Arriving in his small office in Lisbon, the year-old tosses his jacket aside, leaving his shirt collar crooked. He adds his latest piece of mail to the mountain of papers on his desk. One gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five grams of hashish: These are the drug quantities one can legally purchase and possess in Portugal, carrying them through the streets of Lisbon in a pants pocket, say, without fear of repercussion.
Whatsapp I walked past the stage and sat down at the bar, the neon lights illuminating my pink teddy, shadowed eyes, and crimson lips. I ordered my first drink of the night and took inventory of the club. There were a few listless customers scattered around, hunching over bar stools, and a dancer circling the pole.
I waved over a colleague, a transplant from Manchester with hair extensions that kissed her velvet garter belt. We grumbled about how slow business was until I spotted a paunchy man at the bar. He was short, with a tuft of gray hair and a slight smile that crinkled his eyes.
He was also more animated than the others. I started off light, asking about his day and his job. His smile widened across his face as my eyes met his. I silently counted to 10 and reminded myself to look away for a second — best not to terrify him.
I switched my gaze to the top of his nose to put a boundary between us. It was time to either close the sale or walk away. After two years in the industry, I knew which customers were worth investing in — not this guy.
So, I led him into the corner, which opened up to the club like the bow of a ship, public and safe, for one quick dance. I processed events after the fact with tenuous evaluation, like peeling off layers of old wallpaper.
At the time, it was not something I had words to explain, so I turned the blame on myself. Whenever I struggled to understand if someone was angry or bored, I went home and berated myself for being lazy, ditzy, and dumb as I obsessively evaluated the night.
I just needed to try harder to be more present, I told myself. One time, I went to a dinner party my sister hosted. A few of her colleagues and friends sat around her table while we snacked on hummus and bread, and someone asked about my recent trip to Europe. I rambled incessantly, illustrating the nightclubs, the hostels I stayed in, even how I bled through my powder-blue dress because I forgot to change my tampon.
I can see their faces now, wide-eyed and uncomfortable, but at the time they coalesced into one indistinguishable figure, Dave Matthews playing in the background taking precedent. So, I meticulously designed a persona who nodded at the right time, rehearsed lines, smiled when appropriate, monitored personal space, spoke quietly.
Before going out, I crafted notecards, scribbling how long to talk about acceptable topics and which to stay clear of altogether, like my period, in small talk. The persona was a mask that helped me appear to interact in the moment, but in reality I crept by, three paces behind everyone else.
I settled temporarily in a bustling beach town at the edge of Melbourne and needed money to pay off my student debt. I considered a bar job, but decided to try stripping simply because it meant fewer hours. When I walked into a club to ask for a job, to my surprise, I realized it was just a bar with the usual roles reversed: I was intrigued, but confused — how did they convince customers to spend money off-stage?
The manager looked at my petite frame and nervous smile, pointed her manicured hand to the dressing room and listed the rules: You get one free drink.
No drugs on the floor. Hundreds of customers came and went during the hour shift, sitting on plush couches and crowding around the bar. All but one dismissed me. I sat at the bar to observe, sipping my free champagne. One dancer particularly stood out with her naturally frizzy curls and tattered black bra.For over a year, I’ve been documenting the lives of three long-term drug users – Marie, Cheryl and Johnny – who are participating in Vancouver’s heroin-ass.
And addiction is a chronic illness—one that tells a uniquely human story of psychological entanglement and contradictory motives. There are numerous theories of what causes drug addiction.
It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned -- and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. Flint, Michigan has never recovered from the loss of General Motors and now grapples with widespread poverty and crime.
Aaron Huey is a National Geographic photographer and a Contributing Editor for Harper's Magazine. He is based in Seattle, WA. The American Empire.
By Wade Frazier. Revised July Purpose and Disclaimer. Timeline. Introduction. The New World Before “Discovery,” and the First Contacts.