A Pirate's Life for Me


I don't have to endorse what they're doing to note that this profile of two Chicago bootleg CD salesmen, by Tasneem Pagdhiwala, is a mighty fun read.

Two summers ago, right around the time Chris upgraded from squares to CDs, a hustler friend who'd recently gotten out of Stateville agreed to teach Henry how to bootleg. Henry had just been fired from a pizzeria and decided to end the long string of boring, low-paying line-cook and cashier jobs he'd held through his 20s. He started out working buses and busy north-side stations. Looking for a vacant spot to make his own, he rode up the escalator at Chris's station one Friday night, introduced himself, and bummed a cigarette, expecting to talk trade for a few minutes and move on. He'd heard stories of territorial bootleggers, especially on the west side, who'd get violent with competition that lingered too long. But Chris drew him in, extolling the advantages of the location, and suggested Henry start selling there too.

"Me and him, it's like we're intertwined at the hips," says Chris, pressing his palms together hard, knotting the fingers. "We both love weed and we love women." Chris figures he smokes a dozen joints a day, significantly less than Henry, but they're usually high while they work. Chris turns to give his partner an affectionate smile, but Henry is shuffling down the sidewalk along the overpass, his duffel bag swinging heavily at his waist. "Bathroom," Chris says, shrugging. "That's the only thing he walks away for. Pop and piss. The two Ps, the fundamentals. Oh, and pot. Me, I also believe in the three Bs: beer, blunts, and burgers. Get high, get head, and go home. The necessities of life. This is why me and Henry go together. We believe in the simple things."