Monday, April 18, 2016

Padding the Pushke

I’m out. I’m new to The City, I don’t have a hookup. I’m planning my day and mention it to S. She says the cat she’s staying with can get me some. I’m already wary. She’s mentioned mold in her room and various characters that sound somewhat sundry, no details. I roll up. I look for the most ghetto house on the most ghetto block in the Heights. When it’s super integrated you know it’s bad. One house Caribbean, one house Hasidic. Tiny little houses and brownstones split up all sorts of ways. Tight grid - these streets, these blocks.

Though I know of S’s past I don’t expect Hasidic until I hit the actual house, which is most visibly the most ghetto in that it’s just a bunch of trash bags taped together that make up most of the front wall. S sits on the steps smoking one of her trademark rollies. She’s there with some Hasidic guy, a cell phone to each ear. I don’t yet know much about Hasidism, but I suspect the trappings do not include a bandolier made of padlocks, which this wears. Everything else seems legit. I’m about to buy drugs from a Hasidic drug dealer.

S greets me, whispers “don’t touch him” and introduces me to A. All I see is beard and payot. A doesn’t look in my eyes and says something in Hebrew. I smile. I realize I am only being welcomed into this experience because I am Jewish. “Come, come” A says, while pulling out a pager and checking it, dialing a phone, and speaking into it in Yiddish. His other phone is ringing.

Inside, I see S’s room from the front hallway, with trash bags making up one of the outside walls. Waist deep in clothing, both dirty and clean, art supplies, art, pizza and takeout boxes, and various found objects - It reminds me of a teenager’s punk rock room from my hometown, usually the result of absent parents allowing a level of neglect only immaturity could conjure. 

S later tells me that A is trying to get her to move into the Mitzvah Tank - a 25' bus with Rabbi Schneerson's face wrapped across both sides, conspicuously hooked up to the house by cabling. I think it's a healthier choice but she doesn't want to be sleeping in a vehicle on the street. When I ask where A got a Mitzvah Tank, an official vehicle designed to take Chabadim out into the community to do good deeds and convert people, she shrugs and tells me someone paid off a drug debt with it.

There are half a dozen men in the living room. Some wear the dress, some don’t. Some speak Yiddish, some don’t. Later I will learn the lines in Chabad aren’t so thickly drawn. Later I will learn the punchline: that A is a convert (yet earnest - as his piety means his survival). Later I will learn that one of the things that sets this sect aside is proselytism, and the results of that on the streets of the The City can be shielding from the law in exchange for profit criminals or the mentally ill. Or both.

A and S lead me through the house into the kitchen. His phones are both ringing. I see piles of computers on the dining room table, A has a repair business as a side, or a front, or a hobby. There are safes and padlocks on these as well as on every door. By the kitchen door there is a mini-fridge with a glass door full of soda, and a rack full of chips and junk food. Scotch taped to the wall near this is a yellowing half-sheet of paper, a homemade sign typed on a typewriter: a price list for the snacks. I chuckle at this.

In the kitchen, faded wallpaper and an expensive scale on the table, A turns again and greets me in Hebrew, he asks what I want, and then - beaming at his donation-based drug-dealing - he asks how much I want to pay for it. I name my price, and it is fair. At this point I want not to be in this house or around anything this depressing ever again and would pay just to be away from this and am hoping I don’t get padlocked into anything. A smiles and nods and uses some keys on his bandolier to open a padlock on a door near the kitchen and goes into a back room. I hear him rustling around as well as answering the phone, in Yiddish while listening to his voicemails on his other phone, mostly in Yiddish but some in English. Each time he hits save, next, or delete within seconds, producing loud, unsettling beeps that he just talks over as though there is no one there to hear the content.

I take out my money and turn to S. I hand her $20 and tell her to never tell anyone I was here. She says “Oh, I’ll take your money,” slowly taking it from my hand, “but…” she points up at the corners of the room. It’s then that I see the security cameras, mounted everywhere. Every angle of every room is covered. I mumble “Fuck” under my breath as A comes back into the room.

A short discussion about containers ensues wherein he makes me pay an extra fee for the containers in which he sells it to me. Again I’m just ready to bolt now so I pay it without haggling. He weighs it out, deftly. The stuff looks horrible. I ask if he ever gets any shatter. “This is Shatter”. I laugh, somewhat uncontrollably. S looks horrified, eyes wide. A looks at me calmly, and tilts his head. I say by way of explanation or apology “I’m from California.” I see him get excited “What do you know Shatter to be? Can you get a larger amount by me, I can get you a discount if you can organize bulk transfers?”

As he rattles on, I pay him, though he won’t take the money from my hand and motions with his eyes to the table. I place the money on the table. I look at S with a pleading look. She catches it and earns her $20 by bustling me out quickly. I make vague promises to A to hook him up with some people while also denying that I know any people. His phone ringing saves me from conversation. It’s clear he’s bipolar if not a paranoid schizophrenic if not using stimulants. If not all of the above. It’s also clear he’s wanted, on the run, and does serious business.

I make it outside, relieved my car is not too far, and still there. I breathe deeply and am into my car, squeezing out of my spot without denting the Mitvah Tank, and gone, S waving from the stoop sadly. I feel sorry for her but mostly I just want to get home and take a hit.

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