We're going to fast forward a bit due to a certain anniversary taking place this weekend... an anniversary which coincides with the day i was thrust into the universe, that would be September 11... except on the day in question i was turning 31 years old and was at the height of my powers, the King of North Oakland, the one man wrecking crew slinging weed from eighths to multiple pounds and back again, the money piling up, women at my beck and call, buying rounds for the entire bar and better yet all while collecting unemployment (which i'll get to at another time)... this is the my story on that day.
And so it was that on my 31st birthday i rose at my usual leisurely hour of the morning, actually this day i was up a bit earlier because it was re-up day, Stiv had having gone to get more gear the night before he was now back and eager to unload the ganja on me so he could knock his anxiety and stress levels down a few pegs. It was the usual Tuesday, i opened the safe and double counted the money, usually anywhere from 65 to 70 grand, yes you read that right, each bundle of bills the price of a pound. Since i'd negotiated the nice price for my weight crew i'd divide the stacks up into regular price and discount price. It's called professionalism, the bills all in order, facing the same direction and nothing smaller than 20s... the small bills when i got them became my pocket change, back then i was hood rich, it seemed i never had less than a few hundred bucks on me sometimes more, spending money i called it. I'd then grab my large duffel bag, stuff the money in a different duffel bag, always with some laundry tossed in as a cover, toss that bag inside the first and be off.
I was going through my usual routine when my phone rang, it was the Waitress who told me to turn on the telly, she said a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, i was still shaking off the remnants of Monday night's business and drinking session, slight on the hangover scale, and turned on the television. I don't need to describe the scene but as i sat and watched i tried to wrap my head around what i was seeing. After the second plane hit i was like fucking hell this ain't good, this isn't an accident but i needed to get moving and so i packed up my shit, walked out the door, took my usual casual glance around to see if there were any strange cars parked on my street and loaded the bags into the trunk. I drove over to Stiv's, a 10-15 minute drive through the east end of the city. I parked in back and took in the bags. Stiv let me in and we adjourned to his living room where we both stared at the television. I emptied out the bag with the money and Stiv pulled out his two large duffel bags of weed, forty more pounds, and i began loading them into my bags, tossed the laundry on top and then went back to watching the news. Stiv and i sat and discussed what was happening understanding this was going to be one of the most fucked-up days ever in the land of milk and honey.
Now in what might have been one of the more callous exchanges of the day i asked Stiv if what we were seeing was going to fuck up our business. The simple facts were that the gravy train was rolling right along, i had my crew moving weight, three of which who would show up and take between five and seven pounds apiece and be back for more a few days later. It was like the pyramid scheme with weed. Not to mention my half dozen or more clients who took anywhere from a quarter pound to a pound and then of course my nickel-dimers or as i called them your average stoners. As we listened to reports that people were jumping to their deaths and that other planes had crashed Stiv and i were both thinking about our bottom line. How fucking American is that? Stiv then looked at me and said, "no man we'll be good, the little brown men we get our gear from are different from the guys on those planes." My response, "good." Then i picked up my bags full of grass and headed to my car, loaded them in the trunk and drove home.
I got home and flicked on the television and went about putting the gear away. My phone was already lighting up with people wanting to know if they could get weed. It seemed to be a subconscious panic and i told the nickel-dimers we'd be fine. Before 2pm i had seen every member of the Weight Crew moving close to 20lbs out the door in the first few hours i was home. If there was ever a day to sling in America it was this day. No one was concerned about the local weed kingpin other than the stoners. I reassured my Weight Crew that there would be no supply disruption and it was interesting watching the relief on their faces. Seems i wasn't the only one concerned with looking out for number one. By the time i finished business that day and headed to the bar to meet the crew for some beers i had cleared over four grand... not a bad day.
Drinking that night was a strange thing. The bar had a subdued and stunned feeling to it, we were at the House of Good Beers, a place with a plethora of imports on tap and in bottles, T-Bag was mouthing off relentlessly, loudly saying fuck this and fuck that and fucking kill 'em all. Finally an older gentleman turned from the bar, calmly walked to the table and asked if T-Bag could stop screaming F-bombs, that we were all upset and unsettled by the days events and his language and demeanor was upsetting the man's lady. Of course T-Bag told him to fuck off and i immediately told T-Bag to settle down. To the man's credit he looked at T-Bag and smiled, he said "listen son i'm a Vietnam Vet and over twice your age, fact is you should kick my ass, and then what? you beat up an old guy? or maybe i kick yours and then you just got whipped by on old guy, either way you lose." I told T-bag to relax and stood up, told the guy i'd like to buy him and his lady a drink, he said sure and we walked back to the bar and began talking.
We talked about the days events and then began talking about other things mainly to take our minds away from how fucked up the day had gone. Back at my table T-Bag had quieted down, between the Vet and the rest of the crew explaining he was being an obnoxious asshole it hit home that no one wanted to hear his ranting. As the man and i talked we somehow moved to the topics of books and writers and what not. The guy seemed stunned at the amount of authors i knew and had read and i regaled him with my book store test story where i scored higher than anyone who had ever taken it but still didn't get the job due to lack of retail experience. We laughed and i explained i didn't want to be a cliche anyway, a writer working in a bookstore, the truth was i didn't write much of anything at the time, mainly i spent my time selling weed and partying but i was still reading a ton due to all my free time. It was then that he looked at me and said, i thought you might write. Turned out he was a creative writing teacher at a local university. He then wrote down his email and phone number and told me to call him, he said he'd like to talk more but felt a bit bad not sitting and talking with his girlfriend. I told him i understood perfectly and said a few kind words to his lady.
As we said our goodbyes he mentioned he'd like to see some of my stuff and that he thought i'd make a good candidate for the creative writing program. I thanked him and told him i didn't really have an interest in going to school to learn how to write, said my biggest influences were self taught. What i should have told him was that these days i was like a young Henry Miller in that i talked about writing much more than i did it and when i did do it it was fucking awful. This time he smiled and said i get it but said i could sit in on his class any time i wanted, free of charge, he was the damn teacher and could do what he wanted. We laughed, shook hands and i told the bartender to put another in the wood for him and his lady, handed that bartender the money and turned to head back to my table. The guy and his lady thanked me again and then he leaned in and said, you know your friend's a real shithead but i really like you, you're a good guy. Likewise i said, paused for a moment and grinned, and you're right he is a real shithead. He laughed and i went back to the table.
What difference does a year make? The previous year i was planning to take Veronica to London around this time, leaving a little over a week later, my gift to me for making it to 30. Back then I had a safe with some money accumulating and now a year later that safe was filled and i was working on the next one. The business was booming, i was gainfully unemployed in the eyes of the squares and i was living the life of the hood famous, wine and women and song. The world was a fucked up place filled with tribal strife and in the end, if you look at it objectively none of the parties were innocent. This country just did a better job of hiding our atrocities from it's population, anyone who didn't expect some sort of reaction was a fool. But none of that mattered to the King of North Oakland. As long as the supply line stayed intact and the weed flowed out and the money flowed in everything was okay. Oh beautiful for spacious skies.
Epilogue - The next night the Ginga Yinza Ninja and i went to see Built to Spill at a club in the Strip District. It was a weird night to see a show, no one knew how to act or what to do and it felt a bit strange having a good time in light of all the events. I'm sure the band would have liked to call it off but seeing as this is how they made their living and the tour was booked the show must go on. It was an excellent yet subdued show right up until they played one song as their encore... a song that is the butt of many jokes but on this night seemed to somehow fit the occasion perfectly... a 10 minute version with the guitars raging at the end... it blew the roof off the fucking place... for the first time all night the crowd went absolutely ballistic, it was cathartic, it was brilliant... and for a moment, those of us who were there, smiled and had a laugh. (This is the same tour 13 days later, not sure when they started playing this live but from what i could figure out 9/12/01 may have been the first time.)