By Aaron Singerman
CEO of Redcon1
This month’s column introduces my upcoming book, Redcon Rising. The book will be out in November, and this is the first time I’ve shared any of it with anyone publicly.
The idea behind the book is to educate through my tale of successes and failures and to entertain simultaneously. Hopefully, the book helps people to overcome their struggles, succeed in business, and find happiness through the journey.
Dichotomies of My Life
2006 HOUSTON, TEXAS
It was a hot, sticky, Texas afternoon. A normal summer day. Or at least what passed for my normal.
I woke up dope sick, same as always. Hustled the forty bucks required for my two daily bags of heroin. Same as always. Climbed into my fifteen-year-old Lexus that leaked oil and steering fluid to begin the daily commute to my drug dealer’s house in a Houston ghetto.
Calling it Red’s house isn’t entirely accurate. I mean, he certainly didn’t own the home. He wasn’t paying rent and his name didn’t show up on any mortgage. He was simply squatting in one of the countless vacant and dilapidated structures lining Northwest Houston’s Yellowstone Boulevard, most of them small single-family homes accommodating crack houses, gambling dens, and brothels – or, in Red’s case, all three.
I got out of my car without bothering to lock it. As with each visit, I didn’t plan on being inside long. This was a business trip. Besides, if anyone wanted to steal my crappy car or something inside, locking it wouldn’t prevent that.
As I did each day, I walked across Red’s dirt “lawn,” past the faded and cracked white paint peeling off the house’s exterior, up the crumbling steps, and knocked. The sun glistening off my head was only part of the reason why sweat beaded across my forehead. The familiar but no less excruciating cramps, cold chills, and muscle aches hammered my central nervous system with more intensity each passing moment. No answer. That wasn’t like Red – his dope business was open 24/7/365. As far as I knew, he never left this den. Doing so could mean a rival dealer moving in and taking over his territory. I pushed the door open with a creak. Any lock or deadbolt had long ago been punched out.
“Red? Hey, man, you here?” I called out, stepping into what, in a not-long-ago era, must have been the modest living room of a working-class family. It had since declined into a sea of mold, fast-food wrappers, cigarette butts, and drug paraphernalia. I remained largely unaffected by the filth and smell of stale weed smoke and mildew. I was used to it. It wasn’t much different than my own living conditions. Besides, this one-track mind wouldn’t deviate from its sole goal and purpose: scoring drugs. I had shown an aptitude over the years to overlook anything jeopardizing that endeavor.
Red’s house had no electricity. I’m not sure about water, but that didn’t prevent at any given time half a dozen to double digit drug users, sellers, gamblers, and hookers from populating each stained room. My gaze breezed past the soiled couch where Red’s prostitutes routinely sat, through the kitchen where dishes and trash were piled high, and settled on a crooked screen door leading to the backyard. A shout had come from the other side of it.
I still didn’t see Red, but either he called out that he was outside, or his “girlfriend” let me know that was the location from where he was presently conducting business. Red was a smallish light-skinned black guy, probably 5’8”, 140 pounds, his orange-tinged hair and freckles responsible for the nickname. Conversely, the former (?) prostitute he generally referred to as his “girlfriend” was my height and size. Around six foot two, close to 200 pounds. Several shades darker than Red and built well – athletic rather than fat. She looked like she could have been a track star in a past life. Today, only track marks remained.
I found my dealer in the rear of the house, standing on the three or four rickety stairs leading from the back porch down to a dirt patch considered the backyard.
“I need two,” I said quickly, taking out my forty dollars and walking down the stairs. Though I saw Red every single day, there was never much small talk. My goal was always to get in and out as quickly as possible. For Red’s part, the only conversation he ever attempted was when he offered me one of the disgusting five-dollar hookers he always had lounging around. He knew the answer was and always would be no, but that didn’t stop him from trying, more for entertainment than enterprise.
A shriek rang out before he could take my money. It was the girlfriend. “Motherfucker!” she screamed from inside the house. We both tried to ignore her, but she stormed outside and began to walk down the stairs with purpose, evidently quite angry with Red. “You didn’t get me no food?” she screeched at him, coming to a rest on the stair above where we were attempting our transaction. If I couldn’t actually smell her, I certainly imagined I could. “You didn’t get me no McDonald’s?”
Red didn’t say anything, barely reacted. Until, like a flash, his right arm shot out past me, a sharp jab that connected with the girlfriend’s nose. “Bitch, shut up,” he said calmly after the punch landed and she was doubled over, blood oozing through clenched fingers. Red went right back to digging into a sandwich bag full of smaller baggies of heroin from which to serve me, and the girlfriend retreated into the house. It was like nothing had happened; there was no indication this was the first occurrence of violence between the two. Red and I were again alone with the drugs and chirping Texas insects.
As he counted out my baggies, I heard the screen door slam behind us. He heard it too but didn’t turn around. I looked up. The girlfriend. Coming down the stairs. Fast and angry.
Oh, shit. She’s going to hit him, I thought, probably trying to signal Red, though I don’t remember for sure. Even so, he had to know she was there. Still, he didn’t turn, just continued pulling out my two baggies. Red stood face to face with me, his back to the stairs, about to hand me the goods when, suddenly, his eyes went wide with shock and pain. A shimmer of light caught my attention. I looked down; a giant blade was sticking out of Red’s ribs, up near his sternum. Glimmering steel, coming out the front of his body. For a moment, the two of us made eye contact, each trying to piece together what was transpiring. Then, I saw the blood. It began to spread across his belly quicker than spilled cranberry juice on a kitchen floor.
Red dropped the sandwich bag and spun around, grasping at the large butcher knife piercing his body. The girlfriend screamed, then ran back up the stairs and scampered through the screen door. I never saw her again. Red turned back to me, blood now pouring from his mouth and chest. I couldn’t believe how much blood there was. It was everywhere. He spun around, frantic, reaching for his back, trying to pull the knife out. The blood kept flowing, mixing into the dirt, producing a dark, deep, ruddy mud. Finally, Red got a hold of the knife handle but was unable to pull it out. He continued spinning around and around like a cat chasing its tail. Finally, he fell face forward into the bloody mud, landing hard enough on the knife that most of it pushed xx through his back. Blood continued to pool around him.
My brain had a hard time processing what its eyes were telling it. Holy fuck. All I could think was, I had no idea there was so much blood in a person, followed immediately by, I need to get the hell out of here.
I sprinted around the house, back to the front where my car was parked. I jumped in and started the engine. But I didn’t put it in drive. I didn’t leave. Not right away. I had to think. Yes, I had just witnessed extreme violence. But I also hadn’t gotten my drugs.
My internal thought process went something like this: I don’t know where to get more, and there are all those baggies scattered on the ground back there. Red doesn’t need them anymore. I should go get those baggies. That’s enough heroin to last me for weeks.
I remained in my car, contemplating. What should I do? Should I go back? What if the girlfriend comes back? Maybe Red is fine. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t take the risk and drove off, empty-handed. Any anxiety stemmed not from Red’s demise, but rather the loss of my only source of heroin.
The next morning, predictably, I woke up sick yet again. However, not my standard level of dope sickness. Much, much worse. I hadn’t had my fix the day before and was slamming headfirst into day two without injecting any heroin. Withdrawals crippled me. It was going to be tough just to get out of bed. And now there was no Red to buy heroin from. What was a resourceless addict to do? I’d eventually take this lesson with me into the business world, especially when dealing with manufacturers: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
I was mad at myself for not going back the day before. What an idiot. I should have taken Red’s baggie without hesitation. I’d have forty or fifty bags of heroin now. For free. No hustling, no sickness, just a string of carefree days before the supply ran dry. Now someone else was going to find them. If they hadn’t already. Fuck it, I decided. I’ll go back now. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. Maybe Red was just hurt and he’s in the hospital. Maybe the baggies are still there. Or maybe his body is lying in the weeds with fifty bags of heroin scattered around the corpse like manna from above. Maybe he’s gone but the heroin is still there. A plethora of possibilities, with no idea which was the most likely. I intended to find out.
Sick as a dog, sweating, puking, rife with diarrhea, I crawled into my car and took my normal route into the ghetto. Pulled up to Red’s house. It looked as it always did. Maybe sadder. More downtrodden. Maybe it just seemed that way. I didn’t care. I knocked on the door. No answer. I pushed it open. Empty. No prostitutes on the couch. No Red. No one at all. Just the cockroaches.
I headed for the backyard. Warped floorboards creaked underfoot. I could feel my heart in my throat. What would I find?
I scanned the yard. Empty. No body. Barely a sign that anything had happened. Could I have imagined it? I noticed the mud where he had fallen was pushed around a little, like someone had tried to clean it up. I looked closer. No drugs. Shit.
What am I going to do now?
MARCH 31, 2021 – REDCON1 HEADQUARTERS, BOCA RATON, FL
I was annoyed. The papers had been signed for over twenty-four hours, and still no money. Significant proceeds from the sale of a minority stake in my supplement company should have already cleared and been deposited into my account.
“Where we at? Refresh it again,” I barked into the speakerphone as my gaze found one of the many framed pictures of my kids dotting my office walls, alongside military paraphernalia gifted to me by so many friends in the special operations community, books, and bodybuilding regalia, including a Mr. Olympia Sandow trophy I bought at auction. Our company controller, Stephanie, was on the other end.
“The Woodpecker” was what my old business partner, former best friend, and at the time, co-defendant, called me when I got like this. It was meant to be insulting, but I wore it like a badge of honor. The characteristic had served me well over the years.
“Nothing new,” Stephanie reported, exasperated. Everyone expected me to be happy, to be excited. Everyone – my lawyers, my new partners, my employees – all kept congratulating me, asking how I was going to celebrate selling a piece of my company that would allow my kids’ kids to never work a day in their lives if I allowed it. Celebrate? I wasn’t celebrating. The money wasn’t officially in my account yet. My dad taught me never to count chickens before they hatched, and until that money was in my account, I wasn’t celebrating shit.
My phone vibrated. A text from Stephanie. I opened it. A screenshot of the company bank account. It was our new balance. The money had landed. Generational wealth.
I’m not an outwardly emotional person. To say the least. Just ask my wife at the time, Darielle. The mother of my children. She always urged me to embrace my feelings more, to learn to revel in them. And she’s right, I should. But I rarely do. This was different. When I saw that number, a wave of emotion rolled through me. I couldn’t help it – I got choked up, for the first time in a long time. All the hard work, all the sacrifices, everything I’d overcome led to this accomplishment. It wasn’t necessarily a “fuck you” to everyone who had doubted me, screwed me over, or rooted against me (of whom there were and still are many), but – you know what, yes it was. Fuck you.
Celebrate? I went to the gym and trained calves and back. Darielle took our sons to baseball practice. This victory wasn’t just about the money and security, though that was wonderful. No, this was about validation. A multibillion-dollar private equity firm with a near-perfect track record in companies they backed believed enough in what I had built to invest eight figures for a minority stake in it. REDCON1 was my baby. A company I had started from scratch after being thrown out of my previous one. A company that my new partners estimated would soon be worth a billion dollars.
That stamp of approval was a statement to the world that REDCON1 was special. Something I had known all along.
JANUARY 2022 – FEDERAL DETENTION CENTER, MIAMI
I was eating discarded food out of prison trash cans. Me, Aaron Fucking Singerman, the founder and CEO of the fastest growing supplement brand in the world, a millionaire many times over, using my bare hands to eagerly stuff the scraps other prisoners had thrown away into my mouth.
A month ago, I had been living in a mansion on the water with my model wife and three sons. I had private chefs, momentary access to my own jet, and more six-figure watches than I could count. I owned Lamborghinis, Mercedes Benzes, and a Rolls-Royce. But in here, none of that mattered. Besides, I couldn’t recall any of it being more satisfying than this pile of day old, mushy collard greens some other inmate had half-eaten and thrown out. Cut-off sandwich crusts and opened milk cartons rounded out the macros for this banquet.
After the feast’s conclusion, I sat in my cell, contemplating what had just happened. I was somewhat surprised to discover the overriding sentiment rattling around my brain was one of gratitude. I was actually grateful for the opportunity to eat garbage. Grateful to have been able to shower and wash my underwear that day, the first time in more than a week. To have briefly left the eight by ten cell I shared with another inmate after being locked down twenty-four hours a day for over a week due to gang violence in Texas.
I knew it could be worse: At least I had food. Prior to the dumpster spread, I’d barely been getting fed enough to stave off starvation. Sure, my wet underwear may have been hanging next to my head, but soon they would be dry. And then I’ll have clean underwear. If nothing else, I had to stay positive. Nothing lasts forever. Good or bad. A sentiment I have lived many times over in what feels like multiple lives.
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