Tales of an Urban Nomad
The New Slang
“Where you from Dawg?” Funny. Somehow I was the one with the strange accent. “Im from New Yawk” I said. I don’t know why I lied. It just swam from my mouth. I wasn’t ashamed of being from Jersey.
Maybe by default of my own ignorance, I thought this country-ass dude had never heard of the place. Everybody knew where New York was though. It was close enough.
“You from New York?”
His reaction was an almost theatrical glance toward my sneakers. Apparently kids from New York were defined by their access to the latest styles, which had yet to reach the southern states. He wasn't impressed.
“You know that nigga Lil' Steve from Brooklyn?”
“Yea, I said. He’s in my math class.”
“Oh. My name Cool Jerk.”
“Aiiiight. I’m Chris”
“You blow weed dawg?”
“You wanna come hit some?”
“Cool. Lets go.”
My first week of school in Lithonia Georgia and I was already off to a good start. We went to a secluded spot to smoke where I met a new cast of characters. That’s where I met “L.A”.
He was a smooth cat from Cali who dressed preppy and told stories about having sex with our science teacher. It all started one day when the class was acting up and he made everyone be quiet. It turned her on. She asked to speak with him after class, then she drove him home. One thing lead to another…
“One time we was on her couch kissin’ and she started lickin’ all in my ear and shit dawg! It tickled like- what da fuck? I was like nahhh, hold up! Anyway, she cool though.”
“Damn I know you getting a A+ in her class!”
“This fool failed P.E., never even been to a math class, and gonna have a A+
in science. That’s some funny shit right there.”
“I know you ain’t talking dawg . This nigga can't even spell- school.
Talkin bout' “S-k-u- ?….”
“Aww, shut the hell up you damn Science project, you smell like old pussy and formaldehyde!”
Laughter was our drug of choice. And while the idea of a boy having sex with his science teacher was something most kids couldn’t fathom, for us, it was what it was. We followed the unwritten rule of street culture that- nothing should be surprising.
It was a mark of maturity, and another way to recognize each other. Once recognition occurs the next ceremony is the establishment of hierarchy. This subtle maneuvering can become an intricate dance whose cruel rhythms I found hard to catch .
One day, we were standing in a circle after school smoking a joint with a man much older than us. He was tall and out of shape wearing a generic jogging suit which was obviously more for comfort than exercise. His name was “Preacher John”. Judging from the body language of my peers, it was obvious he was admired by them for some reason I couldn't see.
Ignoring my suspicion as to why this grown man chose to do drugs with high school kids, (and being programmed to act a certain way around elders) I stood quietly in the circle until his thick country hands pushed the joint into my fingers. I held it, then took a long professional pull and began to choke.
“How come this tastes like roach spray?” I asked with a grim face.
Everyone laughed. Preacher John looked down at me with a menacing glare. “Nigga how you know what roach spray taste like?” They all laughed again. “Man, shut up and pass the weed!” The second time I got it, I didn't complain. By the time I knew I was smoking PCP it was too late.
I remember sitting on the grass trying to pull imaginary spider webs off my face when Cool Jerk strolled up. He came right up to me with a puzzled look. Like I was a strange insect he was seeing for the first time.
“Ay, what yall do to my boy man?” Everybody just starred at him including Preacher John. “We gave that nigga some wop!” Said Trouble. Cool Jerk became electrified. “What Nigga? Why the FUCK yall do dat dawg? He helped me up off the ground with anger and concern on his face. I remember trying to match his anger with my own facial expression, which, having little control over only made me seem worse. He looked directly at Preacher John and said-
“Nigga on my mamma's grave, if I eva' find out yall did this shit to my boy
again, Im'a come down here an' make a monkey out ALL You Niggas!”
With the mention of his dead mother and the intensity of his tone, no one dared to accept his challenge. Me and Jerk became inseparable.
Winter arrived with its gears and teeth. The ducks flew away, the trees shivered, and the lake collapsed into itself and froze. Back home, we had long standing traditions surrounding winter and snow. We made money clearing driveways with shovels. Had snow ball fights and ice wars. Went “bumper riding” while holding on to the backs of moving cars.
We Hijacked snow sleds and threw their riders off in a heap of drunken laughter grasping whatever we could to make it to the bottom of the hill. We built fires and igloos and snowman monsters....
Here, in Lithonia, everything just...... stopped.
Then, after school one day in early spring, we walked upstairs and found Cool Jerks front door kicked in. Inside, drawers and cabinets had been emptied with their contents scattered across the floor. I watched him walk around taking it all in. From a black briefcase, Jerk found crumbs of marijuana. This case was obviously the reason for the robbery. He rolled a joint with the remaining pieces, lit it, then picked up the phone.
“Hello Daddy?” His voice began to crack. “We got robbed.” I heard his father through the receiver yelling-
“Boy! Didn’t I tell you not to let them No-Good- Niggaz- into My House?” Then he hung up. Cool Jerk calmly handed me the joint and exhaled.
“My daddy commin' home.”
After we smoked, I got up to leave. Jerk stood up and without so much as a blink said-
“Ay, when you get to school tomorrow, ask that nigga Dion if he got any weed for sale. If he does, I’m gon’ kill him.”
That's when I realized who Jerk really was. Why his threats actually carried weight. He wasn't acting, or emotional. He meant it.
“Aiiight.” I said calmly, then left.
After school the next day, I saw Dion outside. He was leaning coolly with one bent leg against the brick wall. “Dee” was a mean person raised in Cincinnati who seemed to have the affects of sub zero temperatures frozen into his features. He possessed what can only be described as a negative aura.
His presence always conjured echoes of my elders oft repeated axioms- Misery loves company. And, Nobody goes to the rose garden to stare at the thorns. He was medium height, with a medium build and had a medium mind to match.
“What up Dee?”
“Sup Nigga?” He asked, then spit like a cobra through his teeth and looked away. It was a subtle gesture yet the message was clear. I don’t like you either mothafucka, I thought, as we stared into each others eyes and touched fists. Little did I know, my next question would begin a war that would change people’s lives forever.
Somehow the Angel Death entered the air and wound itself around Deon’s murky ethers and forced concrete words to fall from my lips like collapsed empires. With no regard for tactic or garments of innocence to cover my question I simply said-
“Yo, you got some weed for sale?”
I watched him take a quick breath and freeze like a statue. With eyes alert as
Christmas lights he gleamed at me and said boldly: “Maybe I do. Let me see some money.” At this point our words meant little. We communicated through body language and raw psychic ability.
Our minds racing, our movements slow like playing chess in a jar full of honey, we squared off doing a boxers waltz with lead feet positioned to swing.
“I know why you asked me that shit.”
“Good.” I said, instantly confirming both our suspicions. We viewed each other through microscopes ignoring the electrified crowd that began to form around us.
Then suddenly, with a lightning quick motion, Dion swung with a flash of dull metal at the end of his fist, which crashed into my right eye. My knees unlatched and my body instantly fell 'S' shaped toward the ground.
My face became a river of blood as Dion stood clutching the loop of a padlock between his fingers glaring down at me with barbaric teeth.
The lock turned his fist to a small sledgehammer. There I lay in a timeless half conscious state. I remember thinking, I've been here before.... Then, just as swiftly as I had fallen, I realized where I was. Off of sheer instinct, I used my bent position and grasped Dion by the back of his legs then swung around as if using his body to pick myself up, I rose and leaned forward making him fall face first onto the cement. As He pushed out his hands to soften the impact, I straddled his back and smashed his head into the concrete.
All I could think of was how much I hated his savage teeth. As if they were the reason I was forced to move to this nowhere land. As if each tooth represented my sorrows, isolation, loss of my friends, my sisters, my family. I -Hate- It- Here-! and for every one of those reasons and others unknown, I lifted and smashed his bloody mouth onto the pavement. Again and again....
Security came rushing in with their black gloves, handcuffs, and squawking walkie talkies. They tackled me and held me down. I immediately felt tears well up and blend with the blood leaking from my right eye. I cried from the wintery corner of my soul for the first time since I left home.
That’s when the sounds from our bloodthirsty audience flooded my ears with the affect of waking up on stage, in the middle of sold out performance. Yet, I knew my lines well....
“Get your fuckin' hands off me!” As more peacekeepers arrived we were both pulled in separate directions. Dion was also crying and I was happy to see raw flesh dangling from his lips veiling what I hoped were at least a few broken teeth. High off his own adrenalin and pent up frustration, Dion shouted-
“I know why you asked me that shit! Tell that nigga Jerk I don’t give a fuck!” As I said, he wasn’t a very intelligent person.
The security guards where really just some older neighborhood guys hired more because they spoke the “language of the youth” than for their training in making places secure. Because school was out for the day, they were more lax about following procedure which would only require more clock time and paper work. They left the options up to us instead.
“You cool dog?” Asked 'Security Ken.'
“I'm cool. I said fighting to control my tears.
“You wanna go catch the nurse? Get that eye looked at?”
Giving me the appraisal of a wise boxing coach he said-
“Dude split yo' shit in the corner right there but...You be all right.
They just bleed mo' than they should. Prolly get a black eye tho. Go wash yo face. Wait, hold this on it a few minutes first and you good.”
“Aight.” I said unwrapping the sanitized napkin which stung like hell but also told me the cut was actually much smaller than I imagined. Then came the inevitable question.
“Why was yall fightin' dog?” I instinctively lied and said-
“He talked about my mamma.”
Ken looked over to where his two partners were still restraining Dion who obviously took longer to calm. He shook his head hinting to his own dislike
of Dee's character, then looked back at me.
“Well, can't blame a nigga for that dog. But next time, handle yo bizness
away from school. Hear what I'm talkin' bout? He pronounced the question as if it were one word. I nodded and before going to wash the blood off my face, I glanced back and saw they were now taking Dion away in handcuffs. Refusing to calm down, I could still hear him protesting as I walked away.
That night, Cool Jerk called me and told me he heard about what happened. He knew Dion had robbed him and even spoke to a neighbor who saw someone hanging around that day wearing a Cincinnati jacket that was altered so it just said I NATI on the back. Bingo.
We hooked up the next day. We were planning to get drunk and head to this girl's house after. As soon as I got there, we smoked more of his fathers weed and drank Johnny Walker and Coke. Cool Jerk went into the kitchen and came out with the biggest gun I’d ever seen.
“ See this right here?”
“God DAMN ! That thing looks bigger than you Jerk.”
Who was actually kind of skinny and small. He looked like a black turtle who possessed a dangerous serpents wisdom in his eyes.
“Its a AK 47. I call it “Dion”, cause it got dat nigga name written all over it”.
“Word.” I said, with a calm face betraying the electrified circus I felt inside.
“Let me see it?”
Jerk handed me the rifle and showed me the safety lever near my thumb, popped out the clip and some bullets, showed me how to load it, and aim. I thought it was a beautiful machine. I'm fifteen, drunk and high, holding a loaded assault rifle. I barely know who, or where I am. I just know not to smile too much.
We left Jerk’s place and started walking half drunk through his apartment complex.
“You know Lori?”
“Which Lori? “
“Chinese Lookin’ Lori. Smooch’s sister.”
“Chinese Lookin’ Lori is Smooch’s sista?”
“Yea, She’s adopted.”
“Oh. Yea, she’s in my math class”
“Damn Nigga...... Everybody in yo math class”
Remembering our very first conversation,we laughed. As we walked through the omnipresent Atlanta sun, Cool Jerk stopped and shielded his eyes as if he were saluting the sky, then turned to me with his grandfather eyes and said- “It's gonna be a hot summer.”
His words flashed images of a thousand blurry tragedies into my mind. And I knew by“Hot” he meant more than just the weather.