We both go to New York for college in '87. James studies history for a semester but drops out so he can “model” and “play bass” full-time, which means just enough to score. Over the next couple years I see him less but I hear stories—he’s back home, in a band called That Darn Cat who all live together in a house on Harriet, where they noodle with feedback and do drugs. Now he’s back in New York. Now he’s gotten his model girlfriend pregnant and they both still use. He seems embarrassed around me, overcompensating with meanness; after awhile I start to let the friendship slide away.
When I go back to Minneapolis on holiday breaks, I walk and walk and walk. Unconsciously, I think I’m looking for the energy that saved me, I’m looking for Goofy’s Upper Deck but it’s closed; The Replacements are on a major label. The scene knows itself and some of the energy has dissipated. I want this place to freeze itself in time so I can come back and taste that desperation and then leave again when it’s convenient. Why is my hometown smoothing out its edges? Why is it growing up?
This is the last time I see James: 1992, we are both twenty-five and he’s a full-fledged junkie. He shows up at my door one evening and takes me to his apartment, a former storefront on Ludlow Street, where the lights have been turned off by Con-Edison and a naked man nods on a naked mattress with blood from a bad puncture drying on his forearm. Half feral, rib-thin cats mewl and nose at empty cans of Friskies. (A few years later I’ll unwittingly walk into the same space, now a clothing store, to buy my wife an $80 sweater for Christmas, made from the salvaged scraps of vintage cashmere.)
James shows me where he’s cut a little piece of plaster out of the wall, behind which he’s hidden anything of value: a picture of his baby girl he doesn’t have visitation rights to; a few dollars; a mix tape I’d made him for our road trip to New Orleans. I’ve given up on him and he’s saving this?
We walk around the city for a few hours and he tells me he is down to a couple bags in the morning and a couple to get to sleep. I don’t know what this means but it doesn’t sound reassuring. He says he doesn’t want to end up one of those guys he’s seen at meetings, telling everyone what a good day it was because he was able to sit down in front of a TV show without wanting to claw out his eyes. He has a junkie’s remarkable ability to slip from coherence to abject superstition in an instant. “Did you know,” he asks me as we stop somewhere for a drink, “that they did a study of addicts and over two-thirds are Scorpios?”