Monday, May 16, 2005

Pull Your Chain 'till it Pop
Pedro from Harlem got his chain pulled the other day at the train station. I was right there, but didn’t see a thing.

I had just bumped into Pedro by the turnstile where we exchanged friendly words.

“Yo Mista, what’s good?”

“Hey Pedro, how ya doin’? You taking my Underground Escalade home?”

I don’t remember exactly how it started, but somewhere along the way the kids and I have developed a running joke that the subway is my “Escalade.” I think a few months back some punks were giving me a hard time about not having a car, and instead of explaining my belief in the economic and environmental benefits of public transportation, I lied.

“I do have a car. I just got some new rims on it.”

“Yo, f’real, Mista? What kinda car you got?” These kids’ll believe anything.

“I’m tippin’ down the Cross-Bronx in my Escalade,” I told them. “All day, e’ry day.”

They exchanged quizzical looks.

“A '#8' Escalade,” I clarified, referring to the particular train I usually take to school. “You should know. I saw you riding in my Escalade this morning.”

This is the kind of thing my kids don’t forget. We could go over nouns and verbs and past participles every day for a year, and they’d still get confused, but they’ll go to their graves crackin’ wise at me, “Yo Mista, I saw you sleepin’ in your Escalade this morning!”

Pedro wasn’t up on the "#8" Escalade station platform, but underground, a few blocks away at the "Letter Z" Escalade station. I take the Z home a couple of days a week when I have to go to graduate school.

Pedro and I exchanged a few good-natured barbs and I wandered off, down to the other end of the platform where I could read my book in peace. A minute or so later I heard a commotion a split second before a five-foot tall streak of black lightning in a red du-rag went sprinting past me down the platform, cackling all the way and almost knocking me onto the filthy tracks (there are rats on my Escalade).

I looked up and saw big-ass, pear-shaped Pedro down at the other end of the platform, biting his lip, stalking back and forth, stomping his boots, one fist swinging low, gorilla style, and the other hand holding the back of his bloody neck. He looked scary, but there were tears in his eyes.

He got yoked by a kid half his size. The little bastard came up from behind and actually sat there playing with the chain for a minute before he grabbed it. Pedro says he thought it was one of his friends, but I think he was just scared.

How scared? That scared.

Pedro from Harlem isn’t actually from Harlem. He lives in the Bronx like everyone else. He just says that shit to sound cool or hard or as an excuse (not like he needs one) to holler, “Dipset!” in the middle of class. He’s not really hard either, although he is big.

Case in point: I’ve started making the guys in my 9th and 10th period class do push-ups when they piss me off. It started when one kid who usually behaves himself and pays attention was bouncing off the walls. He’s a nice kid, and we joke with each other a lot, so it seemed pretty natural for me to make him drop and push a few out. He clearly had energy to burn, and it seemed to work. Everyone else was so amused, though, that ever since then whenever somebody acts up, somebody else is right there to remind us, “Yo mista, that’s ten push-ups! You got push-ups, nigga!” I even banged out a set myself the other day after I accidentally knocked all my papers to the floor and let slip a four-letter word.

When one day, as was inevitable, Pedro wouldn’t shut up, I told him to drop and give me ten. He hemmed and hawed for a while before finally acquiescing in his best Tony Montana, “Thass okay main, thass okay, I’m P-Yayo, I got dat.”

He then proceeded to drop to his knees and dip (heh.) his chest and shoulders towards the floor ten times, looking back and forth with a big, brace-faced, sheepish grin while the rest of the class and I looked on in puzzlement.

Pedro stood up, brushed off his giant clown-jeans, adjusted his big, gaudy, silvery NY chain for what must have been one of the last times, and went back to his seat. I sidled over a minute later and discreetly inquired, “Hey Pedro, how come you were doing girl push-ups? You’re a strong guy, (Pedro often flexes in class, and the kid’s got some guns,) you can’t do a real push-up?”

“I’m two-fitty, Mista, it’s hard.”

“I know Pedro, I know,” I replied, wishing Christopher Wallace could have been there to commiserate, “It’s hard for a big person. You be sweatin’ and breathin’ hard. Shit’s real.”

Pedro is doing okay after getting his chain pulled the other day. His neck’s cut up pretty good, and his pride is probably bruised something fierce, but he was back in school two days later with the creative energy to pen the beginnings of another inspired piece of literature.

I had to give the kids a practice test for some upcoming state-required standardized testing, and the last part of it was the writing section. The kids were to look at a cartoon picture of a cracka-ass white boy chasing a dog down a sidewalk on an idyllic suburban street. The kids were supposed to tell a story about the picture.

Pedro’s tale was much like many of the other kids’ writing samples, except for the names and a little dialogue. His semi-autobiographical tome had the boy, “P-yayo,” chasing the dog, also named “P-yayo,” down the street to the park where they both “got they hustle on.”

“Pedro, this is fine,” I told him. “But what are you doing man? I’m confused. Why is the dog named ‘P-yayo’ too?”

“Naw Mista, you not readin’ my writin.’” Pedro’s writing is rather sloppy. “That say ‘P-Yoyo.’”

The dog was named P-Yoyo. Of course. I should have known. He’s the Purple City Dip-dog.

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