The Gangsta of Love

an excerpt by one Loren Miner

“Life is a trip” Larry reminisced (lifting his head to survey the immaculate surroundings -placing the marijuana cigarette behind his left ear). Larry’s relationship to Tomas Reebok (the owner of the humongous Brownstone) serving as another fine example of the power of even the smallest act of kindness. As chic and cosmopolitan as the South End of Boston was; Larry still recognized the unlikelihood of a hustler from the projects ever becoming acquainted with a high-falutin’ character like Tomas (never mind holding his house keys).

 

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After all, Tomas was a renowned painter that had dabbled in a variety of art forms- from acting to poetry- before eventually making a name for himself in water colors. Having won numerous contests and awards; Tomas’s apartment was draped with many of his own portraits. A vast collection themed ‘nature in the city’: from elegant geese strutting along cobblestoned streets in the Public Gardens to mountainous trees and hidden bird nests atop a luminous Copley Square. Tomas captured blossoming flowers and supple blades of grass (surrounding spewing water fountains in the Boston Commons); to mindless pigeons resting comfortably on famous statutes in the backdrop of gothic church steeples (in historic downtown -where the Founding Fathers and Sons of Liberty devised a brand new nation- nearly 300 years ago).

Even a novice would be impressed with the “moody vibrancy” and “ascetic attention to detail” (in Tomas’s breathe-taking subjects). But Larry was even more astounded with the hundreds of dollars a little pencil sketch or water color could fetch.

 

Either way, Tomas was set for life (even if he did not lift a paint brush again): having a multi-million dollar trust fund paid out in a handsome monthly allowance. And like the story of most of his life, Larry met Tomas purely “by accident” (just before he went “upstate” in 1984).

At the time, Tomas was no different than any other aspiring artist, hipster or in-crowd member (experimenting with the trendy cocaine). Tomas was introduced to the stimulant through a Latin lover / freeloader named “Rafael”. Apparently, Tomas has always had an insatiable fetish for slim, Hispanic men (with dark hair, heavy accents and strong libidos). Thank God Larry never met Rafael- but on the night in question- when Larry first met the friendly bohemian: Tomas’s face was completely bloodied (with two swollen eye lids eclipsing his crystal blue pupils).

Tomas was lying flat on the ground just outside of the hallway to 5 East Brookline Street (of the Holy Cross Cathedral Housing Project)- pinching his nose trying to stop the bleeding. Over the years, Larry had seen plenty of white people pummeled in the projects looking for drugs, and, as a rule of thumb, he did not have much sympathy for them (knowing the ‘nickels and dimes’ his ignorant brethren robbed from white people was a mere pittance in the grand scheme of things). “Still aint no forty acres” he used to scoff.

But on this humid summer night, Larry found himself drawn to Tomas (by of all things) his suede sandals. Tomas’s khaki shorts and Izod shirt also spoke volumes to the clever, up-and-coming hustler. Upon further inspection, it became apparent to Larry that the battered white man was not your average “down-and-out fiend”. And for whatever reason- call it destiny or call it curiosity- Larry found himself walking up to the middle-aged victim (nonchalantly asking), “Are you straight my dude?” (universal code for “are you looking for drugs?”).

However, Tomas did not raise his head from the pavement (much less say a word) - but rather- began to sob deep, excruciating tears (crying out from the depths of his aching heart). Weeping uncontrollably (with no signs of letting-up) - the silver-haired victim sounded like a hungered babe to Larry. Or (at the very least), a man that had the weight of the world pressing down on him. After thirty seconds of wailing, Larry didn’t need a PhD in psychology to diagnose that this was clearly another sad case of some “pathetic rich guy” (that has never had the pleasure of getting his ass-whipped before). Tomas’s lack of manliness or gusto was shameless. Yet, considering the steady flow of blood drooling from his mouth (as well as the droplets dribbling from his nose) - if this was indeed his first ass-whipping… “It sure was a dozy!” Either way, there was something very “sincere” - almost infantile- in Tomas’s torment that drew the coke dealer another step closer.

“Yo dude, you better get up and get the fuck outta here before the D.Ts (detectives) pick you up for trespassing, and you‘ll be licking those wounds up in a District 4 jail cell waiting for the medics.”

Tomas had actually been lying lifeless on the cold pavement for almost a half-hour; appalled at the fact that he didn’t even receive so much as a “can I help you?” from the various passersby. Adding insult to injury, one group of mischievous teenage boys poured grape soda pop over his dormant body (before running away in hysterics). Shortly thereafter, an “army” of cute, ponytailed black girls decided to play a fake game of hop-scotch over his quivering carcass. At that point, a mortified Tomas was content on dying in that wretched gutter (in fetal position), until he heard Larry’s voice.

Perhaps it was the proper English hidden behind the slang that connected Tomas to the onlooker at first- but for whatever reason (call it a hunch or call it fate) - Tomas (out of nowhere) suddenly decided to stop his blubbering long enough to pick himself up off the ground( clutching his bruised ribs in obvious pain). In retrospect, 1984 was near the apex of the AIDS crisis (so Larry dared not come any closer to the blood). But he did tell Tomas (as-a-matter-of-factly), “You know your white ass shouldn’t be up in the bricks (projects) on a hot summer night with all these thirsty wolves lurkin’!”

Realizing that the well-dressed young man meant him no harm; Tomas pulled the bottom of his shirt over his face- wiping away the dried-up blood mixed with splinters of broken glass and gravel (eventually mustering-up the courage to speak his first words to his future best friend).“This is actually my first time inside Cathedral projects”.

Bingo! Larry’s instincts were on the money again. Tomas’s gentile voice immediately reminded him of some kind of delicate aristocrat or British gentleman.

“Oh yeah?” Larry replied, (pretending to be surprised …subtly opening the door for more dialogue).

“Raffy usually cops the coke for us, but we squabbled last night and he took off with 500 dollars and the old Rolex my grandfather had given me….” Tomas sniffed in the blood clots from his nose before continuing, “I haven’t seen him since, and I just wanted to do a couple of lines to ease the pain and forget about….” Larry raised his right hand signaling “stop”, cutting Tomas off angrily: having already dealt with nearly two minutes of unbearable sniveling, he had no patience for more whiny rationalizations.

”First of all, dude”, the way the disgruntled young man enunciated ‘dude’- like he was mocking a nerdy white person- cut the liberal-minded Tomas almost as bad as one of the beer bottles that had just crashed over his head. “There ain't no powder in the bricks, only cooked-coke and heroin. And second of all, please spare me the bullshit song and dance, and just say you wanted to get high!”

“The nerve of this ghetto bastard”, Tomas thought to himself as he examined the stinging scrapes on his elbows and knees. The rest of the conversation was inconsequential and quite forgettable; but the gist of it was that Larry went into a nearby apartment returning with a damp washcloth, “You can keep it” he said dismissively.

A scruffy Tomas then collected himself just enough to limp beside the fair-skinned drug dealer (at Larry’s request): circling the projects multiple times… hoping to identify the thugs that “stomped the white guy.” The first time around the loop, Larry’s intentions were totally selfish: he wanted to send a stern message to the parasites that chased paying customers away with violence. Other times, slowing down his revenue streams by selling “dummies” (aspirin as crack). But after walking Washington Street and Harrison Avenue a few more times- Tomas’s vulnerability and naiveté began to strike

a chord in Larry.

“Don’t you think you should get a gun or knife or something,” Tomas whimpered while keeling over in disgust- feeling more and more hopeless- realizing that… not only had he been roughed-up by hooligans after his boyfriend stole from him… but now he was being kidnapped by some sort of “cocky, unarmed, pretty boy”. With Tomas’s heart beating like a drum (praying to God that he never laid eyes on the degenerates again); a peeved Larry dragged Tomas around the projects yet another time, boasting, “Don’t need a gun-niggas know who I am!”

90 minutes later, Larry finally gave-up the chase- giving Tomas his beeper number (as some kind of perverse reward) - promising to turn him on to one of his Dominican powder connections. However, Tomas was so traumatized by his “beat-down” that he begged Larry to serve as the intermediary. The rest was history.

After three months of meeting Larry a couple of times a week for a Q (seven grams) or a half (fourteen grams), Tomas ‘sniffed his brains out’ to the point that his blueblood parents cut him off from his trust fund. After going into debt with Larry, Tomas reluctantly went into an expensive rehab clinic on Cape Cod (that featured tennis courts, a sauna, a swimming pool, a masseuse and a buffet style menu).

Upon his triumphant 30 day completion, Tomas never looked back. Instead, he attacked his craft with vengeance; earning “endless recognition” (along with stunning reviews in prestigious magazines for his popular exhibits). Soon thereafter, Tomas regained the respect of his parents- as well as creating quite a market niche for his paintings. Months later, Tomas would gratefully allude to his experience at the posh “country club detox”; making Larry shake his head in astonishing disbelief (while twirling the melting ice cubes in his cognac), joking, “Somebody needs to send my black ass to rehab!”

 

In such a short period of time, the tables were completely turned. Tomas now had much more to lose by his association with Larry. Nevertheless, Tomas eventually became Larry’s most trusted confident. A “queer guardian angel”, always beseeching the young man to “change professions”: offering his penthouse as a refuge from what he called “the madness”. Although Larry never took Tomas up on any of his generous offers- from the job interview he set-up in the financial aid office at Northeastern University to the receptionist position at the gay hair salon on Columbus Avenue.

Nonetheless, Larry did enjoy the spirited conversations revolving around Tomas’s latest whirlwind adventures… from Spain to South Africa. Tomas was not only an engaging speaker, but he was also a sensitive listener. Ultimately, making it his own “personal mission” to “refine” his newfound buddy: introducing Larry to everything from culinary delights to wine tasting to the symphony. Tomas even conned Larry into standing in front of a stencil from time-to-time.

Larry used to blush as Tomas hovered over his back, guiding his brush strokes, raving over his scribble, calling him “a natural”. Tomas became so involved in his “Larry project” that he often lost his temper- raising his feminine voice when Larry gulped down the merlots and chardonnays- browbeating Larry like an overzealous wine coach  (emphasizing the fundamentals of sniffing, swirling and sipping). There was so much to learn about the “upper-crust lifestyle” that Larry could not retain it all. Nonetheless, his ghetto-ass did remember that red wine went with steak, and white

wine with fish.

In the spring of 88’, Tomas was offered a summer teaching position at some college in Oregon (in conjunction with some touring and lectures). The day after Memorial Day (the unofficial start of summertime in Beantown), Tomas pleaded with Larry to hold onto his house key “to water his plants and feed his Siamese cat Jake”. Tomas made it seem like it was so “pressing” and “urgent”; but Larry knew that Tomas had many more options for house-sitters besides his “neighborhood coke dealer”.

After the yellow cab pulled up to 131 West Dedham Street to take Tomas to Logan Airport ( as the Haitian cab driver finished putting the luggage into the trunk); Tomas gave Larry a warm, girly hug- whispering in his ear,” Keep yourself safe kiddo, no matter what!”

“Don’t worry about me Tommy Gun,” Larry whispered back as Tomas held tight.

“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t see those brown eyes again,” Tomas crackled.

And with those last words, Tomas slammed the cab door- leaving Larry in his million-dollar Brownstone (with all his valuable possessions and beloved artwork).

 

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Initially, Tina (Larry’s dark-skinned girlfriend) was very annoyed with his intimate

relationship to “the faggot” (once Tomas quit using drugs). She even went as far as to follow Larry to Tomas’s apartment to confront him; hollering up to the fourth floor window, “faggot this” and “faggot that” and “get you own man”; as an exuberant Tomas came barreling down the stairs surprising Tina with, “So this is the Nubian queen I’ve heard so much about!”

Silencing Tina, he continued to slaughter her rage with kindness, “Now girlfriend why don’t you come upstairs and make yourself comfortable, me casa su casa… have a drink and meet my kitty Jake.”

With Tina’s mouth gaping wide open and her hand still clutching her trusty “007” (7 inch shank); Tomas put his loving arms around the brown bombshell (like they were already the best of friends); leading Tina upstairs to his mini-palace- winking at a dumbfounded Larry as he whispered to his irate girlfriend, “You know you don’t want all the neighbors up in our business!”

That night Tomas taught Tina how to make Margaritas and Daiquiris; fondling her gold chains and trinkets- “oohing” and “ahhing” over her lavishing rings and bracelets. Not only was Tina well-endowed with dazzling solitaire and princess-cut diamonds, but on this occasion, she also happened to be also sporting a variety of glittering rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Tomas must have examined each gem three or four times; becoming infatuated with one, huge, yellow stone- encased in a platinum band (that was very comparable to the estate jewelry his matriarchal great-grandmother used to adorn).

“Have you had any of these marvelous pieces appraised?” he blurted, with Tina (still three years under the legal drinking age) seated on the high stool in the parlor (pouring another alcoholic beverage out of the blender). Still basking in the adoration, the 18-year-old mother responded indifferently, “We ain't never selling it, so there ain't no need.”

Larry had gotten most of the precious stones for ‘forty rocks’ from an assortment of white B&E addicts that preyed on nearby Beacon Hill, Fenway and Back Bay. For all Larry knew, some of the flawless heirlooms that Tomas was admiring could have once belonged to an Adams or Kennedy.

When the enamored host came back from the kitchen with appetizers, Tomas arbitrarily passed the silver platter of jumbo shrimp to Larry; before bowing his head and kissing Tina’s hand in mock homage, declaring, “From now on, I shall call you Cleopatra!” Drunkenly kneeling on the floor (near Tina’s feet) …with an embarrassed Larry tugging at the collar of Tomas’s tee shirt (pleading with him to “get-up”).

Thirty months later, after Larry wrapped-up his “3 to 5” (year sentence), the dynamics of the threesome shifted. Tomas was too horrified and heartbroken to visit Larry in some “caged environment”, but was a sympathetic shoulder to lean on for Tina in her “time of need”. A few days after Larry settled back into Cathedral Projects, the honeymoon period ended abruptly; and it wasn’t long before Tina began beating Larry to the punch… abandoning the homestead (after another heated argument) and traipsing over to West Dedham Street.

Larry still recalls the first “sign of trouble”… when Tomas buzzed him upstairs one sunny afternoon and he was greeted at the door to the unforgettable image of a spellbound Tina nestled on the sofa (with her legs crossed Indian style). Her shoes were strewn across the floor- with a lime green drink in her hand (flipping the channels between daytime soap operas and a Tom Cruise movie)- urging Larry to close the door and “hush”!

Tina kept smacking her lips to the bittersweet taste of one of Tomas’s famous Midori Sours; frantically waving her right index finger at the television screen- directing Larry’s attention across the room, proclaiming, “Tom Cruise got a fucked-up nose, but he is still one fine-ass white boy!” (in a halleluiah-ish tone - as if her black ass just discovered sliced bread).

“But that’s what I adore about him,” Tomas passionately interjected (with his eyes also glued to the big screen), “he coulda’ got a nose job, but he’s keeping it real!” (As the two mates rambunctiously slapped high-five on the leather couch, spilling their drinks and laughing obnoxiously).

The following January, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital (moments after the birth of their second son, Malik): the underage parents agreed that there could only be one godfather. Three months later at the christening ceremony- in the basement lounge of a small Baptist church in Lower Roxbury- Tina indignantly addressed her skeptical home girls, “call him whatever you want to (referring to their derogatory comments)…but that homo is holding some serious paper (money)!”

In retrospect, perhaps Tina’s motives regarding Tomas were not “the purest”; but Larry also knew that no amount of money in the world would allow Tina to put her newborn in harm’s way. Later that day, at the lively reception, Tomas’s irresistible wit and charm had won over even the most critical family members: as all the black folks jovially circled around the clean-cut white man holding Malik with the proudest grin. By the end of the festive religious gathering, everyone over sixteen was “severely buzzed”- clumsily searching their pockets for car keys and business cards (slurring their apologies for rude comments made earlier, before stumbling towards the church parking lot).

“Drive safe,” Larry said to every last patron (as he continued to wrap-up the leftovers). Smiling to himself -while overhearing rumors- that Tomas owned both “a cruise ship line” and “the John Hancock Building”.

And make no mistake, for a homophobe like Tina to name Tomas a godfather was no small thing. Born and raised in the South End, she was practically an expert on homosexuality. The territorial tug-of-war between the Blacks, Puerto Ricans and Gay community was unavoidable. Yet and still, the wealthy Gay stronghold seemed to be gaining more and more ground as of late. The homos financed two local newspapers, numerous coffee shops, thriving restaurants, bistros, video stores, health clubs and barber shops (all within a three mile radius).

Indeed, Tina had seen it all from her same-sex counterparts: from the angry/ anal types to the sex-aholic sluts to the insane fags pulling out their penis’s (masturbating in public) to the materialistic/ prissy/ pink tie/executives to the closet fags to the traditional flamers to the red lipstick/ wig wearing/ cross dressers to the fitness fanatics in their muscle tee shirts and waxed moustaches to the earthy-crunchy types that did not believe in using deodorant (wearing straw farmer’s hats while tilling organic fruits and vegetables in their sprawling backyards with their smelly armpits…).

Yet, as a young black woman, Tina also understood (to some degree) many of the psycho-social layers and idiosyncratic complexities of a “cursed demographic” (that has been persecuted by mainstream society since the Stone Age).

 

In her mind, kindhearted Tomas was obviously a unique “exception to the norm”. Tomas was the most pleasant and well-adjusted fag she ever met. Not to mention, the most down-to-earth rich person in the city of Boston. With Tomas there was never any angst or judgment. In the final analysis, his sexual preference was simply the defining personality trait of one of the nicest persons she had ever known.

 

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More recently (just before he went to the Pacific Northwest), one could almost say that it was Tomas who held the young couple together. Acting as the intermediary, as Larry started coming over to the apartment less and less- but would periodically call over looking for his “missing” fiancée….

“Tommy, can you tell Tina that Malik won’t stop crying!” As Tomas would cover the telephone mouthpiece while relaying the message (eventually coming back with), “She said to give him his pacifier and to turn out all the lights and rock him in your arms while singing to him- he

must be overtired.”

“Yo Tommy, tell that bitch that her son has a temperature and to bring her ass home!”

Again, Tomas was careful to cover the receiver (loosely translating Larry’s request in the facetious tone of some bow-tied butler), “Your hubby wants to know when he might be expecting you, Madame?” Tomas bit his upper-lip as he removed his cusped palm from the communication device, “She said she will be back after she finishes her Mai Tai.”

With Apple Jack chucking pebbles at Larry’s bedroom window (looking for hundreds of dollars in drugs) and his pager ringing non-stop (totaling an additional thousand or two) and the baby crying in the dark… Larry slammed the phone with one hand while codling Malik in the other, thinking; Ain't this a bitch!”

Other times, the perennial struggle might go a little something like…. “Yo Tommy, tell Tina that I got mad plays (customers) waiting for me and to pleeeeeze come home.”

“Tell him fuck Apple, Boris, Terrence, Travis and the whole crew... ask him where was his buddies when he was locked-up?”

“Where were you when I was locked-up?”

“Don’t go there nigga!”

“Bitch I’ll go where I please!”

“Don’t go there nigga, you might not like what you find!”

“I don’t give a fuck what I find- just bring your black ass home!”

Sometimes, their voices were so loud that even Tomas’s clenched hands could not buffer the epithets… “You aint shit bitch!”

“You ain’t shit nigga!”

“Nah, you aint shit!” And so on, and so on…. As a wearied Tomas would wait for his chance to intervene with some kind of reconciliatory comment along the lines of, “Think of the boys” or “Think of all you have been through” (usually to no avail).

“Don’t fuckin’ remind me Tommy!”

“Don’t remind me, nigga!”

“Just bring your ass home!”

“I’ll come home when I’m good and ready!”

“You will come home when I tell you!”

“I’m coming home after I get my drink on, besides, me and Tommy is kickin’ it, all you doin’ is ruining the vibe... hang-up the phone Tommy!”

Once in a while, Larry might try a more subtle approach (appealing to Tomas’s more practical side)… “Yo Tommy, you know me and you go way back. And with all that you have on your plate, I know that the last thing you need is some black bitch from the projects bringing all that trailer-park, ghetto-drama to your doorstep!”

“Larry, you know I don’t like it when you guys call each other names,” Tomas conceded.

“My bad, Tommy, but I just don’t want to see the bitch take you down after all you been through.”

“But she isn’t taking me...”

“I know you don’t see it that way right now, but trust me Tommy, the bitch has a way of doing things.”

“What the hell are you talking about Larry- she just doesn’t want to see you get killed!”

“See, that’s what I’m talkin’ bout, who the hell is talkin’ bout anybody getting killed!”

“She is!”

“You know Tommy, you just have to trust me on this one and kick that bitch out your house and don’t let her back in!”

“I don’t know if I can do that to Cleo?”

“Yo Tom, the bitch aint no Cleopatra, trust me.” And on, and on, it went.

The shit really hit the fan the day Tina found out that Larry secretly quit his supermarket job after only seven weeks. She spent the next three nights over Tomas’s pad with the two boys: drinking heavily and pounding on the sofa cushion, bawling, “Why Tommy, Why? We still got more loot tucked away than most niggas, I got a good job now- he had a job. Why?”

After letting her ventilate and cool down a bit, while bouncing his godson on his lap, as J-Rock watched cartoons; Tomas calmly responded to what was perhaps the premiere question plaguing an enigmatic, Afro-American culture, “Cleo honey, all I can say is that someone with Larry’s special gifts and qualities might not be able to find his way in a traditional workplace.”

Looking into to his eyes, she demanded clarification, “So what you sayin’ Tommy?”

Tomas now had Malik smiling while nibbling on his tiny fingers, “I’m not really sure what I’m saying, all I know is that the whole situation kinda reminds me of how I had to go through that coke thing to find my place.”

Tina raised a perturbing eyebrow, pressing him onward, “I’m just starting to think that the streets might be the way that someone like Larry is supposed to…”

“Supposed to what?” Tina snapped.

Tomas’s forehead began to sweat as he squeamishly communicated the one thing that came to his mind- the very thing that he could not even fathom saying aloud…

“Maybe the streets is where Larry is gonna find his purpose…” stuttering to find the right words “you know, his reason for being…” Tina’s puzzled face beckoned Tomas to finish what he started. “God and all that stuff!” Tomas surrendered.

“You as crazy as he is Tommy!” Tina scorned.

“Yeah I know.” Tomas candidly admitted.

A few seconds of reflective silence passed between them. Tina’s tremoring nerves continued to vibrate the couch- as her puffy eyes began to slowly leak tears of restrained frustration. Tomas immediately regretted sharing his sorrowful revelation; as a cringing Tina gazed over at her two beautiful sons, before defiantly wiping the salty streaks from her pretty brown cheeks. The resilient single parent (whose mom, grandmother and great-grandmother also went unwed) - quickly rebounded as usual, “Make me another rum and coke, Tommy, please.”

The rueful caretaker gently placed his godson unto the nearest pillow, obediently rising from the sofa, “Sure thing Cleo.”

Loren Miner is a local emerging writer

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