I was born back in ’80-something, after Scarface came out. I heard my pops, Reds, and uncle Rainy threw an outdoor block party in the dead of winter to celebrate.
Reds caught a gun charge around the time my deciduous teeth started coming in. My toddler-faced mom — now pregnant with Deion — clamped on heavy gold bamboo earrings and clubbed every night, but she still sent Reds a thousand pictures of the siblings and me all muffled in Gucci, like baby dope dealers or dope-dealers’ babies. Everything Reds wanted.
* * *
Uncle Rainy introduced the projects to $6-vials of raw dope back in ’90-something. He called them “The Rainy 6’s”–tattered fiends from miles around was either nodding or throwing up, talking about “I need another one of those Rainy 6’s!”
Those “Rainy 6’s” bought uncle Rainy Hefty bags of cash, unreleased Air Jordans, two Jeeps, a green Porsche, a thousand new girlfriends and twin daughters. Shitty-diaper Deion sat in the stairwell by 7-B everyday, peeling paint chips from the wall, placing them on the tip of his tongue and then smiling when they dissolved.
I’d slap Deion once a day and say, “Stop eating paint chips! I’ll buy you real chips!” He’d agree and then eat more. Lead paint chips were sweeter than the cans of Pringles I’d buy him.
* * *
My dad came home from prison around the time those deciduous teeth finished falling out. Uncle Rainy threw him a block party to celebrate. My older brother, Dev, and I 12-o’clocked through the crowd on matching red CR 80s with red piping — the block cheered.
I stood up, waved a peace sign, lost control of my bike and got dragged under a van. Dev said I’d be a pussy if I didn’t get back on so I got back on, well before the scabs dried. Then my dad said I was pussy because I didn’t get no pussy — uncle Rainy nodded in agreement.
Mom said 11 year olds didn’t have to worry about sex, but I said, “I’m 11 and a half, and I ain’t no pussy, Ma. Watch!”
Kesha, Kim, Tarsha, Meaka and Nicole said no. Ebony said, “Hell no!” Trina said yeah—if I stuck my face deep in her crotch. I looked at it, closed my eyes, and then spun my tongue around like the rinse cycle — her head knocked like she was jamming to a rap song. My ashy butt cheeks stared back at me in the mirror as I slowly climbed in — her feet cringed and then unfurled with every surge. My name was tatted all over her composition book next to hearts by the time I left.
I beat Dev; he didn’t get any until he turned 12. Deion was never a virgin. Trina’s smell and I ran back to the ‘jects to tell Reds that I shook my virginity and it ain’t coming back, but he was off creeping with one of his other ladies. Mom liked flings, too, and so did Rainy.
Rainy shot some of his own 6’s and lost that Porsche, those Jeeps and that cash. Who knows where his daughters went. Mom said he trashed our place and ran out the door — clutching her Gucci clutch.
* * *
I wrapped my teeth in gold back in mid-’90-something. Dev and Reds started collecting that cash Rainy left behind. They bought identical Lexus GS 400s and parked them on Ashland Avenue. Rainy went to rehab. Mom got glammed up like prom night and treated her nose better than us. Rainy said that rehab was for quitters and then quit rehab.
Bullets are hot as shit. I caught one in the thigh after middle school. Fat Tone shot me because I dropped 40 points on his son’s team at the “Black Men United” basketball tournament for peace — go figure. Deion ran home and told Dev. Dev hung Fat Tone’s fat ass out of a second story window by his neck. His fatness saved him — only because Dev’s knot was weak and it popped like a bungee cord. Fat Tone’s knees shattered when they met the concrete.
Every girl in the world signed my cast, and I was back on them dirt bikes the day we cracked it off. The gold teeth were gone, and you could find me shooting craps in a stairwell near you. Deion was finally off of the paint chips; he switched to the ganja, like us.
I broke every gambler in every dice game from east to west Baltimore and back — 14 years old with $15,000 saved up in wrinkled-up ones, small-face twenties, and shit-tinted fives, all stashed in me and Dev’s new crib.
Rainy pulled a linty mask over his intense eyes, broke into our new crib, sniffed out that $15,000 like a blood hound and stole what he found of it. My girlfriend Tonya, who looked like Ashley Banks from the Fresh Prince, tried to stop him but he beat her face like a conga drum — she spit a bloody tooth out.
So now there’s a rumor that Rainy high-fived my mom’s face over two dollars. I know he punched his twin daughters like time clocks, and now he had attacked my girl Ashley Banks. But it was all good; Dev bought me an Acura Vigor for my fifteenth birthday and I used that to run Rainy’s ass over. I hit him on Ashland and Rose; Deion rode shotgun. Rainy popped up like toast and tried to run. I hate woman beaters like payroll deductions so I ran him down, beat his ass for 10 minutes and dragged him back in front of the car, laid him out like school clothes and then tried to run his ass over again. Shout out to Tupac for making the soundtrack to the beating because “Death around the Corner” definitely cranked out my speakers while I whipped that ass.
Dev has a beautiful daughter and makes $10,000 a week, while Reds is on the wrong end of the crack-pipe — from kingpin to car washer — in a matter of days.
* * *
Reds once told me, “Makin’ money is all that counts” while Rainy said, “If you ain’t got dough, you ain’t shit!” and Mom said, “Go make it baby and I’ma go spend it!” And they repeated themselves repeatedly.
Dev said, “If I ever see you using or selling this shit I’ll kill you!” as he sat boney and shirtless on the end of the couch, overlooking a pile of Corn Pops colored crack-rocks. New razors slit the edges of my thumbs while helping him cap up 500 five-dollar vials that night.
I was like, “ Selling crack is a 18-hour-a-day job with no benefits, and I ain’t about that life. School for me, please!” Mom’s a stranger now because Dev and I haven’t been home in three years — Deion stuck around. Mom chose partying over us, but Deion liked parties.
The tenth grade was easy as shit, so I skipped that. Gold teeth were back in, but I’ll pass this time around. Rainy finishedup a two-year stretch at Jessup and told me in a letter that he was running the jailhouse NA meetings — clean as untouched snow.
My dad found out that he had Hep-C before he went back in; Rainy came home with HIV. Georgetown sent a letter saying that they’d let a project dude like me in. Dev gave Rainy Magic-Johnson-like healthcare and a job collecting debts. Rainy’s pistols waved like a tidal wave now and he loved throwing debtors out of windows like Dev did Fat Tone’s fat ass.
I wished Rainy was around and waving those pistols that day in April when Dev got shot. Blood speckles damped his bright white Barkley’s with a red tint. Rainy couldn’t handle what happened to Dev so he OD’ed.
I buried Rainy a week or two after I buried Dev. At the burial his twins and Dev’s daughter squeezed me like vice grips. I threw the obituaries in the old Nike box with the other 120 I had stacked over the years.
I felt like Rainy. Thought I was going to college but ended up back in the family business like George and Jeb. Deion followed.
* * *
In 2000-something I had a dinner toast with killers and whores and crooked cops and dealers and lawyers and the rest who ran Baltimore; they were celebrating my failed assassination attempt. Deion waged war with everyone who wasn’t us — bodies fell and cracked like caseless iPhones.
Deion built a shield around me because I was Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart mixed with Chef Emeril when it came to cooking crack. I used less Arm & Hammer than the competition on top of cutting it with Tilex. That bought four cars, a liquor store and triple what Rainy had. I realized I was on.
Indicted friends, dead brothers and an inability to trust made me realize I was off. Blowing Euros on a trip to Paris with my new girlfriend made me feel better.
While I was gone, Deion shot our cousin Scoop over a “who’s the best rapper” argument. When I came back, I slapped Deion the way I’d slapped him when he ate paint chips and bought Scoop a Rolex.
Shortly after Deion had gotten locked up in a drug raid–lead paint poisoning made the judge take it easy on him–Reds asked for permission to sell crack with me. I said, “You’re hired.” Mom switched from partying with street dudes to partying with church folk — good church folk. Now she only parties for the Lord.
Dev’s daughter found that old Nike box with the 120-plus obituaries and made a collage out of the late, black faces. On our way out of Jessup on a visit to see Deion she asked me if I was going to die soon and I said, “I dunno.” She wept like I did when her father died.
Jail made Deion look like an ugly version of me: identical forehead, powder-white lips and Droopy’s eyes, all crowned by a tight-ass Lionel Jefferson afro. I said, “Damn Deion! Jail made you ugly as shit!” — brotherly love.
Deion pointed left and said, “Give Lavar, the C.O. right there, a $1,000 and he’ll get me a cellphone.” I gave Lavar $2,000 and told him to look out for my baby bro. I told Reds that I was thinking about leaving the game.
No more hustling, no more flashy shit and no more girls — maybe some girls. The really, really pretty ones. Reds said, “You’re crazy! What else can you do?” I said college maybe, and we both laughed. I wasn’t joking. I enrolled.
Assimilating to the dominant culture with the purpose of receiving an education was harder than algorithms — so I didn’t. I took Dev, Reds, Rainy, mom, Deion and everyone else from our building up into the classroom with me.
Dickhead-Frasier-from-Cheers-looking professors asked me dumb shit like, “And what sport do you play, young man?” Dev once said, “Yo, the hero is the one who is afraid to run.” So I ignored the professors and stuck it out.
* * *
In 2011 I sat alone in the car with a perfectly wrapped blunt dangling from my bottom lip. A text from Deion reads: “You back on bro? We’ll turn up when I get out!” I sparked and took a pull and then another; cool gray ashes danced on my cap and gown. I brushed them off and made my way over to the commencement.
A Kardashian-looking woman in my mom’s Giuseppes and Woody Allen’s glasses flopped next to me. “Are you nervous?” she said. I said,”No,” as I pulled her tassel out of her earring.
“I’m starting my first job in a week at my dad’s company,” she boasted as I tucked my legs in to let another student by. I congratulated her before she asked me if I had ever worked before, and I said, “Yes.” She then asked, “Well, what did you do?”
I locked eyes with her and said, “I was a gangsta.”
An awkward pause turned into a laugh we both shared. I laughed a little harder, though, because I’m about to be the only semi-high dude from the semi-automatic era walking across Johns Hopkins’ stage wearing Air Jordans.
Reds and Mom were throwing a party for me later, just like the one they had when I was born—minus Rainy and Dev.
D. Watkins is a author, film-maker and native Baltimorean who graduated with honors from Johns Hopkins University. He has participated in writing workshops in multiple countries throughout the Americas, Europe and Africa. Watkins teaches at a number of colleges in Baltimore and conducts workshops on social justice at the Baltimore Freedom School. Watkins also mentors students weekly as a member of the Boys to Men program at the Harbor City Academy.
D. Watkins recently signed with the Irene Goodman literary agency and his debut memoir “Cook-Up” is forthcoming.
PHOTO: Flickr Creative Commons – jive667