Journal

The 2 Street Chronicles: Bad Reunion I.

Part I. Everyone’s Pal

There are different levels of criminal. By level, I don’t mean category like, shoplifter or hit man. I mean level of intensity, level of energy they subconsciously put off. If you’ve floated around the underbelly enough you feel it. I think it has to do with how much time they spend in the system, their experiences start to permeate their being. A hard con’s mere presence lets you know how dangerous he is. You can tell the difference between a tough guy suburbanite and a city ghetto thug. Sometimes the guy asking for change is a harmless drug addict, sometimes you know he’ s a true crack head and you shouldn’t turn your back as you walk by. It’s like spidey senses. At the 2 street bar those senses were honed. All of the neighborhood guys wanted me to believe they were bad ass, they spent a lot of time trying to convince me of it. But that subconscious spidey sense would tell me most of what I needed to know within the first minute. Generally the more they tried, the less threatening they were.

There was no trying with Joe. With Joe, you just knew. With Joe, the hair stood up on the back of your neck the second you heard his voice booming and thundering. He was so loud that you could hear him from a full block away if the windows to the bar were open. But Joe spent most of his time trying to convince you he was a great guy, a lovable guy, “HEY, YO, I’M EVERYONE’S PAL” which of course he was not. Joe was an aging neighborhood coke dealer and debt collector who tipped in 20 bags and personally supplied the owner. On sight, you knew Joe hurt people. He played his part from a text book, his pudgy fingers covered in jewelry and the obligatory gold chain around the neck. He was always smiling but it was a tense cocaine twitching smile, like there were invisible fishhooks attached to the corner of his mouth and the plastic fishing line had stretched ready to snap. Joe was huge, 300 pounds plus of mostly muscle. You could tell his growing gut was a new development. His aging metabolism matched with the quarts of heavy cream white russians had finally started overpowering the speed in his system. The veins were always popping out of his head and I was convinced that he was going to drop from a coronary at any given moment. There was a nervous feeling that permeated the bar when he was there, like the herd knew there was a predator watching. He would shout engage nervous customers across the bar in conversation that almost always led to the petrified patrons excusing themselves the second he closed the restroom door to do another bump.

Generally the racism in the bar was relegated to quiet disappointed musings about the days when “they” knew their place or discussions about who “the good ones” were and what made them different from “bad niggers.” Joe took a different nerve wracking route in coping with his life long lily white Irish tavern being desegregated. He would engage anyone of color with a patronizing, threatening ebonics. All smiles with tense violence behind the eyes. “YO MAH NIGGAS” he would shout while waving at confused black patrons who didn’t know him. “GET MAH NIGGAS A ROUND OF COVASIA OR APPLETENI OR WHAT EVER SNOOP AND DRE OVER THERE ARE KEEPIN IT REAL WIT” the menace behind the courtesy was glaring. “YO MAH BROTHAS, WHO’S YO NUMBER ONE NIGGA?” He was daring them to address this blaring social faux pas on his turf. As always, there was nothing I could do, it always seemed that only the worst customers were on the owners “do not flag” VIP list. And like Cookie, I knew that I would have probably died if I had been able to try.

It was another slow summer Sunday shift. A couple Italian girls in waitress uniforms, off shift from the dinner down the block looking bored over their beers and an older black couple hunched over heavy in conversation. It was hot and bright and the last person I wanted to see walk in was Joe. Within minutes it started. “HEY LADIES, YOU ARE LOOKING SO FUCKING GOOD DOWN THERE. WHY DON’T YOU SLIDE THIS WAY AND WE CAN HAVE A PARTY.” The girls ignored him.
“YO, SERIOUSLY GIRLS, COME ON DOWN HERE, I ONLY BITE WHEN YOU ASK NICE.”
The girl closest to him gave him a silent, palm out hand gesture without turning her head. Her intent was to give him the Jerry Springer talk to the hand, but her bright red nails were so long and pointy, it looked to me more like she was letting him know she was armed.
“YO, JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE NICE TITS DON’T MEAN YOU CAN ACT LIKE A FUCKIN’ CUNT.”
I braced for the fight, but to my amazement the girls just got up and left.
Two down.
After a minute it started again.
“YO MAH NIGGAS” he shouted at the old black couple “MAH NIGGAS, YOU DOWN WITH T.O. AIN’T CHO? FUCK THE EAGLES, A NIGGAAAAAA GOTS TA GET PAAAAAID RIGHT?”
And they were gone. Just me and Joe at the start of a summer Sunday shift that was too hot and too bright.

“THIS WAS THE LINE, THIS STREET RIGHT HERE, ANYTHING SOUTH OF HERE, WAS A FUCKIN’ SHANTY TOWN, JUST SHACKS IN THE MUD WITH NO ELECTRICITY, THIS WAS LIKE BACK IN THE 30’S, THEY WERE STILL BRINGIN’ DRINKIN’ WATER IN ON HORSE DRAWN CARTS. INDIAN’S LIVED BETTER THAN THE IRISH BACK THEN, SHIT NIGGERS LIVED BETTER. PEOPLE KNEW NOT TO COME DOWN HERE…” I had heard this story a hundred times, Joe loved to discuss his humble roots. Then suddenly he stopped and his eyes started scanning out the window like a cat who might have seen movement. He jumped up and was out the door with out saying a word. I was saved.

(I thought)

(originally written circa 2006-2008)
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