That's my privilege, because this was my kind of place. My upbringing was designed to make me feel at home in this setting. These are my people. We share a certain social stature, and I walk among them as equals. Tonight, I am not Gary Coleman. I am Ronald Colman.
Then I walk over to the pate. There's an old guy in front of me. He's wearing seersucker in September, so there's already something wrong. He's taking his time over the free food, too. It takes me a while to actually comprehend what he's doing. The old man has these grotesquely gnarled hands, and he's idly palming the assorted fine cheeses. He then rolls a few cubes around in his meaty paws, and tosses them back onto the tray. It's like a craps game in the geriatrics ward.
I see that another elaborate practical joke has been successfully played upon me. I remain surrounded by feeble, drooling idiots. Any club that would have me is obviously not really the club to which I was born. This prince remains in exile, so I stroll into the pouring rain to join a bunch of mongoloid college kids at the Chemical Brothers show.
This was perfectly okay. At least my bearings remain intact. It's very important to be in solid touch with the world nowadays. People have never been more desperate to look at the moon and declare it is the sun that shines so bright. The thought had already been nagging at me earlier that day, while flipping through The Nation's recent special issue about our war on drugs. To be honest, The Nation wasn't serious about resolving things. It was just an excuse to sell ads to people in the drug legalization business. Still, I had spent the day working through the magazine's roundtable arguments. I even began reading by accepting the magazine's basic strange assumptions, like it is somehow bad that our prisons are clogged with low-level drug offenders.
I could never casually dismiss all of the points made in this edition of The Nation. Some of them were very well thought out, and certain writers?unlike the advertisers?conceded that drug use can be a very bad thing. But there was still something keeping me from being able to rationally consider a lot of the positions being bandied about in the magazine.
Then, I remembered an earlier argument about drug legalization on the Internet. The topic was drugs as commerce, and how everything would be just swell if the police would quit bothering the poor innocent drug dealers. Certain people were already referring to The Nation as a touchstone for this conversation. Since these were amateur intellectuals, however, they hadn't yet learned how to couch their terms. This honesty provided some real insight.
Consider this Internet argument, with the caveat that I've slightly finessed the sentence structure. This is to make it sound more like someone in an exclusive social club. The writer begins by protesting against my comment that it's a shame how terrorized inner-city families don't read The Nation:
I am just so sick and tired of hearing this. The "drug dealers down the block" are ruthless bastards, for the most part, but they are businessmen foremost. If you try to move on their territory, they will indeed do all that stuff you read about in the papers. If you do not threaten them?which includes attempting to involve cops?they will generally not mess with you. If you tell all the sentries that you are not interested in purchasing product, they eventually recognize you as a local and quit asking.
Here's what's interesting: The guy has a point. All you have to do is join him in ignoring that law-abiding people?who are encouraged to respect drug dealers as businessmen?are at risk simply due to the presence of drug dealers. These businessmen work through fear and intimidation. They also settle their business disputes through gunfire. At least once a month, it seems, an innocent child in Harlem ends up in the middle of negotiations.
But there's still logic to the writer's basic conceit. We simply have to remember that he isn't talking about anything that relates to events on Planet Earth.
This was revelatory. Lots of liberal thought begins to make perfect sense once we extract any sense of reality. Leftist theory is exactly what it claims to be?a fanciful scientific equation that takes place in a controlled environment. Many of The Nation's arguments for revamped drug laws suddenly began to make perfect sense, once I applied these theories to a civilization that lives in a petri dish.
This is all part of working toward understanding. I accept that liberals?including many of The Nation's writers?don't take reality into account. In turn, I would appreciate it if liberals might concede I have some idea of the real world. I have often stepped outside of my privileged plastic fantastic upbringing. In fact, I've spent most of my life banging on the door and begging to be let back inside.
This often comes as a surprise to people who argue with me about politics. Most young liberals believe that all conservatives are 1950s caricatures from a Tom Tomorrow cartoon. They can't imagine how anyone else could ever disagree with their enlightened views. As a result, I have to put up with a lot of condescension. Here's the closing happy thought from that same dope on the Internet:
This is not intended by any means to be a defense of street dealers, but I am fucking fed up with hearing people who don't live with it acting like they know what they're talking about.
The original posting is on file, for anyone who thinks I have to make up statements this stupid. Still, how could the guy know that I routinely walk around bad Manhattan neighborhoods at all hours of the night? And how could he know that I've spent three years living in Crackhead Central? There's no reason for him to ask. It's much easier to assume that I live in a miniature alien town that Superman keeps in a Mason jar at his Fortress of Solitude.
In truth, I know a lot about drug dealing. It's an unfortunate side effect to socializing after 3 a.m. Since drug dealers only trust people who don't use drugs, I've spent lots of time in apartments where the host cheerfully offers me the extra gun strapped behind the toilet. I've never seen any gunfire, though. All I've ever seen are uptight nervous hipsters anxious to get back to the safety of their REM collections. No wonder so many people want to legalize drugs. They're scared to death of their dealers.
Last year, I got into an argument with an employee of High Times. I explained that his magazine was dishonest because they always show pictures of killer bud, but they never show the guys with guns who are ready to commit murder to protect their business. He laughed at me like I was the most paranoid man on Earth. I don't begrudge him that. If I worked at High Times, I would certainly do my best to ignore the hard truths. Still, I know a few things about the business that is his business. And I understand his motivation for wanting to ignore what's actually happening on his home planet.
Heck, I've personally tried to ignore some realities of the drug trade. It was back when Miami Vice was still on the air, but not so long ago that I wore pastel shades to the night's big drug deal. The main player was a Hippie Businessman who was out to float his business for a few months by going back to his roots as a marijuana dealer. The business arrangements had all been made by a very interesting Male Prostitute. I was the Young Idiot who felt residual guilt for being the cause of the Hippie Businessman's recent problems. As such, I only paid enough attention to be sure that I wasn't walking into a sting operation.
(I would later regret this at a NYPress party, when I tried telling this story to an attractive young writer. She was very interested in the dollar figures. I had no idea of the particulars. She had this cute smile as I stumbled along, and it seemed for a while that I still might get laid through some outlaw frisson. She was probably really a former teenage crimelord laughing at my bad head for numbers.)
Fans of blaxploitation may be familiar with this story. It's called Three Stooges The Hard Way. Consider that a Male Prostitute was the brains of our operation. He at least had the good sense to be pissed off at being dragged into the transaction. Still, I didn't count myself in until he assured me that we would be picking up the drugs at a place where cops weren't allowed. I assumed this meant a Klan compound. Instead, we drove into the suburban town of my childhood. A few miles from my old subdivision, we turned into the local reservoir. There was a high fence surrounding the area. A man was waiting at the gate.
It would later take me a long time to accept that Reservoir Dogs wasn't about drug dealers. We drove far into the area, where two guys were sitting by a van from a plumbing supply company. It may not have been a Klan complex, but both of these hillbillies looked like good candidates for exalted grand dragon.
One of them had a shotgun. That didn't particularly bother me, even though the Hippie Businessman would've had good reason to pay an extra $20 to have my corpse dropped into the local drinking supply. (I had fallen in love with his airhead mistress, after which comic hijinks ensued leading to the end of his marriage.) Hippie Businessman and Hillbilly #1 went off to handle the financials. Hillbilly #2 leaned his gun against the van and opened the door. The Male Prostitute and I began to unload the van full of bulging Hefty bags.
This should have been a simple task. It was only complicated by Hillbilly #2's decision to then point the gun at us. He was swinging it between me and the Male Prostitute as we went about our business. The guy wasn't being casual, either. He was lining us up in the sights. I've had guns leveled at me three times. Twice was out of mistaken identity, which was pretty disturbing. For some reason, I felt very comfortable with Hillbilly #2. The Male Prostitute was getting pissed, but I liked finally having some logic behind a gun trained on me. I'm not some cretin on the Internet. I've always known that drug dealers are ready to kill anyone who tries to mess with their precious marijuana.
Still, I remained acutely aware whenever the gun was pointed at my head. And we all know the one sound that you least want to hear under those circumstances. That would be a loud boom.
Ergo, the gun was pointed at me when there was a very loud boom.
I remember trying to figure out the best way to see if I had been killed. It took a full second to realize that dead people don't have thought processes. In the meantime, the guy with the gun had turned to level his sights on my partner. The Male Prostitute had slammed a full Hefty bag to the ground. He had done this to get the attention of Hillbilly #1.
"I don't mind loading this shit," announced the Male Prostitute. "But I'm not doing nothing as long as this asshole is waving a gun around."
The two hillbillies looked at each other. Hillbilly #2 shrugged and tossed his gun into the front of the van. Christ, if I'd known you only had to ask...
It wouldn't be until later that I realized the Male Prostitute had intentionally dropped the bag on a concrete walkway for maximum acoustics. That was the comic highlight of the evening. Everyone wrapped up their business in a slightly subdued manner, and then it was just a small matter of driving across state lines. (A police car would later follow me for 15 city blocks, but that doesn't seem funny even in retrospect.) Here's another interesting part: Like that High Times publisher, I was then tempted to try to deny the facts of the matter. I was at the wheel, and the Male Prostitute was sitting next to me. He was kind of brooding in a disgusted silence. I felt possessed to make a little conversation. I decided to say something to demonstrate that I was really young and hip and ready to go with the flow. That's why I couldn't come up with anything better than some prime Judd Nelson dialogue.
"Well," I said, "that part with the gun was pretty surreal."
The Male Prostitute turned to look at me?and rightly so?as if I was the stupidest drug runner in two states.
"No," he replied, "that was pretty fucking real." Yet I know plenty of people who would argue with him.