“I told you ta wear a red shirt taday!” My boss, AP Green shouted at a chubby kid in the deans office.
The kid just grinned. He and his buddy were wearing blue, as usual.
“Hey Pistol,” Green pointed at the kid and feigned a whisper to me, “Hee’s a Criiip.”
I tried to sound tough. “Yeah I know.”
“Hey Flint!” Green shouted to an older, tuba-shaped dean. “Do me a favuh and get this punk outta my awffice!”
Flint ignored him.
Then the other kid wheeled around to me. “Pistol, you a Crip Hunter?”
“Yeah,” I joked without looking up. But then I thought better of it. “No, I’m no Crip Hunter, man.” I didn’t want that one on the record.
The kid was a weirdo. Very unpredictable. A shape shifter. He’d say and do anything to get over on you and then he’d seep through the cracks like smoke and disappear.
One time I walked into a stairwell and found him screaming, “Where’s the phone! Where’s the phone!” while kicking a kid who was lying on the floor in the fetal position. When I brought him to the office to interview him he started crying and speaking in a really high voice, and saying weird shit like, “Pistol, we were just playin’ around! Please! Please! I don’t wanna get suspended! I just got angry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Please! I didn’t do anything!”
At the super intendent’s suspension hearing for that case he kept whispering into his mother’s ear, like a savvy mob defendant, advising her on how to cross examine me.
Nowadays, though, he acts like he’s my best friend. I don’t know if it’s Stockholm Syndrome or if he’s just trying to keep his enemies close.
My boss was still huffing and puffing when the kid interrupted him. “Green, you really think you got it bad here with a couple kids gettin’ punched in the mouth? You should go up to Jamaica Avenue and see what’s goin’ on there.”
“I know what’s goin’ on ovah theah!” my Boss yelled defensively. “I gotta phone! The Bl00ds are all ovah the middle schoowall ovah theah! I know that!”
Then Dean Flint dipped his toe in the waters. “They’re beastin‘, Pistol! Don’t pay ’em no mind! They’re beastin‘!” Then he got real wide-eyed and looked right at the two alleged Crips. “I’m Irish Trash!” he yelled. “You know what that means, Chubs? I’m Irish Trash! If ya wanna be a dean, ya gotta put on tha application that you’re Irish Trash! Ain’t that right, Pistol?”
Before any of us could respond, the bell rang and the two boys seeped under the door and back out into the hall with Flint yelling after them, “Remembah! I’m Irish Trash!”
With no one else left in the room, Flint gravitated to my desk (a talker can always sniff out a free pair of ears). As he heaved himself toward me I noticed how big he really was. He crashed towards me like an iron meteor rolling to a stop in the desert. He was wearing a faded pink shirt that was stretched around his gut like a fraying balloon. His pants were losing threads at the pockets and long strands of hung off of the cuffs and dragged along the floor behind him. The other day I heard the secretary bemoaning, “He’s been wearin’ the same pair uh pants fuh two yeahs! I know, because tha stains are always in tha same place. Listen, I undastand that he saves his money, but two yeahs? Come on now!”
Don’t underestimate the power of frayed pants, though. Word is he just wrote a check for $125,000 to pay off his house in one lump sum because he was getting tired of dealing with the mortgage red tape.
But now he was at my desk like a bolt on a magnet and I could hear thunder in the distance. A great flood was coming.
“I’ll tell ya what, Pistol,” he said, looking around the office. “Those kids from Far Rock know not ta fuck wit me!”
Even when he whispers his voice bangs around in his gut like a pole in a cauldron.
“Sometimes I wish I was their age again,” he said as he made a face like he was smelling something funky. “I’m tellin’ ya Pistol. I used ta beat tha FUCK outta people.”
“Ha! Sometimes I wish you were their age again too, Flint.”
“And I always walked alone,” he growled, squinting his eyes. “I didn’t have no gang. Not like the Crawford twins walkin’ around heah all that time. Whenevah you see them togetha, you know someone’s about ta get beat. Not me. And I had five brothas you know. And none of us didn’t take shit from nobahdy.”
The smell was back, and he balled up his swollen mitts in front of his gut as he spoke. “If I had a problem, Pistol I just said ‘Hey Bobby, Brian. Someone’s botherin’ me. Davy, someone’s botherin’ me. We didn’t cause trouble and we nevah got no record. BUT! WE. DIDN’T. TAKE. SHIT.”
That’s how I should act, I thought. Yeah. I don’t take no shit from NOBODY.
“These kids say, ‘I’m from Brooklyn. I’m tough.’ Well guess what? Brooklyn is a big place. Those same punks take a walk down Bensonhurst and they’re gonna get theah ass kicked.” He imitated the voice of an Italian goon confronting a black kid in his hood, ‘Hey buddy! Whaddya think ya doin’ ovah heah!'”
He relaxed his fists. “That’s why I was talkin’ to those guys about the ol’ Irish gangstas too. You can look ’em up. They killed a lotta people. A lotta people. They’d shoot their own mothas. That’s how low class they was. And befoah them was the Jewish mafia. That’s right, there was a Jewish mafia. And they wuh some meeean bastahds, Pistol. Then they intamarried wit’ the Italians. And that’s when tha business side of tha mob took off.”
The front edge of the flood washed over my ankles.
“And then the mob moved right oavh heah to Howard Beach. Just yestaday a kid was speedin’ down tha road right heah by tha schoowal and took out five cahs. They were all teachas’ cahs. I was theah. And tha cops wuh theah writin’ on their pads when the kid’s fatha drives up and says to the cops, “DON’ SAY NUTTIN’ TA NOBODY.’ And puts the kid in tha car and drives off. And the cops didn’t say a thing! They didn’t say a thing. And I told Mr Cooper, whose car got lifted up onta tha sidewalk, ‘Hey, it’s up to you. You can get the infamation and you can file yoah claim, but that’s awll you can do.’ Because they won’t touch these wise guys. They leave ’em alone.”
“So the cops knew who the dude was?” I asked. I was always fascinated with these local mafia tales.
“Obviously they knew who he was. Listen Pistol, you gotta problem with tha mob in THIS neighbahood, then you gotta PROBLEM.” He switched to a whisper and leaned down, “Becoowas tha cops ain’t gonna help ya. They paid ’em oowaf.” Exiting whisper mode and standing up straight again, “Ya can’t prove it, but.. Look, they tawk about tha cops in Chicago. Well, tha cops heah ahh just tha same. Ya walk around some uh these places and they’ll plug ya in tha head like it’s nothin’, and the cops won’t do a thing. That’s why I always know the area where I’m goin’. And when that kid said he was from East New York I told ’em the name of tha middle school and I told ’em tha name uh tha assistant principals and he was sayin’ ‘How tha hell d’ya know oowall this stuff?’ Well, when I go places, I listen. I pay attention. Because ya gotta know the areas. I’m tellin’ ya…”
The waters were getting a little out of control. I wanted it to stop. I needed to breath. I wasn’t going to remember it all for my story. I took out my cell and started to text Dave to tell him to call me on my office phone so I could end the conversation, but Flint looked at me funny while I was texting so I put it away and tried to find something to hang on to ride it out. But then I just accepted my fate and stopped fighting the current.
“That’s all these kids ahh doin’ heah. Like tha twins. They’re not here to graduate! They’re heah ta hone their skills so they can be the big man in the community. That’s right. Because I study the vocabulary, Pistol. That’s right, the vocabulary. When I came back ta teachin’ from the private sectah in 1979 I tawt summah schoowall and a girl held up huh final exam and took a match outta huh pocket and lit it on fire. Then she looked right me and said, ‘Ya played yo’self.’ And me, comin’ back from the private sectah, I thought she was sayin’ I was playin’ with myself – basically, that I was mastuhbatin’. So at the suspension awfuss, they said, ‘Flint she wasn’t sayin’ what you thought she was sayin’. She was sayin’ like a deck a’ cahds. Ya played ya last hand. Ya played ya last cahd.’ And I said, ‘Oh!’ So from that moment on, I stopped teachin’ summa schoowal, and I stahted spendin’ summas workin’ wit eight and nine yeah olds and learnin’ their language so I would know what they wuh sayin’ by the time they got ta high schoowal. That’s how I know ‘beastin” and ‘fiendin” and ‘O.D.’n.’ Because this is the CITY. That’s why I told those kids I was Irish Trash. So they know I can be trashy too. I’m not opposed to takin’ my suit jacket oowaf.” Then he started movin’ his hams around in circles. “If I havta kick yoah ASS, then I’m gonna kick yoah ASS! That’s how I got this right here.” He pointed to a thick scar under his eye. “I was workin’ construction after college and this guy come up from behind and I turned around and I stahted wailin’ on ’em. Because on a construction site, they don’t like college kids. So they tried ta kick my ass and I got this. But on a construction site ya wear boots. And in tha toe there’s steel, so that when a piece of concrete falls on yoah foot, ya don’t break ya toe. And when you’re wailin’ on somebody that steel comes in pretty handy. So that same guy was workin’ on a ledge one day with nothin’ but a little net undaneath ’em. And I came up behind ’em and I just tapped him on tha shouldah. And he knew that all I hadda do was,” Flint kicked his foot slightly forward to demonstrate. “And nobody woulda ever known a thing. So he got the pitcha real quick. DON’T FUCK WIT ME.” He squinted into the distance, “Yeah, they drove every single college kid off that site but me. That was 1969 and 12 dollahs an hour was a lotta money. And I wasn’t gonna lose it. And you know where I worked durin’ the year when I was playin’ football? At tha bookstore. And ya know what I did? Security. And ya know why? To stop tha athletes from stealin’ tha books. And ya know what? No athletes stole any books! And that’s basically what we do here , Pistol. Security. And you know where I’m goin’ when I’m done here? Homeland Security. I’m already speakin’ to the people I know. Becoowas in this economy you can nevah be too sure. They got 7,000 layoffs comin’ down tha pipe for teachas. And I’m not gettin’ that infamation from tha union. That’s straight from tha source. From connections. But don’ worry. The magic numba is five yeahs. How many yeahs ya got?”
“Then yoah safe.”
I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.
“Hey Dave,” said Flint. “Ya know they got 7,000 layoffs comin’?”
Dave looked around for a life vest, and with that, the waters began to recede. I gasped for air and scrambled for a pen and paper and started writing.