Friday, October 10, 2008

Hustlers, Youth, Politically Incorrect Humor, and other Vulgar Desplays of Wisdom

CINCINNATI (ZP) -- Brother Lexus pushes up from his lounge chair, two sable-colored, tattooed arms raising him from the most comfortable seating in his tiny two-room apartment.

I've been talking shit for a good five minutes straight at this point, trying to get a rise out of the supposed born-again pacifist and sometime adherent to the Five Percent Doctrine.

"Man, how your Old Negro ass pray to Mecca when you can't even get out a motherfucking chair? What you gonna do? Throw a TV Guide at me, Uncle Remus?"

It's been ten years since I last had a chance to jive on the great Brother, once one of my home state's hustler of hustlers, grand teacher to many young juvenile delinquents of all things good, hard, and motherfucking hood - including certain former punkass white kids from rural Southside.

I've heard stories - still have a few nightmares, in fact - about what can happen when some college - educated, cracker-ass jester makes the mistake of calling him a racial epithet outside of the proper circumstance. It's not pretty and, well, it's true what they say about hydrogen peroxide being the cure-all for bloodstains.

And now he's pushing 40, an old man too young, living in one of Cincinnati's worst neighborhoods, working shitty day jobs and waiting for the day when his healthcare professional girlfriend finally says I Do! and they head off into the West as man and wife.

Okay. So I was just hoping I hadn't read the man's face wrong and wasn't about to end up a missing person. Not gonna lie.

We're a long way from Virginia these days, in more ways than either of us would care to remember.

* * * *

He's not smiling as his tree-sized legs straighten. I hear the leather of his Timberland boots squeal as he makes it to his feet. His bootblack Under Armour tee strains in agony as his ebony chest and shoulders expand to almost twice the width of mine.

He's almost a foot taller than my five-nine ass. In fact, he's always been taller, bigger, stronger, older, and, well, much more of an O.G. than I could ever be, thanks in part to a series of state-sponsored vacations. For a brief moment, I feel like a child about to have his ass handed to him by the neighborhood bully.

After all, Brother Lexus was the man who taught me which end of a crub (slang - a modified short crowbar, easily concealed, painted black and covered with grip tape) brings the pain all up on a motherfucker and which end is best used to bodyshop up on a ride, taught me how to fight dirty, hard, and quick, yet also encouraged me save that money, not to flash or flap gums, to go to college and to not sully my adult record.

We're both men of peace these days, well-read, and long past of fighting primes. But, well, we both still know how to take a pound of flesh off a cat if push comes to shove. I may still respect the man, even more so for changing, I tell myself, but I will step to his ass and represent Southside.

Three giant's steps and there's a large fist pushed into my chest, a meaty black digit driven into my sternum like a railroad spike. His biceps, honed by thousands of hours logged benchpressing away years of confinement, each are roughly as big around as my neck.

Oh well, so maybe representing Southside won't last long.

* * * *

Without smiling, he explains that, well, before I come all up into his castle and disrespect, I'd better be grateful that he journeys now, mostly (he does still drink beer, after all, but doth not dine on the swine), along the path of a peaceful and learned disciple of the principles of put forth by the teacher Allah the Father, Clarence 13X. And 13X, you see, was a man born and raised upon the same Virginia red clay that had once fed and nurtured in the pair of us the idea that all men were equals and brothers.

Yes, he says, he can overlook the fact that last century's prophets of Gods and Earths were mostly wrong about the nature of white folk and their supposed devilishness. In the 21st century, it has become imperative that we move past race and embrace Africa as the Original Home of all men. But in HIS house, he says, no one of the Caucasian Persuasion is allowed to forget that it was Europeans and their pale North American and Oceanic descendants who brought the world two hot wars and one cold war, exploited the Motherland and South America and Asia almost to the point of complete destruction...

"Well, amen Reverend. Now you gonna preach it or bring it?"

He stopped and looked suddenly lost in his own mental notes, like a physics professor at a dinner party who suddenly remembers that he's lecturing over the wine and cheese. I wasn't sure where he'd picked up his Poor Righteous Teacher act, but, well, personally, I appreciated it more than what I'd expected to be a much more painful hook to the jaw.

"Sheeeeeeit,* we been through too much for me to hate up on you. And I know that deep in that big white head of yours, mos def, you meant no disrespect."

"Dude, I am so sorry. I just, you know, like just we were kids, man, No offe-"

He pushed that finger harder into my chest. I suddenly felt ashamed, self-conscious of my ethnicity and familial history, embarrassed over the fact that I've spent much of the last decade living as a free, middle-class white man.

"Hold on now. I know you think your academic shit don't stink, but you better listen when I'm schooling your peckerwood librarian ass..."

* * * *

I stared up at him with the same wonder and humility I'd felt when I first met him, back in the day, back when this monster of a man interrupted a rather boring night at a fast-food joint in my hometown.

I'd been studying an opponentless chess board - my regular partner was tied up with woman problems. I was hung over, melancholy but appreciative of the time alone, on a Friday night. Five minutes prior, everybody in the joint had run out to the parking lot. A fight, I'd heard, and some cat had put a piece to some other cat's head.

Hey, none of my fucking business. I had my Mc-Fucking-Nuggets, a shake, and no chess partner. I only hoped they finished their beef elsewhere. I was, however, quite annoyed at the fact that somebody couldn't get that screaming sow of a woman outside to shut the fuck up before the Po-Po rolled by...

He was a suave motherfucker back then, in his Karl Khani jeans and silk shirt and black leather duster, with his gold chain and matching tie clip. He sat down and calmly asked if I was looking for a game - he'd learned to play in a housing project in Jackson Ward, never imagined that us country folk knew how to play.

We talked for a bit, about all sorts of things but mainly about why I hadn't moved from that booth, how I was able to focus surrounded by shoutin' niggas and fools. He liked my answer, appreciated my strategic non-involvement, ability to observe my surroundings, how I could give him the names, describe the faces of every last single person in the dining room without looking up...

After he'd wiped the board with me, was up a good few games, he made me an offer - to play a different sort of game of skill. He said he sometimes had cash-money work for smart white boys who understood things like chess, the strategy of sacrifice of pawns to gain rooks and Bishops, the need for discretion and stealth.

A lot of people, where I grew up, heard the stories. About that midnight - colored sedan with the tinted windows, cruising the countryside between Richmond and Southside. There were sightings everywhere, rumors about all sorts of things, inner-city occupants, hustlers, yes, ballers even. Maybe some of those stories were true.

Maybe the one-time owner of that sedan was always more of a Scientist, a Teacher, than a simple hustler. He taught many young bucks, of all colors, how to defend what was theirs, how to put up the appropriate fronts while not losing one's soul. And he was one fucking hell of a ghetto-trained chess master.

And maybe, yes, that same Teacher was about to renounce his peaceful ways and lay me out like a cheap suit. I knew that if he did, well, there'd be a lesson involved, somewhere.

* * * *

He suddenly smiles wide, ivory white teeth contrasting perfect and bright against his black chin.

"The Negro Community fuckin' frowns upon your shenanigans, son. Now quit acting a fool an' trying to get a rise outta me."

He shakes a smoldering Newport and two fingers disapprovingly, forces his face into a frown, just like the central figure in that highly controversial Internet image.

The lesson, this time, was that wise men, regardless of ethnicity, knows when to behave as serious, educated adults and when to take rather childish, patently offensive race jokes in stride.

Why be angry? Life's too short.

I'd pushed it. And now the war was on.

* * * *

He was down to his last resort - the short white dude jokes. A whole plethora of material, everything from When you stand up like a man... Oh shit! You are standing! one-liners to Man, look at you... I didn't know they made an Albino Smurf jabs.

"Sheeeeeeit, big man." I continue to shit talk, still prodding like a cattleman. "Motherfucker, you saying I didn't get you all worked up? Lookin' like Uncle Ben jumpin' off the rice box, shufflin' up at me like a zombie."


"C'mon... that all you can say? Disgracing the Race, homes. I may have to have a talk with your mama once she's off my dick."

"Maaaan, your dick so small..."

Believe it or not, but this is just how most Southerners handle race relations amongst themselves, as friends, behind closed doors. Snapping on a friend, playing the dozens, even jokes about how your dick is so small, you could fuck a Cheerio and not feel it, tends to be a lot more enjoyable than a goddamn sensitivity-training workshop.

Great desensitization exercise, playing the dozens. Helps people down on their luck, broke, or, just, well, tired of dwelling on all the shitty things they've experienced, times when nobody else gives a shit where they've been, what they've done.

* * * *

"Wigger, I let you stay breathin', and you still can't shut that monkey-looking mouth. And listen to you! A master's degree, a motherfucking scholar, and you talking like you got game? Sheeeeeeeeit!

And then, time catches up and there's a momentary burst of intellectual, adult conversation. We talk about what Over-The-Rhine's black residents really think of Oxford Fucking Ohio, along with the Local U. - i.e., the state's largest "Color-Free Zone." He fills me in on the recent "urban renewal projects" in OTR, which many working-class residents - including Brother Lexus - see as nothing more than white liberals taking advantage of cheap real estate, pushing out everybody too broke to fight gentrification.

"Fuck it, man. Let's go grab another sixer an' finish this."

He points to the chess board set up on his coffee table. Our first chess game in more than a decade. This was why I was here - he remembered that last game, when he was at his most-dirt covered, sitting in a Section 8 lot and lording over his kingdom, getting his ass handed to him by one of his Boys from down U.S. 360/460, getting beat by that country-fried Fa'mville Cracker.

I have just enough beer in me to suggest that, well, he's just getting old and that we should, possibly, hit a bar and introduce my single ass to some of OTR's legendary Around The Way Girls...

"Man, you ain't changed at all, has you? STILL looking at my people's women like you stand a chance. Please."

In all honesty, I've always looked at all people's women. I mean, who really wants to drink white milk, when one could just add some chocolate or a little caramel syrup, maybe some plum flavoring from Beijing or honey from Cairo?

* * * *

We played two more games before I hit the road. He had me in checkmate within twelve moves each game. And, at thirty bucks a game, well, I left with an empty wallet. It's hard for me to overlook the irony, given the fact that years ago, back in that McDonald's, he actually paid me - a nice, crisp Ben Franklin - just to talk, to hear out his indecent proposal, and to (ha!) let him win a few games.

Brother was once one of Virginia's hustlers of hustlers. Even pushing 40, legit, and out of the game, well, he's still able to make paper off a sucker.

Glad we didn't go for dominoes. He'd have taken me for rent.

Sheeeeeeeeeit! One more lesson, I guess.

- # # #-

* NOTE - The obscenity "SHIT" is pronounced "SHEEIT," "SHEEEEEIT," or "SHEEEEEEEIIIIT!," depending on use, throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, from Philadelphia to Charlotte, North Carolina, but most predominately in Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland.

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