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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

Thieves Jargon

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Molly Tolsky

Molly Tolsky is a Chicago native and resident, as well as a student in the Columbia College fiction writing program. She spends most of her free time behind the cash register of Barnes and Noble where, on really slow days, she writes all these little stories. This is her first to be published.

Every time you go to your drug dealer's house, it's always the same shit. You go in with sixty bucks and come out with an eighth of overpriced weed, a fucked up mind, and four new friends, usually named Viper, Mahooney, T-Dawg, and the token Melissa.

When you get there, the halogen lights are on a little too bright and everything looks ugly. The plastic cups are half-filled with brown water and black ash. The torn up couch is facing a TV that nobody's watching but is still playing reruns of "The Jeffersons." The open bathroom door reveals a toilet bowl filled with caked on dust and a pair of dirty boxers on the floor. It's all ugly, and it's what makes you think, right off the bat, every time you walk in there, "Why the fuck am I here?"

It spurs in you that brief, panicky moment in which you picture yourself as a little kid, playing on a Sit N' Spin and feeling the ultimate high. And you picture your mom and grandma sitting there too, watching you, saying things like "What a great kid," and "There's my little angel." And then you try and trace your life from that moment there to this moment here, on the South Side of Chicago, sitting around a kitchen table that is slowly being filled with a scale, a grinder, rolling papers, a few glass bowls, clear plastic baggies, and the green stuff. And you can't do it, you just can't do it.

But every time you go to your drug dealer's house, it's not just a buying thing. It's a smoking thing, and soon enough, the joint is being passed to you whether you wanted it or not. It's still early in the night and none of your dealer's random druggie friends have stumbled in yet so you're not exactly loose and giddy. You first talk about things like your day, and the past week, and the coming week, and what you did last weekend, and what you'll do this weekend, and who you've been with and who you've seen, and who you will be and who you'll try to never see. The conversation then dries up a bit but that's ok because you can always blame it on that first stage of a high that's suddenly creeping in on you and slowing down your higher brain.

But, alas, eventually there always comes that muffled sound of the latest rap song escaping out of your dealer's vibrating phone. And this means that people are coming, that people are here, that there will be people.

Yet people they somehow are not. A drug dealer's friends are usually not so much people as caricatures, sent from the Stoner Gods to entertain your highly sensitive mind. First comes the guy that looks like he could be your Uncle Paul if it weren't for his Mohawk and dark eye liner. He's talking in an indistinguishable accent -- sometimes British, sometimes New York, sometimes just plain slurred -- and everything he says is the most interesting thing you've heard all day. This is the kind of guy who always knows things like where the nearest gas station is that doesn't have a functioning security camera and who invented the idea, not the recipe mind you, of Kraft Singles. He'll always go on to tell you of that weird six months he spent in the Israeli army and why, ever since he was in the 12th grade, he swore to never eat a single kernel of movie theater popcorn.

And as odd as he seems, he's also always the one to bring some girl along and hold her hand and grope her ass. This chick is always weird. She's usually wearing all black, some skinny pants, and silver chains from head to toe. She's got a stud coming out of her upper lip that's surrounded by red, irritated skin and some pus, but she'll soon explain that she just did that one earlier that night in her friend's bathroom as they got ready to go out. She proceeds to then take out her piercing kit and let you know that she'll pierce anything for you, totally free, and she promises she's clean.

You say, "No thank you," and turn your head to introduce yourself to the third wheel that straggled in with the rest of them. He's wearing an unbuttoned flannel shirt over a black Sonic Youth tee and he damn near looks like he belongs DJ-ing on a college radio station in 1995. He'll always have a really warm smile regardless of how dirty he may look with his four day old beard and he almost gives you some kind of comfort in this shiny, cold 19th floor apartment.

By the time all of you get acquainted, there's always same strange game being played or weird conspiracy theory being explored. You always get to the point where you're really high and happy to be there. You find yourself saying, multiple times, things like "I wish I had a tape recorder" or "Someone go get me my freaking journal" because you want to get all of this down, these ridiculous conversations about the etymology of the word bong that are as equally hilarious as they are mind-expanding. You pat your dealer on the back and thank him for the good time, the good people, and like always, the good weed. At around some time between when you should have gone home and when the bus you take to get home stops running, you get yourself together and start to leave. You hug your new-found friends and it never seems weird, even though you just met them, even though they are the kind of people you avoid eye contact with on the street. You check your pockets for all your belongings -- your phone, your lighter, and most importantly, your bag. You ride down the elevator and walk past the doorman in the lobby, wondering if he can smell anything on you, and wondering if he cares. You ride the bus for what normally would be a twenty minute ride of monotony combined with slight fear, but what will then seem somewhat calming as you find a harmony between the turning of the wheels and the blinking of the streetlights and the sounds of the city streets as they fly from beneath you. You finally make it home, into your apartment, into your bed, stoned blissfully into a state that lulls between asleep and awake. You'll always think about things like life, and the bigger picture. And how at moments like these, it's so easy to see the beauty in things. It's so easy to see how everything works. For a brief moment, you'll feel like you finally have the right kind of camera that can capture everything that is perfect in this world into one snapshot, one all-consuming notion of why you're here and why that matters. And even though that moment will pass too quickly for you to remember any of the things you have just figured out, you will know that it's that moment that you live for. That it's for that millisecond of clarity that you waste all those hazy hours.

Eventually, you fall asleep. You sleep long and hard with a heavy body that doesn't budge.

In the morning, you wipe the crust from your eyes, take a shower, and get ready for whatever you have to do that day. Throughout the afternoon, you piece together the night before, gradually remembering different words that were said and things that were done. By evening, you feel tired and groggy, like you haven't gotten a good night's sleep in days. And you know what you'll do. You'll blame it on your bad decisions. You'll blame it on your friend in 8th grade who gave you your first joint. You'll look at yourself in the mirror and declare that, no, this is it. No more messing around.

But you'll always find yourself back at your dealer's house, someday. Maybe weeks later, maybe months later, maybe even longer. And when you get there, it's always the same shit.