My house was on the corner of 66th and Jackson, at the edge of the block, in the Brenton neighborhood of our city. Where the lawns were dirty and made of pebbles and broken glass, the roads were dusty, and the sidewalks were cracked and crooked – many mothers died of broken backs from all of us stepping on them.
Rojo ran the neighborhood and we all went to him for whatever we needed. Cigarettes or anything else. He was three years older than us, sixteen when he dropped out of school.
He told me his stories about sex so that I would know how when I was finally ready to have sex on my own. He would tell me about his girlfriend Gogo. He went down on her once, he said, and after fifteen minutes, mad that she hadn’t had an orgasm yet, he bit her until she screamed.
She left him after that and disappeared somewhere down south where her uncle lives by the water.
This was around the same time that a vegan rapper named Black Choy was attacked by pro-beef activists outside of his studio. They cut him with a knife and put him in the hospital.
Is there a connection? Rojo loved hamburgers and Black Choy was playing a show at the Alamo that night. The Jackson Street venue where everybody played music at some point or another. I tried to sing there once with a death metal band called Kill St. Paul. They didn’t book us for another show after that, but they give everybody in the neighborhood at least one chance to make it big.
Rojo took over the street corner at 66th and Jackson and sold tickets to people to sit and watch all the happenings going on there after he overhead his mom say once, “This world is so crazy, someone ought to sell tickets.” He took what she said literally. He took a lot of things literally. Like when Dee Boy was playing basketball with him and said he was going to make it rain, and Rojo told him he couldn’t because he wasn’t God and he shouldn’t talk that way.
Gogo loved smoking cigarettes and before she left Rojo and the city she showed me how to light them correctly. She showed me the right way to light them for a lady. She showed me a lot of things when Rojo wasn’t around, and she was the first girl I ever saw naked. She took off her clothes for me once in the back of the abandoned house on Durly near Dolo and was wearing nothing but black underwear she said she stole from her aunt. I remember my mouth was dry like the desert. I was so hot I was sweating in her apartment even though it was the middle of winter.
But then she left and I never saw her again.
I fell in love early when I was fourteen and it was to a girl named Carla who loved egg rolls. Really loved them. We ate them all the time from a little restaurant where that’s all they served. Regular egg rolls, vegetarian egg rolls, even ham and eggs egg rolls for breakfast.
My father said: You grow up fast in the neighborhood/ The things you see at the corner that make you want to be a better person. I went from a girl who loves egg rolls to a girl named Lara who loves spring rolls (better for your health) and would never smoke cigarettes, not even once.
I never thought I would care about money. I never thought I would care about a lot of the things that I care about today. I moved to a nicer part of the city with mom and pop, where there is grass on the lawns instead of rocks and not everybody has a dog that barks all night long. I moved far away from 66th and Jackson, away from Rojo and his stories. A neighborhood where nothing stays dirty for long. Clean lawns and houses. Where coffee is like money and parents only let their children play with toys long enough to take a picture online and then send them back to their rooms while they work. Kids with clean and bright futures. Not like the neighborhood I came from where all the kids have dirty noses they wipe on their sleeves. But there is a lot of truth to be found on the dirty sleeves of children from the old neighborhood.
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