Cocaine and Me: A Memoir

It all began when I got that job at the Mutiny Hotel

This was the fall of 1980, shortly before Miami was tagged the murder capital of America, chalking up more than 600 homicides in a year — eleven on one day. The Medical Examiner's Office, located next to Jackson Memorial's ER, had to borrow refrigerated meat trucks from Burger King, where they kept the bodies stacked like cordwood. A stench of incinerated body parts drifted from the ME's chimneys over the parking lot where we waited for emergency calls, tossing Frisbees or hitting a bong.

Almost everybody at work was using drugs in some form or another, and if brass was aware, they didn't act on it. It was a price they paid to keep the wagons rolling. I recall being astonished how coke seemed to permeate everything. It was the rare hospital where I didn't party with orderlies, nurses, or interns on duty. It was everywhere.

I still had some contacts from my Mutiny days and knew buddies who were making some side cash dealing. One of them pointed out that I had a bullet-proof cover. "What are you waiting for?" he marveled. "If you're already getting high with those guys, here's a chance for you to snort free and coat your pockets, imbecil."

So I began supplying some of the crew and developed a radio code so they'd know when I was holding. I'd chant over the radio: "Tengo la turka," signaling the other units I was open for business. All summer I was raking it in, but then people began getting too loose on the job and we had some close calls. On one occasion, Iggy and his partner Joey, today a local cop, responded to a cardiac arrest at a bowling alley. They took the man to Jackson with his daughter in tow. En route they learned she was a stripper. Joey laid his rap on her, offering her a bump. After making the drop at the hospital, they headed back to her place to party while still on duty. Her roommate, also a peeler, said she would sign over her ratty Chevelle if they could get her a hundred Quaaludes.

Iggy called a bud of ours. Chumley lived with his grandmother at a trailer park behind the Aquarius Lounge on Le Jeune and SW Eighth Street, and helped supplement her Social Security and food stamps by dealing Quaaludes and nickel bags of weed.

A couple hours later my partner Frank and I were summoned to bail them out of trouble because their impromptu soiree had spiraled out of control. "One of the strippers," Joey mumbled over the phone, was "bleeding from the rectum and we're too fucked up to drive her to a hospital."

We hauled it over there and nearly ended up in a brawl with the assholes who were too stoned to walk and had placed us in jeopardy of losing our jobs. They had been eating the ludes, tooting up, and banging the dancers silly. Apparently Chumley had been blowing coke pellets up one of the strippers' butts, using a straw like some deranged Amazon headhunter. The poor girl had been on the verge of passing out after swallowing a bunch of the quacks, then began bleeding from her ass from the pummeling. It appeared she might need stitches.

My steady partner Frank, a 31-year-old seasoned veteran who smoked weed but stayed off the "hard stuff," was furious. I was ashamed. We hustled the stripper into our ambulance and took her to Jackson, where the triage nurse, Ed, a Bellevue retread who kept the peace with a Louisville Slugger hidden behind the counter, gave us a shit-storm of grief when he heard the story. After recognizing that the stripper was the same girl who had checked her father into the ER earlier, he lost it laughing. I had been supplying coke to Ed, one of my regulars, so he cut me some slack but took me aside and warned me that some of the drivers were "bringing the heat down, stumbling around here like zombies."

Eventually I had to cut off some of the less discreet idiots when the cops began sniffing around. The good thing was that when they did show up, you could see them coming a mile away. One of these goofy narcs we ended up baptizing "Inspector Sea Monkey." He was a bottom feeder whose idea of working undercover was sporting a mullet, a leather biker's vest, jeans, white socks, and shiny new Topsiders. "Do you know where I can score some doob?" he'd ask. Sure, campiĆ³n! Still, the cops were getting wise and I didn't want to get pinched, so we chilled, especially after a driver who was wasted out of his gourd plowed through a red light with his sirens blaring and killed an old lady a few blocks from North Shore Hospital.

Near the end of my EMT career, a dispatcher sent me out on a call he promised would be "sweet." He flagged me to pick up a patient in a body cast who'd arrived on a private jet at Miami International Airport. We were supposed to take the patient to Cedars Medical Center, next to the criminal courts building, and there would be a big tip in it for us, according to the dispatcher.

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