Features

Street Smart

I want to tell you a little bit about this guy who’s words you’re about to read, but I promise you I’ll keep it brief and get out of the way as soon as possible. When it comes to dark, gritty, and violent crime fiction, Angel Luis Colón is, to put it bluntly, the real fuckin’ deal. His words drip with noir and he’s not afraid to look directly and honestly at the most heinous of deeds men are capable of doing and paint in in a bloody, brutal light that makes you want to keep turning and turning until you run out of pages. In July of last year he released a short novel called Pull & Pray and he has a new novel, Hell Chose Me coming on February 4th, both of which are something you should be excited about and most definitely are going to want to pick up copies of. In the meantime, I hope you dig this article as much as I did and that you love Angel’s words as much. Read on.

SDK

STREET SMART

an essay by Angel Luis Colón

“Can you hold this for me?” He was frantic—looking behind him like he’d been chased.

I wasn’t a friend of Corrado’s (not using a real name here) but we were in a lot of the same classes. I always found this strange because he barely showed up to class in the first place. Saw him when we tried out for football, but I’m not even sure he cared about that either.

What he wanted me to hold was his bookbag. He held it like there was a bomb inside. I wasn’t dumb, but I had the common sense of a teenager, so I agreed to help him. Took the bag, shoved it into my locker, and closed it without a word.

“Good looking out, I’ll see you after school.” And off he ran.

I don’t believe in street cred. It’s easy to fake and often mistaken for power. Anyone I’ve ever known who put stock in street cred was either a complete fucking liar or dead before 20.

That said, I’m also not the biggest fan of leveraging that “street cred” into my writing career. Will I use my experiences and the people I’ve met as foundations for stories? Without question. Will I pretend that I AM those stories? How can I? I may not have been born with a silver spoon up my ass, but I was lucky enough to have enough people around to knock me upside the head when I wasn’t thinking right.

And I get it: hustle is hustle. Sometimes that kind of shit sells, ESPECIALLY when you’re marginalized. The ruling class fucking loves to clap like drunk seals at the idea of the noble savages crafting art that, when consumed, makes the seals look cool or intelligent or woke. All that bullshit drives me insane, but I get how we sometimes need it to feed the machine for the greater good.

This is probably why I avoid writing anything very true to life unless I see something poetic in it.

Cory disappeared halfway through sophomore year. I kept notes for him in the classes we shared and made sure his mom got them every week. Nobody talked about where he was or what happened.

A few weeks after the holidays, he popped up again. Skinny. The heterochromia that left his eyes blue and brown didn’t pop like it used to. The kid looked sick but seemed happy. He was chatty. Thanked me for keeping the notes for him.

In the spring he came by and asked me if I wanted to sell weed with him. Said it was easier than what he was doing before and wouldn’t get sent back to Daytop—whatever the hell that was. I wasn’t about to ask, to be honest.

“Sure” I said. “I need some cash.”

There’s an allure to the charming, street-wise asshole. The characters in my fiction have that gloss to them—that factor that makes you incapable of looking away. The lead’s a murderer? So what? He’s got reasons. He’s got a snarky line for every bullet he fires. He’s just plain cool.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss the issues behind the “problem behavior.” The desperation. The inability to find focus or determination when those qualities were never advocated at home. The poverty line, the Section 8, the food assistance, the abuse, the side hustles. Surviving’s only rule is that: to survive. How it happens doesn’t matter. There’s no time to think about those things. There’s only time to keep moving before whatever it is behind you catches up.

I was standing on line at a Hollywood Video after a long day at work—retail. It was trash. Tired, but looking to rent a movie or a video game—something to pass the time over the weekend since I was smart enough to game my schedule.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder: Cory.

We hugged it out. He’d gained a ton of weight but seemed happy. Told me about his daughter and the divorce. Told me about the construction gig and how much of a hassle it was, but his side hustle helped.

I stupidly asked about the side hustle and he told me his mom was always getting pills she didn’t want to take. How he was making a killing in our neighborhood alone. Didn’t even need to leave his apartment for this shit.

He didn’t ask if I wanted in and I didn’t show any interest. Knew better, by then. Well, should’ve known better than to go out for a drink, but I wanted to be friendly.

I found out I officially aged out of fighting that night.

Ignoring those motives, though, I’d say that’s what really hurts the kind of crime fiction I write. Unless we face the monsters, how do we examine why people do what they do? In life, motives are simple but the path to the decision isn’t, and while I don’t believe in glamorizing vicious criminals, using dead women as props, or lionizing rogue cops, I think exploring those motives and origins can shed light on the broken systems that lead us to the darker places.

I’d argue that to not examine those roots leaves us naïve, incapable of understanding the very genre we’re writing. Ultimately, street smarts alone won’t provide that level of understanding. That’s a simple start. Maturity, the ability to find an alternate means of survival; maybe that’s a path. Unfortunately, that path isn’t always available. Some folks are going to slip off at the expense of others. Some folks are going to be eaten alive. Until we dig in and truly understand that systems are in place to support that, we’re lost.

Shit, I’d even argue the whole street-cred dick-measuring contest is part of the perpetuation of the broken systems that frame our stories. Look at rap in the 90s for shit’s sake.

But it’s different for everyone. Some people are born rotten and some are misunderstood. Some people are born to be ancillary and some move past and transcend their stations to take the lead.

Some people write those stories and some find meaning in that chaos in the hopes of providing a lesson to everyone willing to listen.

It was New Year’s, 2005. Cold as fuck. We were walking down Middletown Road—by the train station. Quiet street. Not much foot traffic until you went around the corner where the 7-11 and Burger King were open late hours because of the busy bus stop across the street.

I spotted Cory halfway to the car. He was standing in the alcove of a building entrance. He was fidgeting. Hands dug into his jacket pockets like his life depended on it. He was eyeing my girlfriend but not me.

“Yo, Cory,” I called out.

I surprised him, but he shook it off. Smiled and stayed put—made me walk to him. I told my girl to go to the car and walked over. Put out my hand, but he didn’t offer his back, so we have had awkward dap/hug that was all my effort.

We talked about life. I asked about his daughter. He told me he was going to see her soon. Said he’s locked out of his building and was waiting for his girlfriend. Whole time, those hands were dug deep in his pockets. He never looked me in the eye.

I asked him how the job was. He laughed. Said he just got out of an 18-month bid “in college.” I asked if he’s doing OK. He said he was.

I got my wallet and offered a twenty. “In case you need a cab to go to your mom’s,” I said.

He used his left hand to take the cash and thanked me.

I wished him a Happy New Year and got in the car.

BUY HELL CHOSE ME
hellchoseme

BUY PULL & PRAY
pullandpray

Categories: Features

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