Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Wilderness Years - Afterglow

 When we last saw our hero (before our detour into the Tale of Veronica) he was walking out of the club with a different woman as Veronica walked the other way with Franco. He had awakened after a brief snooze naked and grinning in a strange place, dressed, then crept like a cat out the front door. He was standing at the top of Mt. North Oakland, the king of all he could see, a bit like Yertle the Turtle, the grey and dirty streets were his, this was his territory, his barrio, his fiefdom of ganja and he was now approaching the height of his powers. A seemingly endless supply of weed, money flowing like water, two bars to work out of that protected him from Johnny Law and various other asshats, and what seemed like a never-ending parade of strippers who had taken a shine to him. The only thing that still seemed off was the fact that five days a week he had to get up and drive to work, slog his way through an eight hour shift, usually hungover, with the first part of his break spent in his car smoking his one-hitter. Granted he had three guys from the warehouse on the payroll so going to work did have some advantages but not enough to offset the fact he didn't have to work anymore. 

The holiday week was a strange one at the warehouse, relatively slow but just enough to do while still leaving ample time to bullshit among the lumpen-proles. By now it was common knowledge among my co-workers, those who weren't complete dickheads or squares at least, that this job was nothing more than a front for me and that i could really give a fuck about it. Of course Kenny was left out of the loop but he was always asking questions when not prattling on about the double-wide and his "old lady", who apparently was about a decade older than Kenny with a kid who wasn't much younger than he was, needless to say when Kenny started talking most of us tuned out. On a normal week the crew usually hit the bar for lunch on Fridays but since this week was so mellow we hit it a few times. The GM was relatively cool about our extended lunch breaks, meaning if we took 45 minutes to an hour he didn't give a shit though still adding that after this week things would return to the status quo. We lumpen-proles understood and i give the GM credit for knowing how to be cool and kick a little joy to the crew. I could give a fuck cuz he could have fired me at any time and i'd have been thrilled. 

Back at the real job the weed business never slows down and this week was no exception except instead of the steady stream of customers it was more feast or famine. An hour or two of craziness followed by a distinct lull or a nickel-dimer or two. I spent most of the yuletide week hanging out in bars, drinking under the Xmas lights, bullshitting, regaling my trusted compadres with my recent adventures, ah yes ego was king back then and i did my best to subtly let the minions know that i was most definitely the alpha in the pack, even young T-bag, who i could tell always had these visions of challenging my authority had to acquiesce that if not for the King of North Oakland he would not have been banging some stripper ten years his senior, that it was i who got him into the club when he was still underage and that it was i who introduced him to the ladies of the club. I walked the streets of the East End like i was fucking Superman, invincible, still knowing the whole time that one wrong move, one pooh-butt shithead gets caught and runs their mouth and i'd be the new Queen of Cell Block A. It was a never ending game of chess. 

Once the first days of January hit it was back to the usual grind. Of course as stated running a kingdom always comes with it's fair share of hassles, the occasional crisis, the chasing down of money. On the flip side it was exactly those problems that also led to the exorbitant amounts of cheddar rolling in. By now i was an expert money counter, counting $20s out in stacks of 50, rolling them up and wrapping them with a rubber band. Some nights, usually after a Tuesday morning run where i'd see all the members of the Weight Crew, i'd be sitting in my room, money on the bed, double counting and taking my cut. I'd then put the cash going to Stiv in one safe and the money i earned in the other. At times i'd pull out the earnings safe and count the stacks of cash. I remember on the trip with Veronica, we were standing outside Selhurst Park as i explained to my mates that i had the tickets covered, they hemmed and hawed and then i explained about the little box in my room, it currently had just over 20 grand in it. Hood Rich and Hood Famous. Here i was just a few months later and that box was now overflowing, three times as much crammed in, the thoughts of another safe being purchased all while roaming the streets and never being short of cash. 

One of my first nights back in the club and there on the board was Red's name. I grinned and sat down at the end of the bar. When she walked out of the dancer's room and saw me she smiled, she was due up on stage and so i sidled over and took a seat. I watched as she danced and made her way over to me where she proceeded to spend almost half her time in front of me while i tipped heavily, which in turn put a stop to the grumbling of the other patrons due to the fact that it was the unwritten rule that if you tipped like a player you got treated like a player. There was always confusion with me seeing as i didn't walk in wearing shitloads of bling or pull up in a BMW. I was in thrift store corduroy pants and flannels and drove a $400 car. Keep 'em guessing. 

When her songs were over Red motioned me to the steps that led off the stage. It was the first time we had seen each other since that night and we were both a little shy, which is strange for two people who were last rolling around naked for a couple hours. She said hi and i said hi and we smiled. She said it was good to see me and i stated the same. Then she told me that she didn't know i had a girlfriend and i laughed and said, sorry about that and that i hoped she didn't think i was an asshole. Not at all, she said, and then shyly she leaned in close and said, i had a really great time with you and wondered if we could do it again some time. I grinned at her and whispered in her ear, of course we could, i was going to ask you the same thing. She put her arm on my shoulder and told me she needed to get dressed and that she'd be back out. I took my usual seat at the bar and commandeered another stool and she came back out and sat down. There were curious eyes but i didn't give a fuck. El Kono run fucking Bartertown. But alas the weather is always changing and as we all know the January sun only warms so much, there were always storms blowing in and this would be no exception. 

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