They Colonized The Hood, But The Kids Still Here

I wrote this under a blanket of New York subway car heat. When I entered the parting doors, the fog pushed me back before I could settle into the seat.

It felt worse when I rode down to the Lower East Side yesterday. New York heat grinds. Insufferable waves of thick air plopped down from gray clouds to perch on my shoulder. A silent attack.

I used the risk of heat stroke to make my bike ride intense. Down the East River walkway, a fake breeze cooled the sweat on my neck, and then stopped as I climbed a midtown hill.

The LES café

Adele was waiting inside the café, looking cool when I arrived. She popped up a bit surprised because I was earlier than planned. I would’ve traded anything to dry my slick skin, but bought a cold water instead. We had a nice chat about her documentary, and she sent it to me via email so I could watch it later. But the story started when she went outside to take a call from a film festival about screening it.

I had a letter to write for a company I’m doing some work for. Since it wouldn’t take long, and I was already behind, I thought that might be the perfect time to finish up.

“Yo, why you keep looking at me, nigga? You smacked already damn.”

“I ain’t smacked. Come here nigga lemme show you this part.”

Some kids were behind me. The other diners wore white headphones and shifted in their chairs.

“Bet. Ok, watch when I double-tap, the whole level opens up. Like this, my nigga.”

The kids wouldn’t sit. They ran around the staged couches, laughing and playing inside the bland café. I admit high amusement at their antics.

“But did you beat, though? You keep talking Jessica this, Jessica that, but did you beat?”

High school sounds like them. Their rowdy cries sought attention so I gave some.

A blond cashier in a black cap stared at the kids, worried and indignant. I’d seen him earlier, speaking in a heavy German accent to the blond waitress who was busing the tables. The patrons doing work at their chairs seemed more occupied than the servers. I imagined the cashier’s name was Hans or something. He had to be a Hans.

“You’re going to force me to call police. This is not nice what you’re doing.”

Hans slipped into his angry voice so I jumped in.

Once I turned my chair around, the loud kids’ giggles halted.

“What are y’all doing here today? What’s everybody up to?” I asked.

“We a traveling soccer group. We record clips of people doing tricks in the street and post them.”

(Smacked kid: “We walk around giving water to Chinese people.”)

“You post it on Instagram? Which one of y’all got the most followers? Who has clout?”

(Smacked kid: “We give out free cigarettes and take pictures. Nobody say no to free cigarettes.”)

Another kid: “Him! Yea, check his Instagram, he got like 900.”

Kid three: “All together, we got 65,000 no lie.”

“Oh yea? Lemme see.”

A kid with a smooth face and quick smile walked over to me, phone face up, and showed me an Instagram video with 1,000 views. In the video, a guy in a hockey mask was running up to people in the dark and waving his arms. I’m not sure if it was a prank, but it was enough for 1,000 views and all the kids were snickering at the genius of this one clip.

“Which one of you is the oldest?”

“Me! I’m the oldest,” said a kid who was not the oldest.

“How old are you?”

“I’m 19,” he shot at me with a straight, boyish face.

“I’m 19,” I threw back, with the same face, mimicking his tone.

“No for real, I’m 19. Pst. How you gon’ tell me I’m not when I say I am?”

“No, dead ass, I’m 19,” I responded. Same tenor. I imitated his voice so well that his friend started laughing.

The one with the braces said ‘Yo, he dragging you!” and burst into more laughs.

“Are y’all from LES?” I knew they were from the neighborhood. They’d been here before. I hadn’t.

“Yea, we all grew up here.”

“Why this nigga asking so many questions? What’s your name, detective? Where you from, officer?”

“Yea, what you do? Are you here working?

“Police officers don’t have hair like this.” I was confident in my truth.

“This nigga lying. I seen a lady police officer with hair all the way down her back in braids.”

“Police officers have buzz cuts and wear Yankee caps.”

“No they don’t!” The one who claimed he was 19 was getting worked up.

I told him he was a good liar, and that he must be 19.

“I could show you my I.D. right now!” as he pulled out his wallet but didn’t grab his I.D. from it.

“Excuse me, Miss. Miss? You Korean, right? I could tell.”

“Don’t ask her what her ethnicity is. That’s rude. We’re talking. She doesn’t want to be in this conversation. Leave her alone so we can talk.”

“I know she Korean. Either that or Chinese.”

“It’s rude to ask someone their ethnicity.”

“No it’s not,” from Fake 19. “He wanna know her race.”

“Race and ethnicity aren’t the same thing. Plus, she didn’t ask to be in this conversation.”

“They are the same thing. You didn’t ask to be in the conversation neither. You just jumped in, started asking hella questions.”

“What’s ethnicity then?”

“It’s like your race. Where you from.”

“Where you from is nationality.”

The Real Oldest kid with the smooth face: “I’m from Brooklyn! What’s my nationality?”

“Where is Brooklyn?”

“The United States.”

“So you answered your own question.”

“Boy, stop talking to him! I bet he a cop. Watch the cops roll up while we sit here talking to him.”

“I’m not a cop, my G.”

“Are you in here doing work? What do you do?”

“I’m a writer, and yes, I’m here doing work.”

“Were we being too loud? Did we disrupt your work?”

“Yea.”

“Ok. We sorry about that, Mister. For real.”

“It’s all right. People are in here working so you should try not to bother anyone. Homey at the counter was about to call cops on you.”

“You right. We’ll be quiet.”

And then all five kids left. The cops never came, and Hans probably didn’t call them like he threatened to.

But I enjoyed talking to the kids more than sitting in the café of young, carefree workers who didn’t move. The only time the other patrons reacted was when the kids came inside making noise.

They could’ve learned a lot from those kids. Like how to cool off from the dead ass heat of a New York summer.

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Andrew Ricketts

Andrew Ricketts

1.7K Followers

I’m a Caribbean and American writer from New York. My stories are about coming-of-age, learning how to relate, and family. It’s a living, breathing memoir.