Super Exchanger

29 Oct

The Idea Man.

This is what they call me in their plush offices. But they’re wrong. They don’t know anything about sociology or anthropology, rumours, sneakers, the power of translation, connection, context. I tolerate them and I don’t tolerate them; either way, they’re wrong. They pay me. They love my dreads. They love that I’m a white guy with dreads (they think it’s cool. Hip. Edgy. Young. They’re wrong.). They love my: Chucks/Airwalks/Diesels/Hush Puppies/whatever it is I tell them is cool. Or whatever it is I tell them the kids think is cool. I say that: The Kids. The kids are all right. I fit an idea. Their idea. I’m an outside product. Mostly they love that when I’m done with it, their product gets sold by container-loads. I create the tipping point for their epidemic. This is what I tell them in their meetings in their fancy conference rooms with their fancy croissants and bagels and locks rotting in those awful kitschy woven baskets.
—Hey, there he is: The Idea Man!
I say things like “holmes” or “ciao” or both: —ciao, holmes. I shower every other day. I use Tom’s Apricot under my arms. Eat hot pockets drenched in Thai chili sauce in their break rooms. If you crank that shit in the microwave you leave behind the smell. The olfactory system is the most powerful tool for recollection and nostalgia. And the most influential. Pretty soon they’re all going down to the Pick-n-Pay and grabbing frozen Hot Pockets. Lean Pockets. Pot Pie Pockets. Pizza Minis. And so I sell them microwaveable turnovers from Nestle on the side. Double up on the paychecks. Hey. Do you blame me? I’m The Idea Man.
Only I’m not. They’re wrong. They’re the Idea Man.
I’m just a super-exchanger.
Just.
Without me Idea Men aren’t shit. Idea Men are conceptual, ethereal buffoons. They’re nothing. They’re on TV, is what they are. Flexing their fictitious muscles for Sterling-Cooper or some other shitty made-up glamorized bullshit ad agency. Keep watching TV. Keep dreaming of a white Christmas.
Idea Men aren’t shit without the super-exchangers.
Without me.

In 1996 I was living on the streets of Baltimore. Squatted in this abandoned sewing factory on The Block, a crappy area known for prostitution and heroin addicts. The city started a program where they sent a bus every week with clean syringes to distribute to the dope fiends, hoping it would cut down the spread of HIV. It was an exchange program. Deal was you got a clean needle for every dirty one you turned in. But the problem they didn’t foresee was they were dealing with addicts. And addicts aren’t the most reliable, organized, punctual animals in the kingdom. The other thing was, addicts go through a needle a day; shooting up five or six or seven times. Enough that they dull down the tip so badly, the needle becomes useless. That’s a lot of needles. How can a bus coming around once a week possibly serve the needs of most addicts?
Idea Men aren’t shit.
Enter the super-exchangers.
Watch: so the city sent out some smart guys from Johns Hopkins—some epidemiologists—along on the bus rides to try to figure out why the program wasn’t working. And what those Einsteins observed was a handful of guys coming by each week and dropping off backpacks upon backpacks full of dirty needles at a pop. Five, six hundred syringes in one trip. Far more than they could’ve used themselves, obviously. And these guys, then, would go back to the street and sell the clean needles for a buck a pop. The bus became a kind of syringe wholesaler. The real retailers were these handful of guys—these super-exchangers—who were patrolling the streets and shooting galleries, picking up dirty needles and making a half ass living selling clean syringes to addicts.
At first, some of the program’s coordinators freaked out: how can taxpayers’ money subsidize the habits of heroin addicts? But then they realized that they had inadvertently stumbled upon a natural solution to the problem they had. And they let the program roll. It was a much better system with super-exchangers handling the distribution this way. How? A lot of people shoot on Friday and Saturday night and they aren’t going to necessarily plan to have clean tools ahead of time. The bus doesn’t come by when they need to shoot; the bus comes by once a week. And certainly it doesn’t stop around shooting galleries. But the super-exchangers can be there at times when junkies are doing drugs and when they need clean needles.
The super-exchangers provide service twenty-four seven.
These Hopkins guys figured out that super-exchangers represented a very special and distinct group. They were unusually socially connected. They knew the streets of Baltimore, they knew the shooting galleries. They knew the kids who needed clean needles. They knew when.
They were the connectors.
Without them, the Idea Men were shit. The Idea Men were light, tenuous fairies sitting comfortably in their executive chairs with their feet up on the mahogany scratching their hairy balls, drinking martinis, and banging the girlie interns. The Idea Men were the clinical, academic Sterling-Cooper.
And everyone wants to be Sterling-Cooper, that’s the problem. You get a shitload of competition.
Me?
I don’t know…I like Thai chili sauce on my hot pockets.
I bet you do too.
I bet.

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5 Responses to “Super Exchanger”

  1. jac 29/10/2009 at 4:31 PM #

    Nope. I likes me the martinis and banging the girlie interns. If the exchangers were a little more super I bet they wouldn’t turn down those frills either!

  2. Cliff Burns 30/10/2009 at 10:21 AM #

    A zippy little number, Alex, with the usual sense of verisimilitude you manage to impart to all your tales. Like the voice, the nice touch of cynicism displayed throughout…

  3. Slyboots 30/10/2009 at 10:36 AM #

    But this reads well- very developed and personal voice. I think the character development is one of your strongest, and it has less of a journalistic quality and more of an internal one.

  4. Erin O'Brien 01/11/2009 at 3:43 PM #

    white guy with dreads.

    perfect.

  5. Ismail Kamel 23/11/2009 at 10:30 PM #

    amazing, fucker turns out stuff like this like it’s… like it’s nothing….

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