And so, it was business as usual for me come January 2nd. All of the holiday hoopla had passed. I was sober and sharp as a tack for school and for work, where I’m an assistant to a real estate broker in downtown Manhattan. I even forgot about Allison & Kerry and the nonsense of New Years Eve. After all, it was a new year; time to breathe anew; time to clean out the closet of junk and to re-affirm my goals in life. Only, my routine was not to be broken. That would stay the same for the next 5 years, if I could help it. Delegating my boss’s phone calls, screening her emails, confirming appointments and filing documents was just fine by me because I was always learning something. I was always one day wiser than I was the day before. Therefore, I figured if I did the same thing everyday until I was 23 years old, I’d never be useless or irrelevant in the workplace. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be working dual careers—one would be real estate, and the other as a journalist for some reputable newspaper or magazine. As Uncle Frank always said, keep doin’ what you’re doin’, and you’ll keep gettin’ what you’re gettin’.” That got me to focusing on being the best in journalism classes (which I am—thank you), and at the same time I’d continue making my boss happy. The consistence alone would make my momma proud; if she only knew the obstacles I have to deal with.
Even if the obstacle is not directly in my face, there are so many of them, from day to day, right here in the world around me. You’d have to be blind not to see the violence, the misery and the pain in my neighborhood. I sometimes think it’s all closing in on me; that is, if I let it bother me. Otherwise, I’m keeping my head up, despite all. A little girl gets hit by a stray bullet? I give it a moment of silence, but then I keep it pushin. An old man is mowed down by a reckless driver? All I can do is wag my head and go, mmm-mmm-mmm. And then it’s business as usual, with no hard feelings at all. I hate to be so cold and callous about it, but it’s this protective, vigilant shield I’ve chosen to adopt. I’m not a paramedic who can run to the rescue. I’m not a chaplain who can go and gather the family in prayer. I’m just lil’ ole Shawn Hopkins, a 19-year old Bronx resident who grew out of a family of blue-collar workers only to feel my way around in life. But, life seemed to change when I met Venus. It was something like winning a jackpot. Not only is Venus one of the prettiest women I ever knew, but she’s also sometimes more gangsta than I’ll ever be. She’s older than me by 4 years, and sometimes I even get a kick out of being her “boy toy.”
I’ve since stopped hanging around with my dudes and their Vice Lord friends, but not before Venus and I had our first run in. At the time I was on the block, 125th & Lenox in Harlem, tryin to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. It was where I use to go during the summers at age 16 & 17. All day long, for no reason, we were lookin at women from all walks of life. And because it would be so hot on certain days, the women would be dressed in loose or little clothing. In some cases, they may as well be naked to the world, strolling along without a bra, with no panty line, in sandals, begging for us to stare and comment. Even if it wasn’t a woman’s intentions, the illusion projected was no less than the Garden of Eden, with every shape and shade of Eve available for the asking.
“Nigga please,” were the first words Venus ever said to me; her way of ignoring my comment on how cute she looked that day. But I didn’t care how cruel she was; I was just glad to get her attention at any expense. I was just caught up in the whiff of that woman as she passed me, and I lost my fuckin’ mind. I tailed her down the block, at her pace and I could see I was a nuisance as I went on to say,
“Now, when you say ‘nigga please’, does that mean I’ve been subjected to half a man, and that you’re ready to piss on me? Or, does that mean you want me to be the nigga that pleases you? I’m curious—” I continued without giving her a chance to respond, “—because, last I checked I was an inspired black man, capable of being a contribution to any worthy woman’s way of life. Except, with one word, you’ve degraded me down to a useless man, or a half-man, or even an ape or chimp, or—” I was going for it; talking to her as intelligently as I could. And I knew I was out of place, at one moment hanging on the corner with no life, and on the other, holding a grown folks conversation with this obviously determined woman. But for a time, I was steppin my game up and feeling capable. Maybe this was me graduating, or proving my own worth to myself
Venus chuckled when she said, “well, you shouldn’t treat women the way you do, all up on the corner everyday, whistlin’ and cat-callin’ like y’all do everyday.”
“Ahh, excuse me, but I was the nice one? You must have me mixed up with skinny Julio or Big John.” I said this as she continued on her way past Starbucks, Staples and then CVS. I didn’t care where she was going, I just knew I wanted to get there with her. And I understood her position since the stuff she talked about was a constant and maybe a nuisance on 125th. This was a virtual war zone that she and other women were subjected to, especially the pretty ones. So, her comments to me weren’t all that serious.
And here’s the stupid part about the strip: the more amazing the weather got, the more things looked inviting and appealing. Sure, there are the street vendors, the merchants, as well as the 9-to-5 work force, all of whom seemed focused on or about something. Sure there were the beggars, hustlers and near-do-wells who wandered aimlessly in search of that next dollar. And naturally, there was the frequent, overzealous street preacher or an over-the-top dope fiend shouting explicitly for mercy, for salvation or just for the Hell of it. I can’t tell you how many times burnt-out, crack head Sonny trekked past us shouting, “AND THEN THE MOTHAFUCKA STOLE MY BIKE! I KNOW HE STOLE THAT SHIT, CUZ I SEEN THAT MOTHAFUCKA RIDIN ON IT DOWN AT GRANT’S TOMB! SO FUCK THAT NIGGA!!!” And Sonny was yellin’ all of this at the top of his lungs, so that everyone in the high heavens could hear him. And not only did we more or less memorize what he said, but buses and fire trucks could be passing by, noisy as ever, and still Sonny could be heard. Yes, tourists were frightened. Yes, someone who didn’t know better was likely about to call 911. Yes, there were folks who snickered and others (like me) commenting about how, ‘this is your brain on drugs’).
However, by and by this was all normal for Harlem. And the stew of activities and inconsistencies didn’t stop the hoards of women who passed through to window-shop, to bargain hunt, or to visit any one of the half dozen city agencies on the block. Some of the finest women on God’s green earth recognized 125th Street as their “must,” strutting their stuff, proud and unafraid, for all to see. Women, after all was said and done, were no less than the glue that kept this whole senseless mess in check. Maybe that’s why Venus caught my attention. That and the bright, green sun-dress that hugged that shapely figure of hers like nobody’s business.
“So, now that we got the nigga issue out of the way, can we exchange numbers? And can you give me a number that works? Because, point blank, I like your attitude, I like the way you walk, and I wanna get to know you better. Is there something wrong with that?”
Venus looked me up and down for a glance, while I tried to hold my face, unsure of where I got so much to say, so quickly. I mean, it’s not like I can’t argue, debate or fight if it’s ever necessary. Just that, I’m not used to talkin to girls like I talked to Venus that day. Something about her was calling me, forcing the best out of me, and the courage pushed up and out of my insides until my lips just did what they were told. I didn’t wanna let that go. And. Meanwhile, Venus showed me that ghetto-girl nod, with her twisted grin, and it suddenly eased my approach. I may have been a little off, but somewhere in those eyes, I saw a chance that Venus and Shawn would one day share a bed.
It was just days after I met the girl of my dreams, when Uncle Frank snatched me up. He made me realize that nothing productive happens on the block; nothing but people hustlin’ other people who are hustlin’ other people, and so on. You want knock-off shit, you want get-rich-quick card tricks, or even prescription drugs from the Meth-heads who sell their issue each month, you can damn sure get it on 125th. However, there was indeed something wonderful that came out of my time on the block; a beautiful orchid somehow grew from the concrete of those streets that have seen it all. And her name was Venus. And even though we’ve known each other for over a year now, I can remember 1st meeting Venus, as well as what I said to her, as well as her replies, as if it all happened yesterday.