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Strange Ragged Saintliness

I had the good fortune to be a childhood friend of Robert W. Hanson. Our scholastic careers in Cleveland and later at Yale were oddly parallel. Then something mystical happened. I came to New York and became a writer. He came to New York and, well, everyone knows what he became. First in the hearts of his countrymen, for one thing. I was in on a lot of the more unpleasant situations, the ones that Hanson's biographers tend to neglect. I can run through some of them now, without worrying that someone might accuse me of cheapening his reputation. The way he handled those times showed the insight and gentleness that marked his later career. But the happy ending we all know; right now maybe the introductory paragraphs of his life are more instructive to the rest of us.

"Want to go to a convention?" I asked him one morning. This was about six months after we graduated from Yale. We were sharing an apartment in New York, on the Upper West Side near Central Park.

"One of your science fiction things?" he asked. He stared across our rather empty room, considering. He had been depressed all summer, and I figured the trip would do him good. "Where is it?"

"Springfield. It'll take a day or so each way, by bus or train. However you feel like going. I have friends we can stay with." Hanson hesitated, then agreed.

So we packed up and left. The convention itself was hardly memorable, except for the famous incident of Bob James and his girlfriend being arrested for nude bathing in the hotel pool. Poor Bob missed picking up a special fan award for his classic novel, The Lights of Mistraven. The plaque was subsequently lost, and Bob had to settle for a handwritten apology from the con committee. Hanson and I had decided to skip the rest of the con, though, and we only heard about it afterward.

On Saturday evening we made a remarkable discovery. We had spent most of the day poking around bookshops in Springfield. Earlier it had been very chilly, with a light hazy rain that had slowly but thoroughly soaked us. Now, though, the sky was clear, the stars shining brilliantly and strong, with not a quaver among them. Hanson was feeling better, and so was I. Rather than return to the con we kept walking, down a side street perpendicular to Springfield's main avenue. We walked for quite a long while. We came to a place where the sidewalk turned into a long series of steps, leading up a steep hill.

When we reached the top of the hill there was another stone staircase, going down at a right angle to the continuation of the sidewalk. The stairs were more irregular than the ones we had just climbed, and in the dark we might not have noticed them except for the iron handrail that stuck out a bit into our path. Without a second's hesitation Hanson started down. I followed. The way led back down the side of the hill, through a dense and dark growth of trees. Low branches hung down, spattering us with collected rain. For the first few steps we couldn't see anything. Then, slowly, I made out lights shining through the trees below us.

"Hey, Sandy," said Hanson, "look at that!" I did look, and I listened, and I realized that at the bottom of the hill there was a pretty good-sized amusement park. It was kind of a strange feeling, emerging from that moist, earth-smelling tunnel into the bright glow and tinny racket of an amusement park. It was a pleasant shock, and exciting. I've always been a sucker for amusement parks.

"I'll bet that if the fans knew about this place, the convention would be deserted," I said.

"Good thing they don't know about it," said Hanson.

We wandered around, spending money a little too freely. I can't pass up a dart-throw or a baseball-pitch. I managed to win a kazoo and an orange plastic comb for about three dollars. Hanson watched me, smiling. I was glad we had come.

We bought some hamburgers and Cokes, and some cotton candy which stuck in pink balls in my mustache. We rode some of the rides, those that didn't look overly perilous. "It's sort of a shame," said Hanson. "A kid can come in here and do anything he wants, without a second thought. Me, I wonder what the ticketseller is thinking. Here I am, a grown man, acting like I was twelve years old. I shouldn't have to think that."

"You spend your entire childhood being too young for things," I said. "No matter what you want to do, it seems, they've got reasons why you have to wait. So when you finally do get to be old enough, you learn that you've gotten too old for a lot of things. It doesn't seem fair. Things should get better."

Hanson sighed. "They do, Sandy. Better things come along to compensate."

"I've managed to sleep right through my prime," I said. "They can't come up with anything that will compensate for being too old to play for the Indians. When we were kids, we weren't into it. Then we were into it, and now we're out of it. Let's go do the miniature golf thing." I led Hanson up to the miniature golf course, and it turned out to be just the thing I needed to knock the growing depression out of me. I beat him by twelve strokes for eighteen holes. I even had a hole-in-one by chipping the ball into the mouth of a grotesque blue frog, and the ball came out its cloaca and right into the cup. Only in America.

Next to the golf course's fence was the parking lot. There was a large stone arch there, and Hanson spotted a group of younger kids sitting under it. Being Hanson, he wanted to go over and talk with them. I recaptured my youth one way, he had his own. I followed him.

"Hi," he said, sitting down among the children on the slick, wet stone. There was no reply. We all sat in silence for a very long time until one of the girls got tired of waiting for us to leave, and continued her interrupted conversation. She was about eleven or twelve years old, barefoot, dressed in blue jeans worn through at the knees, a man's tee shirt much too large for her, and a vinyl jacket.

"So I says to him," she said to the girl sitting next to her, "if you really liked me, you'd take me there. I know he's seeing that Barbieri bitch, but he was making out like he didn't know what I was talking about."

The other girl snorted skeptically. "I don't know what the hell you're so mad about. He's a real loser, anyway."

"Eat it," said the first girl. Hanson caught my eye and smiled. He was amused by these school children and their make-believe problems. It just made me feel older. I mean, here they were, nearly midnight, just sitting around smoking and swearing and working out their pre-pubic crises. When I was eleven all I worried about were baseball cards and getting out of the sixth grade.

Hanson came over and sat by me. I was studying the other kids. There were about six or seven of them. Besides the two we were listening to, there were two more girls and two or three boys. The rest of the children looked like they were napping, stretched out on the wet ground, their heads propped up against the wall of the arch. "Things have changed, haven't they?" asked Hanson.

"Yeah," I said. "I'm not so crazy about it."

"But that's the greatest thing in the world. The Japanese have raised appreciation of change to an art."

"Wonderful," I said. "They're obsessed with death."

"A joyful sadness."

I nodded. "A sad joyfulness," I said. "That's really stupid, Hanson."

"'It withers imperceptibly in the world,

This flower-like human heart.'"

"That's very pretty," I said.

"But stupid, too."

I listened for a few seconds, hearing the chatter of the two girls and the distant, hollow sounds of the amusement park. "No, I won't go that far. It's just that hearts are withering a lot faster these days."

Hanson nodded. "Sure. Remember when we were kids in Cleveland? When we used to go out to Cedar Point?"

"Every summer."

"Sure," said Hanson. "My mother always used to tell me I couldn't go into the water right after eating. I'd get polio. When was the last time you thought about polio?"

"Little cardboard iron lung machines in the grocery stores. I never gave them a penny."

"Things change," Hanson said.

I stood up, holding a large pebble. I pitched it at the other side of the arch. In my regretful mind I was the baseball player I could never be. I was Robin Roberts, for the old Philadelphia Phillies. I sighed. "They wither," I said. I reached down to help Hanson up, but he gestured for me to wait. He still hadn't made the contact he wanted.

"Do you come here a lot?" he asked the two young girls. I groaned.

The first girl had the same reaction. "Go to hell, mister," she said, "or we'll chop you up." Then she turned back to her friend.

Hanson stood up and looked at me, embarrassed. I didn't say anything. We started to walk back toward the park, but Hanson stopped again. The other kids, none of them older than the two girls, were still lying quietly on the cold, wet ground. One of them seemed to be going into mild convulsions, and Hanson's native concern made him try to help. The boy, no more than nine years old, was crying and vomiting. The two girls didn't appear to notice.

"What's wrong?" asked Hanson in a helpless voice. "Is there anything I can do?" The boy couldn't answer. Hanson looked up at me. "We ought to get somebody," he said.

The boy was in bad shape. He looked like an addict junk-sick in the morning, back before they found T-amine and the other treatments for the heroin habit. Hanson was trying in his unschooled way to make the boy comfortable. He cleaned the boy's face with a handkerchief. Then he spotted something and called out to me. I looked down at what he had discovered. A small round area on the boy's head had been shaved, and in the middle of the spot three wires poked out. "All right, Hanson," I said, "come on. You're out of your depth." He didn't understand, but I grabbed his arm and pulled him away. His outraged humanity made him argue, but I wouldn't be persuaded. We reported the kids to a uniformed guard in the amusement park and left. I don't know if anyone ever did anything for that boy.

Things change, all right. A while ago, they found T-amine. The UNESCO research team won a Nobel Prize for that, and they deserved much more. The crime rate went down almost immediately. A large segment of the population returned to productive society. All kinds of pleasant things happened. Only UNESCO couldn't solve the big problem: they had masked the symptoms, and left the disease untreated. Whatever it was in our culture that caused so many people to become addicts was still there. Deprived of the escape of heroin, people sought other avenues of self-destruction.

They didn't have far to look. Never let it be said that our society falters when it has its own worst interests at heart. The knowledge had been there for years, the technology was well past the experimental stage; now, just when we needed a social disaster the least, we put it all together. We came up with the vice of the elite. Plugging.

It started among the rich kids, the same ones who would have been heroin users in an earlier incarnation. Instead of taking the cruise ship to the Bahamas over spring vacation, they went down to Puerto Rico and had their heads shaved.

They also had little wires implanted, reaching down into the dark recesses, the strange dungeons of their brains. Right into the hypothalamus, if they were lucky. The backstreet doctors who performed these illegal operations did not always take as much care as they could have. The margin for error for a successful implantation is, of course, very small and very critical. That was part of the challenge.

I've always hated challenges. I can't understand people who welcome them, just to test themselves. I consider a challenge an imposition. Oh, I usually meet them to the best of my ability, but I'm not fond of it. But there are people who seek the risk, the gamble, the lunacy of ESB. Electrical Stimulation of the Brain.

These bored, suicidal people are the pioneers of the twilight years of the Twentieth Century.

On the way home from Springfield I tried to tell Hanson what I knew about the pluggies. He had heard of them, of course, but he had trouble believing they were real. He wouldn't accept that people would do that kind of thing to themselves, knowing the possible consequences.

"What do they get out of it?" he asked.

"Flashing lights," I said. "Pretty music. How do I know? They send little bits of electricity right into the pleasure centers of the brain. It's supposed to be terrific. I mean, it's pure pleasure. Pure pleasure. Better living from Reddi Kilowatt."

"It's sad," he said. "The best thing in the world is finding pleasure in little things."

"Ha," I said. "You mean serene contemplation?"

"Sure. Chemical and mechanical pleasures just can't equal it."

"Oh, yeah?" I said. He stared at me, a little angrily, I think. I just laughed and waved away his argument. I opened a book, and we didn't talk about the pluggies again for several days.

I knew the subject was in his thoughts, though, from the questions that he asked. He wanted to know where a pluggie got the ESB operation, how much it cost, and what the dangers were. He wanted to know why I knew so much about the problem, and he didn't. The answer to that was simple, but it's not the kind of thing you can tell even your best friend.

"We must have pluggies here in New York," he said at last, after days of avoiding the subject.

"Sure," I said. "Don't tell me you've never seen them lying on the ground in subway stations."

"You see a lot of people doing that in New York. How do you tell if they're pluggies?"

I shrugged. "If they have little wires poking out, that's a good sign."

"I mean it, Courane," he said angrily. "You can joke about it, if you want. Pretend it's somebody else's problem. But when somebody else accepts the problem, I'd think you'd at least try to help."

It was my turn to be embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Hanson," I said. "I'm really sorry. I didn't know it was getting to you like that."

"Apparently the sight of those poor people hasn't gotten to anybody else yet."

"Remember when we were in school? Junkies had been around for a long time. I mean decades. And we didn't have anything but stereotypes and contempt. It took an epidemic to make us realize that something had to be done."

"Yes, I remember," said Hanson impatiently. "And I don't want to wait for an epidemic of this plugging thing before we start looking for ways to fight it."

"The pluggies are as dependent on their meter men as the junkies were on their connections," I said.

"Tell me."

"Well, look," I said. "If you have three wires poking right down through your skull, you're not just going to clamp them up to any wall outlet, are you?"

Hanson frowned. "What do they do, then?"

"There is a complex set of equipment that they use. The jolts of current have to be controlled. The volts and amps have to be measured. The jolts have to come at just the right intervals. So the pluggies have to know a local meter man with all the right gadgets. You don't get pluggies hiding in the bedrooms getting lit."

Hanson thought for a moment. "So somebody is getting a lot of money, renting time on the machines."

"Figures, doesn't it?" I asked. "The feeling is so intense that a pluggie will soon lose all concern for anything else. Nothing matters except getting lit again. There's nothing else in normal life that compares with it, so he won't bother with anything that doesn't seem to lead directly back to his meter man."

"How do they get the money, then?" asked Hanson.

"Well, they pretty much have to have some in the first place. The implantations run upwards of a thousand dollars, plus travel expenses. So these kids have access to money. And when those sources dry up, well, by then they won't have much longer anyway. If you hit the current more than once a week, you're dead in three months. Most pluggies get lit every day."

"What's the government doing about it?"

"Nothing. Passing laws."

"So where will I find them?" asked Hanson.

"Downtown. South of Houston Street. You can't miss them."

Hanson looked at me for several seconds. I knew just what he was thinking: If I knew all of this, how could I be so unconcerned? I don't know. There are people starving in Africa, and people starving in Asia, and people starving a couple of blocks from here, and we haven't conquered cancer or mental illness or a lot of other things, and pretty soon you have to start picking and choosing. You have just so many tears. Hanson hated that argument.

He was convinced that good will and sympathy would see him through. This kind of ignorance may well work the most serious good in the world. I know that with my appreciation of the situation, I would never have attempted the things he did. He told me of these things often. At every opportunity I told him that he was crazy. I told him that he was looking to get a bullet through the base of his skull. I told him that he couldn't really help anybody.

That was my mistake. It became another damned challenge. (Once Suzy said the same things to him. We were having dinner at their place, and out of the blue she turned to Hanson. "Tell me the truth," she said. "What am I to you? A challenge? Are you just trying to turn this poor pluggie girl into a real lady?" Hanson only smiled, but I fidgeted in my seat. The thought had occurred to me, many times.)

One day, about a week later, Hanson came home very late. I was worried because I knew that he'd been hanging out in SoHo, and he wasn't the most inconspicuous guy I knew. I was almost ready to call the police when I heard his familiar fumbling at the locks. He came in, alternating between rage and exhilaration.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I finally got a pluggie to talk to me," he said.

"Wonderful," I said. "How much did it cost you?"

He ignored me, fortunately. "I guessed that if I just hung out long enough, they'd open up to me. As soon as I became a familiar face."

"I doubt that you've succeeded so fast," I said. "They probably think you're just a familiar-looking cop."

"Maybe not. I learned some interesting things. I met a girl."

It was Suzy, of course. Their first conversations were marked by a total lack of content. Suzy, naturally enough, didn't trust Hanson as far as she could holler; she answered his blunt questions with a mixture of ridicule and lies far too vicious for Hanson to appreciate. She was a weary person. She hadn't trusted anyone in a very long time, and in the context of her current surroundings she saw no good reason to trust my friend.

Hanson was intoxicated by the utterly sordid atmosphere. The air of menacing yet exquisitely pleasurable experiences excited him, though it was all the product of his ignorance and his imagination. Suzy was the only person there who had even spoken to him; she became a symbol, a focus for his enthusiastic but untrained energies.

"Where did you meet her?" I asked him the first evening.

"Down where you told me. Some street off Delancey, I think."

"What did you do, offer to buy her a Coke?" I was trying to discourage him, and my cruelty was entirely justified, I felt. He certainly wouldn't listen to reason. I was soon to learn that he wouldn't listen to anything else, either.

He blushed. "She was standing in a doorway. I walked by, and she asked me if I had the time."

I laughed. "She's a hooker," I said.

"Yes," said Hanson. "I know."

"So then how did you keep the conversation going?"

"Well, I asked her if she could tell me how I could get implanted."

I hit my forehead with my hand. "Terrific, Hanson. That's just the way to do it. 'Implanted.' Did you really say that? Let me guess. She made some excuse, walked away, and then you came home."

"I thought that was a pretty good beginning."

I shook my head in disbelief. "If you ever get anyone else down there to talk to you, one single word, it will be cause for celebration."

He didn't think the situation was that bad and, of course, it wasn't, really. I coached him a little on current slang, as well as I could. He was determined to go back downtown the next day and find Suzy again. To consolidate his gains, as he put it.

He did just that. He found her the next day, and she started to run. He chased after her, and a huge black guy came out of a drugstore and worked Hanson over. Not too bad. Just enough to teach him that you don't chase screaming hookers down Delancey Street. He came home very subdued, but not the least dissuaded from his mission.

"I want you to think about this," I said. "If you go down there much more, looking for this poor girl, you're going to have to patronize her or else her employer will persuade you to stop harassing her. You are harassing her, you know."

He was very depressed. And he was very determined. Today, when the news media remember Robert Wayne Hanson, they recall his integrity, his generosity, and his determination. They always say that he was an example every one of us can learn from. They never say that few of us have chosen to do so.

"I have to go back," he said.

"Hanson," I said, "there are other people worried about the pluggies. It's not as though you were the only one aware of the thing. It's just that you've only now found out about it all."

Hanson started pacing the floor impatiently. "I know that, Sandy," he said. "There are seminar groups that meet in school buildings. There are parents' organizations that write to congressmen. There are representatives of the police department who lecture to concerned citizens. We've got to stop that."

I was puzzled. "I don't have the faintest idea what you mean," I said.

"There are plenty of people worried about the problem. There isn't anybody worried about the victims."

I nodded. I knew that Hanson was going back downtown, uniquely worried about the victims. I respected him for that, I loved him for it; but I thought he was going about it all ass-end backwards.

The next night he came home about eight o'clock. I answered the doorbell and found a fairly startling sight. Hanson stood there, supporting an unconscious young man. Hanson smiled nervously. "Look," he said, "there's a cab downstairs, and I didn't have the cash to pay the driver. Would you go take care of it? When you come back up, I want to talk to you."

"I'll just bet you do," I said, somewhat annoyed. When I returned, the pluggie was resting on our couch. Hanson was walking back and forth. "All right," I said. "What do you have in mind for our guest?"

"I thought he could stay here tonight. He was lying in a doorway. There was a layer of snow on him."

The kid's clothes were foul and stinking. I didn't even want to come near him. "It looks like he hasn't lit up in a few days," I said. "He'll be out of it for a while."

"I think he's been on the circuit for some time. He looks practically starved."

"Are we going to feed him? Nurse him back and everything?"

Hanson regarded me for a moment. He had a hurt expression. "We have to make a start, Sandy. Somebody sure does."

"He's in that twilight thing they fall into between times. He can't face the world without his brain tickled. It's a conditioned kind of catalepsy, I think. It'll wear off if he doesn't get lit. He ought to come out of it by morning."

Hanson perked up a little, taking this as a sign of my approval. It wasn't, but I had little choice. "I'll watch him tonight," he said.

"No need, I think. Physically he's all right now, except for his eating habits." For the rest of the evening I tried to work, but I couldn't concentrate. The kid just lay there, hiding within his coma. Hanson hovered over him, washing him, trying to get him to drink some soup, doing unimaginative nursing things like that. About midnight I said good night and went to bed. Hanson stayed in the living room.

In the morning I came out to see how he was doing. Hanson had fallen asleep in a chair. The pluggie was gone. So were two stereo speakers and our television. I woke Hanson and gave him some pretty red I told you so messages, but he didn't look very discouraged. He spent the day down in SoHo.

He came back very excited. A pluggie had come to him for help. Hanson told me the story; a young boy, maybe ten or eleven years old, a pluggie for just a few weeks, had become desperate. He had started to panic during the locked-in phase of his addiction.

"I want to get out," said the boy.

"I'll help you," said Hanson.

"How?" said the boy.

Hanson didn't have an answer. He had had so little success that he hadn't even thought that far ahead. But he knew that he couldn't tell the boy that. "Where are your parents?" he asked. The boy turned pale and shook his head. He wasn't going back there. Hanson was stumped. "I can do one of three things," he said. "I can let you go back on the street, and you know what'll happen to you. I can turn you over to the police. Or I can ask you to trust me as a minister of the church."

"Are you really a priest?" asked the boy. Well, Hanson hadn't been ordained yet, but the boy wouldn't understand the difference.

"Yes," said Hanson. "Where are your parents?" He persuaded the boy that Hanson would work as a go-between, seeing that the boy's parents wouldn't treat the youngster harshly. He gave the boy his word that things would turn out all right. The boy gave Hanson an address and a phone number; Hanson wanted the boy to come home with him, but the kid said he had a lot of things to take care of. They were going to meet at noon the next day.

"I can't tell you how happy this makes me," said Hanson.

"I'm glad for you," I said, and I was. Hanson went to the phone and dialed the number. The operator insisted that it didn't exist. Hanson grew worried. He checked the address, and it was made up, also. The next day, the boy never showed up.

A week later a prostitute came up to Hanson and asked him to get her off the street. She was a pluggie; like Suzy, her pimp had introduced her to getting lit and kept her working for him by controlling her current. Hanson promised to find her a job. He brought her home; he explained to me that it would be dangerous for her now in her old neighborhood. I gave up arguing with him after a while. To my total astonishment the girl was still there in the morning, and so were all our belongings. Two days later Hanson found her a job working in Woolworth's. A week later, while checking up on her, he learned that she had worked for three and a half days and then disappeared.

Now Hanson was becoming genuinely frustrated. It seemed that he was beginning to make a little progress, but for some reason the pluggies wouldn't completely accept him. Until they did, they couldn't really accept the help he offered, and he could only make a kind of well-meaning but incomplete effort.

"There's a huge difference between plugging and heroin addiction," he said. "There's a fundamental difference, and it makes my job tougher than you can imagine."

I turned away. "Oh, hell, Hanson," I said, "if you could hear yourself when you talk like that, you'd find out that you're every bit as bad as the ESB study groups you hate so much."

"What do you mean?"

"You told me that everybody's worried about the situation, and nobody's worried about the pluggies. You told me that you were going to change that. Now it turns out that you're fudging the problem yourself, making some kind of sweeping virtuous crusade out of it. You're not helping people. You're justifying your morality."

"All right," said Hanson. "Some kid with enough money flies down and has a cheap, fast implantation. If he makes out all right, no unforeseen brain damage, no cerebral inflammation, no trouble with the police, he still has the option of forgetting the whole thing. He'll go around with the little wires in his head, but he can always just let his hair grow over them. He still hasn't got lit that first time."

"I imagine a lot of pluggies are afraid," I said. "It may take them a while before they do get lit."

"Still, they've spent a lot of money getting wired. They'll try it once, just to see."

"A lot of addicts started by saying, 'I'll try it once, just to see.' They thought they were too smart to get hooked."

"Sure," said Hanson. "And the junkies tried it once, and then again, because it felt so good. Maybe they knew the dangers involved, and tried to space it out. They didn't understand the treacherous things happening in their bodies. They didn't know that whatever their intellectual judgments, their bodies needed the junk in the metabolic cycle. But a pluggie doesn't need to get lit. He does it only because it does feel good, which is a vast understatement. Plugging is to shooting heroin as a tree is to a clothespin. So a decision to get lit again is made only on the basis of how the pluggie feels emotionally."

"Why shouldn't a pluggie get lit? Tell me why you think you have the right to tell him he can't."

Hanson frowned. "The point is," he said, "a pluggie can't stay lit all the time. He has to cool down sometime. And when he does, he's as good as dead."

"You can't take them all on your shoulders, Hanson," I said. I knew he was getting caught up in the fallacy of pity. He was going out to save everybody, all by himself.

The morning after that he slept late. When he awoke he came into the living room, where I was putting together a plastic model of a P-51 Mustang. "I'm going away for a while," he said.

I looked up at him. "Anyone I know?" I asked.

"No. I think I need a little vacation."

"By yourself?" He nodded. "Where?"

He hesitated. "Puerto Rico," he said. I stared, feeling a little lump growing in my stomach. There wasn't anything else for me to do.

He left a few days later, having made whatever arrangements were necessary through some contact he had met in SoHo. I never said a thing one way or the other, but my silence perhaps let him know how I felt. I went with him to the airport. He boarded the plane, stopping at the top of the movable stairs to turn and wave; I stood by the visitors' window after the aircraft began rolling toward the runway. Hanson had sure put some of his withering on my heart.

I got a postcard from Puerto Rico about a week later. That was about the worst thing Hanson could have done. His damned innocence sometimes made him do the crudest things possible. Anyway, he said that he had found what he had come for, and was flying back soon.

Well, to skip over some of the next few days, he did return. I met him at the airport; he got off the plane wearing a baseball cap. I knew why. When he got home he took it off to show me the bandage on his head. "It still hurts a little," he said. "The doctor said it will be all right in a couple of days."

"Terrific," I said, in a rather dull voice.

"It was pretty much what I expected," he said, going on as though he had done nothing more than smuggle in some liquor from the Caribbean. "This seedy old doctor, couldn't speak much English. I just pointed to my head and he smiled. I had another guy with me, somebody I was told to look up in San Juan. He did the translating. It cost me about eight hundred dollars, and another couple of hundred for my 'friend.' It wasn't bad; the doctor didn't even have to knock me out."

"And now you're all set for an exciting new adventure," I said.

"You'll have to help me," he said.

"Nope," I said. "I've had enough." There was a strained silence for a few moments. The result was that the next day I had the apartment all to myself. Hanson found a cheap place in SoHo.

He really went to work then. With his own little shaved circle on his head, Hanson was welcomed into the zombie world of the pluggies. He made rapid progress; soon he knew most of the SoHo pluggies by sight, and they knew him. They knew that he was a good man, an honest person, someone they could come to for help. And they did come to him. He always had a few worn-out pluggies sleeping on the floor of his place. He lived a meager life, after what he'd come to be used to; he got some money now and then from the pluggies who weren't completely withdrawn, some money from churches and people who knew what he was trying to do, and some money from me. I wasn't happy about the way he had gone about his work, but I was still his best friend, and I really knew that he was doing a courageous and valuable thing.

I found out after a time that his three little wires were only a disguise. He hadn't wanted to tell me, because he was afraid that eventually word would get back to the underground, and his credibility would be shot. But I'm not all that stupid. I noticed that he never seemed the least bit dazed, the least bit sullen or aimless. I picked up hints from things that he said. Finally I confronted him. "You've never got lit, have you?" I asked.

"No," he said. "I won't, either. These wires aren't connected to anything." He had had a dummy implantation. The normal apparatus consists of a small electronic package which is cemented to the top of the skull, and a connecting extrusion of plasteel which digs down into the hypothalamus. In Hanson's case, the doctor had merely scraped his scalp and fixed the package into a socket which he dug into the bone of Hanson's skull. The long tail which delved into the brain matter had been broken off and discarded. Now Hanson could even clamp his three wires to a meter man's machine; it would have no effect on him at all.

He was somewhat disappointed that I had learned his secret. I assured him that he was in little danger; I had no plans to do much conversing with his plugging associates, and they had lost the desire and the aptitude to do much research themselves. I was happy, though; I could see what Hanson was doing, and it was a phenomenal thing. It was also very successful, in a modest way. He had become known as "the pluggie priest." This sort of offended his Congregationalist sensibilities, but he was proud of the label, anyway.

One day there was a knock on the door. Hanson was resting in his loft. There were three pluggies living there at the time. One sat in a catatonic stupor, hugging his knees; the other two were sleeping and would not awaken for nine or ten hours. Hanson went to the door. It was Suzy.

"Hi," he said.

She looked past him, into the room. She spoke softly, uncomfortably. "Remember me?" she said.

"Suzy. Karate Oscar's woman."

"Not any more," she said. "Can I come in?" He nodded, and let her by.

"What's happening?" he asked.

"I'm tired," she said. "I heard you was helping pluggies that got tired."

"I try. I'm not doing all that well. A lot of people come here, and I do all I can. It's not enough. They sometimes go back."

"And sometimes they don't. I got a friend. Reenie. She told me to see you."

"Reenie's a good person. I got her a job with the city," said Hanson.

"Would you help me?" she asked. Hanson smiled.

Suzy was in better shape than the other pluggies who had come to Hanson's loft. She had been a prostitute first, rather than a pluggie who had taken to the life to pay for her electric bill. Her pimp had bound her to him by granting her time on his machine; he was shrewd enough not to let her get lit often enough to damage her commercial value. This was good for Suzy, but agonizing. Finally she couldn't take it any longer. She had to make a decision: Ether run away and go into the pluggie world completely, or run away and break free. Her friend had given her the word and she had come to Hanson. He was amply rewarded by knowing that without him there would have been no choice.

Suzy soon got over her need to get lit. With time, the memory of the plugging sensations tended to fade. Just as one cannot recall great pain, one has difficulty conjuring up the utter pleasures of one's past. Suzy helped Hanson tend the others. She realized how fortunate she had been, never really reaching the true bottom, the complete hopelessness of some of the pluggies Hanson brought to the loft. She worked with him and respected him. She understood the difficulties and misunderstandings he faced every day. Soon she loved him.

On Hanson's part, he was much too busy to give Suzy more than her share of attention. To him, she was another of his patients, another reclamation job that seemed to be working. I visited often, bringing food, blankets, and money whenever I could. I saw that Hanson had become a hero to Suzy. I could also see that Hanson was submerging himself in his work to the exclusion of everything else. He was hiding.

"I'm a failure," he told me one afternoon.

"How can you say that?" I asked. "You've helped dozens of pluggies back out. You've gone out on your own and persuaded people to give them jobs. You've returned I don't know how many of those young kids to their parents. You've made a source of help where there wasn't the slightest interest before. You've made people conscious of a problem they were ignoring."

"I've helped dozens," he said. "I haven't helped thousands."

"It's the same old argument," I said wearily. "You can't take responsibility for the whole world. You can let other people take up some of the burden, you know. It's just a form of egotism to try to solve the whole thing yourself."

This upset him. He grew impatient. "I have lots of things to do today, Sandy," he said. "I've got lots of people to see. Maybe we can talk again another time." I only shrugged and went home.

Some time later Hanson was arrested for maintaining an establishment for the purposes of promoting plugging. There were several other charges, most of them equally as spurious, brought by neighbors in the community who didn't like the comings and goings of obvious pluggies near their apartments. Hanson was helpless. He had never even imagined that such a thing could be done. He was stunned. He didn't know what to do. They locked him up, and he spent eleven days in the Tombs until I made enough media clamor to get him out.

In the meantime, Suzy had come apart by herself. She couldn't bear the pressure of keeping things going without Hanson. She figured that she needed something; just once, she thought, just one more time. She went to a meter man and got lit. By the time Hanson got out of jail, she was in worse shape than when she had come to him for help.

"What do I do now?" he wanted to know. "What can I do for Suzy?"

"Do you feel responsible for her?" I asked.


"What about the others? They carted off seven or eight kids when they took you."

"I don't worry so much about them," he said. "I'm worried about Suzy. The other kids were sent to a hospital. Suzy's back on the street."

I was gladdened just a little by his words. It seemed to me that his grand idealism was crumbling under the attack of reality. And I was happy that he was finally learning that he was in love with Suzy. I had known that for weeks. "I wish I had heard that Suzy had gone back," I said regretfully. "I would have found her and looked after her while you were locked up."

"I can find her," said Hanson. It didn't take him long, either.

Well, that's mostly it. Hanson devoted much of his time to Suzy after that. In a few months she had recovered completely, and her life went on normally, without the least taint from her plugging days. Hanson told me that people first have to work out their own salvations. It used to sound selfish and cruel, he said, but you sure can't hope to guide others until you know where to go. This time I didn't give him any of that I told you so stuff.

Hanson was right about one thing. There's no way to equate plugging with old-fashioned heroin addiction. There's no T-amine for plugging. There isn't even a methadone analogue. But Hanson believed that there was something that worked. Something that could overcome whatever a person might fall into. We've heard this over and over for hundreds of years. Every time, people react the same way: It's a heart-warming fantasy.

He was right about another thing, too. Things change. I mean, after all, these days, so many years later, who misses Robert W. Hanson?

I do.

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