Tom Knapp is Managing Editor of Free-Market.Net and publisher of Rational Review.
I confess: I've taken a second job as a pusher.
It's not nearly as lucrative as I'd expected, but it's a good source of extra income. Sometimes I feel bad -- who wouldn't? -- about helping to perpetuate the ills of subtance abuse, but I've got bills to pay.
Each morning, I load my vehicle up with the stuff and head out to various neighborhoods to spread the blight of addiction. My supplier has educated me well: I know that if I don't hit each neighborhood on a regular basis, my customers will go elsewhere or perhaps even kick their habit.
Dealing is a cash business, so I'm usually a little nervous. I don't carry a gun, though -- here in the People's Republic of St. Louis County, I'm likely to spend more time in jail if I'm caught with a gun than if I'm caught with a load of contraband. I have little hiding places for the wads of cash that build up over the course of the day. If a mugger targets me, he'll probably get less than $100. in cash (and whatever he wants from my stash of goodies, naturally).
My customers have learned to expect me. It's kind of sickening: they have their kids watch for me. When I come through a neighborhood, two or even three generations of the same family will erupt from their home, obviously alerted to my presence by the youngest -- often of pre-school age -- and hell-bent on getting their fix.
I'll be haunted for the rest of my days by the images of kids as young as two or three chasing after me, desperate and pleading,, oblivious to the fact that they are enslaving themselves to an expensive lifestyle, stigmatizing themselves and even courting death by cardiac arrest. If I didn't need the money so badly (partially to keep myself supplied), I wouldn't do it.
The police in my area are obviously on the take -- or at the very least, corrupted by the very same habit as my customers. One business associate of mine was pulled over awhile back; the officer didn't cuff him or even hassle him. He just wanted my friend to visit a house on the next block: "We're looking at some real trouble if they don't get their fix over there. I could have a riot on my hands."
And, of course, I perpetuate poverty. Most of my customers aren't well off. The neighborhoods I service are the low-income ones. The rich have their own habits and they aren't going to get their stuff from a street-level pusher like me in any case. I know that if I go into a poor neighborhood the day after welfare checks arrive, I'll clean them out. I'll drive away with hundreds of dollars hidden in my tool chest or secreted in a hidden pocket in my shirt. If I enter one of the gated communities where the upper and upper-middle class live, I'm likely to find that the only interest I attract is that of the police.
I suspect that some of my older customers eat cat food just so that they can stretch their Social Security check to feed their habit. I feel rotten about that, but what's a man to do?
At the end of the day, I total up my ill-gotten gains, pay off my supplier and go home to sulk. I tell myself that if I wasn't selling, someone else would be. That the scourge will not be ended by the refusal of one individual to participate. That people have a self-destructive streak, an innate urge to .ravage their bodies for a few moments of pleasure.
Sometimes, I can even make myself believe it.
Other times, I can't.
I have bad dreams.
I toss and turn.
I wake up in a sweat, waiting for the knock on the door.
I've gotta get straight. I've got to reform myself, kick this habit and become part of the solution instead of the problem. The guilt is simply too much to bear. The uncertainty is a source of constant tension.
I wrack my brain, trying desperately to remember if I plugged in the cooler when I parked the ice cream truck for the night.
If I didn't, I'll have to answer to my supplier -- and my customers. Nobody wants a melted bomb pop or a mass of cherry-flavored goo that used to be shaped like a Power Puff Girl.