Chuck D was my friend Mikey Baylor’s older brother. No relation to Evan Baylor (although Chuck D and E.B. were homies). Chuck D’s real name was George Baylor. Charles was his middle name. Everyone called him Chuck D, like the rapper from Public Enemy. He explained the story behind his name to us one afternoon after school. We were all in Chuck D and Mikey’s parents garage smoking weed. Their parents ran restaurants and were never home till late. So their house was the perfect spot to chill at.

“They call me Chuck D so if some shit ever goes down at a party, no one knows my real name and can’t snitch on me to the boys.”

Chuck D was wearing a puffy black North Face, khakis, off-white Reebok classics, and a Seattle Mariners fitted hat. He was stocky, not fat, with black hair. His little brother Mikey was wearing a grey hoodie with a North Face jacket over it, khakis, and Reebok classics. Besides the Baylor brothers, it was me, Daniel Bond, and Tim Corcoran. We were all dressed pretty much the same as Mikey. All of us sagging. Daniel Bond had just had a growth spurt so he was sagging even lower than normal in order for his khakis to reach his ankles. His arms were too long for his baggy hooded sweatshirt. We all dressed in variations of that basic outfit most of the time.

Chuck D took a long pull off of the multicolored blown glass pipe. The weed glowing orange as he inhaled. He blew the smoke out his nose. He didn’t cough.  He turned his attention to me and asked

“Why do you smoke weed, you look like you hate it. I’m willing to bet that five years from now you won’t even be smoking weed.“

“Nah, dog, I love smoking weed. I’m down for life, foo.”

I was lying. Although sometimes smoking weed was fun, a lot of the time it just made me paranoid. I was already high strung. Weed made me think about all the things wrong I was doing in my life. When I was high it was like this little voice in my head. The weed was saying to me,

“What the fuck are you doing with your life, Joe? Seriously, you’re such a piece of shit. You should be doing homework right now. Aren’t you failing two classes? Why the hell do you write your name on shit. You’ve already been arrested twice. You’re about to get in hella trouble. All those tags you did on 65th, yeah, those gold ones. They’re going to figure out that was you, and come arrest you. You’re such a fucktard. You need to get it together, you shouldn’t be here smoking weed. Oh fuck, did a cop car just drive by outside? They know. They know. Mikey and Chuck D’s parents are going to be home any second. You’re going to get busted, and they’re going to tell your mom what a piece of shit you are. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. ACT COOL. ACT COOL. ACT COOL. Get your shit together. Don’t let these fools see that you’re freaking out inside your head, you fucking pussy…”

All of this went through my head before Chuck D responded,

“Whatever you say, Flojo. It looks to me like you hate it.”

“Fuck that, I fucking love smoking weed dog!”



Chuck D shook his head, and put the pipe to his lips and took another hit.

“Whatever you say, dog,” he said as he blew out the smoke.


Every Friday after school there was a keg at Magnuson Park in a clearing in the trees next to Kite Hill. The keg would be placed on the concrete foundation of a machine gun from World War 2. The machine gun was no longer there. We called it “Rock Spot”.

Everyone would park their cars in the parking lot next to Kite Hill and bump rap music and smoke weed and drink beers before and after the kegs. My friends and I were all freshman, and we weren’t girls (all the girls could get rides easy). So no one wanted to give us a ride. We would take the 71 to the entrance of Magnuson and walk the mile from the entrance to Rock Spot. Daniel Bond standing a solid foot and half taller than the rest of us as we walked along the side of the road into Magnuson. All of us still wearing our backpacks from school. Carloads of upperclassmen driving by us with all our homegirls. Sometimes my mom would give us a ride under the pretense of us going to play a touch football game at one of the fields in the park. She never asked us why we didn’t bring a football.

Keg cups cost three bucks, and were red or blue. You could fill it as many times as you could manage before the keg ran dry. Seth and I would talk about how many keg cups you had to drink to be a savage.

“E.B. drinks like 13 cups a keg, what a sav!” Seth said to me matter of factly.”


“Yeah, and he doesn’t even get that faded.”


Drinking in high school was a competition. Who could drink the most with out throwing up or passing out was considered a “Sav”. I decided right then and there that at the next keg I would drink at least nine cups. I wanted to be considered savage hella bad.

One Friday after school we were all in the Kite Hill parking lot. Older kids who sold weed were weighing out sacks of marijuana openly on digital scales on the hoods of their cars. My friends and I were fucking around with an Airsoft pistol that looked like a real 9mm handgun. Someone had painted the orange tip black. Mikey was pointing it at people, holding it sideways and saying shit like,

“Run yo shit, NIGGA.”

Mikey laughed. He thought it was a real gas. All of sudden Chuck D grabbed the Airsoft pistol out of his hand.


“What fuck, Chuck? quit being gay. Give that shit back to me.”

“Real smart, Michael. Real smart. Some family walking their dog is going to see you pointing a pistol at people. They’re not going to know its fake and will call the cops, and that’s some heavy shit your pussy ass doesn’t want to deal with, dog. You’ll get everybody hemmed up.”

“Fuck that.”

“You know what your problem is Mikey? You just ain’t got no character, dog.”

Chuck D stormed off, taking the Airsoft pistol with him and putting it in the trunk of a car.

We all thought that was the funniest shit ever and gave Mikey major shit about it for at least two more years. Randomly saying it to him to get a rise out of him when he least expected.

“Hey Mikey.”

“Whats up, dog?”

“You just ain’t got no character.”


We would all laugh. I was never the one saying it to him. Usually TIm or Daniel would do   that.

I was drinking a 22 ounce of Olde English. We were still waiting for the keg to arrive. Chuck D’s friend ‘Mal was drinking a 22 as well. We all were. ‘Mal, pronounced mall, short for Jamal, was a white kid named Jamie Gibson who was so deluded in his wigger fantasy that he had given himself a blacker name. Jamal. He was a bully. I was terrified of him. He sold weed and dressed “gangsta”. Polo hat pulled down low and to the side over his eyes. Black puffy down jacket. Khakis that hung low. Polo boxers showing. He was Chuck D’s age. ‘Mal walked up to me and said,

“Here ya go, little homie”

He tapped the bottom of his 22 on the mouth of my 22. It made a clinking sound. The amber liquid turned to white foam near instantly. Foam overflowed out the mouth of my beer. I was pissed. My beer was ruined. I was angry enough to throw caution to the wind and voice my opinion.

“What the fuck did you do that for, FAG?”

I instantly regretted it. Everybody stopped talking.


“I mean..uh..”

‘Mal was turning red. He grabbed me by the throat and slammed me against a parked car. I dropped the foamy 22 and it shattered on the ground. He was up in my face, the brim of his hat almost touching my forehead. I squirmed.


“I didn’t say anything ‘Mal.”


He tightened his grip on my neck.

“I’m sorry.”


“I said I’m sorry, ‘Mal.”

He let me go.

“That’s what I thought you little bitch.”

‘Mal spit on the ground and walked back to his friends. They were all laughing. He hadn’t even had to put his beer down and he had punked me. I wanted to bash his face in with a brick, but I knew that wasn’t a very good idea. Maybe it would have been. I didn’t have the balls though.

He yelled at me with a sadistic smile from his circle of friends.


All the older boys laughed. My friends didn’t laugh.


I would sneak out on weeknights and walk to the end of my block. Chuck D and Mikey would be there waiting for me. Chuck D’s white 1995 Jeep Cherokee idling with the lights off. I’d get in.

On this particular night Mikey was hitting a glass weed pipe. Eyes closed nodding his head to an E-40 song with his cheeks sucked in. Chuck D reached back and slapped my hand.

“Young Joey Joe, whats up foo?”


“Lets schmob from here.”

“Fa sho.”

Chuck D put the car into drive and rolled off. Mikey blew the weed smoke out his window before acknowledging me.

“What’s up Floseph. what’s cracking with you?”


“Cool foo.”

He passed me the pipe. We were driving on 65th. Mike D turned up the music. Then he yelled over the music.

“Wait till we get onto some residential streets before you hit that.”

I waited. He hit a right at 25th. Left once he got to the road that ran parallel to the Burke-Gilman trail which snaked behind the University Village. Left onto Sand Point Way and then right into Laurelhurst’s quiet streets. Once we were off the arterials I took a hit off the pipe before passing it to Chuck D. He was driving fast on the residential streets and he took both hands off the steering wheel to hit the pipe. Driving with his knees. This made me nervous. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want them to think I was a pussy.

Chuck D parked the SUV in front of a huge house, I hesitate to use the word mansion, but I guess that’s what it was. All the houses in Laurelhurst were nice. It was a wealthy neighborhood. I guess all our neighborhoods might be considered that compared to some neighborhoods; but Laurelhurst was the creme de la creme. Chuck D pointed at the house.

“You see that house, that’s ‘Mals house.”

“Really? That kid lives there?”

What I was really thinking was, why does that kid act so tough then? he’s obviously some fake ass pussy. I was still afraid of him. He was a lot bigger than me. I kept this new piece of information tucked into the back of my head in all future encounters with “Mal. It made me less afraid.

“Yeperdooski. That’s his mom’s house, his parents are divorced. She married some rich ass dude, his dad is a nut, and lives in Shoreline.”


I was starting to get paranoid. I asked Chuck,

“Are you sure it’s chill to be smoking weed parked here like this?”

“Are you kidding me, foo? Do you know how many blunts I’ve hotboxed parked right here. Laurelhurst is so CHILL. SO CHILL. Nothing ever happens here EVER. We could sit parked here all night smoking weed and probably wouldn’t even see another car, let alone the fives. SO CHILL. What do you think some cops are going to jump out of the bushes to bust some kids smoking WEED? NEVER!”

“OK, I’m not trying to get hemmed up.”

“You think I’m trying to get hemmed up? As if! You know what your problem is Flojo? You’re too tense, you need to relax dude, or you’re going to have a heart attack in your 20s.”

I nodded. Mikey coughed and said,

“You think he’s tense now, this fool THREW the joint in some bushes the first time he smoked. Thought a soccer mom driving by was the cops and shit.”

“Shut up foo, that shit was like 2 years ago.” I said.

“Like I said foo, you need to CHILL the FUCK out in general. Everything is fine,” Chuck D said.

“I never said it wasn’t. I just asked if this was chill, and you said it was, so, I guess we’re chill,” I said.

The rest of the night passed without event and when it was over Chuck and Mikey dropped me off at my house. Chuck D said to me as I got out,

“You’re a good dude, Joe, you just need to relax. Just remember shit’s not that big-a-deal.”


Our family computer was in an alcove off the kitchen, in full view of the living room. Not the most optimal place to jerk off.

One day while both my parents were gone, I seized the time alone to visit an X-rated website and found a picture of a girl that excited me. She was a blonde laying back on a  sofa with her legs pressed together in the air. Wearing nothing but a pair of clear plastic high heels.

I didn’t have time to consummate my relationship with her right then and there like I wanted to. So I printed out a copy of her. It was a black and white printer so the resulting print out was a blurry black and grey. No one had color printers back then, except graphic designers or rich people. That blurry image was my best friend late at night when I was alone in my bedroom.

I kept her folded up in an ancient encyclopedia on my bookshelf. Eventually I grew tired of her and went back to perusing skateboarding and snowboarding magazines for the rare picture of a girl in a bikini to use for my nocturnal inspiration.

One morning, months later, I had just arrived home from a sleepover. I walked into my room and my Mom was sitting on my bed in her nightgown.

“Hi, Joey, we need to talk, come sit next me.” She patted the bed next to her.

I was hella weirded out and paranoid. There was a plethora of things I might be in trouble for. My mind raced through all the possibilities. Graffiti. Shoplifting. That port-a-potty we tipped over the night before. The big bottle of Carlo Rossi we had drank down at the bridge. Did one of our neighbors see us and call my mom?

I sat down next to my mom.

“Joey, you’ve been having cyber sex.”

The record in my head screeched to a halt. Cyber sex? What the hell was she talking about. I wasn’t having sex. Cyber or otherwise, with anyone.

“Mom, what are you talking about?”

She pulled out the folded up piece of paper with the naked girl’s blurry image printed on it.

“I’m talking about this, Joey.”

“MOM! first off that’s internet porn, not cyber sex. Second off, why were you going through MY STUFF.”

“Joey, it’s perfectly normal for a boy your age to be interested in girls. I don’t think this is healthiest way to explore that interest…”


“I don’t have a problem with you looking at pictures of girls, as long as they aren’t showing their vaginas and nipples. They have to be wearing bikinis at least.”


“Ok, honey.”

She got up and left. She took the x-rated printout with her.

That was awkward.

Sex soon became a steady source of revenue for my friends and me. We would steal porno magazines from Tower Records on the Ave, then sell them to kids at school. We even had regular customers. I was meeting up with one of them in a remote staircase of my middle school.

“Twenty dollars for a magazine? That magazine only costs eight bucks at the store.”

“Why don’t you go there and buy one for yourself then? Oh, thats right, you can’t. Supply and demand little homie.”

“Fine,” he said, passing me a wad of ones.

I pulled a porno out of my backpack and handed it to him. I counted and organized the wad of ones. Facing the bills and straightening them. Twenty dollars spot on.

He put the porno in his backpack. He began to walk way, but stopped and turned back to ask me,

“You know those pocket pussies they advertise in the back of these magazines? If I were to get a money order from QFC or Safeway, would you be able to order me one?”

“Fuck no, you fucking creeper. What the fuck do I look like? A Castle Superstore?”

“It would be super easy, I just can’t have it mailed to my house.”

“So you think I want it shipped to my house? Get real!”

The boy frowned.

“Thanks anyway dude.”

He walked away.

I was running late for class. Washington state history. You had to pass that class to graduate the 8th grade.  I put on my headphones and pressed play on my silver Discman. Wu-Tang. I was even wearing my yellow Wu-Wear shirt.

Dedicated to the winners and the losers…

(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)

 Dedicated to all jeeps and land cruisers

(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)

 Dedicated to the Y’s, 850-I’s

(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)

Dedicated to niggas who do drive-bys

(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)

Dedicated to the Lexus and the Ac’s

(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)

 Dedicated to MPV’s that’s phat!

(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)

 Nigguh, yeah, yeah!

I got to class, barely making it in time. There she was, sitting across the classroom from me. She was beautiful. In tight jeans and a pink shirt. Black North Face fleece jacket and dirty blonde hair. If this was the Wonder Years, and I had a say about things, she would have been my Winnie Cooper, but reality was harsh, and I wasn’t Fred Savage. I was a chubby, socially awkward adolescent with a tendency towards hyperactivity, freestyle rapping constantly, and getting into arguments with teachers.

Her name was Amanda Sterling. Not the same Amanda that was Mackie’s sister. A different Amanda. There were a lot of Amandas. I balled up a piece of notebook paper and threw it at her. It bounced off the top of her head.

She looked at me across the room with an annoyed look on her face and mouthed the words,

“What the fuck?”

I grinned and shrugged gesturing with my palms. She shook her head at me and went back to paying attention to the teacher. I zoned out and practiced throw-ups in my spiral-bound notebook.

A couple of weeks later. It was Amanda Sterling’s birthday. When girls at my school had birthdays people would bring them balloons. You could tell how popular a girl was by how many balloons she was walking around with. I always felt sorry for the girls walking around with frizzy hair and braces clutching a lone balloon, maybe two.

Amanda Sterling wasn’t one of those girls. She had so many balloons I was surprised the combined force of the helium didn’t lift her right up off the ground and into the air like Marry Poppins’ umbrella. Till she disappeared into the sky. A tiny fleck in the stratosphere. Amanda had so many balloons she had trouble getting through the doorways of her classrooms, causing students to bottleneck up behind her.

Kids would walk home from school in groups. Some days I would walk with Seth in a more direct line to our neighborhood. Some days I would make a detour and go to the Safeway on 35th where kids would congregate and buy sodas and hot pizza sticks from the deli before walking home in huge meandering packs.

A group of my friends was hanging out with Amanda Sterling and her friends. She looked hella pretty in her brand new white North Face fleece she must have gotten for her birthday. The balloons floating from ribbons clutched in her hand made her look radiant. I couldn’t hold back my feelings for her any longer.

“Yo, uh, Amanda can I talk to you in private?”

“Yeah, sure. Of course.”

We walked away from the group, her girlfriends giggling. We went behind the Domino’s Pizza next to the Safeway. We were standing next to the dumpsters in the alley. It smelled like garbage and pizza. I didn’t know anything about talking to girls. I didn’t understand them. I had no clue how one was supposed to pursue one, let alone ask one out. I began,

“Yo, Amanda, you’re like hella cute and like hella awesome, and I hella like you a lot….um…I think you’re really great and stuff….willyougoutwithme?”

“Joe, you’re a really great guy and you’re super funny. I don’t want to go out with you though. You’re my friend.”

Her words stung. My throat was in my stomach. I said, “Oh..OK.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll find someone.”

Then something magical happened. She leaned forward and kissed me softly on the lips. The sting of the rejection floated away. I was elated. This was the first time a girl had ever kissed me. It only lasted a moment. I could smell her perfume and her lips were so soft. I wished it had lasted forever. When it was over she smiled at me warmly.

“Let’s head back to where everyone else is, OK?”

I nodded my head. I was speechless. I had just been friend-zoned and gotten my first kiss at the same time. I didn’t know how to feel. It was like a speedball of emotions. It definitely went a lot better than I expected it to. She could have told me I was a disgusting piece of shit and told everyone about how “Joe Flow tried to ask me out, what a LOSER, as if!!” which was my worst fear, social embarrassment. She didn’t do that.

We walked back to the group. A few weeks later she started dating my friend Chandler Mayor. Secretly I was jealous, but Chandler was a great guy, who wasn’t chubby and he played team sports. He lived in a big house in Laurelhurst and was super “popular.” Not that I wasn’t “popular.” I had hella friends and was at all the parties on weekends. I just wasn’t as “popular” as him. I still liked Chandler though and I couldn’t be mad at him or Amanda. I guess at the time it made perfect sense.




“Sloppy” Jim Sullivan lived two blocks from my parents house. I had met him for the first time hanging out with Milo when I was in the 7th grade. He had brown hair and hazel green eyes that sometimes would look grey or blue. Sometimes one eye would appear to be a different color than the other. He punctuated his sentences by hawking loogies and he chain smoked Old Gold cigarettes. He was two years older than me. He didn’t pronounce L’s at the end of his words. He sounded like a whiteboy surfer mixed with Mr. T.

It was the summer before my freshman year and I was chilling with Sloppy Sullivan and two other older boys in the BBQ shelter by the 20th bridge in the Ravenna Park. It was early afternoon and we were drinking 40s we had purchased from a mentally challenged store clerk at the Boulevard Grocery.

This was back when Boulevard Grocery was an Asian owned convenience store. Before it was known for its artisan espresso and it great selection of wine. It was just a crummy little store people bought beer and cigarettes from. It was a store converted from an old residential house.

One of the owner’s sons had Down Syndrome and if he was working you could use your school ID to purchase beer and cigarettes. He would man the counter, playing with Star Trek action figures. It was one long block from the park we were sitting in.

Sloppy Sullivan was talking. Smoking a cigarette. Standing while the rest of us sat.

“Yo, those one foos, yeah they’re pretty coo. They ain’t no savages though. They’d get mopped up real quick if push came to shove.”

Sloppy Sullivan hawked a loogie for emphasis. He took a drag off his cigarette and gazed off into the blue sky of a Seattle summer. Tall trees swayed back and forth gently in the wind.

His friend Evan “E.B.” Baylor finished crumbling up some weed on top of a CD case.

Sloppy Sullivan creased the outside of a Swisher Sweet with the thumb and pointer finger of his right hand and split it open while simultaneously smoking a cigarette with his left hand. He then gutted the tobacco from the cigar onto the ground with the sweep of his right thumb. He put the cigarette to his lips and left it there. He held out his left hand to E.B. who had scooped the crumbled weed into his own hand. E.B. carefully dumped the weed into Sloppy Sullivan’s left hand with two hands. E.B. carefully picking off stray crumbs stuck to his palm and putting them back into the pile in Sloppy Sullivan’s hand. Sloppy Sullivan hawked a loogie.

Another older boy named Brandon “Mackie” McIntire sat on a bench. Hands in his pockets. He was a stocky young man with the demeanor of Buddha. Mackie was the older brother of a pretty girl my age named Angela. E.B. was a tall boy with blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes. We were all wearing brightly colored Ralph Lauren Polo shirts and khakis.

E.B. handed me a large marijuana stem off the top of his schoolbook and said,

“Yo, chew on this Flojo, might catch you a little buzz.”

E.B. laughed at his own joke.

Sloppy Sullivan laughed and hawked a loogie. Mackie smiled but didn’t laugh. I took a swig off my forty ounce of Olde English High Gravity malt liquor and put the stem in my mouth. I chewed on it. It was like chewing on a branch. Which I guess is exactly what I was doing. I chewed anyway I didn’t want them to think I was some kind of fag or something.

Sloppy Sullivan dumped the weed from his left hand into the empty Swisher skin in his right hand. He put his left hand to his cigarette and inhaled deeply before pulling the cigarette away from his mouth. He began to roll the blunt wrap back and forth in his right hand.

“You about to be geeked, foo. This is that fire I copped from my older homie Adrian. That ohhhh-weee!”

He was gesticulating with the cigarette in his left hand and rolling the blunt with his right hand. He put his right hand to his mouth and licked the blunt wrap before rolling the blunt one last time. He put the cigarette back in his lips and took his lighter out the front pocket of his dirty khakis. He ran a flame up and down the outside of the blunt completing the process. He had just rolled a blunt almost entirely with one hand.

E.B. said, “Dos”

Mackie said “Tres.”

I didn’t know what exactly they were talking about, but I thought I knew what I was supposed to say. I said,


“Duh, you dumb fucker. There’s only four of us. Obviously you’re last in the rotation,” said E.B.

“Oh,” I said.

“Yo, let me see that water right quick,” Sloppy Sullivan asked E.B.

E.B. handed him a Nalgene bottle out of his backpack. Sullivan took a big swig and swished it around in his mouth. Then he spit it right back onto the ground and coughed up some phlegm onto the ground. He threw his cigarette into the middle of all the loogies and water. The ground looked like the scene of some kind of bukkake gangbang porno. He lit another cigarette, took a drag, then lit the blunt.

We smoked the blunt.  I had a coughing fit after my first hit. When I was done coughing the colors appeared brighter and I felt very small on the face of the Earth. An ant in the colony. The smoke was sweet from the cigar wrapper and tasted faintly like blueberry from the weed. I licked the roof of my mouth. It was delicious.

The blunt made it round the circle a few more times. Till it was almost nothing but a small fleck of brown paper. Sullivan took a few last hits pinching the blunt roach between his thumb and pointer finger. He dropped it on the ground and snuffed it out with his foot.

A man approached us. I had known him as long as I can remember.

“Hi, I’m Larry.”

“Hi, Larry,”  we all said.

Larry was a mentally challenged man who hung out in Ravenna Park. He wasn’t homeless or anything. He was always well dressed and cleaned. Every time you met him was like meeting him for the first time.

“You guys hear there’s supposed to be a lot of snow this winter?”

“Yeah, Larry. Lots of snow.”

“What’s your guy’s names?”

We told him.

“Be careful of the snow guys.”

It was the middle of August.

We had all had this same conversation with Larry hundreds of time. I remember being four and getting excited when Larry said it was going to snow. As I got older, I thought he was a liar. When I was 9, I realized he was mentally challenged and always went along with his conversation from that point onward.

We polished off the 40s. They started off cool and refreshing but once you got to “ass” end they were gross with all the backwashed saliva. We all drank the “ass” anyway. It was, after all, our own saliva.

We all piled into Sullivan’s baby blue Cadillac Cimarron. We went to the McDonalds on 25th and gorged ourselves on dollar menu hamburgers. E.B. asked me,

“Yo, Flojo, you know that girl Angela in your grade?”

I didn’t know at this point that Mackie was Angela’s brother.

“Yeah, I know that chick. She’s pretty hot. I think she might be kind of a slut though. I heard she blew one of my homies.”

Mackie knocked his tray off the table and reached over and grabbed me by the collar.




Mackie was furious. The other boys were all laughing.

“I..uh..I dont know, that’s just what people have been saying. I don’t know that for a fact. I think she’s a nice girl..I uh.. shouldn’t have that said that…”


“I’m hella sorry..”

He released me from his grip and sat back down. Everyone was quiet. We went on eating hamburgers in silence until Mackie spoke again.

“You’re all good little homie, You shouldn’t spread rumors about people though. Especially if you don’t know whether they’re true or not.”

Mackie bit into a fresh hamburger.

I said, “I won’t. I didn’t even know that was your sister, dog, I’m hella sorry.”

“I know, I want you to look out for my little sister, and set anyone straight that you hear say anything about her.”

“I got you, homie.”

We dapped on it clasping hands. I had learned a valuable lesson.

We left the McDonald’s. Four white kids bumping Brotha Lynch Hung in a 1980s Cadillac Cimmaron. We made another stop and bought more 40s at Boulevard Grocery then went back to the BBQ shelter at 20th. There was a ton of other kids there now. More dudes Sullivan’s age and a few chicks.

More blunts were smoked and the 40s were drank. When the 40s were gone we drank beers from cases that other kids had brought with them in the trunks of their cars. Rap music boomed loud out of a subwoofer in one kids car. I was the youngest kid there, not even in high school yet. Talk turned to paddling.

Paddling was a form of hazing that had supposedly been going on at our High School for generations, but I always got the feeling that a  group of seniors in the mid 90s had started the tradition for themselves after watching Dazed and Confused. I never found out for sure, though. Regardless, It was now a firmly established tradition.

“You’re about to get it next year foo, my ass was black and blue after Campus Day.” said Sullivan

“Yeah I remember.”

I had hung out with both Milo and Sullivan the evening after they had been paddled. They had both been sitting in tubs of ice in Sullivan’s basement drinking beers. Their backsides one giant bruise of black and blue.

Sullivan continued,

“We ought to belt you so you’re ready for next year.”

“Yeah, let’s show him whats up!” said E.B.

More boys talked excitedly in agreement.

“I guess I’m d-d-down.” I said.

E.B. removed his belt. A thick leather belt from Eddie Bauer.

“Grab the table.”

Reluctantly, I put both my hands on the edge of the picnic table. E.B., Sullivan, Mackie and few of their homies took turns belting my backside. It was over the pants, but when I got hit the first time the pain automatically made me jerk and stand up and grab my bottom.

“GET THE FUCK BACK DOWN!!” said E.B. slamming me back down onto the table.

I toughed out the rest of the “licks”. When it was done Sullivan put his arm around me and said,

“The little homie took it like a man!”

He smiled at me and passed me a beer. All the other boys seemed to agree, each of them giving me daps and slapping me on the back in a friendly manner. I felt hella cool. We stayed there drinking in the park until it was dark.

Sullivan gave me a ride home. Milo had joined us at 20th, so I was sitting bitch between Mackie and E.B. Milo sat up front. Sullivan was fiddling with his cd player not focusing on the road. Milo shouted,


Sullivan slammed on his brakes. Tires screeching to a halt in front of a lady walking her dogs. He had almost ran her down. The lady was my mom. I shriveled up in the back seat and tried to make myself as scarce as one could while wedged between two older boys. She walked over to the drivers side window furious. My heart was racing.


Sullivan started to speak,

“I’m so sorry miss it’s dark and I couldn’t see you, maybe you should wear some brighter colors….”


My mom walked off. She had been so mad she didn’t even notice me. I let out a gasp. I had been holding my breath with out even realizing it. I said,

“Yo, Sullivan, maybe I should just come chill at your house for a minute then walk home.”

All the older boys laughed. Sullivan hawked a loogie out the window.


The rest of the summer came and went without incident.  I had cooled my jets a little shoplifting and graffiti wise.

My mom took me to Northgate mall for back-to-school shopping, the same as we did every year. I spent most of the money my mother had allotted me on three baggy Triple 5 Soul sweatsuits. One of them was all red.

My first day at school I was in the locker room before gym when a black kid wearing navy blue Dickies and a black t-shirt and shoes with blue shoe laces grabbed me violently and slammed me against the lockers. He held me up against the locker by my neck, looking me in the eyes. His face was inches from mine. He had stripes shaved into one of his eyebrows.

“More like triple-5-slob, mothafucka!”

He let me go and swaggered off, his pants sagging around his knees. He was holding up his pants by the belt buckle with his right hand.

Slob? I happened to think I looked quite sharp. I voiced my opinion once the black kid was gone as I rubbed my upper chest where he had grabbed me.

“A slob is what Crips call Bloods, retard,”  said a much mellower black kid. “That dude’s a Crip- it’s probably not the best idea to be wearing all red if you don’t bang.”

I never wore the accompanying sweat pants again. I could get away with just wearing the hoody with some jeans, though.

Being a freshman in high school was intense. Older kids would routinely punch me in the stomach or the arms as they passed me in the stairway. My arms and chest were covered in black and blue bruises that eventually would turn brown and yellow. I did my best to hide these from my mom. I was confused; these were kids I had drank 40’s with in the park and thought I was friends with. They also gave me advice.

“What you need to do FloJo, is find you the fattest ugly bitch you can find, and lose your virginity to her, then work your way up the chain, building confidence, banging a girl who’s a little hotter every time, pretty soon you’ll be banging the hottest girl, the key is to just remember to treat them all the same way you treated the fat ugly bitch.”

“Word up,” said a friend of the older boy speaking.

In retrospect it was sound advice, albeit morally fucked. I didn’t want to bang any fat ugly girls though.

The only class I really liked was metal shop, even though I was horrible at it. The teacher was a gruff older dude with white hair. His name was Mr. London. There was ancient tags hidden all over the school, and some of the best ones were in the metal shop.

It was the first day of class. Mr. London was going over the class rules and what he expected us to do and whatnot. It was my only class without a syllabus. I hated syllabi. I usually lost them the first week anyway. Mr. London started talking about graffiti and taggers. My ears perked up.

“…In my opinion, taggers are just like serial killers, they keep doing it till they get caught. Any of you thinking of tagging anything, remember that you WILL get caught. Taggers want to get caught. They’re sick people who do it for attention.”

“Hey Mr. London, you got any kids?” asked one kid as he snickered.

“In every Navy seaport in the world.”

He shuffled some papers on his desk and took a long sip of his black coffee. He would have probably been smoking a cigarette if it wasn’t against the rules.

I liked Mr. London.



Most the kids who wrote graffiti at the school had different tag names they used at school. That way if you got caught tagging at school you wouldn’t get busted for the tags you did outside the school. Most of these tag names were sexual in nature, derived from STDs or bodily functions. HERPES. JIZM. AIDS. GONOREA. SYPH. Names like that. I took it all in as I walked the hallways in my hooded sweatshirt and ever-present oversized headphones. Wu Tang. Big L. Atmosphere (I’m embarrassed to admit).

In most of my classes, I would kind of tune out and just practice graffiti in my notebooks. One day in my math class, a nerdy blonde kid saw me practicing my throw-ups. He had blond hair, wore green khakis, red Chuck Taylors, and a generic fleece jacket. He looked like he spent a lot of time hanging out with his family. I imagined that his family also shopped at the PCC organic grocery co-op with some regularity.

“Hey, wow, you write graffiti? Graffiti is so cool. I went on a family trip to Europe this summer. There’s so MUCH graffiti in Europe it’s INSANE. I took so many pictures. I can bring them class tomorrow and show you if you want. What do you write?”

“Whoa dude, chill. What do you write? What middle school did you go to?”

“Oh I don’t have a  tag name yet, but I plan on getting one. I didn’t go to a middle school really, I was homeschooled.”

“I write VERK, you said you had hella pictures of graffiti in Europe?”

“Yeah, the subways are covered in it.”

“Mos def I wanna see those.”

“I’ll bring the pictures tomorrow, so you can see them!”

That was how I met Elijah Potts. I spent the rest of math class teaching him the rudimentary basics of graffiti that I knew at that point. In two weeks he was ten times better than I was. His graff looked pretty and clean, whilst mine looked sloppy and ugly.

Another kid I started to see fairly often around the school was Max Hopper, who I knew from middle school vaguely. He had left in the 6th grade to live with his mom in California. I had met him again that summer with Jonah. They were friends through riding BMX bikes at the dirt jumps by Greenlake. He must have been at least six feet tall at that point with a blonde whiteboy Afro. I had a whiteboy afro too. He looked like he was the product of some kind of Nazi genetic engineering experiment. Blonde hair, cold blue eyes, athletic, tall, and he was fearless. Secretly I called him “Hitler’s Master Plan” in my head.

Max was insane. He didn’t even ride skateboards that much, but one day he dropped in on the ledge that ran parallel to a 100 step staircase in front of our high school and rode it all the way to the bottom on a dare. Second try. I was blown away.

I didn’t know that Max wrote graffiti for sure. Somehow I knew though. I could just tell by the way he dressed. The way he carried himself. Maybe it was the flecks of paint on riveted Dickies, maybe it was his “fuck you” attitude.

“Yo, what do you write Max?”

“I write SABER MSK dude!”

Max was lying. He was fucking with me, his eyes sparkled sadistically.

“Quit fucking around dude, you don’t write that! that’s some dude in LA!”

“Nah dude, I told you I write SABER dude!!! I just moved back from living with my mom in LA! duh!.”

He giggled.

The part about moving back from LA from his moms was true. I gave up on trying to figure out what he wrote. I eventually found out. His tag name was FUCK. He just wrote FUCK on stuff.

One day after school Max joined me and Elijah and we went to my house. I had stolen a bunch of nail polish and I wanted to try and thin it out and use it as a ink in a mop. Elijah had brought some Marsh ink to make mops with, too.

I was using a steak knife to cut open and fix the mops. The blade had gotten some Marsh ink on it. I went to pop the top off a shoe polish dauber. The knife slipped and stabbed me in the hand. I had given myself an accidental tattoo. There was a black dot between my left pointer finger and thumb. It stayed there for about two years.

When we were done making mops, I busted out my DecoColor paint pens and we all drew pieces in our black-books. When we were finished I put the paint pens away in my room. While I was putting away the markers I showed Max and Elijah some of the pornos I had stolen with my homie Seth that were in the same stash spot.

We went downstairs and knocked on Basement Dude’s door.

When my dad was still alive he had converted part of our basement into a studio apartment.  We had had a series of tenants over the years, both my half brothers (at separate times), a jazz musician, a computer programmer, a young married couple, but Basement Dude was the most legendary. A half-Chinese, half-Italian “reformed” Deadhead from New Jersey. He worked as a private contractor with his buddy, who from here on out will be referred to as Basement Guy. Got that? Basement Dude and Basement Guy. Thats actually what we called them.

He was a very entertaining dude from a 14 year old’s perspective. I had started hanging out in the basement with him shortly after he moved in that summer. It had taken me about a month to broach the subject of marijuana with him.

“What?? You mean to tell me you’ve smoked weed this whole time? What the fuck, I’ve been hiding it from you for a fucking month! Do you have any idea how agonizing this has been for me? I’ve been sitting here like when the fuck is this fucking kid going to get the fuck out of here!”

With that he produced a neon green plastic bong from behind the couch and preceded to smoke me out. From that day onward, I smoked weed with him almost every day.

“Joey, don’t go telling your mother I’ve been smoking pot with you. She’ll kill me.”



Here I was a few months later. This was the first time I had brought friends with me. He didn’t answer the first time I knocked. I knocked again.

“Who is it?”

“Joe, I’m with some friends, too.”

“You mean there’s more of you little shits? I’m coming, hold on.”

He opened the door and a strong scent of marijuana blasted our nostrils. Basement Dude held the door open with one hand and bowed and waved in a sweeping motion with his other hand. He smiled widely. His eyes looked more Chinese than they normally  did.

“Come on in!! welcome to my humble abode!” He said sarcastically.

We all trudged in, Max ducking his head through the doorway. We sat on the couch. The TV was on. It was playing one of those movies that always seems to be on cable television. A good one. One you’d probably seen three or four times.

Basement Dude loaded up a bowl. We passed around the bong and each took massive rips. We passed it back to Basement Dude. He held it as he stared blankly at the TV.

“You know…”

He paused to take a bong rip. The water in the bong bubbled and the chamber grew opaque with smoke. He pulled the bowl piece out quickly and cleared the chamber. Basement Dude leaned back into the couch. Tilting his head back as he blew smoke out his nostrils.

“…I don’t see why you fellas is all jazzed up about this graffiti nonsense. You don’t make no money doing it. If you’re gonna break the law you might as well make some money while you’re at it. Hmmppfh. Plus if you get caught, you’ve more or less signed your damn name all over the place, they can just go back and fuck you over for everything you graffitied on. When I was your age, we did fun stuff…like acid, or banging broads. Did I ever tell you about that one Grateful Dead concert I went to with my good friends Ricky, Billy, and TIna?”

We shook our heads.

He preceded to tell us. I zoned out on the movie.

“…..what a fucking great night, you shoulda seen the look on Tina’s face.”

He laughed and smiled at us.

We all nodded our heads and laughed. He loaded another bowl. The bong made its rounds again.

Max excused himself to go to the bathroom. After he left Basement Dude said,

“He’s a big fucker, ain’t he?”

Elijah and I nodded.

Max came back from the bathroom a little while later. We chilled a little longer, then my friends had to leave. It was a school night after all.

I realized after they left that all my DecoColor paint pens were gone. Someone had stolen them. I knew it wasn’t Elijah. My pornos were gone, too.