• Photo: Bobby Abrahamson

THE SUMMER I turned 19, I met a young man on a bus who was traveling from New Mexico (where he'd spent the week with his father and stepmother, kicking a heroin habit) to Hartford, Connecticut (where he was heading, to score some heroin). The boy described to me, in fine libidinal detail, what he was going to do as soon as he got off the bus, the gist of which was: He was going to get off the bus, cross the street, and knock on the door of some guy he knew. He and that guy would go into the living room and cook a spoon and shoot up. Then, at long last, "it" would begin. I took "it" to mean some kind of weeks-long pleasure spiral that would result, eventually, in his death—but all I had to go on was what I'd seen in movies. That guy he was going to shoot up with, he added, "is a real bad dude."

A few seats ahead of us, a big Irish kid from New Jersey in a FUBU sweatshirt kept lifting off his massive headphones to eavesdrop on our conversation. Every once in a while he'd butt in to admonish the junkie, "Yo, you're fucked up, man." Or "damn, son, you shouldn't fuck with that shit," until, eventually, he grabbed his backpack and moved into the seat next to ours. The Irish kid told us a cautionary tale about a tweaker from his neighborhood who ran from the cops one night, high on PCP, with compound fractures in both tibias, until his legs finally gave out and folded under him accordion-style. My new junkie friend laughed and nodded knowingly. "That's some Hartford shit right there," he said. I was pretty sure I'd heard that same story a decade earlier, in Oregon, from a DARE officer in Mrs. Meyers' fifth grade class, but I let it ride because we were all getting along so well.

I didn't admire the junkie's addiction, but I liked the guy from Hartford. I was impressed by his tantric determination. It struck me as romantic, that he would travel more than 2,000 miles to get high in a particular living room, when he could have easily scored in any number of Greyhound stations along the way. I also liked that he was reading a Russian novel; he seemed to comprehend the tragicomic edge of his errand.

He was already through the worst of the withdrawals, so I asked what seemed like the obvious question. "If you've made it this long, how about don't do it?"