On my way to meet the Last Crack Hipster, I bought a soda at a bodega around the corner from where he lives in Brooklyn. I must have missed him by a minute. The bodega sells crack pipes, too. Most bodegas in the city do. The pipes used to be disguised as glass tubes, corked at both ends, containing tiny roses. No one bought them for the roses. Now they come in the form of pens: The “straw” that’s normally plastic on a Bic pen is glass. Who wants a glass pen? The pen works, yes. It is genius. At some places, if you ask for a “demo,” you get just the part used for a pipe.
At the Last Crack Hipster’s corner bodega, the code word is “Casaban.” You’re handed a brown paper bag containing the glass tube with a tiny bunched-up ball of steel wool at one end, and a little lighter. It costs $2.50. (A can of Coca-Cola is 75 cents.)
For a moment a few years ago, among the downtown “edgy” set, crack was hip. At least as an idea: “Crack is Back” was the logo on downtown curator A-ron’s $60 T-shirts. No one ever really did it. The Sun reported back in 2005 that Kate Moss had done crack; but the Last Crack Hipster says she never really did crack–wasn’t a “crackhead.” For the Lower East Side artists, it was enough that Dash Snow smoked it and took lots pictures of it. Now he’s dead. The Last Crack Hipster says he’s got mad respect for Dash Snow.
The Last Crack Hipster wants me to keep mum about most of the personal stuff. He’s around 30 and a longtime member of a graffiti collective. The Last Crack Hipster looks a bit like a raccoon, but not in a bad way. He’s a shower man, prefers the spray to the soak, has an iPhone and a serious girlfriend. Grew up out West. His parents aren’t millionaires, but if he’s in a tight spot, they’ll help him out. His apartment is littered with art books and kitty litter. A high-school doodler and onetime community college dabbler, he never lost the fascination with pop culture that ate his homework; his eyes are still wide. They’re bulging now, as he tears open a fresh Chore Boy. People will call it Brillo, but it’s Chore Boy, the one with the little boy on it. You have to get the copper-scrubbing pad because the other one is aluminum and it’s terrible for you. It burns your brain. So once you’ve got the copper-scrubbing pad, you pinch off about a gumdrop’s worth. You hold this over a flame, burn it really good, because there’s like a layer of cleaning product—well, whatever it is, it burns green at first. Wait until it turns black. If you don’t, you can taste some sort of chemical, probably cancerous.
Are we having fun yet?
You also need something to push the burnt copper into the glass tube. A chopstick will do. Push the Chore Boy down a little bit, to allow for enough room at the top to put the crumbs of crack on. Crack comes in a baggie the size of your fingernail with the yellow rocks in it. Twenty bucks. It’s ready to smoke. Ready rock. Hard. When you buy it, you say, “I want Hard.” A lot of crackheads on the street melt all their crack down into the Chore Boy and it looks green. If they get frisked by a cop, it’s just paraphernalia.
When being smoked, crack doesn’t have a strong smell; it’s like a sulfuric smell but with a sweetness, and the smell goes away really quick. Your house isn’t going to smell like crack, even if you don’t have one of those discreet cardboard kitty shitboxes lying around.
The media got it a bit wrong, he said. It’s not quite the bogeyman that they make it out to be.
When you’re smoking crack, ideally you want to keep the flame on the crack and away from the Chore Boy: You want the rock to heat up and cook down into it. It starts to melt and then it slides down and that’s when you go boom and level it out so it stays right at the screen. It’s right there bubbling and you’re not sucking like a cigarette or a joint; you’re basically like inhaling as little as you can. You just want to direct the flow into your mouth; you don’t want to suck the liquid down. Once the burning crack passes through the Chore Boy, it smokes as it cools. That’s the smoke that you want. Most people don’t seem to get that. It looks like the crack is gone, but you can kind of see it in there, in the Chore Boy, ideally it sits there and bubbles. The brown juice that drips down and looks like a film of motor oil on the side of the glass is the crack rock’s sweet nectar. People call it the Caviar. Taking someone else’s Caviar hit is uncool.
THE LAST CRACK Hipster insists that, as negatively hyped as it is, crack is not really that big of a deal compared to a lot of things. Granted, it’s highly addictive, and granted, it destroys people’s lives. Lots of times, a person will hit it and not feel anything much and be like, What’s the big deal? You hit again and again and again for a night. But the next day you don’t necessarily want crack again.
The media got it a bit wrong, he said. It’s not quite the bogeyman that they make it out to be. People who snuffled mountains of coke for years, the instant someone mentions crack, they freak out, panic, run the other way.