In 1994 Crazy Santa Klaus had a special guest card to the Russian Baths on East 10th Street. Opening time was 8Am. The steam room crew began to heat the river boulders at 6am. The two-ton stones glowed red by 7:20. Crazy Santa Claus was in the dry steam room at 7:21. He was a rich junkie, who was the last family member of an 18th century fortune. Heroin had not ruined his sense of entitlement.
As a permanent member I could have entered the Baths at that bastardly hour, except my alarm clock was set for the opening. At 8:10 I exited from my apartment two doors down from the entrance with a towel over my shoulder and strolled east at the Wall Street workers strutted west.
I was a routine every day of the year and I read the seasons with every step, witness Fall’s surrender to Winter, the snow on the sidewalk, the ornamental pears blooming in Spring and the return of the hot sticky summer.
I liked the look on the faces of the day workers headed to the subway. Their eyes asked where I was going. The Baths weren’t for everyone. It was a temple to cleanliness and rejuvenation, in which the weight of a night’s hard drink evaporated after 30 minutes in the 180F heat. Every morning I entered and spotted Crazy Santa Clauson the top tier of the heat room. His white beard remained fluffy despite the Venusian temperature, then again his body fat ranged at zero.
I knew the Jersey heir to a deodorant fortune through my Uncle Carmine. Crazy Santa Claus had a small room in Uncle Carmine’s basement. The walls were covered with hippie posters.
Crazy Santa Claus’ real name was John Lyon. His other alias for the addicts of the Lower East Side was Junkie John. He was a sucker. His family had big money. Crazy Santa Claus had assets
I helped him turn $80,000 of stock into gold coins, which wasn't an easy thing to do in 1993, since the Feds were hunting drug dealers laundering money. Collecting the coins took a little time. I asked Uncle Carmine, if I should fuck him.
“He’s going to get $2 million at 50.” Uncle Carmine was patient. “We’ll get him then. He promised to take care of me.”
Trusting junkies was a losing proposition.
Crazy Santa Claus lost the gold coins to his crackhead girlfriends within a month. We hadn’t spoken since the sale.
The near-albino nodded, as I sat opposite him in the gaseous vapors hovering under the basement ceiling.Crazy Santa Claus’ skin was parched dry as a Death Valley corpse. Junkies like vampires don’t sweat, unless they are jonesing.
“Always hot this hour.”
“You wanna smoke some O?” Somewhere in his head I suspected that I had ripped him off. He wasn’t man enough to blame himself and stood up with a towel around his waist.
“It’s a little early.” I was wearing a matching towel and my own flip-flops. The ones at the Baths were cheap. Like wearing wooden shoes.
“No one’s here and anyone who is here let’s me do what I want. My money buys freedom.”
I remembered how he talked about his money. I should have left, but followed him to the front of the Baths. I hadn’t smoked opium for years. We entered the bathroom and he pulled out a glass stem. We lit up a small ball of black tar. The Chinese had run thousands of opium dens in New York. Chinese rocks had closed most of them, but this morning Crazy Santa Claus had opened one on East 10th Street. The aroma was Golden Triangle, however the country of origin was Mexico.
I faked my inhale. John like most junkies only cared about his high. The heroin flitted through his blood and he sagged against the wall. His rush lasted 30 seconds. I went upstairs to say my good-byes to the owner.
“Where is Crazy John?” The owner had another name for Crazy Santa Claus.
“In the bathroom?”
I nodded wiping the sweat from my face. A little of the D was running in my arteries. Work would be tough for the first hour.
“I will make sure that he doesn’t die.” Dead people were never good for business.
“I could care less.” That was the drugs talking and a little bit me too. We both spoke the same language. Selfish to the bone.