Living the High Life
BY Bill Clegg
June 08 2010 1:40 PM ET
Chapter One: Scrapers
I can’t leave and there isn’t enough.
Mark is at full tilt, barking hear-it-here-first wisdom from the edge of his black vinyl sofa. He looks like a translator for the deaf moving at triple speed — hands flapping, arms and shoulders jerking. His legs move, too, but only to fold and refold at regular intervals beneath his tall, skeletal frame. The leg crossing is the only thing about Mark with any order. The rest is a riot of sudden movements and spasms — he’s a marionette at the mercy of a brutal puppeteer. His eyes, like mine, are dull black marbles.
Mark is squawking about a crack dealer he used to buy from who’s been busted — how he saw it coming, how he always does — but I’m not paying attention. All that matters to me is that we’ve reached the end of our bag. The thumb-size clear plastic mini ziplock that once bulged with chunks of crack is now empty. It’s daybreak and the dealers have turned off their phones.
My two dealers are named Rico and Happy. According to Mark, all crack dealers are named Rico and Happy. Rico hasn’t shown up the last few times I’ve called. Mark, who makes it his business to know the day-to-day movements and shifting status of a handful of dealers, says Rico’s Xanax habit has resurfaced and is beginning to slow him down. Last year he didn’t leave his apartment in Washington Heights for three months. So for now I call Happy, who shows up after midnight when the $1,000 limit on my cash card zeroes out and I can start withdrawing again. Happy is the more reliable of the two, but Rico will often deliver at odd hours when the other dealers won’t. He’ll come in the middle of the day, hours late but when the rest are asleep and closed for business. He’ll complain and give you a skimpy bag, but he’ll come. With Mark’s phone, I dial Rico’s number but his voice mail is full and not accepting messages. I dial Happy’s and it goes straight to voice mail.
Happy and Rico sell crack. They don’t sell cocaine to be inhaled, pot, Ecstasy, or anything else. I buy only bags of precooked crack. Some people will insist on cooking their own — a tricky operation that involves cocaine, baking soda, water, and a stove top — but the few times I tried this, I wasted the coke, burned my hands, and ended up with a wet glob that was barely smokable. Give me the scraper, Mark barks. His stem — the small glass tube packed on one end with Brillo pad wire — is caked with residue, so after he scrapes it out and packs the end again, we can count on at least a few more hits. He folds his legs in a spidery arrangement and for a moment appears as if he will tip over. He looks like he’s in his sixties — gray-faced, wrinkled, jutting bones — but claims he’s in his early forties. I’ve been coming to his apartment for over three years, with increasing frequency, to get high.