You know The Guy in High Maintenance? Mark is that guy. He knows where you live, and sometimes he hangs out in your living room. He probably sees you more than he does his best friends. You like him — you just don’t really know him. Or his real name. That’s to be expected, though. Because he’s selling you weed.
Mark is handsome, friendly, a normal 29-year-old dude by any standard. Though he’s probably a faster biker than you. From the East Village to Williamsburg to the Upper West Side — dispatch hits him with an order and he’s there in an hour or less. One recent, frozen day he put in over 65 miles.
His isn’t the safest line of work. On Monday, Police Commissioner William Bratton explained a 17 percent rise in shootings by saying “people are killing each other over marijuana more so than anything that we had to deal with an 80s and 90s with heroin and cocaine.” His Chief of Detectives pointed to “turf battles” and “ripoffs of marijuana dealers” as the culprit.
“That is the biggest downside of the job,” Mark said in a moment of down time during a seven-hour shift last week. “Not the police, not that it’s illegal — because the police have bigger fish to fry, way bigger fish to fry than that — but it’s the stories that you hear about the muggings. I hope it won’t ever happen to me. I don’t know why it hasn’t.”
How does somebody get into this particular brand of delivery service? Mark stumbled into it by chance two years ago, when he and his boss were introduced by a mutual friend. “We got a little drunk together and hit it off,” Mark said. “I was looking for a job and he was looking for somebody to do the work. It was pretty lucky, too, because I had no money left. I was down to, I think, $50 in my bank account with no income in sight. It came at the right time, and I thought I would do it for about two or three weeks. You know, just to get some money in until I found a real job. And, uh, here I am.”
Mark is careful to point out that he’s no slacker. “Look, I know that I can work in a nine-to-five setting. I’m diligent enough, I’m disciplined. I was never the guy who misses work.” This job, he says, unlike his past office work in administration, is just especially convenient. He typically heads out from his Brooklyn home in the early afternoon and works until nine or ten. “I can do stuff before I start work and afterwards — and it gives me enough time to do theater stuff. Which is why I’m here.” It’s the artist’s dream — make a decent wage (just over $25 an hour as a flat rate, with bonuses on good days) working minimal hours in an ideal schedule. What are minimal hours, you ask? Try about two weeks a month. Maximum.
“The best thing about it — of course, of course it’s lucrative. It pays the bills. And it’s actually quite nice work.” Most of the time, Mark is probably having a better time at work than you are. He might be a delivery guy, but he’s not schlepping pizza. “You don’t deliver food, you don’t deliver to people you don’t know who are just gonna, you know, grab the bag and it’s gone. You get to go inside their homes, see how these people live. You get to meet all these different people. And you get to build up a relationship with them.”
For example, there’s the couple that have shared an Upper East Side apartment for thirty or forty years, by Mark’s estimate. The place is chock full of decades-old furniture and decor. “I would say they’re probably in their early eighties. They’re very, very sweet. They could be my grandparents. In fact, they kind of remind me of my grandparents. Just less cool. And the woman — she knows what she wants. She’s like, ‘Do you have the sativas? I want the stuff that makes me giggly!’”
Mark thinks High Maintenance is pretty close to the reality of the job, with some “creative liberty for dramatic purposes.” He’s even been accused of cribbing from the show when he tells the story of helping a nerve-wracked maid dispose of a mouse. “Every time I tell the story to somebody, they’re like – are you sure that that happened to you and that you didn’t just see it on High Maintenance?”
With most clients, Mark says, the conversation isn’t very long. He describes the relationship as being akin to something in between a hairdresser and a mailman. And unlike The Guy, he doesn’t smoke with his clients. A lot of them (being pot smokers) are pretty chill, though. So when he’s got the time, he’ll spend it with you. “The other day I got to hang out with a client for a long time. She’s very funny, goofy, really friendly. And I didn’t have any calls going on, so I watched tv with her.” Only once has the job ever lead to a date. “It went ok,” he said. “It’s been a while since we texted. She actually had a boyfriend — I just didn’t know.”
In case you’re missing this, Mark is actually a nice guy. He likes people, and the idea that he’s providing something that helps them. The people with chronic pain, the insomniacs who have tried everything else, the patient allergic to painkillers, for example. “I mean, it’s not like a good Samaritan job, I guess,” he says, shrugging. “But what it definitely isn’t is the typical drug dealer job where you help kill people. This doesn’t kill anybody. It just helps.”
Mark’s company is small, and only deals weed products. This includes different strains, which Mark samples for quality and recommendation purposes (he’s not much of a smoker otherwise). They’re sold mostly as bud, but the company has dabbled in hash and wax. No coke, no Molly — that would be crossing the line as far as he’s concerned.
Marijuana has been decriminalized to a degree in New York, but that doesn’t mean this job isn’t a risk. Selling is punishable by jail time regardless of the amount you’re peddling. So Mark is extremely cautious and so is his company — they require every new client to provide a verifiable reference. He’s never been in a situation where he felt like he was almost caught. He says the slightest whiff of that and he’d quit. Bundled up against the cold, Mark does his best to blend in and be hyper aware of his surroundings — and who may be following him.
The legal risk isn’t what really weighs on Mark. Much more immediate and troubling to him is the danger of being mugged by a rival company. While it’s never happened to him, most everybody else in his company and a handful of other small businesses have come face to face with hired thugs.
“Other companies, larger companies with much worse quality product — the sketchy ones — what they do, or what we think they do, is send out spotters who follow people around on their bikes, who look for people in a neighborhood who fit the part, who has a messenger bag, fast bike.” The spotters tail their marks and if they notice a cyclist popping up to a series of apartments for a few minutes, they can safely guess that they’re following a delivery route.
They assign a few big, tough men to meet the unsuspecting courier on his way down a stairwell or elevator, intimidate the hell out of him and take his product. In one particularly brutal case, Mark tells me, a woman had two teeth punched out. The second time she was assaulted, she screamed bloody murder and bashed through the men who had backed her into a corner. “She kept her stuff, too, which is pretty badass.” They do it not to steal clients — Mark’s “upscale” thirty-somethings of Stuy Town are never going to switch over to a larger, lower-quality production — but to scare the competition.
Mark doesn’t plan to do this for the rest of his life. But for now, it’s more important to him that he’s able to stay in New York than what kind of job he has. It hasn’t posed much of a problem for him yet. Some friends back home, he says, don’t really “get” it. It isn’t a career. And he did lose an OkCupid date after being honest about it. As far as his parents are concerned, he’s a courier who delivers hard drives to tech companies. It’s a useful job. Just not necessarily a sustainable one.
It’s time for him to deliver, so I squeeze in one more question as he dons his messenger bag. Has the job changed him? “Sometimes you just meet people — that’s the thing about this job — I would never on my own time hang out with a 60-year-old who’d been living in Alphabet City his whole life and has all of these stories. Or an 80-year-old couple. You get to see the world from different perspectives.”
Since moving to New York, he says, he’s been educated in ways that he never would have expected. He has adopted an objectivity, quelled his biases. “I don’t believe in right or wrong so much any more. I guess my world turned from black and white to … different shades of grey. Fifty shades of gray. At least fifty shades of grey. Yeah.” And with that, he’s off like the superman of weed, at your door with your fix in an hour or less.