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      I Was A Crip ... Sort Of

      October 1, 2006
      From the column 'Skinema'


      This was a Crips- and Bloods-themed party I went to years ago. Since I lived in a Crip neighborhood, I had to make my visiting buddy carry his Blood costume out of my house in a bag and change into it 30 blocks away. Photos by the author
       



      I can’t be entirely certain but I’m pretty sure I was a member of the blue-wearing gang, the Crips, from 2001 to 2002. I was on a lot of drugs then and have a piss poor recollection of all things, but I got a good feeling I was in the gang. At the very least I was an honorary member. A pseudo-Crip, if you will.

      I moved to the same part of LA where they filmed Boyz in Da Hood—it’s around 35th and Crenshaw. (I heard the Singletons were too scared to go into Compton, which is why they chose to shoot in my slightly mellower hood.) Me and my two roommates were the only specks of salt in the peppershaker for a good 30 blocks. I loved it. It reminded me of Brooklyn and was a welcome change after living in Hollywood’s “boys town” for a year and constantly second-guessing who was a female and who was a tranny. My roommates hated it. They were shit-scared. One was a hippie and one was a junkie from Nebraska. I think it might have been their first time seeing black people. I was just happy to be paying $400 a month rent. I didn’t care where I was living.

      I’ll admit it though, the first day was a bit intense. As us three white boys unpacked and moved our things in, you would have thought we were ass-raping a newborn baby with a baseball bat by the looks on everyone’s faces. It seemed as if all the neighbors’ eyes conveyed the same two emotions: Shock and disgust. My roommates kept muttering under their breath, “They’re gonna lynch us,” and “Fuck, fuck, fuck. We’re dead.”

      That’s when a few gentlemen dressed in matching blue Dickies, blue flannels, and blue bandanas on their heads walked over to me as I went to pull a bottom-heavy box of CDs out of the back of my candy-apple red 1972 El Camino. I turned to them and thought, “God. These guys need to call each other in the morning and plan out their outfits a little better.” One of them, the small, sad one (I call him that because he had a tattoo of a teardrop under each eye) said, “Yo. What’s up with the car?” “It’s not for sale,” I said. People were always asking to buy my car. His face didn’t change. I think I misunderstood the question. “Oh. Do you want to know what kind of engine it has?” “Nah,” he said. “Why the fuck is it RED?” “Um, I don’t know. That’s what color it is. What do you mean?” Then I noticed, mostly because he pointed to it, that he had a gun in his waistband. “Oh!” I said. “Is this some kind of gang thing? OK, I understand. Well, neither me nor my car belong to the RED gang, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s just a RED car.” The tall, muscle-bound one said something profound to the effect of, “Yeah? Well, it better be.” OK. Whatever. I grabbed my CDs and walked away. I could see my roommates peeking through the curtains. When I got inside they told me we needed to move, that they were afraid for their lives. I told them that I would go make peace. So I changed into a pair of my old BLUE Dickies, grabbed a 12-pack of beer and what cigarettes I had left, and set them on my front steps. Then I went back in, took my shirt off (a nauseating sight if ever there was one), put on my leather shoulder holster (an impulse purchase after getting high and spacing out on Miami Vice reruns for 12 hours), put my 9 mm Beretta in the holster, loaded up my .357 Smith & Wesson, stuck it in my belt, and went back outside. I sat on the steps and proceeded to drink all the beer and smoke all the smokes while staring out into the street at no one in particular. Before long the neighbors started to come over and welcome me. Some even told me bluntly, “You some crazy-ass white boys.” Funny how brandishing a firearm in certain communities is a bonding experience.

      A week later I saw some neighborhood kids riding on what could be described as skateboards, but they were so beat up it’s kind of insulting to the word skateboard—nose and tails worn to shit, wheels flat-spotted, bearings rusted through. I called them over and introduced myself. I went in my car and pulled out some used decks and wheels I had and gave them to the kids. They used some slang at me to let me know I was awesome.

      The next day the sad gangbanger came marching down the street in my direction. I said, “What’s up?” meaning “Hello, how are you?”— not to be confused with “Sup?” meaning “Do you have a problem? If so we can kill each other with guns.” “You give my brother a skateboard yesterday?” “Yes.” “I don’t want you giving him no more skateboards.” I thought he was going to punch me in the face. I thought it was a matter of pride. My partner Steve is a schoolteacher in Jersey City and he once gave a student who had no socks a 12-pack of tube socks. The next day the kid’s dad met him in the parking lot, threw the socks at him, punched him, and said, “We don’t need your pity.” Before I could say anything he told me if I was going to give the kid anything else that I needed to make him work for it, to teach him responsibility and that nothing is free. He suggested I have him clean my house or wash my car. So for the next year I had free maid service in exchange for skating products. It was quite a trade-off.

      Me (right) and a friend, pretending to be blue- and red-gang guys.


      I remember some kids in Hollywood thought it would be funny to throw a “Bloods and Crips” dress-up party. My buddy Chris was visiting from Jersey and was so excited about the idea that he dressed completely in red and nearly ran out my house like that. I had to tackle him and make him take off his outfit before he got shot. I put my blues and his reds in a plastic bag and we drove 30 blocks north to a Ralph’s parking lot on Le Brea, in a Jewish neighborhood where I felt safe enough for us to change into our “gang outfits.” All night at the party, kids came up to me in their ill-fitting chinos and incorrectly folded bandannas asking me for advice and “What’s it like in the hood?” As I tried to explain the proper way to fold a gang handkerchief and how it’s a total fashion faux pas to wear two different colors, I kind of felt like the Dalai Lama of the white gang scene. And I’ll admit, it felt kind of good.

      A week before I moved out da hood, I got a flyer under my door saying they were opening up a new chicken stand around the corner from my house, directly across the street from the existing chicken stand. It was laundry day and I had no more black t-shirts left and was forced to wear my red comedy straightedge shirt, which had a bunch of Xs on the front and something written on the back like “Drugs are for losers,” or “Drinking sucks,” or some shit. I walked out of my house, laundry in hand, and stopped dead in my tracks. It was like a goddamn blue-gang meeting in my front yard. Everyone seemed really pissed, like lions that hadn’t eaten in weeks. Somehow they smelled me wearing a red shirt and ran over. “What’s the matter with youse guys?” I asked. “What’s up with the RED shirt?” one of them asked. I laughed. “Come on already,” I said, “I’ve been living here a year. Do you think I would go and join a rival gang behind your back? If I was going to join a gang I’d join your gang. You guys seem like you have a good thing going.” Then I explained to them what straightedge was and why my shirt was so funny and we all had a good chuckle. That night as I skated to the liquor store I smelt fire. I followed my nose and saw the old chicken stand burning to the ground. I could hear someone screaming inside. The next morning the paper said they’d killed a chicken man that night. I’ve never been back there since.

      CHRIS NIERATKO
       

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