A STORY OF O by Peter Nolan Smith – 1994

In 1994 Crazy Santa possessed a special guest card to the Russian Baths on East 10th Street. The steam room crew began to heat the river boulders at 6am. The two-ton stones glowed red by 7:20. The Schvitz opened at 8 AM, but Crazy Santa 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 rain, sleet, snow, or sunshine.

Every morning day on my short walk I witnessed autumn’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 day workers’ faces headed to the subway. Their eyes questioned my destination. 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 thirty minutes in the 180F heat.

One Spring morning I entered and spotted Crazy Santa on the top tier of the heat room. His white beard remained fluffy, despite the Venusian temperature, then again his body fat was less than zero.

I knew the Jersey heir to a deodorant fortune through my Uncle Carmine, a Sicilian plumber married to a Aunt Jane, a distant aunt from Maine’s Cumberland County, which she called ‘the last place on earth created by God’. We weren’t really blood, but Carmine and I conducted business on various projects hidden from the rest of the family. Crazy Santa had a small room in Uncle Carmine’s basement. The walls were covered with torn hippie posters. He paid no rent.

Crazy Santa’s 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 had big money. THe sole heir Crazy Santa inherited the remains, which had mostly been invested in his veins.

The previous Christmas I helped him turn $80,000 of stock into gold coins, which wasn’t an easy thing in 1993, since the Feds were after drug dealers laundering money. Collecting the coins on West 47th Street took a little time. Returning to his bullding between B and C Avenues, 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. I said nothing. Carmine also knew the risk.

Crazy Santa 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 ceiling ceiling. Crazy Santas’ skin was parched dry as a Death Valley corpse. Junkies like vampires don’t sweat, unless they are jonesing.

“Hot, huh?”

“Always hot this hour.”

He spat on the floor.

“Do me a favor. Don’t spit on the floor.”

“You don’t own this place. You don’t make the rules.”

I grabbed him by the hair and shoved him.

“You’re right. Just don’t do it again.”

“Sorry, you wanna smoke some O?” Somewhere in his head he suspected that I had ripped him off on the coin deal. I had only taken a 5% commission, but the only truth junkies believe are the lies they tell themselves He wasn’t man enough to blame himself and stood up with a towel around his waist.

“It’s a little early.” I wore a fluffy towel and my own flip-flops. The ones at the Baths were cheap. Like wearing paper towels and cardboard sandals.

“No one’s here and anyone who is here lets me do what I want. 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.

“You know I know you and Carmine are waiting to rip me off. You think you’re so smart, but I went to Harvard.”

“Did you finish?”

“No, but I know your type. A loser from the lower classes just likeCarmine. You’ll both get nothing in the end.”

We entered the bathroom and he pulled out a glass stem. We lit up a small ball of black tar. The Tongs had run thousands of opium dens in New York. Chinese rocks had killed off most of their clientele, but this morning Crazy Santa had opened one on East 10th Street. The aroma was Golden Triangle, although the country of origin was Mexico.

Tijuana black tar.


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 in a nod. I took off the key wrapped around his wrist and went upstairs to his locker, quickly rifling through his clothes. I left the dope and pilfered half the money. I returned to the bathroom. He was still breathing and I slipped the key back onto his wrist. Upstairs I showered, dressed and said 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 ranin my arteries. Work would be tough for the first hour.

“High?” asked David.


“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. David and I spoke the same language. Always apathetic to junkies. They were their own worst enemy and ours as well, but he was right, given the chance I would take him for it all, then again losers are never that lucky.

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