Names have been changed.
He was my first kiss (I was four, on the playground) and my first weed dealer (I was 18, in his parents’ covered veranda that he’d plastered with early ʼ80s rock posters, a fog machine and one of those rotating floor-mounted disco ball lights). The suburban New Jersey town where we grew up is known for nothing much but the weed—it’s literally in our pithy-but-accurate Urban Dictionary definition that “there’s nothing to do here[;] there are a lot of chill stoners and a lot of Jewish people.” In 2012 cops busted a warehouse holding 473 pounds, finding two Californian dudes who were moving Mexican grow up to New York City, a 40-minute drive from our town along the industrial part of the Turnpike that my dad’s co-worker Frank once described as having air that could be cut with a knife.
But this was all long before the warehouse bust and Sergei was still coming through with the dime bags, little nugs sold in miniature ziplocs covered in skulls or spades or alien heads. The old-school rate, nickels for $5, dimes for $10, dubs for $20. Good shit, too, the kind of city buds that would knock you on your ass. That’s what all of us started out smoking as young teens, none of that skunk you’d get in neighboring suburban towns, but rather the sort that would make your teacher’s voice slow down and stre-ee-eetch out. Business was churning and so were we.
Whenever we came to buy from him, Sergei would always be reclining in a beanbag next to a bong and playing an unplugged flying V, his long strings of brown hair dangling over the guitar’s lacquered body. He was the kind of kid who had seen stereotypical scenes of dealers and used that media to inform his own aesthetic: guy casually playing music, a steady stream of teenagers walking to and from the house across neatly manicured cul-de-sac lawns, trading baggies for cash at parties.
Having myself moved out of town a decade ago, I only see Sergei in Instagram photos now, posing at the town gym with a flex and a hashtag about “metal guys working out.” He’s become a “metal magician,” grown a little pirate mustache and a pencil beard but otherwise remaining unchanged. On the side he directs horror films, his two foremost works including a full-length feature about a killer clown and a short focusing on pretty girls getting anally probed by aliens. I assume you can still find him set up in front of a poster of Mötley Crüe, plucking his guitar on the veranda with the fog machine on and his hair flying loose in the suburban wind.
I used to meet Graham in his frat house (Alpha Beta Whogivesafuck), one of the four or five university-owned brownstones on the little strip of 114th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam called “frat row.” I’d come by during the day between classes to avoid a customer backup, and his lithe girlfriend was usually in a heap on the bed, passed out in a coke comedown. Graham wasn’t fucking around with his spread—little round pills, oblong pills, pills that were capsules made of smaller pills, powders presumably obtained from crushing up pills—but I was always just there for the weed that he seemed to sell almost as a lark.
That whole hookup ended when an undercover NYPD officer was sold something by what police referred to as “the drug ring,” and suddenly one sunny Manhattan day, a handful of skinny freshman boys were being marched out of their dorms and brownstones and into squad cars headed ultimately for Rikers Island.
A friend recommended B to me after I decided that student dealers were both unreliable about quality and a needless attention attractor.
B was the type of guy who wanted our first meeting to be at night in a playground. I walked down to 106th Street, the salted night wind harsh on my face,and onto the darkened basketball court. I was bundled up in a peacoat and scarf, but B seemed inoculated to the weather in that true who gives a fuck New Yorker fashion, bare-necked with his Yankees tattoo sticking out.
It seemed obvious to me that we would draw attention as a shadowy pair beneath the floodlights, but I was just being neurotic—there wasn’t anyone around in the early winter night to notice the clandestine meeting between a short teenager and a built 30-something. B was kind enough to never mention my generally jumpy air, but then again he probably sold to a lot of little white college kids like me considering where we were. From then on he’d meet me under the farmacia on the corner by the cathedral, always punctual and never wearing a coat, even in the snow.
“Bud Man” was what I’d labeled the phone number for a to-your-door delivery service in Manhattan, a way to avoid having to be that person on the subway whose bag reeks clearly of weed. They were also usually the only way to get a choice of strain instead of accepting whatever bag of green was handed to you, and sometimes it was a luxury I could sort of afford.
I’d give them a call, and the same friendly operator would pick up every time with a “We got you, Charlie.” An hour later one of a dozen ex-cons or twinky bike messengers would rock up with neatly labeled tupperwares of the ever-present Sour D and the choice of something else like Blue Dream or Headband and occasionally OG Kush. Each bag was three grams for $50, highway robbery even for top-shelf shit brought to your door.
I’d offer the delivery guys water since they were always out of breath, and they’d tell me stories about their previous lives—the older guys had usually been in prison, the younger ones were in college—or their future plans—going to college for the former, avoiding jail for the latter—and we’d form just enough rapport to sustain the two or three meet-ups we’d have before the messengers were rotated out.
Sometimes I’d invite them out onto my deck, but they’d always decline, heading off to some other apartment to do the whole thing over again. I would lean out the window over the roof’s ever-present smell of diner fries and check if the early-20-somethings next door were out filming b-roll for their deck-based rap videos. When the coast was clear, I would climb out, light up and stare into the long banners of LEDs flanking the glimmering 30-story apartment building on the fancy other side of the street (the one James Spader lives on), wondering what to do with myself.
I met D when he delivered for Bud Man, but he said he was venturing out on his own and could hook me up. He’d come round to my shipping container-sized studio alone or with his skinny blonde friend, bearing whatever they’d grown recently and sometimes a sample of a weak, bougie weed chocolate that would barely get you high. We’d chat medical marijuana policies, I’d tell him about how (actual) edibles can help menstrual cramps and how well they’d sell if they were strong enough; he’d give me tips on growing techniques and how not to fuck up an indoor setup. Sometimes he’d come to my ex-boyfriend’s in the part of Bed-Stuy off Utica, rocking up in a huge dark blue Beemer with a beautiful girl in the passenger seat and room enough for a 30-second business exchange in the back.
After New York, I lived in one of the few New Jersey towns with a medical marijuana dispensary, and even though it was a five-minute walk from my place, literally on my way to work, the doctor absolutely refused to give me a recommendation. I considered going to one of the less scrupulous medical marijuana clinics in South Jersey so they could fudge an Irritable Bowel Syndrome diagnosis into one of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (weed treats both, but many places refuse to put IBS on their MMJ condition list because, you know, some reason), but state laws were even stricter then than they are now, and I figured rightly that the black market would be easier.
I was toiling away working a minimum-wage job and trying to figure out how to become a proper writer when a piercer friend of mine said she knew a guy in town who could hook me up with some good shit. He towered over me, a hardcore New Jersey kid with dreads and a bandana and a jean vest plastered with various metal patches. He’d have me come over to his parents’ big fancy house up in the hills of the town where his two dogs would greet my crotch and his bengal cat would sniff at me dismissively before going to hide in her giant fur throw. He’d politely offer tea or coffee, and we’d go upstairs to his childhood bedroom where he’d pull out a vacuum-sealed pound of Cali shit that he’d gotten through unknowable means and tell me a story about his ridiculous friends’ prank wars as he doled out an ounce for me.
He’d tell me about his best clients, the town’s rich doctors and lawyers, that the business had made him realize that everyone at every level, professional or not, needed to buy weed from someone. We became friends quickly—he was smart, fun to talk to and in a band I actually enjoyed listening to. We’d see each other at shows or the local bar often, and on days that I would come over, we’d ended up going on aimless walks, smoking joints and shooting the shit while his dogs excitedly bounded up and down the suburban sidewalks.
Look, sometimes none of your friends are around, and you need to buy weed from a co-worker’s teenage brother in Clark. It happens.
Lachlan and I lived a few blocks apart in Sydney, where the weed is always more miss than hit. Sometimes it’s drek grown in the forests, planted under tree canopies and just left to its own devices. And most often it’s run through people who also sell meth and other trash—local biker hooligans who run most countrywide drug rings, the sort of folks who just don’t give a shit about what they’re selling you—and so you’re left having to wait for some local kid in their mid-20s to come by with whatever bag of leafy, stemmy, seedy bush weed he was able to dig up to let you thank the skies that at least the city wasn’t dry.
Sometimes Lachlan would be out for the day, and he’d leave three or four ounces (each labeled with initials for pickup) taped under the stool outside of his studio apartment, a reliance on the honor code that would be unthinkable outside of a quaint little place like Australia’s largest and most populated metropolitan area.
Lachlan was the one dealer around, so my friends and I would always end up passing by on our ways to and from his place, occasionally stopping mid-street for a chat while Lachlan ran between groups. We’d take our baggies and walk back to someone or other’s backyard where I always rolled my own joints; the boys liked to smoke spliffs out of a dirty plastic bong, and it made me pass out. For a place full of surfers, Australia does not know how to get high.
And then I moved to the great green metropolis of Los Angeles. Sure, it’s efficient to buy weed here (easy enough that you can do a impulse pass-by of the dispensary after the bar), and sure, there’s the benefit of markedly less stigma about smoking weed in a place where it’s readily and legally available. However, in a lot of ways, the coldness of the dispensaries, despite their best efforts, makes me miss all of the various weird dudes I got to meet and know and listen to over the years. It seems like such a sterile experience to just walk into a store instead of having a proper chat, even though I know that the stereotype of most at-home encounters involves a dealer and a person uncomfortably listening to them drone on or play guitar. But even coming from an introvert who generally doesn’t want to see much of anyone, I wonder what interpersonal value we are losing when we move from being a cottage industry to one run by multi-million dollar corporations.
In a way it makes me sad to think that some of the camaraderie inherent to a covert interest is being lost—weed is a lot of what brought various kids together when I was a teenager, kids who would otherwise not be interested in interacting with one another. Sure, sometimes you’d get a dude who wanted to play you his bass and show you his new video game, but sometimes you’d also get an actual friend. And I hate to be corny, but what wide selection of sterile jars can entirely replace that?
Photo credits: High Maintenance and Flickr.