Q: How do you know that someone in New York is involved in the drug trade?
A: Unless that someone is knocking on your apartment door to deliver an eighth of an ounce of weed — or mixing you an Old Fashioned — you do not.
And just about everyone handles illicit substances, according to journalist Peter Madsen, whose new book “Dealers” is a collection of anonymous interviews with illicit substance handlers of New York that show how far getting high cuts across social strata.
“Drug culture infiltrates all walks of life — all cultures, all races,” Madsen said.
His 16 interviews, with subjects as divergent as a pot-pastry-selling lawyer, a former Pratt student who ran a dorm-room drug den, and a doorman who sometimes hooks up tenants with dealers, certainly back up the thesis. But the book is no pearl-clutching expose and it looks past the cartoon tropes of action movies and radio rap in favor of a mostly-sober discussion of how contraband changes hands. Explored are the logistics of delivering prime pot on a bike while tattooed (it is probably a bad idea), the etiquette of robbing hustlers (it is considered bad form to take a dope-seller’s money and jewelry, unless he or she puts up a fight), and the customer service aspect of being a homeless junkie (it turns out panhandling is like being a breathing billboard for your heroin supplier).
The book, compiled over the course of a year and a half, is full of casual revelations and serious contradictions. Take the 19-year-old attending college to be a teacher who knows the risks of selling pills but does it anyway to feed his designer clothing habit. Or the career cop and former narc who thinks that marijuana should be legal.
Do not get Madsen started on the latter subject.
“The court should not be chock full of people on these low-level drug busts,” he said, arguing that marijuana should be legal and pointing to a recent Gallup Poll that shows 58 percent of America agrees with him.
The Williamsburg resident is a casual smoker of the wacky tabacky and say that identifying as such is as important to the cause of legalization as being an out gay person is to gay rights.
But you will find no invective in “Dealers.” Apart from a short introduction, the book is a series of straight Q & As with just a subject’s name (usually a pseudonym), age, and neighborhood setting up each selection. Madsen honed his interviewing game as a freelancer for the skateboarder bible Thrasher Magazine and, after losing a job in Vice Magazine’s marketing department, through a series of man-on-the-street interviews with beggars that he spun off into a website called Word on the Street New York. The layoff forced him to move to the easternmost part of Bushwick and take a job as a bicycle courier, a pavement-beating gig which, with the prodding of publisher Powerhouse Books, got the wheels of the book project spinning.
“Just by being a normal bike messenger I was given respect and an amount of trust by these guys who sell weed,” he explained. “And I smoked weed, so when Powerhouse asked me to do the book, I already had a few transactions under my belt.”Madsen will celebrate the book’s release on Nov. 15 by submitting to an on-stage interview with Apology Magazine editor Jesse Pearson at Powerhouse Arena. Clinton Hill rapper Heems of the defunct group Das Racist will also perform.
“Dealers” book release at Powerhouse Arena [37 Main St., between Water and Front streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049, www.powerhousearena.com]. Fri, Nov. 15 6–8 pm, free, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.