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The Nod

A Universal Language

Photo by Enrique Alarcon on Unsplash

Back in my using days, I got somewhat street savvy.

I could turn up pretty much anywhere, and if there were dealers on the street, I’d find them. And I did, on the streets of cities around the U.S., on campuses, and even in small towns or beach towns.

A little eye contact, not too direct, followed by The Nod.

A subtle, small nod, let the dealer know that you were looking to score.

And the subtle, small nod, from the dealer, let you know that they were selling.

From there, the dealer would take the lead, maybe by walking in a certain direction away from you or toward you. Or giving a second nod - a directional nod.


In my using days, I was mostly looking to score weed or hash.

But there were plenty of times I was looking to cop some blow or some pills.

If I’d never seen the dealer before, of course my skepticism would be very high. But back in those days (I got clean in ’89), there were no pills or powders laced with fentanyl or tranq.

Who knows what they were laced with, but it was more likely to lessen potency rather than to increase it.

So, while it was not safe, it was massively safer than it is today.


Of course, sometimes you would get “beat.” Ripped off. That was when it was a one-off with a dealer, when they knew they wouldn’t see you again. In that case, there would be no compunction about selling you some useless garbage. But if it was a repeat transaction, there was a better chance it was up-and-up.


In a previous post, I wrote that I was a “head,” which was the term for a user in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a big part of my identity.

I loved the thrill, the chase, and the score.

I loved stepping out onto the street and finding someone who would return the nod. It was a little dangerous, a little exciting, and I got a kick out of it.


It was almost always better to buy from someone you knew because their reputation and acquaintance were more wrapped up in making a reasonable transaction.

“Friendships” were often based on the quality of whatever was being bought and sold. If someone wanted to burn you, so be it.

Most of my buys were relatively small, just something to use for a day or a few days. Not a lot of money was spent or big quantities purchased. So, the stakes were somewhat low.


I spent years and years looking to cop. Phone calls, waiting for someone to show up, walking around, waiting. Wait some more. Stories. Bullshit.

It occupied my mind greatly.

I considered myself a druggie, a head.

This obscured, in my mind, that I was an endless drinker.

As I waited, sat by the phone, made the drive, or the walk, I almost always had a beer in my hand.

I was so focused on the drug life that I couldn’t see the alcohol life. I mean, you could buy alcohol anywhere. No nod needed. Just put it on the counter, along with some money, and you’re good to go.

Scoring drugs was a whole other story.


When I got clean and sober, and took a serious look at what I’d been doing, it shocked me that under my identity as a head was a deeper identity as an alcoholic.

I learned to stay away from certain blocks, some for the dealers, and some for the bars.

I haven’t cruised the streets and given someone the nod since the 80’s. I don’t know what it’s like now. I imagine that many of the rituals remain. But now there are “dispensaries” all over the damn place that are selling weed.

And there’s a whole other can of worms behind the sellers of pills and powders, as often drugs that are marketed as pharmaceutical are in reality street drugs that contain fentanyl. Look out.

I imagine that a lot of it, including those fentanyl overdose deaths that we all read about, begin with a nod.

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