Bobby Lee assembled what looked like a deep urban uniform in his apartment: baggy blue jeans, black tank top, and a blue Yankee’s hat. The deep curvature of his spine made him appear like Mr. Burns crossed with a wannabe gangbanger. The baseball cap, typically a gargantuan and imposing threat, just looked oversized on his head; it made him look like a white baby with a tiny skull.
“We going to latin night,” he said.
“A little warning would have been nice,” I said.
“Shut up, Jo. You’re latin,” Bobby Lee said as a matter of fact. “You should feel at home.”
I rolled my eyes. I didn’t present as a thug. I was dressed in all black, with skinny jeans and a knit cap with baby pins stuck to it. I looked like an art thief. I wanted to go out with no surprises, which is when Bobby Lee springs surprises.
“They like to leave the stickers on top of the bills,” Bobby Lee said.
Who was they? I thought to myself. Latinos I guessed. Bobby Lee pointed to one big yellow sticker underneath the bill of his cap. I had no clue what he was saying.
“I’m sorry. I don’t wear caps. They make my head sweaty,” I said.
“They like to wear stickers on their caps because it shows the caps are new. Fresh.”
I knew Bobby Lee was enamored of thugs, but I didn’t realize the extent of his passion until I saw him dressing for latin night. A thug, for me, was a blood or crip who was usually talked about in the news as a black or latino person who had shot someone or had been shot themselves. For Bobby Lee a thug was a brown or black naked porn star with a 9 inch uncut penis. All this talk about thugs brought me back to my high school years in Inglewood, where my friends from grade school slowly lost their boyhoods and developed new looks and a strange vocabulary. I had a friend I used to walk home with all the time, his name was also José, same as mine, and one time he slipped a glock out from the waistband of his wide pants, like a terrifying magic trick, he dared me to look at it. I hadn’t seen José for years when I asked a classmate if she had seen him, and she told me—matter of factly—in-between bites of her chiclets, that he’d been shot and killed during a drive-by. I had nightmares about drive-bys, both waking nightmares and sleeping nightmares. Sitting in front of great big windows near busy streets caused my palms to sweat involuntarily. I used to measure the angle of an imaginary bullet fired from the street flying into the window of our second-floor apartment and would tell people not to stand in the path of that angle throughout the day. I remembered the film Dangerous Minds with Michelle Pfeiffer, and Gangtsta’s Paradise, the hit single from the film sung by Coolio. Actual gangbangers use to play that song down the streets of Los Angeles, like a self-parody, like they were movie stars. And now Bobby Lee showed me the porn version of the movie, and thinking about it that way, his thugs were probably not unlike my thugs. I wanted to go to Latin Night so that Bobby Lee would be happy, and so I could visualize this big gay version of Dangerous Minds.