Obscured American: Shane the fighter, heroin chipper and ghetto teacher

In the early ‘90s, I sometimes worked the door at McGlinchey’s. Lurching in, 6–9 Lloyd Lunz guffawed, “Yo, heavy duty bouncer action tonight!” I was only paid $30 for five hours of carding baby-faced carousers, and it was torture to be sober while everybody got trashed. One night, there was some commotion outside, so I ran out and saw Shane wailing on some suited dude on the asphalt, right in the middle of 15th Street. The dude’s girlfriend was hovering above them, screaming.

Shane had been inside, drinking. That day, he discovered his out-of-state sister had gotten pregnant, then given the kid away for adoption. This really pissed Shane off, so he was in a punching mood when the suited dude asked, “Yo, is this a gay bar?”

A good answer would have been, “It is now,” but Shane wasn’t trying to be witty.

Not long after, Shane got into another fight, this time with him swinging a nunchucks, and no, Shane’s no Chinese kung fu sifu, but an Irish cold beverage enthusiast born in North Camden. Cops had Shane surrounded, but he was too juiced up to drop his weapon on command, so an officer whacked Shane’s head real good with a night stick, before six or seven of them jumped on him. “For the next month, dude, I couldn’t fuckin’ open my eyes in the morning without seeing the ceiling spin. My head was like a balloon.”

Charged with assault, weapon possession, public disorder and resisting arrest, Shane never bothered to show up in court, yet nothing came of it.

McGlinchey’s rock bottom prices attracted the dregs of Center City, so there were plenty of screwups and weirdos there. Among its bartenders, though, one man has managed to lift himself up quite nicely. In the ‘80s, Fergie arrived from Ireland with just $500. Carless, he walked down the side of a Houston freeway, entered a bar and got hired. Now, Fergie has four Philly taverns, with three quite upscale. All are smartly decorated, with no televisions. I’ve never been to Ireland, but most pubs I’ve seen in England and Scotland have more character, warmth and sense of history than your average American bar. Not just flitting across this earth, they accumulate associations and gravity.

Not everyone can have Fergie’s Horatio Alger resume. With no head for ledgers, some folks can barely run a lemonade stand, and I only have to look at a mirror to spot one. Shane’s no businessman either and, frankly, the odds of him surviving to his 50s, free or behind bars, weren’t terribly high. Miraculously, I ran into the trouble magnet three days ago.

In my neighborhood for pho, Shane got sidetracked by Friendly Lounge, and that’s where I found the dude. We hadn’t talked in over two decades. Though Shane said he wasn’t supposed to get too sloshed, I could see that he was way gone. After a while, I suggested he grab a slice of pepperoni to soak up the suds, then weave home before sundown, but Shane simply could not extricate himself from that vice-like barstool. I ended up scrawling a note to his wife, “I DRANK WITH SHANE AT FRIENDLY LOUNGE TODAY. HE IS EXCUSED. HE SAID YOU ARE A WONDERFUL WIFE. LINH DINH.” The entire bar got a big laugh out of it.

In his late 30s, Shane got a degree in education from Arcadia College. He graduated with honors and hasn’t been in a fight in years. Shane also quit heroin. This is how it happened:

You really want me to tell you this story? Me and John went way back. A long time. Fuckin’ . . . everything. He got addicted to heroin, then I started doing a little bit. What they call chipping. You don’t really get too addicted.

I was hanging out. My wife was out of town. I was doing heroin and she didn’t even fuckin’ know it. I called John up, because he was my guy, and he was the one who was addicted. He got the dope.

I had been out all motherfuckin’ day, drinking like a motherfucker, in McGlinchey’s. It was right around Halloween time. They had all the decorations. I must have had, fuckin,’ twelve pints of beer.

You’re not supposed to have heroin with alcohol, you know what I mean?

John lived around there. There’s an old saying, “I buy, you fly.” John didn’t care how fucked up I was. Actually, he might have, but he wanted the dope.

Every once in a while, you snort drugs and you sneeze. John was like, “Dude, man, you’re sneezing up all the drugs!”

After I sneezed up two bags of heroin and 14 pints, I went . . .

When you overdose, you turn different colors, right? First you turn red because you can’t breathe, then you turn white, then you turn purple.

I woke up with about four EMTs all around me, on the middle of John’s floor. They were like, “How much heroin did you do?! What much heroin did you do?!”

John had called 911, and he actually gave me mouth to mouth. I was actually, kind of, in a way, touched, because John could have gotten in trouble, you know what I mean? When his girlfriend overdosed in his apartment before that, he called me up, “What should I do?!” I was like, “John, you should call the cops.” At least he learnt a lesson. He knew what to do when I overdosed. He helped me out.

It’s ER stuff. If you don’t have insurance, too bad!

What I told them was, I was drunk, and I smoked a joint that somebody might have laced with heroin. I’m always trying to get out of shit, you know what I mean? How are you going to get out of shit unless you think?

Weird thing was, John kept doing heroin for a long time after that, but I stopped, dude. You know what, I found two bags of heroin on the street, and I still have them. I don’t want to sell them because . . . if I ever want to off myself, you know what I mean?

If you do two dime bags a day, that’s 60 bucks, but I’ve been sitting here since 10:30, and it’s, what, four O’clock already? Beer ain’t cheap either. If you smoke pot, that’s the smart fuckin’ thing. Except I smoked pot the other day for the first time in a while, and it made me totally insane, dude. I was crying! I went psychotic!

The last time I smoked pot before that was two years ago, when my wife was away. When my wife goes away, dude, all the handles fall off. It was around Saint Paddy’s Day. I smoked pot because I had some in the house. A friend gave it to me. I smoked pot, then I went to Ten Stone, that bar at 20th and South. Last thing I remember. When I woke up, I was in the ER, again! They must have found me on the street.

They said, “You know where you are?” All of a sudden, you wake up and you don’t know where you are. When in the hospital, that’s the first thing they ask you, when you open your eyes, “Do you know where you are?”

I was like, “Look, am I under arrest? If I’m not under arrest, I want to leave. Now!”

I shouldn’t drink. I know I shouldn’t drink. I’ve been married going on 30 years. I can’t stop myself, sometimes. My wife won’t drink with me anymore, man. I’ve got no kids. I’ve got four cats. I love those cats like kids, though. Good cats, man. Anyone messing with my cats, I’d kill the person that mess with my cats. You think it’s funny but it ain’t.

I don’t even drink whiskey, I don’t drink bourbon, I don’t do drugs anymore, I don’t snort coke anymore, I don’t do nothing.

Blacking out is sad. Sex was never my issue. It was more violence, and it’s not even that. I’ve never had a problem with anybody. Somebody fuckin’ had a problem with me, that’s all.

The cops kicked my ass. You get your ass kicked. People kick your ass. It’s not anything I asked for. You ever seen the movie, Cool Hand Luke? It’s a classic movie about somebody that never did nothing to anybody. My middle name is Luke.

Normally, I teach school, but I need to have shoulder surgery because I tore my rotator cuff, and I’m depressed, and I have, ah, anxiety.

I taught nine-year-olds in Point Breeze. I taught all kinds of subjects. I had 29 kids. I taught for 13 years, with six years in Point Breeze. I can’t do that anymore.

Your spirit goes out, you know what I mean? You can’t fuckin’ do it anymore . . . and nothing helps. You go in there the next day, and it’s the same shit. It’s a hard-assed environment. It eats your heart. I’m done, man. I can’t do it anymore.

I taught in North Philly, West Philly. It’s the same shit.

You go into it. Obviously, you’re an idealistic person, you want to make a . . .

You can’t even imagine. My issue is, Where is the entity that created you? Where is the nebulous something that spawned this fuckin’ monster or whatever it is that burst out of the pod? It’s like sci-fi, man. It’s like science fiction craziness. I’m not the monster’s parent. I’m not the elephant man’s parent.

If you’re working in that situation, day after day, you’ll start to feel, The people who spawned this person that I’m dealing with don’t care, and if they don’t care, how am I supposed to solve anything? If you have no respect for the life that you fuckin’ gave, that responsibility is gonna fall on me? I’m sorry, dude, that ain’t right.

When I was in North Philly, there was a guy I was working with. His name was Van. He told me before he came to the US, they had a hundred kids in the classroom, and the teacher had a bamboo stick or something, and you could hear a pin drop.

Something works, right? Something doesn’t work.

It’s a breeding ground. Forget reading and writing, you’ve got people whose asshole parents can’t even put on their pants right. Fuck, man, their grandparents can’t even put on their pants right, and the more kids you have, the more money you’ll get, and if you call your kids retarded, you’ll get even more money. That is truly psychotic. You want your kids to be as dumb as fuckin’ possible so you can get the most money from the government. You want eight retarded kids. Do you want your kids to be stupid?

If you go to Point Breeze, the only bar I’d recommend is Sit On It, at 19th and Miflin. Ask for Miss Mary. She’s all right.

Back in the old days, you wouldn’t have to make an excuse and say to your wife, “Oh, I’m drunk!”

My grandfather’s grandfather was a coal miner up in friggin Hazelton. He had 11 kids, friggin smashed up furniture when he felt like it.

You know Willem DeKooning? That guy used to get so drunk, he passed out in the gutter!

I don’t go to church much, but the other day, I passed by Saint Patrick and I thought, Why the fuck do people build these buildings for nothing that’s not there? People build these monuments for something that’s not there!

Aryans went all the way down to India. After Jesus died, you had all these people proselytizing, all the way to the bottom of India. There are all these churches in Karala, India. It’s a hotbed of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, but what if all these places of worship, what if all of it is just a bunch of fuckin’ bullshit!

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. You can’t have pride!

The Shakers’ motto is, “We will put our hands to work, and our hearts to God,” so they would make the most beautiful shit, you know, the simplest crap.

You know what my therapist said to me? He said, “Stop whining! Stop being a baby! Stop complaining about this and that,” so you know what? I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want to do! What the hell do you have to explain yourself for?

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America.

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