This is how I do it:
Pay to park even if the daily rate is steep. Campus is crazy crowded – people like hair on your head, but no reason to bitch – it’s just what I need to get the job done. Gives a brother a fighting chance to fit in even at 6’4”, 6’6” with the afro and skin as black as Bosco on a campus where pink is the color you see. Campus police think I’m here for hoops at Poly Pavilion, like a low-rent Lew Alcindor, but the fact is I’m here to get paid and I need to be on the J-O-B. UCLA got too much security rolling around in them goony bumblebee-yellow jackets ready to bust you. Can’t stand for a search with bolt cutters beneath the seat; cutters would get confiscated and without bolt cutters the hustle is seriously impaired.
If you truly want to be down you got to know bikes; can’t half-step that. You need to know what to boost; touring ten speeds from cruising bikes and you want a van, specially a bug van ’cause that’s what these hippies drive and what I sport, a psychedelic, dented-up piece of shit with smoked windows. Police can’t check every one of them. It’s good to fit in, but it’s kind of messed up ’cause most women ain’t gonna give up the leg if you driving a straight wreck. If they got sense they’d be thinking you some tripped-out, acid-dropping fiend who sleeps in the back of a van, and most of the time they’re right. I don’t drop acid, but the rest of it is true. If shit gets short, and shit always gets short, I do roll out the sleeping bag and crash in the back of the van. I ain’t complaining – I can smoke a joint and listen to myself think. Nothing wrong with that, mostly, except that sometimes the last thing I want in the world is to hear myself think. These days I’m living at the beach. I listen to the waves and that puts me to sleep if anything does. A lot of the time UCLA is overcast which is cool ’cause you got to sport a baggy shirt to cover the cutters sticking out of your pants, and then you got to find the best-looking Japanese bike ’cause nobody even looks at a Schwinn except for a corn-fed homeboy. A brother got to be organized, have the shit that needs to be done down. Get yourself a list of rules and stick to it, otherwise you will get popped and that’s a fact.
Check all the sight lines.
Have righteous tools, not that cheap shit. You can’t do good work with them cutters from Ding Pang ’cause they bend like muthafuckin’ pretzels. You slip one long arm against your thigh and push hard till you hear the chain clinking against the ground and you double-time your ass out of there.
You got be smooth to get to the van with a bike without drawing attention to yourself. Don’t want to get your foot stuck in a pedal lock and fall on your ass. That will not do.
Don’t be jumping on and riding off like narcs are on your ass. Be cool. Last month I made bank boosting at UCLA, but that was a lotta bikes and I almost got popped and that would have been grand theft. Trust this – you do not want that to happen. You can make a living boosting bikes, but if you gonna get greedy and try to make the quick killing, you ought to go ahead and buy that kilo. It’s a hell of a lot easier on a brother’s back lugging ounces than a sixty-pound bike.
Don’t bring fools with you ’cause you’ll make your life a hell of a lot harder and you make getting popped a lot more likely.
That wasn’t a lesson I could teach my damn self; don’t do what I do and let a fool like Rodney trip with you ’cause you need company. Sometimes talking to somebody is better than talking to nobody, but the brother’s a zip, conversating with him is too much work. You can’t school Rodney at all; words flow right though his head like his brain is mostly cotton. I tell him to spy out the bike he wants to jack before pulling out the cutters, but he just walks around waving them like some fuckin’ cheerleader, checking out the bikes like he’s shopping at Sears. Sure enough a white boy comes up looking like he’s got something to say.
“Hey, bro! What do you think you’re doing?”
Rodney hits him in the mouth with them bolt cutters and the white boy’s out – bloody teeth like Chicklets all over the ground.
“Come on, Holmes! We gotta book!” I yell, but no, he’s got to snake white boy’s wallet. Students don’t carry money, waste of time. So the fool leaves me to throw the fuckin’ bike on top of the others in the back of the van while he flips through a rubber wallet when I should have been driving the hell away.
“Hey, this punk just got two dollars on him. Rich motherfucking white boy ain’t got but two dollars!”
Rodney goes through his pockets one more time then kicks him. People see white boy sprawled out on the lawn behind Haines Hall and Rodney standing over him, still looking for chump change.
I hop into the van, start it up and back out, ready to leave his ass. I don’t care. Rodney runs to the broken door and jumps in, looking like I wronged him.
“Told you! I ain’t getting busted over you acting a fool, trying to kill that white boy.”
Rodney laughs like the fiend he is; only fool I know who liked being a Huey gunner shooting up gooks. I came back to the world sportin’ a nylon kneecap and a bad case of the shakes. He came back with a grin, laughing and bragging about his vacation in the country. Vietnam was the best thing that ever happened to that fool, right next to getting his ass locked up for two years for getting caught with a kilo of that rag weed he likes to smoke. Shit, if he got him himself shot in the nuts, he’d be bragging about that too. We made it out with five bikes, worth at least three hundred each. I’d be glad to get seventy-five but I’d take fifty. That red one I snatched on the north end of campus is a badass bike – eighteen gears and light. That’s mine. I’m keeping that one for myself, but that’s it for UCLA. I ain’t coming back here until next year ’cause them campus cops will be looking for two dumbass niggas. Rodney messed up a good thing ’cause he’s too stupid to know the difference between assault and battery, and larceny. One gets sixteen months, but bike jacking gets probation. Maybe Rodney wants to go back to the place; maybe he likes having a wall to put his back up against. That ain’t me; I get crazy every time I shut a door and I’m on the inside.
We roll to Venice Beach and park away from the meters and ride a couple bikes to the beach courts. A couple of brothers play up there, but it’s mostly white boys who think you straight out the cotton patch. I hate when they start with that “Yo’ bro, you got to give me a deal!” Greed just about drips off these creepy muthafuckers, like I’m so stupid I’d let them have a three-hundred-dollar bike for a six-pack of Old English and a joint. Rodney rides the twelve-speed like it’s a ratted-out trash bike; even pops a wheelie.
“Don’t dog the merchandize!”
See, he had to be in a noisy chopper ’cause if he was humping it, his deaf ass would have got blown away day one.
We watch the white boys play. Some weak ass jump shot from deep downtown creeps over the rim and some fool jumps up and down like he just won state. Players slap palms and walk off court for cold ones. Glad the game’s over before I’m tempted to get out there with my army boots and show these goofy muthafuckers what going to the rack is about. Time to do business; the biggest dope fiend I know comes up first. Everybody calls him Rockstar ’cause that’s supposed to be his gig, with his long, dirty hair and track-mark arms, but he always got a fine one on his arm, and this one’s something special. She looks so good she makes my stomach hurt. Got me thinking of Barbarella, with red hair and a face you see on magazine covers. She’s popping out of the bikini top, and the cut-off jeans can barely take the strain of holding that ass in. Rodney’s mouth falls open and he grabs his nuts like that’s gonna impress her, but she smiles like she don’t see him. Rockstar looks alarmed and steps between the girl and us.
“Nice bikes, bro. You can move these bad boys,” he says as he drags her behind him.
“I gotta get me some of that,” Rodney whispers to me, still grabbing his nuts.
I slap him upside the head.
“Don’t be doing that shit around me.”
Captain America comes up next with his narc crew cut and low-top Keds – you’d think he’d be arresting brothers and foiling bank robbers, but he’s a full-time criminal, doing burglaries in Bel Air and Beverly Hills. Said he could use me if I was white, but a black man like me gets too much attention. Reason I jack bikes at colleges is ’cause the police is more worried about Huey and Eldridge than small-time hustlers like me. Captain America inspects the new bikes, hands me forty for a good one and rides away. Lawyer comes up next, walking with his shoulders back, strutting about like his dick is so big it needs to lead. He sports a bigger afro than mine and a hairy chest with a big gold medallion riding on it. Wears them expensive aviator sunglasses, daring them other white boys to knock them off when he drives to the basket. That’s why white boys play with white boys ’cause I would have damn sure slapped them glasses off of his head saying, oops man, going for the ball.
Lawyer thinks I’m stupid, dumber than shit, maybe even dumber than Rockstar who pays this knucklehead to represent him.
“Sixty,” he says putting his hand on the bike I ain’t letting go for less than a hundred.
“Let’s take them to Zuma. Muthafuckas up there know quality,” Rodney says.
“Okay, one hundred,” he says, and comes out with five twenties.
I take them and hand him the bike. He snatches it and gets an evil look in his eye.
“See, if you knew anything about negotiating I would have gone to two hundred. Bike’s worth twice that easy,” Lawyer says.
“So should I beat your ass till it ropes like okra and take the bike back?”
I go from the shoulder and he stumbles back like I’m gonna clock his ass, and he hurries the bike over to his BMW and works it into the trunk.
I give Rodney thirty.
“This it? This is all you giving me for watching your back?”
He squints up like he wants to go through it again like the last time I slapped him upside the head. He sees I’m tired of his shit. He waves the bills at me and nods.
“Cool, Calvin,” he says.
Almost to the van when I hear a woman calling; Barbarella running up, bouncing tits and all.
“You got a bike for me?” she says, breathless.
Get silly hearing her voice. This ain’t good.
Rodney reaches for his nuts.
“Don’t go grabbing yourself, or I’m gonna yank ’em off.”
He hears me and drops them, but then he leers at her. She’s not bothered, just smiles like we’re just who she’s been looking for.
“I need a bike to ride home.”
“Home? Where’s that?” I ask, and she smiles like she know it’s too fucking far.
“Damn, that’s a hump,” Rodney says.
“Go get her the red one, the one I was saving,” I say, nudging him in the ribs.
“What about your man – can’t he get you home?”
She laughs and shakes her head. Her hair flips about and I notice the purple, swollen ear.
“How that happen?”
“What, my ear? It’s nothing,” she says like it ain’t a thing and tilts her head to hide it. I saw ears like that on boxers too stupid to cover up, but never on a girl.
She pulls four twenties from her pocket.
“Here, can I get something with this?”
She starts looking over her shoulder like she expects trouble. Rodney pulls a bike from the van and rolls it over.
“You got to sit on it so I can adjust the seat,” he says.
Bet he wants to sniff the seat. He tries to play it off, but I know he’s a freak.
“I’m sort of in a hurry,” she says glancing around nervously.
“You want me to give you a ride to Pasadena?”
“Would you?” she asks, looking at me like I’m a big ass lifesaver.
“Throw that back in there,” I tell Rodney.
“Come on,” I say to her and lead her to the van. I open the door and help her in.
Rodney gets in looking too happy to be sitting next to her.
“Get in the back.”
“I said the back,” and he gets out mumbling about me being a dog, but yeah, what he’s gonna do about it. I see him stumbling, trying to find somewhere to sit around the bikes. Then when I’m pulling out, a BMW cuts us off. It’s Rockstar and that fucking scumbag Lawyer. I grab Barbarella by the shoulder and push her to the floor. “Stay down,” I say to her and she nods.
“Where’s the girl?” Lawyer shouts at me from the window of his BMW. See, I’m already pissed and now he’s yelling at me like I work for his sorry ass.
“Who the fuck you yelling at?”
Oh, yeah. I heard him bragging about being a hard ass from New York. Fuck New York. One word and I will beat his ass like he never had it beat.
“Looking for his girlfriend,” Lawyer says pointing to Rockstar.
“Yeah. Saw her hitching over there.”
“What if I said I don’t believe you?” Rockstar shouts.
Rodney sticks the sawed-off shotgun out of the side window and waves it.
“I’d say you might get your stupid ass seriously dead.”
Rockstar sucks his teeth and gives me a finger and they burn out at the lie.
I turn south on PCH, wondering will I see them in my rear-view mirror on a suicide run.
“What’s this shit about?” I ask when Barbarella pops up from hiding on the floor, then I see the expensive leather backpack.
“What’s in there?”
“I dunno,” she says lying so badly I got to laugh.
“Let me see.”
She looks down at the floor ’cause she knows she’s got to give it up.
“You know I ain’t joking.”
She glances up at me and slides the backpack over to me.
It’s heavier than fuck. I yank it into my lap, steering with my knees, and unzip it and see. The bag is packed with bricks of twenties.
“You stole those fools blind.”
“Hey, so you some kind of operator?” I ask, and she meets my eyes then turns her head away.
“They owe me. They owe me a lot more than this,” she says, with a knife’s edge to her voice.
“What they do to you?”
She shakes her head and looks out of the window.
“I need you to help me,” she says and flips her hair, like white girls do on TV.
“Keep those fuckers away from me.”
“Well, I’d just about do that for free.”
She looks away from me again, and mumbles something I barely make out; I realized it was thanks.
“You’re welcome,” I say.
Can’t say anything bad about Thailand, and what’s good about being in Nam. Shit, you never lived until you got some cash and the time to spend it in Bangkok. I could be back there in forty-eight hours. Thailand is cool ’cause you pay for it and I’m okay with that. You pay for everything and everything is cheap and you know what you’re getting, what you can afford. See, this is why I pay for it. I ain’t gonna lie. I get turned out by a pretty face. Most brothers lie. Talk about how they can handle it, how no woman can touch them. Can’t get them to do what they don’t want to do. Not in my case. Not me. I’m nothing but a zip damn fool. If I pay for it I know what I’m buying, no illusions about it. One thing I know, one thing I know is true, is this pretty piece of ass is gonna cost me more than I’d ever pay in a lifetime.
“What’s your name?” she asks in a honey-butter voice.
I shrug, ’cause I know what she’s gonna do when I tell her.
“Rogue,” I say.
“Your name is really Rogue?”
“My last name. My first name is Calvin.”
“I can see why you go by Rogue.”
“Why you trust me? How you know I’m not going to rip you off?”
Her face goes dead. Then she smiles ’cause she knows just how to play this.
“I could tell.”
“I could trust you.”
She’s right about that. She can trust the fuck out of me, but it’s clear as fucking day that she’s on some caper, running game. Of course, if I wasn’t totally sprung I would have jacked the cash, like any sensible niggah would have.
“How do you know that? Because I didn’t throw you out and steal your bank?”
“You got to give me more credit than that. Just because a woman shows leg doesn’t mean she’s an imbecile.”
“An imbecile. You know, a fool.”
“Oh. I could use that.”
“Hey, Rogue!” I hear Rodney’s irritating voice from behind the curtain.
“What you want, you imbecile!”
“Man, I got to take a piss and why you calling me an im-be-whatever the fuck you said.”
“Hold it till we get to Pasadena.”
I look at her again; the whole time I’m driving I been trying not to. Didn’t want that, to see how beautiful she is.
“You talking to me like you know me, giving me advice and all, but I don’t even know your name,” I say to her. She looks at me and smiles.
“What do you think it is?”
“How would I know that?”
“I’m asking you. What do you think?”
“You want me to guess?”
“Shit, I dunno.”
“What’s a good name for me?”
“I don’t know, but when I saw you I thought you looked like that woman from that crazy movie, what’s her name.”
“I like Barbarella, that’s cute. I just saw it.”
She pats me on the leg, and oh, yeah, I’m in it to win it.
Rodney keeps begging me to pull over, but I don’t want to. I need to get rid of this girl before I lose it. Yeah, common sense is about to bail big time. We roll over the big hill between Eagle Rock and Pasadena and I am ready to part company.
I stop at a gas station and Rodney rushes out of the van to the restroom. I pull her bike out and roll it around to her.
“Far as I go.”
She looks hurt. “I thought you were going to drive me home?”
“I said Pasadena.”
“But it’s not that much farther.”
I shrug. “I grew up in Pasadena and I do my best to keep my ass out.”
She looks at me like she couldn’t process what I was saying. “We’re almost there. You don’t have to drive much more, just near Lake, south of California.”
I have to laugh at that. Shit, the police kept nigger beaters in their patrol cars just for knuckleheads driving around with white girls. If they happen to roll up now and find cash and a fine ass white girl, I might as well get it out of the way and shoot myself in the head.
She didn’t say a thing; just looks at me with her blue eyes, not even blinking, using mind control that women do to break down men – stupid ass, nose open, sprung men like me.
“Look, I helped you out, but I’ve got to draw the line about Pasadena.”
“My father has a big house. You can pull right into the garage and go right in and nobody will see you.”
“He’s cool with you hanging with a big ass nigger who jacks bikes?”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” she says, and slips her hand into mine.
Rodney comes out of the restroom loaded; must have smoked a fat one. I hand him four twenties. He grins like it’s his birthday and gets back into the rear of the van.
I can feel it coming, what I’ve tried to avoid since I got out of jail, the kind of trouble that gets your dick hard, that gets you hoping for silly shit, like a woman treating you right.
If you pick your spots, and hunker down and take care of your own business, you get by, you get short. When you want more, that’s when you get got. That was true in Nam and it’s damn sure true back here in the world.
Be smart doing something stupid.