How We Rolled

August 28, 2021

I wanted to write a memoir but the connective tissue of the memoir didn’t interest me. I wanted to render memories that would pop up like mushrooms and quickly vanish. I owe much to where I was raised, in a black neighborhood where people talked to each other and spent time on the porch and on the corner, as did my brothers and their friends as they smoked weed, drank Mickey Big Mouths and Heinekens, and talked all the time about the insanity of Vietnam, nuclear war, and H.P. Lovecraft, and from there they’d segue into the adventures of the many memorable characters in the neighborhood. I tried to do that here. A new installment will appear here every Saturday this and next month.

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I always felt Jonathan Gold was down with black folk because he was chill and understated, and never said stupid and awkward shit that would make you reconsider hanging with him. He told me stories about his days hanging out with NWA while they were recording and producing hip hop that would forever change rap. He told me that they called him Nervous Cuz, a true endearment if I ever heard one. I like to think what made black artists trust him is that he got rousted by the police now and then.

Once we were arrested and all we were doing was driving home from a high-end Beverly Hills restaurant he was reviewing. Because he didn’t tell me where we were going and I didn’t ask, I had on basketball shorts and a superhero t-shirt. We got pulled over because he kept it real; he didn’t pay his tickets or his tags in a timely fashion. I didn’t really give a shit about the high-end restaurant in Beverly Hills, where it was so expensive we had to stay in the bar area to avoid draining his expense account. He ordered some kind of seafood mousse in a jar for me to try. I tried it but the big jagged hunks of maybe it was salt but it wasn’t like any salt I ever had.

“This shit is weird, the salt … I think it’s salt but it’s not dissolving.”

“What!” he said, “The food is great here.” Then he scooped some of the thick pudding texture into a bowl, and his eyes got big. Don’t eat it. The jar imploded. That’s not salt, that’s glass.

The snooty waitress saw that we were shocked and surprised.

She came to the table, her eyes flashing annoyance. I thought he’d nut up and tell her to bring the bill and then curse her out and denounce the restaurant as upscale bullshit and say he wasn’t going to pay for this bullshit. But he didn’t. He was J-Gold chill. He paid as though nothing had happened and as he drove away I asked if he would mention that in his food review. He shook his head as though mousse served with jagged glass chunks was something he was familiar with and wasn’t put off by.

Later, as he drove us back to Pasadena, he made a left turn on a red light. We were still in Beverly Hills, but barely, though it was good enough for Beverly Hills police to instantly appear.

I knew the drill, I put my hands on the dash and waited for orders to step out of the car to stand for a search. Jonathan, though, was annoyed.

“Did I do something wrong?” he said sharply to the LAPD, now at our window.

“You made a right turn on a red light, and in Beverly Hills that is not permitted.”

“You’re ticketing me for that?”

Ignoring Jonathan’s question, the Beverly Hills cop moved closer to his window.

“I need to see your license and registration.”

My heart raced. I knew J-Gold often didn’t have an up-to-date license, possibly to match his expired tags. My fear is that he would be arrested and I’d have to find my way back to Pasadena near midnight, walking through neighborhoods close to where I was raised.

J-Gold handed the cop a tattered paper, his registration and license.

“Step out of the car,” the police said. Those were the words I didn’t want to hear as J-Gold unbuckled his seatbelt and stepped out of the truck. My hope was if they were taking Jonathan to jail I might be able to drive the truck back to Pasadena. Then the Cop ordered me out of the truck too. The Cop’s partner was asking J-Gold to walk the line that he had drawn onto to the sidewalk. J-Gold mostly stayed on the line, but the cop wasn’t paying attention.

“Your insurance expired two months ago,” the Cop said to J-Gold.

Jonathan seemed to take offense at the expired insurance comment. He bent himself in a low bow and said, “I didn’t mean to offend you, sir.” J-Gold had gone full Falstaff and continued with the theatrical bowing. The cop backed away and put his hand on his holster.

“I could take you to jail,” he said to Jonathan, “or I could tow this truck away and you two can find your way home.”

But it didn’t seem to register with Jonathan. Usually Jonathan was chill but not in this instance. I guess he really didn’t like cops and just shrugged when the tow truck appeared and his truck was towed away, leaving us under a freeway over pass. I feared the worse, two middle-aged dudes hanging out in the hood after midnight.

I thought about a taxi but they might not show up and my phone was about dead and I was surprised that his phone still had a charge.

“I’m going to call Laurie.”

The call was short, as though Laurie was expecting it. Jefferson was so dead that it was Night-of-the-Living-Dead creepy. I didn’t want to see anyone walk towards us because if they did it was probably going to be a jack at best. We couldn’t even banter to cheer ourselves up, because if you grew up in LA your car breaking down somewhere problematic was always a possibility. As a teenager I’d been clocked and beat until I saw cartoon stars, saw a shotgun pointed point blank at me.

Sailors had to respect the sea and those of us from the westside avenues had to respect the jack.

Laurie got there quickly to my relief and we were safely on our way home and lived to tell the tale.

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Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and got his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. He is the author of six books, including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. Currently he is the Executive Director of “Literature for Life,” an educational advocacy organization, and Creative Director of The Pasadena LitFest. His latest novel is Monster’s Chef.