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Selling Heroin on Craigslist

Hi! Joe and I wrote the story that’s on the cover of the Village Voice today and you can read it online here, but I really recommend picking it up from one of the red Village Voice boxes on a street corner because the paper is free and reading a newspaper is a pleasure. The story is about selling drugs on Craigslist, mostly heroin, and mostly through the eyes of “Kai”, a very sweet, well-educated, clever and enterprising heroin dealer/addict. This is his ad, but it will probably be taken down because the story came out and he said he is going to lay low for a long time and focus on other hustles, including credit card scams. He told us that those are very popular among heroin addicts, but he hasn’t tried one yet:

I learned that, on Craigslist, LE stands for law enforcement. I also learned that this is what a sharps disposal container and a bag of needles, small cotton balls, purified water, bottle caps called “cookers”, a huge rubber band, alcohol swabs, and Band-Aids courtesy of one of New York City’s public needle exchanges looks like:

On a bench in Morningside Park, about an hour and a half after I’d met “Kai” and he had said some emotional and vulnerable stuff about himself, amongst some jokes and a pretty matter-of-fact assessment of his life, I took the above picture to bring back to our editors to prove that I was actually talking to a real heroin addict and not just someone who was pulling my leg. He wouldn’t let me take a picture of his track marks but he showed them to me. And then I was out of questions for the story so I asked him what motivated him to tell me so much about the really illegal thing he does.

Kai said his life is very bleak and lonely, and he intimated that he didn’t really have anyone else to talk to about it, and it reminded me of a quote used in a great Vanity Fair piece about going around the world looking for opium: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” I’m sorry to use a corny quote, but I think that just means that being honest about yourself, with yourself and other people, will make you more okay with who you are, and consequently you’ll feel better, and “Kai” didn’t really have people to do that with besides Joe and I.

And then Kai explained to me he used heroin intravenously, which my parents didn’t appreciate. I went home for dinner one night and my Dad said, “Don’t become involved with the underworld,” and my Mom said, “You’re not going to be spending any time with this guy after this article comes out, right?”

But so anyway, to prepare heroin, as “Kai” explained, what you do is dump bags of powder heroin (each bag costs ten dollars, ten bags is a “bundle”, a bundle fits in a needle, and “Kai” does two needles per day with five bags in each) into the “cooker” (the bottle cap) and pour some of the purified water into the cooker. Heroin is water-soluble so it dissolves in the water. Then you soak the cotton ball in the heroin water and draw the heroin through the cotton ball, which acts as a filter, and into the needle. Then you tie your arm, find a vein, and inject it.

If you accidentally inject some of the cotton into your vein, you get “cotton fever,” which is a powerful fever that lasts about an hour. I didn’t know what the process was before he told me.

Kai told Joe and I a lot about being a heroin addict in New York, including some of the best places to shoot heroin in the city, like Starbucks bathrooms, which I guess was obvious. He laughed a lot when he told us a story about shooting up in the bathroom at the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle. He said, “So I’m in there, doing my thing, and I hear, in the next stall, the distinct sound of heroin bags being ripped open; I know the sound — you’ve got to snap the tape off, then rip it.

“And I hear this distinct sound and I was like, ‘That’s heroin! He’s gotta be doing heroin.’ And I look down, and lo and behold, it’s my friend! I noticed his shoes. I’m like, ‘Is that you? What are you doing here?!” And he’s like, ‘Dude, I just scored!’”

"Kai" told us that sometimes he prepares his syringe in advance, before leaving the stash house where he buys the heroin. He said, “I can have it all prepped, go into the bathroom and be done in 30 seconds flat. I go in, I tie off, I hit it, come out.” He says there’s nothing worse then when someone is knocking on the bathroom door because you’ve been in there for too long. “If i’m in [a public bathroom] and there’s a line, I can’t do that. People start knocking! "Hey! What are you doing in there!’ I can’t work under pressure like that!”

This is what Kai’s cigarettes looked like. When i asked him about them, he said they are a blend of Parliament Light Menthols that is currently being focus group tested and the way he got them is, “When you deal heroin, you get connections like this. I have cartons and cartons in my apartment…”

One night when Joe and I were reporting the story, I invited Kai to come to the Tumblr Reads reading I was doing because I thought he would get a kick out of it because he said that he hadn’t been to a social event in months or maybe years because the pursuit of heroin is all-consuming. I also thought that if he saw me read a story at a reading, it would further reassure him I wasn’t an undercover cop.

He looked a little nervous when I met him outside the reading and we rehearsed what we would say if anyone asked either of us who he was. His name would be Jeff and he would know me through reading this blog and emailing me. I gave him a mix CD with a lot of Mountain Goats songs on it, including Damn These Vampires which is the lead track on the new record and I think it’s about heroin addiction.

Then we went into the reading and we talked to people for a while. He sat down with Elizabeth while I got a drink and she showed him pictures of her kitten, including this one where it looks like she’s nesting these Cadbury eggs:

After the reading, Joe and I took “Kai” to Five Guys and he shot up in the bathroom for ten minutes and came back to the table and ate peanuts and a cheeseburger and giggled a lot and struggled to keep his eyes open. I think he had fun, and we did too. He told us about what the rave scene in New York in the ’90s was like, and also about some exotic drugs. He half-joked, “Ecstasy and Special K — that’s like peanut butter and jelly to me, man: great!”

We split up after dinner and I wished him a nonspecific “Good luck!” Then I walked downtown to go meet Elizabeth and listened to the Hold Steady song where Craig Finn sings about The Mountain Goats, and I tried to beam “Kai” positive vibes. Anyway, enjoy the story.

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