Chapter Two: No Guns, But Keep Shooters
August, 1999. I’m seventeen years old. I’m in a shitty little East Coast town called Mountainside, New Jersey, driving my father’s gold Infiniti, with my father’s license plates, about to do an armed robbery. There are three other guys in the car, all with stockings on their laps, ready to go.
I’m freaking out. I don’t want to do this. I’m already in the business and making good money by then, but some of my old friends from the hood aren’t doing so well.
And they know I have a gun. It’s a seven shot Taurus .357 magnum revolver with a 4” barrel and hollow tips. It’s a massive, fierce-looking gun. Way too much power for a high school kid to have. I shouldn’t have it, but I do, and they know it.
That’s because I messed around and showed it off. And one day, during summer school, these guys were like, "Man, we're hurting. We really need some help. Come on man, if you can't set us up, at least take us on a lick.”
And I’m like, “What’s a lick?”
See, I was living in the suburbs by then, and only came home to the West Ward periodically. I didn’t even know about shit like this.
“A robbery,” says my crazy Jamaican friend Romeo. We call him Ro for short. “Let’s do a robbery.”
He presses me and I make a bad decision. I figure I’d rather have these old friends thinking I’m with them than to start thinking I’m holding out. They might start to get curious about where I keep my own money. I don’t want them robbing me, so I decide to go with them on this job.
So we go, from the Ivy Hill projects out toward Short Hills. There are four of us. I’m behind the wheel. Romeo is in the back with the big silver gun, tapping it on his thigh. Ro is crazy, a thug’s thug. There’s no tapping out in a fight with him, no telling him to chill. It ends when he says it ends. Think Kimbo Slice in high school. Everyone’s afraid of him.
Matter of fact, he’s on the run right now. He jumped out of a building in a juvenile detention facility, gotten ghost and run off. He just doesn’t give a fuck.
Sitting next to him is a rail-thin light-skinned kid named Terrence who lives in Ro’s building and into all kinds of shit with him. They’re doing elevator robberies together, that kind of thing. Lastly, there’s a huge guy named Curtis Ramsey, a two-sport star back in Ivy Hill. He’s more my friend than theirs and looks nervous as hell sitting up front with me.
We wait until sundown before setting off on a random trip around the New Jersey suburbs. We have no plan at all. We’re driving around with masks in our laps, saying things like, “Where should we go?” “How about here?” “What’s a town with a lot of money?”
Finally Ro shouts from the back seat: “Yo, Huey, how about we try your neighborhood?”
I don’t like that very much, but we do it. The problem is, Short Hills gets pretty slow after dark. We roll through some residential neighborhoods and there are literally no people on the sidewalks, no one in driveways.
“Ro, man, there’s no one here. I live near a golf course, you understand? It’s dark out.”
“Let’s go up another block,” Ro says.
“I’m telling you, there’s no one here.”
“Take a left.”
We keep driving. It’s getting late. Finally, to my relief, Ro gives up on Short Hills. We drive around for a while and end up in what I think is a crappy little suburb called Mountainside. There are a few people out and about, on account of there’s a big movie theater there maybe.
I keep thinking: I don’t like this. This isn’t my game. In the rearview mirror I can see Ro looking anxious as we turn into a residential area. Over and over, we’d see someone and he’d tell me to stop. “How about him?” “How about her?” “Yo, Huey, stop the car!”
They want to hit up a woman they see in a driveway, but I’m thinking about those plates.
“Let’s go up the street a little,” I say.
“Man, stop the fucking car.”
“Just a little further.”
Finally I park up the street. Ro puts the stocking on his face, leaps out with the gun, and runs up on this woman. She has to be about thirty-five. She’s getting out of her car, bags in hand, probably had just been to the mall. Pink fleece, lycra pants, highlighted hair, the full-on suburban mom uniform. I can’t tell, but I think I see a car seat with a kid in it, too, which makes my heart sink.
Ro’s a strapping guy, well over six feet, with a stocking-mask on. He runs up on her and puts the gun right to her head.
“Give it up!” he shouts.
The next part of the story is the part I can’t believe. The white woman sees the gun but doesn’t scream. She just looks back at him and shouts – I mean shouts:
“No FUCKING way!”
Holy shit, I think. Who is this, the Pink Power Ranger?
Ro, a little surprised, pulls the gun away and cocks that thing back, puts it back at her head. “You hear what the fuck I said? Try me if you want.”
The minute I see that, my heart starts racing 200 beats a minute. I’m terrified. I’ve fired that gun a few times, so I know how sensitive it is and how powerful. I also know what hollow tips are designed to do. And that thing has a hair trigger. I’m talking, a strong gust of wind will make it go off.
Worse, Ro has the least sense among us, and the least to lose. He probably already has bodies on him. My mind is flying in different directions.
“Give me the fucking money!” he shouts again.
Mom hesitates again. She’s staring back at him with eyes like saucers. What’s she thinking? What she’ll tell her friends at the PTA? I can’t imagine.
“Bitch,” Ro says slowly now, “I’m giving you one last chance…”
She stays frozen. I close my eyes.
I never actually see her give the money up, but she apparently does. I can hear the others in the car whistling with relief. By the time I open my eyes, Ro’s hustling back to the car, money in hand.
He dives in back.
“Go, go, go, get the fuck out!” he shouts.
“Gimme the gun!” I shout, tearing out.
“What?” he shouts.
“Give me the fucking gun!”
“It’s still cocked.”
“Then be careful!”
The lady has clearly called the cops quick because as we turn onto route 22, I can already see the cruisers zooming down the other side of the divided highway, right toward us.
I see them coming, then look up in the rearview mirror and over at Curtis and realize the other guys still have their masks on! We’re driving away from an armed robbery in masks in the middle of a white New Jersey suburb, four heads deep. What fools, I think.
I lose it. I start shouting: “Dog, take that shit off, throw it out!”
But everyone’s screaming and shouting at each other and not listening. The cop cars come and, amazingly, drive right past the only car on the road, which happens to contain a Black driver and three guys in masks.
“Yo!” I scream. “Take your fucking masks off! Y’all look like an indictment on four wheels!”
Finally the others rip off their masks and start throwing them out the car windows. I’m driving the speed limit. Rule: Never trade minutes for years. You think you want to hurry sometimes, but hurrying is what will get you caught, so lose that minute if you have to.
By then I’ve pulled off on a side street and I’m driving past a golf course. Both lanes of the road are empty, and I’m looking for a place to toss the gun.
Up ahead, I see there’s a bridge with a little river that leads to a water hazard. Perfect. I extend my arm out of the driver’s side window, gun in hand, wondering if I can throw it far enough to get into the water, or if the thing will just go off on its own.
The hammer’s still cocked and I remember thinking about the breeze from the drive, if it will make the weapon fire.
But for some reason I can’t let go of the gun. I’m just driving, holding it out the window.
I’m thinking of my father now. It’s not just my father’s car. It’s his gun, too, registered in his name. I took it from him.
I have to throw it away, but I can’t.
My father was and is a working man. Had his own Century 21 storefront and everything. He had a tough upbringing, coming up out of East St. Louis. When he was six, his own father got his brains blown out, being a street guy. So my old man grew up tough, proud, and strict, determined to show everyone that he could make it straight.
My mom is a straight arrow, too. She worked in a bank. Actually that’s how she and my father met. They were both working in a bank once upon a time, when the place got robbed. My mother was taken as a hostage. When the siege ended, my father nursed my mother back to health.
But my father had a little wanderlust in him. He moved from banks to computers to real estate. My mother stayed behind banking windows her whole life, counting other peoples’ money.
We were Black middle class, like out of a sitcom. Only the story was a little off in our case. We started living in Missouri, then moved to Newark, where we lived in Ivy Hill at first. It’s a bit of a rough place, with a bad reputation anyway, but I was comfortable in that environment.
But then my parents split and my father remarried, moving to Short Hills, a mostly white town full of rich kids with Wall Street parents. My father, I shit you not, started wearing cardigan sweaters when we moved to the little brick house with the driveway and the faux-colonial lamp-post.
The route back and forth between my father’s house and my mother’s was six miles and change, but it was two completely different worlds.
In Short Hills, my peers were rich kids, mostly but not all white. Their parents just gave them cars. I had three friends I hung out with in particular and it was crazy what they had. My best friend Mike got an Expedition for his first car. Chuck got a Lexus ES300 for his sixteenth birthday.
Then there was Courtney. She was a rich Black girl who lived in Short Hills. Her mother was on the board of a big bank in the city and she wanted everybody to know it. She was a little nerdy in high school, a teacher’s pet type, but man, was she beautiful, too.
She looked a little like Gabrielle Union, even had a little of that Deliver Us From Eva attitude. She was always correcting people in class and shit, which made me laugh.
In our first years in high school, when she thought I was just the son of a real estate agent, we were just friends. Then we became best friends. Later on, it turned into more than that. But that’s a for-later story.
At first, she was just one of many friends I had in Short Hills who had parents that gave her shit. When Courtney turned sixteen, she got a Cherry Red BMW M3.
I didn't get a car for my birthday.
But everybody else thought I was rich, too, even though in reality my father didn’t give me a damn thing, not even real spending money. Thought it was good for my character. We lived in a big house, but aside from that, I had nothing. I had to hustle just to keep up with these kids who had things.
It started with cards. Even in a rich town, we had public school teachers that didn't give a fuck. I would sit in the middle of Spanish class and keep all the degenerate kids in the back tied up playing Blackjack while Mrs. Owens “taught” Spanish. No hiding it, right in the middle of class.
Every day it went down like that.
Rule: Align incentives with potential antagonists. For Mrs. Owens, I misbehaved, but also served as an effective solution for her disruptive students.
Always try to learn larger lessons from the dynamics of any situation. Back off and think about it. I started doing that when I was very young.
I was hustling. What I would do is I would take the red cards and the blue cards – you know, those standard card decks with the red backs and the blue backs with the angels – and if it was a face card, I'd color in the face red. Or if it was an ace, I'd color in one leg red. These grunged-out white kids I went to school with, they had no clue. So I had a ridiculous advantage.
Which is another rule: Minimize your risk. This is America, after all. Any edge is a legitimate one.
I wasn’t even in ninth grade, and I was making money. I remember I bought my first piece of jewelry with the card proceeds, a necklace with a gold weed leaf.
I did this for a while. But the big move came for me when I was listening to music. I was a big Eminem fan. I was listening to that song, Mushrooms. You know, the one that goes:
I never meant to give you mushrooms girl
I never meant to bring you to my world
Now you sitting in the corner crying
And now its my fault (My fault)
And I got curious about mushrooms. So I started researching on the Internet, and researching, researching, researching, and I stumbled across a site that was selling the stuff.
They were out of Europe, an outfit called Ost-Pilz.com. Pilz is German for “mushroom,” but the site was Swiss. It was run by a guy named Ron Hartt, whose wife was a Monetenegran model. She was about six-three, while he was a little guy. It would be years before I met them. Later I found out he was the pastor of some kind of psychedelic church.
It was amazing what you could do by mail back then. I wired him a hundred bucks (thank you Western Union!) and he sent me back an ounce of dried cubensis mushrooms.
And here’s the crazy thing. My friends back home in Ivy Hill, they all just smoked weed. But the friends I had in Short Hills, these rich white kids, they were doing fucking drugs, man. Like everything. We’re talking kids that had been in and out of rehab before they hit the tenth grade.
They all had that dirty-ass stringy hair and the Black combat boots and if you held out anything in your hand that they thought might get them fucked up, they’d pay you for it and eat it on the spot.
One night, we were at this place called Kenny’s Wings and Beer, a place that’s still there. At the time, that was the only place to eat in this little subdivision. All the degenerate kids would go behind the building to hang out under the balcony, smoke weed, and do drugs.
We went back there and ate some of my mushrooms.
I didn't know what to expect, but it was a lot different from what I imagined. The mile and a half walking home was like wading through water. It was raining, and the longest walk of my life. I don’t even know how I got home.
But I do remember that the next morning, a kid who’d been with us the night before named Steve Tomlinson called me up. Really smart kid, an incredible mind for math and computers. He ended up graduating before everyone else, which was an achievement because he was in and out of rehab the whole time we were in school.
He said to me that morning: “How much for an eighth of those caps? They were fucking gnarly, bro.”
I’d never thought about selling drugs before. I didn’t even know what to charge. I did a few calculations, but I was still in the dark. So I ended up asking Steve how much to charge.
That would be the last time I would ask a customer anything.
“Ten bucks a gram,” he said.
An ounce was about 29 grams total, so the price worked out to about $35 an eighth. I sold my first two ounces that day.
The profit margin was enough. Buying at a $100 an ounce and selling at $35 an eighth was a profit of $180 per ounce. I would later make it a rule: In every deal, at least double your money.
I shoot for the hugest possible profit margins. A drug dealer who isn’t greedy is in the wrong fucking business. Again – this is America. No ceilings on profit in this game.
But floors? Hell yes. At least double your money, or don’t bother. Keeps you from wasting time on nonsense.
After that first transaction, I sat down, took out a sheet of paper, and wrote out what my expenses and liabilities might be if I actually started up an ongoing operation selling these mushrooms.
I looked at the calculations and saw the math worked. Then I realized what I was looking at, and burned the paper in an ashtray. It became a rule: Never write down anything you wouldn't want printed on the cover of the New York Times .
Around me at that time, the world was changing in a revolutionary way. Everyone was online. Kids were getting cell phones, taking pictures of everything, going on Facebook, chatting, telling the world – forever – what they did, where, and when.
But even back then, I kept a light online presence. I don’t really take pictures. A big rule: Keep your face off the Internet.
Additionally: No Facebook. Stay the fuck away from Facebook. Even if you’re not dealing drugs.
In high school, I was intensely interested in making money. At first, it was just a way of keeping up with all of my friends in Short Hills. They were going out to Ruth’s Chris for dinner on weekends, hiring limos for dances, going to beach houses in summer, that sort of thing.
I wanted to keep up, but I wasn’t getting the money from my parents the way the other kids were. I needed to make it on my own.
I decided to go for it. Soon I had a booming business going.
I quickly realized that the major areas of exposure involved the mailing addresses and the physical act of selling the individual grams or ounces. So as quickly as I could, I a) developed a network of other peoples’ addresses to use, and b) moved up to selling pounds instead of smaller quantities.
I’d pay some kid a big price – $100 a pound – to let me use his address to have the mushrooms mailed to. One of my people actually bought himself a car on the money he made just being my mailbox. It was more money than most high school kids would see in years otherwise.
I started selling pounds to different kids in different schools in the area. Rule: Deal with as few people as possible. Wholesale. I was selling pounds for about $3000, which was around $2000 in profit. Doubling my money. Just enough.
If I’d wanted, I could have made something like $4500 from each pound, but I’d probably have to sell it grams at a time.
My thing was, never look like a dealer. Never be that guy. Even in the public schools I went to in my life, where it was at least a little mixed, everyone knew who the dealers were.
They were Black kids who wore very particular clothes. Gold chains and Iceberg brand shirts and sweaters, with Tweety Bird or the Tasmanian Devil on them. Drove Lexuses and looked way older than everyone else. Anyone looking for the drug dealers in those schools would have been able to root them out quick.
But in my own school, only a handful of white kids knew I was selling anything. Everyone else thought I was just a rich kid, like my friends. And not just a normal kid, but accomplished. I was class president, the track team captain. And nobody messed with me because they knew I hung out with hard-heads on the weekends.
This became my specialty. I could move so freely between white and Black worlds, between places like Ivy Hill and Short Hills.
But it was a problem, too.
In Ivy Hill, I gave my old friends pounds of mushrooms on credit, but they would fuck up packs. Every time. Mushrooms just don’t sell in places like Ivy Hill. I’d try to put friends on, but they couldn’t pay the cost.
Which meant trouble. They couldn’t make the money themselves, but they also knew that I could. So they started thinking, “We may not know where you keep it. But we know you have it. Pay up or we’ll take it.”
These guys I grew up with were poor. Like, for-real poor. And they started asking for money, all the time, and I got tired of giving it to them.
It got to the point where I started paying them for security, just to get them off my back. I’d have them show up in Short Hills from time to time to throw a scare into people there. One of the best at that was Ro. Initially, I liked keeping him around just for that reason. He scared people. Big, buff guy with locks, a real Brolic, wild-eyed with muscles out to here.
But one night I brought him out to Short Hills to a party at a friend’s house, and gave him an eighth of mushrooms. The dumbass chased the mushrooms with vodka. Never mix mushrooms and booze.
Next thing you know, he’s ripping his clothes off in the middle of the house, tearing things off the walls of the house belonging to these friends of mine. I was standing outside talking to some people when I saw some football players carrying his naked ass out the front door, throwing him to the ground.
The fact that these kids were able to lay hands on Ro and live to tell about it speaks volumes about his physical and mental state at that moment.
To make things right, I started peeling off hundred dollar bills and throwing them at the kid whose house this was. I was like, “Get that wall fixed, come back if it’s a problem.” These were my customers!
That was the last time I brought anyone from Ivy Hill to my other world.
It was about two weeks after that that Ro came to me with the idea to do the robbery. I was stuck now. I said yes. And next thing I knew, I was driving in the suburbs, holding a loaded gun out the window of a moving car.
I’m driving down that side-road, clutching my father’s gun. I think about what he’d think if he could see me. Then I think about what will happen if we get pulled over with this gun. A gun is an automatic multiplier in any criminal case. We’ll all go away, to jail, for a long time.
I stop, peer over the bridge rails, and see water that’s standing and brackish and looks deep enough. I hurl the gun in the drink and speed off.
“Yo, man, what the fuck?” I hear Ro shouting from the back seat. “What if they find that?”
“I wiped it down.”
Actually I’m not sure. It occurs to me as I sit in the car that not only is that gun registered in my father’s name, but I didn’t wipe down the bullets, which I’d loaded myself.
Throwing it away is the right move, though. Nobody fired that gun in the robbery. They can’t actually connect the gun to the crime, or so I think, anyway. I prefer the risk of them finding the hammer in the river to the risk of getting pulled over holding it.
We’re many miles away from the scene already. I drive on, sweating bullets. The ride back to drop them off feels interminable.
Right there in the car I make a new rule for myself: No guns.
Later on, I’ll amend the rule. Today it’s, No guns, but keep shooters.
In this business, you never touch a gun if you don’t have to. Never have one around, never show one to a girlfriend, never take one to a range or to the woods to fire off a few rounds. It’s too much power. It’ll lead you to use it somehow. You’ll show off, try to intimidate someone, or settle a score. Guns create problems.
On the other hand, you have to have people around you who have them. Ain’t no courtrooms in this business. You got a problem with someone, there’s no filing a lawsuit. You need people who can handle themselves, or else you’ll be up proverbial shit creek, and fast.
After that incident, I found myself in a different kind of jam. I started to hear rumblings about people from back home who wanted to rob me. Specifically it got back to me that Ro and his friends wanted to take me off.
These were guys who had eaten off me for a while, who were now shut out. They knew I was getting money. And they started to talk all over the projects about how I thought I was too good for them now, how they were going to do me.
Word of this got back to me quick. I always made sure to keep an ear to the street in both places. As in, “Yo, these guys are thinking about robbing you.”
And sure enough, one day a band of five dudes – Ro and four other guys – pulled up to my fucking school in Short Hills. They were looking for me on the field at track practice, of all things. Again, I was captain of the team. It wasn’t the most captainly moment of my career, that’s for sure.
But – minimize your risk. Which in this case meant, run.
I took off and people at the school had to call the cops. These goons from the hood wanted me so bad, they ran up on the coach, Mr. Greenberg. He taught math, but also coached track.
They were like, “Fuck you, mister, we’ll whoop your ass, too. Where’s Huey at?”
You can imagine how that went over, five out-of-town Black kids running up on a teacher in a place like Short Hills.
Not sure how I squirmed out of that one. I think I told my teachers it was just a misunderstanding with some old friends from Newark. Even then I was a good talker.
That’s one of the first things I learned: if a Black man can put a sentence together, it throws everybody off. Teachers, cops, business partners, everyone. They don’t expect it, which is their problem.
I never touched a gun on the job again. But moving back and forth between different universes became my niche. It was my value-add, from when I was selling pounds as a kid, to now, when I’m selling tons.
This is the second chapter of The Business Secrets of Drug Dealing: Adventures of the Unidentified Black Male, by Matt Taibbi & Anonymous.
Subscribe now for $5 a month or $40 a year.