Michael Bari, Part I

june 011

From New York City. Connected—to “the Corporation.” His father a soldier. The word was that Michael Bari had shot his wife. She was a junkie and it was her or him. So he chose her. A strange, blonde, tall man—angular—with a cold face and the coldest of blue eyes. Not handsome. Not ugly. Most compelling. He stayed up in his tower apartment and dealt to all the hard core junkies in the TL. He was at the top of the pyramid.

And he was always being watched.

When I first met Michael Bari I had just come back from an expensive drug program in Sedona Arizona—a famous one. Both of my parents had paid for it. Before I made the journey, I was down to 115 pounds. My normal weight is 136. I was only able to keep milk down. By the time my mother found me, I was living in a broken down hotel room deep in the Tenderloin—emaciated—addicted to meth amphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. Turning tricks. Dying.

So my parents who had long been divorced and hated each other spoke for the first time in 17 years and made an agreement to get me on first a plane, then a helicopter, to take me up into the mountains of Arizona—so I could not get out. And it worked.

I got clean. I gained weight. I got my tremendous physical strength back.

But then they sent me to a half way house in Santa Barbara by the sea. And all the women looked so dead. And even the trees looked dead—grey—shriveled. And I could not swallow AA. I thought it was a bunch of Calvinistic crap. And I ran.

When I first saw San Francisco from the sudden hill coming in from the south the whole span of city lights blazed before me—and in a shudder I knew I was gonna fix again. It was roughly 9:00 p.m. when I got off the Grey Hound bus downtown—with my one suitcase. I had a very small amount of money—enough to score. I knew about the hotel where Michael Bari dealt from. I knew that if I could get in that huge fortress that I could get the best heroin in town.

And so I got in.

And Michael Bari did sell to me.

Because I knew Charles Oranger.

Charles Oranger was charming—he made me laugh—with his stories of his days as a punk rock drummer—stories about his clean cut corporate life—just out of college—stories about his “pretty” girlfriends. He had in fact just broken up with one: Maria Anna Katarina Lucia Cullici—a junkie and cocaine addict who shot so much coke that she would have convulsions like an epileptic. She was missing her front tooth—but she would raise her elegant pink long tongue up to cover it—with her hair all pulled back. And she had beautiful hands. He told me. Warm brown—soft at the tops of each knuckle—like baked bread— smooth—with long fingers. She had a tiny perfect little body. A ballerina. But she lived with a trick now, a trick who paid for her ballet lessons—and her cocaine. Charles Oranger would get very bitter when he described the trick—his mouth would drop down in a low scowl. It was unbearable to him. This thought. To desert your partner for a trick.

Dan. Dan was his name—the trick. Charles said Dan started to shoot coke with Maria. And now Dan was about to lose his house and his business. Because of Maria Anna Katarina Lucia Cullici.

This is what we talked about up in Michael Bari’s tower—in the bathroom—with a glaring light. Charles sitting on the edge of the sink—me standing. And we stayed laughing in that bathroom for 3 hours. High. Our eyes like bright effervescent coals.

Hours later, after I left, the only question Michael Bari had for Charles Oranger was: “How do you make pretty girls laugh?”

Charles Oranger was 49. But he looked like he was in his mid-thirties. I was 28. I looked 20. Junkies are so relaxed in their faces. But the wounds begin to surface slowly—on the body parts—chunks of flesh come up missing decades later. If it’s junk and only junk—well junkies can live forever. Strangely preserved specimens—untouched by time or for that matter—by anything.

I liked Charles because he made me laugh and forget. He saw the irony in everything. Me coming out of a drug program and shooting up the minute I hit the street. Because I had nowhere to go. And I was scared as hell and did not want to feel it. And he made me laugh about that. And it saved me.

I began to turn ticks again. After that first fix I was done for. So I made frequent visits to Michael Bari’s apartment—way high up on the 13th floor. When you looked out his window you could see the city below—a glare of brilliant lights. And way out beyond, a deep black space—the sea.

Michael Bari hated women. But he liked to look at them. I was not his type. He was not mine. I sensed that he “knew” more about me than I did myself. And he did.

Old junkies that have survived decades are readers of souls. Within 2 seconds they will know whether you are intelligent—whether you have courage—how well you can hold your mud (sick)—if you will fold to the cops when pinched—and even how long it will take you to fold. And they will know if you have loyalty. And dignity. The old junkies always could tell whose dignity could be destroyed.

Michael Bari had 2 gofers: Charles Oranger and Dickey Valdez. Dickey was a fattish, bearded man with kinky dark hair cut short. Dickey was his regular runner. Charles was a runner too, but Michael trusted Charles much more than Dickey. So Charles went for the big dope pick up with Michael. And Dickey hated Charles for that.

I became a regular. Because of Charles Oranger. Lemons and Oranger. It was funny. I’d sit on the couch next to Charles while Michael sat in his big black leather arm chair to our right. Michael never said much—just observed. In fact he never took his eyes off me and Charles. Finally we would disappear into the bathroom so we could laugh and talk without his fish bowl cold eyes watching us.

Then to my surprise Michael starting turning me on to dope. He’d dole the dope out like a priest doles out blessings. And I took the blessings and said multiple “Thank you Michaels.”

And then after a few weeks of Charles making me laugh with all his stories —stories I did not realize were well over a decade old—we started to sleep together on the couch after Michael went into his bedroom.

I began to protect Charles. I began to realize that he was not strong. But he was strong when it came to loyalty. And so for the loyalty I exchanged my strength.

Then the cops came.

One night I was with the beautiful red haired Karin Aradi and we knocked on Michael’s door.

Karin Aradi was the most beautiful whore in the Tenderloin—even more beautiful than I. When she walked down the street her long, thick, hennaed hair would flow behind her like strings of red rope—but glossy like. I can still see her now—looking down from a window—see her wearing all black—her fringe coat fluttering—and walking with those beautiful long legs—pushing a dark baby carriage—her punk rocker guitar playing boyfriend with his short black hair in juxtaposition to his white face—trailing somewhere behind.

Karin and I walked in and the cops opened the door.

We were pulled in—grabbed by the arms. Our purses were snatched. Gone through within seconds. The contents dumped out onto the floor.

“Please have a seat on the couch.” They said with their eyes.

I remember crossing my stockings. Feeling the slick material between my legs.

Karin swiveled back on the couch next to me. Tossed her hair back behind her.

“Michael you always have pretty girls around. Why’s that?”

Michael smiled. Just a little smile on his thin lips. Then he lit a cigarette and blew two tresses of white smoke through his fine cut nostrils—into the cop’s faces.

“Answer us Mr. Bari. Why’s it you always have pretty girls up here?”

No answer.

The cops then said to Karin and I, “Go on and get out of here. We don’t wanna see either of you girls up here again. If we do? We’ll take you in.”

So Karin and I got up from the couch and began to pick up our things strewn all over the floor: condoms, cigarettes, compacts ….

The next day I called Charles to ask if Michael was in jail. Charles said “No.”

You see the word was Michael was in the Federal Witness Protection Program. He had turned on his own family. THAT was the word. And so he never went to jail. Someone would make a call and shut down the bust. No matter how much dope he’d get caught with in his possession. He would always walk. But they still watched him. We never really understood why.

Then Michael decided to move up the hill a few streets higher—to a place on Leavenworth and Bush: 1099 Bush St. it was. And then he asked Charles and Dickey both to move in—and I came with Charles. We stayed in a bedroom to the side of the living room—a sliding wooden door separating our rooms. Michael always had on a giant TV. Or a radio.

There was a shot gun in the corner. In a cardboard box. We paid it no mind.

I could hear Michael sometimes late at night muttering to himself—whispering strange things through the wooden sliding door that served as a partition between our souls as we slept. I could hear him whisper “I’ll kill you!” or he’d say or “I’ll never go back!” In the dark. He’d spit and hiss the words out. I asked Charles about it—and he’d shake his handsome face and smile and say, “He’s crazy.”

And so we all lived together. I’d turn tricks by day and watch TV with Charles sky high in our room by night.

In the morning, when I was sick, I would not ask Michael. I would never ask Michael for anything. Not ever. I would cough, though. And he would finally yell after about an hour of me coughing.

“Cathy!”

“Ya?”

“Come in heah!”

He’d be sitting up on the couch. The coffee table before him. There’d be a spoon and a couple of syringes and some cotton balls. And even alcohol pads. And a huge dark chunk of black tar heroin the size of a golf ball. Right there. And with his fingers he’d pull off a generous piece. And hand it to me.

“Thank you Michael.” I’d say. “I’ll pay you for it later.” And I often did.

Then came the speed. Michael started bringing Karin Aradi up to keep him company. And he’d shoot speed. And then he started to talk to himself more and more at night. With or without Karin there.

And I started to worry.

I told Charles we should get a hotel room and get out.

Charles said, “No.”

But I made plans. I found a good Patel hotel. The Indian owners thought I was a tourist and gave me one of the best rooms in the house.

But it was too late.

One day Dickey had stirred up some trouble. The word was that Charles was selling out of his own stash. And Dickey ratted Charles out.

Charles came back from a run one day for Michael and he couldn’t get in with his key.

“Michael. Open up. What are you doing?”

“Get the fuck outta my sight!”

“What the fuck is wruuongah with you? Let me in?

Michael opened up the door. Stuck a pen knife into Charles’s stomach. The pen knife was the size of half a pen.

But Charles bled—red drops everywhere.

I got a call. Charles is in Saint Francis Emergency—needs exploratory surgery—cut bad.

By now I had my things in the new Patel hotel.

I went to Charles in the hospital. Then he was transferred to General. And when I spoke to him on the phone, he’d say, “Bring me some dope. They don’t take care of me in here. Bring me some dope.”

And so I did.

And I got caught.

They were waiting for me on my second visit.

And the stupid hospital security guards chained me to the wall of San Francisco General Hospital—like some animal.

And when the real cops came, one of them said, “Get her out of those things right now! What in the hell are you doing?”

And they took me down to 850 Bryant and I was booked for some heavy charges.

I got out on OR (Own Recognizance). Within 24 hours. A San Francisco tradition at its best.

And now I was mad as hell.

I was at another connection’s house—Chuck and Marie’s—and I picked up their phone and called Michael Bari right in front of them both.

Michael answered.

“You are a DEAD MAN!” I said into the receiver.

And then I clicked off.

Chuck and Marie gasped.

Chuck said, “You can’t say a thing like that to Michael Bari. He’ll take you seriously. You must be fucking crazy!”

I was.

It was 4 months later.

I was walking down Taylor Street towards my Patel hotel. It was Thanksgiving. Charles was out of the hospital, but he had stitches up and down—he looked terrible. His drinking had increased. It made his face swollen. His hands.

It was freezing cold that night. I was wearing my short black leather skirt and only a thin jacket. My hands were so cold I could hardly keep them from shaking when I lit a cigarette.

And no one was out on the streets. Night. Bleak empty shine everywhere--up and down.

And then a black Mercedes sidled up to me on the corner—the motor purring ever so softly.

I leaned down to take a look.

It was Michael Bari.

“Get in!”

“Michael—no—I gotta go!” I started to walk away. He followed me in the car.

“Get in!” He said it with the “get” high and the “in” low.

“No Michael.” Flat tone.

“Come uuohn! I LOVE you! Now get in and I’ll get you well. For Christ’s sake! I LOVE you.”

The dope beckoned.

Michael Bari took me back up into his Bush Street apartment. And he motioned for me to sit down next to him on the couch. I started to wonder if he wanted me to give him a blow job. I was just not prepared for that. It seemed so odd.

Instead of unzipping his pants, he took out a chunk of black tar from his pocket and unwrapped it—from the plastic baggy.

He watched me.

I would not squirm.

He watched me closely.

I still did not squirm.

He could see I was sick. My eyes were dilated—my vision was even blurred. But I did not yawn. I just sat there and said nothing and did nothing.

Finally he said, “Heah!” and handed me a chunk to fix.

“Go in the bathroom theah,” he said motioning with his hand. “Everything you need is in the cabinet.”

I got up as slowly as I dared—grabbed the chunk—and went into the bathroom to fix.

When I came out Michael was sitting at the end of the long couch.

I sat down at the other end.

He said, “You know I’m sorry about Charles.”

“I know,” I said. I put my head down.

Silence.

Then he looked over at the cardboard box in the corner, which was at the end of the couch where he was sitting. He leaned over and picked up the shot gun out of the box—casually. He sat holding it—handling it like—feeling the weight of it—like it was his friend or something.

“Michael. What are you doing?” I said in a soft voice like his mother.

He took a breath in. Relishing the moment—the seconds.

“Have you ever seen one of these?” he asked me in a low voice.

He held the big shot gun with both hands.

I stared at him. Didn’t move.

Then suddenly—like a real expert—he slid back the clip—chooooo—choooo! I can still hear the metal making that sound: Chooooo—choooo! In my head.

“No. I have never seen one of those.” I said.

Now Michael pointed the barrel straight into my face. And he held it there—like a camera—waiting for me to smile—like so he could take my picture.

But I did not smile. And I did not flinch. And I looked bored. And tired. And I was tired. I was soooooooo damn tired. And so I sat there and looked into the barrel of the gun.

And waited for his move.

Michael put the gun down.

I lit a cigarette. My hand didn’t shake. I held the lighter firm. The flame crept up high. I lit my long cigarette. I blew out—two jets of white smoke—close to Mr. Bari’s face. I didn’t understand it. Nothing in me shook. It still doesn’t.