Vergil Smith
8 min readMay 8, 2021



From the beginning, Chicago gave me hints that I would have a difficult time there. The very first apartment I went to see, I rented it. It was here that I met Albert. Thus began a 6-year relationship with someone that would eventually show me that life has a way of stopping you perhaps when you go to far and continue to play with fire. Albert was murdered. From all I could gather, Albert would have sex with some of the drug dealers he represented in court. He told me about a time he and one of his clients had a sexual encounter in the room where he would meet them at the courthouse. Albert always seemed to do what he wanted to do. I admired him for that.

He used to tell me that the dealers always paid in cash. He showed me his safe one day and it was full of cash. I think one of those criminals Albert was dealing with killed him. The police (as far as I know) never found out who did it.

Albert kept secrets. He was a close friend and we would talk often, but he somehow always hid the wildest parts from me. I wouldn’t call what we had a “relationship”. It was more of something that happened … something to do. It was a secret and secrets gave me energy … they excited me … I could live in that secret.

I had not spoken to Albert for a couple of weeks … I remember it was a summer or early fall. I Jason my way to a class and decided to give him a call. I had started drinking again at this point and had had a few shots of whiskey to get ready for my class. My call to Albert went to his answering machine and the message said the tape was full. I paged him, but got no response. Something seemed strange because Albert always returned pages. Later that day I called a cousin of his that I knew in Chicago and he gave me the story. When he said at the beginning of the call “You don’t know, do you?” I went silent as he told me Albert was found murdered in his apartment. I was numb. I drank more whiskey and finally went off to class. I never talked to anyone about this. I never found out what really happened to Albert. It is only in sobriety that I have even begun to think about it.

As time went on in Chicago, life kept feeling more and more dead. I was feeling beaten. What’s worse, I was losing all patience and passion with my chosen career. My personal life suffered as well. I was in and out of numerous relationships. Most were kept for the sex, but I had no real personal connection with anyone. I would be whatever they wanted me to be: tough, distant, helpful, humorous, abusive, etc. As the relationships flowed in and out of my life, depression began to get the best of me. Nothing seemed to be working at all. I was not feeling like life was moving in any direction. I was stuck.

The constant was the occasional affair, a random partner, random sex with random people … and eventually porn. I was definitely addicted to pornography. I kept it everywhere in my apartment. Photos and videos. I found out that if I went to a porn shop, I could get sex. This wasn’t really new to me for I had done it in high school. But I discovered Chicago had many porn places that were pretty intense. A lot of sex going on day and night and I jumped right in.

After a few years, the inevitable happened. I began to drink alcoholically. The cause? Who knows, really? I could say I drank again because I wanted to fit it, find relief, have fun, relax, excitement … However, none of these feel like the exact reason. I can also say I drank again because I hated myself. I had no direction or any belief in myself. I was my own worst enemy as I judged everything about me by comparing myself to others. There are probably other reasons I could decide on as well, but when it is all said and done, I really, really, really like the effect alcohol had on me … until it stopped working (more on that later). I was restless, irritable and discontented and alcohol relieved those symptoms. I got a sense of “ahhhh” after the first drink.

And then came the crack cocaine … again.

I was leaving one of my porn places around 2am. I was drunk from Jack Daniels and I was cruising around looking for prostitutes or anyone else to party with. I was feeling pretty low and sad. I knew that I needed to stop this madness, but I did not know how … or was I just choosing to ignore all the tools I had learned to quit using and drinking? I remember saying “God, please help me …”

As I came to a stoplight somewhere around Chicago Avenue in Chicago, I saw a car with the symbol that refers to Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a circle with a triangle inside of it. Wow. I thought that this was a miracle. I asked and there it was. AA. As I came upon the car, I stopped beside him and waved at him to roll down his window. He did:

Driver: What’s up man?

Me: R u a friend of Bill W?*

Driver: Who?

Me: The bumper sticker on your car … You know Bill W?

Driver: Man, this ain’t my car.

He made that last statement with a wave of his hand that held the crack pipe.

*(NOTE: People in AA sometimes use this phrase or question as an anonymous way to make contact with other people in AA.)

Why I remember this conversation is still a bit of a mystery. Maybe because it would be the first time I would do crack in Chicago and it would be the start of a 10 year nightmare. This guy in the car didn’t necessarily look like a crack head. But then again, what does a crack head look like? We’ve all seen the people on the web or in the street. These are the crackheads who are far gone. But there is a whole group of people out there who are either at the beginning of their crack career or have managed to control it to some degree for the time being. They are teachers and social workers and lawyers and engineers and custodians and postal workers. They are everyone. They are all around. It’s not hard to spot them really. Hangout at a drug spot for a minute and you will see the cars driving around. You see the desperate faces in the nice cars. You see the cars come back every few hours. You see the walk back to the car of the person that just copped. Either it is a happy gait or a nervous walk. It is very recognisable because something seems off. I rarely got out of my car. Thats the other sign … why else would someone on the corner go to a car, put their hand inside the car, and then the car drives away? It’s not hidden.

I cannot remember much of this initial crack run in Chicago except that it was filled with crack, sex, prostitutes … it lasted 2 days.I would party with this driver — I’m not sure I ever knew his real name … they always had names like Dave, John, Peewee, Ray-Ray or Nick — and his “friends” for days at a time. I would miss work, spend all of the money I was making, ignore friends and family … Crack was my god again. These crack parties were always filled with characters too. These are men and women who sometimes look like addicts, but most of the time they seemed rather normal to tell the truth. At least normal to me. They had jobs. Sometimes they showed up to the crack parties in work clothes — whether it be a construction worker or a nurse — and inevitably they would run out of cash, leave to go get more cash and not return. I would do that often. I would leave to go to an ATM, and then run into another crackhead somewhere and end up at a totally different place.

Buying crack in Chicago was easy really. All on needed was to know where to look. There is a joke that if you are in a new city, look for ML King Avenue and you can find liquor stores, barbershops and crack spots. Sad, but true. Chicago was really no different. I purchased most of my crack on the Northside of the city. Sometimes I would go to the West or South sides, but they were a longer distance and time is everything when I was using. I wanted to score and score quickly. The Northside had several spots I went to score and they were all basically near what used to be Cabrini Green. I would often Bring someone with me. The person would know what to do and I would give him the money, he went to get t whole I made the block in my car, pick him up and headed back to my apartment which was about 10 minutes away. It was really like clockwork. And this happened 24/7. The Westside had some drive-thru spots. You simply pulled up in your car, asked for 2 or 3, the guy would say how much, he put his hand inside the car with the crack and I would have the money in my hand. We would make a quick switch and off I went. Sometimes the dealer preferred to drop the rocks into the car, I would take the money and he would walk away. Other times I would give him the money and he would signal to someone up the street, I would drive further and the drugs would be dropped in my car.

My favourite dealers however were the guys who delivered. I paid more, but it was worth it. I had a dealer that would take a taxi to my apartment and have the cabbie wait while he came inside and dropped of the drugs. It wasn’t very rushed or anything, it was purely a business transaction done safely from the comfort of my living room.

The ensuing ten years saw much pain and horror. It was chaotic and it caused a change in me that I still struggle to explain. I think the best way for me to understand what happened is to write a series of short stories for every episode I can remember.

What follows (in no particular order) are the crack episodes that happened over the next 10 years. The times and places are in no particular order and I have changed the details of names to protect others (and myself!). The obsessive behaviour and the insanity of getting and using drugs is what I am attempting to portray … the lies, secrets, denial, hiding, running away, crying, fighting, thievery, hopelessness, fear, anger, despair, energy (negative and positive) … addiction on display is chaos.

© 2010