Saturday, April 11, 2015

Chester - the sickness of the streets

The story of Chester is a complicated one. It started soon after my arrival. After a month of bouncing around San Francisco, it was not long before I ran out of money. That $900 lasted a total of three weeks with multiple people sponging off of my cash. I had to learn the ropes of survival but I was still a little naive as to the ways and means of the street life. I wasn’t ready to engage in survival sex and/or prostitution, so I learned the ways of pan handling and scoring things by engaging people on the street. People are surprisingly generous to younger fresh faced travelers, especially in the traditionally gay areas of the Castro and Polk Gulch. Castro Street begging was very competitive. Therefore, it was generally left to cute young men who were willing to flirt with passersby. The Polk Gulch area was a more eclectic area of alternative types, punks, queers, trannys, homeless people and junkies. This was where I belonged and this was where I stayed for many years.

The street was accepting of the wayward youth. Many came here to escape prejudice in their homes as young queer youth. Others were in search of a quick high, but the streets of the lower Tenderloin area from Geary to Market were full of opportunistic criminals that would rape, rob or pimp the faint of heart. The Polk Gulch area was the traditional ho stroll for men, the start of the ho stroll for women, and a high density drug area where Larkin Street Youth Services attempted to save the lives of the willing street urchins in search of some rest.

I had hooked up with some other Cincinnati exiles in San Francisco. They were beautiful young boys who made a killing pan handling in the Castro. They were slumming it by hanging out with me in the Gulch. Young people are safer in packs and I was smart enough to want to be safe. I met Chester one night on the sidewalk between Sutter and Bush. I was with a group of kids and he struck up a conversation with us.

 I had the feeling he really was not interested in me. According to the story he had told us over coffee, he had been a queer youth on the streets of San Francisco. He had scraped together the money to get a place while finishing high school.

“Hey would you all be interested in being interviewed for an article about homeless kids for the school newspaper?” he asked. He talking to me but looking at my friends.

 The offer of a free meal was always enticing.
We all agreed- "yes".

 He had his friend with him, a female, which also put us at ease. The whole thing seemed easy enough and a pleasant distraction from the street. That was the start of a relationship of mutual usury and deception.

Chester was small, almost tiny in a way that would have made you describe him as nearly delicate. He had a very small frame. He could not have been more than 5’8” or 5’9”. He had a smooth round face and tiny wrists. I imagined it must have been tough for someone so small to make it on the streets. He would have certainly struck the interest of perverts looking for a particularly young looking man. He invited me and my friend to spend the night at his place in Noe Valley. There was a kindness about this person. Plus, I was not alone. I felt as if he could somehow understand me.It gets so cold at night. Many nights, I stayed outside. Other nights, I would go into abandoned buildings known as squats. Many such buildings were around the city, still damaged from the Loma Prieta earthquake. Chester was an unassuming person that seemed harmless to me.

Noe Valley, where Chester lived, is now one of the richest areas of San Francisco. It is the area where modern families with new wealth relocate to be a part of a vibrant neighborhood. In 1992, however, Noe Valley was full of working families, affordable apartments, and junkies. Chester had a tiny studio apartment above a Thai restaurant on 24Th and Castro that he got for $450 a month. The apartment smelled vaguely of peanut sauce. His small back porch overlooked the back of an elementary school yard. Many afternoons, I would sit in his darkened closet praying to be able to sleep, while children were busy playing outside.
The apartment would be part home, part torture chamber. Chester invited me to stay the next night, too. It was clear he was also very lonely. As a nineteen year old, he was older than most of the
other students. He was one of the only ones that had to work to provide for their needs. He was offering "therapeutic massage" in the Bay Area Reporter, a gay magazine, but most men wanted sex. He
had returned home from a summer abroad teaching English in Thailand. He was depressed about his job in sex work with no real career on the horizon. He also had trouble saving because of his speed binges, Although he was proud of the fact that he always paid his bills. He was the first person I ever knew who could use speed for a few days and stop because he had to work. It was clear that he needed more
than a subject for an article. He wanted a friend. I was his confidant. And later, he wanted me to be his drug connection. Sex for money frequently ends in drugs and drugs can some times help earn money for sex. He used his money from tricks to pick up boys off the street.

Chester was very generous with his drugs and money. This was the kind of friend I needed as a new person to the city. Especially one that had zero interest in fucking me.  But frequently, I would fall out of favor and he would ask for his key back. One weekend he would talk to me about his background as a foster youth that had been molested by his care giver. He needed me. He needed me to listen- to believe him- he told me. But our relationship would quickly turn with my moods. Other weekends, I would get too
crazy for him. Me and three of my friends spent nearly a whole month getting high in his place. When the boys ran out, I got kicked out. Or maybe I left. I got kicked out so many times.

In the drug world, a person who gives you a steady supply of drugs and money is called a mark. A mark is a person who believes in you and continues to give you money despite all evidence or instincts. I would not say that Chester was a mark at this point. I was not that sophisticated at just a few months in the city. He provided me drugs and I provided him with some sort of stability as a regular friend. I think to the building, I was seen as his bipolar girlfriend. I am sure it must have seemed as if we were having the types of quarrels that occur between lovers. We would have some sort of disagreement, but he would always take me back.

Chester had a good heart, or so I thought at the time. He was interested in finding a way to help those who had been sexually abused as he had been. There was a sick world we lived in, the sick world of drugs. So many of the children I met were on the streets as teenagers who left unsafe homes. These seemed to be the people who Chester wanted to bring to his place. The youngest and the most vulnerable youth. I was not around those days. He did that outreaching when I was out on my speed runs.

My speed habit lost to my heroin habit for a few months. I went off to the side of a mountain in Colorado for the twentieth anniversary of the Rainbow Gathering. Old hippies and burnouts met in the forest. I went there, seeking a solution for my drug habit. I spent three weeks living in the dirt. When I came home, Chester was waiting. I had to take two full baths in his huge claw foot tub just to get the dirt off of me. I was not clean, in any way shape or form.The call of the drugs was just too strong at that time. He was willing to pay and I was willing to score. Our love affair was on again.

In all my relationships, I began to question at some point when was this going to end. Where is this going? I had some little shred of morals left. I got tired of feeling like I was somehow using this person. He assured me he needed me. I heard that Chester would go to Polk Street looking for me. He would take home other people that were not so kind, these young boys and hustlers. Sometimes they would rip  him, sometimes they Unfortunately, he was always attracted to helping street kids. Especially boys. There was something he saw in them. I started hearing whispers about videos and pictures. Things I didn't understand.

 As I became more jaded, more hardened to the world, the picture became in focus. What was he doing with these boys. Why were they always taking his money. No one is as charitable as he made it seem to me. Spending time with the queens at The Ambassador Hotel taught me that things in the drug world are half fantasy and half nightmare. I never argued with Chester. Our disagreements were in hushed tones.

 “I don’t think you are who you say you are" I told him one night.
He cut me off "You are high Tracey."
Yes," I told him "I am high. And I don't think you are who you say you are."
His baby face turned red. He looked like an angry man.
"What do you mean Tracey?!"
I sat up and told him again "I just don't think you are who you say you are- just a feeling I have."


He started spinning out of control. Why was I so fucking ungrateful all the time blah blah blah. The same old tired fucking argument. Get out, he told me for the zillionth time.

"Hey bitch" I told him " money can’t buy everything."
 Snap! Fuck. Let me get out of here. Let me get the FUCK out of here.

I went home to detox at my parents house in Ohio. He called me every day. 
His tone got more urgent- “When are you coming back?”  he asked me.
"I don't know." I told him.
"My mother really wants me to stay here. She wants me to take a break. I told her everything."
He told me "I really want you to come back. Now."

He was so upset that we had fought before I left San Francisco. He called me from an airplane. Calls were close to two dollars a minute. He was on his way somewhere but was sweet enough to take the time to check on me. He wanted me to KNOW he NEEDED me to come back.

“I’m not sure. “ I said “ I am trying to work things out here. Right now, I don’t really have a plan.”

I was confused. I was not ready to stop using drugs. The bed there was so comfortable. I was JUST over my detox. I felt halfway safe. My father was not around. He was working in a coal mine doing some type of engineering, so that sinking feeling of hatred was not present. I was at a crossroads. This was my last chance not to plunge head first into my addiction. Chester needed me.

I returned to the Bay Area after weathering an HIV scare after contracting thrush, an opportunistic infection. I did not have AIDS. My parents were willing to take me back. All of these were good things. I will just stay out here for a few weeks. I had an open-ended plane ticket. I had clean clothes.

Unfortunate,y the drugs won. When I returned to SF, Nothing had changed. More drama. More drugs.

I started hearing more  rumors about speed fueled pornos. Young hustlers would approach me, with freshly minted dollars filling up their pockets. “I heard about the way you treated Chester”, one had me cornered on the dope track. They just did not know about Chester. Just wait, I thought. Just wait until the mood changes and this person puts you out again on the street. The reality was there was no replacing me. I had something Chester needed that one other young punk could provide. I provided some front of normalcy. I was the crazy girlfriend. I was the drama queen. I was his excuse and his cover. Everything was starting to make sense.

I walked the streets of San Francisco. I heard whispers in the wind, more like rumors about unspeakable suspicions.  I saw many things a person should not see in a lifetime. The rapes, the beatings, my own life was becoming a fucking horror show. Many things I ignored because they some how benefited me. Other things, I cast aside as part of my own denial process. My life was slowly crumbling around me. I was not in denial anymore.

Things began to change rapidly between Chester and me. As my life was spiraling out of control, I had no time to deal with anyone else’s problems. Chester and I were no longer sparring partners in a drug love triangle. And he hated it. The more I pulled away, the more desperate he became to try to shore up my support. He told me he was not sleeping, he had so many things on his mind. Speed can do that, but he assured me it was not the speed. He had a new boyfriend. Some freshly scrubbed new love; much too innocent for our dirty business. He had started buying pills off the street but he wanted ME to get them. I knew there was a catch. No one likes me that much. He had wanted me to cop him pills. Fifty at a time to save a trip to the hotel I had used for my new residence.  It was not the apartment in Noe Valley. I no longer wanted to go there. I felt dirty, it felt dirty there. I wanted to sink into my own familiar misery. I had one rule in my addiction no kids. I do not fuck with newbies to the drug game. I would rip off a senior citizen but do not bring a high schooler to me expecting me to do any sort of transaction in front of them. I did not want blood on my hands.

“Do not bring him here, Chester.” I insisted on the phone “Do not bring that fucking kid to my place.”

Chester assured me his parents were okay with this relationship. The boy was going off to college in the fall. The parents knew that he was gay. They were accepting of their relationship. They would never be accepting of this, even a person like me could see this picture. Chester was just stopping by for his medicine to help him sleep. He would give me hundreds of dollars at a time to get his pills. I would pocket a hundred dollars for myself. I would get the pills for much less that what I charged him and take my end ; a fortune for a few minutes work. I would leave them in my place and shuffle off to pill corner. When I handed him the pills, he would rush off. No fucking newcomers to this life. Ever.

I was over the whole arrangement. It was one thing to be a junkie; it was another thing to be a friend to this man. I had an uneasy feeling. It was nothing but a feeling. He was feeling it, too. He was very uneasy with our relationship. He was very uneasy with my feelings. I was rambling at this point. I was staying up for days and weeks at a time on speed. I was down to a shadow. I had a criminal record by this point. A few arrests related to prostitution. No one would believe my feelings, my ramblings. It all came to a head in a conversation with him.  I was fucked up, yes. But I could no longer deny the evidence that was right in front of my face.

“What if I went to the police Chester?" I confronted him " There is something about you that does not add up.”
“Why do you have two passports?" I yelled.
 I was on a roll now. "I know you went to high school here but what happened before then?"
"Where is all this money coming from" I pointed to my stack off cash  "and did you see a plastic surgeon?”
"You are rambling" he told me. "Another crazy Tracey delusion!"
"You think the police would believe you.." he hissed at me.
"You are fucking insane!" he told me s he slammed my door.

The last time I saw Chester, he asked me to get him more pills than usual. Would I be willing to see him? 
No motherfucker, I will get you the pills. Four hundred dollars. That was a hundred pills; the whole pill corner emptied their supply.

I was sitting in front of the youth center when I got an unexpected apology. I was too old now to go inside. I sat outside to rest outside the Hospitality House youth services. This place, strangely enough, was a few buildings from where I would live in the first four years of my recovery. As I rested, one of the hustlers asked me if I had heard about Chester. Apparently, he had tried to kill himself. He had taken a bunch of pills and was in the hospital.

"Why are you apologizing to me?" I asked.
"You were right," he told me.
"Right about what?" I asked.
He shook his head "you were so fucking right."
This piqued my curosity "About what?!!"
"Chester...."

My mouth hung open as he told me the story. Chester had tried to kill himself. He had taken a handful of pills, this I knew. Chester was in a coma, in the hospital surrounded by all his street friends when an older woman appeared.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.
They had explained their relationship to Chester.
"He isn't 20 years old," the woman told them.
"I am his mother." She is explained. "he is a 33 year old convicted pedophile. Now get the fuck out of here!"

It all made sense now to me.
The teaching English in Thailand
The two passports
The living behind an elementary school

What did not make sense? How the fuck did he end up going back to high school? Jesus fucking CHRIST this world is fucked. I need a hit- now. My hustler friend agreed. Heroin- stat.

No one ever believed me back then. I hardly believe this story myself but it is true. Chester survived. He was brain damaged from what I understand. I can't say I feel sorry for him. I wish Chester was the only person I met like this in my year on the street. He was just one in a long series of them. People wondered why I liked to use alone. Because you can never truly trust anyone in the world. You never know if secretly, they are another Chester. 


13 comments:

  1. There is no denying that during your life as an addict you have acumulated some facinating stories. My only complaint is that some of your stories, this one in particular, could benefit from a good ol' fashioned edit.

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    1. This is true. This story I wrote years ago and pulled out for today. I did some edits but it could use more. I am so busy trying to get my book done on deadline as well as raise three kids and work full time, I am pretty short on time. Various people have volunteered to help me with editing here and there but that has never panned out. To me, the most important part is getting my thoughts out. I am not an MFA just a former junkie with a life of adversity I conquered. To me, that has always been the most important message

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    2. Honestly edits or not, your stories from your past life of active addiction are engaging, enticing, & interesting. Please keep the stories coming :-) I stumbled upon this blog after seeing a post from you in another social media site, realizing who you are and started & finished this blog in about a day and a half. My vision has gone wonky (that's a word the grammar Nazi's will have a field day with!) but I have truly enjoyed every story.
      I am currently stuck within the iron fist grip of opiate addiction starting with vicodin, then to popping morphine, found the needle/morphine combo and stuck with that for three years & am currently a heroin addict with the communal question of how the hell did I end up here after obtaining my teaching certification among accomplishing many other goals....addiction knows no boundaries... Thank you for the glimmer of hope that is your life.

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  2. This is a great, engaging story. I think I recognize Chester in one of your other stories (The Trick, maybe?). Thank your for writing this.

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    1. Probably. I lived with him on and off for around 18 months. Mostly off. He was really into meth. Meth turned me into this insane person . I still am surprised I am in my right mind after years of method use

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  3. Chester the Molester. Was Chester really his name or is that a pseudonym?

    P.S.
    Hairy Walnuts

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    1. No he wasn't named Chester. I pseudonyms for most people

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  4. I get pulled into your stories. It's like I'm there.

    Thank you for what you do for us addicted folks.

    When will your book be published?

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    1. early next year. The manuscript is due august 1 but there will be some back and forth, edits, revisions etc.

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  5. .hi not sure if my question got through so I'll ask again your boyfriend at the time as making the documentary for HBO are you guys together if not do you stay in touch what about the other two surviving cast member's do you stay in touch with them if not do you know if they're active on Facebook are social media of any type thanks

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    1. Ben died in 1999. there is a section of my blog Black tar Heroin 10 questions answered that updates on the subjects of the film.

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  6. I have read most of your blog now, and this is really the story that sticks out for me the most. It's crazy! And it's crazy how many Chester's I've met in my lifetime. You truly don't know people, esp. Addicts hiding behind masks. It's funny because our gut feelings are always, always, always right. How can I get a copy of your first book Tracey? I love your writing I've been ripping through it like a bag of dope, truly addictive. Lemme know, thanks :). -- dazednconfused

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    1. It's just a collection of blog stories in long form on PDF

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