It didn't matter that I'd already done this yesterday and the day before. Maybe by some magic stroke of junky luck I had overlooked a twenty hiding in that pocket-within-a-pocket that most Levis seem to have. No such luck. I ran toward our ratty couch, flinging the cushions to the ground and gouging at every crevice. Still nothing. No money, no possessions, and no resources at all.
The manic running and searching had temporarily taken my mind of the sickness, but as I collapsed onto the couch every single sweat gland on my body fired at once, making my skin a slick sheet of goose pimples, and I broke into a violent fit of shivering. There was nothing I could do now, no string I could pull or favor I could cash in on. I had already given my parents every conceivable excuse for a Western Union money transfer and had long ago ripped off every friend. I would have to sit here, writhing in sweat, counting the minutes until...well, counting them.
Then I noticed the TV. We did still have a TV. How on earth could I have not seen the TV? Granted, it was an old, shitty TV with rabbit-ear antennae that didn't even get all of the local channels, but hell, I thought, it's a TV, and TV's are pawnable. I had to think carefully about this -- the TV was our last and only link to the outside world. Without it, the apartment would be empty. It was also the only distraction during the endless hours of junksickness that had become a regular part of our lives. What would Joanna say about me having pawned off not only our last link to the world -- not to mention the last object in our apartment other than perhaps the couch and our clothes?
No reason thinking about it too long, I thought, no time. Besides, pretending to actually be weighing the relative pros and cons of selling the TV was hypocrisy in its purest form. I knew that the end result would without doubt be the decision to sell it, while pretending to think about it was merely going through the motions. I briefly considered the notion that junkies were of such single-mindedness that they could simultaneously utilize both brutal honesty and unbelievable dishonesty to further justify their actions towards getting dope. No time for philosophy, either, though.
I sat up on the couch, trying to gather my strength for the coming mission. It would not be easy. The pawnshop was about four blocks away -- that's a half mile -- and it was about 85 degrees outside. I gave serious thought to whether this would even be worth it. What if I lugged the TV all the way there and only got $20 for it? I could only buy two blows with that, plus I'd have to sit here waiting after having walked a mile, sweaty and exhausted. Was this more trouble than it was worth? Well, I thought, I'd just have to hope for the best, and even if I did just get $20, once I felt that dope shoot through my veins it would be worth all the effort.
Then, a new problem occurred to me. If I was only able to get a small amount of dope, would I have the will power to save some for Joanna? After all, she'd be mad enough about me having hocked the TV to begin with, but if I had done it without having at least saved her a little bit of dope the results could be devastating. I'd just have to force myself to save some for her, I told myself, figuring I'd work out whether or not that was the truth later, when I actually had the dope in hand. So with great effort, I lifted my sickly body off the couch, slowly approached the television and picked it up. Of course I had forgotten to unplug it and when the cord went taut the pressure threw me off balance and I collapsed backwards onto the floor, the TV landing in my lap.
I had to sit for a minute or two, breathing heavily to regain my strength. Once I had I ripped the cord free of the outlet, and in one motion, requiring all of my strength, I lifted the television and myself up onto my two feet. I stood still and took a few deep breaths, steadying myself. I was ready to go.
When I reached the door I quickly realized that I would have to put the TV down again in order to unlock the door and then to relock it from the outside. Having gotten up and moved a bit, however, made this series of events a little easier than I thought it would be and within about five minutes I was on the outside of my apartment's locked door, finally ready to head to the pawn shop. I lifted the TV up off the ground, again strangely recalling someone's advice to "lift with your legs, not your back," as if I possessed the mind for technique. But it worked, and I slowly lurched my way down the building's staircase and out the front door, which luckily opened from the inside with a push from my shoulder -- I didn't need to put the TV down again.
Outside on Montrose the midafternoon sun shone brightly as pedestrians and cyclists passed by happily, enjoying the day. The street scene was a stark contrast to my stagnant apartment, and I wondered how obvious I looked. A quick assessment of my shaving, bathing, and tooth-brushing habits of the last year, and remembering that I was lugging a shitty TV down the street, convinced me that I probably looked pretty bad. But fuck that for now, I had work to do.
Walking in this condition consisted of throwing my right leg in a circular forward lunge and then trying to use the momentum to follow up with the left side of my body, while still maintaining a hold on the TV set. It had a sort of Frankenstein-type look to it, but it worked OK awhile and I made my way about a block and a half before having to rest. Resting consisted merely of standing still in the middle of the sidewalk while holding the TV in my arms. It would have been counterproductive for me to actually put the TV down, since lifting it again would require more effort than I had saved up from the rest itself. So I would just stand there letting the sweat roll down my face, shivering from the dopesickness.
After walking and resting for about 15 minutes, I was just about there. I forced myself to cross the parking lot without dropping the TV by constantly reminding myself that I'd soon be sticking a needle into my arm while sitting on the couch in my cool apartment. It was a powerful image, and so I trudged on. When I finally reached the door to the pawnshop I was faced with yet another challenge. Not only did I have to free up one hand to open the door, but I had to first ring the doorbell, as pawnshops (at least in Chicago) are always locked. So while carefully balancing the TV on my left knee and trying to balance on my right leg I rang the bell. Had I not been in Uptown, this might have drawn stares, but once again I had reason to thank my neighborhood for providing cover to any and all scumbags; as the buzzer sounded I quickly walked inside.
Time for my game face. Despite the fact that I was drenched in sweat, emaciated, and sporting an unkempt beard it occurred to me that I mustn't seem desperate. I had to put on an air that said, "I'm selling this piece of crap television at a pawnshop simply because it no longer amuses me and anything less than top market value will immediately send me off to your nearest competitor, buddy." I shambled up to the counter, breathing hard as I practically hurled the TV onto the counter.
"I'd like to pawn this television set," I gasped. "I'd like at least $50 and I'll definitely be reclaiming it next week when I get paid."
The guy took a quick look at the set, then at me, and said, "No thanks, we don't want it."
My heart sank, but as I saw the TV at eye level it suddenly occurred to me that this television was probably 20 years old and a piece of crap even when it was new. It looked like the kind of TV that usually sat on top of another TV that was broken in a squat house or trailer park. For a brief moment I was actually embarrassed for having even asked for $50, but pride is not a luxury a heroin addict can afford. I pulled myself together and pressed on, "OK, man, how bout $30."
He responded immediately. "Look, you didn't hear me. I don't even want this at all. I won't give you nothing for it. It's an old crappy TV. It probably don't even work."
"Nah, man, it works. Test it. Plug it in."
"I don't care if it does work. We don't want it."
Desperation consumed me. Had I really lugged this heavy television set half a mile through the blazing midday Chicago sun only to have to drag it back. Could I even do that? No, I couldn't. If I knew anything at this moment I knew that their was no way in hell that I would be able to even lift the TV off the counter, much less walk out that door and carry it back to my apartment.
And here he was looking at me, waiting for me to do just that, and I knew that he was serious. He really didn't want it at all, and he was just waiting for me to go so he could attend to something else. I had to get all desperate. "Look, man, I really need this money, please give me $20 for it?" I begged.
I think I might have started to shake, cause he seemed to look harder at me. Buddy, that TV is not even worth ten dollars, I'm sorry, but I just can't."
"Ten!" I shot back.
"I'm sorry, man. I just can't. I really can't, man."
I felt like Sisyphus, doomed to the impossible task of rolling a boulder endlessly up a hill, like any man who is simply too weak to bear the burden he has created for himself. I felt the same way that I had felt every single day for the last few years. Like a junky.
Maybe he saw the utter despair cross over my face and for whatever reason decided to take some pity on me, or maybe he just saw a desperate addict who would take anything for his merchandise, but whatever the reason he leaned back, sighed, and said, "OK, man, I'll give you four dollars for your TV, and don't even think of arguing cause I'll just toss you out."
"OK," I replied gratefully, thankful that someone had removed the burden of carrying the television set back to my apartment. I must have sounded like he saved my life.
"Here, sign this. Here's four dollars. See ya."
I stumbled outside into the enveloping heat of midday Chicago and looked around. I had sold off the last thing that any normal apartment would have in it; but for the couch, my apartment was now completely bare. Joanna would get home later on tonight and ask me what had happened to our television set and I would have to explain to her that I had carried it to a pawnshop and sold it for $4. The sun beat down. The cars going through the Sheridan/Montrose intersection continued on their way. I stood there with sweat dipping off my chin, 100 percent exhausted. I knew that I couldn't make it home, that there was no way I could walk home. I was starting to get tunnel vision and my hearing was becoming strange. I didn't want to pass out because that could lead to some encounter with the police, and I knew that I had outstanding warrants. I stood there for a minute, swaying back and forth, unsure of what I should do. The next thing I knew I had flagged down a cab and mumbled, "Montrose and Racine."
The cabbie dropped me off three blocks from where I had first fallen into his car. The fare was $2.85, and I handed him the four for my fare and tip. I walked back inside.