Reckless in Sodom and Gomorrah (Part Two)

The following essay, a work in progress, is not fiction. It was written for English 404, Creative Nonfiction. P.S. I have been sober since September 11, 2011 (the date is coincidental).

Part One HERE

“Folly is a child of power.” ― Historian Barbara W. Tuchman

The Capitol Building (Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

My recklessness began in 1980. The Columbian Cartels controlled the drug traffic into Miami. The Cocaine Cowboys ran rampant in the city, leaving shootouts and dead in their wake. Out of that chaos, someone I met began smuggling gallon-size plastic bags full of cocaine rocks up from Miami into Washington, D.C. Along with those drugs, there were unlimited amounts of alcohol, sex, and rock n’ roll, with some jazz, salsa, and soul music thrown into the mix. Less than two miles from the White House, I began living a lifestyle of debauchery and self-destruction.

A Reckless Time (Photo by Art Jones)

I was a sixties boomer who remembered the free love days of my generation and the seventies disco era and now saw them slamming into the early eighties with a bang. To quote Tony Montana in Scarface, I was on top of the world. Well, at least the local world of Washington, D.C., beyond the halls of Congress, the White House, and federal agencies. There was money in my pocket. I was patched into a network of professionals who worked for the local government of Washington, where the residents had no voting representative in Congress and often referred to D.C. as Congress’s Plantation. We still plowed ahead, making laws, fighting the man at every turn, led by a charismatic figure who had cut his teeth in the Civil Rights era and was known for getting things done, Mayor Marion Barry.

Old Haunts (Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

Someone described us as the Young Turks, the future leaders of Washington, D.C. We proudly called D.C. Chocolate City. A city of nearly three-quarters of a million people who were predominately Black and other people of color. But we were no gang. We were respectable, local government and Congressional staffers, government and private lawyers, and lobbyists. My friends and I did not fit the stereotype of drug users and dealers on street corners or alleys. We wore jackets and ties to work, casual wear to the bars and restaurants along Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill, a stone’s throw from the center of American power. I deluded myself into believing that power equaled invulnerability and permission to test the boundaries of what was allowed. I was thirty-one when I began working in the office of the Mayor of Washington, D.C. I was living high and fast. It was all about working hard and partying harder, without restraint, with no limits. Reckless. Hell, this was the time of my life.

I don’t remember the moment I went from inhaling cocaine like it was air to selling it. I remember that I was partying like Sodom and Gomorrah, breaking every night. I began doing private deals with friends, sharing the wealth of drugs that came my way. I knew laws were being broken. Right there, in the nation’s capital. I feared not getting high more than getting caught. It wasn’t like we were slinging dope out in “bad neighborhoods.” This was white powder cocaine. It put a few extra bucks in my pocket so I could party some more. This was my twisted thinking. It’s not like I was smuggling tons of cocaine from the Columbian Cartel. Okay, there was some smuggling going on from Miami. But I’m talking a couple of ounces here, some grams there. Party weight.

The White House (Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

In the middle of my drug recklessness in Sodom and Gomorrah, President Ronald Reagan declared a “war on drugs” on October 14, 1982. He called illicit drugs a direct threat to U.S. national security. I was probably at a party when he announced the war. Shoveling cocaine up my nose and laughing that it was all harmless fun. Except, I was falling deeper into addiction. It was only a matter of time before I eventually found myself crying in a fetal position on my best friend’s laundry room floor in his apartment building.

Washington, D.C.
I so miss this city (Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

A second federal subpoena arrived. This time it was specific what the Feds wanted. “Any and all correspondence, receipts, letters, notes, and canceled checks blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” In the middle of all that mumbo jumbo, there was a name. A familiar one. The focus of the investigation was a fellow government worker, someone with whom I’d had a brief friendship. I called her asking for a meeting.

We met in a slowly gentrifying neighborhood at a favorite lunch spot in downtown D.C. She sat across from me and, with no prompting, spilled the truth. Through my slowly steaming anger, I heard words like affair, buying drugs, giving it to you know who (never mentioning his name), and something about we should never see each other again. She apologized, got up, and left me with the truth and pain.

Washington, D.C.
The Tidal Basin (Image by Patrick Gregerson from Pixabay)

My life became a rolling nightmare of lawyer meetings, DEA interrogations, deal-making, promises to snitch to avoid prison time, and a grand jury appearance. My fast, reckless life in Sodom and Gomorrah had crashed, and I didn’t think it could worsen.

On April 18, 1984, the phone rang in my Commission office. Putting the receiver to my ear, the voice at the other end was familiar. “Good morning, Antonio, it’s Joe Pichirallo, Washington Post.” He wanted a comment about a ten-count indictment that morning against my former friend. I could hear something about my being an unindicted co-conspirator in count ten of the indictment. “Would you like to explain?” Every part of me began to shut down. At that moment, I suddenly realized that I would forever be known as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal drug case.

The air in my lungs was sucked out. All I could gurgle out was a lame “No comment.”

Author: Antonio Pedro Ruiz

Antonio Ruiz is an ex-junkie-alcoholic, former seminarian, one-time radio host-producer, past community organizer, continuing to be a media advocate, retired television reporter, ex-commission executive director, once a street vendor of jewelry and gloves, waitron (waiter to you), a former bartender who drank too much on the job, an ex-motorcycle courier who learned to ride a bike just for the job, ex-airport shuttle driver, former Entertainment news director-producer, the best time of my life, one-time live TV events red carpet producer-executive producer, ex-small business consultant, ex-youth media and journalism mentor, and now a college student who also has been married three times (thirds the charm), and just couldn't help living with two other women because well, that's part of my story.

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