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Urban Spring: The Heroin Hang

The cold weather broke yesterday though I guess we are destined for another round of it soon. Nevertheless, the mounds of filthy snow along the curbs are shrinking, and while I was out walking around this afternoon I saw the first sure sign of the approach of warm weather. What I saw probably goes by a variety of names, but I happen to call it the "heroin hang". It tells me Spring is surely coming to the city, as reliable a sign as cherry blossoms might be elsewhere.

It looks like this.

The feet are spaced about shoulder-width apart. Usually the weight of the body balances precariously forward, on the balls of the feet. The knees are bent, the butt sticks out slightly, the upper body hangs forward (hence the name). One or both arms hang free. Sometimes one shoulder is held slightly higher than the other. The head, remarkably, is most often held more or less upright with only a slight tilt toward the sidewalk. The eyes are invariably closed. Sometimes the body is utterly motionless which makes you wonder the first time you see it if you aren't witnessing some sort of performance piece. Sometimes the person gently sways forward and back. You watch for a few moments, fascinated, wondering how anybody that effed up can manage to keep standing.

It's astonishing how remarkably consistent in appearance the heroin hang is. The race, the age, the gender of those possessed by it are irrelevant. This is what makes me think of it as a kind of demon or imp that returns every year as the weather warms to possess certain people -- the way we used to believe life-spirits returned to inhabit flowers and trees, bringing them back from the cold. Every Spring is the same; so too with every heroin hang.

I've never tried heroin, though I did have a round of morphine once -- I was a kid struggling to remain on the planet long enough to have an emergency appendectomy -- so I can certainly see the attraction of the various opiates. The nurses smiled at me grimly when I complained of post-op pain and asked for more of that stuff they gave me before.

And I've been surprised more than once by the people who have mentioned to me more or less in passing that they've taken heroin recreationally -- people I never would have imagined using smack. This is how I discovered that not everything I'd been told about heroin was true. Some people apparently can pick it up and put it down. I'm not sure I'm one of those people and I've pretty much avoided the opportunity of ever finding out.

But clearly there are those who cannot put it down once they pick it up. And so some of them become, for me anyway, harbingers of the urban Spring.

One good thing: as I mentioned, the heroin hang never seems to let its hosts fall over. It's pretty amazing, actually. You can't believe the person isn't going to topple face forward at any moment, and yet I've seen hundreds of instances of the hang and never once have I seen any of them fall down.

It's astonishing. Like Spring, I guess. That never seems to fall over either. At least not for me. Not yet, anyway.


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