There are two main differences to Vincent Zangrillo’s account Dime Bag from the usual down-and-out- drug tale – first, his “language,” his voice, which has the natural speech of the street as well as his own intelligence nailed down to the point that we hear him talking in our heads…
I thought it was a clean getaway until the puppies started throwing up at my feet.
second, there is nothing glamorous here…
She ran her hands down the length of her body. It felt decayed and squishy, like what a foot touches on the bottom of the pond. She lay back on her bed and did nothing, or at least as close to nothing as you can while your treasonous body works to keep itself pumping.
In a good many tell-all junkie missives, there is the sense that deep down, (and sometimes right on the surface), the author actually misses those exciting years and shows a pride in just how badass he or she was – even taking a delight in killing someone and getting away with it., as one West Coast street poet who shall remain nameless periodically reminds us.
Vincent Zangrillo shows himself to be first and foremost a fool, even an idiot and his own harshest critic.
Dime Bag is a collection of short stories about being a junkie in late 70s NYC. But do we need another one? Let alone from another white male?
“Nothing is more fascinating than a wealthy, privileged, white man swearing and fucking his way across America” was a recent sarcastic critique of Heather J. Vanmouwerik about On The Road, among 7 other white male novels she felt overrated.
Though one can hardly champion Jack Kerouac’s stunted relationship with women, Vanmouwerik obviously hadn’t read the book for quite some time. Jack was poor, far broker than anyone dare these days, since America is even less forgiving. He barely attained a middle-class life before dying. As for swearing, 1957 did not allow much of that in print, nor was there that much sex for Jack.
Seeing Jack with only wounded female hetero eyes is to miss the compassionate, common voice he had – the astounding jazz-like language he created, and Zangrillo is very much of a PostBeat lineage that now does include women, because the tools that Jack discovered are beyond gender, they are about the nature of mind, its movement and the gaps of emptiness between each thought. Zangrillo attended Naropa University (then Institute) in its heyday (Gregory Corso his primary mentor), and is now a regular practitioner of Zazen. The road of excess has led to the palace of wisdom. Fortunately, he had learned how to write it down.
This potential debate seemed at least partially resolved by a visit from young lesbian poet Evan Williams, who has zero interest in testosterone. I put her in my guest room with a stack of books I’d recently read, which included a new chapbook by Diane di Prima, a variety of poetry zines. George Saunder’s novel Lincoln in the Bardo and Steve Silberman‘s landmark book on autism, Neurotribes. There sat Zangrillo’s book as well, and it was the first to be cracked. She read all of it and remarked, “I want to write like this.”
Blackfoot/Hispano transman poet Max Wolf Valerio attended Naropa pre-transition at the same time as Zangrillo. I thought to ask his opinion of Zangrillo’s work as well: “Really brought back NYC to me from that time. I spent time there but not a lot. I kind of regret it but then, I guess it was not to be. I feel like I was there however, from these pieces – I know those people and those streets, the feelings. Anyway… Thanks for sharing. It brought back memories and also reminded me of something important. The art you know, the poetry.”
I was reminded of a story Michelle Tea told of how Eileen Myles encouraged her to read Charles Bukowski. It is clear now that his prose informs both of their own. What he shares with Zangrillo is an unflinching truthfulness about himself and a seemingly effortless language of the working class.
But Bukowski and Zangrillo echo something else – the mean streets of film noir, but like the best of that genre, they are dramas under it all. They are humanist insights we hadn’t articulated, perhaps for the downbeat wisdom they contain.
“The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind” are Tibetan Buddhist mottos to remind the student to get cracking. Essentially, they are as follows – 1) you have a rare human body (as opposed to a mosquito’s or similar bummer), so get enlightened with it; 2) death is inevitable; 3) what goes around comes around; and 4) this world of ego-grasping never works out.
Like film noir, Zangrillo’s horribly hilarious samsaric parables are like the Four Thoughts of classical Tibetan Buddhism…1) wake up while you can; 2) no one here gets out alive; 3) karma’s a bitch; 4) you can’t win.
JV’s face relaxed and fell into a smile when he thought about Tom. He always liked the story about him having a perfectly good tooth removed in order to get a prescription for Percodan, but got busted when he tried to cash it because the dentist was a quack who had put his soft penis in the mouth of a patient who was out.
One of the most memorable accounts concerns Robert Stone, author of Dog Soldiers, whom Zangrillo regards adoringly as Melville-like. Out of his mind from cocaine, Zangrillo has come up with THE thesis that will explain Stone to all, and attempts to get this into Stone’s hands. The result is a sort of speedball Billy Wilder movie. To say it does not go well is an understatement.
I was not the stupidest, most inept, dull-witted cockroach on the face of the earth. As a matter of fact, quite the contrary. I was as insightful as Sherlock Holmes, Wilhelm Reich, and Shakyamuni Buddha put together. I was the fucking Isaac Newton of literary criticism. I was restored. Renewed. Rejuvenated. Recuperated. Reinvigorated. Altogether re-stimulated.
My miscalculation at not having previously bought tickets was a momentary lapse, brought on my too much work, intense preparation, and the pressures of my business. I was determined to correct this perfectly understandable oversight.
Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Stone recoils from Zangrillo as from a member of the Walking Dead. Such ups and downs are after all not that foreign to any of us, on drugs or off. We can cycle through the Buddhist six realms of existence sometimes in a single day. We wake like animals, get our coffee like hungry ghosts, plot like jealous titans, feel success like gods, have constant flashes of desire as humans, receive devastatingly painful news like the claustrophobia of hell and crash into dreamless sleep to begin it all over again. Or to let Zangrillo sum it up…
Long story short—I eventually ended up with enough powder (both kinds) to kill a couple of sixty year old black junkies and brought it back to my place and tried shooting myself into a state where I was too fucked up to care what I did or with whom but not so fucked up that I couldn’t do it (I hoped). I had more than enough to just snort it, but what a waste. I didn’t believe in it, except in public. I remember leaning over mirrors, polished tile, slabs of Carrara marble, dash boards , cassette tape cases, polished writing desks, examining tables, sinks, toilet bowl lids, upside down ash trays, and members of the Downtown Writers and Artists Drug Guild saying: I would Never shoot up!