Trey, if mom was black you’d be dead.

From where I am sitting on the porch, I can see Pumpkin walking down the sidewalk. He stops, turns around and just stands there. I am about to yell and ask him what he’s doing, but he turns and starts heading for our house again. When he gets to our driveway instead of coming up to the house he walks into the middle of the street.

“Boy, what the hell are you doing?” I ask him.

“Nothing,” he says. He keeps looking down the street. I look, too. I spot three teenage boys coming down the sidewalk.

“Damn it, why did you come home? You know better, now they know where you live.”

He doesn’t respond. I walk to my car in the driveway and grab my security system. It’s a short yellow bat. It’s also a flashlight and there are about four D batteries inside, it packs a punch. I sit back down on the porch with my little friend beside me. The three guys get to our house. They stand in a semicircle around Pumpkin. One of them says, “What’s up?” Pumpkin doesn’t respond. He isn’t a talker. I have seen him fight before. He won’t talk shit and he won’t throw the first punch, but he will respond accordingly. The boys continue talking trash and start walking around him. He changes position to keep an eye on them. Neighbors begin walking to the edge of their porches or stand on the curb. No one says anything. I hear a noise behind me and before I can turn around I hear Ruby yell, “That’s my brother,” as she pushes open the screen door and runs toward the street while biting off her fake nails. You can’t make a fist with long acrylic nails. She will throw a first punch.

Now that she’s out there, Pumpkin has another person to keep an eye on. One of the boys moves in her direction. That’s when I hear myself yell, “That’s my baby, don’t touch her,” as I grab my bat. Before I know it, I am in the street, too. Now we are all moving in a circle looking at each other, like some slow motion square dance.

“No, she’s not. I’m the baby,” Pumpkin says.

“Really? You want to do this now? She’s the girl, she will always be the baby,” I say. The three boys are looking at each other now.

“Just shut up, Trey,” Ruby says. “Come with it, what ya’ all here for?” she asks the boys. Not only will she throw the first punch, she will also talk shit. The boys start looking around and notice the neighbors silently standing around. Teddy, from across the street, is standing very close on the curb sipping a tall PBR.

“Come on, before someone calls the cops,” one of them says to the other two.

“Oh, we don’t call cops here,” Teddy says before taking another swallow of his beer.

“Naw, I don’t want anybody to call the cops. I didn’t just ruin my nails for nothing. What you gonna do stand there all day?” Ruby says in the direction of the three boys. “Trey, don’t do nothin’, that way you can say your momma and sister whipped their asses,” she says laughing.

“I can see why she’s the baby. Such a fragile little female,” Pumpkin says. He always thinks she’s my favorite.

“She wouldn’t be out here acting like this if you hadn’t brought these dumb asses to our house. Now it’s a whole other level. You just don’t think half the time. And she’s out here sticking up for your ass, so shut up.”

“I didn’t know they were following me till I was right here. Do you think I want more charges? I’m not trying to go back to jail. But I will,” he quickly added looking back at the stalkers.

Lowering the bat to my side, I turn, put my hand on my hip and look at Pumpkin, “Then stop doing stupid shit.”

“Trey, if mom was black you’d be dead. She always lets you get away with stuff. You need discipline,” Ruby says glaring at him. Before we realize it, we have our own circle and aren’t even paying attention to our would-be attackers.

“How many times did you get suspended from school this year? Oh that’s right, EIGHT times,” Pumpkin retorts. We all begin bitching at each other.

“Man, let’s get out of here,” we suddenly hear. We turn our heads back to the boys, at the same time remembering why we’re in the middle of the street to begin with. The three boys begin to back away, facing us the first few feet and then they turn and walk down the street. We head back up to the porch.

“You owe me a set of nails. I didn’t even get to punch anybody,” Ruby says to Trey, while inspecting her bloody fingertips.

“I don’t even know who the hell they were,” Trey says, still watching them.

“If you can’t beat them, confuse them and they will go away,” I say sitting down on the steps.

“Oh, I coulda beat them,” Ruby says.

“I know, baby.”

“She’s not the baby!”

You gotta go deep..

“Where, IN THE HELL, have you been?” I ask Pumpkin when he finally comes home at exactly 9:42 am.  He is on house arrest. The thing with Toledo house arrest, that everyone knows, is there are only three people in the Community Control Department who actually go to the houses to make sure the kids are really staying home. We usually have someone check midmorning and then again in the evening. They come to the door with a book the offender must sign and then they leave. That’s it.

The other thing about Toledo house arrest is they don’t work third shift. That means if they don’t show up by 10:00pm, they won’t be back until the next morning. Pumpkin waits till the magic hour and then he is gone. He won’t leave right in front of me, he waits until I am in another room and then he leaves. In theory, I am supposed to call and report that he has left. That would mean a new charge and I have a hard time snitching on anyone, let alone my kid. I tell him not to break the rules, I can get in trouble and he will get in more trouble, but he doesn’t listen. He says if they do catch him he will tell them I didn’t know he left, that I was asleep or something, and only he will get in trouble.  He is usually home by the time I get up. This morning I was getting really worried he wouldn’t make it back in time. But, here he is and he looks like shit.

“Are you going to answer me? Where have you been and what the hell happened?”

He falls into the couch face first, legs hanging off the edge. He smells funny. His clothes look wet. This is gonna be good.

“Ma, I’m just happy I’m alive. That was some crazy shit,” he says into the upholstery.

“What???”

“I went with Brandon over to his house.”

“Who the fuck is Brandon?”

“Some rich white kid in my group therapy,” he says.

“Why is a rich white kid going to Compass? It’s for poor brown kids.”

“His parents caught him drinking and they are trying to scare him straight by making him go to rehab with us.”

“That’s brilliant. You smell funny.”

“Yeah, lake Erie is fucking nasty.”

“You were in the lake?”
He sits up. Puts his hand to his head and rubs it.

“I think I’m still tripping, he says as he lowers his hands and wiggles his fingers. “Tracers,” he says smiling.

“I hate you.”

“What happened was, I was just going to go out to where he lives and we were just gonna drop some acid and chill.”

“Acid? Why the hell would you do that?”

“That’s the only thing they don’t test us for. He’s been taking like a box of Dramamine and hallucinating during group. I told him, that ain’t shit, you need some LSD. So, I got some. He lives out in Perrysburg. His house is by the water. We were gonna drop and hang out by the water.”

“But,” I say knowing this is where it all went wrong.

“We were sitting on their deck. His parents didn’t know I was there.”

“No shit.”

“We started talking about the collective unconscious and how it’s represented by water and if you really want to figure out what’s really going on, you got to dive in.”

“Of course, and then you jumped in that disgusting water?”

“No,” he answered and stopped like that was the end of the story. I waited at least ninety seconds before I yelled, “What did you do?”

“His neighbor had this boat.”

“Had? Oh, Jesus.”
“Yeah, it crashed. It was dark, the hallucinations and the waves really fucked with me when I was driving it.”

“You don’t know how to drive a boat!”

“I thought: how hard can it be? Well, it’s trickier than it looks. At least tripping, that is.”

“Why didn’t you just go swimming in the water? Why did you steal a boat?”

“It sounds stupid now, but we really wanted to get into the human psyche and you can’t do that in shallow water, you gotta go deep.”

“Is the white kid ok? What did his parents do? What did you hit?”

“Yes. Nothing, they were asleep.  A thicket.”

“A thicket?”

“Yeah, trees and bushes and shit, that’s what I hit.”

“Go and wash up before they get here. What are you going to tell Mr. Rodriguez if he finds out?”
He pauses going up the steps, turns to me and says, “I got that all worked out. Know how he is always trying to get people to believe in God? I’m going to tell him I keep trying to believe, but my mind won’t let him in. So, I thought I would use LSD as a spiritual tool so I can feel the love of Christ and change my life. I was taking the boat out to baptize my new life. Huh, huh? Pretty good?”

“There is something really wrong with you.”

“Duh. Did you make coffee?” he asks.

“Duh.”

“My name is Billy Rodriguez, I was born in New York City, I believe in God and I ain’t afraid of you.”

“What’s up?” Pumpkin says over and over with a quick nod of his head to the teenagers walking past us. They nod in return, some calling him Dough Boy, some call him Young Blood.

“Do you know every juvenile delinquent in Toledo?” I ask.

We are waiting to meet his new probation officer. There is a lot of traffic in the courthouse today. Lawyers, parents, offenders, clerks of court, probation officers and police officers run from one counter to another. Some are huddled in groups, talking before going into court. Every now and then you hear, “Boy, what the hell?” hollered right before a mom smacks a “boy” who stands taller than her and is covered in tattoos. Most of the parents are hearing the full story about their kid’s charges for the first time from court appointed lawyers. Kids sure don’t look like kids anymore. They say hormones in factory farmed milk causes eleven year old girls to have boobs and hips. What I want to know, is what causes these boys to have tattoos, attitudes and beards?

Finally, after forty-five minutes of waiting, a bald Hispanic man wearing a stripped suite with a matching handkerchief in the pocket and Stacy Adams shoes calls Pumpkin’s government name. We get up and walk toward him. He immediately looks Pumpkin in the eye and extends his hand. Pumpkin mumbles, “What’s up?” as he shakes his hand. Without letting go of pumpkin’s hand or breaking eye contact the man says, “My name is Billy Rodriguez, I was born in New York City, I believe in God and I ain’t afraid of you.”

Oh, shit. This man takes his job seriously. He won’t just push Trey through the paces and release him from probation. Trey does not do well with authority, obviously. As we follow Mr. Rodriguez to his office to go over the terms of probation, people greet him saying, “Hey, Preacher.” He nods and shakes a few hands.

“Preacher?” I ask.

“Yes, I am also pastor. Attending my services counts towards community service hours,” he says.

“She doesn’t believe in God,” Trey announces, trying to move the focus to me.

“I was talking to you. She didn’t break the law, she doesn’t have community service hours, you do.” I mouth the word asshole to Trey. He shakes his head yes, pointing at Mr. Rodriguez’s back. I shake my head no and point back at Trey. He smiles.

We get to his office and sit down. As soon as Mr. Rodriguez shuts the door Trey begins, “I was thinking…”

“Let me stop you right there, young man. I don’t care what you were or are thinking. You have a thinking problem, that’s why you are here. And I am here to tell you what you are going to do. Understand?” he looks at Trey waiting for him to acknowledge that he indeed does understand. Trey stares at him. I know what he is doing; he is running through all the possible responses he could give and the possible outcomes. Leaning back in his chair, Trey simply says, “Yes, Sir.”

This may appear as a victory to Mr. Rodriguez, but I know what it really is. Pumpkin needs more time. He needs time to watch him and decide the best way to handle him. Once that is done, he will always be three moves ahead. Mr. Rodriguez turns to get Trey’s folder. Trey looks at his back coldly. When the officer turns to us, with folder in hand, Trey’s face is smiling.

“Ok, we have burglary, drug abuse, truancy and fighting. Your drug of choice is marijuana? I never heard of a pot head robbing houses. You sure that’s your drug of choice?”

“Yes, it is,” Trey says.

“But, I see here you’ve also done cocaine, heroin, mushrooms, acid and all kinds of pills.” He says referring back to the file. “Now, it makes sense. So, what’s your drug of choice? I think the real answer is, whatever you can get, whenever you can get it, however you can get it,” he looks up. Trey doesn’t respond. Mr. Rodriguez sits the file down and continues. “You are on probation. In order to remain on the outside you must comply with the program I am about to outline. You are on house arrest. You may not leave your house, not with your momma, your sister or your boys. If your neighbor is cookin’ out and you want a plate, you better have someone bring it to you. And they better not be a felon. You may not associate with felons or known gang members. If you have a doctor’s appointment your mom will call and get it approved. You will attend intensive outpatient drug treatment five days a week. You will have family counseling twice a week. You will drop clean urine three times a week. You will also perform 85 community service hours. You will call, not your mom, this list of approved facilities, set up your service hours, have this sheet signed when you go and return it to me. I will be dropping in to see you. Sometimes at home, during counseling or when you are performing service work. Any questions?”

“No, Sir.”

“If you have any questions, Ms. Sierra, call me at this number,” he says as he hands me his card. We head out of his office and he walks us to the sidewalk in front of the building. As soon as we get outside Trey asks me for a cigarette. I unzip my purse to fish one out.

“What are you doing?” the Preacher asks me.

“I’m getting him a cigarette?” I say, suddenly unsure of what I am doing.

“You are going to stand in front of a court house, next to your probation officer and ask your mom to break the law?” he asks Trey.

“What? She knows I smoke. She doesn’t care,” Trey responds.

“It’s a law. You are a minor. No cigarettes. You got that, Ms. Sierra?”

I say yes, even though I know I am going to hand him one as soon as we get in the car. He’s been smoking since he was ten years old. I’m not gonna fight him on this when I have bigger battles to wage.

“Be back here next week, same day, same time. You might see me before then, you never know,” he says walking back into the courthouse. Trey watches him and says, “You ain’t afraid of me, huh?”

“You better not mess with that man,” I say, knowing damn well that’s exactly what he’s going to do.

“Come on, mom. I need a cigarette.”

Yeah, this is gonna go great.

I Don’t Think We’re Doing This Right

“Come on, Heifer,” I yell. I wait at the bottom of the stairs. There is no response. “You’re the one who wanted to do this shit, come on.” Still nothing. I yell one more time, “If you aren’t down here in five minutes, I’m not doing it.” My daughter, Ruby, finally comes down the steps.

“What? You don’t want to go?” I ask, hoping the answer is no.

“I’m ready,” she says. We head out the door to the walking track around the corner. I have my big Hello Kitty mug full of coffee. I have my special flavoring in it, Patron. I have on my pink Hello Kitty velour sweat suit and my pink aviator sunglasses. I am unsure of the mission that lies ahead, but it never hurts to match.

We walk to the end of our street and cut through the Sunoco gas station parking lot. “Wait a minute,” Ruby says as she heads into the station. I lean against the wall and light a cigarette. She comes out licking an orange cream push up. We cross the street and are at the walking track. We are starting a healthier lifestyle today.

We begin our first turn around the track. The track is sandwiched in between a self-service car wash and an express way. There is a lot of traffic. My daughter is dressed in shorts and a wife beater. She is very, very eye-catching. We walk in silence the first time around. She’s eating her ice cream and I am drinking my turbo coffee and smoking. When we near the side of the track where the cars stop at a light before getting on the express way, men yell their approval. My daughter gets irritated quickly.

“We’re not hookers, dumb asses. We’re fucking exercising,” she hollers at the cars.

“That’s right girl, keep it tight!” one the men replies. The other guys in his car laugh and they high-five his brilliance.

“That’s not gonna stop them. Just keep walking,” I instruct.

“I don’t think we’re doin’ this right,” she says.

“What do you mean? It’s a circle, you walk around it. End of story. Pretty soon the endorphins will kick in, you’ll be all right,” I encourage her.

“En—what?”

“Endorphins. It’s a chemical your brain releases when you exercise. Makes you feel good. That’s what causes runners high.”

“Well, I’m not runnin’. How many times around is a mile?” she asks.

“I don’t know. Someone spray painted the sign, I couldn’t read it. Like twice, probably.”

We start on our second lap. “I’m hot,” she announces.

“I’m hot, too. It’s good, you’ll sweat. Maybe burn off that ice cream you just ate.”

“I’m black, mom. I get hotter than you. I think I’m gonna faint,” she is serious.

“How many times have I told you, that is bullshit? Just finish this lap and we’ll go home. Next time we’ll try to add another one,” I say. She actually looks teary eyed. We finish the lap and go home. She runs into the house and takes the central air vent off the register on the living room floor and lays across it.

“You wanna go tomorrow when I get off work? The sun will be down,” I ask her.

“No, I’m just not gonna eat as much ranch dressing. That was horrible,” she says.

I walk into the kitchen and get another cup of coffee. Way easier to get coffee high than runners high. I just won’t eat as much macaroni and cheese. Baby steps.

Can A Bitch Get A Blanket???

In most neighborhoods the fifth room is a beautiful patio in the backyard of a home. There is an outdoor dining room set, fire-place or fire pit, a pool and a shiny gas grill. In my neighborhood the fifth room is your front porch usually outfitted with a couple of plastic chairs or an old couch, an ashtray and a fifth of liquor. Thing is, mine comes with free dinner theater.

My usual routine is to come home from work, change clothes, make some coffee and sit on my porch and smoke a cigarette. Every night I have a show. The best shows are the ones that don’t star me in the leading or even supporting role. I will be honest, sometimes I am the star. But, not tonight.

Tonight it was Teddy and Ro. They live across the street from me. They are both hard-core alcoholics. I don’t think I have ever seen either of them sober. Ever. They will also do pretty much any drug available. Except crack.

One day Ro was standing on my steps talking to me. A woman, who Ro doesn’t get along with, walked by. When the woman was right in front of the porch she slowed down, looked at Ro and said, “Crack head.” Ro spun around and yelled, “That’s ex crack head to you, bitch. I been off crack for three or four years now.” She turned to me and asked, “How long ago our house get raided?” I shrugged my shoulders. She said, “I don’t know either, but it was a fuckin’ long time ago. That’s EX crack head.”

Tonight Ro was obviously upset. I heard her yelling at Teddy to give her three dollars so she could go buy another tall boy. Teddy kept telling her no and that she had had enough to drink. Ro has long, thin, stringy hair that she kept pulling at while she hollered at him. She is very thin and wears big t-shirts and baggy jeans. Ironically, the one she wears most is a D.A.R.E t-shirt. She’s usually in the same outfit for many days in a row as she doesn’t bathe much. After arguing with her for at least an hour, Teddy finally gave up and went in the house. Ro made her way to the door which was difficult in her condition. It must have been a big drinking day for her. She finally got to the front door and tried to go into the house after Teddy, but the door wouldn’t budge.

“Teddy you mother fucker, that’s my money too. Give me three dollars. You’re not the boss of me. I’m a grown ass woman. Teddddy!” she yelled banging on the door. She waited a few minutes and there wasn’t any movement in the house. She turned around and sat down on the front steps. She stared at the walk leading up to the porch for about ten minutes. Then, she got up and walked to the door again. This time instead of banging on the door she knocked.

“Teddy, I know you can hear me,” she said a little more calmly. She waited a few minutes and there was no response. “I just want one more beer. Just to help me sleep tonight. Teddy? Teddy?” She knocked on the door again, still no response. She was teetering back and forth. “I don’t tell you how much to drink, ya asshole!” she yelled. She punched the door and  turned to walk back to the steps. She stared at the cement again. She sort of swayed and it did seem like she was going to fall asleep. She waited another ten minutes. She got up from the steps. This time it looked like it took more effort for her to stand. She walked to the door. She stood there for a few moments. Then she knocked very softly.

“Teddy? Aren’t ya gonna let me in, Teddy? You expect me to sleep out here, on the swing?” she asked motioning to their porch swing. Still no sound from the house. I suspected Teddy had passed out. She stared at the swing then she swung her head around to face the door again. It knocked her off-balance and she nearly fell. Then I heard her ask meekly, “Can a bitch get a blanket?” Still nothing. She walked over to the swing and laid down.

I went into my house and went to sleep, too. In the morning, when I walked to my car I glanced over to Teddy and Ro’s porch. For the record, a bitch can not get a blanket.

Some Shit Only Poor Mothers Say

“All I need is a pig, a flute, a ticket to Italy and I’m golden.” Trey says, appearing very sincere.

“Say something normal for fuck’s sake. Jesus, do you want to stay in here?” I ask through gritted teeth. I am looking straight ahead at the Judge, trying to keep my voice low and my lips from moving. My son is standing next to me at the defendants table and his lawyer is next to him.

“What?” my son asks me. “She asked what I wanted to do with my life. I want to hunt morel mushrooms in Italy. Are you saying I should lie?”

“I’m gonna whip your ass when you get out of here.” I’m so mad that my lips may have moved a little. His lawyer puts his hand by the microphone sitting on the table in front of us and says in a sing-song voice while smiling at the judge, “They’re recording.”

This is Trey’s usual approach to life. On the surface he seems to be going along with the program, but he is really being a complete pain in the ass.  All I know is, this is the third time this week I have had to take time off of work to deal with his bullshit. Pumpkin, that’s what I call Trey since he spends most of his time in the county juvenile detention center’s orange jumpsuit, is not your typical sixteen year old thug.

He ignores me and turns to the judge again.”If that doesn’t work out, I would like to adopt a Chinese baby, move to New York and become an actor,” he says. The judge just stares. “Phillip Seymour Hoffman moves me to tears,” he continues while nodding his head for emphasis.

This time I turn and say to him plain as day, “I can’t stand your ass. I’m your momma and even I want to whip your ass.” His lawyer sighs and looks at his watch.

The Judge finally breaks her silence, “What have I told both of you about swearing  in my courtroom? Trey, are you ready to take this seriously? This is your life, you are only hurting yourself.”

“Oh yes, Ma’am. I am willing to do whatever it takes to be successful,” he says obviously lying.

“Good because I am releasing you from detention today. You will be on house arrest and must abide by the community control rules which your probation officer will explain to you. If you break any of the conditions of your release it will result in a new charge or charges. Do you understand?”

“Yes,Your Honor, I understand. I am anxious to get back home and to start school again,” he says.

Once it’s read into the record he can be released the guard takes him to processing. I go sit in the waiting area for him to come out. I hope it doesn’t take long and I can get back to work. But, I end up waiting two hours.

There is no Wi-Fi, so I listen to the conversations around me. There are the first time mothers. They are usually crying, saying their son isn’t bad and it’s all a big mistake. There are the mothers of the boys who have been accused of serious crimes. They are usually quiet and look scared. Then there are the mothers like me, who have been down here a thousand times. They know it’s no mistake and their kid did do it. It’s either a misdemeanor and they aren’t worried that their son will get a lot of time or sent to the adult prison or it’s serious but they’ve sat here so many times they’re just tired.

I hear the buzzer for the door and instinctually look up to see who’s coming out for the hundredth time that day. There is Pumpkin, walking towards me smiling. I stand up and give him my  ‘I’m serious, I’m not playing with you, Boy’ face. Then he does what he always does, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out my favorite candy bar. He saves his points while he’s in and gets me a candy bar in commissary. This is the ultimate jailhouse show of love. Fucker.

I smile despite myself, stand up and give him a hug. “All right, where you want to eat?” I ask.

“Applebees,” he says.

“You got a cigarette?” he asks.

“Of course,” I say.