This is the journal of Joe Necchi, a junkie living on a barge that plies the rivers and bays of New York. Joe’s world is the half-world of drugs and addicts—the world of furtive fixes in sordid Harlem apartments, of police pursuits down deserted subway stations. Junk for Necchi, however, is a tool, freely chosen and fully justified; he is Cain, the malcontent, the profligate, the rebel who lives by no one’s rules but his own.
Author Alexander Trocchi’s muse was drugs—but in this novel, he does not romanticize the source of his inspiration. If the experience of heroin, of the “fix,” is central to Cain’s Book, both its destructive force and the possibilities it holds for creativity are recognized and accepted without apology.
“The classic of the late-1950s account of heroin addiction . . . An un-self-forgiving existentialism, rendered with writerly exactness and muscularity, set this novel apart from all others of the genre.” —William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch
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My scow is tied up in the canal at Flushing, N.Y., alongside the landing stage of the Mac Asphalt and Construction Corporation. It is now just after five in the afternoon. Today at this time it is still afternoon, and the sun, striking the cinderblocks of the main building of the works, has turned them pink. The motor cranes and the decks of the other scows tied up round about are deserted.
Half an hour ago I gave myself a fix.
I stood the needle and the eye-dropper in a glass of cold water and lay down on the bunk. I felt giddy almost at once. It's good shit, not like some of the stuff we've been getting lately. I had to be careful. Two of the workmen in wide blue dungarees and wearing baseball caps were still hanging about. From time to time they crossed my catwalk. They were inquisitive. They had heard the noise of the typewriter during the afternoon and that was sufficient to arouse their curiosity. It's not usual for a scow captain to carry a typewriter. They lingered for a while, talking, just outside the cabin. Then, a few minutes before five, I heard them climb back on to the dock and walk away.
Lying on the bunk, alert to the sudden silence that has come over the canal, I hear the buzz of a fly and notice it is worrying the dry corpse of another fly which is half-gouged into the plank of the wall. I wonder about it and then my attention wanders. A few minutes have passed. I hear it buzz again and see that it is still at its work, whatever it is, settled on the rigid jutting legs of the corpse. The legs grow out of the black spot like a minute sprout of eyelashes. The live fly is busy. I wonder if it is blood it wants, if flies like wolves or rats will eat off their own kind.
— Cain at his orisons, Narcissus at his mirror.
The mind under heroin evades perception as it does ordinarily; one is aware only of contents. But that whole way of posing the question, of dividing the mind from what it's aware of, is fruitless. Nor is it that the objects of perception are intrusive in an electric way as they are under mescalin or lysergic acid, nor that things strike one with more intensity or in a more enchanted or detailed way as I have sometimes experienced under marijuana; it is that the perceiving turns inward, the eyelids droop, the blood is aware of itself, a slow phosphorescence in all the fabric of flesh and nerve and bone; it is that the organism has a sense of being intact and unbrittle, and, above all, inviolable. For the attitude born of this sense of inviolability some Americans have used the word "cool."
It is evening now, the temperature has fallen, objects are growing together in the dim light of the cabin. In a few moments I shall get up and light my kerosene lamps.
— What the hell am I doing here?
At certain moments I find myself looking on my whole life as leading up to the present moment, the present being all I have to affirm. It's somehow undignified to speak of the past or to think about the future. I don't seriously occupy myself with the question in the "here-and-now," lying on my bunk and, under the influence of heroin, inviolable. That is one of the virtues of the drug, that it empties such questions of all anguish, transports them to another region, a painless theoretical region, a play region, surprising, fertile, and unmoral. One is no longer grotesquely involved in the becoming. One simply is. I remember saying to Sebastian before he returned to Europe with his new wife that it was imperative to know what it was to be a vegetable, as well.
... the illusory sense of adequacy induced in a man by the drug. Illusory? Can a ... "datum" be false? Inadequate? In relation to what? The facts? What facts? Marxian facts? Freudian facts? Mendelian facts? More and more I found it necessary to suspend such facts, to exist simply in abeyance, to give up (if you will), and come naked to apprehension.
It's not possible to come quite naked to apprehension and for the past year I have found it difficult to sustain even an approximate attitude without shit, horse, heroin. Details, impressionistic, lyrical. I became fascinated by the minute to minute sensations and when I reflected I did so repetitively and exhaustingly (often under marijuana) on the meaningless texture of the present moment, the cries of gulls, a floating spar, a shaft of sunlight, and it wasn't long before the sense of being alone overtook me and drained me of all hope of ever entering the city with its complicated relations, its plexus of outrageous purpose.
— The facts. Stick to the facts. A fine empirical principle, but below the level of language the facts slide away like a lava. Neither was there ever a simple act; in retrospect I couldn't isolate such a thing. Even while I lived in my act, at each phase, after the decidings, it unfolded spontaneously, and frighteningly, and dangerously, at times like a disease run riot, at times like the growing morning sunlight, and if I find it difficult to remember and express, and difficult to express and remember, if sometimes words leap up, sudden, unnatural, squint and jingling skeletons from the page, accusing me and amusing me with their obscene shakes and making the world mad, I suppose it is because they take a kind of ancestral revenge upon me who at each moment is ready to marshal them again for death or resurrection. No doubt I shall go on writing, stumbling across tundras of unmeaning, planting words like bloody flags in my wake. Loose ends, things unrelated, shifts, nightmare journeys, cities arrived at and left, meetings, desertions, betrayals, all manner of unions, adulteries, triumphs, defeats ... these are the facts. It's a fact that in the America I found nothing was ever in abeyance. Things moved or they were subversive. I suppose it was to escape this without going away, to retreat into abeyance, that I soon came to be on a river scow. (Alternatives: prison, madhouse, morgue.)
I get up off the bunk and return to the table where I light an oil-lamp. When I have adjusted the wick I find myself fumbling again amongst the pile of notes, extracting a certain page. I hold it close to the lamp and read:
— Time on the scows. ...
Day and night soon became for me merely light and dark, daylight or oil-lamp, and often the lamp became pale and transparent in the long dawns. It was the warmth of the sun that came on my cheek and on my hand through the window which made me get up and go outside and find the sun already far overhead and the skyscrapers of Manhattan suddenly and impressively and irrelevantly there in a haze of heat. And as for that irrelevance ... I often wondered how far out a man could go without being obliterated. It's an oblique way to look at Manhattan, seeing it islanded there for days on end across the buffering water like a little mirage in which one isn't involved, for at times I knew it objectively and with anxiety as a nexus of hard fact, as my very condition. Sometimes it was like trumpets, that architecture.
I find myself squirting a thin stream of water from the eye-dropper through the number 26 needle into the air, cooking up another fix, prodding the hardened cotton in the bubbling spoon ... just a small fix, I feel, would recreate the strewn ramparts of Jericho.
Tout ce qu'on fait dans la vie, même l'amour, on le fait dans le train express qui roule vers la mort. Fumer l'opium, c'est quitter le train en marche; c'est s'occuper d'autre chose que de la vie, de la mort.
At 33rd Street is Pier 72. At the waterfront there are few buildings and they are low. The city is in the background. It has diners at its edge, boxcars abandoned and stored, rails amongst grass and gravel, vacant lots. The trucks of moving and storage companies are parked and shunted under the tunnels of an area of broad deserted shadows, useful for murder or rape. The wharves jut forward into the Hudson River like the stunted uneven teeth of a prehistoric jaw. The George Washington Bridge is in the north. After eight, when the diners close, the dockside streets are fairly deserted. In winter the lights under the elevated roadway shine as in a vast and dingy shed, dimly reflecting its own emptiness. An occasional car moves in from the dark side of the crosstown streets, turns into the feebly-lit dockyard area, travels ten or twenty blocks south, and then moves out, outwards again into the city. Walk three blocks east to Ninth Avenue and the lights get brighter. A woman bawls her husband's affairs to a neighbour in the street from the window in which she leans thirty feet above your head as you walk along.
Pier 72 is the one immediately north of the new heliport which lies in the southern end of the basin formed by Piers 72 and 71. The remainder of the basin is used to moor the scows of a stone corporation with quarries at Haverstraw, Tomkin's Cove, and Clinton Point on the Hudson River. Piers 72 and 73 are close together. Nine scows at most are moored there. Looking in from the river you see the gabled ends of two huge and dilapidated barns perched on foundations of stones and heavy beams, with a narrow walk round three sides of each. The gable-end of Pier 73 is a landmark from the river because it is painted with red, white, and blue stripes representing American Lines. At the end of Pier 72 there is a small landing-stage set with bollards and cleats of cast iron. A little wooden box painted green is nailed to the gable end of the shed. It houses lists from the dispatcher's office of the crushed stone corporation, lists which pertain to the movements of the scows.
An hour ago I smoked some marijuana which came from Chile. It was particularly good. But for me it is an ambiguous drug. It can induce control or hysteria, and sometimes a terrifying and enervating succession of moods, new beginnings, generated spontaneously in the unwatched part of oneself ... slow, quick, switchback, tumbling away from oneself in a sickening fashion, and then, suddenly, being in control. This can be exhausting. Intense concentration on an external object suddenly shatters, and one has a fleeting, ambiguous glimpse of one's own pale face. The cause of what is to be shunned is the junction of the seer and the seen. The ordinary logic of association ceases to be operative. The problem, if one takes the trouble to pose it at all, is to find a new criterion of relevance. Understandably, at such times, the list in the box at the end of Pier 72, indicating as it does the hour at which a tug will arrive to take one's scow in tow, has a fatality about it. One had hoped to go into the Village on arrival at the pier but on reading the list one finds one's scow amongst those to be picked up immediately.
This particular night — it was in the middle of winter — I was not on the list. I went over it twice very carefully, running my finger down the column of scows, O'Brien, Macdougal, Campbell, O'Malley, Matteotti, Leonard, Marshall, Cook, Smith, Peterson: Red Star, on arrival; Coogan, Baxter, Haynes, Loveday : Colonial, with the tide. There were a few scowmen hanging around the end of the pier, mostly those who were going out at once.
I went back to the scow. In the cabin I stowed away some things that were lying about, my hashish pipe, a bottle of benzedrine, locked the cabin and climbed over four scows and on to the pier. I walked along the huge beam which provides the narrow footpath parallel to the shed as far as the dock. I walked slowly, using a flashlight to guide my feet. On my left the corrugated iron of the shed, on my right, about fourteen feet below me, the still dark water of the basin reflecting a few naked lights. Its surface was smeared with oil and dust. Finally I reached the dock and walked between some parked boxcars to the street under the elevated road. I cut diagonally across town and at 23rd Street on Eighth Avenue I took a taxi to Sheridan Square. I telephoned Moira from the drugstore that sells all the paperbacks. She told me to come over.
She was glad to see me. We hadn't seen one another for over two weeks. — Have you taken dope? Nope. — Our conversation was sometimes limited. She had smoked pot for some years but her attitude towards heroin was rigid. It made our relationship tense and hysterical. Sometimes I wondered why I bothered to go to see her, and that was the way it was with most of my friends who didn't use junk. "It's none of my business," Moira said. "I've got no sympathy for them."
It would make me very angry when she said that. I wanted to shake her. "You say that! Sometimes I think of all those ignorant cops, all those ignorant judges, all those ignorant bastard people committing bloody murder like they blow their noses! They think it so fucking easy they can stamp it out like syphokles, whatever it is, jewry, heroin-addiction, like some kind of streptococcus, and getting high an un-American rabies, Jesus, to a healthy paranoid like me who likes four walls and police-locks on all doors and a couple of good Frankensteins to draw off the mob with their flaming torches, it looks like anyone who depicts you, dear Saviour, with a beard will be dealt with cold turkey until they take him before a judge and then, because it can't stand, being bestial, scarcely human, the quivering, blubbering, vomiting mass is given half a grain of morphine ten minutes before he is arraigned so that they won't have to take him in on a stretcher and run the risk of having some irresponsible goon send for a doctor!"
"It's none of my business!" Moira screamed.
"Whose business is it? What are you going to do? Leave it to the experts? Tomorrow, the Age of the Doctors! They're already challenging the tax men and the F.B.I. for a profitable monopoly. Let's put it on prescription, eh? confine it to the laboratories for more tests. They're always talking about a lack of scientific evidence, about its being unsafe to make it public! They're scared the public will find out it ain't that fucking horse after all!"
"They're scared! Who's they?"
"You! Dammit to hell, Moira! You!"
"I don't want to discuss it! I won't argue with you!"
At that moment the telephone rang. She was grateful for the distraction. But it was Tom Tear. As welcome as a newborn Mongolian idiot. He had heard I was in town and wanted to know if I wanted to score. She held her hand over the mouthpiece of the receiver and her face became angry as she became aware of my hesitation. She spoke coldly into the telephone: "He's here now. You'd better speak to him yourself." As she handed me the telephone she said she didn't want him telephoning me there. She avoided my disbelieving eyes and her face became set and hard. I could see only the back of her head now, the long blonde hair in a smooth bell. — I remember the first time I smelled it; her cheek was cold; it was the middle of winter and in Glasgow there was snow in the streets. By the time I turned my attention to the telephone I knew I would score, that it was only a question of arranging the time and the place. The thought of an evening with her in her present mood was stifling. Tom's voice, because he had been sensitive to the tone of Moira's, was apologetic, almost wheedling. "Don't be so fucking sorry," I said to him, watching her overhear. "Where'll I meet you?" A place at Sheridan Square in half an hour's time. I put down the telephone. Moira was pouring coffee.
I had to say something. I said: "Look, Moira, I know what I'm doing."
"I don't want to talk about it," she said dully.
And we didn't. I wanted to explain and not to explain. At the same time I considered her attitude impertinent. I drank my coffee and left.
Fay was with Tom. Tom made the run alone and Fay and I walked over together to his place from Sheridan Square. We walked quickly so as to get there by the time he returned with the heroin.
"It's going to be good, baby," Fay said.
The room has a low sloping ceiling with two small windows on one side and a fireplace with a raised brick hearth in an opposite corner, at the far end of the adjacent side. Sometimes Tom Tear burned a few sticks in the grate and we sat with our knees at the level of the fire which cast shadows on the dirty ceiling and walls and on the bricks of the fireplace, the three of us on a small, backless couch spread over with a fawn blanket, looking into the fire, Fay in the centre, still wearing her moth-eaten fur coat, her arms folded, her head sunk on her chest, her slightly bulbous, yellowish eyes closed. We sat there after we had fixed and watched wood burn. The white boxwood burned quickly. Tom Tear leaned forward and added a few sticks to the blaze. He is a tall man in his late twenties, lean, with a beautiful, pale, lean face expressionless often as porcelain, the nose long, the eyes half-closed and heavily lidded under the drug.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cain's Book"
Copyright © 1960 Grove Press, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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