A cool guy Cris admired. Image via
When I was offered the chance to deliver pot for a weed delivery service, I had to accept the job. I always wanted to be cool, and I imagined coolness seeped out of drug dealers' pores. As a delivery service guy, I would be apathetic to society’s laws, connected, and possibly—hell, likely—dangerous. It was a dream come true. Unfortunately, within a year of playing “the game,” I never jogged in the opposite direction of a cop, let alone spat in morality's face. That’s because being a drug delivery service guy wasn’t cool. It fucking sucked.
Like most jobs I have taken in desperation, I was severely unqualified to deliver pot. I have ingested marijuana four times in my life, and each time was so distinctly unpleasant that I will happily die without smoking weed again. But a friend of mine solicited hardcore drugs for a Manhattan drug kingpin, who was looking for a new pot delivery guy. My friend encouraged me to try out for the job.
The interview process took place in the kingpin’s living room at around 3 AM on a weeknight. My boss-to-be was a dark-skinned guy in his late 30s who claimed to be of Persian descent; he introduced himself to me as Nathan. Before we sealed the deal with a handshake, he laughed quietly and whispered, “Not really,” several times. Aside from being a bit spacey, he seemed like an otherwise nice guy. He asked me to provide documentation of my current address and phone number as an insurance policy. If I ran out on him, he warned me he’d hold my friends responsible for the deficit funds and/or drugs. Other than that, he said there were only two rules: don't fuck the clients unless they come on to me, and don't shit at the client's pad. “That's not the look we're goin' for,” he said.
The next day, I followed around Mary, who apparently lived with Nathan “just as friends.” She trained me in the etiquette of weed sales, reiterating the importance of prompt arrival and adding that the transaction and exit should be as swift as possible. “You aren't here to hang out,” she said. “It's not a social call, and they aren't your friends. You want to walk in and be friendly and make conversation but also get to the business at hand and get out of there quickly.” Many first timers, Mary said, are apprehensive about doing something illegal in their own homes, so you have to project an air of casual indifference, almost as if coming to their place to sell them pot is an inconvenience. She said we had three sizes for sale: a small bag for $60, a medium bag for $100 and large bag $300. These sizes bore no parallel to weighed measurements. If anyone asked for an eighth or dime, I was told to look confused and repeat the three options.
Although I thought I would look like a suave gangster, Nathan forced me to wear a button-up shirt and slacks, shave my face, and keep my hair conservatively short. He believed this uniform would attract little attention as I walked around with thousands of dollars worth of pot in a laptop case slung over my shoulder.
_The author in his work uniform. _
The job also required me to carry a fully charged phone battery and promptly answer my flip-phone under any circumstance. Although I used my flip-phone constantly at work, I was never given clients' addresses over the phone. Clients calls would go to a dispatcher—a third party who took the call, traced the number through a database of numbers, and then returned the call from a different phone to confirm their request for drugs. After their request was confirmed, I received a call from another phone. The dispatcher only told me, “You got Nick,” or “You got Lucy.” I was banned from responding with anything besides a murmured “OK.” If we had two clients named Lucy, the business would have tanked.
If I couldn't make it to the client within an hour after they called, I took a cab. Each day I was given a stipend of $40 for cabs. No one knew if I didn’t spend the $40. Instead of taking cabs, I ran around in a frantic state that negated every other measure I took to not draw unwanted attention—I sweat profusely in the winter and often showed up to the clients’ doorsteps soaking wet and panting, confusing both the clients and their doormen.
At the close of each day, I met up with Nathan or his girlfriend and dropped off all my cash and whatever I didn't manage to sell. Nathan and his girlfriend were never sober at these meetings; it would have been easy for me to fudge numbers and get away with a few extra dollars, but I never did because movies had educated me on how drug dealers operated. In my mind Nathan feigned confusion, and if I tested him, he would punish me. Also, I was far too honest and frightened to steal.
Within my first week I came to know and despise the people who became my regular customers. Like most addicts in denial, potheads live under the bogus assumption that every bong hit will be their last. Everyone who implied that his or her own sobriety was just around the corner told me their grandiose plans for their future. There was Gene, a bald, divorced father of two whose kids I only saw in photos. He had plans to regain primary custody and move from the Upper East Side to rural Pennsylvania, where even the public schools were excellent. And then there was Leigh, just off of Central Park West, whose place always smelled delicious—she boasted about her dream to cater private parties, which she pictured as “small, intimate, and cool.” It was baffling. I waited for the day when they might buy some mushrooms and have an epiphany that nothing would change if they started every day buying pot from a delivery service.
At times, I was tempted to hand them back their measly $60 and snatch the pipe from their hands and say, “You don't have to live this way.” I never did this of course. No matter how sad I felt for these delusional stoners, I had to try to up-sell to them if I ever wanted to make decent cash as a drug delivery service guy—my pay was based on commission. I made $20 off every small or medium bag and $50 off off every large bag. Since my product was narcotics—which are inherently desirable—up-selling should have been easy, but it wasn't. Although everyone whose home I entered could easily afford several large bags, they rarely splurged on them, because they claimed their habit was casual. I was at the mercy of their delusions.
An expensive neighborhood where Nathan's wealthy clients lived. Image via
After several months of solid performance, I was entrusted to handle the wealthier clients. I thought I’d be dealing with swanky guys who did drugs on the side, but it turned out the well of shittiness went far deeper—these were the real deal junkies who bought prescription pills instead of weed. I could have rejected my new job, but Nathan was promoting me. I regarded my new job as an acknowledgement of my intelligence and potential.
The first time I visited my first pill clients, I was tipsy thanks to happy hour. A man opened his door and introduced himself as Dan. He led me into the apartment with his hand on my back. I shook his hand and said, “I'm Jack.” He gave me a knowing grin. “So that's the name you're using?” he asked. No one had ever inquired about my name before—all of our other clients were respectful about my obvious alias. I heard Mary's voice echoing in my mind: “They're not your friends! They're not your friends!”
I tried my best not to show discomfort, as Dan poured me a glass of expensive scotch. “OK, so what you got?” he asked. We settled into his pristinely upholstered couch, and I opened up my bag. His girlfriend, Trisha, sat opposite us with a glass of white wine, watching TV and looking bored. I pulled out my pill case and counted out 20 pills, 30 mg each. Dan said, “OK, cool. We'll take ’em.” I started to count out the money. He handed me the stack of bills. As I made my way to the door, he put his hand to my back and said, “We'll see you soon. You'll be seeing us a lot.”
I knew right away things would soon get ugly.
After that day, I saw Dan and Trisha every day. To their credit, they were always cordial. Even when I took longer than the hour to show up, they offered me water or wine and made polite small talk. There were times when I would not have any powerful pain pills and they would buy lower dosed opiates in higher quantity. When we didn’t have any kinds of opiates, they smelt. During that spell, they would still call to get Benzodiazepines in order to mix the pills with booze and try to sleep through the beginning stages of their opiate withdrawal. As the draught of supply continued on, Daniel and Trish went through physical withdrawal, calling in sick to work and sedating themselves with anti-anxiety medication and scotch. I assumed after these two weeks were over, they would never call our drug service again, but after Nathan restocked his supply, they returned to using. Witnessing that level of depravity was too much for me.
Dan and Trisha taught me it was time to hang up my laptop bag. As I searched for more honest work, I continued delivering drugs. In that time, I became an expert on the hours and locations of every New York Public Library branch. As a drug dealer's delivery service guy, I found bars with private toilets, slept in Central Park, and read at least three books a week. I met many screwed up people and ran down many streets, but I never became cool.
More personal essays: