Shortly after graduating high school, I fell in love for the first time with a girl I met at a party. We had both attended the same school, and actually, unbeknownst to me, met each other multiple times via mutual friends, but I was already an oblivious drunk who fixated on all the wrong girls and paid no attention to the sweet, nerdy types.
I was out getting into trouble with my boys when I received a message from an unknown number: It’s JB and “so and so” thinks you’re cute and wants to hang out. Come to this party tonight.
At the time, my friends and I were graffiti artists. We had planned on busting a fat burner on this virgin wall overlooking the freeway later that night, but decided to hit the party first. It was being thrown at a huge house in a wealthy neighborhood deep in the east hills that was sure to have the cops called before midnight, so we had a few hours to catch a buzz, sober up, then paint the town.
We pulled up around ten, and it was already raging, and I was already annoyed. The party contained every high school archetype I hated–mostly the popular types who spent more time taking pictures of themselves and talking about how much fun they were having than actually having fun–but there were a few pockets of friendlies.
There was also a group of gangbangers who were obviously only there to slang; one of which I kind of knew and ambiguously nodded at me on our way in.
My friends and I weren’t squares, but we spent most of our time with each other, four or five of us doing art in parks, and the houses of other graff artists and scenesters–these types of parties weren’t our thing.
We brought our own handle of Sailor Jerry’s–a 92 proof spiced Navy rum–and passed it around amongst ourselves, quickly catching a silly buzz. JB, the friend that originally texted me, came up and said, “Fucking weirdos, what are you doing in the corner. Go out and dance and mingle.” She was technically a party girl, but she was also a geek. A geek I had a crush on until I found out her brother was a Crip, something you would never have guessed based off her innocence and general dorkiness.
“Johnny,” JB said, pulling me aside. “So and so is not having a very good night. Go talk to her.” (for the sake of not driving myself insane with so and so(s), I’ll refer to the girl as Bill, a name I would later affectionally call her, but that’s for another story)
Bill was sitting on the peripheries of the party, drinking a bottle of water, annoyed and alone. She was a petite Vietnamese girl with porcelain skin, wearing a midnight purple dress and classic adidas. Her style and physical beauty accented nicely with her annoyed grimace, instantly infatuating me. She was perfect.
As I walked over to my future lover, I heard a friend scream, “J! Get over here. Fuck. Fuck. Come one, we have to go,” in rapid succession.
I ran out of the party, following my friend, confused and anxious, expecting the worst.
My friend Mad1 was on the ground, blood gushing down his cheek from a gash over his left eye, onto his white shirt with a fresh aerosol tag stating: fuck tops.
“Fucking Funks jumped him,” my friend Abel1 exclaimed. “I already called the Tops.”
Unfortunately, over the years, San Jose’s graffiti scene had turned ultra violent. Many of the city’s top graffiti crews had cliqued up with gangbangers–primarily because they had a steady stream of drugs that artists like to take–resulting in jumpings and drive-bys and other senseless violence on kids that just wanted to do art and catch some fame.
The Funk, as they were called, was one of the first graffiti crews to meld with gangbangers–in their case, Norteños. Every tag, sticker, piece or burner they did was stamped with X4, representing the number 14, pledging allegiance to Nuestra Familia. Most graff crews didn’t even consider The Funk to be artists anymore. The older cats, those outside of high school, moved on to selling drugs, mostly, and left the graffiti to school kids they recruited to put in work.
My friends and I weren’t gangbangers–we were artists–but the graff scene had warped and morphed into something we called spraybanging, where knowing somebody who knows somebody from the wrong crew was good enough to get you mollywhopped–slang for fucked up–and we knew exactly those somebodies.
The Tops, the crew Abel1 called, and would later join, hadn’t fully morphed into a gang, but they were on their way. One of the older cats had recently got out of prison, infecting the entire crew. He was a thirty something with a house on the south side, left to him after his mother died, along with a substantial amount of cash that allowed him to throw huge parties, inviting everybody, including my friends and I, and kids who were still in high school. He fed teenagers booze and coke and pills, then told them to go out and throw up the crew.
Abel1 received a text from one of the head Tops. A meeting was set at a park downtown, near a neighborhood where some of the core Funks stayed, and we had to go…after dropping my injured friend at the emergency room.
“We should stay with Mad1…at least one of us,” I told Abel1 who seemed to be eager to funk. “Actually, why should any of us go? It’s not our fight.”
“Fuck that,” Abel1 said. “You’re going to let your boy get jumped? Let him get sprayed on? Na, we’re going handle business. We all go. You want Tops to think you’re a bitch? To think you just let your boys get smashed on? You know what will happen if we don’t go.”
I lived in what would be considered a Tops neighborhood, So did two of my boys.
We partied with Tops.
We did drugs with Tops.
If you’re not with us, you’re against us they would think.
“Fuck it,” I said–a ubiquitous phrase in every sad scene of my life.
Pulling into the park, I saw twenty or so Tops, some of which I knew. The ones I didn’t know chastised us for running late, despite it being due to us dropping our friend off at the hospital. “You should’ve brought him too,” one of the unfamiliars exclaimed.
Coke was passed around, followed by baseball bats, and a plan was made, while I tried to figure a way out for my friends and I.
“I know for a fact that Blast(one of the Funks) stays at that house over there. We fuck-up the car on the drive-way, and wait for him to come out. I know a few other those pinche putos live around here too.” another tattooed unfamiliar said.
Shit was getting real, but it felt like a bad dream.
“Fuck it,” I whispered to myself with false confidence.
We all started walking towards the target house, two dozen strong, with the biggest guys in front.
The first ferocious slam into the rear window of the car was accompanied by police sirens, dispersing our group like bugs freshly exposed from an overturned rock.
My friends and I ran down an alley..hopped a fence to the next street..hopped another and another, expertly traversing the city we habitually ran amok on until we were far enough away to faintly hear the sirens.
“Look, La Vic’s!” Abel1 whispered, pointing towards our go-to taqueria. “We’ll chill in there, get some tacos and wait for shit to settle down.”
La Vic’s was perpetually swamped due to their famous orange sauce and close proximity to clubs and bars. It was easy to get lost in the sea of drunks in food comas having obnoxious back ‘n’ forths.
“That was insane!” Abel1 said excitedly to me and my other two friends, who I just realized hadn’t said one thing since we left the party hours ago.
“No, that was stupid! What the fuck, man! We could’ve gotten killed or arrested! I’m not a gangbanger! We’re not gangbangers!” I screamed with the pent up fury I nearly unleashed upon some dude’s car or head or kneecap. “I’m out of here.” I said and walked away–with my other two friends following shortly thereafter.
Downtown looked the same, of course, despite what we just went through. Just another night. You could look in both directions and see some type of fuckery occurring–cops tackling down a drunk who accidentally threatened them after getting rowdy in a club over some dude innocuously bumping into his girl, or a dealer from Oakland being pat down and thrown in the back of a cop car, just to be replaced my another kid who’s sent down to slang to rich college kids.
“What a mess. Let’s go home,” I told my two boys.
The three of us walked silently to the light rail station. I bought a ticket for the first time ever after 6 or 7 years of illegally riding it, and running from the transit police when necessary, showing, to me, I think, that maybe that night’s events engrained in me a semblance of self-accountability. My friends followed suit.
“Is Mad1 alright? Did you text him?” I asked my boy as we boarded the light rail.
“Yea, his sister just picked him from the emergency room. He’s coo, just a few stitches.”
We spent half the hour trip home staring outside our respective windows.
“You guys were mad scared,” I suddenly said with a laugh, still staring out the window.
Not a peep. I turned around, and they were asleep. I smiled and went back to looking out the window.
I woke them both up when we hit their stop–mine was a bit further down the line.
“See ya man,” they both said.
“Yea, see ya……Oh, and do me a favor, text me when y’all get home so I know you’re safe, yea?”
“Yea, man. You do the same,”
For the rest of the ride, twenty minutes or so, I messaged back and forth with Mad1.
He said he was alright.
I told him I was sorry about what happened.
He said it wasn’t my fault and that he loved me and missed me–obviously high on pain killers.
I shot him a few lols and hahahas, then told him to get some rest.
My stop finally came, but I still had a two mile walk to my house.
At least it’s a pretty, summer night I thought to myself, gazing up at the stars, quickly pinpointing my favorite constellation: the Little Dipper.
My phone buzzed–a text from one of my friends, Yo J, I’m home. Talk to ya later.
Cool, man. Just about home. I messaged back.
Another came shortly after from my other friend, I’m home, bro.
Cool, cool. I’m about fifteen away from my house. I messaged back.
Tomorrow…down to have an art sesh at Hellyer Park? he asked.
Fuck yea. I’ll bring the Sangria, you bring the markers.
Closing the message, I remembered the text that started the night. The girl who thought I was cute and wanted to hang out. I felt so bad. I had to text my friend to relay a message to Bill.
I’m so sorry about tonight. Please tell your friend I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t lose the chance to take her out for tacos and a movie. She looked gorgeous in her dress and kicks.
She responded back immediately.
I did look pretty good tonight. I’ll take you up on the date if I get to choose the movie. I heard The Prestige is pretty good.
Wait..who is this? I asked utterly confused.
Sorry, it’s Bill…I had JB text you on my phone to ensure we connected whether or not you came to the party :).
Me: Hahaha…What a smooth move. I wish I would’ve thought of that–though I think it might look a little creepy if I pulled the same thing on you.
Bill: Yea, you’re probably right haha….If you were in my shoes, what would you have done?
Me: If I had your number and wanted to non-creepily text you?
Me: Hello Bill. I’ve been watching you. I like the way you wear your skin.
Bill: Ewwww….hahaha…That’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.
Me: hahaha…but it works, sometimes.
Bill: Lies! haha.
Me: Yup, but only on girls who read Edgar Allen Poe poems in cemeteries.
Bill: hahaha….you dork.
Me: So, what do you like to do…besides sit alone and annoyed at parties 🙂
Bill: Haha…I’m pretty dorky…probably too dorky for you. I like to read and listen to music and go for drives in the hills. I only went to the party because JB said you were coming 🙂
Me: Too dorky…never…not possible. And sorry about the party.
Bill: What happened? Somebody said your friend was jumped.
Me: Yea, some asshole banged him up, but he’s good now…took him to the hospital, got him stitched up…now he’s home, high on Vicodin…telling everyone how much he loves them haha.
Bill: Oh, I’m sorry. Why was he jumped? Somebody said that you guys were gangbangers.
Me: Hahaha…us? No, we’re graffiti artists that just happened to know the wrong people. People we’re done with….a scene we’re done with.
She didn’t text back for a few minutes–an eternity in text years.
Somebody told her about what happened downtown, I know it. About the people I associated with.
I scared her away.
Stupid fucking drama I never wanted to be a part of.
Stupid fucking people, and their stupid fucking desire to look fucking tough and live dead-end lives, eventually ending up in jail or dead or addicted to meth or coke.
Stupid me. It was my fault. It was always my fault.
I should’ve stayed with Mad1, and told Abel1 to fuck off. He can live that life. We’ll paint pretty pictures while listening to pretty music in pretty parks. That’s what we were. Not gangbangers.
I wanted to tell her all about my secret nerdy pleasures that I kept hidden from people. I wanted to tell her that I was quiet and sensitive, and hated parties and loud places in general. That I liked to go for walks and skip and giggle about silly things most people wouldn’t get.
I wanted to tell…
Bill: Sorry, I had to use the bathroom. And I laughed when somebody told me you were a gangbanger haha.
Bill: To me, you look like an artist. You look out of place with most of the people I’ve seen you with..the same way I looked at the party. That’s why I like you. I thought you’d come to the party, and we’d sit in the corner and giggle at all the other people.
She really was perfect.
Bill: Am I right?
Me: That’s a good rough sketch
Bill: Well, let’s hang out tonight so I can get the details.
Me: Ohhh nice line :). Meet you at Camera 12 downtown around 7?
Bill: Sounds good to me 🙂
Me: Do you like La Vic’s?
Bill: Of course! Who from San Jose doesn’t?
Me: Cool, it’s a date…but you asked me out.
Bill: Haha. Yea, I guess I did. Lucky for you–you’re the first boy I’ve ever asked on a date……you better put out haha.
(End of part one)
This story wound up being much longer than I originally intended, so I’ll be doing a part two sometime next weekend, hopefully.
Johnny is a character I’m fleshing out, and he’s a bit all over the place haha.
As always, critical appraisals are much appreciated. And pardon the grammar and spelling errors–I’ve been writing drunk and editing drunk.