Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Saints and Sinners

"I don't think you understand" he said, narrowing his eyes until they were two black slashes across his face.
"I don't think you understand" I said, "I don't take requests. Period"
"Do you know who the fuck I am?" he asked.
"A better question would be to ask if I cared." I replied. I knew who he was, he was known as 'Saint' and he was a NY drug dealer with a reputation for violence, who came down on the Amtrak every weekend from Brooklyn with his posse to sell crack on the street corners of DC.
He pulled out his wallet and removed a $50 bill. "Alright, no problem. I'll give you this if you play my record in the next ten minutes" he thrust the $50 forward. "I already told you." I said "I don't take requests." He nodded, "OK, then, I'll give you a ball." he took out another $50. "No bet." I said, "No requests."

He stepped back, his eyes now alive with anger. We were about the same height, same build. I wasn't afraid of fighting him, it was his posse that was the problem. They ran 12-15 deep, a pack of wild teenagers who rode the train with him and had no problems jumping somebody if so directed. I had seen them stomp out a dude once when Saint had asked his girlfriend for her phone number. When she refused, Saint smacked her in the face with an empty Moet bottle and when her boyfriend came to her aid, Saint's boys jumped him.

It was 1988 and Ronald Reagan's Central American policies had caused the country to be flooded with cheap cocaine. Smugglers returning from Nicaragua, generals in Guatemala, Noriega in Panama; all were US backed at home and had joined in on the cocaine pipeline on the side. The advent of cheap powder coke made crack cocaine possible, which had lead to an epidemic of abuse. New York City got crack first on the East Coast and soon dealers were spreading out looking for new territory. Washington DC had no local mafia to organize or restrict drug trade, so NY dealers set up wherever they wanted, battling local crews for the right to sell on that block. The resulting explosion of violence had made DC the "Murder Capitol" of the country.

Many of those kids after a weekend of making money would head to the Eastside nightclub in SW DC, where I was the Saturday night DJ, to spend their loot and release the day's tension. The Eastside was known for the pretty Howard coeds who flocked there in droves every Friday and Saturday night to get their boogie on. Wherever there are pretty young women, young men are sure to follow and so the Eastside quickly became the place to be. The club could hold about 1700 patrons at max capacity, but there would often be a line outside that stretched three city blocks. Half street, on the front side of the club would have bumper to bumper traffic for six or seven blocks before the block the club was on. We called the long line of cars 'the Parade', some kids would come every weekend just to hang outside the club and be seen and mingle.

It was just such a Saturday night when Saint had knocked on the door of the DJ booth to request a record, this despite the sign on the door that informed anyone who could read that we didn't take requests. Most DJs when faced with a record request, just lie and say they'll play it. Because most requests are for popular records that they will play at some point anyway, most patrons are none the wiser. But no nightclub DJ worth his salt would ever really take requests, because most of the skill in spinning records comes from knowing when to play what record, what we call 'building a set'. The Set list is what allows you to manipulate the crowd and build the intensity until it reaches a climax, then you hit them with your prime material to set them off.

Saint was now really upset, he was used to getting his way, when charm didn't work, he tried money and when that didn't work he generally got violent. He balled up the two bills in his hand and then hit me in the face with them. "Either you play my record or I'll bust a cap in your ass." The money bounced off my shoulders and fell to the floor of the DJ booth. He turned and left the booth and I quickly locked the door behind him. "What are you gonna do?" my light man Scooter wanted to know. "Fuck him" I said "I don't take requests and I aint starting now." Scooter had known me long enough to know how stubborn I was, but this time he thought I was just plain being stupid. he tried to talk me out of it, but I wasn't budging.

I paged Don, the biggest bouncer we had to the DJ booth. He was 6'6" and weighed 350 pounds if he weighed an ounce. "What's up?" he asked when Scooter let him in. "We got a slight problem." Scooter said. "Don't worry." Don said, "I'll squash it. Who is it?" "Saint" Scooter and I said at almost exactly the same time. Don turned ashen, "What's he want?" "He wants me to play a record" I said, "OK, play the record then" Don said. "No dice." I said, "He wants to hear 'It Takes Two' by Rob Base and I won't be playing that for at least two hours." Don wanted to know if I could just play it now and then play it again later. "No." I said. Don peeked out the giant plexiglas window that covered the front of the booth, Saint was standing at the front bar staring back at the DJ booth with a scowl on his face. "Well" said Don, "You got a problem I can't help you with, they don't pay me enough to eat bullets." he turned to leave, "You better call Johnny."

Johnny, was Johnny Walker, the head of our security and a DC cop. He was also the one Eastside employee that liked me the least. Johnny was one of those cats that was always mad and always miserable. There were two kinds of humans though, that he really couldn't stand, criminals and women. When he was in a good mood he treated them with disdain, when he was in a bad mood it was utter contempt. As was to be expected, he was very popular with the ladies. Despite the way he treated them, girls lined up to be with him. Part of it was the absolute confidence he strolled through the club with, a confidence partly born from the 9mm Glock in the small of his back and the snub-nosed .38 he wore strapped to his ankle. Johnny walked like somebody who was in charge and as head of security, he was. He answered only to the club's owner and the other managers steered clear of him. Everyone's safety depended on him and his team of bouncers and off-duty cops. The Eastside was very popular destination for drug dealers and Johnny's mantra was "No weapons and no product" in the club. Everyone who entered was frisked and wanded down, only Johnny and the other cops were armed inside the club.

Despite the fact that I was neither a criminal or a woman, Johnny had a special hatred for me. Every Friday I'd sit at the bar before the club opened and relax by reading a book and every Friday Johnny would come past and remind me that when he was in High School he used to beat up "book reading punks" just for exercise. He'd also remind me that if not for my spinning records "No bitch would ever give you the time of day." Which may have very well been true. Well, except of course for the nerdy ones. But Johnny fancied himself a player and me a lucky bum. As you might imagine, part of his anger was due to a situation with a particular woman. L was a very pretty Howard student who had shown up two Septembers ago with the current crop of Freshman, she ran with a crew of lovelies who used to show up real early and try to get into the club for free.

The Eastside like many other nightclubs would often let attractive women in for free, it was very, very good for business. Thus scores of young girls would arrive early hoping to be chosen that week. Johnny spotted L. right away and always chose her and her friends. What none of us knew then was that she was a sixteen year old Freshman. The drinking age in DC then was only 18, it was one of the last places in the country to raise the drinking age and did so only when forced to by the federal government. L. however had her older sister's ID and used it to gain entry to whatever club or party she wanted. To make a long story even longer, L. was extremely bright, as one might expect a sixteen year old attending college to be, she was also mature beyond her years. She peeped Johnny's game right away and refused all his advances. This frustrated him to no end, but didn't stop him from granting her free entry every week.

Her third week at the club, she passed my corner of the bar and asked me what I was reading, when I said Frantz Fanon, she asked "Black Skins, White Masks or The Wretched of the Earth?" Needless to say, I was impressed. We talked and exchanged numbers. When Johnny found out he was livid. He held his tongue for about a month, but when she started showing up at the club with me, it was too much for him to take. He cornered her and asked her how she could possibly reject him for me, her answer was because she found men who read books like her father to be sexy, and it drove him absolutely mad. He never passed up an opportunity to give me a side-eye or grit his grill. Eventually L. and I broke up, in part due to me finding out she was only sixteen years old. But Johnny never forgot.

Then came the incident. One weekend, I stepped outside the Emergency Exit next to the DJ Booth to catch a breath of fresh air. There was a group of young boys standing there and they asked me to let them in. When I refused they started offering me money, when they got to $200 apiece, I relented. It was a stupid thing to do, even for $1000 dollars. I had Shaun the bouncer who covered that door, frisk them real quick and they disappeared in to the darkness of the club. As Murphy's Law would have it, they ened up getting stupid drunk and starting a fight in the restroom, whereupon one of them pulled out a gun. He was disarmed before he got a chance to pull the trigger, but it didn't matter. When the bouncers sorted everything out and reported back to Johnny, he was highly upset. The kids had tried to get in the front door, but two of them were too young, Johnny recognized them and asked them how they got in. One thing lead to another and I found myself in the club owner's office. Johnny was insisting that I had endangered everyone's lives and should be fired. He was probably right. But I wasn't just any employee, I was the Right Reverend DJ Renegade and along with DJ Kool the club's most popular draw. I also had an impeccable record up until that lapse of sanity. The club owner decided to give me another chance, but Johnny was beside himself. It would be years before he would forgive me for that and it took me testifying on his behalf at a trial (something I was loathe to do and only did to return the favor to the club owner for not firing me) for him to let it go.

So, because of all of this, I really didn't want to call Johnny to deal with this situation with Saint, but I didn't want to get shot either. Scooter excused himself from the booth, leaving me alone. I looked up at the bar, Saint was still there, still scowling, he pointed to his watch, then looked back up at me. I wasn't playing the record, that wasn't going to happen. I tried to cue up the next record, but my hand was so shaky it was all I could do to get the needle in the groove. I played a few more records and was starting to tell myself that maybe playing that song twice wouldn't be so bad after all. I looked around the booth for a napkin, when all the amps started kicking it could get a little hot in there. I reached behind a stack of records and plugged up the extra air conditioner that we had in the booth. Scooter had been gone a long time, that wasn't like him.

I was cueing up another record and wondering where Scooter was, when suddenly a commotion at the bar caught my eye. I couldn't see what exactly had happened but there was a crowd around someone and people were calling for help. A couple of bouncers came over and cleared the crowd back, They seemed to be staring at someone on the ground. I scanned the crowd for Saint, but didn't see him. I checked again, but still didn't see him. Scooter came back to the booth, "What happened at the bar?" I asked him. "Looks like somebody collapsed" he said. I could see Jeff, one of the cops who worked security for us, on his radio. I looked around again for Saint, but still didn't see him. I decided to go see what was going on for myself. When I got there I could see that someone was out cold on the floor and they were pressing wet napkins against his face. It was Saint. Just then, a very soft hand brushed my arm, almost as if the person who touched me knew that I was very ticklish (which I am). I looked up, it was L. "Hey!" she said, 'What are you doing here?" I asked, "How did you get in?" She cocked her head, "Silly Rabbit, I turned 18 yesterday, remember?" I've always been great with numbers, but terrible with dates, mainly because I generally don't even know what day it is. "No" I said, "I forgot." "Figures" she said. I asked her if she had seen what had happened, she nodded with an impish little smile.

"I had just come in," she said "And this guy" she pointed at Saint "started trying to talk to me. He was talking all this shit about how he was gonna shoot the DJ if he didn't play a record for him." She tossed her hair back "I told him he could only have my number if he could hold his liquor, I don't like guys who get drunk off of one drink and get stupid." She leaned over and started whispering in my ear, "He was bragging about how much he could drink, so I told him that if he could drink three Kamikazes in five minutes that I'd go outside to his car and give him the best blowjob he'd ever had." "He downed them too." she said "But when he got up off the bar stool, he had a slight balance problem. Funny how that works." I nodded. She said "Look, I feel really bad about lying to you before and almost getting you into trouble." She kissed me on the cheek softly, "Now, we're even. Call, me sometime, I'm legal now."She smiled "I gotta run, before they want a statement or something", she said and disappeared into the crowd. I turned around and headed back to the booth, I had a full night ahead of me, there were still plenty records to spin, and not spin.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)
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