• A. D. Metcalfe

The Aztec

Updated: Mar 6, 2020


bartender pouring drink in a dive bar
bartender pouring drink in a dive bar

I do this a lot. I walk the streets of New York City.


Tonight, I’ve been walking for a few hours already. It’s late and I’m tired, but I feel like if I stop, it’ll only be worse. Walking dulls the emptiness, makes me feel like I might actually find what I’m looking for, even though I have no idea what it is. I’ve read that seeking is a primal instinct, programmed into all species of animals by Mother Nature to perpetuate life.


Seek food, seek territory, seek a mate—all those things necessary for survival. As far as brain chemistry is concerned, the seeking is more rewarding than achieving the goal, and stimulates the release of dopamine. Good thing, because I really want to get high right now, so I’ll take what I can get.


I’m meandering through neighborhoods in hopes that I’ll bump into someone or something to distract me from this desperate feeling. At this point I’d settle for a good mugging. Why not? Anything to body-slam this feeling out of me—this thing that resembles rage shackled to paralysis.


Eventually, I find myself outside the Aztec, a bar on the lower east side. It’s not a coincidence, even though I try to sell myself that line of bullshit. I’ve been hanging out here quite a bit these days, and it’s a real dive. More dive-y than the other bars I tend to frequent.


Not that I’ve ever had boojie taste or anything. I’ve been hitting the bar scene pretty heavy since I was fifteen, and when you’re trying to booze it up, but all you’ve got is your allowance, you get in the habit of sticking to the rattier, more affordable joints. But I’m older now, twenty-two: that age when a woman can usually find some lonely guy to buy her a drink.


The Aztec is in a notoriously druggy neighborhood, right around the corner from some of the big copping spots, and it’s a popular hangout for dealers, users, punks, and artist wannabes. My best friend turned me on to this place about three or four months ago, around the time she started smoking heroin. I never asked how she learned to do it, but she’s the one who showed me. We’ve gotten high together a few times, but not so much anymore. I mean, heroin isn’t the most social drug.


I don’t even know why I’m here. I don’t have any money. Maybe I’ll see someone I know and talk them into buying me a drink or lending me twenty bucks for a package. I wander the length of the bar, looking around the tables, but I don’t recognize anyone.


Maybe I should just take it as a sign to go home and go to bed. It’d probably be safer. At this point, I only want the drugs, I don’t need them, but I’m friends with enough junkies to know this is a dangerous thing I’m playing with.


I’ve given up and I’m about to leave when I see someone. It’s one of the guys who slings dope on 13th Street. I’ve bought from him a few times before. He’s one of the less hard-core-looking dudes. He’s light-skinned with a slight build, and cute in a feral sort of way. I like that b-boy street look. It always did more for me than those preppy types.


I go up to him and say hello. He seems to remember me, even though he probably palms packages to a hundred customers a day. But my guess is that recognizing his clientele is pretty vital in his line of work, you know, if he wants to stay out of jail. Or maybe he remembers me because I’m tall and busty, and tend to get flirty when I’m nervous. And I’m always nervous when I’m copping.


We make small talk and he bums a cigarette, even though he’s got one tucked behind his ear. I ask if he can front me a bag, or let me get a taste for free. Predictably, he says no, but offers to share a hit with me if I suck him off. I’m not entirely surprised by the suggestion or the blunt way he asks, and I play it cool.


Even though I’ve never been in a situation like this before, I’m bright enough to understand that it warrants no gallantry, no pretense. I’ve been working since high school, so being broke is kind of a new thing. I’m used to having money to support my own vices, but this recent increase in the drinking and drugging is really putting a strain on my paycheck. And I want to get high, so I say okay. He smiles, and we go to wait in line for the bathrooms.


The Aztec has two equally seedy unisex lavatories. They each have a stained, cracked porcelain sink, and a filthy toilet. There’s no mirror, no soap, and rarely is there any toilet paper. The walls are covered with graffiti and have pornographic messages scratched into them. These bathrooms have a tendency to be utilized for many things, the least of which are bodily functions, so the line is slow moving. But we wait.


In the meantime, I start thinking . . . and rationalizing. I know I’ve slept with worse-looking guys, maybe during a drunken stupor, or when I was feeling particularly bad about myself, but I’ve never actually traded sex for anything before. And I’ve certainly never charged for it. I have, however, always had a fascination with prostitution—a romanticized view of it, even. Maybe it comes from television or the movies, which often make call girls look sexy, desirable, and like they’re always in control. But I’m not dumb enough to think that’s how it really is.


When I was nineteen, I answered an ad in the Village Voice that was looking for models. It was in the back, in the same section with the ads for escorts and strippers, so it was pretty obvious that whatever they wanted, “modeled” wasn’t going involve many clothes, but it claimed to pay a lot for each photo shoot, so I set up an interview. I don’t know if it was bravery or stupidity, or equal amounts of both, but I actually showed up on the day.


The place was on Lexington Avenue and thirty-something street, in this little basement apartment that was set up like an office, where the living room was supposed to be the waiting room. There was a door to what would have been a bedroom, but it was closed. I figured there was probably another interview going on in there—or any number of men preparing to rape me. I waited for several minutes, pondering every vile scenario that could occur in that apartment, while reminding myself that I still had the option to leave. Nevertheless, I stuck it out.


Eventually, the door opened. A man came out, gave me a polite nod, and left. I was then called into the room by a regular-looking middle-aged guy who was sitting behind a large, cluttered desk. He offered me a seat across from him and proceeded to ask a bunch of standard job interview questions. I was relieved by his pedestrian tone after having feared the worst.


When he’d gotten my basic information, he explained what he was looking for. It turned out he was indeed running a legitimate—though sleazy—nude magazine. It was certainly no Playboy or Penthouse, and he showed me some sample pictures. This magazine was like porn, but was formatted with a series of still frames, so the models were required to pose as if they were performing actual sex acts, just without the action.


After he’d explained it all, he asked me to remove my clothes—in other words, show him the product—which I did standing right there in front of the desk. It was more clinical than erotic, and I didn’t even have to step out of my pants. I just dropped them, took off my shirt, and spun around. He looked me over and said I could have the job if I wanted it.


I put my clothes back on, took his number, and left. I never did call him to follow up, but I remember leaving there feeling really positive about myself, like some sleazebag telling me that my naked body being good enough to be in his shitty porn magazine was a compliment. That was my worth. That’s what I had to offer the world. But having spent all of my formative years drunk and high, that’s exactly where my head was at.


So, here I am, three years later, standing in line for the bathrooms at the Aztec, waiting to suck the dick of some dope dealer I don’t even know for one snort of heroin. It’s not too hard to see the direction I’m heading, is it?


I honestly don’t know how long we’ve been waiting. Maybe it’s been two minutes, maybe ten. I just know that it’s long enough for me to worry that if I do this—if I compromise myself this one time—there will be no going back. Shit like this will only get easier and easier, until the last shred of my self-esteem disappears with whatever hopes and dreams are hiding behind the self-loathing.


The front door opens and a few people walk in. I’m drawn to it, drawn to the idea of running, running onto the street and away from this situation. Yet for some stupid reason, I feel an obligation not to hurt the feelings of this dealer, like I owe him an explanation or excuse or something. So, I tap him on the arm and say, hey, I just saw my friend outside and I really need to talk to her about something. I’ll just be a second, okay? He says okay, but he’s got a look in his eyes like he knows I’m not coming back, like even he knows I deserve more than this.


This piece of creative nonfiction was published in Dark Ink Magazine's 2018 Spring edition. Dark Ink Magazine is a small independent press based in New England. They publish high-quality fiction from writers with unique, passionate voices — specifically mysteries, horror, paranormal, historical fiction, and works with an alternative theme or that explore the depths of the human spirit.


They aim to publish work that reaches beyond the mundane — exceptional writing that is thought-provoking and unexpected. They seek to connect the world with new and emerging writers who possess strong, unique voices, with stories that move, terrify, intrigue and inspire readers.


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