After losing his writing job in NYC, Peter Madsen turned to something more physical—he became a bike messenger. Few professions give greater insight into what makes a city tick; by way of bicycle, Madsen learned the ins and outs of neighborhoods across all boroughs, interacting with people of all walks of life. From this profound experience he was inspired to create the street interview-based website Word on the Street NY. The causal tone and access to what’s behind usually closed doors caught the eye of Brooklyn’s powerHouse Books and subsequently lead to the publishing of Madsen’s first book “Dealers,” a book of anonymous interviews with NYC drug dealers.
As one would imagine, those who qualify as a “drug dealer” don’t always live or look the way a PSA would have them appear. From fellow bike messengers delivering weed and 30-something Phish lovers selling edibles, to uptown lawyers selling coke to downtown finance types, a wide variety of purveyors give interesting insight to the who, what, where and why of NYC’s drug underworld. Each interview is lead by a black and white snapshot, an anonymous street name, age and neighborhood of business, and Madsen lets the interviewee set the tone and paint the picture—one that is as often enchanting and intimidating as it is laughable and relatable.
While the story of Miguel—the doorman who moonlights as a middleman for building residents—is intriguing, it’s predictable. However little holds a flame to the barely believable life of Lower East Side’s stick-up-kid Brian, who spent his youth routinely robbing cocaine dealers and blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars partying. Contrasting this, the small paperback concludes with a talk with Tremont’s McNeely, a 46-year-old NYPD officer and former Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit member. This lengthy interview gives great insight into tactical operations, how the scene has changed in recent years and how someone who’s trained to cut down drug dealing goes about doing so—not to mention touching on Stop & Frisk and concerns of just how dodgy many young officers can be.
Images by Graham Hiemstra