A traveling companion.

November 22nd, 2008

A couple weeks ago, a fellow 22 bus rider saw I was missing half my right leg and chatted me up. How did it happen, how did it feel, did I have phantom pain, did I have pain, did I take anything for pain? Especially, did I take anything for pain. And if so, what?

The guy had a thrift-store presentability to him. Nothing wrong with that, but his I’m-just-being-conversational style had an intensity I didn’t like. Besides, I saw where he was going, so I said I wasn’t taking anything for pain these days (although I do from time to time take a couple Percoset).

“Do you ever take Percoset?”

“Never. Tylenol’s about it.”

“Because if you had some on hand, I’d be happy to make a purchase.”


I could have told him to station himself outside the VA — or any other hospital, for that matter — and make the pitch to just about anybody. Times are tough. I’ve heard of people selling these pills for $10 each.

But this guy looked to me more like a street drug user. Crack, heroin, meth. Now he wants to move up into classier stuff — Rush Limbaugh and Cindy McCain territory.

It’s not fair, is it? To him, I looked approachable. Unevenly mowed beard, worn jeans, sweatshirt, $8 haircut. The poor guy would have loved the license to go doctor shopping like the tens of million other pill addicts. But there’s no legitimate route for him. He can only look for likely souls on public transportation and hope they’re as desperate for money as he is for prescription drugs.

I still see him from time to time. Mostly he looks sick and uneasy. Usually, we share only the briefest, most noncommital look. But now and then he’s floating. Greets me with a nod and smile out of a Pixar movie, hums Beach Boy tunes under his breath, and wraps his skinny legs around each other like a happy schoolgirl. He has scored.

I’d like to know how. Some other bus rider? Burgled a purse? Bumped shoes with a wide-stance pharmacist in the men’s room?

I’m just curious about other people’s bad habits.

3 Responses to “A traveling companion.”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Hi Fred, I really like this piece. I can identify since I most always end up talking to strangers when I’m taking public transportation.

    I felt I knew him, got to be with you and was reminded and touched by society’s problem

  2. neddie jingo Says:

    Back in the aftermath of my hip replacement last year, I ran low on Vicodin one Friday, and forgot to call the doctor for a refill. No big deal, I thought, I can tough it out through the weekend.

    Monday about noon, I was actually junk sick. Nauseated, sweaty, nervous, and utterly, utterly obsessed with getting to the pharmacy to get that bottle of pills.

    Of course I confessed this to the doctor the next time I saw him. He explained to me that that had happened because I’d gone from 30mg a day to zero. This will pretty much guarantee withdrawal symptoms; you have to taper off. I did this successfully as soon as it was feasible.

    Damn. That was scary. During the withdrawal that Monday, I actually found myself contemplating going down to a bad part of town to see what I could score. I understand junkies, I really do.

  3. kate Says:

    Hey Fred: I have a bunch of Percocet left over from my recent accident. How much was the guy on the bus paying? Now that I’m off it, I really understand the junkie thing lots better. Plus I got a lot of reinforcement to stay on it–people told me I was so cheerful, so funny, so less angry. I’ll bet alcoholics get the same shit: “But he’s so funny when he’s drunk!”

    Actually, I’ve had some pretty weird offers on the bus including one from an old geezer who had just refilled his Viagra prescription. K

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