This Is The Life

James Dankert

I got together with Tanya at the Perkins on University Avenue in the Midway area of St. Paul. Her turf. A bit of a mistake, I thought, since it's hard to discuss the ins and outs of crack and pot dealing while lonely blue-hairs zero in on your every word. A born storyteller, Tanya didn't seem to mind. She described her exploits in detail--she once supplied an entire apartment building in the Highland neighborhood; she's been in jail twice, neither time for drugs--and her various, mostly recent, attempts to go straight. She's the kind of person who is not so much accustomed to getting her way as she is accustomed to making it seem that she's gotten her way even when she hasn't. As she said of herself, "I've more or less lived the hard-knock life, the thug life, hustling to survive, scraping and scratching." She's a hustler, all right. With perfect teeth, a charming, hearty laugh, and gorgeous skin and eyelashes--she's part black and part American Indian--she maneuvers along the fringes, trying to keep from getting done in by what she calls "the life." At Perkins she had a story to sell. And at the mere cost of a meal (including a chicken strip sandwich and an entire carameled apple pie to go), City Pages got a genuine bargain.


City Pages: When did you know you'd be a dealer?

Tanya: My father died when I was three. He was a mechanic for the Ford Company and he put some money aside for me, like a trust fund. I couldn't touch it until I was 18. Then I received $60,000. I came into [the bank] with this certificate. I wanted to know what it was like to have cheese in my pocket. Once the money ran out, I wanted to have that money again. Thus became the dealing state.

CP: Is that when you started selling?

Tanya: Yeah, because I'd seen too much money going by. And I had cousins that were in the life. I had no choice but to do it. They were doing good and they'd always come up to me like, Get your money, get your money. And I'm like, I don't know what to do, and they'd say, You better get to it. Because in the game nobody watches you and holds your hand and tells you what is what. You have to learn this all by yourself and you have to learn to talk to people too. And when I first came into it I was quiet and shy, Goody Two-shoes.

CP: Do you only sell pot?

Tanya: Now I do. Like in the past year. But from 18 until this age, I was both. I was multitalented. I'm not missing no money.

CP: When you say both, do you mean crack?

Tanya: Yeah.

CP: Who is your clientele?

Tanya: I've had all kinds. Like when I lived down in this apartment building--I used to live down off of Rice Street--they used to pull up. My homies would pull up. Mexicans with bangin' systems. Everybody would be like, Damn, that car looks like it's broke going down the street. I got friends, 50-year-old men, ex-truckers, got great big hands, that drive these collector, vintage, old-school Ford trucks. They used to pull up. I had people that were nurses down at Regions. Anybody, doesn't matter how old you are, what color you are, how tall you are. Everybody wants a little green every now and then.

CP: Who were your best customers?

Tanya: My brother has had a lot of friends who have had nervous breakdowns and been on like the crazy ward up at United Hospital or whatever. These are cool-ass kids. Really, those are damn near the best customers, because they are crazy. They just got out of the nut ward and the first thing they are thinking is, Give me some of that shit. I'm like, Here you go, you crazy fucker. I hate to say it. It wasn't like I was preying on them, because they actually found me. Because they were crazy, they would do what they had to do to get it.

CP: How did you develop a customer base?

Tanya: Being in this seedy area where a lot of low-income apartments are, where the landlords didn't give a fuck. A lot of shit went on in these places because they had a habit of not the green, but the other one. I had dealt with these guys, in their scrubs, getting fresh off work at Regions, and they'd come to me and I'd say okay and I'd give it to them. They'd start geeking out and I was tripping because I'd see these big handsome guys. They don't look like your typical, average, everyday crackhead. They got their paychecks on Friday and I'd fucking shut down and go sit down at their house. Because like $900 is all coming back to me. And because they are on a habit there is really no loyalty in it, so if you are not around they are going to buy it anyway. Some of them had loyalty though. I ain't going to lie about that. I held the whole apartment down, there was like 30 apartments.  

CP: Where was this building?

Tanya: In the Highland area. These people, because of their habits, went from expensive apartments to this shithole building complex. That was what they were reduced to. They wanted to be where it was at. With that comes a lot of things. There was a lot of sex involved. The females would run out of money. They are strung out at that point. They are standing there saying, If anybody wants any type of oral pleasure or anything, just let me know.

CP: All your customers either lived in or came to the building?

Tanya: Yeah. It was like some underground secret shit that only traveled by word of mouth. But you know, the police would come every now and then. They never knew who to catch because of the way I carried myself and always looked. There have been times when they've done raids and I'm sitting there with my two quarter-ounces in each pocket in the hallway. And they are like, Get out of the way, Ma'am. And I've got my $300 Ralph Lauren glasses on. I ask, What's going on? I'm thinking this is the end. And they'd say, You better get out of here, we're getting ready to do a raid. I'd head down the street. They were talking to the devil herself.

CP: Where do you buy the pot you sell?

Tanya: Because I have family members that were always in the game it wasn't any problem. It was never any problem. I could go over to my cousin's house right now and be like, Hey. I am lucky because I come from a family of all cheddar go-getters. People who make their money. We are all not quite in competition because we all had our own clientele. But we had that one cousin that was always doing where we could get it for outrageously small prices. We ain't got no choice but to make our cheese.

CP: How much pot do you sell in a month?

Tanya: Maybe a half-pound right now. Actually, I do control what I do at times. I try not to get too big because I noticed my cousins, once they started hitting that pound and a little bit bigger, you're dealing with a whole other ball game. You are getting it from somebody who actually is under surveillance. And they are trying to get their shit shorter.

CP: So, you dropped selling crack because it was too dangerous?

Tanya: Yes. I just didn't like how the game went with that. Plus they are giving out outrageous time sentences.

CP: Do you think the police still care about busting pot dealers?

Tanya: It seems like they're after pretty much everything still. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but from what I've noticed in the law system, your color and how you look determines your sentence. If you're some scraggly motherfucker with gold in your mouth and hair not combed, and you got pockets full of shit, you are going away.

CP: You spent some time living in the suburbs when you were younger, after being arrested for driving a stolen car. Tell me about that.

Tanya: When I was 18, I had done the crime. I was scared off the shit. They let me go in 24 hours because I had never been in trouble with the law before. Well, they did that and I dipped. I left. Immediately, I didn't have no money or nothing.

CP: So you wound up living with friends in Maplewood?

Tanya: I had homies I never would have dreamed I would have even talked to. These preppie kids who had parents who made good money and they would be gone from 8:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night. We would have big parties, drink up all of Dad's liquor. It would be one of these lovely houses with two and three refrigerators. One was just everything you could think of off the pop market, all filled up with nothing but juices. I didn't know there were people who lived like that. Two cabinets just dedicated to cereal. I'm like, This is crazy. They are like, Don't you have that kind of stuff in your house? And I'd be like, No, I live in a house with a bunch of potheads.  

CP: How's it different, selling in the city and the suburbs?

Tanya: They still have the same kind of green, but everything is on the scale. Everything is taxed, outrageously. Like, if you spend 20 bucks out there, you're probably getting a dime and a jay or two. You spend 20 bucks in the 'hood, you are going to get like eight jays.

CP: Why is that, competition?

Tanya: It's not even competition. It's like two different worlds. The hood messes with the hood and the 'burbs mess with the 'burbs. No one ever crosses. Like you see in the movies, those suburbanite white boys that go to the hood to get their stuff? Oh, fuck no, that shit don't really happen. At least not in Minnesota.

CP: Have you come across BC bud, the really powerful pot from British Columbia?

Tanya: I got some BCs and I've got some dro, but I keep that for myself. I sell high quality regular green.

CP: Recently, in a news story, the police said that BC bud sells for $6,000 a pound. Is that an accurate figure?

Tanya: It's $300 an ounce. $350 if you are a lame.

CP: What's a lame?

Tanya: It's a regular everyday person that doesn't have no connections to somebody who's bigger.

CP: So, I'm a lame.

Tanya: [laughs] They'd see you and be like, You're a reporter? Oh, wow, $6,500 for her. They'd think you've got money.

CP: What's the difference between a white dealer and a black dealer?

Tanya: [This white guy I know] quit recently. He's out of the game because he recently got robbed. He got robbed a lot in life because of him being a tall, skinny, scrawny white boy. Black dudes and white dudes do things differently. They get jacked and they are like, Fuck it, I'll get back up. Give me a week and I'll come back. That's white. Black person gets jacked, it's like, Oh shit. Call the homies, we got to go do an investigation. Heads are going to roll.

CP: Didn't you recently work a straight job?

Tanya: I got this job at Mrs. Fields Cookies last year because I am like, you know, I am desperate to have a job somewhere. You can't get hired. I had been job hunting for like six months, literally going out to the Mall of America and walking all the floors. Filling out like 30 applications in one day. I got this job at Mrs. Fields because a friend of my brother's grandmother had a neighbor who was the manager of the Roseville store. I thought, Okay, I got my foot in the door. I am going to do this. I don't care how much it pays. It's a job. It's honest money. I get there and she's like, It's $7.25 an hour. Oh my god! I could sit home and make $150 on an average day off my phone. And not have to lift much of a finger. This is $7.25 and I'm busting my ass. I'm like, How many breaks do I get? And they said, Only one for 30 minutes. You work for eight hours and you are on your feet the whole seven and a half hours. And this shit is killing me. I got flat feet. Also, it was a nerve-wracking thing to see so much money passing through my hands. I'm used to putting it in my pocket. But I'm not a thief. I knew where it was going.

CP: How long did you last?

Tanya: Three weeks. I quit because I was tired of going around all that. And I wasn't making any money. I got free cookies, all I could eat. But shit, that ain't helping me either. My dress size is going to go up. And it is like, there is nothing positive in this shit. My back hurts, my leg hurts, my feet hurt every day.

CP: Did you graduate high school?

Tanya: No. I made it to 12th grade. But I always did a lot of reading.

CP: What sorts of things do you like to read?

Tanya: True stories, murder mysteries, serial killers, stuff like that. I don't want to be a serial killer, but I guess I could identify with their thoughts. Like that movie Alive. I'm not fittin' to die, so if there are like two dead bodies and everybody is sitting around cold and freezing, ain't ate in two weeks, could you hand me a Bic? He's dead over there, hand me a knife. Some people are like, I couldn't do this. I couldn't eat that. We were just watching the best of Survivor yesterday with my cousins. And they were like, I couldn't do that. And I'm like, For a million dollars, I'm going to be chewing down a testicle. I hate to say it, but it doesn't even have to be cooked. I'm going to earl for days, just thinking about it. But at least I'll be earling in my own house. I mean if I had a million dollars, I don't want no $100,000 home. Hell, no. I want something that's in the Midway, a decent three-bedroom, all mine, to run buck naked through and do what I want. Fuck it.  

CP: Where do you live now?

Tanya: That's a funny thing. I was in a relationship for like two years. And when it was over, all my shit was gone. And everyone was like, Why don't you go into a shelter? When you don't have kids, there are no programs to help you. I've checked everywhere. I've tried to play the abuse victim thing. That didn't help. I went to this women's abuse shelter because everyone was like, abused women get hooked up. They get apartments. They get on Section 8. They get some type of guidance so they can make it on their own. I went in there and made up a story. As soon as I get in there, they are looking at my clothes and thinking abused women don't look like that. Is that a Coach purse?

CP: Did they let you in?

Tanya: You're basically a number. If they have your name, that's $600 a month for them. You're not getting nothing out of this, but they are going to get $600 per head. So if you come in with a kid and a kid and a kid.... They didn't like me because I didn't have a kid. Therefore you can't stay here, they'd tell me. I'm like, What the fuck? How am I supposed to get on my feet? They said I was going to have to go out and find a job. And I am like, Oh my god, do you know how hard that is?

CP: How much do you make per month selling?

Tanya: It fluctuates to the month. Sometime it's good.

CP: So, $700 or $800 per month?

Tanya: At least.

CP: Wouldn't you have made more at Mrs. Fields?

Tanya: Not even. I used to get paid on Fridays and maybe $150, $160 at the top. Some of them were for 99 bucks.

CP: What's the most pathetic situation you ever came across dealing?

Tanya: A couple different families in this building I lived in [in Highland]... a lot of these people, they had kids. Now, I didn't care for all of them. But certain kids are cute, but their hair is all dirty and their skin is dirty. Or they may smell a certain way. The mom smells just like them. She probably ain't jumped in the tub for two weeks and she's turning tricks. They're like four and five years old, sitting there. And I'm like, What are you going to fix them? And there is a steak sitting on the counter. Been on the counter since yesterday because they were going to make their kids lunch then. But then somebody knocked on the door and wanted to buy and then the party started. I'm like, Your kids ain't ate yet? And she'll be like, No, I've got to get my shit together. So, I would go to Mervin's. And I'd go to the kids' section and I'd see clearance, where jeans were like five and six bucks and I'd just grab them. I didn't know what size the kid was. I don't have any kids so I'd just kind of guess. And when I did buy the jeans, I'd rip all the tags off and go up to the house and make the kids put them on right now. But that doesn't really matter because if you've got a parent who's a zombie, they'll wait for you to turn your back and try to sell it out from under them.

CP: How did you feel, being a part of that cycle?

Tanya: I figured at the time they were going to smoke and do their shit anyway, so if I didn't get the money, somebody else was going to. And that was true. Because I went through that. Fuck it, I'm not going to do this no more. I'm not going to fuck with this woman. The hardest thing was pregnant people. They had to go through somebody else, literally. And I'd be like, I'd see them going to that pregnant woman's house and I'd be like, Oh. I'd think to myself, in a sense I didn't give it to them, but I don't know. A lot of their kids came out, they were lost, if not crack babies.  

CP: What would you rather be doing?

Tanya: I'd love to have kids and be in a house with a car, rather than to be on the streets with nothing.

CP: How are you going to get those things?

Tanya: I don't really know. I don't have no resources or nothing. I've checked everywhere.

CP: You just came from a job interview?

Tanya: It was a telemarketing job that I interviewed for. I really don't want to do it. You're bothering people on the phone, basically. And that's something I don't like doing. I'm used to having my clients want what they want. They call me for a reason.

CP: You don't have friends who can help you out?

Tanya: I know there is no such thing as friends. I got associates. There is nobody I can just call and be like, Hey man, I'm in a bind. It's always, Hey, can I get a blunt for that? Everybody wanted to be my friend because I had the family that, if you fucked with one of us, we had cousins. Or us, ourselves, we're kind of crazy. We're not nuts to the point where we're going to kill somebody. But coming up in our family, it was like, Is that motherfucker fucking with you? Go out there and whoop his ass. He's too big. Get a stick. That's the type of family we had.

CP: Do you have a temper?

Tanya: In a sense my mom was making it so that her little girl wasn't no punk.

CP: Have you been in any fights lately?

Tanya: No, not since I got older. People don't even want to know what would happen. Because I'm so laid-back, and that kind of scares them. And people think, you know, that because of being in the life you kind of had to make yourself crazy. Because once somebody gets over on you, that's it. Everybody is getting over on you. Pretty soon you are getting jacked. Crackheads ain't got no respect for you, nobody's paying you. The first person I beat down was somebody that was older than me, twice my age. It was when I first got into the game. I was 19. I had long pretty hair. Smaller, skinny. This broad was like 45 years old. I had given her credit for $50. And she came and bought from me for two months straight. And all the while, she never tried to pay off her bill. I always reminded her and she would be like, I'll give it to you. And then she'd pay for what she got. So I was like, I got to get my money. So, I'm drinking one day and the same crackhead bitch comes to the door. She's like, What's up, I need to get something for 40 bucks. And I'm like, You still owe me 50, don't you? And she says Yeah, but I ain't got time. I can't do that right now. So, I took her money and I locked the door and put it in my pocket.

CP: I bet she was happy about that.

Tanya: [Making a knocking sound] I'm like, I'm not going to answer this door. And everybody is getting annoyed. She's kicking. Let me in, motherfucker! I'm sitting there drinking my Courvoisier. I was thinking, I'm going to rip this door open and whoop her ass. I had to. It was a judgement call. She was running around telling everybody in the building, I ain't gotta pay that little motherfucker.

CP: So, you punched her?

Tanya: She's up in my face. She swings at me and I duck. And I stuck her once in the face.

CP: Do you carry a gun?

Tanya: No. I'm grown now. I'm old.

CP: You don't worry about safety?

Tanya: The way I carry myself. My street credibility still goes on. Even when I meet different men that would normally slap up their women, they treat me with respect because they know. I have certain ties to certain games. Just one phone call and, see ya. Nobody really fucked with me like that. They still don't.

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