The Sunday evening sky was an orange hue as the sun descended into setting. The streets were barren with very little traffic. The houses along our quest varied in shapes and sizes. There were duplexes, and singles big and small. Some occupied, some empty a few abandoned. Some yards had two houses in them, one in the front and another in back. There was a slight chill in the air. The tall trees that lined our journey was preparing for winter with branches beginning to bear and leaves that were colorful. Some of them fell gracefully in the cool breeze while the others were dried and on the ground crunching beneath our feet over the uneven sidewalk.
Walking thru the neighborhood was tricky. You couldn’t just walk down certain streets, because you had to avoid certain houses, where certain gang members gathered. As we passed the 12-unit apartment building at the end of our block, I noticed gang graffiti sprawled on the wall. It read "Rolling 20's Crip" in blue. For me this meant go the other way. Gang tags and graffiti had become the new normal in what was then deemed “Crip” territory. This gang signal didn't faze my dad. He kept his quick pace to play the lotto. I didn't think he knew what it was or even cared. Me on the other hand knew exactly what it was and my body flushed at the very site of the word “Crip”. With every step all I could hear was my sister saying "They ain't gone do nothing but knock you upside you fat head and take it! HeHeHeHe.”
My Father had this scientific way of coming up with his numbers for the Lottery. “I think I’m gonna play 1709 for the win!” He was making his play on the final score of the game 17-9. Then he started going over different combination “1907, 7901, 1790”. “1079!” I reacted “That’s my birthday month and year!” With my father’s presence and conversation, my insecurities about taking a simple walk through gang turf waned. “1079 it is.” he said as we ventured into the “drug free” zone that has taken over our neighborhood.
We finally reached the Ohio Lottery Station. It was 6:45 when we walked in and there were three people ahead of us. Hot Sauce Williams was a few doors down and they had arcade games in its lobby. I asked could I go order my food and play “Galaga”, while he waited in line to play his numbers. He told me to get two rib dinners for him and my mom and a polish boy with fries for my sister. He gave me $20.00 and said he’d be right over when he was done. I zipped out of the line clutching the $20 dollar bill, rushing into the Buckeye corridor by myself. The aroma of Barbeque hung heavy in the evening air along the Buckeye corridor. Hot sauce Williams seemed to always have multiple grills burning their award winning ribs. I loved Hot sauce Williams because it had the best barbeque sauce in the city. From polish boys to ribs, 25-cent chicken wings to 50-cent fries, a good majority of my allowance went into their cash register and their mini arcade. My hunger carried me from the corner of E.123rd in Buckeye through the front door into the lobby of Hot Sauce Williams.
The assorted colors of the Starter Jackets were appealing to the “Gangsters” in the “hood” because it allowed them to express their set or gang. It didn’t matter the team, it was all about their flag, their colors. Like the Black and Silver of the Los Angeles Raiders represented the Vic Lords. The black and white of the Los Angeles Kings represented the Folks. The black and red of the Chicago Bulls represented the Bloods. The Crips wore blue but Buckeye’s Crips were the Rolling 20’s and they adorned the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The clock read 6:50 pm and the small space was crammed with Hot Sauce patrons. A few were standing in line to order, some were waiting on their order while others were crowded around the arcade games’ “Galaga”, “Donkey Kong” and “Ms.Pacman”. The large overhead menu lit up my face as I searched their options. Mouth watering, I could taste the wings and fires with sauce as I clutched the $20 dollar bill my dad gave me. As the line pushed forward, I noticed that the person standing at the counter had a blue bandana hanging out of their left back pocket. Once I recognized his “Soldier Rag” I heard the phrase “WHUD UP CUZ?!” fill the air, interrupting the low chatter of the lobby. Just completing his order the dude with the bandana turned around and returned the greeting by saying “WHUD UP CUZ?!” He looked like he was in his early twenties and the whites of his eyes were burgundy red. Two teens from the neighborhood walked in wearing all blue from head to toe. I gasped and said to myself “It’s the Crips!” My heart started pounding deep and hard.
BaBoom Baboom Baboom...
The “Big Homie” stepped out the line to greet them. I was staring at their exchange of bending and twisting handshake. I was mesmerized by how their fingers moved acrobatically in a show of solidarity and style. They moved toward the “Ms. Pacman” arcade game. I felt my mouth begin to dry.
Baboom …Baboom… Baboom….
“NEXT!” yelled the cashier, breaking my gaze from the gangstas. I was next. I walked up to the counter, placed my crumbled and moist $20 dollar bill on the counter and said with a shaky voice “May I please have one wing dinner, two rib dinners and a polish-boy with fries, sauce on everything.” While placing my order I felt the gangstas watching my every move from across the room. When I got done making my order I heard one of the gangsters say “please” and “thank you”…
…The group laughed and I did my best not to look in their direction. “That will be $17.50.” The cashier said. He picked up the money off the counter. My hand slightly trembled as I received my change and receipt with call number. “Thank you sir.” I said to the cashier. He turned and walked toward the kitchen to place my order. Gathering my change, I prepared a quarter so to play “Galaga”. The cashier returned from the kitchen. I heard him yell “1963. Your order is up!” I noticed that the cashier called the “Big Homies” ticket. With his eyes low, stern and burgundy red, the “Big Homie” started walking my way. He wore a blue fitted cap turned backwards with a black and blue flannel shirt buttoned up to the top button. He wore baggy dark blue Jeans and blue and white Nike Cortez sneakers.
Baboom Baboom Baboom…
As he approached in a rhythmic stride, I watched his face. His red eyes seemed to peer right through me and with a mean mug he looked me up and down. He grabbed his food, looked at me and said forcefully “Nice jacket lil homie. What size is it?”
Baboom Baboom Baboom …
His questioning prompted the other two gangsters to come and join the conversation. All I could see was his blood shot eyes. Before I answered, I took a gulp. Voice breaking I said “An EXtra larGE. I GOt it For mY BRITHday.”
Baboom Baboom Baboom
The circle that formed around me closed tighter in front of the Ms. Pacman arcade. One of the teens, wore an all blue Dickies coverall with a blue hoodie underneath. His hair was in cornrows and he also had on a pair of Nike Cortez sneakers. He was shorter than me and the other two Crips. The other teen also had dark blue jeans on with a champion crew neck sweatshirt, with a visible white t-shirt that was untucked and a blue goose down vest. He was tall and wore a perfectly shaped afro. After telling them about my size and where I got the jacket from, the tall teen with the familiar face said “Awww him mommy and daddy bought him jacket for him birthday.” Pouting his lips and batting his eyes. The lobby erupted into laughter. The short one interrupted the comedy and got serious “Mannnn - we should gank this fool. This Crip!” I flinched as he crossed his arms at his chest and formed his stubby little fingers into C’s, while throwing his hands and twisting other symbols into his flurry of finger and hand dancing. The people in the lobby looked on while others cleared the way.
Baboom Baboom Baboom…
The room seemed to have gone silent. In the background, I could here the playful sounds of Ms. Pacman “did da do did da do did da do brik brik” but this was no game. I stood there scared shitless waiting for them to knock me upside my fat head, like my mom and kid sister prophesized. The clock read 7:00pm.
With long lanky arms, the tall one snatched at my Steelers hat and with a quick dodge I was able to avert his attempt. But the short one was able to counter my dodge and he snatched my hat off my head anyway. My nervousness transformed into rage “GIVE IT BACKKKK!!!”I yelled as they pulled me into a game of keep away between the two of them, until my cap feel at the “Big Hoimes” feet. He picked it up clutching it tightly in his fist. As I stood toe to toe and nose to nose with the “Big Homie” the circle around us thickened. As I went to grab at my hat – my father pushed through the back of the small crowd. His silhouette casted a shadow over the makeshift arena stationed in front of Mrs. Pacman. “Whose your new friend” standing at the “Big Homies” back. “Aint no friends here mister!” he said attempting to stare through me with my hat in his hand. My father moved around to see the “Big Homies” face. On site my dad said “Cleophis!? Lil Cleo, is that you!?”. My dad recognized Cleophis Simmons Jr. from the neighborhood. He went to high school with his father and they were good friends. At the sound of his real name, his government name the “Big Homie” broke his stare, looking at my dad surprisingly. “Boy-I remember you, when you were crawling around in shitty little diapers. How yo momma doing? He then pointed at my hat in his hand and said “You a Steelers fan too like my son huh?”. At that point, the stone cold gangstas, morphed into a pack of wayward teens looking for trouble. Cleophis and his crew looked at me, then at my dad, then at me again and said “You’re the mail mans son?!” Snatching my hat back with authority, a new sense of confidence fell over me. “YEAH!” I said with a puffed out chest and fist balled in a tight squeeze and determined look in my eye.
“”1965, your order is up!” the cashier yelled from the counter. The call of my order – reengaged my taste buds as I moved triumphantly toward the cashier for my awaiting order. Grabbing our food my dad stayed back talking with Cleophis and his crew. Before this run-in, I never actually seen a “Crip”. For a while the all blue uniform with soldier rag, crip walk, the graffiti, gang signs, the guns, the drugs the violence where all apart of the enigma that shrouded gang life and culture. The excitement in the lobby subsided and returned to normal. Walking out of Hot Sauce Williams with my dad, we left Cleophis and the peanut gallery standing in front of the Ms. Pacman looking salty as I passed in my Steelers jacket, hat, gloves and scarf. I would usually be embarrassed by my dad meddling into my affairs, but in this situation, I was glad to see him.
The evening sky was now a deep purple as the Corridor held evening traffic. The cool October air was invigorating as my dad and I walked into the night. The aroma of barbeque pushed us home with a quickened pace so to throw down on those wings, them ribs and that polish boy with fries, sauce on everything, officially putting the cap on my 13th birthday. “You gotta be careful in that jacket son. Cleophis told me that the Pittsburgh Steelers represented the Rolling 20’s Crips out of Los Angeles California.” He said while walking past the graffiti on our block. “L.A.?!” I said shockingly “Yep – L.A.! Luckily I was there. They were about to go upside your fat head.” We continued our journey home.
Damien Ware has organized as well as hosted various public performances and open mics and facilitated creative writing workshops for all ages. A zine-maker and poetic video blogger, Ware loves to share his talent for writing with the community, through self-publishing and public / web-based performances. He holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Wayne State University and a Bachelors Degree in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University. He is a husband and father of three and writes daily.
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Community Anthology Table of Contents
About the program
Who We Are, Where We Live is a free community writing program giving voice to people who live and work in the Buckeye/Shaker community. Participants write stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors. Annually, selected writings are published here in an online anthology and presented at a final reading and celebration.