Posts Tagged ‘Big George’

Neighborhood Drama, Training Wheels & Street Dynasties


08 May

boss-man-blues

Boss Man Blues

samplex

Date: 08 May 99 12:55:00 ‑0400
From: Sue Hedrick

Well, Chris & Byron worked for an hour, then Chris rings the door­bell and says Byron has to work some­where else today so he can be paid today, that he did­n’t under­stand he would be paid by the week. Byron says no, that being paid by the week is fine, but he need­ed some mon­ey today, so he con­tract­ed some­where else to work this after­noon. I said to Byron would he be here in the morn­ing, & he said yes & he under­stood he would not be paid tomor­row. Then it real­ly looked like immi­nent rain, so Chris & Byron cleaned up. Chris said he would leave the paint & brush­es there on the front porch so he could start ear­ly tomor­row morn­ing with­out dis­turb­ing us. They put the big lad­der back on the fence and washed the brush­es.

Chris rang the door­bell again, and said Byron said he would like his hourly wage now, and I said to Chris, how much is Gabriel pay­ing Byron. Chris said $8 so I gave Byron his $8 for one hour. They leave and a few min­utes lat­er Chris comes back and says he will get some­one else to help him tomor­row, and that Byron was not a good work­er, that he went off down the road and came back & had anoth­er job. Chris said if Byron shows up tomor­row, we should tell him we got some­one else. I said I would let Gabriel han­dle it.

I think Chris had some argu­ment with Byron and just does­n’t want to work with him.

Any­way, I am going out now & I want­ed you to know what hap­pened and where every­thing stands. I will call you lat­er.

Love,
BABY

Sorry sweet­ie, that you were forced to “go native” today. You and I both know that Chris is next to noth­ing but harm­less, espe­cial­ly to us. We’ve known him for over a decade now, and since that rather ugly begin­ning he has noth­ing but the high­est regard with­in his some­what lim­it­ed pow­ers for us. Nav­i­gat­ing the world of Chris Titus is com­pli­cat­ed busi­ness, an excru­ci­at­ing maze punc­tu­at­ed by pet­ty weights and half mea­sures, hur­ry ups and wait­ing times, fleet­ing exper­i­ments with truth that usu­al­ly crum­ble like the lad him­self as he works through his three pri­ma­ry goals. One is to defend us against the unrest of any the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion, and the sec­ond is to assert his own favored posi­tion with­in the more trou­bling ele­ment. The third is when one on one, and there is some­thing we do for him, like hire him to cut our five minute lawn so we can give him five dol­lars, he must show his inde­pen­dence by refus­ing to show up at the appoint­ed time so that he feels he is in con­trol of his own time, infu­ri­at­ing at the moment of impact but fun­ny when tak­en as a per­son­al trait so pre­dictable that it’s non-nego­tiable but damned near bank­able. It’s a sub­tle dance of two cul­tures clash­ing, not in spite but in def­er­ence to dis­tinc­tion, to mark­ings, of momen­tum, of con­trol. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that’s just how it is, this plight fac­ing our two races when we find each oth­er deep in the neigh­bor­hood of the oth­er, roles reversed but sim­i­lar, and sub­ject to the laws of con­ti­nu­ity.

He actu­al­ly told me I was the only per­son who came to see him there. I didn’t ques­tion him, but how could not his moth­er with whom he lived, or his cousin Bem­bo, well, they were often out of sorts with each oth­er, and what about all those oth­er peo­ple who lived in the same house, nobody? But…there was no point in me dig­ging holes in his front yard on this issue or any issue because I did­n’t even know exact­ly where in the neigh­bor­hood he lived after all these years—just down the street some­where in dis­guis­es and the bounce.
Bat­tles which begin and end beyond each of us but are con­sumed with intrigue, bat­tles to be won or lost, or pushed on down the road until the next time. Remem­ber when Reg­gie ripped off my cam­era, my $500 Nikon at my birth­day par­ty after we’d invit­ed him in to share in the fes­tiv­i­ties, no less.

Rely­ing on Chris for inside intel­li­gence puts him a par­tic­u­lar­ly unen­vi­able posi­tion, but he usu­al­ly tells me the truth when pressed. Of course, I’ve had to exert my own school of hard knocks mojo over the years to earn this con­fi­dence. In his words, I’m his nig­ger, but don’t say to him when he says he wants to join our soft­ball Sun­days, “Okay Chris, make sure you and your boys make it to the field Sun­day at noon.” He howled as soon as boys of sum­mer left my mouth. Stunned, not by my own usage of a harm­less fig­ure of speech, but upon rec­og­niz­ing how deep race-bait­ing polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness reach­es into the vocab­u­lary, and it took me a sec­ond, maybe two to even com­pre­hend the play­ful enough reac­tion. I then quick­ly took the lib­er­ty of school­ing him about the Boys of Sum­mer, a tra­di­tion­al ref­er­ence to base­ball, and the men who play it. And just as quick­ly, that was that. But who’s kid­ding whom, it’s not like Chris is some PC fiend, or even a vocif­er­ous agi­tant…

No idea exact­ly how old Chris is, maybe 30–35? No spring chick­en any­more. Beat­en down by his own ear­li­er poor choic­es from a rougher past he claims he has long left to oth­ers, the train stuck on the tracks at his sta­tion in life is haul­ing few pas­sen­gers. He lives in a large noisy house­hold, he escapes to the streets to sur­vive one day at a time, so it’s actu­al­ly a clas­sic snap­shot of human dig­ni­ty pack­aged in phys­i­cal humor to see his lanky skele­ton of a body slink­ing around the neigh­bor­hood just to be keep­ing an eye on things, as he might say.

Occa­sion­al­ly while we are stand­ing around chew­ing the fat, he revis­its the after­noon I made time with him at DC Gen­er­al where he was hos­pi­tal­ized for a high­ly con­ta­gious form of pneu­mo­nia. I was told by his nurse that I had to put on one of those white paper masks just to be allowed to duck into his pri­vate room for a few min­utes. I stayed about a half hour. He was in pret­ty good shape, laugh­ing and talk­ing in his nor­mal slow drawl in what was the mid­dle of a two week stay. Need to find that polaroid I snapped of the three of us that day. Chris, myself, in mask. He actu­al­ly told me I was the only per­son who came to see him there. I didn’t ques­tion him, but how could not his moth­er with whom he lived, or his cousin Bem­bo, well, they were often out of sorts with each oth­er, and what about all those oth­er peo­ple who lived in the same house, nobody? But—there was no point in me dig­ging holes in his front yard on this issue or any issue because I did­n’t even know exact­ly where in the neigh­bor­hood he lived after all these years—just down the street some­where in dis­guis­es and the bounce.

But these wel­fare divas could be heard scream­ing at U a full block away try­ing to get their point across. Prob­lem was—they didn’t speak Eng­lish either. I know I could bare­ly make out half of what I heard being barked into U’s plas­tic cage over the years, and I spoke in a rather thick unrec­og­niz­able cray­on myself at times. It’s no slur to tell you some of these pis­tol-whipped, baby-tot­ing, spam talk­ing shop­pers were thick in cray­on…
Of course I would ask. In the begin­ning his respons­es were vague. Lat­er they got a lit­tle more spe­cif­ic but nev­er as easy as an exact address, some­thing that I could remem­ber. In a neigh­bor­hood of same-col­ored sim­i­lar­ly designed row hous­es from the 1940s run­ning west to east, north to south, well, you get the pic­ture. Then at some point Chris Titus is rumored to have moved. I’ve moved (and relo­cat­ed the pre­cious things I keep close) often in my life, but nev­er just a few doors down like he did, imag­ine how strange that must feel, or to the next adja­cent street like big chest­ed Ang­ie did, and rarely even in the same zip code that Furi­ous Big George with the huge stature and won­der­ful bass singing voice did—periodically—since the DC Jail tanked a few acres a stone’s throw south of the near­by hos­pi­tal grounds, and Big George liked to get drunk and throw his weight around, fire guns, slap his women around, and gen­er­al­ly live poor­ly, but man, when we first moved to Eigh­teenth Street, we would hear this boom­ing but sor­row­ful voice in the black night riff­ing through the back alley, a voice as pow­er­ful to our ears as what we remem­bered as Paul Robeson’s gift to the B/W movies of the 1950s, a voice from the row of breeze-rid­dled trees along the pun­ished and crack­ing alley but we could nev­er to a face to the voice until we met the big man under the light of day a year or so lat­er, under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, cir­cum­stances dis­guised as a man, as a stranger want­i­ng to bor­row two dol­lars to buy him­self anoth­er forty while already stand­ing in line to talk to Mis­ter U. That is his cor­rect­ly spelled sur­name. Viet­namese. Thai. Nev­er pinned that down. But the bul­let-proofed plexi-glassed cage at his bode­ga where we bought our six packs of Black Label did a whop­ping busi­ness. In DC entire stores are behind plas­tic. The ven­dor grabs the items from the shelves or refrig­er­a­tion room, tal­lies the tab, asks for the mon­ey via a bul­let-proof pack­age pas­sage, and once that is com­plete, he pass­es the bag or bags of mer­chan­dise through. Alco­hol sales has to be his biggest sell­er, but lots of poor peo­ple with no imme­di­ate­ly con­ve­nient mode of trans­porta­tion will waste any dol­lars they’ve got at cor­ner con­ve­nience stores. That’s why this gen­er­a­tion of immi­grant shop­keep­ers risk their lives every day to buy and oper­ate these death traps in neigh­bor­hoods like these. It’s a liv­ing. Per­haps it’s mild­ly lucra­tive. But no match for gun wonks look­ing for an easy score.

Mis­ter U bare­ly spoke Eng­lish. He under­stood what he need­ed to under­stand, but don’t try to engage him beyond what the tax man con­sid­ers valu­able assets, and he is offer­ing to sell you. But these wel­fare divas could be heard scream­ing at U a full block away try­ing to get their point across. Prob­lem was—they did­n’t speak Eng­lish either. I know I could bare­ly make out half of what I heard being barked into U’s plas­tic cage over the years, and I spoke in a rather thick unrec­og­niz­able cray­on myself at times. It’s no slur to tell you some of these pis­tol-whipped, baby-tot­ing, spam talk­ing shop­pers were thick in cray­on…

S A M P L E X

"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""


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