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My Pandemic Odyssey to Costa Rica: Back in NY, Buying a Little Merry Christmas

by D.L. Cohen

I came home for the holidays last weekend, and like an idiot my first stop was Pearl, my dealer. Less than 24 hours after the plane landed. It’s amazing how fast you fall back into old habits. Like a Pavlovian response. A robot voice in my head repeating ‘must get stoned, must get stoned’ from the moment we touched down in New York, over and over until I found myself at Pearl’s. There was no Pearl in Costa Rica. And I got over it. The point of my going away was not to sit on Pearl’s couch when I got back and get stoned. And yet here I was.

Pearl is tiny and tatted, with big haunting eyes on which she lavishes a lot of mascara and straight sort of black scarlet hair framing her face. She wears oversized sweatshirts with shorts and cargo boots. Has two tattoos just above her knees in neat script: nothing matters on one knee and everything matters on the other. She sits cross-legged on the floor displaying her wares. Crunchy Moonwalk. Sideshow Bob. Merry Christmas. Their thc level right there on the label. A long way from the days of baggies and Oaxacan.

She’s in Washington Heights, a third floor walk up on Nagle, with Izzie, her old Boston Terrier. And a new friend. A gigantic lizard named Sarah.

She kept Sarah in a large aquarium tank in her tiny kitchen/living room. It blocked the oven door from opening, but she didn’t bake that much, she said. Even with the huge tank, Sarah barely fit. She picked her up and brought her over. Sarah struggled in her grip.

“Oh fuck you, Sarah,” she said, pulling her legs in and bringing her to me. “You want to hold her?”

Who am I to refuse a gigantic lizard? I took her from Pearl and she clung to me for a moment like I was a log. Her skin was leathery. Despite myself I thought of purses and expensive boots.

“Watch out,” she said. ” They like to go to the tops of things. And they take a lot of dumps, it’s disgusting.” Sarah was getting restless; she indeed seemed intent on crawling to the top of my head and taking a dump. I handed her back.

“I had a white shag carpet in here until Sarah fucked it all up. Right, Sarah? Asshole.”

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“You don’t like her?”

“No, I love her. But she’s a pain. Every time you let her out she shits all over the place. And she likes to, like, scurry behind the stove. Eddie on [Floor] One said he let her out one time and couldn’t find her for like a week. I need to get some heat lamps, is what it is. They need like eight hours of heat lamp a day.” She ran some water and put Sarah in the tub. This seemed to calm Sarah down considerably. She went right under the faucet.

“I’m still trying to figure out why you took her on.”

“Eddie had her on one and he lives with his mother, so he asked me to take her. So I did,” she said. She went over to the tank, bending down to it. “And she’s so fucking cool. Look at her. You ought to see her eat a rat.”

She was right. Sarah was cool.

I bought Merry Christmas, the lowest potency. A little tree printed on the sealed odorless pouch.

I said goodbye and walked to the street. I admired Pearl’s resolve to take care of Sarah. Because Eddie on one asked her to. It would work out. She takes care of Sarah with the practical view of a farm worker, like “Hey,  I’m here to keep you alive, not cater to your every whim. I got problems too, you know.” Sarah flicked her tongue. Pearl smiled.

“You know lizards smell with their tongue, right? So cool. You go, Sarah.”

I said my goodbyes and tumbled down to the street. Fuck, I’m stoned, I thought. But I wasn’t going to beat myself up about it. It’s just something that happened, like Sarah. I can handle it. Outside was wet and slushy, and the the traffic lights and streetlights and the strings of lights around the avenue reflected off the slick street and made you feel, if you squinted, like you were inside a Christmas tree. Welcome to New York. Merry Christmas.

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Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.



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