Years ago I started writing for the sake of it. I spent nights in the streets of Houston… living it Out Loud and Without Regret. I met a lot of great people, and some, not so much. But, the experience was real… and good, and I have always appreciated it. For several years now I have not addressed it, or even tried to make contact with that past, but, I have found myself wanting to get back into it since I have found myself back in this pace for a couple of months now.
When I say that I was in “the streets” I do mean, “in the streets.” Part of what I was trying to do was to be involved in the “matter” of the moment. Being connected to the story was all that mattered to me and it ended up involving days, weeks, spent being homeless, hanging out with derelicts, and the rest. I literally lay my head on the cement for days just to get a conversation with someone who did that for years. I smoked everything with everyone just to hear them speak. When I finally hit the road to pursue the book… anything went. When it comes to the Living… there is no amount of Life that is off-Limits, I feel.
It took me over two years to get what I wanted, and still… not enough, after review.
To me… after Hunter, after Kerouac… what is left? Nothing, I say. For them, it was about being honest… no matter how bad it felt, no matter how much spice they had to add to it… the base of it was honest. And, so in that manner, so should we go.
There are stories I have always found good… and real. And, this is one of them.
And, before we begin… just so you know. This is not made up. It is very real. I saw this… with my eyes… and I got to write it. And, just so you know… there are hundreds of them… and they are all very, very real.
by Senator Brett
He’s quick. Very quick. There’s no denying it. One second he’s there… and the next second he’s gone. Just like that… just that fast.
His name is Malik (not his real name). He is smart and funny, clever and cool, and has a grin big enough to hide the Grand Canyon in. From what I’ve been able to tell, this kid loves basketball, his momma, his beat-up bike and then loud laughter… all in that order… and all without pause. He’s overly talented in the sport of basketball and, yet, humbly aware that he has room to grow. He once asked me how to improve his jump shot because, as he said, “I can drive right around almost anybody, but I wanna know how to ‘jay’ someone when I can’t.” Like I said, smart kid. And, he’s only twelve-years-old.
How do I know a kid like this, you ask? Well, truth be told we both live in almost the same neighborhood. I say almost because I’m not supposed to say that we live in the exact same neighborhood because our city planners, and the realtor companies that own those city planners, would like for you to believe that the townhouse that I rent, and the rundown wooden leftover that he calls a Home… are separated by more than just the two visibly, small, beaten streets… and one hugely, invisible, social barrier. But, truth be told, the only park I have within walking distance is the same park he has in his. So, to us… it’s the same neighborhood, no matter what they say.
It’s right there in front of you, if you care to look. It is. It’s where the wrong end of West Webster Avenue gets swallowed by the midsection of West Gray Street and they both continue on as if neither of them gave a thought or reason to why or where, or even what became of their own personalities. It’s at that spot where the earthen tones of the Midtown lofts gets muddled in with the charred mess of the Fourth Ward. It’s where the quaint boutiques on the “ground” level are met three blocks down… but, by houses that have been leveled due to economic restructure. It’s at the point where the dry cleaners meet the drug dealers. It’s at the place where the sidewalks end and the homeless parks begin. It’s where Dolce meets “El Hefe.” It’s where where $20 dollars can buy you a drink, or two… or a night you won’t come back from. It’s all up to you. And, it’s all within walking distance.
Look, I know I’m not the moral compass of the world… but, I still know Right from Wrong. Maybe… hopefully.
But, more than that, even if I do get Right from Wrong all twisted up, even if I am the wrong person for the job at the right time… I know… I KNOW… that there are some things in this world that no matter how blind you can make yourself to be, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t so, no matter how many times you pretend you were someone else… you can’t escape it. There is a stink in this life that does not wash off, no matter what kind of cranial soap you pretend to have.
How do I know that? I’ve seen it.
See… you think it’s clever when the Hollywood movies show you how drugs are pushed in inner cities. To you, it’s clever… and weird. But, it’s not. Because it’s how it is done. Yes, they drive through in an ice cream truck, blaring their music, and every kid under 15-years-old bikes over and gets a cone and a small pint filled with something that isn’t ice cream. And, then they bike back to their homes where their older brothers take it from them and then sell it on the street later that night. Yes, they will drop a basketball game in the middle of it as soon as they hear the tune of the ice cream truck… and in some cases, the sirens of a police car. You think I’m kidding? I am not.
How do I know? I have seen it, firsthand. And, not just once… and not just in bad places. I have seen it in places right down the street. And, then they tell me that I live in a good part of town, and that they have it under control. But, I know bullshit when I see it. And, I have seen it here all the time.
But, here is the sad part of what I know… really know…
Last week I had a tough night at work. I didn’t get off until 10 P.M. that night. After that… straight to the bar to drink it off. About 2:30 A.M. I swayed myself home (I’m good friends with the owners of several bars… being a shitty writer has it’s perks, sometimes… and I’m a shittier writer than most… which means that the shittier the bar, the better they love me!) And, somewhere between my leaving the bar and my townhouse, I got lost. And, then this kid bikes up to me and smiles wider than the national deficit… “You want some Hard or Soft?”
It’s Malik… at 2:45 in the morning… on his crappy bike… and holding on to the handlebars likes he’s waiting for the starting gun to a race he knows is coming for him. In his mouth I can see a baggie filled with crack rock… the kind that almost anyone on the street at that time of night has. He flashes his grin again, and, it just about kills me. As soon as he sees that it is me he mumbles, “I’m sorry, Mark” and then hops his bike onto the sidewalk and peddles away as fast as he can… so far, so fast… and is gone.
Yes. I yell after him. I yell for him to come back… that I only want to talk. But, he never comes back. And, I never see him again.
I went to that park for the next three weeks before I left town, always hoping to see him. He never showed. And, that’s the part that scares me the most… not that he didn’t show up because he was too scared of what I thought… but, that there was a real possibility that he didn’t show because he didn’t have a choice.
I really hope he made it.
Because, as I see it… he’s quick. Very quick. There’s no denying it. One second he’s there… and the next second he’s gone. Just like that… just that fast. And, I truly hope that the game he is in now appreciates how fast he is… and that on the other side he’s finally fast enough.