The Opium Den

Henry in his Queens apartment, ready.

Summer nights in the city, tranquil, yet rough around the edges, there was a feeling that some shit could come down in a New York minute, anywhere. 

Chaim’s Deli, 10PM, Henry in his usual booth chating up his usual waitress, Ruby. He was hungry and ordered a large bowl of borsht with sour cream and allot of pepper, as well as some chopped chicken liver to spread on bagels. 

Henry hits the bricks around 11PM, blowing Ruby a kiss as he walks out, headed to the Village for some coffee, running and covering his face with a newspaper through the Bowery, wanting to by-pass the stank and bullshit of the bums.

Going to an all-night coffee shop, simply called “Joe,” ordering espresso with Irish Whiskey, eye-balling the joint. After a few Irish Coffees Henry heads to Chinatown, bored out of his gourd at Joe.   

The Village too conventional for him, the 9 to 5 working stiffs had taken it over, dressing like beatniks and hippies, weekend cool, still stiff in the day. He knew of a wonderful little opium den in Chinatown, above a Chinese Laundry.

By 1PM Henry was in Chinatown in front of Lee’s Chinese Laundry, he knew it well. 

The double doors to the entry were unlocked, marked by two red lanterns.  He makes his way up a dimly lit stairway to a long hallway.  At the end of the hallway there was a glowing yellow door, he could smell burnt tar opium. 

He knocks on the yellow door and an old Chinese lady, dressed traditionally, asks him to take off his street shoes and to put on a pair of cloth slippers. 

The room was dark, there were a dozen Chinamen laying parallel on straw mates in the opium den, either smoking opium or passed out in a dream. 

Henry loved the place, the old Chinese gal sets him up with a loaded pipe and a mat to lay on, sitting on a small wood stool next to him, lighting his pipe and saying, “ Oh we don’t see many foreign man here, only no good lazy Chinaman.”

Henry sucks in the smoke of burning opium, going into a dream. He sees himself hovering on the ceiling looking down at the others in the room, dreaming beautiful multicolored dreams, feeling warm inside, his body free from pain, outside of waking consciousness. 

At 9AM still in a dream, he feels a small hand tugging on and pushing his shoulder—  the opium maid says, “Pay and get out, go home.” 

On the street in Chinatown, he covers his eyes to avoid the glare of the red morning sun, just wanting to make it home, close his curtains and escape the daylight. 

He remembered little of the night in the opium den or the dreams he had, but he felt it was a pleasant, he felt wonderful inside. 

At home in bed feeling he could sleep a hundred years.  

No comments: