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Something in the Way
(excerpt) by Preston Peet

Chapter 8- Central Park Schizo

When a young boy, Thomas had seen a movie entitled "The Prince of Central Park," in which a young kid runs away from home to live in a tree house he’d found in Central Park. This movie stuck in his mind. Now that Thomas has to change his locale yet again, it occurs to him that he should go uptown and take a look at the park.
Exiting the subway at 72nd St., he walks towards the park after getting directions from the newspaper guy outside the subway station. Having spent the two months or so he’s been in NYC down in the Lower East Side, he is surprised at how upscale the area around Central Park is. His only other impression of Central Park comes from the movie "Warriors", a film about vicious street gangs who battle their way from Central Park back to Coney Island, so when Thomas finds nothing but very expensive-looking apartment buildings all around, gold braided doormen, and chic, glitzy restaurants and shops, he wonders if this move is such a good idea. When he gets to Central Park West, he finds the Dakota, immediately recognizing it as the place John Lennon was shot and killed. Lennon was one of his childhood heroes, so Thomas stops to pay his respects for a moment.

the Dakota

Thomas spends the last hour of sunlight walking along the sidewalk just inside the park, getting a feel of the area, trying to make up his mind as to what he is going to do. His stomach begins to complain soon after the sun goes down, so he walks back to a Timothy’s Coffee on 72nd Street, where he asks if they will give him the day-old sandwiches they haven’t sold. They tell him to return in another hour or so, which he does, coming away with a large bag full of pastries, sandwiches, and a jug of hot coffee. After his stomach is full, and he’s found a dark corner where he can get straight, he takes a seat on a sofa someone has thrown out onto the sidewalk outside one of the high-rise buildings along 72nd. Putting his head on his bag, he stretches out to go to sleep.
"What are you doing, man? You’re gonna get popped sleeping out here." A voice pulls him out of the beginnings of sleep. Two guys about his own age stand looking down at him, both with bags similar to his over their shoulders. "You can’t sleep out here on the street, the cops will roust you and run you through the system, as soon as they spot you here. I’m Winston, and this is Jay. Come with us into the park, we know a good spot to crash," the one named Winston says.
"Hey sure, thanks for the word." Thomas wastes no time. "You guys hungry? I got more food than I know what to do with here." He accompanies them back to the Park, where they enter at the 72nd St. West entrance.
As they first walk in, Thomas feels a brief flash of fear, his eyes taking a moment to adjust to the moonlight, and he doesn’t get a really good look at his surroundings. He follows them blindly past the Imagine Circle memorial to John Lennon, which he remembers seeing earlier but is invisible now. He’s putting his trust in these two strangers. They lead him forward under a canopy of trees, then turn into a large field to the left. Walking out into the field, Thomas finds the moonlight bright enough to see his way forward over the grass. The trees and shrubs that surround the field form a wall through which the light of the streetlamps, and the sound of traffic from Central Park West are both considerably filtered and muted. When the breeze blows, causing branches and leaves to move, shadowy figures suddenly seem to dance and cavort about, casting a thick air of magic to the place. Instead of feeling frightened and nervous, Thomas begins to feels more at ease than he has since coming to NYC. Unfortunately, there is always a calm before the storm, in this case a brief calm in the midst of repeated, never-ending gales.

Strawberry Fields at dawn

Jay and Winston show him the ropes, where to get food, and more importantly, where he can score good coke and heroin. They also turn him onto the potential that exists in Central Park to make loads of quick, easy cash.
There’s a small army of people who sleep in and around Strawberry Fields, where Jay and Winston take Thomas that first night. Among those people there is a core group who make their money selling fake drugs to ignorant thrill seekers who come to the Park, to Sheep’s Meadow, where it is said one can find really good acid, cheap. Maybe once upon a time, but while Thomas is there, it’s almost all fake, though not by any means every bit of it. There are some who deal in the real thing, but to get to those dealers, the "vics" have to get past the schemers and junkies who need a fix.
Thomas finds he is very good at this, selling sheets at a time, a few times even sitting with the vics until they think they are feeling the trip taking effect before taking their $300, $400, even $500 in one fell swoop. He uses a broken razor blade to create realistic-looking, perforated construction paper that he shills to the vics.
"Tangerines, the cleanest, purest, most trippingest acid you’ll ever get, certainly in this park. Keeps you going for at least 8 to 10 hours, with Venetian blind patterns in front of your eyes, full-on hallucinations, let me tell you." Thomas, in one 7 day span, clears $500 every single day, and never makes less than $100 a day the entire time he lives in the park. With his habit, shooting up 24-7, it is easy to convince the vics he is off his rocker on his own acid or mushrooms, whatever the product may be.

predators' perch at Sheep's Meadow

So he builds his habit up nice and huge, way out of proportion to any sort of sane, manageable level. Spending nearly every penny on cocaine and heroin, trying to kill all feelings of being human, all the guilt and loneliness, takes a toll on him in ways he never expected. Thomas has, since living in the park, gotten high with a number of really fucked-up people, who when they shoot their drugs instantly begin to act nuts, doing things like stripping and ripping off all their clothes, or if indoors, they might lock the door, then shove all the furniture in the room over in front of the door to keep out the monsters, or the devil, or whatever it is they fear. Each time this has happened, Thomas takes it in stride, realizing this is not right, but never considering that he too will one day have to face the same kinds of demons. He has ingested every kind of hallucinatory drug he could get his hands on at one time or another throughout his career, acid, mushrooms, mescaline, and more. He thinks he knows what tripping and hallucinating are all about. But he has no idea until he experiences what becomes normal operating procedure: Cocaine Psychosis.
He takes his drugs one beautiful, bright, sunny Summer day to an old, dry fountain not far from Strawberry Field and Sheep’s Meadow, but still enough out of the way to feel somewhat safe getting high. Taking a seat at the far side of the fountain on a wall at the bottom of a kudzu covered hill, he takes out his paraphernalia, all the tools he needs to get off, and sets to work doing just that. He is a professional, able to get everything done very quickly and surreptitiously, loving nothing more than the kick of getting high out in the open, so blatantly no one ever notices. At least so far. He continuously looks around scoping out the area, noticing 2 or 3 people sitting together off to the right a few hundred feet away under a small tree on the grass, but spots no one else.
He has the needle in his arm quickly, but right as he is shoving in the plunder, pushing the generous speedball into his vein, he distinctly hears a voice from the top of the hill behind him, behind the bushes at the top.

old, dry fountain

"Ok boys, lets get ‘im!" Then comes the sounds of many running feet as though a squad of the undercover cops that patrol the park are coming to arrest him.
"Holy shit!" Thomas exclaims out loud as he panics. The drugs are causing his senses to go completely haywire, combined with the terror he’s experiencing. His hearing is gone now, his pounding, racing heartbeat filling his ears with the sound of how he imagines a strobe light would sound if it made sound rather than light. Leaping to his feet, Thomas chucks the works and drugs still in his hand back behind him into the kudzu, then turns and walks steadily away towards the fountain, forcing himself to keep a slow pace, not wanting the cops to have any excuse to tackle him, or think he knows they are coming for him at all. The old "don’t look at them and maybe they will go away" trick actually works, much to his consternation.
Reaching the edge of the dry fountain, he glances behind him to see how close they are to him, but is staggered to find no one there. No running cops, and no sounds of cops. When he looks to see if others are noticing anything strange, not even the people he’d seen under the little tree out in the grass are there now. Maybe they’d seen him leap to his feet, and deciding they wanted nothing to do with him split, or maybe they weren’t even there to begin with. But that can’t be. He saw them before he shot up. Still dealing with the initial rush of the shot, thinking is difficult, but he has trouble believing he hallucinated that voice, or those footsteps. Looking around wildly, he thinks he spots one of the picnickers from before, apparently hiding from him behind another skinny little tree like the first one they were under. Coke can really screw up his vision, making everything blurry, hard for him to focus, and the sun helps keep the figure hidden in shadow. But whoever it is, Thomas can tell they are watching him, and he hears creepy laughter.
"Are they laughing at me?" he wonders. He has to find out.
Before he reaches the tree, the person is no longer there, having managed to make it over to a large clump of bushes without Thomas seeing. Thomas begins catching glimpses of two or three different people in the bushes, though again only as silhouettes and shadows. Thinking perhaps they are trying to draw him closer to the bushes so they can grab him and beat him up, he begins to address the shadows.
"Who’s there?" he asks, but gets no answer other than quiet rustling, and that weird laughter. He tries again, in a firmer voice. "Quit playing games with me, and come on out!" There’s still no answer, so Thomas looks around for help. He tries to stop one guy walking by on the footpath, but the guy keeps moving, giving him a wide berth. Then a young couple comes up the path. Thomas stops them by stepping out in front of them.
"Excuse me, can you tell me if you see anyone in these bushes?" As he says it, he can hear himself and how bizarre he sounds, so he instantly attempts to come up with a rational explanation for his question to try and ease their obvious anxiety. "See, I was smoking a big joint with some friends, for the first time in a long time, and they’ve run off, and now they’re fucking with me, and I...." They run off before he can finish babbling at them. Thomas looks down at his arm, which the girl had been staring at, and finds that in his blind panic he’d forgotten to clean off the blood that has since run freely down his arm in long, red rivulets from his elbow to his wrist. Pulling down his sleeve, he is overcome with paranoia, thinking maybe that nice young couple will run find a cop, that the police must now be definitely moving in on him, right at this moment.
After finally gathering the nerve to run past the clump of bushes where the snickering shadows may or may not be hunkered waiting to pounce, Thomas heads towards Sheep’s Meadow, seeing undercover police literally everywhere, circling, talking into their collars on their secret radios, making special police hand signals to one another, getting ready to snatch and arrest him. He wanders for a few more minutes in sheer terror, until he runs into Jay, one of the guys who’d first brought him to Strawberry Fields. Jay recognizes what’s happening as soon as Thomas starts pointing out joggers all the way on the other side of Sheep’s Meadow.

Sheep's Meadow

"Look Jay, there, those joggers, they’re COPS!" Trying not to laugh, Jay stays with Thomas, reassuring him every time he begins to loose control and wants to run in fear, walking him out of the park to 5th Avenue, alongside the East side of Central Park. Jay then sits with Thomas until the fear passes, and the craziness goes away.
Thomas had been completely, unabashedly terrified, like never before in his entire life. If Jay had not come along when he did, there’s no telling what would have happened to him. Everything he’d seen and heard seemed 100 percent real to him. He could tell he was hallucinating, but hadn’t been able to stop nor deal with it as if they were merely trippy visions. As horrifying as the experience is, as soon as he is able to see straight, and not see cops everywhere, Thomas offers to share the rest of the drugs he didn’t throw away into the kudzu with Jay, who gladly accepts. They get up and walk back into the park to Strawberry Fields, where they know they can get high in peace.

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