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Photo by Edward Brooks

The night we snorted Sammy

An historical event, recounted by Mark Gomez
It was a Saturday night at Gulliver's, a blues nightclub on upper Grant in North Beach. The crowd was always up and the dance floor crowded. I was working the door, checking ID's and keeping the bums out, when in walked Tony. Tony's the best drug lawyer in the country, probably the world. He's got hair hanging almost to his ass, but the judges listen with respect when he speaks. He's also one hell of a dancer when the music turns him on. He pulled me to the side. "I've got sad news. Sammy's dead. Some spades ripped him off for an ounce of coke. He put up a fight and they cut his throat. He chased them for a couple blocks but couldn't catch them. The cops showed up and took him to the hospital. They didn't know how seriously he was hurt because he had stopped bleeding. He died, sitting in the reception room of the hospital, before they had time to work on him. He'd just lost too much blood. I don't know how he made it that far."

"The police got hold of me late last night. I was the first one allowed in his apartment. It looked like they slaughtered a chicken in there. Blood everywhere. All for a lousy ounce." "Anyway, I'm executor of his estate. We're having him cremated. Monday night we're having a wake for him at my law offices, and I wanted to let you know, so you could be there. Nothing fancy, just some friends. Maybe we can snort his ashes."

"Sure, Tony, I'll be there."

The news blew me away. Sammy was in his fifties. He was a famous North Beach jeweler. He had owned a shop on Grant Avenue for years. He had also dealt coke for years. He had recently moved out of the Beach and into a black neighborhood. He didn't care for it much; they had ripped off his bicycle recently. He complained a lot about that. I arrived at Tony's at 8 o'clock, lugging a gallon of red wine. He greeted me at the door, looking like a guru, wearing India whites and beads.

The law offices occupied the whole third floor of an old brick building on Jackson Street. The main room was large, full of couches and over-stuffed chairs. Not your average, up-tight lawyer's place. It felt comfortable. The offices joined the room from three directions, with a kitchen off to the fourth.

In the middle of the room stood a multi-tiered table. Each tier held potted plants and flowers. At the top sat a plastic bag, weighing about ten pounds. Inside the bag resided Sammy's ashes, mixed with chips of bone that hadn't completely burned up in the crematorium. The City of San Francisco doesn't waste a lot of gas on dead people. It looked like a bag of trail food.

There were about 30 people sitting and standing around, music from the sixties playing in the background. I recognized about half of them on my way to the kitchen. Most of the women there I'd snorted a line with at some time or another during the last few years.

Tony had gone all out for the occasion. The refrigerator was full of beer and wine. There was a large, plastic garbage can full of ice and more beer. A shelf was full of hard liquor. This promised to be anything but a dull evening.

Tony introduced me to Sammy's ex-wife. He introduced me to Sammy's ex-girlfriends. He introduced me to Sammy's daughters. Sammy never lacked for female companionship. The wake was a real gas. It seemed like everybody had a funny anecdote concerning Sammy's dope deals.

"Bad stuff, ha, ha, ha."

"High prices, ha, ha, ha."

"Late deliveries, ha, ha, ha."

"Too much cut, chuckle, chuckle."

"Serves you right, you dumb shit, haw, haw, haw."

But all in all, everybody had liked Sammy and he would be missed. Several women showed off pieces of jewelry Sam had made for them over the years. All of the pieces were personal, all of them works of art, stuff an antique jewelry dealer would go nuts over. They were delicate, one-of-a-kind items that you could hand down to your heirs. I found myself sitting on the couch, the ashes directly in front of me. Tony was sitting to my right. To my left was seated a B-movie actress. Blonde, mid-thirties, good looking, but hard. I had seen her several years before, in a Burt Reynolds flick. I think she threw a glass at him. There was no script in front of her now, so she didn't have much to say. She wore the same anxious expression that was on all the women's faces. They knew Sammy's death would lead to a nose freeze.

We were having a wake for a dead Chinese coke dealer. Unlike an Irish wake, there was still enough liquor to drown the place, but the women's expectations were for the white powder.

Much booze and several joints later, I said to Tony, "Shit, let's snort Sammy."

He gave me a big grin, got up, and went to his office. He returned with a large, wood-framed mirror, and placed it on my lap. There was a spoon and a single-edged blade on it. He reached up, removed the bag of ashes, and placed it on the mirror. I opened the bag and sifted through it, separating the bones from the ashes, placing a spoonful of same on the mirror. I proceeded to chop the ashes, when I heard the first gasp.

"What the fuck are you guys doing?" One of the ex's had come unglued.

"We're going to snort Sammy," said Tony, as he was rolling up a hundred dollar bill.

"You guys are a bunch of fucking vampires," screeched another. By this time I had drawn several lines on the mirror. Tony handed me the rolled up bill. I extended the mirror and bill to the actress.

"Have a line?"

"Fuck you. I wouldn't fuck him when he was alive, and I ain't goin' to snort him now that he's dead." She was indignant.

"Okay." I leaned over and took a toot. Tony was next. Then the other men in the room followed. It looked like a chow line in the military.

"Well, Anthony," I asked, "what do you think of him?"

He wrinkled his nose, frowned, and said, "Well, he was kind of abrasive when he was alive, and he has remained so."

By this time the women-folk were convinced that we had gone over the edge. We were aware of the bad vibes, but it just added to the lightness of the evening. I knew we would lose them completely if something wasn't done quickly. They can take just so much.

"All right, girls," I said, as I took out a bindle from my pocket, opened it, and spread out a gram of Bolivian rocks. When they hit the mirror the sound was like diamonds hitting glass. The women calmed down. Something about coke gets women quiet.

It took a while to chop up the rocks to snorting consistency. The more I chopped, the quieter the women got. I made several three inch lines. The women were slowly vying for position.

I turned to Tony, "How did Sammy cut his coke?"

He smiled. "About 50-50."

I took the razor blade and pulled the lines back into one pile, reached over, got another spoonful of ashes, and poured them on top of the coke. I could hear a few sobs as I mixed them together. I chopped them up, drew out several lines, and only then looked up. Speak about glares and bad vibes.

But the women lined up.

Then they snorted Sammy's ashes.


Mark Gomez lives in North Beach. (I met him in a bar one night and he pulled this story out of his pocket and read it out loud, I knew immediately I had to publish it..-- S.J.)


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