The sameness between most is the attitude you see in any punk kid off the street. They all think they have it. They all think they’ve found the edge, which makes them an outlaw of some kind or a gangster in their own mind. And you can tell when the attitude is real or just an act from a rookie. You can tell by look in their eyes and the things they say.
It goes back to an old saying about tough guys which says, “Those that do, don’t and those that don’t, do.” What this means is a tough guy never has to warn anybody.
A gangster doesn’t have to brag or draw attention to himself; instead, the real outlaw sits in silence enjoys the wealth of his anonymity. The real ones are the ones you would never know were amongst you.
And everyone thinks they can hack it too. Everyone either thinks they can beat the odds or get around them—No one thinks the bad things will happen to them. That is of course, until the bad things do happen, and by then then it’s too late. By then you hear them plea ignorance. They say they didn’t know any better, that this is the first and last time. And they say this because they’re scared. They’re afraid of the unknown. They’re afraid of the big bad rues and all their childhood fears that bleed from media.
They shake they’re head and they explain themselves. They tell you things like, “I didn’t mean for this to happen.” They say, “I’m sorry,” and they try to get play ball—or maybe they rat; maybe they spill, maybe they talk a little bit to gain their freedom, and why not? Who cares?
And the fear comes in when they’re standing at the ledge. They’re afraid of the fall and they pray their foxhole prayers and say, “Dear God, please, just get me out of this one. And maybe this happens. Maybe God helps them out and lest them go. Only, what happens now is a sense of false bravery. Suddenly, there is that sense of false bravado that changes the stroll. And what happens is they forget the favor they asked God for. They forget what they were given and suddenly, they’re brave again until something else happens and God comes back to clip their wings. But by then, sometimes, it’s too late. And when it’s too late, sometimes—well, it’s just too late. And that’s when you find out. That’s when the eyes turn scared. This is when the barrel of a nickel plated pistol is aimed at point blank center of the forehead. Then suddenly and quite miraculously, in the unsure moment between life or death, a prayer comes to mind, and maybe they say something in their head, like say, Dear God, what the hell have I done?
The truth is this is all an act. It always is—even the season veterans are an act; they just know how to play the part better. It becomes hard to hold onto that sideways lean and walk like you don’t care. It’s hard to act like you’re not worried, looking over your shoulder, wondering if the car coming up the block is looking for you—or maybe it’s just someone you took off; —maybe it’s someone you scammed, like your immediate family or one of your relatives. Maybe the car is someone coming up the block looking to beat you or put a bullet in your head,—which, in a way, wouldn’t be too bad because a bullet through the head would be nearly as painless as an overdose —I mean, who would know? As it is they say you never hear the shot that kills you, and if you do hear it, then don’t worry because you’re not dead. But when you’re in the bottomless with contempt for the world on your tongue and the taste of despair in your mouth—death is not a deterrent but more, it’s just a settlement of debt.
A beating however, well, beatings suck. Getting ripped-off sucks worse. But mix them both together and take the beating and the loss and all you have left is bruises and blood with a bashed in face, blood dribbling from your mouth, ribs kicked in, and now that you’re on empty, there is no way for you to get away from the pain (or yourself.)
No one accounts for this. No one plans on this happening. Of course, everyone knows the odds and everybody knows the rules of engagement. But this is part of the deal. This is the grind, and somehow, this is all part of the ritual.
This is part of the trip and even before you make the buy, the receptors in your brain release the hounds which call for the high.
But you can tell who is who. It’s all in the eyes. You can see it. With the veteran, the look is different—theirs is more like a detachment from the charisma and their former self—a piece of them, in fact, the most vibrant piece of them appears vanished. But then you have the guppies. Then you have the kids , the wannabe rock stars. You can see the fear in them. You can see the concern and the desperation. And when that cage door shuts behind them and when mommy and daddy aren’t around to clean up the mess; when they walk in the room with their eyes giving of an emotion as if they look like they want to jump through their skin—their eyes watering, nose running, and you can see it—you can see the withdrawal, first hand, and I swear, the look in their eyes is more than just alarming.
You can also tell who has been locked up before. You can tell because of the way they talk. But to the new ones, jail is this big, haunting mystery that halfway torments them with the ideas of gang rape and the other half of them worries about how tough they really are.
I was most of the way through the night during my first arrest and set inside a small holding cell. I was small, sickly, and my skin was a pale shade of green. At best, soaking wet, I weighed about 80lbs because at the time, food was not my primary source of nutrition.
At best, I could barely lift my legs to walk. In fact, The Old Man used to complain that I dragged my feet when I walked. He complained that I spoke through my teeth when I talked because to him, I was working my way towards frying my brain.
The Old Man complained about the way I looked and the way I acted. He complained about the way I was, always sick, always under the influence, and worse, to him I was always a disappointment and a disgrace.
I was alone for most of the night in the cell and cruising through. I thought jail wasn’t so bad. I figured they would keep me alone or in “P.C.” which stands for protective custody because I was so small and young. But no matter how young I was, in the eyes of the law; I was an adult and nothing could change that.
I figured I would tell the police I was suicidal. I thought I would pull a mental plea and say that I would kill myself the first chance I get. This way I would be segregated or at least protected if I didn’t make my way home and had to go downstairs to eat that dry bologna sandwich on stale white and a pint of warm milk.
I was tired but sleep was not an option for me. I wanted to close my eyes, —but each time I closed them a loud noise would sound. Maybe it was the sound of another caged door rolling shut. Maybe it was the sound of one of the others in the holding cells crying out for help. Maybe it was the sound of an old drunk vomiting in dry heaves that made it impossible to sleep. Or, maybe it was the two loud ones up by the front who joked back and forth and sung rap songs as if it were a game. Or, perhaps, it was the fear that kept me awake. Maybe it was the fact that I knew, deep down, that if someone came in my cell or that if someone wanted something from me or decided to beat me for no reason other than I was there, in front of them at the wrong place at the wring time, and they needed to be was bored for the moment, —there would be nothing I could do to successfully defend myself.
It was somewhere after midnight when they brought someone down to my cell. I was sitting towards the back, right-hand corner and close to the wall on a wooden bench. The holding cell was small with a small uncomfortable wooden bench and a stainless steel commode with a water fountain on top. However, as small as I was, I wished that I was smaller so that I could hide and no one else would see me.
The man about to enter was tall and heavyset with shoulder-length black hair and a mustache. His knuckles scraped and bloodied, nose was bleeding, and there was a gash on top of his forehead. He was beaten and bleeding. He smelled from liquor. His speech was obviously distorted by the booze, and me, there was nothing I would be able to do if this man decided to snap and rip me to shreds.
Incidentally, this man was in for beating his wife with a baseball bat because she couldn’t find the car keys . . .
I wasn’t sure if the guards put me in with him to prove a point. It could have been that quite possibly, this was a response to my wise-ass responses in the beginning of my interrogation, which of course, ended poorly in my regard. And shortly after, my snide responses and quick-witted sense of humor calmed down to the tune of, “No, sir.” And “Yes, sir,” answers. I figured they wanted to see if I would catch a beating. I didn’t and eventually, I went back to a cell of my own; however, they were having a special on wife beaters that night and they sat me with a Jehovah’s Witness that spoke broken English and wanted to tell me about God.
Be clear on this; there is nothing cool or romantic about this. There sis no glory or honor in this life. Instead, more often than not, there is only death or incarceration.
I see these kids in schools and they laugh because they think this is funny. I shake my head because in fairness, I was no different at one point.
I laugh when these kids brag, like say, this one time in at a store near my old home in East Meadow. Three kids were in the store laughing about a near miss with the police. And of course, the smallest one was the loudest one. He reminded me of myself the most. God, I hated this kid.
He was bragging because of course, he was able to get out. He thought he was tough. He thought he was brave because his parents came down to get him out. He was laughing because the officers that took him in were mad that they couldn’t keep him. But with mouthpiece and all, the kid was blessed with dropped charges.
At this point, the youngster walked down the aisle without paying attention to what was in front of him. Unfortunately for the youngster—it was me that was in front of him.
He was me . . .
I was him once . . .
I used to swear that if I could I would do anything to strangle the me of my past. But since this was not an option, I decided to frighten the me of my past when the young punk walked right, smack, into me. Instantly, his smile turned awkward. He looked up and I swear this kid couldn’t have been more than 15 years-old.
I leaned down and put my face very close to his and through my teeth, I explained, “You think that’s fun? Wait until they keep you!”
I told him, “Wait until your parents aren’t around to get you out.”
“Wait until that lawyer of yours doesn’t come through and then you have to stay in a cage for a little while. That’s when the real fun begins.”
This kid was smaller than I ever was . . .
The youngster stuttered a little. Then he tried to pose as if he was brave. He called me, “Sir,” and suggested that I leave him alone. He kept nervously calling me “Sir.”
Then I leaned over him, teeth grinding, drooling as I screamed over him. “Don’t fucking call me sir!”
Anytime he went to speak, I just yelled over him. His two other friends stood silent at first, but one spoke out and said that if I touched either of them, he would call the cops, to which I replied, “To be honest with ya kid, my wife doesn’t cook so well. I eat better when I’m in jail.”
Then I explained, “I’ll do 90 days standing on my head if it means I get to hit you.”
Nothing happened after. They went their way and I went mine. In truth though, I am not this person and I was embarrassed about my behavior. I apologized to the store owner at a later date, to which he replied, “Why? That kid had it coming. I’m glad you did what you did!”
I guess I’m not the only one that wishes he could choke the person of their past . . .