His place is in one of those New York City neighborhoods that’s run-down but not dangerous. There’s no intercom in the building, so to open the downstairs door, you have to have your own key. He doesn’t take phone calls on either landline or cell. He doesn’t use the Internet. He stays off the grid.
He has regular hours and regular customers. He accepts new clients reluctantly, and only if they are the good friends or adult children of his existing customers. He is very, very careful.
This man is an important person in my life. He is my dealer.
He has been dealing grass, and only grass, from this location for some 35 years, and he has been my personal supplier for almost that long. I go down to his place every couple of months, but some of his customers visit twice a week. My standard purchase of an ounce or two is dwarfed by what the others are buying.
It’s easy to park in his neighborhood, so I always drive down from Westchester. On this Monday night, I park right across the street. His downstairs door is painted a bright, acrylic yellow. I insert my key and turn the lock. The door opens smartly — upon the dirtiest hallway I have ever seen. I breathe between my teeth; the hexagonal tiles haven’t been washed in decades.
The stairway is no better. The walls are covered with graffiti, and there are five flights of stairs. Most of my fellow customers are in late middle age, and I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to make it up these stairs. I picture us in knee braces, gripping the banisters, panting.
I catch my breath and push the doorbell.
It’s one of those bells that gives no indication about whether it works. There’s no buzz and there’s no light, so sometimes when I don’t hear movement inside, I press the bell again. This gets him annoyed, so tonight I just wait. And yes, I do hear noises now: the click of the peephole, the clunk of the lock-bar. He beckons me in, finger to lips. He is 63, with curly gray hair and a friendly face, and he insists on silence at the threshold. He doesn’t want his neighbors to notice the many visitors he gets Monday to Thursday between 8 and 10 p.m., his “office hours.” The rest of the time, he’s at his boring day job or his real home with his wife.
We have to go sideways down the interior hall because of his bicycle. (This will pose a problem when his clients start using walkers.) We get to the studio, and it’s 1969, with posters, books and vinyl records from the Woodstock era. Three old hippie types sprawl on two ancient couches. The small room has been partitioned. There’s the outer area, where the customers wait. And through an open doorway there’s the inner area, where the dealer sits at a desk, weighing the goods.
I nod to the others, a weathered lot, all of us. I’ve seen one of the guys here before — Hank — and the rest look vaguely familiar.
We make small talk. There’s always a festive atmosphere here. Hank gets four ounces of Mex and two ounces of sensi — he must be a dealer himself. He puts his purchases into a backpack and says, “See you Thursday.”
Finally, it’s my turn. By now, two new customers have joined us, heralded each time by the piercing buzzer. (This is why it irritates the dealer when people push it twice.) One of the new guys is very young, scarcely 40.
“What’s it going to be?” the dealer asks me. “The usual?”
“Maybe this time I’ll buy something exotic.”
“Don’t bother,” he says, as always.
We have had this discussion many times. He maintains that his customers who roll joints, as opposed to those who use a pipe, should just buy the Mexican. Why pay two or three times as much when so much of it will go up in smoke? The cheap stuff costs $140 an ounce, and that’s what he insists I buy.
It’s an unusual merchant who steers you away from his more expensive lines.
“I need two ounces this time. I’m buying some for this couple in their 80s.”
He weighs my economy pot on a metal balance scale. He hasn’t gone digital yet. He asks about my work and my children. “My youngest son wants to meet you,” I say. “He can’t believe your prices.”
“He’s how old?”
“Sure. Bring him down with you next time.”
He gives me my dope in a plastic baggie, and I hand over the bills: crisp twenties fresh from the bank. I put the baggie in my handbag, while he tucks my bills around a fat roll of cash before putting it back in his pocket.
Then he jots something down in a small notebook and walks me to the outer room. I say goodbye to the other dopers and edge down the hallway.
On my way down the filthy stairs, I put my wallet in my coat pocket. When I get to the car, I put my handbag in the trunk. I take this precaution in case a traffic cop asks to see my license and registration. This way, I’ll just reach into my pocket for my wallet instead of into a handbag fragrant with weed.
In my own way, I’m pretty careful myself. I would never go to my dealer’s with a broken taillight or an outdated inspection ticket, for never am I so vulnerable to the law as when I’m returning home with a fresh stash.
I turn on the engine, starting my audiobook. Half an hour later, I’m in my driveway. I open the trunk and reach for my handbag. I’ve made another drug run to the city. I’ve scored again. I’m stoked and psyched. I’m set for another eight weeks.