Down at the Spot, everyone looked to Silas Chris to slide his thumbnail down the brown wrapper of a blunt at break time. He had big hands and didn’t mind getting them dirty. Didn’t mind getting them white, either—in the old days anyway, until he did three years in the clink for it. It was fun getting high with him, but you had to keep on your toes. Now peddling ounces and nickel bags, he still had a sense for the grand scheme, a cut in a deal with a luscious head scrape. And you would be his banker—or patsy as the game played itself out.
Games are a part of any narcotics transaction, and Silas had his, a kind of roulette with only one winner: him. Money was always up front, before the product, and pickup could be anywhere, provided it wasn’t introduced with “I have some good news and some bad news”, which really meant two kinds of bad news, that the dope wasn’t there, and you would have to bet another Benjamin that he would come through the next time.
But he was my best friend. Though it always came with a request for money out of my ATM account, he visited me regularly, and we talked about hiphop. He was an old machine in a world of new technology. His art was founded on the trafficking of crack, with all its mendacious tricks to get welfare checks from drifters, and he had taken it to its limit. I hated to do it, but I was the one who had to let him know in the end. Let me preface this by saying that though Silas and I shared much, he had acquired the idea that whatever was mine was his, including my checkbook.
Well, I had to get my money back somehow. I just hope he’s all right now… He did much better than I in the office, but he hit a glass ceiling. That said, it was precisely when this happened that he became our hero. “You faggot-ass motherfucker!” I heard him holler, as he threw a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee at Jon following his attempted shakedown of him and his behavior on the job. He took one for the team. Jon was never the same.
Great White Shark, Fire, Grapefruit OG—Wade Kotter always had the best stuff but you had to earn his trust. Dusted by a car while on his bicycle because the driver thought he was riding too close, he came up to me shaken at a September party and asked if he should call the police. He drank his beer slowly and sucked on a halfie. He was tall with a stately gait, but he was shy and vulnerable. Always packaged your stash in a nice envelope, neatly labeled according to type. The best part was meeting up for the transaction, often in a pastoral park somewhere like Jamaica Plain.
I remember one instance in particular. I walked over to City Feed to get an Italian sub and ate it in the park, and then strolled around under the trees in the margins. This was the day after Gaddafi’s capture, and the church over the fence was chiming “You’re a Grand Old Flag”. Somehow everything came together: the high, patriotic feelings over a Democratic president, the crisp October afternoon. Moments like these make you feel they will never end, complete peace and inspiration. But they peter out. Dope is a kind of Percocet for the mind. In the long run it doesn’t do much good, but it doesn’t do much harm either, and sometimes that’s just enough.
It isn’t enough to hand over to the dealer the bills for the transaction like you do a clerk at a 7/11. You’ve got to form a relationship with him. You’ve got to be part of his safety net as he goes down into the depths of that which is punishable by law. You’ve got to prove to him that he is part of a larger project, busting open new freedoms for a new generation when in reality he is just trying to put food on the table.
At core dealer and buyer are still pusher and junkie. This should always be kept in perspective, with a grain of salt. Ali Jupta and I always joked about this setup, how the source wants to politely vacuum up your wallet, and the target is always moving, up at 5 AM with a call for an urgent sack. We knew this is how the system worked, we had to make the best of a base thing.
Ali was a handsome 25-year-old, sparkling with gawky wit. Steering around the old institution, up its escalators and down its stairwells into the basement where we did our transactions, he was like Dickens’s Artful Dodger, always with enough wits about him to look out for both of us.
Ali loved cheap, fine dining. He was always out for a bargain. Once at a Peruvian restaurant in Somerville, we ordered a main course of beef hearts and gizzards to share. He said he wasn’t hungry enough for the qinoa salad, so I ordered it for myself. When it came, I shared some with him, and he ended up eating as much as me. But this is the economy of an honest man.
Ali had a love of culture, spilling out of music into literature, to match my own. This was much more than talking Meth and Red with Silas. I saw much of myself in him, though old enough to be his father—he, part of the generation that couldn’t tell the difference between north and south.
Ali had an inventive mind, planning new projects involving Islamic chanters and his oboe. He didn’t smoke much pot, just a hit here and there. A popular guy, his voice mail was usually full. It had a Bollywood ring. His stuff couldn’t compare to Wade’s but the volume was good.
Lonely people get high. It makes them feel like they’re with others. A source often becomes that significant, facilitating other who becomes as important to you on drug day as the material itself.