One way or another, drugs were behind every story in the old neighborhood.
Everyone was connected somehow—family, friends, neighbors—in the same way everybody knows a real estate agent in the upper-class suburbs.
Growing up, all our neighborhood heroes sold dope. Dealers are respected for two basic reasons: dealing in cash makes them appear richer than they really are, and always packing heat makes them physically untouchable.
The threat of robbery makes it hard for dealers to store much wealth, so they wear it, drive it, and stuff rolls of it in their pocket which makes them look like “ballers”. And always packing heat for protection means dealers never get their asses kicked, at least in public. That combination of the illusion of wealth and untouchableness was something we looked up to.
Most dealers make money, but nothing like Hollywood images of Hummers, mansions and white silk suits. Like any industry, most dealers are small-time with close circle of regular customers. They may drive trucks full of speakers and wear new gear, but they still lived in the ‘hood. And by upper middle-class standards they’re flat broke, with all their money tied up in dead assets.
Dealers can only flaunt so much wealth before they attract attention. Fear of a bust keeps smart dealers low profile. Without some way to launder cash—which is beyond most dealers—they have to get rid of cash as fast as it comes in. Lots of nights at the club, $500 bar tabs, vacations, tons of household electronics, anything not observable to police. Easy come, easy go is the only way anyone can deal dope for long.
Fingers and Capone were the dealers in my crowd. Mostly pot to the locals and coke to the rich kids on the Eastside.
At one point, Fingers and I lived together in a project in southwest for a year. I only recently realized that it was what people call a “drug house.”
Fingers had customers stopping by at all hours. They were always friends, but there was strict protocol. Good dealers have surprisingly good business discipline. Everybody calls first, no exceptions. No talking drugs on the phone. Park in the lot across the street, not out front. No bringing non-friends along.
Fingers was shipping pounds of pot out of the place, and there was constant paranoia, and guns everywhere. A loaded pistol in the sofa cushions, a shotgun in my room, an AR-15 in Fingers’ room, and my .9mm in one of our waistbands. Peanut the pitbull stayed home when we went out—the perfect home security system. The blinds always stayed shut, and no one, ever, goes in Fingers’ room.
What people call “street sense” is really the philosophy of crime in general. It’s very simple, but true. Fingers summed it once like this: “The world is simple, simple causes and simple consequences.”
It took a long time for that to soak in. But he’s right. When a place gets robbed, it’s the employee with the most knowledge of the place who did it. When somebody gets shot, it’s a payback not an accident. When you get a bad vibe, something always goes down.
Good criminals treat instincts like perfect certainties. Thinking too much just tends to paralyze, and makes people scared or hesitant.
Today, my memories of all this are blurry. Unfortunately, some artifacts survive.
I was clearing out an apartment back home before the move, flipping through old papers. I ran into a funeral invitation, and sat there trying to remember the story.
C was a supplier-level dealer, ten years older than us, one of Fingers’ best friends, someone we all looked up to. A couple years ago he disappeared, and turned up weeks later buried in a wood box outside the city. His own cousin shot him in the head over a few thousand dollars of debt. The story made all the papers at the time.
On the invitation there’s this picture of C, skinny, standing in a life vest on the deck of this boat, shirt off with a can of beer. Maybe 30 years old. There he is smiling out on Puget Sound the summer before, and now he’s buried with no head because the wrong guy got behind on payments.
I’m looking at the background of the picture, and see that fingers is on that boat too, and I think “he’s still selling dope.” And I start to wonder when I’m going to get another one of these funeral invitations for him.