When the pandemic arrived in force, all kinds of things were in short supply, including medical-grade gloves and masks. Hospitals, governments, police agencies, and individuals were desperate to get them, but they were all-but-impossible to find. There was money to be made in that desperation, and Hiam Kaplan saw the opportunity as a win-win—he could make some cash while actually helping people. The US resident was particularly well-suited for the challenge because he is, as Amanda Chicago Lewis writes in a riveting story for the Verge, "a true hustler." He figured he could use the skills and contacts he'd acquired over the years via everything from online gambling and the porn industry to marijuana and even dog-training to navigate the system. Kaplan, now 49, decided to specialize in gloves and became fluent in "nitrile butadiene rubber."
He spent day after day "on calls, on Telegram, on WhatsApp, chatting, schmoozing, connecting to people all over the world who said they represented hospitals and factories and financiers." Deal after deal fell through at the last minute, thanks to off-the-charts corruption. The cast of characters in the tale is movie-like—Rob, the grizzled government contractor in his 70s who knows how to get things done; the mysterious Dr. Fong, trying to arrange manufacturing in Thailand; and Milla, Kaplan's Brazilian girlfriend/pandemic roommate who barely speaks English. But it's not quite a Hollywood ending: "After thousands of hours of work, through all his pandemic wheeling and dealing, Kaplan has only made around a thousand dollars total." But he's still fine with it all, mostly because of how things played out with Rob and Milla. (Read the fascinating full story.)