"The mark of an immature man is that he would die knobly for a cause. The mark of a mature man is that he would live humbly for one" - Catcher in the Rye -WARNING WRITER SPELLING CHALLENGED! But Sometimes you have to say "what the fuck!"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ghetto Livin in Oakland 94602 and the Final Goodbye

Repost from 8/28/04

Ghetto Education
I hear some liberal scholar’s state that every progressive should spend one year in living in the ghetto to fully experience life. Ghetto living gives you insight into a world that most liberals only profess to understand. Looking from the outside in, the “hood” seems a dangerous place; a Mos Eisley-ish “hive of scum and villainy” unfit for most. Like many, economic reasons brought me to ghetto life back in 1998. I spent one year in a crack infested slum. This experience would forever change the way I looked at life. They say you can “take the grrrl out of the ghetto, but you can NEVER take the ghetto out of the grrrl”. True words I live by.

Livin in Da Hood
I lived in the Fruitvalle district of Oakland, a neighborhood notorious for crack, Crips and crime. I was a few blocks up from Martin Luther King Ave, and like Chris Rock says "Martin Luther King stood for non-violence. But, if you're in America in any city or town and on a street named after him, you're gonna find some violence. Run!" This was definitely true for my neighborhood. Ghetto birds flew over head nightly, lighting up the dark sky with strobe lights and a sound that violently shook the foundation of everything below. (Ghetto birds are police helicopters FYI). There were no trees, just graffiti signed cement blocks everywhere, and the gray appearance of burned out old buildings. Every business looked old and run down, with bulletproof cages, barred windows and chained storefronts. Fast food restaurants were non-existent, as well as any place to get food after dark. The 7/11 across the street was ran by Middle Eastern guys, with a security guard who stood in the corner and held a huge semi-automatic riffle. Right next to my apartment building was a burned out looking crack motel, where working girls would solicit clients. These working girls were not pretty; they were total crack hoes, dawned in raggedy clothes, bad teeth, and the look of burned out chicks who lived a very hard life. At night, I would hear fireworks pop, or at least I told myself that for comfort. The truth was its more difficult to get fireworks in California than an AK47 or hand grenade. My neighborhood was Crip territory, and this was obvious by the “uniform” of the young males that would hang around. Dark blue clothing, blue Tupac style bandanas, these young men would always gather after dark on the corner. They never gave me much trouble, though I rarely ventured out after dark.

Oakland; Home of the Luniz, Digital Underground and Too Short

People in Oakland...Oakland
Woo, see I'm ridin higher and higher, woo-oo
Kinda broke so ya know all I gots five, I got five

up in the OAK the Town
homies don't play around,
we down to blaze a pound


Inside These Caged Walls
I lived life inside the caged confinement of a gated apartment complex. Every apartment complex is gated in the ghetto. I often wonder does these gates keep the crime out, or lock the crime within? The outside of my apartment complex was decorated by gang tagging, that the manager gave up cleaning up a while ago. The thing about Oakland is you can go a few blocks and there is middle class housing, and then within a rock throws distance is serious ghetto. My apartment manager was a local musician who played keyboards with an upcoming top 40’s band. His goal was to fill the apartment complex with like minds… artsy, musician types. Out of about 30 units, less than half of the residents’ fit that bill. We all clung together like candles in the wind, trying to create an artsy group within the crushing confines of poverty. Next to me lived a Oakland Public School music teacher, the next apartment down was Nikki a gothic artist girl who worked by day in a sewing factory. Next to her was C-Dawg a big guy with the looks of Notorious BIG, who rapped with the Luniz and was working on his own album. I would find out later that C-Dawg also sold “rocks” to fund his musical projects. I discovered later that he was well known in the Crip scene and now looking back, I realize that he probably kept us safe from the neighborhood gangs. A LA punk rock musician couple lived downstairs, a ecological hippie was a few apartments down. Airwolfe Mike lived upstairs next to Kenny; both of who were locals in the Oakland Brand Hardcore gang. Kenny had OBHC tattooed on his neck. He claimed that his father was one of the leaders in the Hells Angels. There was a small sprinkling of us eccentric artists among the staple residents living off section 8 housing.

Oakland 94602 Crew
We artists formed a crew that would aid and look out for each other. We supported each other’s creative endeavors, attending art shows together, band performances, and other social events. We started calling our apartment complex “Oakland 94602” ( a sick and twisted parody to Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place)due to the drama we experienced in our lives. What was most ironic was that when we lived this hard life, we had simple escapes to forget our local world. Every Wednesday night, a group of us would gather in my small living room and watch “Dawson’s Creek”. This ultimate teeny-bop drama gave us a temporary escape into life outside the meal gates.

Notorious Housing
Life was rough in that part of Oakland. Inside our gated community we all dreamed we could live life off our aspirations and artsy ideals. The apartment complex was old and rather notorious. The landlord spent little if any money on repairs or remodeling. Right before I moved in, there had been a domestic dispute between a husband and wife. According to reports, the wife, a big black woman, grabbed a knife and came at her husband. When the police arrived on the scene a rookie Asian officer saw the knife and “handled” the situation by shooting the woman in the head. She died on the spot. This kind of intervention was typical in the ghetto. My apartment was a pricey $800 for a 2 bedroom one bath. When I moved in I scrubbed the walls for weeks. Grease and crud permeated the space. My windows were slanted glass without screens. The landlord decided that it was not cost effective to replace the broken glass pains, instead he fixed them by layers of duck tape. With housing being so short in the Bay Area, and being poor, one really has no choice but to accept these conditions. This would later cost me most of my possessions, as the duck tape was easy to remove, and hence “break in”.

Broken Glass Everywhere….
I got used to crime there really quick. You never knew what you were coming home to, what you were waking up to, and how things were gonna be. Sometimes you would get up and find your car tagged by the local gang, other times it would be vandalized with windows smashed with rocks, other times… it would be gone. I was robbed at gunpoint, burglarized, had my car stolen, and experienced other “pleasures” for living in a high crime area. All of us residents would always come together when bad things would happen. We would gather money, give rides and give other forms of support to one who was victimized. This was daily life. I also realized that in the ghetto police were empathetic, but not much support or protection. They were way to busy with serious violent crimes to keep us safe within our walls. Surviving the ghetto entails attaching to some local gang connection in order to provide the utmost protection.

OBHC Kenny
A book full of stories came from this living experience. My most memorable surrounded my OBHC friend Kenny.
Though Kenny was not the apartment manager, he ran the place; he was the first to be there when there was trouble and was as fiercely protective of the residents as a junkyard pitbull. Now OBHC stands for Oakland Brand Hardcore; a contingent of hardcore music, which is similar to punk rock only harder faster and darker. OBHC’s were also kinda a gang, that ran the tattoo parlors and local scene. Kenny was a stunning looking guy, blond with piercing blue eyes, a mesmerizing smile, and dimpled baby face. He looked a lot like Jesse James from Monster Garage. Kenny had tattoos all over his body, including “Love” and “Hate” tattooed on his knuckles. He played bass in a local hardcore band and lived off disability. I admit, I was totally hot for Kenny, though never got the opportunity to sleep with him. Kenny and I identified with each other as two tragic souls who dealt with pain, anger and depression. Kenny collected action figures like me, except he only collected Todd McFarlane Spawn figures, which he hung all over his walls in quite an impressive display. Kenny and I would talk for hours about our personal demons. Kenny believed he was like James Dean, someone whose years on this world were numbered. He thought of suicide often and could not break free of his daily pain. Kenny was also a Persian Gulf War Vet, who never really recovered from the experience. He was plagued by nightmares, especially of his experience as a Marine infantryman. He was besieged by memories of war, violence and death. He killed a man with a bayonet, and was forever haunted by this experience. He also was in terrible pain, most probably from Persian Gulf War Syndrome. His gums would bleed, his stomach was always upset; he was weak, tired, and suffered from excruciating body aches. The VA hospital would tell him to “quit being a baby” and then prescribe him more and more drugs…. most often morphine.

Mothers Day Present
When Kenny’s cat “Meow” had kittens, me being the cat lover that I wanted one. I remember the night before Mother’s Day, him jumping out of his apartment and yelling at me to “come get this cat”. The sound of the mewing kittens reportedly had been driving him up the wall. I told him I would be by later that night. When I returned a few hours later, I knocked on his door and there was no response. The next day, I came by several times to see if he was there. Again, no response. This was strange because his white kidnapping van was parked outside in out lot. Later in the afternoon I tried again. This time I saw Airwolf outside Kenny’s apartment and on the phone. His girlfriend was frantically pacing back and force across the balcony. Airwolf was as white as a sheet and there was obviously something wrong. Kenny’s apartment door was agar and th air was stale with a putrid and morbid feeling all around. I walked up to Airwolf, he looked at me with haunted eyes and said words I will never forget. “I think Kenny is dead”. Adrenaline and fear filled my body and I stopped dead in my tracks unable to move. I peaked inside Kenny’s apartment and saw his bedroom door was opened. I could see Kenny’s right foot hanging off his bed. I could not go inside. I ran downstairs to the punk rock neighbors house and rapped on the door. When they answered I told them what I had heard. One of the punk rock guys raced up to go check, and told me and the other girls who had gathered to wait outside. He came back looking white, grim and morbid. “He’s dead” he said solemnly. Reportedly he was stone cold, and had puke all over the side of his face. We later found out that he overdosed on the prescribed morphine. The police arrived soon after that, and then the coroner. The weird thing is that when someone is found dead they keep their body lying there while they ask questions and finish compiling their report. All of us neighbors gathered around in shock, crying, smoking and supporting one another.

Buried with Captain Crunch
After they removed the body we took a big sheet of white paper and hung it on his door for people to sign. We then set some Catholic style candles outside the door along with flowers. We were all in total shock and morning. I was never able to truly recover from this experience. I could never forget Kenny’s prophecy on his life. Kenny’s funeral was a week or so later. All of us residents went together in one group. Kenny was well known in the Oakland scene and his funeral was packed filled, more than standing room only. It was an open casket funeral and Kenny was buried with a box of Captain Crunch (his favorite character). Kenny looked pale and white, but very handsome and stunning as he “slept” in the casket.

Full Military Honors
As we gathered graveside for the burial we expected more from the military for a war vet. The military only provided a burned out Vet with a bad tape recording of “Taps”. This pissed everybody off, especially Kenny’s Hell’s Angels family. Like something out of a weird horror movie, Kenny’s brother slapped the tape out of the Vet’s hand and cursed him for disrespecting Kenny’s service. After that, the crowd went dead silent for a couple seconds. Breaking the silence was the piercing and tormented male voice who yelled out “Kenny”. Just like that the crowd went wild…. We all started crying out Kenny’s name. Shout outs of love, admiration and sorrow. We all then had a turn for a final goodbye. Stoically, I kissed the hard cold casket, and walked away.

Kenny was 27 years old… the same age as Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimmy Hendrix. A cheap plastic cup marks his grave, with a record number. I doubt he has a headstone to this day.

I moved soon after that, my year in the ghetto ended. I will never forget the experience… and I will never forget my friend Kenny. Miss you baby!
xxxxoooooooooo.


Every day I wake up
I hope I’m dreamin
I can’t believe this shit
Can’t believe you ain’t here
Sometimes it’s just hard for a nigga to wake up
It’s hard to just keep goin
It’s like I feel empty inside without you bein here
I would do anything man, to bring you back
I’d give all this shit, shit the whole knot
I saw your son today
He look just like you
You was the greatest
You’ll always be the greatest
I miss you big
Can’t wait til that day, when I see your face again
I can’t wait til that day, when I see your face again...

Yeah... this right here (tell me why)
Goes out, to everyone, that has lost someone
That they truly loved (c’mon, check it out)

Verse one: puff daddy

Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show
I laced the track, you locked the flow
So far from hangin on the block for dough
Notorious, they got to know that
Life ain’t always what it seem to be (uh-uh)
Words can’t express what you mean to me
Even though you’re gone, we still a team
Through your family, I’ll fulfill your dream (that’s right)
In the future, can’t wait to see
If you open up the gates for me
Reminisce some time, the night they took my friend (uh-huh)
Try to black it out, but it plays again
When it’s real, feelings hard to conceal
Can’t imagine all the pain I feel
Give anything to hear half your breath (half your breath)
I know you still living your life, after death

Chorus: faith evans

Every step I take, every move I make
Every single day, every time I pray
I’ll be missing you
Thinkin of the day, when you went away
What a life to take, what a bond to break
I’ll be missing you

[puff] I miss you big

Verse two: puff daddy

It’s kinda hard with you not around (yeah)
Know you in heaven smilin down (eheh)
Watchin us while we pray for you
Every day we pray for you
Til the day we meet again
In my heart is where I’ll keep you friend
Memories give me the strength I need (uh-huh) to proceed
Strength I need to believe
My thoughts big I just can’t define (can’t define)
Wish I could turn back the hands of time
Us in the 6, shop for new clothes and kicks
You and me taking flicks
Makin hits, stages they receive you on
I still can’t believe you’re gone (can’t believe you’re gone)
Give anything to hear half your breath (half your breath)
I know you still living you’re life, after death

Chorus

[faith evans] somebody tell me why

Interlude: faith evans

On that morning
When this life is over
I know
I’ll see your face

Outro: 112

Every night I pray, every step I take
Every move I make, every single day
Every night I pray, every step I take
[puff] every day that passes
Every move I make, every single day
[puff] is a day that I get closer
[puff] to seeing you again
Every night I pray, every step I take
[puff] we miss you big... and we won’t stop
Every move I make, every single day
[puff] cause we can’t stop... that’s right
Every night I pray, every step I take
Every move I make, every single day
[puff] we miss you big
*music fades out*

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