Year of the Dog

BY Piotr Milewski

October 26th, Thursday

Officer Santiago is exceptionally frustrated today. He’s so brazen in his tough guy act it’s hard to focus on the book. Listening to officer Santiago is even harder, as he’s evolved into a complete idiot since last Thursday. He’s driveling something about an extra twenty steps that the troublemakers have to complete after the regular twelve. What’s even worse, I have to put up with his raving all by myself. My niggas went to carry out the Little & Robinson Ltd. recommendations, and I’m waiting for the urine results. Finally, I lose control. I snap back that the judge thinks I’m too good for the MRT, and she’s considering employing me as a court officer.

In steps Ricky. He flashes his teeth:


“Ricky, B! B!”

We slap a fastened five also known as a shoulder bang. That’s the African-American quality I like best: heartiness. Not the drooling heartiness of the honkies, unable to express their feelings without the help of alcohol, and who then, being drunk, act it all out like clowns, but the real warmth - knee-jerk, instinctive, cheerful, childish. We stick together. Together we fight ill luck, the powers of the hostile world, the Man - and together we fail. We are a secret subversives’ society, hence all those intricate handshakes, slaps, grabs, snaps, bangs - gestures of magic and enchantment. It’s obvious I’ll never become one of them. We don’t pretend my skin color has changed, or - what’s even more important than the pigmentation - my social status determined by that pigmentation. But we share a mutual trust. Latinos still keep their distance. Don’t trust blanquito. African-Americans take me for a nigga, no inhibitions or fake shit when it comes to emotions. Of course, when it comes to business, African-American fake shit is second to none.

“How was the trip?”

Ricky makes a face as if stricken by an ass-pain seizure. He’d done two weeks in Rikers, not seven days as legend had had it. “Mad happy it done. Next time I know judge wanna see me before calendar, fuck! Be taking flight and welcome west Arizona. Nite bus cross the border, catch me in da Mexico.”

“What up with Kanjee?”

His little sister had made him a Wassup Ricky! welcome banner, but she had actually welcomed him back with a black eye. She’d insisted mama buy a lot of beer, cause her big brother likes beer a lot. They got into a beef, the girl was whining, so mama opened a six pack o’ whoopass on her. Ricky warned mama not to touch Kanjee again, or else she weren’t gonna be seein the two of them ever again. And he took his sister for some ice cream.

Hood is aight. Niggas knew Ricky was back from da north. Got hoes, liquor, weed. In the projects all know it all. You know who’s a “trigga” - a goon killing people with guns, who specializes in blade stickin, who’s in the game and what’s he hustlin, who works the nine to five shift in the office. “Can getch yo, whachu wun, Pete. You be comin to Bed-Stuy, B? Please, check it out: this door - killing/firearms, this door - blade/stickin, this door - eight balls’n weed, this door - nine to five. When I woz on the inside, this guy, damn wanksta - y’no what m’sayin - get ganked, loose da benjamins. Rich boy. Mommy’n’daddy moved to Long Island year ago - y’no what am sayin - white burbs, white bimma, even dawg white, but they still black. He shoulda get education, make sumthin of himself, but wanna be a balla flashin kilos o’ blinga. Damm foo. Hit da hood, thinkin he know them’ll, and he know in a way. But da crew hustlin on da block was straight from da north, long term, don’t know him. Wreck his ride. Take all he got. I don’t know why not kill’m. He come up in burbs, daddy learn whud hapt from da neibas - in the projects all know all - and shut him out. He totally fucked. I ain’t lovin da hustlin, Pete. But whud I’m’a do. Ain’t got no dough for college. Drop out from high school, cuz I know I ain’t goin to no college. With high school diploma I can flip same burgers, I be tossin without it. I got in da game. Ain’t no love in da game, ain’t no loyalty. You make some dough, da vultures come. And you got to pay. A foo be payin half da loot and da bigga half, da bigga anger. Them thinkin - dat big ass half, how big da loot. Twice dat! Ain’t got no heart fo dis no more. Chillin in yo crib, but every five minutes checkin out whuss up thru da blinds, ain’t there no double parked whip. Yo leave da window alone, come up to da door, checkin all five locks if them shut. Knock, knock - some nigga really hittin it. Yo peep: yo best peep. Yo know what’s comin. Run fo yo gat to da bedroom, but they bring down da door, they in. Before yo cock da trigga: pop, pop, pop, bang-bang-bang-bang: you’se dead. So I give quarter, frontin it a half. Keepin them’ll on short leash. Nigga ain’t in his right mind, goin against me. Ain’t payin to pump a clip in mah ass, cuz the whole game don’t look dat hot, and a quarter they think a half - fuck! Ain’t lookin dat bad. So am pickin mo fresh playas, small time, payin them off small time. Just the flava, and no partners. Partner take away fiddy percent of yo chance. Ain’t difficult to count. Gettin mo vultures, but keepin them’ll under control. I’m’a be general, Pete, yo better believe me. I’m’a be general or be fived. But ain’t no end to da game. Yo get yo ass to da next leva. Da balance changin cuz the stakes a higher. Yo hustlin wit other generals, and da rule stay: no partners. Yo give in, them give away shit on yo, and finish yo off. Ain’t no Pac-Man anymore. Yo play Pac-Man?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“We call cops a Pac-Man. We legin it, they tryin to get us from dis side, from dat side, from bof. You got to bounce faster and faster all da time. And when da game got really hot, cops are paid off, but feds get in. And dis a professional Pac-Man. Super Pac-Man. Behind you other generals. They sus yo fuck’em, gettin their share, put too much on the side, or even ain’t sus nothin, just wanna take over yo shit, this pot o’ stew yo stirrin, they be schemin ‘gainst yo. Eighteen-twony blocks coming at you. United armies of North, South and West. Ain’t got no chance, son. But I’m’a be goin to da top. Ain’t gonna be nobody like my old man, wit his ass kicked all da time. Game ain’t never over. Ain’t no bail. I ain’t gonna bounce the hood, cuz they gonna say: Ricky’s a bitch. Can’t get it on. He ain’t a man...

Suddenly a female phantom appears in the combat scenery of the ghetto. She travelled through from another dimension, the one of aseptic, white KCTC halls. She is Ricky’s case manager. It is time for a vocational rehabilitation session.”

“Keep it real, Pete, son.”

“Keep it, Ricky. Keep’em on a short leash, don’t give. Get’em, man.”

The case manager doesn’t get it. Ricky bangs his fist against mine. He’s sure of my integrity, cause I’d like to hang out with a general. Who wouldn’t?

translated by Piotr Milewski

The excerpt was originally published on the Book Institute's website.

Piotr Milewski is a lawyer by education, works as a reporter, and has been an American correspondent for the Polish media since 1992.