Just a Friend

by: Michael Shields

An injection of humor into an otherwise serious situation…..

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh Shitttttttttt…..What you in here for?”

I barely saw him walk in the room when I was called to attention by his deafening enthusiastic call.  He was escorted by a detective twice his size and was happy well beyond the circumstances.  Standing no more than 5 foot 3 and rotund in every direction1 he grinned inquisitively at me.  In a tone lacking back-bone or even mild enthusiasm I answered the young man, an answer that was decidedly not good enough.  The answer was not interesting nor funny, and it sure as hell wasn’t hood enough for his taste.  I was no criminal.  I had no amusing story.  I was here due to a misunderstanding2.  He was here often.

He turned his attention immediately back to his arresting officer and their ongoing discussion. They had rapport, well beyond this one encounter. There was history. The fingerprinting went as smoothly as is humanly possible, for a grown man dragging another grown man’s fingers over an inexpensive imprecise scanner is always awkward3, but these two had danced this dance before. They made jokes, all in reference to the reason he was here, a restraining order he could not abide by.

“She loves me.  You’ll see, she be down here any minute to bail me out.”

That wasn’t the case of course. As intriguing as the conversation was, of these two literally enjoying an otherwise serious situation, I could do little else but stare at the young man’s attire. His shirt was red but covered in designs, prints of everything possibly illegal in the majority of the lower 48. Illustrations of guns, baggies, knives, brass knuckles, and even crack pipes, bongs, and needles adorned every inch of this tee. A mother’s worst nightmare. In addition, the rear pocket of his jeans had, on each leg, half of a menacing monster face that seemed to be staring right back at me, bold red eyes and razor sharp teeth dripping with blood. The devil him, or herself, is dressed in garb of higher quality and much better taste.  Air Jordan Retro 13’s completed the ensemble.4

They carried on and horsed around even as the steel gate was pushed shut upon the young man, and the key turned. The brick walls, along with the vertical bars, enclosed us two as the detective began to walk out, stopping only to grab a hat I had not seen as they entered, a Chicago Bulls hat which belonged to the young boy. The detective smiled and threw it on his bulbous head which it sat upon like a petite rowboat in the middle of the boundless ocean. With a smirk on his face he said “I’m keeping this” and walked out.

We were left alone. The young man tried to lay the ground work for a conversation, bitching about his girl, the slow transfer from his previous cell in the Bronx to our cell now in Brooklyn (never found out the exact reason for the bi-borough transfer), domestic violence laws, and “fucking Facebook”, but my spirit was dampened and I had little to offer…but I had to know what his beef with Zuckerberg’s baby was. Had to. Well it turns out that school principles in the Bronx take it real serious when you post on another students wall that you are going to kill her, her family, and burn down their home.

“Yo, I didn’t even mean it like that.”

He went on and I retorted by offering some friendly advice about how you have to be careful about what you put on social networking sites as “it’s out there for the world to see”, advice which landed upon deaf ears as the young man, well too comfortable in such a confining environment, had made pillow of the brick wall and was already sawing logs.  Lights the fuck out.  I followed suit.  Or tried to at least.

The door to the processing room opened.  Hope.

In walked a much younger detective chaperoning a bearded man about my age. Like Holden Caulfield, I can almost tell from visual assessment the type of person I would likely call a friend, and this whiskered gentleman fit the description. ‘Twas not to be, but what happened moving forward will stick with me much longer than this proposed friend would have. I began to settle in and brace for the long haul as this new addition meant little to me besides increased anxiety and claustrophobia, but the young man I could now call my cell-mate eagerly perked up. A dog in heat spotting it’s unwitting mate.

“Bike cop!, Bike cop!”

“Bike cop!, Bike cop!”5

The detective, a fit man in his late 40s with the expected tan dockers and tucked in polo–ring wrung round that collar, stopped dead in his tracks. His jaw began to drop, which he caught mid-descent. The cop quickly seated his cuffed assailant to deal with later, and faced the young man.

“Do I know you?”

“Yeah. You picked me up bout 6 to 7 years ago in Marcy when you were pedaling round there.”

The look of realization I was hoping for at this moment never occurred. I guess you always remember who arrests you but the opposite is ludicrous to expect.  But the detective didn’t doubt the young man for a second. What followed was a ten minute interchange about the Marcy projects, half a decade back, I wish I had been able to properly record. This kid had some sort of magnetism cops could not refute, they opened up like books.

“What I get you for?”

“Some weed.  A bunch too.”

“Weed don’t matter.  I haven’t brought anyone in on that in years.  You got me in my early days.”

“Yeah, they still pop you for it though where I be at now.  And you had the partner always on me.  Ramon.”

“Holy Shit!  Man, I almost forgot about Ramon.”

They continued on. They discussed the locals, mostly the eccentric homeless folk they both knew all too well. The cop, multiple times, brought up in a forced effort to relate, the Marcy projects being the former residence of Jay Z, but my young friend acted, each and every time, like he didn’t hear that part. He just continued on talking about other things. My guess is his Marcy and Jay’s Marcy weren’t one in the same, and he wasn’t going to placate the detective. The conversation turned to the slinging drugs in Marcy.6 The detective not holding back.

“Marcy is funny.  It’s the only hood in all five boroughs still using vials. Everyone else is onto baggies. Not Marcy.”

“Yeah, and they still swinging the vials for 3. All other n*ggas be swinging at 10 but them n*ggas be getting rich 3 dollars at a time!”

There was a brief pause as both internally reminisced about their stints in Marcy. I was surprised to hear the detective speak so nostalgically about his early days pushing his Fuji 27 Speed Mountain Bike around Bedford-Stuyvesant’s most famous project. Those were the days, while apparently the current ones desk jockeying in Greenpoint and processing hipsters are not. This silence was abbreviated and the calming contemplative pause was recklessly broken as the young man let well known what he was thinking about.

“YO!  I could sell fire in hell!”

Somehow, a boundary was crossed. The detective looked, finally, taken aback and withdrew in haste to his previous engagement. The young man continued on but this conversation would continue one sided while the officer expedited processing his catch and like magic turned a cell of 2 into one of 3. The detective, seemingly, draws a hard line in the sand when one becomes braggadocio about their finesse in slinging drugs.

Hours passed, slowly, with little conversation. The feeble exchanges that were shared did enlighten me to the fact that I was the only person held against my will for reasons other than domestic violence. I kept my unyielding opposition to laying a hand on anyone at any time, particularly when it comes to the opposite sex, to myself and I believe I am all the better for that decision.

My time came soon enough and the feeling of elation when freed from even a mild stint of imprisonment should be bottled and sold at a premium.  Little compares.

Having never been schooled in the etiquette of a situation such as this I naively turned, as I left, to bid farewell and good luck to my fellow transgressors but neither would even meet my gaze to allow me.  It was one for all within that box that day and although I walked away with a tale or two to tell, I didn’t make any friends on the inside.

  1. A young Biz Markie, a carbon copy. []
  2. The convict’s credo. []
  3. For those who haven’t been strong-armed down to their local precinct in some time or ever, long gone are the days of ink and fingerprint pads. []
  4. Never have I felt these. Too Moon-bootish. []
  5. In neighborhoods, projects really, where kids are working corners they naturally watch each other back.  Announcing “bike cop” to one another means obviously some po-lice on wheels are spinning your way. []
  6. Multiple times during the discussion the phrase “Pandemic!, I got that pandemic!” infiltrated my thoughts.  Followed by the thought that I have see ‘The Wire’ far too many times. []
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