Halfway into the first verse Little Richie chimed in, “What are you fools listening to? A moment of safety. Why did you shoot him?” His eyes were filling with tears. It had happened many times among them, and if Nester reacted, they’d spend the night trying to calm drunken slurs of “fuck that fool.”
Manny said, “Alright, calm down, before one of you fools gets butt hurt and you both end up leaking. “Aye, Manny, you working tonight?” David said. “Hey, could you guys turn that down or go inside, you know, your apartment.” The obscured face called out from the
second story of the complex behind a window screen.
“Tom, shut your white ass up before I come up there and violate you,” Hugo said. Marco almost tripped off the sidewalk to see the person speaking. Manny knew even as brothers that one playful slap could turn into a real fight. Nature or nurture, these types of bonds manifested in every corner from coast to coast. Before the cars came to a complete stop, Little Richie took off running. They all turned to each other. He steals that shit from his brother. He and his four roommates would rock-paper-scissor every night for the couch.
The building was so infested with roaches that at night the kitchen walls would go from bone white to looking like dalmatian print. They all expected him to run left into the neighborhood. “Well guys, you leave me no choice. David and Adolfo were being searched, not yet cuffed.
As he was brought to his feet, Manny noticed Nester and Marco running up behind the crowd. He felt all that was important before Richie took those eight steps, lose some of its definition, its beauty, a bit of its meaning. We were about to toke up right now,” Hugo said, grabbing Little Richie on the shoulder. CONTENT WARNING:
THIS SHORT STORY IS FICTION, BUT IT DEPICTS GRAPHIC STATE VIOLENCE AND BRUTALITY.
When Manny was 19, he existed with no goals except to smoke weed, party, get laid, and drop acid. He handed it to Hugo, who handed it to David. You don’t know nothing about this. He picked his head up. I’m gunna have to call the police,” Tom said. Their
Levis had big folds at the bottom too. “Man, let me go regulate on this fool,” Nester said, taking a few steps toward the stairs. David was in a tech school for computers, while living with his parents. Marco, Nester, and Hugo all wore white Ts like Manny, but David sported a brown flannel with gold trim. After a few clicks and stops on the tape, Manny played the Smiths “How Soon Is Now?” The jittery warble of the guitar came in over the slumbering drums. She’s gunna be the prettiest thing rolling through the valley homeboy. This wouldn’t be his first time calling the police. “Uhh, none of your business little boy,” Olivia interjected. “Man fuck you fools. Where you two, headed?” asked Manny. “What! See if they want to kick it again.”
“I’m down with that.”
They were all on the brink of the next inevitable phase — their inner life force at the beginning of being coerced into disposable labor power. Mom getting sick and having no job is getting to him. They all turned their heads as Manny’s roommates Jessie and Olivia came out the front gate. Especially when you don’t mind all the tail Jessie brings to the parties,”
Manny said. My little sister’s toy stereo bumps better than this,” Hugo said, shoving David on his shoulder. “Ah, what?! “What the fuck is that moro doing?” Adolfo said, confused. They began to wrestle and slap box. Manny, Marco, and David egging them on: Fuck’em up, … gunna let em disrespect you like that, … uh oh watcha watcha. The apartment was 600 square feet, with a wood floor, a concrete ceiling, and one bedroom. He pulled five small bags of weed from Richie’s pockets, said, “Got it.” He held the baggies up like another expected victory. Hugo was still cuffed, belly on the ground gazing at Richie, his eyes full of tears and anger. “He’s been drinking a lot lately, que no,” David asked Hugo. He was a spotlighted, chrome microphone.
“Hey! What body would blame find? He also had thumbtacks in the back of the shoe’s heel to keep the pants from dragging. Little Richie’s walk was equal parts insecure and fearless. Each was ready and skilled in finding an opponent’s weak spot: a relaxed knee, an exposed throat, and open chest. He was the only white person on the block. Black and chrome. These not-boys, not-men, silent as Pac’s words cleared space. Manny wanted to scream, but he went numb as he thought about Richie’s mom and brother and sister. Instead Richie ran across the street toward the back end of the closed 99 Cent Store, a pawn shop, and a bank. He’s the one who sold me the weed. Nester eyed him suspiciously. Little Richie put his head down. He and the cop fell to the ground. Manny actually counted them. Creases ran down his pants like the lines were made with a ruler. He pays bills working in education, and knows Wu- Tang is Forever. Adolfo had a taste for cheap booze, quality coke, and young chocha, even though he was married with three kids. “Manny what the fuck is wrong with you, homes? Even still, Manny hadn’t forgotten about Tom calling the cops. The song came together like a narcotic. Manny looked up at Tom. You could’ve just gone inside.”
They all looked up and then to the south. Some happy house? That they had to affirm why it was okay for them just to laugh, talk shit, and dance. “Yeah, well you can say I’m not her type,” Manny said. He’ll be alright though.”
Then as though Tezcatlipoca had come to lay claim on their souls, Adolfo pulled up in his ’57 Chevy Bel Air bumping The Sunglows’ “It’s Okay.” The laughing elements of Sunny Ozuna’s voice ringing out the windows like a mad drunk on a megaphone. On TV, he watched Puff Daddy, Mase and the Lox sell rap records in shiny suits, while DMX, grimy and shirtless, told the world to Get at Him. Two other cops got out and tackled him, slamming his body into the concrete. It seemed like he wanted to move toward Richie, but all David did was stop, look around, and raise his hands to his head. “Really, Manny! Have a great night,” Manny said. Manny heard Tom shouting from ab-ove, “Oh my god … I, I, I, didn’t, I’m sorry.”
Two more cop cars arrived, five new cops total. Months had passed and the fight was still cherished and celebrated lore among Manny’s friends. The joint dwindled down puff after puff up into the starless sky. Hugo walked to the driver side of the car and turned the music off through the open window. “It’s all good dog,” Nester finally said. “What color?” His face was equal parts impressed and annoyed that Adolfo had left the music playing loud. A sixth cop came and slammed his baton into Manny’s stomach. His cortez and the cop’s boots tip tapping an agitated tempo into the street. With no proof, the boys believed him because he partied like he was cut from the ’80s. “We’re just fucking with you little homey. You gunna make me think you are chueco with how crazy you’re actin’.”
Nester easily wrestled himself from Hugo’s grip. “Hey, put that shit out,” David told Little Richie. Marco gave him five near the hip and said, “Right. “Listen, I warned you guys. Whenever he stole — or bought — a new pair, he would make small cuts into the pant leg, at the ankle hem. It scared him, but it also filled him with rage. Opie better stop trippin’.”
“Come on guys, really? “Whadup, big dog? Morrissey’s ghostly vocal took precedence alongside the erotic groove. All six heads looked up. “What’s up Jessie? “That fool ain’t gunna call the cops, is he?” asked Marco. He lived in an eight-unit complex up the street from the Van Nuys courthouse. “Nah, fool, chill,” Manny said, putting his arm in front of Nester. He threw the beer bottle he just bought at the cop cars. “Alright, love ya too, mijita. Each crew of men bonded with its own spirit-crushing and soul defining hierarchy. Everyone except Manny laughed. All of them watched Little Richie walk up, head cocked to the concealed stars. Each held their shoulders and arms in a way that said fuck the world. Actually no one ever saw anyone but his mom and younger brother visit him. Light was everywhere, and time suddenly snapped back to normal speed, sound amplified by a hundred. She is finer than a motherfucker,” Hugo said. Manny and his boys passed around a joint. This fool bought it off of me.” Little Richie pointed to David. Daily, Manny threw on white Ts and slim fit jeans. Manny took a couple steps back giggling. “You know what I don’t get, Manny?” said Nester. Richie took eight rapid steps looking back toward the angry cop getting back on his feet. No one had bothered to turn off Adolfo’s stereo. He smiled and took the joint from Hugo. Marco added a little flair with a pack of Marlboros in the fold of his short sleeve, while the brothers Nester and Hugo had chains attached to their wallets looping from their back pockets to the belt holes over their hip bones. Don’t put this on the tape when you dub it for me,” Nester said. He should’ve played fullback in high school, but liked girls and cars more than meaningless packets asking questions about math, science, or English. What you tryin’ to say,” Manny said in a tone that recalled the days when he was the only Mexican in a crew of all Black kids in middle school. The cops began barking orders at people to “Move Back!” and “Calm Down!”
Manny sunk his head, and stared into his lap, hands behind his back, breathing through his nose. Adolfo said, “So … homeboy I was telling you fools about last week,” they nodded their heads, “he’s gunna let us use his crib for the party.” He pulled out a piece of folded-up notebook paper from his back pocket, an address, name, date, and time scribbled on it. Luckily, the song was coming to an end. “Manny, seriously, you better get your dumb ass friends inside,” Olivia ordered. Nester yelled for his brother. Manny inspected it with David silently. “What’s that?”
“How you live with a faggot,” he said firmly. We only got two…”
Before Adolfo could finish his sentence that same sad voice rang out from above again. The still, humid air was becoming tense. “Who was your hook up?” He passed the joint to Nester. “Cool. You lookin’ crazy right now. “I’m good fucker. Her heels and car keys clicked like a seductive metronome with each step. “What? The pain shot from his gut, swirling in a spiral and moving through his body. When Manny picked his head up again, the cop who shot Richie, was searching his body. Clinton was also about to face impeachment, while the Zapatistas were four years into creating another possible world. Collectively, they played out their version of macho and cool inside a long stolen and colonized territory. No shields needed to guard their manhoods. The cop grabbed Manny from behind and yelled, “Calm down, son.”
“Let me go you swine-fucking motherfucker,” Manny said.
As the cop’s arms reached toward and around his neck, it was here that Manny began to feel and understand that he and those he loved had been fighting for space. You know what they say about dudes like you, right?” Manny said. He was single with no pets. You put some good songs on here, dog,” Nester said. Their difference in size and mass was of no concern to him. They came together three or four nights out of the week to talk shit and plan their monthly parties, thinking this would be a forever routine. David stood still, seemingly numb, slowly walking off the curb and into the street, repeating “Why did you shoot him? The chaos outside the window pressed against his ears into a jumbled metalloid screech. He ran after Little Richie whose over-sized khakis, and plump weight had him struggling to get away. Nester smacked Manny’s arm away. They all kept their eyes on Olivia until she disappeared into her car. Some blue red and white lights were flashing silently and approaching them slowly. Cops began to yell at people to move back. Manny noticed David looking around at the others to agree, his long lean frame suddenly unsure of itself. Tom even fed a few of the apartment pets. Nester and Manny swayed to the beat. Suddenly time stretched like rubber, and sound became a slow hum. Manny looked up toward Tom’s window. Chicanos reimagining the faux rebellion of CK ads. Chill out. His slick black hair shined in the faint streetlight. His hair was short and full of gel, and the Smiths were his favorite band. was hardly ever in the movies. In that instance it seemed to Manny like the whole neighborhood was yelling at the cops, but people were in shock while most were scared. Richie fell to the ground like the awkward teenage boy he was, eyes toward the sky. Hugo wasn’t tall, but he was bulky and thick as bricks. But he knew that it was these types of arguments that made them all friends, even through moments of distortion. I’m going to get a 40.” He began to walk to the liquor store.
“Wait up, I’ll come with you,” Marco said and the two walked off together.
Manny was being playful, but he was ready if Nester kept acting up. Not bad if you ask me. Do we need to start calling you baby lungs? “What, fool! He is working on a novel called Lucha Libre in America and holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. He missed, but the thud against the wall getting a fifth cop’s attention. A small rebellion against the mothers and fathers whose dreams never took shape beyond the paychecks that landed them in these streets and away from the dictators and thieves of their homelands. “Damn, homes, you need to hook up your sounds. Marco danced to himself like he was holding a beautiful woman right there in their circle. “Hey Little Richie, isn’t it past your bedtime, homes?” Nester called out. Manny just nodded, no longer coughing and wiping tears from his eyes. ¤
Francisco McCurry is a decolonizing native, traveling the spaceways of planet air. The song played on, like a soothing bubble around their bodies. This part of L.A. Manny had his right boot on the first step of the complex, and both his long sinewy limbs held his belt buckle, which was brass and shaped like a weed leaf. The ride is looking good. Manny’s boots had thick black soles and straps that went over the front arch with a small silver buckle. Un gringo with un chingon de plata,” Hugo added. Love, violence, and sex revolving around their bodies like comets and asteroids. Shit ain’t right if you ask me. Two cop cars. Marco then took a couple of puffs on the joint as Tupac’s voice crept into their ritual. Their corner lit like a pumpkin. None had children, and only one serious girlfriend among the five. The kid’s mouth and teeth looked like a wet tunnel to hell as he lay unconscious on the street. Marco was thinking of joining the army. He actually wanted to call Olivia a bitch, but instead he placed his slender veiny hands into his pockets and slouched his thin shoulders. “The rest of you do not move,” a generic megaphone voice called out from the vehicle. “No I’m off,” Manny said. Some blood had stained the tip of Manny’s right boot, because he had kicked some Armenian pretty boy in the face during a brawl on Sunset. “What dog?” Little Richie said. “Aye fool, what the fuck is this caca? Still, he just didn’t know when to shut the fuck up and take the noise. Manny sat inside David’s burgundy Honda Sentra, and through the weed and sound, it felt like it morphed into a ’67 Jaguar Roadster. The song’s undulating bassline buzzing along more than its intended thump. Manny looked over at the window and shrugged his shoulders. “Straight Black. Little Richie laughed hitting the joint. He had stories of dropping acid with Dennis Hopper and selling coke to Debbie Harry. “No shit stupid ass. He had actually been in the complex for a few years. Adolfo stepped out with an open tall can in a brown bag. His mind became an empty black expanse where word and form were not taking shape. They struggled to handcuff Hugo as he cursed and fought them. “Yup,” Manny replied. They stood around at their nothing and everything, searching for affirmation in each other, and beyond the buildings. Manny with the pain still lingering in his stomach, moved his eyes back above Tom’s window, catching a quick glance of the nothing darkness above, before he was shoved in the back seat of the squad car. “I mean, guys, really, uhm, I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“You talk like you’re making big money shoveling dog shit at the animal shelter, Tom,” David said. After the shatter, Nester and Marco were both face down and getting roughed up. Tom was running his hand through his ragged hair and his eyes were wide, hardly blinking, the bedroom light behind him obscuring the rest of his facial features. The night Manny clicked into a soft political understanding of the world, he stood near the apartment building’s outside stairway. “Yeah. A cop had pulled up in another car, and shot from the window. I can smell the weed all the way up here, and your music won’t let me sleep.”
“Close your damn window then fool,” Manny shouted. “I hooked it up for you fools and everything.”
“And everything…” Nester mocked. It was dark. In the space under his heart, maybe above his stomach, an anxious fear blossomed. Tom huffed, struggled for words. Lookin’ firme.”
Little Richie, hands in his pockets, looked at the inside of the car. “Okay, bye boys,” Jessie added as he followed behind his sister. I didn’t have the lore of neighborhoods that helped define the city; but its conditioning was all too familiar. Sometimes, a morning bowl of Frosted Flakes had a raisin-not- raisin floating in the milk. This is my shit,” Nester said as he plugged his upper body in the passenger door of the Sentra. I don’t sleep under the same roof as him. Hair flat ironed, precision eyeliner, deep red lipstick, and her flat stomach out on display with a cheap chain wrapped over the hips. Nester was jobless and living with his brother; and Hugo the oldest, legally able to buy alcohol, worked at a tire and rim shop. “Damn, Nester, that’s a little harsh, no? “Aye, Manny you need to make me a dub of this. “So I’m’a need you guys to get some dope-ass fliers made up and start getting word out. “Tom, who told your ass to move into a neighborhood full of crazy Apaches anyway? You sound like you’re going to throw up and shit,” said Hugo, flexing his chest and biceps as he grabbed the joint from Nester. He could dip in and out of the small homes and apartment complexes. That night, the air was humid and still. “Yeah, I seen her come through the spot asking for discounts on tires for her little Trevors and Bobbies in their
Beemers and Benzes. White and gray leather seats, long like a park bench. He turned up the volume and the kick drum of “Ambitionz Az A Ridah” popped like a balloon through the feeble speaker in the door. “Oh, that’s just Little Richie, Crazy Eddie’s baby brother. Like his brother, Nester was short, but he also had a solid build that was becoming doughy from his love for emptying Mickey’s bottles. I’m calling the cops.” Tom’s head moved away from the window. The cop slipped on wet grass and Richie slipped out of his grasp. “Hey, who’s that creeping up,” said Marco. Pac’s song ended and another song took over: a woman’s bombastic vocals saying deep deep deep inside, deep deep down inside. His hollow expression shook Manny. But aye, if you wanna get froggy, ain’t nothing between us but space and opportunity.”
Hugo grabbed his younger brother by the waist, “Chill baby bro. “Yeah my little cousin and his friends have been doing all the body work. “Hi, boys,” Jessie said smoking a cigarette, a big smile on his face. The others said nothing as Manny coughed into his closed fist. Only David’s jeans had the cuts in the hem like Manny’s. He wanted to show his friends that he stood by them, but Manny did live there, and Tom was prone to complain to the landlord about the smallest disturbances, and Manny didn’t want to get kicked out. Manny would just pluck out the invader, and enjoy his breakfast. He felt Nester’s belly clench with excitement. “Damn bro, this weed is harsh.” Manny said coughing between his words. The Shields’ “You Cheated, You Lied” covered the scene like a damp blanket. “And what’s that?”
“That it makes you so mad because you want to swing that way, Rambo.”
Nester got wild in the eyes and stepped toward Manny, “You calling me gay, homey?”
“Did I say that? Jeans were baggy, Jordan was on the way to ring six, and Marilyn Manson was a star.
But Manny didn’t give a shit about most of those things. His veiled face seemed just as nervous above, as theirs were below. That some voices were deemed more important than his and those that he loved. Manny kicked at the building’s wall. He knew the layout. He had a dog paw tatted on his right bicep, and wore green contacts. I see how many people come in and out of that apartment every day.”
“Yes, mothafucka! Manny worked part-time night shifts at Target to pay for rent and play. The whole car was sanded down ready for a new paint job. Manny, David, Hugo, and Adolfo all watched the cop reach for Richie’s shirt. Hell nah.”
Nester, Hugo, and Marco laughed. Manny then made a sound like he was clearing his throat. “Chill man, or we won’t buy from you anymore,” David said, his hand firm on Richie’s chest. Adolfo was 10 years Hugo’s senior. “Tu sabes,” Little Richie added with his fist out. He still had his arms extended, smoke rising out the barrel, wedged inside the opened car door. You know Encino and Sherman Oaks are up the Boulevard, right?” Hugo said calmly. This shit is gay. His first impulse was to tell them to go inside, but he didn’t want to back down to Tom, or seem like a punk to his friends, so he kept his gaze angry and firm. This way his pants fit snug over his mahogany Harley boots. Olivia is fine as hell,” David said. I mean, I know you live here, but do you really live here? “What? It smelled like burning wood and ammonia. “What? Manny watched David put some sway in his hips. They gunna paint it next weekend too.”
“That’s what’s up,” Manny chimed in. But David’s right. Manny was the first to hit the joint as the words Biggie Biggie Biggie can’t you see played through three of the four speakers in David’s car. I have to get up for work tomorrow! Don’t fuck up my high or I’m gunna have to spank you like your mommy when she finds out you’re not in bed,” Manny didn’t bother looking up at him. Out here defending him and shit.”
“Okay anti-gay Terminator. Hey guys,” an uneven voice called out from the shadows. His tan and black collared shirt buttoned to the top, with khaki Dickies eight sizes bigger than his waistline, folded at the bottom over some black Nike
Cortez. It grabbed something in him, something so interior that it was beyond performance or the desire to be cool or the need to be tough. Hugo screamed, instinctively running out toward Richie as another cop car arrived. Manny looked at his boys David, Marco, Nester, and Hugo, who were a few feet away, gathered around David’s car: a beat-up burgundy ’88 Honda Sentra. Nester left him hanging. You got all them dents out of it,” Hugo said, followed by a slap of five and a fist bump. She let me go down for a bite earlier.”
“What, fool?” Hugo said smiling, lifting a fist over his head. Manny stepped in when he saw Hugo catch his brother on the cheek with a swift open hand. Manny lit the second joint, hit it, and passed it to David. “Hey freeze!” A cop jumped out of the slowly moving car. Little Richie was gasping for air, as the cop who slipped and fell, turned him on his stomach and placed him in handcuffs. Nestor’s face was tinted red and contorted in anger. “Fool, we dance to this shit every weekend,” Manny said. Her breasts and ass dominated space like Saturn and Jupiter. “You know, I’m not gunna argue anymore. “Shit didn’t you and these two fools run a train on his little co-worker a couple weekends ago?”
“So, what, fool? The rest of the street baked under the shroud of valley smog that clung to old trees, and low-rise buildings, shaping a box-square-square Gothic landscape. A siren quickly bleep bleep blopped into their direction. “Here,” Manny grabbed it and put it under a loose brick that separated the sidewalk from a small patch of grass. It’s not that bad,” David said. He yelled at his window, “You fuckin’ peckerwood!” He grabbed the loose brick, that had been concealing the joint, hurled it at the window. He watched his friends. “Dude, I don’t know how you do it. “Whatever, aye,” Nester said, eying his brother. I told him he could come smoke with us,” David said. The slang, the boots, the slim fit Levis, and slicked back hair, an armor against the rapacious dusk of working-class poverty. “Aye fool while you’re in there, fast-forward this shit.”
Hugo stood chest out about three feet away from Nester, next to David.
They all turned their heads as a figure moved in the distance. The building was the color of dirty sheep’s wool. Ts, Levis, and boots, their collective uniform. The four-note piano loop began, and those stuttering drums and whiplash snare hit in a way that helped amplify the effects of the weed. Their memories and emotions churning within them like fission and fusion inside the sun. I’ma roll another joint.” He walked toward the car. I wanted to be nice about it. Their signs shone next to the main streetlights that lit up the path of Richie’s attempted escape route. As the cop tried to pull Richie back, Richie stopped, crouched, and twisted under the pull with a strength and agility beyond his age and size. Sounds like music my sister plays when she’s on her period.”
“Aye, shut your little verga mouth Richie. Little Richie stopped with his hands in his pockets and said, “So, you fools still smoking or what?”
“I don’t remember you putting in on the sack, big guy,” Hugo said. We should try and hit up Lupe and Sally later. They all laughed. The sound of “Hypnotize” faded out. “We heard Tom yelling.” She was all dolled up. It’s a Wednesday night for Christ sakes. Adolfo’s Bel Air squealed to a stop behind David’s Sentra. He stubbed the joint out on the curb. “Where should I put the rest of this joint,” asked Little Richie. I guess you already got a thing going with Boy George, huh? The smoke didn’t seem to move at all, sticking to the air around them. People in the neighborhood began to creep out of the houses and apartments. Manny knew this was his family. Dissonance was his companion. He was a bit conflicted. No wonder that shit had so many seeds and tasted like a donkey’s ass,” Manny said from the car. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, then pop pop pop. David said, “Fuck yeah.” Manny bopped his head over the joint he was rolling and turned up the volume. JUNE 3, 2020
THIS PIECE APPEARS IN THE POP ISSUE OF THE LARB QUARTERLY JOURNAL. Never buy from Little Richie. “Fuck you, fool,” David said. I think the weed got caught in a clump of your lady’s dried-up pussy juice. But I’m too drunk to care and got some tetas in my face.”
Nester shoved his brother for effect. He was the unofficial leader of their branch of a party crew that extended from the San Fernando Valley into the Inland Empire.