“Your hair’s looking nice today, miss,” he’ll call from the hood of the car where he’s perched. He’ll make eye contact with you.
You and your girls will giggle. He’ll see this as an invitation.
“Y’all are so pretty,” he’ll say. He knows he’s got to compliment the bunch to get one. Your fast friend will say, “Thanks,” pout her lips then pop her gum. You’ll keep your head down, but you’ll smile. He’ll hop down off the hood, slide up beside you.
“Especially you,” he’ll say. “So uh, you got a boyfriend?”
Look at his footwear first. If his sneakers are dusty don’t even bother. Tell him, “Sorry, I’m taken,” even if you’re not. He’ll try to say some smooth shit like, “Well, we could just be friends, right? I’m just tryna meet new people. No harm in that.”
Tell him, “Nah. I can’t. I’m sorry.” The apologies are key. If he thinks you’re giving too much attitude that could result in a “Whatever bitch” and then your girls will chime in and you don’t want all that drama on a Thursday afternoon. Keep it cordial.
“I’m saying, like, we can just hang out. Go out to dinner. I know you like to eat,” he’ll say, raising his eyebrows and eyeing your thighs.
Chuckle, but say, “No, my boyfriend wouldn’t like that.”
If he’s a fiend, he’ll keep trying, most likely, though, he’ll throw in the towel. “I feel it,” he’ll say, turning to saunter off, all the while thinking he should’ve went for the fast friend instead.
But if the sneakers are crisp, take a good look at his face. All he needs is a nice smile and fresh Caesar and you can work with it. If he’s light skinned with light eyes you’ll think you hit the jackpot. When he asks if you have a boyfriend smile and say, “Nah.”
Laugh a little. Indulge him. Let him walk beside you for a bit. Tell your friends, “I’ll catch up.” Make small talk. Tell him you go to a good school in Manhattan with “a bunch of white people.” He’ll think it’s cool you don’t just go to the zone school, “Oh, that’s why I never seen you around here.”
He’ll think he’s got a good one. Meanwhile, you’ll like that he goes to the school up the block and says “Whattup?” to the guys in front of the bodega when he passes. You’re impressed by the way he flows through the ’hood so comfortably. You hope that’ll make you down by association. And you know that if anyone tried to fuck with you he’d protect you. You like that the most. And you’d hold him down, too. You always wanted to be a ride-or-die chick. When he asks for your number, give it to him.
In high school, I thrived on catcalls. Fuck what the feminists say. I might’ve been feeling my look one day, but I had to hear a guy confirm it. I think it’s an inner-city thing. In the South, dudes with Southern drawls call sweet “hey shawty’s,” when fine girls walk by. That sort of thing would’ve made my knees weak. But, since I grew up in Brooklyn, I got “yo ma’s” and those worked pretty well, too.
In freshman year of high school, my m.o., and my girl Kerrecia’s, was to get holla’d at; get bagged, get chose. We would wear tight Antik Denims copped from a hole in the wall on Canal Street, modeling our jeans for the trio of Nigerian brothers who ran the shop before we made our purchases, “Does my butt look good?” If we got their approval, we knew we’d be wearing them to Kings Plaza on the weekend; the only mall us Brooklyn kids had, and where all the flyest guys hung out. Chilling there on Saturday afternoons, flirting, and drinking milkshakes from Johnny Rockets felt suburban and I loved that; the type of shit I’d seen in Disney Channel movies. Plus, it was a harmless place to tell our parents we’d be spending our time. Little did they know there were always fights breaking out in front of the Häagen-Dazs.
Kerrecia was much better at the game than I was. She’d had boyfriends since I met her in the ninth grade. Most at least five years older than her. And even though she told me she never had sex with any of them, when we cut school to chill at their houses, she and her dude would hole up in his bedroom for hours, while I sat in the living room reading urban novels.
At Kings Plaza, Kerrecia had confidence. Her slim hips switched, she ran her manicured fingers through her perfectly flat-ironed hair at random, flashed her flawless smile. Her face was blemishless and always shiny from the layer of Vaseline she slathered on. It made her glow.
I, on the other hand, always had flyaways, the waist on my jeans was always too big and I had a mouth full of braces. Some guys liked that I never got it quite right, maybe it showed innocence. But mostly, I think they liked that I stayed fresh; in the Rocawear, Akademiks, and Echo Red threads that had “fallen off a truck,” and a knockoff designer bag dangling casually from the crook of my elbow, I had the ’hood rich uniform. And my big waistband was a result of a nice waist to ass ratio (which has never failed to work in my favor).
Still, whenever a guy yelled out “Yo ma!” while walking up behind Kerrecia and me as we window-shopped at Aeropostale, it was almost always for her. And I always got stuck with the corny friend, doomed to spend more afternoons, sitting on a couch in East New York, when I should’ve been in math class, while Kerrecia and the boy of the week “didn’t have sex.”
This part is key: when he texts you, don’t respond for at least an hour. The point is to appear unbothered, even if you did a silent happy dance when you saw his name pop up on the screen of your Sidekick 3. You want him to think he’s not your priority, even if you’ve been secretly fantasizing about what his name embossed on a gold chain would look like around your neck. He’ll probably hit you with a “Good morning” text. He’ll think this shows extra care. He wants you to know you were the first thing on his mind when he woke up. You’ll fall for it instantly.
You’ll know it’s really real, though, when he calls you late at night to hear you whisper in the phone in a tone low enough that your parents can’t hear you from their bedroom across the hall. It’s during these talks that you’ll be your most honest. You’ll imagine him in a bedroom a few blocks away, you’ll find closeness in the thought that you’re both lying on pillows, looking out at the same moon. You’ll tell him about your parents, how much they annoy you. He’ll tell you to be grateful that they care so much; his pops is “bum-ass nigga” and he hasn’t seen him in years. You’ll ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. He’ll tell you he doesn’t really know yet, but that he does want to be able to cop nice things for his mom and his little brothers, maybe move them all into a house one day. You’ll be surprised at his sensitivity, and sure he’d never opened up to a girl like this before. “I just want to be good, you know? Have my shit straight,” he’ll say.
When you hear the creak of your parents’ door, and your dad’s heavy footsteps in the hallway, hang up quick. Shove your phone under your pillow, pretend you’re asleep.
Your nightly chats will go on for two weeks, max. You will officially be “talking.” The equivalent of “dating” but it sounds less formal, less committed. You’ll come to learn that the dudes you’ll fuck with later in life won’t be too keen on titles or commitment either.
When Friday rolls around, he’ll ask, “What you doin’ tonight?”
The movies will be your best bet. He’ll want to see a late show, but tell him 8:00 p.m. is good. You don’t want your mom to start trippin’ and calling your phone when you’re in the theater. You don’t want to have to run the bathroom to answer. To really cover your tracks, invite one of your homegirls and tell him to bring a friend for her. Tell your mom just you and your girl are catching a movie. She’ll be suspicious, but because she knows the game, she won’t challenge you too much.
He’ll buy your ticket, and whatever snacks you want, too. You’ll love being treated. You’ll feel like a woman.
When the lights dim in the theater he’ll grab your hand. Tilt your face up, let your eyes lock.
Ultimately, when I finally pulled the guy who would fulfill my ’hood fantasies, it wasn’t one I’d snagged on the street, or at Kings Plaza, it was all thanks to a set-up. My friend Maya knew I was the greatest wingwoman, so she’d always call me with double-date propositions. And since my Upper West Side high had very few eligible bachelors of color, I almost always agreed to tag along.
Her call came on a Thursday: “Hey girl, want to go to Court Street theater with these guys I just met, tomorrow? It’ll be so fun, I think you’ll really like my guy’s friend, Marcus.”
I don’t remember what we saw, we were sitting in the very back row and I was too distracted by Marcus’s teeth, tongue, and lips on my neck. His breath smelled like grape Dutchs, sweet and smoky. Maya was beside me giggling. I don’t think she and her guy even saw the trailers.
When we left the theater, Marcus made the entire 10-block walk to the train with his arms wrapped around my waist, his crotch pressed against my ass, and his legs spread out wide because his jeans were hanging down so low. In the station, he pinned me against the cool wall tiles and pulled me into his puffy North Face jacket for a goodbye kiss. I felt tiny. I looked up at him, his braids were frizzy, his eyes were kind of beady. Marcus was no Chris Brown but he had charisma, I was drawn to him. When I got home my mom asked why I had a purple bruise on my neck. I told her it was nothing, secretly beaming with pride.
Invite him over when your parents go out of town. Since your house doubles as a bed and breakfast you can have your choice of room. Don’t take him up to the top floor where you and your parents’ bedrooms are. Your dad never cleans the bathroom and your room is juvenile, and you and your dude are about to do adult shit. Choose the Ashante Suite, it’s afrocentric and cozy. The lighting is perfect — amber and dim. It has the biggest bed in the house.
When he rings the bell, come to the door in boy shorts and thigh high socks. Neither of you will acknowledge your house; that it’s the biggest on the block, and how strange it is to have a lawn in the center of Bed-Stuy. You’ll wonder why he doesn’t say anything, but be glad he doesn’t. You never quite knew how to talk about your house and wealth without sounding like an asshole. How to say that it’s not how it looks. That the big house has an even bigger mortgage and you don’t really have it that good. That your parents argue about money all the time. Later he’ll tell you the house surprised him when he walked up and that you could’ve “warned a nigga.”
As you lead him upstairs turn and say, “I just rolled a j.”
Marcus and I texted off-and-on for a few months after our double-date: “How’s school? I hope you’re doing good,” but we didn’t see each other again until almost four months later when I’d developed a pretty serious love of marijuana and was constantly trying to get it for free. I texted him one Friday after school: “Hey, you tryna roll up? Would be nice to see you again.”
His response came quickly, “Absolutely. Come through to my place. Take the 3 train to Van Siclen.”
I was only trying to stop by to smoke. I had plans to go to a friend’s loft in Williamsburg afterward and drink the bottles of Moët our girl had swiped from her parents’ liquor store.
I called Maya, “I’m on my way to Marcus’s house. How random.”
Maya laughed, “Awwww. That’s cool. But yo, be careful. His neighborhood’s kind of sketchy. You should have him meet you at the train station.”
Marcus gave me a bear hug and kissed me on my cheek when I pushed through the turnstile.
“It’s really good to see you,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s good to see you too,” I smiled.
We walked the six blocks to his place; public housing projects called The Linden Houses. On our way, I told him about Maya’s warning.
“She ain’t lying, yo,” he said. He pointed to an overgrown field to our left. “They dump mad bodies in that field. And niggas stay shooting up my building. But you gonna be good, though. You with me,” he laughed and put his arm around my shoulder. I nestled into him.
The sun had set by the time we approached his place. The street lights in the courtyards dividing each building in his complex had just started to flicker on. We were steps from the entrance of his building when a woman walked into our path.
“Whattup, Marcus?” She was jittery, her short hair was slicked back, revealing patches of scalp, and her body was squeezed into a metallic catsuit. She was puffing on a Newport and had her arm draped around a short guy with a five-o’clock shadow.
“Hey,” Marcus said.
“Imma see you later,” she said, laughing, as the short guy nuzzled her neck. We nodded goodbyes and kept walking. “She pretty!” she croaked from the distance.
Marcus turned and yelled, “I know!”
“That was my mom,” he said a few moments later.
I nodded. “Oh, cool.”
I was quiet on the elevator ride up to his apartment. Reading the mess of names tagged on the elevator walls, most of them money-centered; “J-Ca$h” layered over “G-Money” layered over “Gun$$.” I recalled the past summer, when I tagged “GlynnVogue” all over the walls of the L train in Sharpie. It had felt so good to put my name on something, to claim that space on the wall and leave a mark.
Marcus’s apartment was sparse. Through his unfurnished living room, I could see into the kitchen, a single milk crate sat perched in front of an open stove. The lights were fluorescent and harsh. The floors were linoleum. Everything was washed in the yellow of age. Nothing about it felt homey.
“You ain’t never seen shit like this, huh?” Marcus asked leadingly.
“Shit,” I shrugged casually, “I’m chilling.”
He raised his eyebrows. There was no amount of slang I could use, my good girl demeanor had given me away.
“Where’s the bud at though?” I laughed, hitting him playfully on the shoulder.
“My room. Come here.”
I followed him to his room where he put a dimebag and a Dutch in my hand. He sat on his bed, but I chose a seat at the foot of it. Posters of basketball players were tacked to the walls. In the corner, tall stacks of sneaker boxes brushed the ceiling. I rolled, using my long acrylic nails to tuck the leaf just right, while he watched.
“How you been though?” he asked, reaching over to squeeze my knee. His touch felt harmless. I’d been alone with guys in their rooms before, but for the first time in a while, I didn’t think this guy was about to try some shit. I felt confident in Marcus’s presence, he was looking at me like I was valuable.
“Pretty chill. I’m going to Europe this summer with this exchange program. My parents are making me do it, but I guess it’ll be dope.” I sparked the blunt.
“Yeah,” he nodded, reaching over to take a hit. “That’ll definitely be dope. You always doing big things. I’m happy for you. Shit, I’m proud of you.”
“I guess,” I said, looking down, embarrassed. “Anyway, what have you been up to?”
“You know, same shit different day.” He blew out a thick cloud of smoke.
“Word.” I said. We smoked in silence for a while, the energy between us was warm.
I looked down at the blunt, it’d burned down to a roach, so I butted it, passing it over to him.
“For your clip stash,” I said standing. “I should get going, I have this thing to go to.”
“I feel it. I’ll walk you back to the train.”
As we rode back down in the elevator Marcus turned to me, “We should do this again sometime. It was really nice to see you.”
“Yeah,” I nodded.
You won’t wonder why you ever fetishized him the way you did until many years later, he was human, just like you — his world was real. You both had dreams, but you had access, privilege. You’d been attracted to his swag, his fearlessness, and his power, but later you’ll realize most of that was just a necessary shield. You didn’t know what happened on the block when the street lights came on and were afraid to find out. He might have been afraid, too.
When it ends, because it will end, tell yourself it’s because you didn’t call, even though the phone works both ways. Sometimes you’ll think of him when you see young lovers locked in embraces outside of high schools. You’ll wonder if he thinks of you, if he remembers that girl he talked to that time. You’ll wonder if he still lives around the way or if he made it out.
Glynn Pogue is a writer with wanderlust from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. She’s currently at work on a memoir dealing with race, class, identity, and her beloved Brooklyn ’hood. Find her prose in Essence, Jezebel, Vol.1 Brooklyn, and at glynnpogue.com.