Boogie Down Inferno
by Michael A. Gonzales
lived through New York City's crack-era in the
mid-1980s, knows it was a bizarre time. Like living
in some kind of alternative universe where seemingly
overnight friends, family and familiar strangers
were stricken by a plague.
In my Washington Heights neighborhood I remember
some drug hawker standing in front of the subway
station on 145th and St. Nick trying to sell me
something called "crack" in 1985 and six months
later my lower-middle class neighborhood suddenly
became a haven for spaced-out zombies, random
robberies, middle of the day shoot-outs, countless
prostitutes and other illicit activity.
Later, it would be revealed that the local police
precinct, which would later be known in the press
as, "the dirty 30," was taking bribes and wasn't
really trying to protect the law-abiding citizens in
the first place. This disturbing short story "boogie
down inferno" was inspired by my vivid memories of
those wild years when uptown was a combination Sodom
and Gomorrah meets the wild wild west.
While editing this piece, I listened to Tricky's
Pre-Millennium Tension, whose,
"hallucinatory soundscape, where the rhythms,
samples, and guitars intertwine into a crawling
procession of menacing sounds and disembodied
lyrical threats," seemed to be the perfect
soundtrack for a tale about my beloved metropolis
during those very dark days.
* * * *
car was parked in front of the hydrant. fire-truck
sirens screamed in the night as raging flames kissed
the midnight sky. staring at your former south bronx
tenement over on 178th and vyse avenue, neighborhood
crack zombies were entranced by the vivid yellow and
crimson cinders raining down from the rooftop. “oh
shit,” screamed a young black boy cruising the trash
strewn street on a stolen five-speed bike.
this block is filled with ghosts, you thought, still
buzzed from the cocaine you had been hitting since
noon. feeling as though it were on the verge of
exploding, your heart was beating a million miles a
“another bronx building burning,” said a weary
voiced stranger standing behind you.
looking all official and shit, you were dressed in
the same police academy uniform you wore at
graduation that same afternoon. assigned to work at
the 48th precinct, your brain was buzzed from the eight ball of devil’s dandruff you scored from
some hunts point homie.
“fish scale,” he had assured you, as though it made
a difference. all those youngbloods swore they were
scarface. fuck the friendly skies, ‘cause you was
higher than eddie palmieri hanging at casa amadeo
record shop bragging about being the baddest piano
player in the barrio. sweat rolled down your face
like you had stuck it in a oven or something.
besides yourself, no one watching that building burn
knew that there was a dead woman on the top floor
lying next to a pissy mattress, her messy haired
head cracked like the plaster on an old bedroom
chick’s name was lisa hernadez, and once upon a time
baby girl had been a great beauty with a big booty
and supple breasts. still, that was years before the
broad had become a full blown crack ho, wandering
the streets of the boogie down looking to make her
loot by any means necessary no matter how low down.
back in the day, when both of ya’ll had lived in
that red bricked apartment building (her fam lived
on the fifth floor, while you were one flight down)
you had lusted after sweet lisa since you was
teenager who stared at the ceiling while pulling
eyes closed, your nasty daydreams were like private
porn movies continually running on a loop in your
mind. in that home-made triple-xxx flick in your
head, you rubbed lisa’s perky nipples through sheer
tube-tops, sucked the dirty toes that had been
walking the block in red jellies and licked her
hairy snatch as she screamed your name.
of course, in the real world, she barely knew that
you were alive, so you thought of tonight payback
for all those times she had mocked you, laughed in
your face and made snide remarks behind your back.
“whose laughing now, bitch” you thought to yourself,
trying not to laugh aloud.
welcome to spic
heaven: clearly you remembered the days of
growing-up on that broke down block of vacant lots,
drunken domino players and one storefront church.
despite the sweet salsa songs your mother used to
hum in the mornings, you never saw any pretty
flowers blooming through the cracked sidewalks.
unless, of course, they had mutated into dog shit,
broken bottles, trash heaps and empty heroin bags.
back when you were a small school boy with chubby
cheeks and sorrowful eyes, your mother was your
entire world. every friday evening, after leaving
her gig at the martin luther king health center, she
stopped-off at the cluttered botanica tu mundo up
the street. gently parting the colorful floral
curtains in front of your living-room window, you
patiently waited for her to sluggishly stroll down
you looked at the shattered souls gathered on the
stoop across the street, boisterous boys congregated
around a chalk drawn skellzie board; a few feet away
from jose’s luncheonette, a couple of strong armed
teens dressed in two-tone sweaters and tight black
pants played congas while a wino ex-boxer drunkenly
danced wildly and sang out of tune.
minutes later you spotted your mommi slowly walking
pass dented garbage cans, carrying a heavy shopping
bag. it usually took her at ten minutes to tiredly
scale the dirty marble stairs to your fourth-floor
after achingly removing her white nurse shoes, she
poured herself a healthy taste of dark rum and
flopped on the plastic covered couch. after taking a
few gulps, she shared splendid stories about her
homeland of puerto rico. with peppermint scented
breath, her remembrances of the island were filled
with dusty roads and white sand beaches, mystic
sunsets and flying cockroaches.
from those tales you conjured images of wide-hipped
aunts you had never seen and divine music you had
“tell me about poppi,” you begged after she had
downed a few glasses of the potent rum.
“oh, he was such handsome man with his grey eyes and
curly hair,” she swooned. a fisherman, he had
drowned seven weeks before you were born. while you
secretly hated him for dying, you never tired of
your mother’s verbal snap-shots of their short life
together: “it was olokun,” she wept, referring the
deity of the sea in santeria. with frail fingers she
crushed your small head into her full bosom and
wept. “olokrun took your poppi away from us.”
in the corner of the white walled living-room, below
a cheaply framed picture of j.f.k., mommi had
constructed an altar. there was a small color
photograph of your father lying atop the red and
white satin cloth that covered the altar; there was
that plaster statue of st. jude, lit white candles,
fresh flowers, an apple, an upside down glass of
water supported on a white dish and a jar full of
coins. with your father’s spirit and the santeria
gods as her constant companions, it was not uncommon
for mom dukes to awaken after midnight to pray that
he was at peace.
washing-up in lukewarm water the following morning,
you glanced into the sparkling bathroom mirror,
slowly searching for a resemblance with the man in
the picture. when you were about eight, you noticed
that the two of you shared the same haunted grey
eyes. at least that explained why your mother never
looked into your peepers when she spoke to you.
hell, she just couldn’t stand seeing your father's
eyes in you.
because of your poppi’s drowning, your mother feared
losing you to “d’evil streets” outside your windows.
with those beatbox boys blasting grandmaster flash
tapes and nasty domincan girls shaking their bubble
butts, to your moms, those bario blocks were wilder
than the waves that had swept away husband.
once a month she performed a despojos ceremony,
gently beating you with whatever herbs the botanica
oracle suggested would frighten away evil spirits.
she even placed a string of multicolored prayer
beads around your neck to protect you from the
demons that lurked in the shadows.
as you got older, she slipped deeper into a
netherworld of religion and rum. speaking in
tongues, she hung crucifixes throughout the
apartment and sprinkled the corners with aqua floria.
over the plastic slip covered couch hung a picture
of jesus that for some reason scared you. affixed to
the cross, blood dripped from his hands and feet.
one night when you were nine, your father approached
you in a dream: visions of his sun blackened body
lying on the white sands of a beach. there were
piercing holes where his eyes should have been. with
webbed feet and gills like a fish, he stood-up and
approached. his hands were cold and slimy when he
touched your fat face.
that rainy morning, you woke-up screaming.
outside of your hollowed home, you were a paradox:
gang member and alter-boy, cheeba smoker and
teacher’s pet, wild in the streets and smart in the
class-room. you hung tough with a clique of kids who
called themselves el barrio angels.
an everchanging crew that had been around since the
days of the young lords, they had originally planned
to be an off-shoot of the radical group. but, by the
time you got down with them in the summer of ‘77,
the notorious season of the infamous blackout that
bought new york to its knees, the el barrio angels
dappled in petty crimes that included selling weed,
boosting clothes and robbing number taking bodegas.
by ‘79 ya’ll had become infamous in the hood. it was
your best friend fast eddie calderon who had put you
down with the crew. Money grip had got his nickname
because he could out run any mick cop in the
skinny ass calderon, with his greasy hair and
raggedly jeans, had been your homeboy since the two
of you were no bigger than fightin’ cocks. after his
parents had died in a car crash, he lived with his
older sister in the projects. at first glance he
didn't appear to the brightest star in the sky, but
the boy was no dummy.
"if you look stupid then people don't expect much
from ya," he declared. "that way you can get away
with more shit with less consequences." although he
was only two years older than you, calderon schooled
your punk ass in the ways of the street. “we be like
brothers from different mothers,” he fondly said.
the meeting spot for the el barrio angels was a
decaying tenement a few blocks from the cross bronx
expressway. a once stunning structure had been
contemned years ago. the once exquisite marble
floors, with their faded art deco designs, were
chipped and soiled, and the broken windows looked
like the eyes of a dead man.
the angels transformed the apartment on the third
floor of a crumbling building into a clubhouse.
somehow the gang’s leader had managed to install
lights, an old pool-table, a stained cloth couch and
a few tattered chairs. a beat-up eight-track played
a constant stream of barretto and bataan. in the
dimly lit room there was also a old safe with a
broken door where the angels stored bags of weed and
whenever ya’ll went out, the wild stray german
shepherd ya’ll named blood was kept inside the room.
the canine’s constant barking kept the junkies far
away. “blood would rip out their throats and eat ‘em
hop heads like hamburger,” calderon laughed petting
the dog. “them junkie motherfuckers know better than
to fuck around over here.”
indeed, the only thing that disgusted you about the
building were all those noddin’ junkies shooting up,
pissing, shitting, fucking and dying in the halls. a
trio of nappy haired colored dudes dressed in old
vietnam jackets and oily jeans sold five dollar
packs of p-funk from a first floor apartment, and
throughout the rest of the building.
one dreary twilight in the summer of ‘79 you and
calderon was just chillin’ in the club house puffing
budda bless. like the villian twins you wanted to
be, both ya’ll was dressed in your regular el barrio
angels uniform of backwards black baseball caps,
black pro-keds, white tube socks and black polyester
outside the window, as the sun slowly changed colors
from white glare to muted orange, the racket of a
rowdy block party ricocheted off of the rickety
structures. you just knew that kool herc was in the
later that night, there was a surprise raid by
corrupt cops on the gang's chill-out spot. the
boogaloo music had been so loud that none of the
crew had heard those hard heeled police footsteps as
they crept up the stairs. guns drawn and popping
shit, the blue boys barged into the room.
scared to death when those pigs threatened to stomp
anyone who squealed, you knew it was time to jet. in
your eyes five-o were just a bunch of pussys with
power and guns, flexing their muscles against a
roomful of teenagers.
one chalky faced cop swung open the rusty safe door,
and began stuffing all the loot and drugs into his
pockets. with coffee and cigarette stained teeth,
the pig laughed.
there was mayhem in the room as you and fast eddie
scattered out of the window and scurried up a rusty
fire-escape in beat-up pro-keds. once you reached
the roof-top, both of you attempting to leap to the
fuckin’ eddie didn't make it though, falling to his
death in the darkness.
though terrified, somehow you made it back to your
apartment without a scratch. it was then, lying on
the bed still in scared shirtless, but wiping away
the sweat and tears, that you decided that you
wanted to be a cop instead of a criminal.
it was not about knowing right from wrong, but about
who had the supremacy in that police state. you’ve
noticed how the fuzz swaggered through the hood with
a sense of self-importance; you saw how they never
paid for their food in restaurants; you heard
stories from the other el barrio angels how the pigs
are always ripping-off the local drug dealers,
stealing the stash and keeping their cash.
“that’s gonna be my hustle,” you mumbled, wiping
tears away with a tissue. in the next room your
mommi slept, unaware of your revelation. “i’m going
to be a cop.”
ten years later the decade has changed, but the
barrio was still the same. or maybe worse. still, on
that weary winter morning that you graduated from
the police academy, your mother was so proud.
after taking her home to her new spot in riverdale,
you hooked-up with a few other friends from the
academy for what was supposed to be an innocent
celebration in the old hood. in the city's liberal
attempt to recruit former homeboys to police their
own, thinking they will be able to relate better to
the beamed-up crackheads and wild cowboy drug
dealers, this was going to be your beat.
crack had worked a dark mojo on that hood. shit,
niggas flipped for that rock cocaine. after it first
hit the streets in the early ‘80s, the bronx barrios
had become a surreal circus of ruthless addition and
scary monsters who crawled in the night.
you looked at the new jack street dealers with their
snarling pitbulls and exquisite foreign cars, and
their wealth excited you. hell, you knew that soon
you would be sharing in the spoils of the losing war
that night, along with three of your fellow
graduates, you boogied over to carlito’s pub, an old
school bar that had been in the hood since you were
a kid. the jukebox blared old salsa as though
hip-hop had never been created. after hooking-up
with your drug dealing homie in the bathroom, you
began sniffing the pure coke and downing shots of
barcardi as though tomorrow would never come.
“drinks for my friends,” you screamed as your mind
slowly unraveled like a spool of thread. next thing
you realized you are alone in the streets, wandering
down the block in search of a piece of pussy gone
the trick was to find one of those rock smoking hoes
who knew how to blow like miles davis. it was then
that you saw lisa, her skin smoother than black ice
as ice. like other lost ladies, she had become as
ruined as the hood itself.
“rock star, bitch,” you mumbled. “i wonder who broke
you down. used to be too good for a nigga...now look
dressed in dirty jeans, worn nike’s and a ratty
sweater, you gave her two twenty-dollar bills to buy
a few vials of rock before she took you to the
apartment building where you used to live when you
was a kid.
the block was swarming with illegal business. you
walked into the dark building, and heard mumbling
voices coming from beneath the steps. most of the
creepy apartments appeared to be crack spots, but
you were not nervous.
the fifth-floor apartment used to belong to her
mother, who moved back to p.r. the year before. you
can remember coming to a birthday party here when
lisa turned ten, and the apartment was immaculate as
the virgin mary. but that was so long ago. now the
flat was a wreak, the sticky floors littered with
old beer bottles and used condom packages; there
were chink take-out boxes and chicken wing bones;
there are dirty clothes all over the floor and
jacked-up mattress in the middle of the living-room.
there is an unholy stench that burns your nose
hairs. there were dirty sheets covering the windows.
after lighting a few candles, lisa invited you over
to the stained mattress. you still had coke left, so
while she smoked those stinky rocks, you took a few
sniffs. lisa chattered non-stop, and what little you
caught of her conversation had to do with the baby
her mother stole from her. another innocent child
born a junkie, but now she was gone.
you didn't give a shit about this mess she was
yapping, you just wanted your dick sucked so you
could break out. blaring rap songs (eric b. & rakim,
big daddy kane) crashed through the closed window
like an urban rhythm soundtrack.
touching her bony leg, she told you to wait until
she has smoked another rock. she is jumpy and
nervous, but after sucking that glass dick lisa
would be just fine, at least for five minutes.
you lay down, imagining yourself swimming in the
ocean. you could feel lisa unfastening your belt and
pants. gently she began licking your balls, sucking
and gently gibbling with skill. with your eyes
closed, in your mind you saw your father emerging
from the sea. except, unlike those dreams from your
youth, he doesn't look to be at peace. his eyes look
angry and confused.
"be a man," your dead daddy said. "be a fucking
minutes passed and soon your vision was shattered by
loud cackling laughter. despairingly you opened your
eyes and saw that it was lisa laughing though
"i been sucking your dick for twenty minutes and you
still ain't hard, poppi," she says. "you been
sniffing that shit all night long, now your little
dickie won't co-operate."
you felt like a drowning man trying to catch your
breath. with these simple words, blood rushed to
your head. you could feel the anger building in your
chest like a wall as her laughter echoed through
that room of horrors as though it were coming
through a set of hi-fi speakers.
“you’re going to regret that you raggy bitch,” you
screamed, and before you could help yourself you
punched lisa in the face. on impact, her mouth
shattered as teeth and blood rained to the floor.
for a moment she was dazed, but without warning she
leapt on your back and began pulling your hair as
her fingernails scratched the back of your neck. "fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou..."
she cried and screamed and lost her mind. regaining
your balance, you flipped the crazy broad off your
back. she looked like a broken doll sprawled on the
floor, her skull cracked; you noticed your pants and
underwear are still around your ankles.
although lisa had not moved since you flipped her a
minute ago, her laughter was still loud in that evil
she was unconscious on the floor, but still you were
afraid. suppose she filed a police report at the
same precinct where you were to report to work in
it would be your rookie word against a crack-head,
but who needed the grief; more than likely she would
get one of the housing project posse-boys who
populated the block to pop your ass on the sneak
pulling up your pants, you buckled your belt and
stared into lisa's damaged face. shit, she had
bought it on herself, you reasoned. who told the
bitch it was cool to laugh at the police.
slipping your dirty hand into your pocket, you felt
a pack of newports. you lit one, sucking on the
filter like it was a pacifier. lost in thought for a
moment, you decided to set the entire pack of matchs
aflame, tossing the lit matches into a pile of
yellow newspaper next to the stained mattress.
flames scaled the cheap plastered walls lined with
rotting wood, you could feel the heat on your body
and sweat on your brow. as the fire begans to spread
you could smell lisa's burning flesh. feeling no
remorse as you dashed out of the door and down the
the next day, when you reported to the precient for
your first tour working the four to midnight shift,
you would hear the story of some crazy crack head
who burned down a building doing stupid crack head
shit. your fellow boys in blue would make crude
crack jokes and you will laugh, showing them you are
down with the program. fuck that serpico shit, you
exiting the burning building, the sidewalk was alive
with the jumping jive of spectators who now had
something to do with their time instead of sitting
on the stoop or shooting dice. cornerboys gathered
screamed “meda meda” as though the world was coming
to an end. but for you, it had only just begun.
angrily you glanced up at the building. it reminded
of that flick the towering inferno. in your stoned
mind, the fire looked like a crimson animal trying
to escape from the confines of its bronx zoo cage.
watching that sizzling disaster of your own
creation, exhilaration surged through your body like
electricity. as the blaze grew even more intense,
your little dickie finally got hard.
First published in
Hood 2 Hood edited by Shannon Holmes
copyright (c) Michael A. Gonzales, 2010
* * *
Generation Soul: Can Dru Hill Revive The Vocal
* * *
(Kalamu reading "My Story, My Song"
Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)
My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)
Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered
the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It
By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign. The Economy
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
posted 14 May 2010