Friday night, my junior year, the Final four, two parties, I was at home, benched. It was like the “old days” just my mother and I. Muffin had a girl’s night, Stretch was doing a couple’s thing with Santo while my sister Brooke was out with DES and the Madison brat pack undoubtedly indulging a pre mature, excessive existence. My mother had ACE’S in her hands they were her right to worry cards, she was dealt the hand that no mom ever wanted. She kept them close to the vest. And sometimes she’d allow anyone to see sometimes she’d discard. She’d played her last hand, the hand no kid ever wanted. We played backgammon. My sister was slipping away from us and she knew it. Theirs was an increasingly fractious relationship.
I couldn’t see it. I saw my mother though, her wisdom and hustle. I’d always been thankful I’d been spared a vagina. It was difficult to endure my sister’s junior high skating career with my mother at the helm. Too much everything, it was clearly unhealthy. It was one thing I never bothered blocking out. My sister was going to have some issues down the road. And as she naturally gravitated towards our father in those early teenage years, he’d left. And had a new family, a boy and a girl, step kids three and four, re set button. And I wasn’t mad at him someone was going to jail for something if he’d stayed. He’d cut his wrists instead of the Turkey on Thanksgiving 88. And you didn’t need the therapy I’d been conned into five years ago at that point to get that.
And like boys, I’d grown closer to my mother. And through basketball and the ACE program she found our best home yet. She loved the Young Guns while praying I stopped hanging out with seventy five percent of them. That was our battle. She’d discovered an ally in the Big Guy whom referred to most of my friends along with Coach Sullivan as “dopes.” My mother and I were teammates. And she’d have to balance that survival mentality as it lived into my vehicle against the common practice of parental guidance. It was often blurred. But she’d always have my back. It’s all I needed. Some mothers in Madison turned their sons in for illegal behavior. Not the one’s in survival mode and never my mother. It was security even though I never got caught. And through her neurosis I’d learned to safe house any shred of something I’d never want her to come into contact with. I had Enrico’s basement and my clubhouse Sugar Ray’s.
Sugar Rays had made a nice transition into our junior year. She was re claimed. A safe-house, beer and dope spot. It had a classical story. It’s where B-Dawg lost his virginity for $20’s and a vanilla milk shake. It’s where I recorded both my demo’s, 2-$mooth and adolescent along with $mooth Adolescents, LP. It was far from their main house. The couch was a bed when I had escape next store. It’s writing covering all of my years, and dreams, and friends gave it a classic feel. It was all ours. Point is I’d learned precaution and filled in the blanks.
My mother was smart enough to know meeting certain acquaintances weather they were real or not real trouble or real good kid cause you know every hustler is a good kid. And therefor she’d foreseen grave danger for the both of us. She couldn’t stop us now and there was no oversight. My sister and I were the worst candidates for such a situation. And skating was over summer was coming, Young Gun’s and our senior year. She knew that was my ticket. She rightfully held those 4 ACES of worry, still, not ready to drop one. She worried about Brooke, forever, and was happy that night I’d stayed in. She knew the spring was my danger zone. There was also a party hosted by our class president whose freshmen year bash had gotten myself, Santo and Well’s into the Big Guy’s office in the first place. “Living it up freshmen year.” I’d always remember the arrival of beer from some curtains of age that had delivered five cases to her doorstep. I loved that not knowing of the permanent damage the chase of legendary high school status how inflicted on so many under my nose. Anyway I was left off the invite list along with the usual cast in our click. It was her father’s house, an even nice town adjacent. And I didn’t blame her. I wouldn’t want the bunch of us in a very nice place. Reflect: I loved being a freshmen it was better than 11th, 10th or even the storied 12th grade. After freshmen year you’d never be the youngest again (high school). And in 1993 that glorious youthful revolution on American culture started by our parents generation was full blown again and the strides were staggering. It’s why we aligned with Michigan’s Fab 5. UNLV had graduated their roster in fitting scandals and shadows. I believed that Larry Johnson missed the free throws, shaved the points. I’d known I’d made the right decision when a week after we first filled a 76 Bus, copping thirty UNLV hats Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmen appeared in 3 piece suits and gangster hats and feathers on the Cover of SI, I’d made a perfect decision. I even think Larry Johnson might have been holding a semi automatic hand held, sick cause once again times were changing. And hip-hop banged anthems for that type of shit. I was now sure with no wars and a recovering re boom we were born at the perfect time and place. My dreams were like lottery tickets tools to crutch away thoughts of root causes and repairs. I took big chances. We’d collectively all taken our biggest risks as freshmen. The stakes rose with age, the track and question, where would life take you? But not for me and I had to be careful, Black and Hank, expelled. Naturally UNLV or us Young Guns gravitated to the Fab 5 that spring. Fuck you pay me.
And there were huge walls left which the establishment borrowed at least one familial trait from my own pretending those walls weren’t there. It was so very Jim Crow. It wasn’t even conscience but it was there, living wildly undercover. I’d seen the lengths one had to go to change the course of fear and stereotypes in my own house. Of all kinds but nothing elicited more fear and programming than black. And then as history as far back as it was recorded taught us, the darker, the scarier. And Bryant, “Kool-Aid” once upon a rhyme again at Sugar Rays a then recording studio (Casio SK-1 boom box, two-button press, blank tape a mic, record) had made sense of it all. I’d said it. A post recording conversation on racism in America with my band had started out with me playing devils advocate turned into my father’s conviction rising further and further to the top. I loved arguing and his voice was a compelling one. This was America.
We’d truly show our whole hand as temperatures rose. “Bryant it’s not like a kid is in preschool is learning colors, looks at the wheel and says that’s black, I’m black, that’s not good, I’m fucked.” “I don’t even have to say anything, you just said it yourself.” And how could I see it. It was America. I had blonde hair and blue eyes. I lived in Madison and could grab the rim. I thought about that allot in Sugar rays after his dad, the civil rights attorney in the air force picked them up to head back to the base. There were still walls. And the pioneers of the early 90’s smashed them down thunderously day after day. The antics as always grew with real power and wealth.
Ice Cube (who J Edgar Hoover would’ve HATED the most), NWA, the Fab 5, just a few. The other side of grunge was the golden era of hip hop proving once again that economies define everything, money, money, money. It was the silver lining of recession, better music. And for teenage spitters taking cues from Charles Barkley on down a now complete lack respect regarding traditional channels of authority pervaded our personas. The irony in all of this of course was that I was white. I just hadn’t figured it out yet. My biggest lessons were still on the table. “Carl, hunny wake up Carl, Carl, Carl, Carl wake up,” It was a touch after midnight, I was dead asleep, and my mothers soft hand was rubbing my head. “Ma?” I was puzzled as my mother thanked the lord every night I was home early, home safe. My father measured a man’s success by how much sleep you got.
“Ma – what time is it?” “Shh, shh, Carl oh god Matt, your friend, well” The tears now rumble unable to be held back, the pain of having to tell me something she knows will evict the compass I’d found in the ACE program amongst the Big Guy. She took a breath and courageously honored her duty, “and he died.” “Santo?” Come on. The nod. “What!” I yelled like Mel Gibson and sprang up from Star War sheets. Tears swelled my mother’s light brown eyes. I stared intently at her jaw line as she wept and wrangled a half hug out of me horizontally. I’m so glad Jesus gave me your nose. Muffin told me it’s an amazing feature, thanks yo please, please Jesus no matter what happens, thanks for keeping them blases away from this face!.
My ADD my mind floated elsewhere in an instant. My mother knelt and was crying hysterically over something. I rubbed her head. I stared at my Isiah Thomas poster. The Pistons, the bad boys. I loved that team. I loved Isiah after all he had his own Sunday night Disney movie I’d filmed on a blank VHS cassette as it aired on ABC years ago. I’d seen it a hundred times. I love that film, dam, Chicago.
“Carl! Carl, listen, shh, I’m so sorry Carl, I’m so sorry.” Listen and shh were two steadies I got regardless.
Knowing not what to do I tightly clenched my fist and punched a wall in my bedroom. Seemed appropriate. The worry in my mothers face observing the train wreck of my adolescence always caused worry. She needed a Zanex. I was trying mightily not to think, I always knew this going to happen. Just not Santo I’m a big problem….
Repression was underrated and I had an audience. Fuck that. I punched the wall giving in to the anger that both Monster, Skeetah also sought out in a desperate attempt to balance out suicidal tendencies.
“Oh Carl, we all loved Santo so very much. He was just over the house on Wednesday playing with little John.” Holding my mother and stroking the back of her neck filtering my fingers through her recently lightened brown hair I still had nothing to say. She was already reflecting. He was dead. I punched the wall again hard. I liked pain. I had a unique pain perspective. I was silent, this is some shit.
Soon in the darkness of my bedrooms night the illumination of car headlights scanned across my walls. Sniffing up emotion that a second ago was not present a small tear fought gallantly to be exposed. My mother looking up notices this first real tear and asked, “what is it baby?” “that’s Magic.” Now I knew it was true. “I love you mom, I’ll be OK, let’s go downstairs.” She knew it was magic, I had to go. My mothers tears so instantly replaced by that reigning king of all emotions, fear, “Oh Carl your not going out? It’s almost 1 AM?” “Shhh, mommy, lets go downstairs, lets see Mike. I love you” “I love you” we walked downstairs to find Magic just walking through the door like he had so many thousands of time throughout childhood into our kitchen. “C,” he was revved astonished. “Did you just find out?” “Yeah.” I sadly replied as my mother sat down at the kitchen table, grabbing her token Zanex bottle and lighting a cigarette I’m looking eye to eye with magic before he breaks the silence. “Carl, this is one of our best friends, 5th Grade Bridge school! He’s dead, Santo’s dead.”” “yeah” “I know” “we went back to the 1st grade” “Yeah” “we know him as well as anyone on the planet, this is nuts.” “I don’t know what to say” “Carl, Santo is dead – that’s what we’re dealing with.” “alright Mizz, let’s break.” Mizz was a sick nickname I called Magic partially in tribute to our two idols growing up, Sean and Lloyd MHSD basketball 88. My mother jolted in life like a wartime Palestinian child she’d existed from one explosion to the next subsequently stammered out, barely. “Be careful ple, please boys.”
“Don’t worry Ms Easton, we’ll be OK, we’ll be together.” “Don’t worry.” Shortly there after we brought it in leaving the house it was the first time I’d seen Magic hug my mother. My house sat back against a rolling front lawn. The center of which had twin maple Oak’s whose backside was fortified by a sweeping row of flowery shrubs. There was a dogwood tree. It was our perfect Suburban house. We looked so good on paper. I slammed the front door sliding into shotgun. Magic started the engine. And we were silent. Magic, “so we’re supposed to go to Chrissy’s house right now, you know Chrissy, our class, lives by the high school, nice body. You’d bang her, so would I.” “Yeah I don’t even need the name to know that geee-uy.” We laughed. It was timely the medicine of comedy and its barely researched benefits. I deplored being instructed as to what to do, that I was now hearing it from my best friend on the heels of a shift in the my earth’s gravitational plates only combusted that which itched desperately to piss it all away. I was still holding on that this was all some sort of enormous Tommy Boy-esque misunderstanding, but why?
I mentally retreated to Luke’s situation in Jedi telling Yoda, I can’t. Magic appreciated the laughter knowing the hard sell behind it. “We gotta check in at this house.” “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, you know there’s no way you’ll ever see me there, now, curtains, therapists, Magic.” “First of all your under a microscope. And fucking Santo is dead. You have you go.” “OK for a second” listen, my mom got a call from” Cutting off parent esque “Magic” due to an all too sickening familiarity with Madison MA instant hot lines and “safe” houses I deaded it, no way. “Take me to the center courts.” A shoe line in the footprint of my undercover social revolution at Madison high entitled, upsetting the order contained provisions for teachers + parents not just the typical senior class waiting in the wings over the decades in my metal head town I disdained. “Fuuuuuck that, who the fuck is going to tell us where to go, fuck that, who the fuck is going to tell me where to go, we don’t even know this shit is true!” Magic poked a judicial glance AT MY MUG LIKE A JUDGE THAT HAS studied for years a law I’ve misinterpreted and recently hollered at with arrogance. A face does paint a picture and a thousand words. “We’ll just make an appearance. This is, I’m in shock. I promised my mother. We’ll be quick” Magic saying that was different than coming from me there was a resolve and a respect something devoid in relationships of white boys.” “Who called you? What happened?” And Magic passed along what he knew as pulled up. “OK Santo was seeing her, that lives here, right?” Parked. Doors slam. “I think so.” Conversation dropped as our breath became our soundtrack. I feel vaguely settled and seconds later we’ve arrived. Sauntering into this assigned sanctuary we suddenly begin to understand the magnitude of our boys existence. Surveying the scene, the house, yard, candles and random kids in windows I’d seen in high school halls I kick save a deep breath saving myself from losing it, This is a fucking joke this is a fucking joke.
Cars lined the street. And as we walked past the barn and inside this colonial masterpiece all heads turned. Whispers floated and eyes were transfixed on Santo’s teammates on me and Mike, Magic and the Dream. I saw many faces, knew a couple names. All eyes were on us. Be careful what you wish for. I turned my toe left and saw smack dab, the Big Guy. Wearing a navy and gold Madison colored sweater he said in his famous deep tone, “Come here boys, I know, it’s OK, get it out, it’s OK its OK.” Opening his giant arms we’d broke like a women’s water at birth, tears flooded over psychological dams of denial, Santo you see was dead. Certainly a moment easy to block out but impossible to forget we could’ve easily cried in his arms another lifetime. But this was really happening and we were two of many, Santo was ubiquitous in Madison we never knew it until right at this moment. It got me thinking about my own funeral, Magic’s, hmmmm. And for their first time I wasn’t so sure of death, it was just a line.
“OK, toughen up, say hello to the others kids here, be nice.” And we dried up like a mouth post bong, chronic. I was a soldier. We were varsity basketball players. And in Madison that meant something. And we carried out orders proving to the Big Guy we’re capable of whatever he wished. Our sniffling stopped and the press tour commenced demonstrating the checkmate status our basketball coach held over us. The game I disdained I’d cop no problem for coach.
We quickly worked the room and said hi to a choice couple of our same grade peripheral peers. And under many watchful eyes however numb and confused it’s exactly what we did, just like varsity lettermen for about ten minutes. It was shock. A scene we’d never quite ever witness again. The kids in our community we’d grown up with. All here. Shocked and saddened. We found Wells. Our captain. This was his crowd a captain in many ways to the breadth of Madison teenagers destined for good schools. We’d known since grade school Well’s would play basketball or baseball at Harvard and probably be our valedictorian. John Wells had grown up across the street from Santo. We knew he was in good hands. And he knew that we needed to go. His brain had crashed but at least he was safe. After a full circle and huddling with the few people we had some sort of comfort level with, we needed an exit. “Any word on the fellas?”
“Yeah anything to get out of here.” For standing in that corner wondering where Scully was only made me aware that my friends were rapidly disappearing. It was important for a roll call, B-Dawg, Monster, Hatty, Grimly, Goldy, Well’s, Stretch, Skeetah, my boy C, Pos, Limerick, “It’s time.” “Shh.” Magic was trying to do the right thing and grappled with it only a second longer. As dozens of kids dissented on the home of Santo’s last known girlfriend we had cover in the chaos even principal Graff had entered the premise. “Quite the event.” Magic was hit with a sigh.
“Yeah, let’s just go.” And then sounding a bit like Mr. Miagi Magic says after Daniel pleads the same request inside the Cobra DoJo, “wait not yet.” He was waiting for the Big Guy to step out for a moment possibly longer. Soon Goldy + my boy C, showed up but we were still very short. I had my preppy bandits to round up. And still needed to know exactly what fuck happened.
To me the therapists called at “a minutes warning,” made absolutely no sense. Annoyed to new extents that overwhelmed Magic assured that we’d agitate the gravel in proper format. We’d had no word on Scully. I’d called his house and his mom was freaking out. This was our excuse to leave. “Beep me later.” Plans were made to re-convene at the center courts in an hour, get as many Young Guns as we could find go from there. “Mizz the worst part, there’s no one to go after, no one to blame, not even.” “That’s a good point.”
“Stop by the center courts, let me flush out some pages. We need a head count.” We darted to Scully’s after our first stop in seconds pulling into his cute cottage in the “manor” section of our colonial town. We had to get Scully. Santo looked up to Scully in a way. Scully had already caught two no hitter’s John Well’s threw. Santo was the centerfielder. Santo liked Scully so much they hung out while attending rival junior highs it was the only example of this happening. Everyone loved Scully everyone loved Santo the two of them along with Magic helped balance the PR fight while forever pledging a stance of unlawful retaliation at anyone that attempted to poison a Young Gun.
“Hello?” We never knocked and walked right into Scully’s kitchen within seconds the English teacher charged towards us crying. As she hugged us both and we begin crying as a unit. I thought about that last time I’d cry on her lap along with her son (Scully) during the 4th grade little league semi final the fight, Santo’s dad, little league held some fond memories. And Santo wasn’t a bully but he had that temper. And I knew, that night it blended with some bad luck and got the best of him. Huh not invincible after all.
“Where the fuck is this guy?” Snapping out of it I again asked Magic steamed I couldn’t pour myself a cocktail, “I’m sure he’s out late night hitten White Hen blazing it up with Skeetah.” “Of course.” All of a sudden we heard a car drunkenly plow into the driveway utilizing those last skills of hand eye coordination in a teenage inebriated state. Scully’s Ma up from the counch looked at us, cupping her mouth, “that’s him (she again places her hands over her mouth in a panic) I don’t think he knows yet.” “He’s hammered.” Mike whispered on a lean. This frightens his mom to no end simply because her son is such a zilla. This is a kid who like me has put his hand through a window during domestic disputes on many an occasion to stop the moment and change direction. And Scul came through his front door. Doing next weeks drinking a tad early he’s advertising his choppers. His broad smile indicates he’s delighted to see us at his crib at such a late hour for a night cap. It’s neither Magic’s nor my place to speak and none of my dysfunctional moments could compare to the uncharted territory that we’re currently standing in.
“What guys?” He gave that hiccup chuckle holding onto his smile and dimple just as long as he could. Magic and myself both look down, like Yoda as Luke walks into the cave armed in Empire. Silence persisted and each second that stretched heightened the uncomfortable nature of this moment. My skin was crawling like American soldiers in the brush on the hunt for Viet Cong, slow, calculated, nervous fright. “What?” Now his smile is gone, frustration over our appearance and apparent silence has triggered his annoyed tone. Finally Mrs. Scully the almost nun focused and like a clutch free throw blocked everything out in order to stabilize and say what had to be said.
“Sweety, Santo died tonight in a car crash tonight,” and that was it, she had lost it just like my mother, she fights to push out falling sentiment, “we’re so sorry for you guys.” And just like my mother had harked back to her own hurt over a boy she loved, “Oh Matt I’m so sorry.” Scully’s parents were both teachers and would give him space for his natural emotions and decisions to play out. Mike wasn’t at my house right when I heard rather it was a moment between a mother and a son. I wasn’t with Mike when he heard. Now here, now, for this first shock, all’s we could do was look at the floor. Magic stayed stern as Scully ran into the living room and smashed a kitchen plate on the floor. Followed by a serious of upper cuts to his living room wall and another broken glass it was clear that Scully is not stable. He doubled back into the kitchen and smashed a plate onto the floor. “:Arrrrrrrgggggggaaawwww” Scully had lost it. His parents stepped back, this according to chapter 16 of the book they were raising him stipulated as much. Boy did I, do I get a kick out of therapy and it’s ever changing back and forth. Parent’s try
Scull looked like he’d suddenly added a chromosome to his count. My Edison’s cross those of Magic’s in “Bart eye format” caused the breakage of the plate, a certain serious and damaging moment to start tickling me. Oh fuck no. This feeling with Magic, it was akin to throwing up, I now only had a couple of seconds before I burst into laughter. I bolted outside trying to contain my laughter at least until I heard the side screen door slam. All houses were entered through the side screen door. The front door was pageantry. I hit front lawn hear Magic right behind, door slams shut and I go liquid. I was crying not able to contain myself. Magic now blotchy barely fails a sentence, “Dude” and that was it. We were done. This was able to last upwards of an hour if I didn’t, at that moment, immediately get the fuck away from Mike. Attempting to quietly see if we were able to be around each other without being laughing, I cautiously approached. Cautiously tip toeing kitty cat style ten minutes later, “Shh, shh, shh, Mizz,
“shh, I know.” And as we descended towards the delicate task of being serious at the most essentially such moment of our friendship at the home of another, YG’s, on the heels, fucken get it right, grow up as he father would famously roar in aw of our stupidity. “OK, it’s, Santo died, sh, sh.” And we heard something, not sure what it was, but we heard something either being shattered or displaced? Liquid again. We turned on dime and sprinted away from each other in opposite directions as fast I we can. Laughing myself retarded I pause Nope not ready I let out breathe held in cause I was trying not to do that, my burst, dominoes, Magic’s blotchy state and within seconds we’re back to being thirty five yards apart.
Ten minutes later after regaining our composure we walked back into the house Scully, drunk, shocked, now breathing with two hands held, clutched behind the back of his head, in Madison on the hoops scene this is how we were taught since a young age to catch our breath on a basketball court. His mother stood to the side just to give his space, I love this mutha fucka so much no one is ever gonna hurt my dude I say to myself before rolling over to him, “Yo come here dawg.” He turns, and I UNLV bear hugged my man Matt Scully. He sobs, as I rub the back of his head, not going to cry myself. I’d learned, and went through this, he’d just heard, I had to pay forward my experience. I was feebly indestructible Magic walked over and hugged us both. I kick saved a massive breakdown.
ADD FlashBack: “I promise three more Candy machines and no school on Friday!” To a thunderous applause, excerpt from what I believe many of the campaign themes were for the Junior High candidates running for class office in my day our first experience in American politics, over promise and under deliver.
We stood together and even in our “worst situation imaginable” carried each other. Like we always had, “Yo, its OK, still got us.” We all needed to hear that. And it was true in my mind at the time we’d never be not together for the rest of time. “Mrs. Scully may I use your phone?” “of course hunny, would you like.” Knowing where this went I cut her off, “no thank you, I just need a head count on this guys. Actually I’ll take a twix, yo Stretch, yeah, I’m at Scully’s, Monster, C, OK we’ll be right there.” AND we were off to the center courts to round up the fellas. There would be no more safe houses for Young Guns. I assured mostly Mrs. Scully we were retreating to an assigned sanctuary, and that the Big Guy was there, and the principal. This calmed as she finally asked, “Carl please don’t do anything crazy honey.” “We won’t.” I smile and assure. Walking to Magic’s car it felt good to be together. “Dude?” Scully said this to me freaking out. “I gave him a beer.” “Shh, calm down, just one?” “Yeah” “well you got anymore?” “ah yeah got a little more than a twelve pack in my trunk.” “OK good, I’m grabbing a couple and riding with you, don’t ever repeat that.”
Tapping on the hood to Magic’s mom’s Toyota, “Center courts.” I said loud, “and stop by Walgreen’s” I mentioned quietly to Scul-Dawg. I needed spray paint. I stole a can of spray paint. I was hoping for an employee to say something to me. I felt like Dally in the last scene of the Outsider’s, complete detachment wanting the smallest excuse to snap. I rarely paid for anything in Madison in homage to my on going series it pays to be white in America.