Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Dealer

So it’s Friday afternoon, a sunny day in Northern Virginia, post-earthquake and pre-hurricane. I am at Starbucks reading one of Larry McMurtry’s lesser books and it’s not very good, but when you’ve written half-a-hundred novels, you’re allowed an off-day. I’m sitting outside at one of the three tables allowed in front of the coffee shop by the local city council. Two Latino homeboys in wife-beaters, black pants and scuffed black leather shoes are at the table next to me with a young henna-haired tattooed woman. They are discussing the comparative merits of OxyContin, an opioid analgesic prescribed as a painkiller and listed as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substance Act, which means it has a high potential for abuse and continued use may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Frankly, I don’t care if these kids want to fry their brains. I’m very big on personal choices. I figure everyone has read about the dangers of such drugs and if someone is stupid enough to want to abuse them, let ‘em. The girl is saying OxyContin makes her constipated and her comment is greeted with loud laughter and a few suggestive suggestion by the homeboys.

Soon another kid approaches. This one’s a nightmare—pale, white, bone-skinny, red-haired, no more than 18. He has a Blue Tooth earpiece screwed into the side of his head, madras shorts that reach his ankles, $200 sneakers and an expression bordering on the salaciously demented. He is greeted by the homeboys and given the perfunctory hug and back slap favored by athletes. The hennaed girl offers a gap-toothed smile. He sits down, reaches into a pocket of his shorts, takes out three tiny plastic Baggies and drops them on the table. The homeboys nod, the girl looks away, there’s a quick exchange of money and the Baggies are swept from the table.
I’ve seen this kid meth dealer before a number of times. He spends a lot of time walking up and down the strip mall, often alone but sometimes with a sidekick, an entrepreneur-to-be learning the tricks of the trade, I suppose. They’re relaxed, this is their little piece of turf, and I’m amazed at how openly they peddle their wares. Understand, this is Falls Church, a suburban community recently listed as one of the most expensive places to live in North America. Important and self-important folks live here—politicians, bankers, dot com millionaire and presidential aspirants like Newt Gingrich.

I’m looking at the kid and the kid looks back at me and there’s an implicit challenge there; an imaginary gauntlet is cast. I shrug, look away. The kid gets up, and as he’s walking off I ear him say, “What up?” to someone calling him. I hear him quote prices.

I’m pretty sure I am not the only one who witnessed the transaction, and in the coffee shop I see the barista shake his head and frown.  This is not good for business, this little sidewalk operation, but there’s not a lot to be done. Calling the cops is useless, there was a bank robbery just up the street a few weeks ago less than a quarter-mile from the police station and it took authorities a half-an-hour to get to the scene. The robber escaped on a bicycle.  Even if the police were to show and make an arrest, the kid would be back on the street in a heartbeat. 

Pretty weird; this isn’t The Wire, this is real life not in the inner city of a second-rate town but in the suburbs of the well-to-do. An unsettling snapshot that makes me glad the temptations found in glassine bags are long, long behind me.

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