“Black Tickets” takes a look at the drug scene from inside, from the point of view of a drug dealer. Naturally, the narrator views himself and his drug partners sympathetically, even sentimentally—as human beings who have the usual emotional needs and who even form a quasi family. Naturally, too, his point of view fluctuates somewhat when he thinks his partners have stabbed him in the back. These fluctuations combine with the objective facts (insofar as the facts can be established) to set up an ironic counterpoint in the story. The counterpoint theme reveals the drug partners to be misfits in their personal relationships much as they are in society. As human beings, they are pathetic creatures, buddies of the Obelisk rats.
They are losers in society from the beginning. Raymond grew up “cracking meters” and making other “small deals,” Jamaica was a child prostitute, and the narrator is coming off a bout of statutory rape. Drug dealing is merely the next step up (or down) for them. It is hard, however, to dismiss them simply as drug dealers; in one way or another, they make a play for the reader’s sympathy: The narrator has the reader’s ear, Jamaica has her rotten childhood, and Raymond has his hump. Except, perhaps, for the narrator, they have been dealt “black tickets” in their lives. It is also suggested that they are only part of society’s general corruption: A cross section of society flocks to the Obelisk’s attractions, and even “silky Main Line debs” end up “digesting the crumbling universe of Obelisk.” The drug partners are as much representatives as rejects of their society.
Still, neither their personal hardships nor society’s general rottenness excuses their behavior. The narrator seems as little concerned about the victims of their drugs as he is about the burnt-up Neinmann. “Black Tickets” is one of the few stories in which going to jail is a happy ending; at least there the narrator might have a chance to “learn a new career.” The confused people of “Black Tickets” are not so much loving as they are addicted to one another.