Paul - The Power of Storytelling
New Orleans, LA - 2019-04-03
Paul: I have profound ADHD and dyslexia. I can’t learn in a traditional classroom. When I was a kid, grammar school consisted of punishment, beatings, being locked in convent basements, and all kinds of different things. I got beat a lot as a child. I didn’t have any self-worth until I was about twelve. Me and my friends were under the streetlight, and they listened to me tell stories, and they loved it. That gave me the right to live right there.
When I was a teen, I done a lot of drugs. I went into an old-school drug program for hard-core junkies. I met the coolest people I ever seen in my life—junkies from New York City. I met Jamie, a hot little hippie chick. She described to me how to fix dope, exactly what it felt like.
A couple weeks after I got out, I was with my boy Billy. We were buying pot from a guy, Scrunt in Worcester. He was selling it to us to support his heroin habit. We bought Scrunt dope that day, so he was willing to fix us. He held it up in an eye-dropper syringe and said, “If you do this, you’ll never stop doing it for the rest of your life. Ya want it?”
I had just turned eighteen; it’s not gonna get me for the rest of my life.
My God, when it hit me, ooohhhh…it was crazy. I threw up, but it felt so good; you’re high; then you nod; then you’re scratching like a crazy person; then you think about how you’re gonna get your next bag. Life becomes very simple because all of life is about the next bag. That was November 29, 1973.
BW: When was your last shot?
Paul: About a year ago in Florida. I’m done. I have such a wonderful life here. When I moved to New Orleans I was living on social security, and I sell my book, which was going for fifteen bucks. Then I met Arthur—the red-headed kid who sells at the market. He bought a book from me for twenty dollars. I only wanted fifteen, but I was broke, wasn’t eating, and he helped me out. He helped me get the job I have now too. There are several people I work with who come to my Moth readings; I’ve got a little group of friends developing. Tripping over the Moth put me on the map. I won the fucking thing!
BW: Can you tell me one of your stories?
Paul: Yeah. It was in the early nineties, and I was strung out on heroin real bad. I got in a car accident; I was in a coma for a while, still shooting dope, taking Benzos, and life wasn’t good.
A judge put me in a hospital called Bridgewater, a mental institution for the criminally insane. That’s where the nuts go--who don’t have any faculties left. They put me in there for heroin addiction; then they keep you for thirty days.
I almost froze to death in there—they shut off all the heat in the buildings. I was in a locked cell by myself with paper clothes on. All that was there was a mattress. The guards really beat the shit out of me; when I first got there I was having blackouts, and apparently I was talking a lot of shit to the guards. I left there with two broken shoulders.
So I got out, and I’m in my home in Stockbridge with my dog Bobo, my friend Marilyn, and my eleven-year-old daughter Bianca. Marilyn’s reading the paper and tells me about the Josh Billings Triathlon. You go twenty-eight miles on a bike, five miles on a canoe, and seven miles on foot. So Bianca makes this joke, and, remember, I got broken shoulders. She says, “Daddy, you should do the race,” so I says “Yeah, I’mma do the race.” I started training, and it was great. I healed. My brain’s really clear; I could feel life. One day I bicycled for sixty miles. I canoed like a crazy animal. I finished first in my mind every day I worked out.
The day the race come, Bianca’s there with Marilyn; there’s three hundred fifty contestants in the race. I get to the start. I had a bike that was smaller than everybody else’s. I had a big family canoe that was duct-taped together, and I had old-school Carber’s basketball sneakers. People are clicking these five hundred dollar shoes into these pedals, and I’m going, “Woah, where the fuck am I now?”
So we start the race. The first miles are uphill. I’m passing overweight people, and I’m thinking, “Wow good for her doing that for herself.”Paul: So, I do the twenty-eight miles on the bike. I get to the lake—canoes everywhere, and I was so happy because I’m not gonna be last. You have to go around the lake four times. Marilyn helps me get the canoe in the water; I got a piece of duct tape coming off the front of the boat, I got kids flying by me with their eyebrows shaved and their heads shaved and flames painted on their kayaks. I’m up there in my titanic, just trying to get the thing going, but I’m all right. I’m doing my thing.
I really think I miscounted and went five times ‘cause by the end I’m the only canoe left on the lake. Marilyn’s a quarter of a mile away, so I get to her, and I says, “Marilyn, get me some water,” and she says, “I drank it all. You took so long I got thirsty.”
Finally, I’m doing the seven-mile run; along the way there’s tables and chairs set up and nobody there. It’s like post-apocalyptic. I get to the end at Tanglewood, and I was losing it. I fell down going up the hill. I hear people saying, “Get him an ambulance!” Sounds are coming in and out—it was crazy.
Some man came up to me, and he put his hands on my shoulder, and he says, “Listen buddy—“ and I couldn’t look up; He says, “The guy that won this race won in one hour and fifty-nine minutes. In two weeks no one’s gonna remember that guy’s name. That clock says four hours and forty-four minutes right now. If you can get yourself up and finish, you’re gonna be a story for years to come.”
So I keep getting up, fuckin’ falling down, and I see Bianca looking at me, and she’s scared; she’s crying. I looked the same as I had looked my whole life—strung out on dope. So it felt like a failure. I’m about thirty feet from the finish line, and Bianca gets up and stands right next to the clock and screams, “That’s my daddy!”
It was like the whole place stopped and heard that. It was so beautiful. So, I stood right up to that. I walked to that finish line, and she jumped into my arms and said, “I love you, Daddy.”
It was all about Bianca. It still is today.