Monday, December 14, 2009
Flying High (Part One)
This is the post I intended to write when I ended up writing Brainstorm. I couldn't get into this without some preliminary exposition and then before I knew it I had written 700 words of prelude and it seemed really silly to try to switch gears at that point. In fact, I probably shouldn't have written that first sentence until I was sure that I was writing about what I intended.
Something I experienced, but never understood, when I smoked crystal was that I could be completely focused and very easily distracted at the same time. It's the reason so many meth addicts report starting a million projects and finishing none. I am fully homed in on the task at hand; then someone asks me a question and now I'm on the internet for four hours trying to find out what ever became of Tiger from The Brady Bunch.
The reason I bring this up is because it's why I missed so many planes during the three years I was using crystal. I would start packing for a trip and then find a greeting card that someone had sent me for my birthday and before I knew it I was revamping the filing system for every piece of mail that came into the apartment. If I went to the bathroom to take a shower, I'd realize I left my towel in the other room. On the way to get it I'd see the pipe and think "Oh. I haven't smoked in a while (read: 20 minutes). I should do that." It would either be hours before I remembered I needed to shower or, more likely, I'd remember, go back to the bathroom, remember I forgot my towel and go back to get it, starting the whole process all over again. It's also the reason it sometimes took me 13 hours to get out of the house. I would literally call people every hour for 12 hours telling them that I was really on track now and I'd be out the door in 20 minutes.
Because of all this, even though I know I shouldn't be, I'm sometimes still a little impressed by my ability to pull off some of the shit I pulled off during that time. It's just as amazing to me that I ever got anything done as it is that I got away with any of it. But of everything I had to do during that time, flying posed the most challenges. There was a period of five consecutive trips where I missed either the flight going or the flight coming back every time.
Now, as an aside, a friend once pointed out that I couldn't really count the missed flights as a bad consequence of my drug use since the only reason I was on all those planes to begin with is because of crystal meth.
So why was I doing all this flying? Well, meth (like everything else) is expensive in NYC. Trying to get it here to sell it here would have left me scrounging for every dollar I could find and, at least until the end, I was not interested at all in being "one of those dealers." I had lived in San Diego for many years, so I knew it was one of the biggest crystal outposts in the country. The funny thing to me was that in the nine years I lived there, I never even tried it once. Now, I was scouring my address book for anyone I thought might be able to hook me up. It didn't take me long at all to set up the whole thing.
The original plan was that I would go out to San Diego once, then we would do things via phone and Western Union/UPS after that. Since I was always looking for an excuse to go to California, I bought the plane ticket immediately. That first trip went pretty well. But once we started the cross-country transactions, I understood really well what someone had said to me once when I was having trouble locating something for my own personal use: "The problem with buying crack is that you're usually buying it from crackheads."
Everything went wrong early on. Deals went bad and my friend lost our money. Deals didn't go bad but Fed Ex "lost" the package. We were hemorrhaging money. I knew there was no way we could keep customers if we lost people's money, so every time something bad happened I would get money from different people to get stuff for the people whose money we had lost and then use the profits from that to supply the second set of people. It kept us in business, but it was a business where two of us were sharing from about $50 of profit because of all the problems.
Clearly we needed a new plan. I decided that maybe we were just thinking too small. If I found bigger ticket clients, we'd have more money to work with and could stop dealing with the low-level, shady crackheads and move up into what I was sure was a more dependable circle of players. Of course, this required more work in California, so we decided that once a month I would go out there for 4-5 days and help make sure everything went smoothly. Again, it was hardly a sacrifice for me to head out to my favorite place on earth once a month. So, again I bought a plane ticket.
It occurred to me after I bought the plane ticket that I was probably going to need money for this venture. So I set about networking and pitching my plan to potential clients. I must have had a pretty good business plan (at least good enough to convince a junkie) because before long, I had about five grand for the trip. All in twenties. That's not suspicious, right. Excuse me sir, why does it look like you have a cantaloupe in your pocket? I had no idea how I was going to pull this off. I thought about going to the bank and having it changed into large bills, but that seemed a little bit suspicious as well and, let's face it, it's not like I was John Dillinger. I was so far out of my element here you might as well have been asking me to breathe water.
The idea I/we came up with (I called a friend in for help) was to put the money in plastic storage bags and then tape them to my legs right below the knee. They never pat down that far when you go through security and I could wear pants that were loose enough that the bulge wouldn't show.
However, I balked when my friend suggested I shave my legs to make sure the tape stuck. No friggin' way am I shaving my legs. I'm going to be wearing shorts as soon as I get off the plane. No. Sorry. I told him to just wrap the tape enough times that it would stick to itself. I was pretty sure that would be fine. So, off I went to the airport, walking a little bit like Frankenstein's monster because I was petrified to bend my legs and have the bulge become evident.
What could possibly go wrong with this plan. Standing in line at La Guardia, I was sweating bullets. The only thing going my way here was that the line was moving so slowly that no one could really tell I was walking like I was wearing polio splints. I'm sure I was way too perky and friendly with the TSA agents -- Hey, how are you today? Great morning isn't it? I can't wait to get to California.
Miraculously, I was through and on my way to the gate. My original plan was to duck into a bathroom and transfer the storage bags to my carry-on bag, but of course the plane was minutes from departing. So close did I cut it that when I got to the gate, it was just me and a woman with a baby stroller left to get on the plane. I ain't getting stuck behind a stroller. I have got to get to my seat before I have a nervous breakdown. So, I cut her off and head down the ramp.
Just as I am turning the corner to board the plane, I see that the flight attendant (male for sure, gay almost certainly) is looking at my feet and making a motion with his eyes that maybe I should be looking as well. Apparently one of the storage bags opened during my journey and now $20 bills were raining out of my right pant leg. Remember where I am. The ramp is essentially outside. It's certainly not wind-proof. So, now I'm down on all fours, chasing and grabbing money like I'm in one of those cash scramble machines they used to bring out between games when my dad took me to a Phillies doubleheader.
Of course, the woman with the stroller now had her revenge, rolling over my foot as she disgustedly maneuvered past me. Meanwhile, the flight attendant is just rolling his eyes, with a look that says, "Queen, you are NOT wreaking this kind of havoc on my flight, so just pull it together and find your seat."
I was successful in gathering all the money; not so much in recovering my dignity. So I slunk, eyes planted firmly on my other leg, to my seat and pretty much waited for the authorities to come and pull me off the plane. I'm not sure I've ever known a happier moment than when that plane pulled away from the gate with me still on it. As soon as it was possible, I went to the bathroom and rearranged everything so that I could at least get out of the airport in San Diego without incident.
Here's the kicker. That was NOT the scariest thing that happened to me at an airport. Not even the scariest on that particular trip.
Since we'd had problems with the transportation of the crystal, and this was going to be a pivotal trip in determining how successful we could be, we decided that I should probably just take it with me on the plane. How we determined this was the best course of action AFTER my fiasco transporting the money is only a mystery if you don't remember that the planning session involved a glass pipe and a butane "soldering" torch.
This next part is really confusing to me, because it seems to me that I would have protested this regardless of how high I was, but obviously whatever objections I had were overcome. My friend decided he would make a leather/velcro strap to secure the bag of crystal to my leg (just below the knee). I am desperately trying to remember why this seemed logical at the time, but seriously, I've got nothing.
Even if the plan hadn't been flawed from the start, the fact that we were once again cutting it soclose on getting me on the plane would have unraveled it all anyway. He finished the strap while I was waiting at his front door to go to the airport. Now he never measured my calf. I'm not sure he ever considered that my leg had any shape or dimension at all, because I could put the strap around my leg or around the bag of meth, but absolutely not both. So now it's less than 75 minutes until my flight and I have no means of hiding this bag on my person.
Over my strenuous dissent, my friend insisted that the only reason the tape hadn't worked on the plastic storage bags before was because I had done it wrong. Out of alternatives and time, I agreed to let him tape the bag to my leg and off we went to the airport.
I was no sooner beyond the skycap, having checked my bag, that I felt the bag starting to slip. I grabbed my leg as though I had a charley horse and ran/limped to the men's room. Now I'm in a full panic. I'm going to miss this flight for sure, because I'm going to jail. There's no way that I'm getting past security in a military town looking the way I do.
On the way to California, I dressed business casual, with khakis and a button-down shirt, trying to appear as non-cracky as I could. Now, I'd been up for the entire time I was in San Diego. My last shower was about seven hours ago, but I'd been smoking crystal and sweating it from my pores since then. My hair was matted. The temperature was about 15 degrees too hot to be wearing jeans, but I really had no choice. The only way you can get a clear picture of what I looked like at this point is by clicking here.
I pushed the bag back over the fat part of my calf and fixed the tape as best I could. All I had to do was make it through the security check point and I was home free. It was a Tuesday morning at about 10:30 am. How long could the line be?
I nearly cried when I saw the line not only snaking through the entire serpentine, but out into and around the atrium. Just before you get to the security check point in San Diego, there is this lovely atrium, with the sun streaming in. Beating down on me every step of the way. I had already broken out into a flop sweat when I saw the line. I didn't need any help with that. But as it beat on me, water just started streaming down my face. And my torso. And, of course, my legs. I was dehydrating. Any minute I would be jerky and the whole disaster would be over (I hoped). But just about 20 yards from the guy checking boarding passes, I felt something hit my shoe. Are you fucking kidding me? That did not just fall out of my pants and on to my foot. I froze. Then I saw that for some ridiculous reason, there was a men's room RIGHT THERE. It was like a cartoon, where there is all of a sudden a phone booth in the middle of nowhere for Wiley Coyote to step into. I calmly asked the woman in front of me to hold my place in line and I grabbed the bag and ran into the bathroom.
Now, I was completely out of choices. I had been resisting this the whole time because it seemed like the surest way to get caught, but I took the bag and jammed it down my pants. If you want to understand what I looked and felt like, take a plastic zipper bag (gallon size) and fill it about halfway with rock salt. Now, if you're a guy, wedge it so it is mostly under your junk (because otherwise it looks really, really obvious that something's going on down there). I don't know exactly how to tell you to do it if you're a woman, but the result you're looking for is that it's placed in such a way that it looks like you are walking with the biggest load of shit ever in your pants.
Out I go back to the line, which all of a sudden started moving at warp speed. So, when I walk out of the men's room I don't even see the woman that was in front of me because now she's three people from the TSA guy. As I'm searching, she looks back and waves to me to head up there. I waddle over and get there just in time to hand the guy my boarding pass and ID. Maybe I will make it after all.
"Take off your shoes." Arrrggh. If I bend over, it's going to look like I'm actually taking a shit right now. So I do my best to bring my foot up to my hand and get each shoe off. At this point I am just ready to be taken into custody. I was thinking that it was odd that they hadn't done it yet. They must have been waiting until they could pull me aside and not slow down the line. But no, I go through. The guy at the metal detector moves his head slightly in that way that lets you know you can move on and now I'm getting my carry on and my shoes from the conveyor belt.
Just as I'm about to try and figure out how I'm getting my shoes back on, I hear the announcement. "Passenger [me], please report to gate blah blah. The plane is about to depart." FUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKK! You know she didn't say the gate that was closest to the security check point.
So, I grab my shoes and start to run. And run. I'm panting. I'm sweating. I look like I've been wearing the same adult diaper for a month. But somehow I make it. I'm not exaggerating. She was pulling the door closed as I threw myself in front of her. For a split second, it looked like she might not let me on. Oh, if only I had been that lucky.
I stepped onto the plane, shoes in hand, and realized that my seat was in the second-to-the-last row. You have no idea what a walk of shame is until you've carried your shoes past a couple hundred people who are completely aware that you are the reason they haven't taken off yet, each of them staring daggers at you.
As I settled into my seat, I looked at the flight attendant and started to say, "Do you.."
"NO. STAY IN YOUR SEAT."
After the seatbelt sign was turned off, I went to the restroom intending to rearrange things like I had with the money on the way there. Slight problem. This was one big bag, not two. And I certainly couldn't carry a big bag of meth out of the bathroom and try to put it in my backpack. I thought momentarily about getting the backpack and bringing it back to the restroom with me, but decided I had probably drawn enough attention to myself for one day.
So, I sat for the next five hours with a plastic bag rubbing against my legs, ass and other parts (I had jammed it inside the underwear because I wasn't about to take the chance that it would fall out again). When I finally got off the plane I beelined it to the men's room and ripped the bag out. This next part will be lost on some of you, but some will understand. When I started the trip, the bag was filled with all of these really cool, big chunks of meth. When I pulled the bag out of my crotch, I had a bag of wet sand.
I have no idea why that trip didn't cause me to rethink anything, but it didn't. I spent the next year flying to and from California every month, testing fate over and over. There are many more airport/airplane/airline adventures down the line, but I think that's good for today.
As always, I want to hear what you have to say, even though I'm not totally sure I'm ready for your reactions.
Oh, also, if you like this, feel free to pass the link on to your friends.