Our only views onto the alley behind our little house are a small window on the stairway and a fisheye from the bathroom (strange, I know). My wife was in the bathroom in the middle of our first night here and thought she was opening the door to a previously unknown closet only to walk out into the inner city alley in her pajamas.
I was using the toilet one afternoon a few weeks ago when I heard two women talking to each other just on the other side of the door. One said to the other, “What are you doing?”
“Takin’ a piss,” the other said. Almost immediately I heard a gush of fluid hit the pavement. I went to the door and looked out of the peephole to see the woman pulling up her pants and yell to the other, “Alright, be safe!”
The clarity with which I heard that interaction made me hesitate to flush for a while. I’d rather our side of that door remain enough of a mystery to people that they continue to think it’s okay to urinate right next to it. Better that, I figure, than desperate people think too hard about what might lie on the other side.
These two small windows grant people the feeling of freedom to live their lives with a small sense of privacy even though they may not have any shelter of their own. And yet, I feel little shame in my eavesdropping, but a great deal of fascination.
Yesterday I was descending the stairs where I noticed a man seat himself down on the other side of the alley in view of the stairway window. He had a cup of pudding which he laid down beside him on the road and he pulled out some small items from his pockets.
I realized right away he was rigging up a syringe with heroin based on my viewings of “Trainspotting” and the free water packets the city gives out that litter some alleys (That I’ve yet to see a used syringe on the street since our return to the city deserves its own post).
I watched, realizing with some shame that I wanted to see him inject the potent drug into his vein. The little window is like a movie screen and Alfred Hitchcock had a powerful theory about film viewers taking a rooting interest in whoever is on screen earliest, no matter what their intentions are. I recently heard a comedian make the same point, but a little more crudely, saying that if you made “Hitler: The Movie,” the audience would want him to succeed. He didn’t go through with his theory, adding the audience might start to turn on him when he invaded Poland, but I’m not so sure. It is the grounds for the success of every mafia movie and heist movie and is why some people accused “Trainspotting” of being a “pro-drug” movie. Truffaut never made a war film because he felt every war film was a pro-war film since the audience witnessed the excitement without the danger and personal tragedy of war.
So I watched this man from the safety of my own home, from the high angle of my staircase window, as he mixed the drug with water and pulled the syringe out of its sterilized container. He would take breaks to eat a spoonful of pudding and look out to the ends of the alley. Only one device was visible at a time, ready to be holstered in case of intruders.
I admired his dexterity and wondered, as I often do when witnessing the women across the street desperately soliciting sex, if his addiction ever gets in the way of his ability to feed his addiction. He, at least, had the drug in hand, the women across the street were two steps removed from that.
He seemed unusually calm and I thought of the common refrain I hear from heroin addicts in the Downtown Eastside that they don’t shoot heroin because it makes them feel so good, but because it makes them feel normal since they feel so crappy the rest of the time (a corollary to George Carlin’s “How do drugs make you feel? They make you feel like taking more drugs.”). I wondered if the effects of the heroin would be visible on his face or if it would just ease the pain he was adept at hiding.
Eventually, the orange cap came off the top of the needle and he filled the syringe. He took another bite of pudding and I wondered where he would inject. Did he still have veins in his arm that had yet to collapse? How long does it take before one is forced to move to different parts of the body to find a vein? I saw him spread out his thumb from his forefinger and he looked ready to stick himself into the webbing of his hand. I stretched my own hand out and then made a fist.
He placed the orange cap back on over the needle and put it in his coat pocket. He got up with his pudding and the little blue container for sterile water fell to the ground. Exit frame left. Iris in on empty water container to pinpoint and… black. Credits roll.