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I went out to Borough Park to hang out with my friend’s pop yesterday. I wholeheartedly endorse this: his dad made me Fillet Mignon, lightly buttered rice, grilled potatoes and asparagus. When he asked us to leave at 8:30 so his wife could get ready to sleep for work the next day, I was completely satisfied. Quality food, quality music1, quality people. Call it a night, right? No. Let’s go to The Bronx.

So we take the train all the way up to the Bronx, something like a two hour affair. My friend told me on the way up there were a couple of dudes making fun of me because I was white and obviously did not belong where they were going but they shut up when they saw I was going to The Bronx. (Street Cred +1.)

The real warning sign probably happened before the whole train event began: my friend calls his friends, tells them to get the goons because we’re heading to the block. They respond, “Why, you got beef? It’s on?” Dangerous already but he asks me on the train ride, “Why is it that every time you wanna hang out with someone, it’s always beef?” My answer: “I don’t know man, we come from very different cultures. When I call up my friends, it’s more like, ‘Hey man, I’m coming over, wanna play Halo?'” (Street Cred-1.)

I meet his friends and I know the handshakes2, but I start to notice weird little things (Street Cred +1). Everyone is wearing two white shirts (undershirt and white shirt) or a red shirt3. And here I am, second-grade level Spanish, whiteness, black rim glasses, bright orange shirt and a fucking moustache. If there’s not a cop car driving by, there’s a paddy wagon parked on the corner. Or I’m the cop talking to your friends–look at my moustache. At any given time, there’s a dude looking me up and down like my badge is taped to my exposed kneecap. (Street Cred-1.) My friend used to be a Blood and he did time for some stuff he did for them, but still as the night goes on, even he’s like, “Let’s walk the other way.” (Street Cred -1.)

We’re walking up to some neighborhood where there are suddenly a ton of people. We walk past a game of dice in a courtyard that’s lit from above with what seem to be spotlights. A sign next to the courtyard says something like, “An NYPD Clear Hallway Zone: Strictly Enforced.” He’s not even sure, but it seems like one of his friends went in there. He alternates between, “Listen, if you want to go at any time, just let me know” and “No, we’re not going in there.” There’s just this giant fist clenching my ribcage, like God’s saying, “Don’t tempt fate, just go home.” Most of the jokes my friend and I make with each other revolve around my will and how my sister should get all my stuff. (Street Cred -2.)

One of his friends tries to get us “Nutcrackers.” This is actually something I still want to experience although they do kind of terrify me.4 It’s essentially a Long Island Iced Tea in a juice bottle. Maybe you could say it’s a Long Island Iced Tea when you’re neither on an island nor willing to drink something with the words “Iced Tea” in it. He says they’re called Nutcrackers because they “get you fucked up,” but I think a more dangerous explanation is more like they’re frequently the thing that will make someone snap. So the point remains: the Nutcracker man left a while before we got there and we talk about his friend’s necklace–it’s got his son’s face on it. Because he was stabbed to death.

A little later my friend and I talk more about the guy; it turns out earlier in the night (just one of the many moments that escaped me) the guy, let’s say J, had been happily conversing with a guy, let’s say M. My friend had been confused at the time because back in the day M had stabbed J’s brother, scarring his face. J had then shot M. The things said when M was gone mostly revolved around “Forgiven but not Forgotten.” It wasn’t really conveyed as a threat considering how J was clearly mourning his son, but at the same time, there’s definitely an indication that this could easily be an excuse for continued violence at a later date. (Last sentence: Street Cred-2.)

So I finally say, “I think I want to go home now.” We walk to the train station, talk about my friend’s life as a teen in the area, life in a gang and I run up the subway stairs when he says, “Uh, maybe you should walk a little faster now.” A large group of kids is crossing the street and by the time we’re swiping into the subway, there’s a loud set of three pops. He tells me “Oh, someone just got shot,” but I’m pretty sure a car backfired or someone hit a pair of shoes on the ground to get dirt off of them. I refuse to believe someone got shot just because a bunch of kids just walked by. (Street Cred -1.)

I’m back on the subway and I’m listening to my iPod (my friend went home, deeper into The Bronx) and I had been listening to Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele on the way into Brooklyn. I think I only got through one song before I felt the fist on my chest again–I couldn’t listen to it anymore. And there might not be a bad song on that album, I just literally thought to myself, “I need some white people music right now.” So I popped on The Afghan Whigs’ 1965 as though it weren’t inspired entirely by R&B, voodoo, rap and blues. And for some reason it made me feel better. (Street Cred-1.)

What I’ve learned:

As much as I enjoy rap music, there is a gigantic disconnect between it and who I am. I’m glad there are people who can do it and live it but I cannot. It also turns out that another reason I cannot endorse drug use–for me at least, I don’t give a shit if you do–is because I cannot endorse the gang violence frequently associated with it. Kids shouldn’t get stabbed for something that’ll maybe elevate you above life’s suck for two hours. (J’s kid might not have been stabbed for a drug thing, but when I asked my friend why he was killed [Street Cred/Tact-1], my friend said, “Probably a drug thing.”) So my feelings about rap music have transformed thusly: I will continue listening, but I will most likely drift in a less violent direction5 because it’s that much more real for me; experiencing another lifestyle is cool but, right now, I have a new rap threshold because this shit just got real. And for those of you keeping score, my Street Cred Total for this trip was -8; yes, I’m still white.

1. Guns & Roses, The Eagles, The Four Tops, The Doobie Brothers, Eurythmics, Smokey Robinson, and so on. The only stuff released post-1990 was probably Aventura.
2. Simple stuff, open palm into a four-finger grab, etc. Man stuff.
3. Yes, everyone is a Blood.
4. Choose-your-own Bronx metaphor goes here.
5. Maybe less Wu-Tang, more Tribe Called Quest. For the moment, anyway. Walk it off.

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