He had on a baseball cap, and his hair under it was long and gray. His face was red, and his hands trembled a little. I gave him a smoke.
"Hey," he said while I lit the cigarette for him with my Zippo, "you want some apple jacks?"
I had no idea what he was talking about. The first thing that came into my mind was some kind of kid's breakfast cereal.
"I don't know what you mean," I said.
"Apple jacks, man. Crack," he replied.
"Oh," I said laughing. "Nope, not in the market for that today."
Keep in mind this exchange didn't happen in Over-the-Rhine or some bad area of town where you might expect it. This was in the heart of downtown, and it's happened to me more than once.
Keep another thing in mind: When I go walking down the sidewalk, I'm never going to be mistaken for a Fifth Third Bank employee. My hair's a bit long, my beard is graying and most of the time I'm in blue jeans and wearing Earth shoes.
I'm sort of an old hippie. Maybe that's why drug dealers feel alright with me.
I don't keep track of how many times people have tried to sell me drugs downtown because I have better things to do, but I've been offered everything from crack to weed to Tylenol with codeine to an assortment of other pills.
I never feel threatened or intimidated by the people doing the selling, including this guy trying to sell me crack. I'm just not into it anymore.
The drug dealer continued to walk with me, and I thought back to the days when I did my share of all kinds of so-called illegal drugs.
I think the last time I smoked any weed to speak of was on a trip to Yellow Springs. This was in the summer, I'm guessing three years ago.
My traveling companion smokes grass, and one evening after dinner we went to his motel room and smoked a joint together.
At first it was a good time, just like back in the early 1970s -- laughing, cutting up and being thirsty as hell. Then my mood changed.
I became all emotional, started talking about dead relatives and how much I missed them. I turned into a mess. I told my friend goodnight and went back to my own room.
Once in my room, my mind became obsessed with the humming of the air-conditioner. It was singing to me, some kind of a chanting song. It freaked the hell out of me. I haven't smoked pot since.
It was my choice to stop. I don't care if you do or not.
Smoke weed and/or try to sell it to me. Take mushrooms, sell mushrooms, pop pills while selling them on the street -- do whatever you want.
I think the drug dealer trying to sell me crack sensed my attitude. As we approached the library entrance, he said, "Hey, you know anybody interested?"
I'm assuming he was talking about the crack, and my truthful answer would have been "Of course," but I wasn't about to get involved with any kind of drug deal. Jail wasn't in my plans for the day.
"No, I really don't," I replied, "and this is where you and I part company."
The man said nothing back, just shot across the street, walking back the other way on Eighth Street. I returned my books to the library.
Most of us make choices as to the kind of drug we'll get hooked on. Coffee, cigarettes and alcohol are all drugs, just legal.
Cops aren't going to put you in handcuffs or lock you up for drinking from a can of Coke, sipping on some coffee or smoking a cigar (outside), but if you're smoking weed, putting cocaine up your nose or have a crack pipe on you, that's another story. It's all rather silly, isn't it?
Doing any kind of drug isn't a crime, it's an addiction. If a person wants to kill himself by doing crack, drinking alcohol or even overeating -- it's all addictive behavior -- it's his business. We should make all drugs legal and stop this stupid "war on drugs" bullshit.
That's what I thought to myself as I left the library that afternoon and headed over to Madonna's Bar and Grill on Seventh Street. Over more than a few vodka and tonics, I thought about that crack dealer and our drug choices.
Vodka is one of those good legal drugs, and it's my choice to drink it. Shouldn't all the other drug users around us have the same kind of freedom?
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.