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April 11, 2006 11:15 AM   Subscribe

New York coke dealers like finance types like finance types like New York coke dealers. Not the best written piece of journalism, and at times sharing in the narcissitic delusions of the dealer, but a good look into "the game" -- even if they couldn't find a more cliche dealer (and a good way to throw in slight jabs at rap music, Washington Heights and GTA).
posted by geoff. (30 comments total)

 
When you impose a risk, you create a market. It'll be catered to by the greedy, or the needy, and the reckless.
posted by Drexen at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2006


All this, and he is not yet 25. “I’m going to be financially set,” says Lenny. “I can skip a step. I’m able to pay for my apartment without having to work a crap job or having to ask Mommy and Daddy to send me rent checks every month—that, to me, is just as bad.”

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that collecting Turkish union dues is good business - until someone dimes you out. Who wants to bet by the time he is not yet 30, the state prison system will be paying for his apartment and providing him a crap job.
posted by three blind mice at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2006


I read this yesterday in the magazine. There were a lot of kids like this at my high school (prep school thugs) in the early 90's in NYC, but most of them went on to became lawyers or traders as I found out at the 10-year reunion! It's interesting to see someone who actually followed through and carried their adopted lifestyle this far.

I hope he gets out, but it doesn't seem like he wants to do anything else, nor has any idea what he wants to be doing. For him, the accumulation of money seems to be an end, and not the means to do anything else...
posted by lovejones at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2006


Well that's just the thing. He's not particularly attracted to the coke dealing itself, and in fact, doesn't like certain aspects of it.

What he does like is the feeling of being "the man", the guy everyone goes to. This is why he could probably leverage his position into anything else when he decides to go, he just has to figure out what it is.

If I were him I would try and figure that out first, then start sliding into it. For instance, if he decides the real estate market is the place to be, he starts buying property slowly and dealing at the same time.
posted by WetherMan at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2006


Toronto Life did the same sort of story a little while ago.

NOW Magazine comments:

Cover makes us grind our teeth
News flash from lipo magalogue Toronto Life: nice people sell drugs. In a sensationalist cover story that might have been news 20 years ago, the glossy mag for glossy people tut-tuts that someone from "a good family" with a university degree who lives in the suburbs would sell blow. So who have they been buying their drugs from, street-corner crack dealers? In Portrait Of An Unlikely Coke Dealer, the shameless mag pretends to be aghast at the decadence, but the four fat lines on the cover will have readers slamming their noses into the shiny paper.

posted by loquax at 12:10 PM on April 11, 2006


A decent article strangely posing as innocent.
posted by OmieWise at 12:17 PM on April 11, 2006


I’d rather do hits for a living. Wetwork is at least an honest way to take lives and make money on it. There’s no illusion that ‘you’re doing nothing wrong.’ Issues about legalization aside, that coke has blood all over it. And he’s contributing to that. I grant there are legal jobs that are socially harmful, but that doesn’t justify anything. Hell, I could have wound up dealing, but life isn’t about money. And that shit winds up touching everyone anyway. The attitude more than the drugs. (e.g. he can’t concentrate on the LSATs) And that transcends ethnicity, economic class, etc.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:23 PM on April 11, 2006


Sometimes customers insist he do a line with them, at which point Lenny, who no longer uses, “accidentally” blows out through the straw so the coke flies everywhere, and then laughs it off.

Huh? doesn't that tend to annoy the customers? I don't know anything about cocaine, but that kind of reminds me of the scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen sneezes the stuff all over the place.
posted by cell divide at 12:29 PM on April 11, 2006


.
posted by russilwvong at 12:39 PM on April 11, 2006


Who wants to bet by the time he is not yet 30, the state prison system will be paying for his apartment and providing him a crap job.

I find myself wondering what happens the first time someone sticks a gun in his face, takes his money, and then tortures him until he gives up the money he has hidden.

I dunno about New York, but here in the UK, independent dealers of Class A drugs just don't last that long any more.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:44 PM on April 11, 2006


Yes "cell divide", I'm somewhat suspicious of that too. In fact the idea of a coke dealer who acts as ethically as possible (no violence, doesn't do coke) seems to me an absurdist position in the first place. I mean who'd want a dealer who had no way to determine quality, he claimed to have a method of burning off impurities and weighing the coke after various privations -- but it seems suspect.

It would have been better had they contrasted him with an American Psycho Patrick Bateman type, or at least made show the coke dealer as the archetype upper-middle class kid who grows up and centers his whole life on a Sisyphus task like accumulating wealth. I mean I know plently of people who are as ethically right as this kid purports to be and who also dick around and don't do much -- but would be considered a success based on their financial assets.

It seems he's somewhat of a last man, where we sympathize somewhat Tony Soprano for trying to provide a better life for his family, even at a cost (while I would contend that the sympathy is misplaced, it is why his character is so popular) this guy just deals cokes to rich people with apparently no interspective purpose. This seems far more heinous then cocaine, and makes him several times more worse of a character than the users (well except for the pizza guy) and even other suppliers, who it appears do so out of economic necessity.
posted by geoff. at 12:53 PM on April 11, 2006


Apparently, ride-alongs with coke dealers are the new hotness. Just 4 months earlier in the New York Press there was this.....
posted by availablelight at 1:32 PM on April 11, 2006


Remember, you rarely hear about the successful guys who got out, which is exactly the point.

Yes "cell divide", I'm somewhat suspicious of that too. In fact the idea of a coke dealer who acts as ethically as possible (no violence, doesn't do coke) seems to me an absurdist position in the first place. I mean who'd want a dealer who had no way to determine quality, he claimed to have a method of burning off impurities and weighing the coke after various privations -- but it seems suspect.

Dude, I think you've watched Scaface too many times... Dealing drugs among middle and upper class urbanites is not likely to get you shot or beat - maybe just robbed at the worst. It's a business, and like any business you better believe there are plenty of people out there who both sell the drug and abstain from consuming it, while making a ton of money in the process.

Secondly, why on earth do you think you'd need to sample the coke in-order to gauge it's value? From a technical standpoint, you can determine purity by burning a sample and recording the temperature at which it melts, or from a "no-shit" standpoint, you could just ask a friend who is so inclined...

It would have been better had they contrasted him with an American Psycho Patrick Bateman type, or at least made show the coke dealer as the archetype upper-middle class kid who grows up and centers his whole life on a Sisyphus task like accumulating wealth.

I'm not even sure what you're stabbing at there...
posted by SweetJesus at 1:35 PM on April 11, 2006


This guy reminds me a lot of my preferred purveyor of illicit substances.

My guy is a clean-cut white yuppie... if you didn't know what he did, you'd probably guess financial analyst, or some other boring white collar profession. He deals exclusively to higher income professionals who are willing to pay a premium for a reliable delivery service. He sells a variety of things, but I'd be shocked if he does anything beyond smoking hash.

Honestly, I think this is the mundane existence of the average middle-class drug dealer. The ones who've carved out a quiet niche, serving in areas that don't have territory disputes, or any other such aggressive business practices.
posted by I Love Tacos at 1:42 PM on April 11, 2006


I did like the dealer's "branding" of containers for girls and boys.

Also, at what point does one have to start worrying about money laundering? I don't think too many law schools will accept cash for tution.

(and thanks, availablelight -- I knew I had read that article before, but I couldn't remember where/when. I guess we're the last of the NY Press readers?)
posted by armacy at 1:44 PM on April 11, 2006


My understanding that money laundering isn't too tough, so long as you're willing to pay taxes on your scrubbed up profits.
posted by I Love Tacos at 1:49 PM on April 11, 2006


SweetJesus, maybe I'm skewed because I have known several friends go the coke dealing route. Unlike this kid, they didn't idolize the thug lifestyle, but I digress. Anyway they were quite emphatic that the alpha-male complex is incredibly high and every supplier had something to prove. In fact one even said he'd still be doing it it weren't for the amount of coked-up Scarface wannabes (or at least very edgy people who pull a gun for little reason then for intimidation). Of course these are just two private school kids in a totally different city, your coke dealing mileage might vary, but I bet by its very nature hustling attracts those of a certain disposition?

And I guess I was stabbing at how the article tried to present his greedy ways in a very matter-of-fact way, that the process of making money was an end unto itself.
posted by geoff. at 1:54 PM on April 11, 2006


independent dealers of Class A drugs just don't last that long any more.

I've known dealers who started out shifting acid in the '60s and are showing no sign of stopping. The only inconvenient aspect of their lives seems to be that occasionally they have to stop dealing for a while and go on a nice holiday somewhere sunny, because another dealer they're associated has been lifted. Obviously this probably doesn't apply to crack dealers in less salubrious quarters.

Issues about legalization aside, that coke has blood all over it.

Quite - I nealy laughed myself to death once when being lectured by a coke dealer on ethical consumption.

I did like the dealer's "branding" of containers for girls and boys.

Nah, that's well tacky!
posted by jack_mo at 2:22 PM on April 11, 2006


I Love Tacos writes "Honestly, I think this is the mundane existence of the average middle-class drug dealer. The ones who've carved out a quiet niche, serving in areas that don't have territory disputes, or any other such aggressive business practices."

As with the most things, less risk equates to less reward. The guy in the article is making $5k/week - so, about $250k a year. I'm not sure what it costs to launder the money, but I'll take a wild guess and say $50k total leakage to clean his money. $200k tax-free is about equal to a taxed-salary of $333k if I assume 40% in all-in taxes. $333k is about what investment bankers make their 3rd year out of business school. It sounds like this guy is working some long hours, probably about the same as the banker would work. But the drug-dealer is taking significantly more risk to his health and it sounds like his upside is limited unless he wants to take even more risk to his life, whereas the banker will be double his salary over the next 3 years (assuming the market doesn't tank). So even though this guy is about 3 - 5 years younger than the banker I'm comparing him to, he's not doing much better. Drug-dealing sounds more interesting, though.

The drug-dealing economics laid-out in Freakonomics lays out a similarly bleak financial story for drug-dealers. Though it's much worse for the street-level crack-dealers.
posted by mullacc at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2006



SweetJesus, maybe I'm skewed because I have known several friends go the coke dealing route. Unlike this kid, they didn't idolize the thug lifestyle, but I digress. Anyway they were quite emphatic that the alpha-male complex is incredibly high and every supplier had something to prove. In fact one even said he'd still be doing it it weren't for the amount of coked-up Scarface wannabes (or at least very edgy people who pull a gun for little reason then for intimidation). Of course these are just two private school kids in a totally different city, your coke dealing mileage might vary, but I bet by its very nature hustling attracts those of a certain disposition?


Hustling attracts hustlers, this is true, but I'm of the mind that kids like the one in the article don't deal for money - they deal for status. All those kids want to be either Tony Montana, or Juelz Santana. The guys who do it for money are a different breed altogether...
posted by SweetJesus at 2:26 PM on April 11, 2006


Issues about legalization aside, that coke has blood all over it. And he’s contributing to that.

Word, smedleyman, word: "Of these, narcotics is the most robust single resource for the illegal armies. The country is the main producer of cocaine and has surpassed Asia in providing American consumers with heroin. The US government estimates that Americans, the largest single group of illegal drug consumers, spend $46 billion annually on the two drugs."
posted by jrb223 at 2:31 PM on April 11, 2006


Though it's much worse for the street-level crack-dealers.

Pays about as well as working a minimum-wage job at McDonald's, according to Freakonomics. (The book asks, "Why do so many drug dealers live at home with their mothers?" Answer: they don't make enough to be able to afford their own place. The big rewards come from moving up the pyramid, but that has its own risks.)
posted by russilwvong at 2:40 PM on April 11, 2006


You can get concrete numbers from the Downing St. report, especially the slides in this entry (self-link)
posted by daksya at 2:49 PM on April 11, 2006


mullacc: well, I described him as middle-class and a drug dealer. I didn't mean that he was some sort of noble archetype, just an unskilled guy who figured out a relatively low-risk way to make a living in the drug trade.

It's true that you can make more in finance, but that guy wasn't about to get into B-School at Harvard, Stanford or Wharton.

The Freakonomics case shows the problems inherent with low-cost, low-margin, low-volume retail business. Selling crack on a street corner is a long way from selling weed for $400/ounce or coke for $300/8-ball. The latter business has a clientele that cares about quality and consistency of service, and is willing to pay a hefty vig to get it.

It's Wal-Mart versus Neiman Marcus.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:51 PM on April 11, 2006


I Love Tacos: I was trying to make the case that the guy in the article was also making a living in a relatively mundane way. The money he's making is appropriate for the amount of risk he's taking and the difficulty of the work - I compare him to the banker because the amount of income is similar, both professions involve risks and both involve hard work. Some of his childhood friends are probably heading to the finance world - this guy took a different route but ended up in a similar, though unorthodox, position.
posted by mullacc at 3:17 PM on April 11, 2006


My buddy David Amsden wrote this piece. I was talking with him about it a few weeks ago in the book-shop I work at, and he was explaining to me the whole thing about having to sell your client list to get out, and some guy in the back of the story says, very loudly, "I am a federal prosecutor." Then he walked hurriedly past us in sort of a huff of indignation saying, "And I am leaving." Which struck me as being fucking typical of our law enforcement, getting pissed off and staying ignorant, rather than attempting to learn something.
posted by Football Bat at 5:36 PM on April 11, 2006


When I think about (obviously) smart people like the dealer in question, I often think of this lady who I used to see begging for money at my subway stop back when I lived in Brooklyn.

This lady was there every morning, even on really cold, shitty days. One time, I went to work a couple hours early, and, unsurprisingly, there she was. This meant that she got up at the asscrack of dawn every day to stand out in the cold to beg for spare change. Why didn't she just get a job? Even a shitty gig at Mickey Dee's would have to be better then her current setup. I wondered about this for quite some time, until it dawned on me - she begs for a living because she can't do anything else.

Sure, this kid could have been a Wall Street investment banker. However, not just anyone can be an investment banker, which, I suspect, is the reason you can make $333K a year doing it.

I've known plenty of dealers. Some of them were quite intelligent. However, each and every one of them had some sort of deficiency that was preventing them from going any further in life.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:53 PM on April 11, 2006


Football Bat: I think I can kind of understand where the prosecutor was coming from. It's a job that requires a firm belief that the laws are all correct and fair. An attempt to understand how and why a certain class of criminals engage in their behaviour is antithetical to that.

He'll still be under orders to prosecute certain cases, and he'll do his job more effectively if he lets himself believe that these people are soulless maggots who hate America. It's a lot harder to hate a guy who quietly sells product to adults, with nothing but word of mouth advertising.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:35 PM on April 11, 2006


I Love Tacos: I disagree with you about the prosectuor being able to do his job better if he believes "these people are soulless maggots who hate America." One of the great problems with law enforcement has always been a lack of understanding between cop-types and criminals. If you look at, for example, the awful rate of homicide clearances right now in DC, the main cause is that the vast majority of the murders are gangland/drug related, and the DC department is notorious for not knowing shit about what's going on in the gang world. Knowledge and understanding leads to not a cuddly-bear type of policing and prosecuting, but rather a higher clearance rate, more drugs off the street, etc.
However, I do see your point, psychologically. People who attempt to put criminals behind bars often do insulate themselves for other points of view just so they can do their job.
posted by Football Bat at 8:33 PM on April 11, 2006


In fact the idea of a coke dealer who acts as ethically as possible (no violence, doesn't do coke) seems to me an absurdist position in the first place. I mean who'd want a dealer who had no way to determine quality, he claimed to have a method of burning off impurities and weighing the coke after various privations -- but it seems suspect.

There are so many things wrong with that - I can't even start. Oh what the hell, I'll make a couple points. First, the only people who have any sort of longevity in the business don't do it. Those who do use it probably only sell it to break even - that is, they sell enough to pay for what they bought and then snort the rest. That never lasts very long. And when it does start to not work out -- because they are using more than they sell -- what do you think they do? They cut the shit out of it to try to stretch it out. 4 parts lazative, 1 part chino != fun. So I, personally, would rather have a dealer who didn't use. You're MUCH more likely to get quality product that way.

Coke dealers tend to be a special breed because, as many have mentioned, it is a heavy prestige drug. Alot of people sell it because being the guy with the blow makes them "the man," gets them into clubs and VIP rooms for free, gets them lap dances in exchange for bumps, everyone wants them but they need nobody, etc. etc. I agree that this lifestyle attracts alot of attention, and those who sell it for those reasons also don't tend to last too long. The average lifespan of coke dealers in my high school was about a year, and in college even shorter.

But then once you get to a certain age, people smarten up, are MUCH more low-key, and career legnth expectancy shoots right back up. Most career dealers tend to make a pretty low-key existance at it. Anybody who's been doing it long enough to make a legitimate career at it, after all, has a talent for avoiding attention, so as others have noted, you'd probably never guess what they did for a living if you met them.

And anyone who thinks the kind of Scarface nonsense some people have been discussing here is the norm is out of their mind. Like just about everything else, the reality of selling drugs is alot less glamorous than the movies make it seem.
posted by ChasFile at 10:18 PM on April 11, 2006


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