How ’Bout a Little Paranoia?

Illustration by
Jordin Isip
I never dealt with The Man when I scored drugs. Never even wanted to meet The Man. Hooking up with the right friends got me by. Then one of the friends I’d relied on for coke suggested I just go to the Valley and get the stuff myself. I was horrified. You mean, go to the actual source? Yeah, my friend said real casually; I’ll introduce you to him.

To me, the Valley’s seamy suburban underworld was a haven of drugs and porn. Boogie Nights had just come out, and I had an image in my mind of being greeted by a man wearing nothing but Speedos and a bathrobe, Journey blasting from the stereo. I was terrified.

The Valley apartment was classic. Huge TV screen; modern, expensive, tasteless furniture, all mauve-and-puce; corny knickknacks. The Man wasn’t wearing Speedos; he was wearing polyester slacks and a polo shirt. He was middle-aged, spoke with a thick accent and looked like he could be a golf partner of my dad’s. He was charming, even a flirt. He insisted on fixing us a drink as he told stories and showed pictures of his kids. It was just too civil. All I wanted to do was make the deal and get the hell outta there.

The second time, I went alone. It was a Sunday morning — freeway clear, not much smog, smooth sailing. The Man answered the door. He was just as friendly as last time, even more so. A porn movie was playing on his big TV screen — a man eating a woman out — and I commented that I didn’t want to interrupt Sunday Mass. He quickly turned off the TV and offered me a drink again. Hell, I needed a drink to calm my nerves. I noticed that, like last time, The Man made his transactions in front of a picture window facing a rather busy boulevard. His laissez-faire attitude freaked me out. Why didn’t The Man close the fucking blinds, for Chrissakes?

His phone manners were just as blatant. He would actually ask me what I wanted on the phone! I skirted around the issue, thinking I should be cool, and then he would just blurt out, “An eight ball again?” Uh, yeah, I admitted, how silly of me.

On my last visit, we were interrupted by a knock on the door. I was positive it was the DEA. I froze. My heart was thumping madly. Apparently it was some other customers. They were introduced to me like we were at a cocktail party. He left us alone while he attended to business, expecting us to get acquainted. I was appalled. Like we were supposed to have something in common. Hi, do you like cocaine? Can I leave now?

The Man directed me to follow him to his office in the back room (what? No Let’s Make a Deal in front of the window?). My eyes darted to the rack full of guns on the wall. My heart was pounding louder. He noticed my reaction. He told me how if anyone fucked with him, he was prepared. I nodded politely as I took a huge swig of my drink. The phone rang. I jumped. He made a deal on the phone right in front of me, as candidly as he’d done with me. What’s wrong with this guy? Shouldn’t he be paranoid like me? Something is terribly odd about all this.

I made it out alive and uncuffed. And as I flew out of there, I swore, please God, get me outta here before I go down with The Man. Driving very carefully on the 101, with my heart beating recklessly, I suddenly longed for the days of copping shitty drugs on the streets back in college. What the fuck was I doing here in the Valley dealing with The Man? Please God, if you let me get away alive this time, and leave the eight ball right where it is (I say under my breath), I’ll never do this again. I promise I’ll just stick to booze from now on, God.

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