Cracks Back

Or perhaps it never really left

And then they arrested him.

The two dealers were actually undercover cops employing the latest anti-drug technique: what they had sold Frank were pieces of macadamia nuts, which have the color, shape and texture of crack.

According to Frank, though, this all turned out to be a good thing in many ways. Because it was his first bust, he was able to get into a diversion program and serve only a little time in jail. Also, he said: "All day, every day, I was on a mission to kill myself, and I didn't realize it. But the Lord stopped me and sent me back to the drawing board." When I talked with him, Frank had been clean and sober for several weeks.

Frank told me a little about his drug days, and there was a mixture of pride and relief in his voice. "I never got scandalous in my behavior," he said, "and I was never unscrupulous. I never robbed nobody." It was his feeling that this reflected back on him—like some form of street karma—and generally kept him out of trouble. There were close calls, however. Once, he watched dealers with whom he had just done business jack another customer in a violent fashion, roll him up in a piece of discarded carpeting and throw him in a dumpster.

Another time, he was smoking in some guy's apartment in a hardcore part of Long Beach. He had a large cache of crack with him. The walls were thin, and on the other side of one wall, he could hear a couple of dealers talking about him. "Let's jack that guy and take his shit," they were saying.

"Lord, just get me out of this," Frank prayed and slunk away.

"Everything worked out," Frank said. "The Lord, he's bringing me back to zero and letting me start again." That afternoon, he was going to see his children, who live with their mother in the Valley.

When I first called the Santa Ana Police Department to ask them about the crack problem, the lieutenant I spoke with told me that as far as he knew, crack really wasn't a big deal anymore. He later called me back and said that, well, the patrol officers deal with it at a street level, and I should get in touch with Sergeant Jeff Owens. So one Sunday afternoon, I went down to police headquarters to talk with him. It wasn't a long conversation. Owens was friendly and wanted to be helpful, but there just wasn't a lot he felt he could tell me.

He said he couldn't offer me any figures on crack use because the available statistics weren't broken down by type of drug. What he told me was this: "From our perspective, activity is down in these selected areas." What I understood him to mean was that if complaints are received about a lot of crack-related activity in a particular neighborhood, the police target that neighborhood for enforcement—the result being that activity is then "displaced" somewhere else. In other words, there's no real way to judge the level of crack use except anecdotally, and Owens was not the type to tell anecdotes.

He did offer that crack "crosses all lines. It can affect anybody. It's not strictly for the poor. We've contacted people from affluent areas, people driving nice cars, rolling up in a Mercedes-Benz."

I asked Owens about enforcement techniques, what the cops do to bust buyers and sellers and dealers. "I'm not going to talk about that," Owens said.

"What about the macadamia-nut thing?" I asked. "Selling people macadamia nuts and then arresting them?"

Owens gave me a little inscrutable nod. "I'm not going to talk about that," he said.

There are a variety of devices that can be fashioned for the smoking of crack. First you buy a Chore Boy, one of those metal scouring pads. Then you go into a liquor store and buy anything in a glass tube—a flower or a horoscope. You throw away the flower or the horoscope and keep the glass tube. You break off a small piece of the Chore Boy, roll it up into a ball and hold it over a flame to burn off the coppery coating. You push this into one end of the glass tube. You drop your piece of crack into the other end so that it slides down and rests against the screen of Chore Boy. Then you hold your flame to it. Voilŗ! A "straight shooter"!

Or you can take an empty soda or beer can and punch a couple of small holes close together on the top. Also punch a hole in the side. Place your crack over the small holes on top and then draw in the smoke through the tab opening. (I'm not sure if this device has a name.) In short, you can basically use any sort of readily available tubular device. Remember how a couple of years ago, everybody was getting the radio antennas broken off their cars? And you thought it was just senseless vandalism? Mostly, it was crackheads securing a piece of metal tubing through which to smoke.

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