“Using it even once can make a person crave cocaine for as long as they live.” —Peter Jennings, “ABC World News Tonight,” September 8 

When it comes to crack, politicians and pundits literally do not know what they are talking about. Most of the journalists covering the so-called “war on drugs” have at least tried marijuana. So have many of the rugged young officials now in charge of said hostilities. Both pencil pushers and paper pushers have been known to snort the occasional mound of cocaine. Virtually all came of age before the dawn of zero tolerance. Even heroin is not utterly unknown to the opinion and policy classes.

But crack is something else. Probably no one making our government’s drug policy has ever smoked a rock of crack cocaine. Nor has anyone who regularly reports or comments in the media on the ravages of crack capitalism. Now, I wouldn’t argue that you have to smoke crack to understand the war on drugs—any more than you have to kill someone to understand the war in Vietnam. And I certainly wouldn’t argue that crack isn’t hazardous or that anyone should try it. Having been through the experience, though, may facilitate a certain realism about the conflict in question.

Crack is a pleasure both powerful and elusive. Smoke a rock and, for the next 20 minutes, you will likely appreciate sensuous phenomena ranging from MTV to neon lights to oral sex with renewed urgency. After your 20 minutes is up, you will have a chemical aftertaste in your mouth and, in all likelihood, the sneaking desire to smoke another rock—to see what that was really all about. Just one more. You’ll want to pick up a $25 rock, which can be split into four or five smaller rocks. (If you want to know where to buy crack, just tune in to shows like “Geraldo” or “City Under Siege”—Washington’s nightly local TV report on the drug crisis—for detailed instructions.)

As you smoke your second rock, it may strike you that the crack high combines the best aspects of marijuana and cocaine. The pleasure of pot is not just a high, but a buzz; smoke a joint and space out. Cocaine, in contrast, is a clear high, a stimulant to sociality; do a line and get into some serious play or some pleasurable work. Crack is both spacey and intense. It has the head rush of marijuana or amyl nitrate with the clarity induced by a noseful of powder cocaine.

On the third rock, you may notice that your world looks just fine, as do various of the women (or men) in it. Reality isn’t real and all that was formerly a possibility is now on the verge of actuality. You’ll want to turn up the music and maybe your sexual aggression quotient. You’ll gain new insight into why crack is so popular among women.

You may find yourself in the company of experienced crackheads as you smoke your fourth rock. You may start to notice other aspects of the crack experience. An individualistic drug, crack is often enjoyed in silence. The silence ends when that last sliver of rock is gone and you want to go out and find another $25 rock. When you’re back outside prowling the lunar landscape of post-Reagan urban America at two in the morning with your high fading and your heartbeat racing, you’ll begin to learn that crack is both a mental and a material phenomenon. You want your next rock, you want to get off, get out of this world—or at least transform it for a few minutes. You can be a moral tourist in the land of crack and still get a sense of how the drug can make sick sense to demoralized people. If all you have in life is bad choices, crack may not be the most unpleasant of them.


Even at two in the morning, you can find a guy who’s got a rock. But he won’t sell to you because he thinks a white guy must be a cop. Or he wants you to give him your money and he’ll go get the rock from his friend over there. (Yeah, right.) So he finally gets you a rock but chips off a little for himself. You get high and before you know it you’re coming down again, thinking maybe crack combines the worst of other drugs. Like weed, it’s stupefying; like coke, it’s conducive to paranoia.

After my night of crack, I went home and fell into a light sleep with the lights on. I feared that an air conditioner was going to fall on my head. I woke up tired, alert, still a little buzzed, filled with an urgent desire to get to work to make up for the night’s decadence.

I took an unsatisfactory shower. I mused about the weird apparatchiks who wage war on drugs and who claim vindication in the fact that drug use is declining among the middle class. They are the ones, I thought melodramatically, who should—who must!—smoke crack. Before it is too late, I muttered, dragging comb through my hair.

What if there were a drug (I inquired of the mirror) that could chemically induce feelings of upper-middle-classness. It would be attractive to the poor, and wildly popular among those who had no prayer of ever achieving that comfortable station in life. And it would be despised by people who had worked long, hard years to obtain that same mental state without resorting to the drug. It would be popular, cheap, and the cause of anti-social behavior. It would be a lot like crack.

I put on my clothes and thought, for obscure reasons, of a yuppie acquaintance. I am sure she has never tried crack. “I just bought a CD player,” this young woman announced proudly to her sister one day when it was still morning in America. “Do you know of any music I should listen to?” Yuppies are just the crackheads of consumerism, I thought, their CDs just so many rocks of consumptive, sensuous pleasure. My mood was improving already. Crack was a parody of Reaganism, I concluded, a brief high with a bad aftertaste and untold bodily damage.

I flushed the toilet and straightened my tie. Had Bill Bennett ever smoked crack, I wondered? Probably not. I was no longer high, just daydreaming. I remembered meeting a University of Texas alum, and her bemused expression when I asked her if she thought Bill Bennett had smoked marijuana at UT in the late 1960s.  “Well, obviously not enough,” she said.

The crack had worn off entirely, and I sat down to write an article about the drug problem.