What can a 15-year-old stripper in Kentucky tell you about China?

Note: This post is adapted from my original viral Twitter thread.

Ffrom November 2003 through July 2005, I worked in the prepaid cell phone and phone card industry.

Most of my work was in BFE meth towns and urban ghettoes.

I learned things about the poor in America you won’t want to believe

But this story needs to be told.


The situation was horrible in 2005.

The opioid crisis was already in full swing in rural Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio.

Back then, small towns in Western Kentucky had nothing going on.

“Commerce” amounted to a Super 8 motel, a few gas stations, and fast food.

If you were in one of the better towns, you might have had the option to feast at Applebee’s.

The social situation matched the commerce—broke and destitute.

Hell, Western Kentucky wasn’t even “rich” enough for meth…

Everybody was on crank, which is basically the same thing, but with lower quality and produced by someone with fewer teeth.


One day, after delivering phones all over Western Kentucky, I decided to have a drink at a titty bar in Christian County (lol).

Keep in mind that Western Kentucky is basically a live episode of “People of Walmart.” In other words, not exactly the place to find beautiful women brimming with the energy of life.

But as soon as I entered that titty bar, this lithe angel—wearing a white lacey thing—floated over to my table like a moth drawn to flame.

She was by far the most attractive woman I’d seen in weeks of working Western Kentucky.

And she sat in my lap and soaked up my attention as if it were the only resource left on this Earth.

Young, beautiful, giving me lots of energy—what the hell was she doing in such a desolate, hopeless place?

After half an hour of conversation, she asked to leave the bar with me!

Well, this set off every internal alarm I’ve got.

The situation went from pleasant-but-strange to “what the hell is going on here?”

I was 23 years old at the time—and not exactly the poster child for self-restraint or giving a f*ck.

But I knew something wasn’t right.

I grabbed the girl’s hand and pulled it close to inspect it.

Her skin was perfect. She was young.

Was this a sting?

I began to suspect this girl wasn’t 18. And what did she want?

She started begging me to leave with her.

I told her there was no way in hell that was gonna happen, and in fact, I had to GTFO because things seemed shady.

That’s when she told me:

“I’m only 15.”

*I blink twice in a moment of stunned silence*

“Please, I’ll leave with you right now and we can go get some crank.”

And there it was.

She was 15. Stripping. And addicted to drugs made by people with 2-digit IQs who never attended a high school chemistry class.


Equipped with this new perspective, I started feeling worse and worse about the work I was doing.

No wonder everybody looks like People of Walmart.

No wonder there’s no commerce.

No wonder there’s no energy.

Small town America was rotting from the inside-out.

When people talk about the opioid crisis now, all I can think is—

It was REALLY F’N BAD 15 years ago.

It’s got to be HELL now.

What happened? Where do we go from here?

Well, now we have fentanyl.

Instead of becoming hopelessly addicted and having their lives slip away slowly, addicts can now enjoy death’s sweet embrace at any moment thanks to a tainted supply.

Do you know where fentanyl comes from?

China.

And now we also have the coronavirus (COVID-19), which has got me thinking about China’s bullsh*t:

  • Opioids
  • Fentanyl
  • Synthetic viruses

All trash.

But one thing is far worse, IMO:

  • Chinese manufacturing

Have you ever thought about this?

For most of her life, America has been a rural nation.

When transportation was worse, America’s population was even more spread out than it is now.

Does that make any damn sense?

Many factors play a role here, obviously, but the most important one—and the one that drove and sustained American cities from 1865 through 1960—was manufacturing.

America is where sh*t got made (at least version 1.0).

When that started to change, America changed with it.

As America became more of a regulatory state, pressure to keep prices down (while remaining compliant) became a primary animating force for manufacturing companies.

And as a result, low-skilled labor got outsourced to countries where abuse and exploitation were tolerated.

From the 1970s through the present, China has been more than happy to absorb the manufacturing that floated every small American town through the first half of the 20th century.

Worker abuse? Human rights?

Meh.

China got what it wanted—a foothold for economic growth.

With the western world relying on China for manufacturing, China had an economic insurance policy that would cause short-term chaos for any nation that wished to untether itself from them.

It’s fair to blame American companies for moving manufacturing to China.

I’m more likely to blame the regulatory climate, but I concede that worldwide imbalances in cost of living will inevitably shift manufacturing centers to wherever is cheapest.

But I look at this whole situation, and I think about:

  • the way small American towns worked when manufacturing happened here
  • that 15yo girl, stripping and addicted to crank
  • the destitute feeling of small-town America in the 21st century

God damn.


In a way, we are all complicit.

We want nice stuff at low prices.

We want to feel like we operate in a humane, high-brow way.

But in reality, we’ve just moved the really bad “sins” to places where we don’t have to feel like we’re accountable (like China).

And we are blind.

We mortgaged America’s small towns and her children to achieve these goals.

I cannot look at COVID-19 or iPhones or opioids or anything without thinking about China and how America has hitched her wagon to this rotten death spiral.

In hindsight, what was that 15yo girl supposed to do?

In 2020, there’s no social anything in Bumfuck, America.

There are few factories where men—her potential suitors—could have stable jobs.

There’s no energy moving into those communities; nothing new is on the horizon.

We cannot continue down this path.

It’s time to move manufacturing back to America.

All of it.

It’s immoral to do business the way we have, especially since it’s all in the name of cheaper goods and more socially-acceptable PR.

But nobody talks about the American human cost.

We have paid enough.

Although we can get stuffed animals for $0.86 apiece and iPhones for $1000, we haven’t done a full accounting of the cost of shifting manufacturing to China.

What’s the cost of dissolving America’s network of small towns, leaving only urban centers?

What about the people?

To me, this is a lot like the mental vs. physical balance we all must strive for to be effective players in life.

America has focused on one thing—the physical, in this case—at the expense of the mental.

We are out of balance.

And we have leaned on China to get here.

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