Minimal Reaction is a novel written by Anthony Norman White. It is a fiction story that paints the true picture about the opioid addiction and dependency issues that face the United States.
Truth is, addiction to prescription medications starts at an early age and continues for most of our adult life. 1 in every 4 people in the US who take opioids battles addiction. In 2015, there were 52,000 lethal drug overdoses in the US, 20,000 were from opioids.
Make no mistake, drug companies around the world bring in over 500 billion in sales per year, and since they have the highest profit margins, sometimes over 40%, there are a select few that become richer and richer with every addiction.
Minimal Reaction takes this head on while chronicling two best friends who sell a few pills to make ends meet, but wind up being major players in a huge supply chain. They get ahead of themselves, end up in the wrong place at the right time, and learn that you don’t run the pill game, the pill game runs you.
The following excerpt is from Part 2, Chapter 1 of Minimal Reaction. It is unedited, contains explicit language.
Every few minutes Stupid Mickey would yell out “Queensboro”. It was really starting to get on my nerves. Every break in conversation, any time we brought up Manhattan, the trip, the drugs, anything really, he would shout out, “Queensboro” fast and furiously, almost as one syllable. I didn’t want to ask why, but that’s why he kept doing it. He wanted desperately for someone desperately to ask the question. He pulled this trick all the time. He thought it was wit. Ping just ignored him, which made me even more annoyed. We were barely to the Van Wyck, not even out of Queens and Mikey was annoying me to death. I cracked my beer and sat back, the windows open, Rage Against The Machine on the radio, and nothing to do but ride. I wasn’t even exactly sure where we were going besides into the city. Maybe I could talk Ping into stopping some place amazing for some food. I was already thinking about “Cozy”.
“Why do you keep yelling that”? Ping finally confronted him. I was excited. I lurched forward and stuck my head between them in the front seat.
“Cuz’ we goin’ over the Queensboro Bridge, my man. The greatest bridge in NYC!”
“What’s the address we’re going to?” I interjected, just to get things rolling.
Ping knew the city very well. If you needed to get in or out of the city in a hurry, he was the guy to have on your side. He said it was because he loved to look at maps and he spent years studying the map of Manhattan as a kid. Ping’s father owned properties there and they used to ride in together all the time. He would take him all around the city and then when they got home he would have him track where they went on a big map they sprawled out on the floor. Ping’s dad was great. He was secretly teaching him a skill that would come in handy for him, even if he didn’t intend it for this purpose exactly.
“We gotta head to Rucker Park to get at someone. That’s first, my man.”
“Why would I take the Queensboro Bridge then?”
“Cuz’, my man, that’s the way to Manhattan.”
“Not for Rucker Park. We gotta head north first, then hit the two-eight-seven up to the Major Deegan, then cross the 138th street bridge, quick right on that one way…uh…actually 139th street, and it puts you right at Harlem River Drive which shits you out on Frederick Douglass just north of Rucker Park.”
“Why wouldn’t you just pick up the FDR which turns into Harlem River Drive at the Queensboro, my man!”
“Because the Queensboro doesn’t go into FDR. It goes over it. And the only place to pick it up from there is either, south, at 1st and 48 which is stupid, or north at 1st and 63rd and that’s going to be a zoo.”
“Yes it does, my man.”
“Yes it does what, Mikey.”
“Yes it does go into the FDR, my man.”
“No. You’re wrong, The Queensboro Bridge most definitely goes OVER the FDR. I’m right, you’re wrong, trust me. End of story. And, plus, even if it did, which it does not I assure you, my way is faster. Trust me. Seriously.”
“Aight. Aight. I trust you. You know I do. But…Queensboro!”
They both started laughing, Ping mock punching Mikey across the face, Mikey pretending to be hurt, just goofing around having a laugh. I wanted to strangle both of them. Although, I had to admit to Ping later in the evening that his directions and argument were quite impressive. I had no idea where anything was so he could have lied about the whole thing.
“Every bit of it was true”, was what he said and I believed him.
We hit the highway and the blur rush of wind was too much for me to hear what they were saying in the front seat. I would catch little blips and phrases from now and again as Ping turned towards Mickey in conversation. Mikey was enthralled. He really was like Ping’s younger brother sometimes; hanging on every word, trying to annoy him, looking up to him for help and inspiration. Mikey was a year or two older than Ping but didn’t have the same intelligence or maturity. And had about half the teeth, too. Although I couldn’t hear the conversation exactly, I heard Ping talking about basketball on account of us heading to Rucker Park. I only heard the things he was saying when his head turned towards Mikey.
“about seven o’clock…pouring ‘em in….that’s it baby, that’s KD. Standing with my back …I’ll be damned…scored…dunk….dunk… pounding three’s…. could’ve gotten…best player outta Texas…come to the Knicks….”
Ping knew more about sports than anyone I knew. He loved all sports, too. He could go on talking about Baseball till he was blue in the face, but he watched Football, Soccer, Tennis, Basketball, Auto Racing, The Olympics, Hockey. He loved it. He followed all of it and would talk to anyone about it whenever the subject came up. He gambled on games all the time, too. Only guy I ever knew to lay bets on college baseball during the regular season. I remember once, in a bar in Midtown, Ping gave a soliloquy about how Football will be obsolete in 25 years. I swear by the end, about 30 people were crowded around listening. Some guy said he should have his own radio show. Ping talked about doing radio for months afterward.
We pulled up to a stop about a block from Rucker Park. Mickey jumped out quick and scurried around the corner. Ping sat back to watch. He surveyed the street, tilting his head from one side to the other, examining the area as if he were to write a report. He turned his head so I was in his periphery. “You know what? I could live here, I think. Basketball going on night and day, people walking around, look at that little store over there! Oh man, there’s something about it up here that I like. Maybe I’m just sick of the island, you know?”
“This is just another island”.
“Yeah, but its different here. And really, you’re always on an island, you know?”
Ping, whether he meant it or not, could be really philosophical. He meant that everywhere you’re ever going to live is an island. Continents are for the most part surrounded by water, but the way he said it, could have only come from someone who’s lived through so much in such a short period of time. I decided I was going to tell him about Gramps. It just came blurting out of me.
“My grandfather died today.” I said it matter of fact. But I didn’t mean to. It came off as insignificant. But I didn’t think of that until now.
“Jesus, dude. Really?”
“Yeah. Crazy huh?”
“The one you never see? Who lives up in East Ba-Jesus?”
“The one and the same.”
“Wow. Sorry, man.”
“It’s all good. Like you said, never really saw him the last dozen years or so”
“Yeah, but, still. When anybody you know dies it sucks. Especially when it’s your last grandparent.”
I hadn’t thought about that until he said it. Grandpa Jack was the last elder, the last connection to the past beyond what my parents could remember, the last person in my family tree that could remember a time without television. Ping interrupted my train of thought.
“You going up there for the funeral?”
“Yeah. I mean, I guess so. I haven’t thought about it. My parents are going up today I think.”
Ping looked away. He looked out the window on his side, possibly thinking, or possibly not knowing what to say. We sat for a minute in total silence. I looked straight ahead, he out his window, and Mikey gone around a dark brick corner to go find whoever he had to find. The car was suddenly still and silent.
Ping has dealt with the death of a loved one before. His Uncle Reese had passed away. His grandparents on his Father’s side passed away before he was born. So he never knew them. Then his Father died. After that strange day under the hot August sun, nothing would really be the same. His grandparents on his mother’s side, who lived close by, and who he liked a great deal, decided to move soon after. Ping’s arrest after losing his scholarship was too much for them to bear. When they left they did not leave their address or phone number. They blamed Ping’s dad for his own death, and they blamed him for what happened to Ping’s mom after. That’s when he moved in with his Uncle Reese.
“Life’s whacky? Aint it?”
“Yeah. That’s an understatement.”
“Speaking of whacky, what the hell is Mickey doing?”
We looked up and saw Stupid Mickey coming down the street, brown paper bag under his arm, singing like a lark, with his fly unzipped, button undone, sweatshirt wide open, with no shirt on underneath, wearing a big floppy straw sun hat. He looked like a modern day Huck Fin, with his cut off jean shorts, if only Huck Fin had been through the ringer, had a drug problem, and liked fucking prostitutes. He bounded up to the car, swung open the door, and plopped down like he weighed 300 pounds.
“Dudes. I just got a sick blow job.”
“Really we couldn’t tell”, was pretty much all I could muster up from the back. I could smell him.
“Whoops! Guess I forgot to close up shop.”
I heard the zipper of his sweatshirt, before the zipper on his pants.
“Yeah, I know everyboday! And Everyboday knows ME!”
“Yeah, that’s great there Captain shit head, but what the fuck is in the bag?”
Mikey was about as proud as could be. He made a deal, that he thought was great, somehow received fellatio in the middle of it, and now got to show it all off. He was acting like a dog that catches a rabbit and leaves it in the shoe of the hand that feeds him. Ping was the hand that fed him.
Mikey started in with his story while searching for his cigarettes.
“So, this dude, right?”
I wanted out of the car immediately. In fact, I wanted off of the Island suddenly. I would have rather literally cut off my left arm with a pair of safety scissors than listen to this debilitatingly stupid story. Mickey half turned around in his seat to include me in his audience. He lit a cigarette. I leaned back to get away from the smell of him.
“So this dude I know,right? Real shady cat. Weird cat. Dirty. Down under. He’s got some shit he wants me to start gettin’ in on, right? So of course I’ll try anything if it’ll take the edge off. Shit is serious. He’s settin’ there on this couch with this bitch on the nod next to him. I’m like, “What’s her friggin’ problem?” Turns out she’s on the shit my man’s trying to push to me. Fedinahl. Son, I scooped a bit up and bang! I’m feeling fine! He goes, “How about we make this happen?” and I’m like “Yeah but you gotta give me a deal.” And he did. What’s up!”
He plopped the brown paper bag down on the arm rest in between him and Ping. Ping looked discouraged but opened it anyway.
“What the fuck is this”? Ping dipped his hand in the bag and scooped out 4 or 5 small bottles of clear liquid.
“Fedinahl, my man”.
“You mean Fentanyl? The synthetic, class C narcotic?
“I guess so.”
“You spent my money on fucking fentanyl? You fuck? “
“You’re always lookin’ for oxy, my man. This shit is the better. Trust me.”
This is why Stupid Mickey is called Stupid Mickey. He is cheap smoke. Everyone can see through him and Ping was no different. There was a silence in the car. I could hear traffic and people all around us. Mickey was staring at Ping, nervously wringing his hands. Ping closed his eyes and tilted his head back, then started in on him after a short, awkward breath.
“Mickey, the people I sell to don’t use needles, they think it’s for low life’s and junkies. Low life’s and junkies like you. How many times do I have to…”
“Yeah, but this shit is better than…’
“I’m fully aware of what you think is better and I’m fully aware of what is better, and I’m fully aware that you’re a moron! I sell to college kids and young professionals who have money! They’re chefs, and business men, and sales people, and business owners. They don’t want track marks up and down their arms like a fucking junky! They’d lose their jobs, they’d ruin their relationships, they wouldn’t be able to function in normal society! They are not like fucking street people. I know what you’re saying. This stuff is better if not the same, blah blah blah. Well it’s not. Not to them. Did you spend all of it?”
“Sorry Eddy. I thought, I thought, you know?”
“Did you spend all of it?”
“And let me guess, your guy through that blow job in. Right? Right?”
“Well no. But…yeah, but I didn’t pay no extra for some bum bitch! I wouldn’t spend your money like that!”
“I didn’t think you would.”
“I don’t waste no money, you know? I’m sorry, Eddy. Let me make it up to you.”
“I don’t need you to make it up to me.”
“But I want to. I’ll go get your money back.”
I’ll hand it to Mickey here for a second. He would have marched right up there and asked for his cash back. He wasn’t afraid of anyone. And I was never sure if it was stupidity or bravery. But it was probably stupidity. Mickey reached over, snatched up the bag, and started to leave. Ping stopped him, grabbing him by his skinny forearm.
“Mickey! Stop. First of all where did you get that awful hat?”
“I found it in the stairwell, my man”, he explained proud and happily.
“OK. Second of all get back in the car. You can’t get your money back.”
“And why not? That mother fucker ought to be happy to give me that cash back. I was helping him! Of course I can get my money back. That’s my dude up there.”
“He made that hooker throw in the blow job, didn’t he?”
“Uh-huh. I was looking for a deal. I told him.”
I was in the back listening intently. I had no idea where this was going.
“He said it was part of the deal, didn’t he? Part of the deal you were asking about?”
“Well now you can’t get your money back, because he’ll ask for that blow job back and how you supposed to do that? Hmm?”
A few seconds of silence ensued. I watched Mickey complete the thought and come to the conclusion. It was like watching a cat find a good place to take a crap in a kid’s sandbox.
Silence washed over the car. I was impressed with Ping. But I was also impressed with this drug dealer in question. He must have known Mickey was buying for someone else, known that it was hard to get rid of fentanyl, and used him the best he could. And it worked.
We sat around for a minute not knowing what to do. Ping’s head was working from side to side like a boxer, tilting left, then right and back again. He cracked his knuckles, took off his hat, ran his fingers through his curly brown hair a few times, snapped the hat back on, and buckled his seat belt. He had formed a plan. His dark eyes darted to the rear view mirror and bored into me.
“What was the name of that kid who bragged about going to NYU at Matt’s party the other night?”
“Jesus, Ping. I was hammered. I was barely listening to him. You were the one that talked with him. And hated him.”
“Text Matt. Find out. I got an idea.”
“What? Why? What’s your idea.”
It was too late to ask those questions. He was already set on something. I knew it was no good. The car started, lurched forward into traffic and took off downtown. We cut across a few long blocks and ended up on Frederic Douglass, cruising in and out of traffic, the city blowing by my window like an eight millimeter movie. Harlem is one of the greatest places on earth. Great food, busy streets, and affordable rent lead to a nice mix of individuals. Columbia provides for an eclectic atmosphere and just blocks away from hell’s kitchen where every night can be fun. I loved it there, spent some time hanging around there, and had a few friends who went to Columbia who ended up living there permanently. I always wanted to live there and maybe someday I will.
Ping and Mickey were talking in the front seat. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to get into the conversation. I kind of didn’t care. I was starving, annoyed, and ready to do something other than ride in the back of a car. Our usual runs are to Doc’s place, which is usually a different, but nice, hotel every time, we have a drink, relax, talk with Doc and some of his cronies, casually leave, and then go meet up with our contacts and start making cash. Holding onto our packages from Doc makes us giddy, giggly, and goofy. We stare at the loaves, hold them like footballs, and break them up into other bags, consistent to what our contacts ask us for. We always joked around and called them loaves because of the packaging that doc used. It looked just like a loaf of bread. But then you would break it open and find a thousand or more pills in the wrapping. It was dangerous, nerve wracking, morally corrupt, and completely awesome. The thrill of the score, the mountains of cash and pills, the high from the drugs, the people, the bars, the driving, all of it, is one big rush of adrenaline. I wanted nothing more than to feel that. But instead, I found myself downwind of Mickey, in Ping’s car, flying down 8th Ave, waiting for a text message while my stomach growled.