Photo by Genghis
DEAD END: The O.D graveyard
They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I get back you’ll know know know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go go go
We’ve all known people like Amy Winehouse. Sometimes these were people we were close to. These people were addicts and died young, to us—for no good reason. After a premature death of someone like this, there is a mixture of grief and anger, anger toward that person for senselessly aborting life when life is so precious. It is a curious but natural human reaction to feel angry at those who inexplicably leave us. It is survivor’s anger. These people have everything to live for and nothing to die for. Yet, they toss life in the garbage in fits of self-pity and self-destruction. There is no rationale for it. There is only a personality that is addiction-prone, an attempt to dull psychological pain, and the pharmacological means to to the end. Sometimes drugs give a wonderful and ecstatic high, and sometimes it crosses the line into deadly territory.
When the line is breached, then life ends, probably unintentionally. Most overdoses are involuntary. The run-up to this point is motivated by an uncontrollable urge to escape pain. Of the number of people I’ve known over the years who’ve O.D.’d, the most painful for me was my friend Mike “Big Mike” Mercurio’s passing. Big Mike was a biker. In Big Mike’s case, he died in his early 30s. There was so much to live for, so many miles he could’ve ridden on his panhead, so many women to love, all gone in one rash act of seeking pleasure or peace. Death is a heavy price to pay for an escape hatch from demons.
“Fongool, Mike—what the hell were ya thinking?” I was sad and mad at the same time. That’s the way I felt when I heard that Big Mike had died of an O.D. Mike was my paisan. Didn’t know I was Italian, did you? Yup, I was indoctrinated as an Italian by all of my Italian friends I grew up with in Queens, who were really Italian. I wasn’t, but I could curse ya out with the best of ’em. What am I, a stugots? My “chin flick” gesture was as authentic as those executed by my paisan buddies. My up yours umbrella gesture, was done with flair and passion. “May your blood leave you, stunad!”
Big Mike was a little over ten years older than me, and was one of the older bikers in my neighborhood who I looked up to when I was coming up. The other was Steve Biondo. Both Big Mike and Steve rode panheads, and they’re the ones who solidified my loyalty to Harley-Davidsons. Big Mike was the one I called, when I blew out my kicking knee, on my Sportster “Sally The Bitch” when Sally’s kickstarter slipped through without resistance. Because of my injury, I was unable to kickstart Sally to get her home. I called Mike, and he showed up and kicked her over for me. Kickstarting for Big Mike was no problemo, because Mike weighed in at 270.
Big Mike was a natural mechanic, who could disassemble his panhead or his car, and rebuild ’em just like that. My father often called Mike to weld stuff for my father’s store, or repair machinery for my father—and Mike would never take payment. He did it for friendship’s sake. My father had a tremendous regard for Big Mike, who was always generous with his time and talents. Many were the times when Big Mike would help me diagnose problems with the Sportster. Mike was also a handy guy to have around when things got rough.
There was the time when Mike and I stopped on the Long Island Expressway to help a woman whose car broke down. This was at the juncture where the Northern State Parkway merged with the LIE. This was something Big MIke did a lot of: Stop and help motorists with their cars, and he never took any of their money for his time and trouble.
While Mike was at the end of the median helping the woman with her car, a car full of hecklers at the other end of the median started to hassle me about my long hair. I threw a rock at their car, and they emptied out, one guy with a tire iron, the other two empty handed. The guy with the tire iron faced off with me, and I planted a well-placed engineer boot into his genitals, flooring him. Unseen to me, one of the other guys circled around me, and sucker punched me in my right ear just right, and broke my eardrum (I lost most of the hearing in my dominant right ear from that, which is why I always use my left ear for the telephone).
That threw me off my equilibrium, and the two guys were about to stomp me, when Mike noticed and ran over. With this hairy behemoth descending on ’em, those two guys picked up their friend and they took off back to their car and they peeled off. I spent the day in the emergency room of a hospital having my broken eardrum attended to, but without Big Mike, it would have been far worse. Of this I was certainn, though: I wouldn’t have traded injuries with the guy I floored. To this day, he probably hasn’t fathered children.
That’s the kind of dependable friend Big Mike was. After I got married to my first wife and moved to Manhattan, I spent less time with Big Mike and saw him infrequently. Mike was a sportsman of sorts. We used to go flounder fishing in the Rockaways together. He was big on fishing, often going on fishing boats off of Montauk, Long island. It would be at Montauk Point, where he would ironically die of an overdose of heroin.
After not seeing Big for several months after I got married, I returned to Queens and ran into him. He had totally changed. He got involved in a bad crowd of heroin users. he looked emaciated, probably weighing under two hundred, which was nothing, for him. He acted out of his mind, and talked erratically. I couldn’t believe my eyes aand ears. Shortly after this, I heard through a mutual friend that Big Mike was found dead in his car at Montauk Point, dead from a heroin O.D. The Winehouse sysdrome had struck Mike down for the count.
Vaffanculo, Mike! What were you thinking? I miss ya, buddy. I hope that yer riding your panhead up there—at least, I hope that you’re up there. Peace be upon you, paisan. Later.