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Neighborhood heroin patrol 

Black-tar heroin!! In every neighborhood!! The headlines screamed last week about Charlotte's incredibly large, huge, really, really big increase in heroin use. The police chief worried, the sheriff fretted, and the mayor, as always, practically vibrated with excitement. And with good reason. Heroin deaths in Charlotte have more than tripled (!!) this year, to a whopping, um ... well, just 10, actually. But hey, that's more than one-and-a-half-thousandths of 1 percent of the city's population! And remember -- it's in every neighborhood!

Well, I said to myself, I'm not letting that kind of stuff happen here in Madison Park; I'll go on Neighborhood Heroin Patrol. I got out my old pocketknife for protection, roused my basset hound, Marianne, and headed down the street toward the elementary school, the dog's nose close to the ground. A few houses down, Mabel and Ruth -- they've been together 20 years -- were thinning out some overgrown monkey grass. As I approached, Mabel went inside to get a dog biscuit for the basset.

"Thanks as always, Mabel. Say, have y'all seen any heroin dealers around lately?"

"No," answered Mabel, ever quick, "but if you're hard up, I've got some Oxycontin left from when I had my surgery ..."

"No, no, I don't want to buy any. The mayor says heroin's in every neighborhood in Charlotte, so I'm looking for heroin dealers to turn in."

Mabel glanced at Ruth, who shrugged. "Nope, no heroin dealers here that we've seen," said Ruth. "Good luck, though." I thought I heard giggling as Marianne and I walked away.

A few blocks later, we turned right, and spied a couple of identically dressed speed-walkers, a man and a woman, wobbling toward us. They looked suspicious, so I thought I'd try out the "drug talk" I'd learned during health classes back in the '70s.

"Excuse me, I hate to disturb your walk, but would you know where I could, um, get smacked?"

The pair looked angry -- maybe I was on to something? -- and the woman told me that if I sure-nuff wanted to get smacked, just keep on interrupting their "training," then they turned and speed-walked away. I almost followed them, but I realized they'd be pretty lousy heroin dealers if they wouldn't sell to someone like me, who used the proper lingo and all. The dog and I resumed our vigilante stroll, and soon came to Jack's Lawnmower Repair, basically a big shed behind Jack's house. I walked into the shop.

"Hi there, Mr. Grooms -- the Toro on the fritz again?" asked Jack, who was wearing greasy coveralls and had a socket wrench in his hand.

"No, the mower's doing great." Jack's face dropped. "I'm just wondering," I continued, "if you've noticed anything funny going on outside your shop lately."

"Like what?"

"Well, like a group of teenagers, or maybe heroin dealers, hanging around, stuff like that."

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, I'm just trying to find out about heroin pushers in our neighborhood, like it said on the news. So, have you seen any crowds of teenagers?"

"What the hell kind of teenager would hang out at a lawn mower repair shop?" asked Jack, seeming a little testy.

"You have a point," I said.

"Look," said Jack, "I've got to finish this riding mower by lunch. Go ask Herb Blanton, he might know something. He's got two teenagers."

Jack and Herb have feuded for five years over a lost hammer, so I figured Jack just wanted to get rid of me. But as I approached Herb's, I heard a voice coming from the far side of the house, yelling, "I need more black tar!"

Wow! This was it! And on my first day! I slowly approached the corner of the house, ready to nab the dope fiends. Then I zoomed around the corner, and ran right onto a new coat of black tar that Herb and his brother had just put down on his driveway.

"Hey, watch out!" yelled the brother. "Goddam it, it took almost an hour to get that smoothed out!" hollered Herb. They started toward me; I tried to jump back, but I could hardly move, as my Reeboks were stuck in the tar. I apologized profusely, half-falling back onto Herb's lawn, where I slipped off my ruined shoes. Herb was turning red, and kept coming toward me. I looked for Marianne, thinking she'd protect her now-shoeless master, but she was busy, energetically sniffing the base of an oak tree. I rounded her up, and we started walking home, she snuffling away, and I in a pair of increasingly cold socks. I didn't bother explaining to Herb about the heroin.

Well, that was stupid, I thought. Heroin in the neighborhood -- pfft. We were almost home when Jenny, a young woman from down the street, came around the corner, pushing her year-old daughter in a stroller. I bent to speak to the baby, but she was asleep. "Yeah, she's like that," said Jenny, "Lately, she's tired a lot, and just wants to sleep all the time."

As I got to my doorstep, it hit me. Tired a lot. Sleepy all the time. Jenny must be giving heroin to her baby! I vowed to look into it ... just as soon as I got some new Reeboks.

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