Chapter Six: A Wasted Youth

Cloverleaf - Dead-end of Corpus Christi Street-Late 1991-1994

The streets of Cloverleaf are straight and narrow and named after Texas cities. Those stretching south begin at Interstate-10 and extend about five miles to Alderson and a patch of woods about a quarter mile wide. Just beyond these woods a gully divides Cloverleaf from Northshore, a predominantly middle class area. Technically, traveling west, Uvalde Road also separates Cloverleaf from Northshore, but most of us considered Freeport Street the western end of “Cloverdump” or “The Dump,” as we affectionately called it. Because once you cross Freeport the differences are readily apparent: there are no sidewalks, the ditches are deeper and wider and often littered with trash, there are no street lights and the stop signs are either peppered with bullet holes, tagged with graffiti or altogether missing. All of the roads heading east stretch another five miles and dead-end at another patch of woods, also about a quarter mile wide. Beyond these woods you’ll find Beltway 8 and Channelview. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s Cloverleaf was mostly a run-down area, home to poor Whites and Hispanics.

We moved back to The Dump when I was twelve years old. Aunt Lema and Ricky were living in the back trailer of a four trailer lot at the dead-end of Corpus Christi Street, right against the woods to the east. It was a decent 3 bedroom/2 bathroom trailer, but as usual Aunt Lema had a full house. Mike, Tammie, Carrol and JR all lived with her when Junior and his bunch moved in. At that time, Aunt Lema’s healtch was rapidly declining. She had difficulty breathing and complained that the constant traffic was stealing her air. We’d visit several times, and my dad was concerned about his sister. Together they came up with a solution: Aunt Lema and Ricky moved into an apartment several blocks away on Hershey, Carrol and JR moved in with her family in Orange, Texas, Mike and Tammy were taken in by Cousin Nancy in Beaumont, Texas and we moved into Aunt Lema’s old trailer with Junior’s bunch, who, a couple of months later, moved into the side trailer once it became available. This way, my father reasoned, we’d be closer to family and Steven wouldn’t have to drive halfway across Houston to pick Junior up for work each morning. My brother said he was tired of “burning daylight having to put my boot in his fat ass!” My dad, on the other hand, was a delivery driver and didn’t mind waking up thirty minutes early to make the commute to Bill Dee’s.

When we first moved in there were some existing trails through the woods behind our trailer, but they were mostly overgrown. Over the next couple of years my cousins and friends helped me cut miles of trails wide enough to ride bikes through back there. We built clubhouses and tree houses, hunted rabbits and birds and played war games in these and other wooded areas around Cloverleaf. I became intimately familiar with the woods of Cloverleaf, Northshore and Channelview. It was my territory. Anytime the cops, truant officers, or anyone else chased me I knew I’d be safe if I could just reach the nearest woods. That’s why I preferred to either be on foot or a bike when I went out robbing and thieving.

School of Hard Knocks

I resumed the 6th grade at the old Northshore Middle School, located besides Northshore High School, just past the gully into Northshore on Freeport. My dad thought it would be good for me to go to school with more white kids. While Aldine Junior High was a decent school it was about 60% black and, although my father never knew I went to school there, Drew Middle School was easily 80% black. Northshore was considerably more diverse. I’d say it was close to 40% white, 30% Hispanic and 30% black. The majority of the black kids lived in nice apartment complexes in Northshore, while about half of the whites and Hispanics lived in the middle class neighborhoods in Northshore. The rest of us were from Cloverdump. It was pretty easy to figure out which side of the gully a kid lived on.

There was an entirely different culture at Northshore, one that I felt more comfortable in. It wasn’t just that there were more whites, rather it was because there were more kids into the things I liked such as skating, riding bikes, video games, exploring nature and swimming. I remember the gully by the school flooding that first year. After school let out a bunch of us Cloverdump boys stripped to our underwear and dove right in. We barely noticed the plastic bags, beer bottles and other garbage floating by!

My first friend at Northshore was a short, stocky kid named Jose. I was at my locker that first morning, a little nervous about being in a new school, when Jose approached me wearing a wool black and white poncho, gold chain, jeans, black suede shoes and his famous smile. He thought he was smooth as silk, even if most of the chicks thought he was a creepy weirdo and most of the dudes hated his guts. Jose seemed to have the scoop on everyone. He clued me in the day we met. “You see him? That’s Ricky Romero, the baddest vato in 6th grade. Check out that fine ass blonde. Her name’s Tara Brown, the hottest chick in school. She likes me, but since I’m not a Prep she won’t go out with me, or accept anymore notes. That’s Mrs. Jones, the 6th grade counselor. Her breath smells like crap.” Jose made me laugh, and I enjoyed his company those first couple months.

After school I followed Jose to his apartments in Northshore. We used to swim at the pool there and lift weights in his bedroom. He was all about exercising and eating healthy so he could play baseball, his greatest passion aside from girls. When we first met he smoked cigarettes with me, probably just to look cool, but he soon quit. He never touched weed because he said it “makes me feel stupider than I am.”

Jose had over twenty girls’ phone numbers, none of which wanted him to have their personal information. At his apartment and in-between exercising and playing games he prank called them. He made funny noises or tried to disguise his voice and ask them out. One number he had belonged to Allison, a cute blonde that I had a crush on. He dialed her number and handed me the phone. “Hello?” She answered. After a few seconds of nervous silence on my end she became irate. “Jose? Is that you? I know it’s you! Stop calling my house, you freak!” I had a few classes with Allison and talked to her occasionally, but I would’ve died if she ever found out that was me on the line that day.

We had the typical cliques at Northshore: Preps, Jocks, Geeks and Nerds, Gangbangers, Rednecks, Goths and Headbangers. I guess I was mostly considered a Headbanger or Skater-type, but I liked country music and identified with some of the Rednecks. The thing is, I was very self-conscious and lacked confidence at first because of the cheap clothes I wore. All of the “cool” and “popular” kids wore name brands like Levi, Girbaux, Guess, Hilfiger and Nike. I was extremely shy in my Rustlers, a generic brand of Wranglers, and Wal Mart clothes. I desperately wanted to fit in an dress like the “popular” crowd, regardless of their clique.

Jose had a nice pair of Elise shoes that I coveted. One day after school he told me to follow him. We walked to the Academy Sports and Outdoors store on Uvalde. We made our way to the shoe section and located the same style of Elise he wore. He said to wait until no one was watching and switch shoes, then leave the ones I had worn into the store inside the shoebox. I did just as he instructed and we casually walked around, acting normal, then left the store. Piece of cake.

I thought I was The Shit in my new shoes! I showed them off to my cousins, who snitched on me to my mom. She demanded to know where I got them. I lied and told her my girlfriend’s mom took us shopping and bought them for me. Mom never checked my story.

Sadly, I thought the clothes I wore would enhance my character and status amongst my peers, but they never did. I became obsessed with clothes and shoes. From the time I stole the shoes with Jose forward, I either stole my clothes and shoes or bought them with money made from working or my illegal activities. More often than not it was the latter. I learned a variety of techniques to steal from clothing stores and malls and became quite proficient at it. My vanity and the ignorance that stemmed from it directly influenced my subsequent criminal lifestyle and I soon spiraled out of control.

 

Once the final bell rang and classes let out for the day all of the cool kids from both the middle and high schools crossed Freeport and the gully to Pac’s #2 corner store on Alderson, not to be confused with Pac’s #1 on Freeport and Corpus Christi Street. The parking lot and sidewalk by the front entrance and pay phones were crowded with kids in backpacks, lounging around and trying to act cool by smoking cigarettes, sometimes pot. Inside the store a couple of middle aged Arab men tried to keep an eye on the kids roaming the aisles and hanging out by the arcades.

Not long after I began school at Northshore I found myself amongst the crowd of youngsters watching a couple of high school kids play the game Street Fighter II. I’d never seen the game before and was utterly captivated by the awesome graphics and sound effects of each character as they fought. One of the kids playing, a sixteen year old named Juan Vargas, was destroying every kid who challenged him. I had a couple of quarters in my pocket and placed one on the screen – as I’d saw others do – to signify that I wanted to play next. I selected the green monster character, Blankk, because I thought he looked mean enough to give me a shot against Juan, but Juan quickly dispatched a man with a flurry of kicks, punches and “special moves” by his fighter, Chun Li, a wicked female character whose battle cry I can still hear today.

“You’ve gotta learn how to use each fighter and perform their special moves,” Juan later told me. “Be there early in the morning when it’s not so crowded and I’ll teach you.”

Not only was I there about an hour before school the next morning, I practically lived at Pac’s #2 the rest of my 6th grade year. My mom was surprised at how easy it was to wake me up for school for awhile there, after struggling with me so much the previous year. I would hurry to get ready each morning, jump on my bike and jet through Cloverdump to get to Pac’s #2. My life seemed to revolve around Street Fighter II.

No sooner did I master Street Fighter II and supplant Juan as the kid to beat they installed a new arcade, Mortal Kombat. It was another action-packed fighting game, but with better graphics and sick end-of-match finishing moves called “fatalities.” Once you had your opponent’s energy bar depleted a voice rang out, “Finish Him!” If you performed the correct combination code with the joystick and buttons your character would engage in its fatality, rip your opponent’s heart out, blast his head off with electricity or some other kill move that splashed blood and guts and organs everywhere, drawing “oohs” and “aahs” from the spectators. I mastered Mortal Kombat as well and dominated the completion at Pac’s # II.

Justin Lee

I was playing Mortal Kombat at Pac’s #II the day I met Justin Lee, a kid about my age yet slightly shorter and a little stockier than me, with curly brown hair. He was in the 7th grade and I’d seen him around school but never spoke to him. Incidentally, his older brother Shane was in the 6th grade with me, and we had a few classes together. Shane was an extraordinarily tall kid who later became a star basketball for Northshore High School, but he had a learning disability and, despite being older than Justin, he was a year behind him. While Shane was shy and introverted, Justin was out going and extroverted and he and I hit it off from the jump. He invited me to his house, a white house off Victoria in Cloverleaf where James Terry used to live before he moved to Eagle Pass. I met his parents and younger sister Amy. As soon as Amy saw me she said, “You’re friends with Jose, right?”

“Yeah, but he moved.”

“Good! He’s a nasty boy. Thinks he’s fine, but he’s a puke and needs to learn what no means!”

I spent most of the rest of my 6th grade year hanging out with Justin. If we weren’t at one of the Pac’s playing games we went swimming in one of the apartment complexes in Northshore public pool, or we rode bikes or his go-cart, which he blew the engine to after riding it into the gully. Justin also helped me with some of the trails behind my place. Most weekends he either spent the night with me or I slept over at his house. He liked staying with me because we could get away with more, like smoking pot and cigarettes. His parents would’ve grounded him for life if they would’ve caught him getting stoned!

We also frequented the local skating rink, called Skatetown USA, almost every weekend. I’d gone there once before with Jose, but he got beat up by Ricky Romero and didn’t want to show his face there again. You couldn’t keep Justin and me away, though. We were a couple of show-offs out on the skating floor, racing each other and doing tricks in the competitions. I had a girlfriend then named Shelly Powell who lived in the apartments behind Justin’s house. Shelly was Justin’s chick the year before, but he was totally cool with me being with her since he was with Angela Garza. We used to take our chicks to the skating rink so they could cheer us on and slow skate with us during “couples only.” Afterwards, we’d see how far we could get with them outside in the parking lot.

The reactions I got from the crowd at Skatetown when I won a competition or did a full-tuck back flip on skates went straight to my head. Of course one of my most embarrassing moments back then was when I was first perfecting that flip and busted my ass, sliding right into a couple of girls from the high school! But I was fast, athletic and versatile, and I thought I was the coolest motherfucker on wheels! I’m sure I was annoying to a lot of the kids there, but you couldn’t tell me that then!

One afternoon I showed up at Justin’s and found him, Amy, Shane and Shannon Becker hanging out on his front porch, listening to the radio. Shannon was James Terry’s niece and she lived with James, her dad and step-mom and older sister Debbie. I’d known them for about a year. I used to mess around with Debbie while Shannon watched out for us and tried to control her giggles. Shannon was around my age with long, brown hair and a pretty face, but she never caught my eye until that day on Justin’s porch. Probably because she wore glasses. I was pretty vain back then. But at Justin’s that afternoon Shannon sang along to “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers – the first I’d heard of them – and I was charmed by her beauty and sweet voice. She wore tight shorts and when she got up to leave Justin said, “Damn, that’s one fine ass right there.” I agreed and said as much, and Amy told Shannon what we’d said, the little snot!

The next afternoon at Justin’s Amy ran up to me with excitement. “Do you like Shannon?”

“Huh?” She caught me off guard and I was suddenly nervous.

“Do you like her? ‘Cause she likes you and you two would be cute together!”

I’d broken up with Shelly weeks before when Justin said he caught her and her brother Robert Powell kissing. I asked Shelly if it was true and she became hostile with me so I took that as a yes. So, I was single and, hell yeah, I wanted to hook up with Shannon. Amy arranged everything, sitting us on the couch and even placing our hands together because “y’all are obviously too shy to do it on your own!”

It didn’t last a week between Shannon and me. We’d set it up that weekend so Shannon would be Amy’s sleepover guest and I’d be Justin’s. Justin’s parents went out with friends and we were left to our own devices. Justin and I had smoked some pot and then he and Shannon started drinking his dad’s beer. I rarely drank alcohol and didn’t touch any that night. Things soon got out of hand. Justin started getting all touchy-feely with Shannon, singing songs to her and acting like an idiot. I got pissed off and wrestled him to the floor, but I could tell he was drunk and didn’t realize how mad I was at him because he kept laughing hysterically. He continued to flirt with Shannon and, from my vantage point, she didn’t try to stop him or discourage him in the least.

I left the room and Amy followed me. Amy was a pretty girl, but she was almost two years younger than me, and besides, I had a crush on Shannon. That night I discovered that Amy had a secret crust on me, though. She knew I was upset about her brother and Shannon and tried to cheer me up. The next thing I knew we were on her bed kissing. The door opened and there stood Shannon. Her mouth fell open and she ran out of the house and walked home. I tried to catch up to her and explain myself, but she shook me off. Our short fling was officially over.

Years later, after Shannon blossomed into a straight knock-out, I tried again to hook up with her. She said I blew my chance cheating on her and really wasn’t trying to hear my side of things. She sure liked to tease me, though, shaking her fine ass and flirting with me when I came around without giving me any action! I really screwed any chance I might’ve had with her by telling her I’m the one that made up the infamous song about her after our break-up: “Shannon Becker/Black&Decker/Give her a quarter and she’ll suck your pecker!”

One night, while spending the night at Justin’s, we wanted to go to Pac’s #1 and play video games, but we had no money. We’d blow his allowance the previous day. His parents were asleep and he said, “My dad got paid yesterday and has a fat roll of cash. I think I can sneak in their room and swipe us a five spot.”

He was gone about five minutes before returning with the money. We ran over to Pac’s #1 and blew the money on drinks and games. On the walk back to his place, as we were still racing with adrenaline, he said he thought he could snag us another five dollar bill. That turned into almost fifty dollars, which we blew on games and snacks. It was almost daylight before we finally crashed out, delirious from a wild night out.

The following morning I woke to Justin’s dad screaming. He burst into the room and gave us both a stern talking to. Thankfully, he wasn’t the type to spank his children or their friends. Justin cried and confessed to everything. His dad was upset, but he finally hugged him after lecturing us both on the wrongness of stealing. I was even pulled into the hugging. Surprisingly, Justin’s dad took us out to eat for breakfast and gave us both a five dollar bill to play games!

Justin was a good kid with awesome parents, especially his hot, blonde mother who visited me in many of my fantasies back then. They wisely forbade him from hanging out with me about six months into our friendship. We’d been caught skipping school together and that was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

Eugene Enright

One of my best friends in life was first my enemy. Eugene Enright, a short wiry dude with long brown hair, was a few months older than me and we went to Northshore together. I was in-between classes when Eugene and a tall skinny kid named Jacob approached me in the hallway. Eugene snarled and pointed a finger at me. “Are you Robert Pruett?”

“Who’s asking?” I asked.

“I am, motherfucker!” Eugene might’ve been small, but he was a fighter and pretty ferocious. “Nicole said you called her a bitch.”

Now this was making sense, I remember thinking. “Nicole from math? Yeah, she is a fucking bitch.”

“You think you’re tough, dude?” Eugene seemed ready to swing, but I wasn’t intimidated. “That’s Ricky Romero’s chick. Let him find out about this and he’ll beat the fuck out of you!”

“Fuck you and Ricky Romero, man. Y’all don’t scare me!”

The bell rang and he promised me it wasn’t over. Eugene swears up and down that the hallway confrontation wasn’t as big a deal as I made it out to be and that he never made the Ricky Romero comment. He says he only jammed me up because Nicole used to let him finger bang her, that he knew she was a bitch and couldn’t stand her himself. I remember what I remember.

There was tension and animosity between Eugene and I the rest of the 6th grade year. We almost fought once after Saturday detention because he kept cutting a mad dog stare at me and I flipped him off. His ride was waiting on him when they let us out and, again, he vowed to, “deal” with me later.

I had a friend everyone called Fat Thomas, a huge kid from high school that I met at Pac’s #2. During the early part of the summer of 1992, after Justin wasn’t allowed to hang out with me anymore, I spent a lot of time with Fat Thomas at the Gentry apartments, just down the road from Pac’s #2 on Alderson. He lived there with his hippy mom and their Shar pei dog. We used to get high listening to Pink Floyd with a strobe light on.

It was at Fat Thomas’ apartments that summer that I ran into Eugene and Rusty, a blond kid from the 7th grade who was then Eugene’s best friend. Rusty also lived at the Gentry, and together they came racing into the parking lot on bikes. I thought Eugene and I would surely fight then, but we all started talking about the situation and the next thing I know we’re all friends. We all spent the night at Rusty’s apartment with his sister and her high school friend – two smoking hot chicks that kept my tongue tied in knots all night long. I got so stoned that I was the first one to fall asleep and the boys rubbed mustard and ketchup all over me. I awoke to the chicks laughing and was incredibly embarrassed. That’s the price I had to pay for falling asleep early, though. Believe me, everyone of those motherfuckers got it worse when they fell asleep first on me!

The four of us hung out the rest of the summer. Although he was a jovial spirit and a natural comedian, a genuine joy to hang out with, Fat Thomas was a huge dork in that he loved the role plying game Dungeons n’ Dragons. He talked us into starting a game with him. We drew up character sheets and started an adventure plying by the rules, but in no time our stoned asses were playing ad-lib and the game turned to chaos. Even with all the pot we smoked during sessions the game got boring to us (except for Fat Thomas; he could’ve played all day everyday) and we hit the streets of Cloverdump and Northshore on our bikes.

Eventually, we started stealing together. It began with us having the munchies and us stealing snacks from stores up and down Freeport. Then we stole clothes together from TJ Fashion on Uvalde as well as the surf and skate shop on Woodforest. We also hit a smoke shop called Pepper Joe’s one night, using an axe to burst through the side and we ran off with pipes and bongs and Triple Beam scales. We almost got caught when Fat Thomas got stuck between the boards where we entered, though! Just as we yanked him out a cop car passed. No doubt the cop would’ve seen us had we not disappeared into the woods.

Eugene took us to his house on Force Street. His place was usually jam-packed with teenagers and young adults. His brother, Jessie “Pegleg” Young (they had different dads, same mom), was largely responsible for that. Jessie was about eight years older than us, and when he was sixteen lost his leg in a motorcycle accident off Ridlin in Channelview. Afterwards, Jessie became one of the most popular dudes on the east side. Everywhere he went people were waving and hollering at him, asking after him. I was surprised by how many people he knew. He also sold pot out of their place and people were always in and out for that.

Eugene’s sisters are another reason they kept full house. They were in high school and very popular. Tabitha was in the twelfth grade. She had short black hair and sorta acted as a mother figure to Eugene because their mom was rarely around. Coleen was a year behind Tabitha, she had long blonde hair and both girls were very good looking, thus, they kept lots of boys around. Tabitha moved to Mississippi after she got married in early 1993 so I never really got to know her. Coleen was rarely home, but I got to know her pretty well over the years, and I had a huge crush on her.

Eugene could pretty much come and go as he pleased without answering to anyone. Gene, his mom, and her boyfriend “Boo” (Eugene never knew his real father) were hooked on crack when I first met him, and she never brought it home in front of her kids but everyone knew. While Eugene enjoyed his freedom, I could tell it bothered him that his mom neglected him so much, and he was worried about her. I remember one time, not long after we met, when Gene was home and in her room. Eugene and I were there and about to hit the streets. He said he needed to check in with his mom first. I thought that was odd because he never needed her permission before. It was after midnight, but she didn’t object.

Eugene became a brother to me, as did Jessie. His mom became the best of friends with my parents. We all grew to love each other like family, helping each other and even living with each other during hard times. While Eugene, Rusty and I were as tight as a frog’s pussy over the years, Fat Thomas broke away from the group around the start of the new school year in 1992. We were all briefly reunited during the Christmas break that year, and I fondly recall the four of us being on top of the high school gym on New Year’s Eve as the clock ticked towards midnight. We were stoned and had started drinking 40-ounces of malt liquor an old bum bought for us. Right at the stroke of New Year’s 1993, we slammed our beers and launched the bottles out onto the street. We then made a pact: no matter what we would all meet back up on the top of that gym at midnight on New Year’s ten years later. We made the pact because we were sad we’d be losing Fat Thomas in mere days. Ten years later, at the stroke of midnight, I thought about my old friends and wondered where they were, how they’d been doing, if they were also thinking of me and our pact. I wondered then and now if any of them even knew I couldn’t keep my end of the deal because I was on death row…

Trouble at School

Despite being at Northshore longer than any other school, I can’t recall a single teacher’s name, nor the principal’s name, even after setting records for appearances in his office for getting into trouble. This is likely because about halfway through the 6th grade I was constantly high and my attention span and desire to be at school rapidly diminished. At first I was enthused about each day, getting to Pac’s #2 as fast as I could and then getting over to school. Gradually, my interest in academics faded and I fell behind my classes, barely skating through the 6th grade.

I told myself I’d do better at the start of the 7th grade, but things only got worse. I’d started getting into trouble in the 6th grade, being sent to the principal’s office for disciplinary write-ups such as sleeping in class, cutting up and back talking the teachers, passing notes to girls, failing to complete assignments and homework. It escalated in the 7th grade. The principal tried everything to get me in line. He paddled me, gave me Saturday detention, sent me down the road to SAGD (Special Assignment and Guidance Center) for seven and fourteen day stretches, and suspended me regularly. I was even sent to a special counselor, a child psychologist, by court order. Nothing seemed to work. I kept telling myself I’d straighten up, buckle down and get my act together, but I continued to spiral out of control all throughout middle school. All I cared about was staying stoned, flirting with girls, making money and living the fast life. I thought I could pull out of that lifestyle when I really wanted to, but I never made a sustainable effort. “Tomorrow” never came for me. I started skipping school regularly. Jose and I skipped once, but he was paranoid all day and afraid his dad would find out so he never did it again. Justin and I skipped several times until his dad found out and ended our relationship. Mostly, it was Eugene, Rusty and I, but we had accomplices like Jeremy Walker and Aaron, both high schoolers, and various others. We spent the days in the woods behind Pac’s # 2, in the dugouts at the baseball diamond, or in abandoned houses and buildings. We caught up on sleep. We got high and screwed around until school let out and we could hit the streets without fear of truant officers and cops.

My mom thought she knew how to stop me from skipping school. She’d drop me off at the front entrance and watch me walk in. She should’ve drove around to the back entrance to make sure I didn’t slip from it, which I often did. In fact, I learned that second period was the period that the attendance sheet was reviewed by the principal. As long as you were on it, you were counted present for the day. I used to go first and second periods, then sneak out the back and skip the rest of the day.

My mom usually got the phone call at home when I’d get in trouble at school. She would yell at me and plead with me to stay out of trouble and do right in school, and I would always promise her I’d do better. When I kept getting sent home on suspension she would threaten me, tell me she was telling my dad, but she never did. I learned to manipulate her, to convince her not to tell my dad. She’d ground me, but such punishments were never enforced. I’d get her high and she’d forget all about it, then I’d leave the house and hit the streets. She had no clue how to control me, and by keeping my bad behavior from my dad I had no discipline growing up. I know she only kept things from dad because she didn’t want him to hit me, but that’s probably what I needed:  a boot in my ass. I definitely needed structure and discipline. All kids do.

The Fast Life

Eugene, Rusty and I kicked off a crime spree that went far beyond candy and clothes sometime toward the end of 1992. It began with bikes. Eugene had a blue Elf, an expensive freestyle bike, while Rusty and I had cheap BMXs. We roamed the neighborhoods of Northshore looking for upgrades. We stole GTs, Redlinere, Mongooses and any decent bicycle we could get our hands on. We stored them all in Eugene’s garage where we interchanged parts and worked on them, painting them and creating hybrids so no one would catch us on their bikes. Over the years we always had the best bikes and accessories for them. The ones we didn’t keep we sold.

Being potheads we smoked a lot of weed. Weed wasn’t free, and money we didn’t always have, so we stole from dope dealers. Ernesto Vargas Senior (Juan’s dad) ran a tire shop on Corpus Christi Street. I stopped by once to get a flat on my bike fixed and smelled pot. I struck up a conversation with Ernesto and found me an awesome pot connection. He sold me half ounces for twenty-five dollars, full ounces for forty bucks, and the weed was always excellent quality. After we moved to Cloverleaf it was through people like Ernesto that I scored pot for my family from. I usually got better deals than James Terry ever gave us.

Eugene, Rusty and Aaron were skipping school with me one day and we didn’t have any pot. I thought I could get a front from Ernesto so we rode over to his shop. I walked into his office and it was empty. I waited a few minutes for him to show up before growing bold and stealing a ziploc bag from the desk where he kept his stash. I stuffed it down my pants and hit the streets with my friends.

We made it to a familiar patch of woods and got stoned. It was some killer lime green bud. For some reason we decided to cross the street and ride into another patch of woods. As soon as we got onto the streets Ernesto skidded to a halt in front of us in his truck with some of his friends. I shit bricks when he jumped out and fired a handgun into the sky. All my friends raced off without me as Ernesto pinned me against the truck and searched me, finding his weed. “What the hell is wrong with you, pinche pendejo? I treat you good and you chingale me?”

“I’m sorry, man! I was gonna pay you back!”

“Don’t bullshit with me! I catch you around my shop again and I cut your cajones off, comprende?”

“Yeah, man. It’s cool.”

I became good friends with both of Ernesto’s sons, Juan and Ernesto Jr., and he forgave me for stealing from him, but he had me and my friends terrified that day. Not scared enough to stop stealing, though. We stole pot from James Terry for about a year after that. Having lived with him before, I knew how to get into his pad easily. Once he finally figured out it was me, he confronted me.

“Boy, you’re like my own son, my flesh and blood. You ask me and I’ll give you the shirt off my damn back. To steal from me? Breaks my heart.” He was very emotional and I felt bad. Eugene and I stole a badass chainsaw not long after that and gave it to him. He got us stoned and tried to give us money for it, but we wouldn’t accept it.

The three of us stole from vehicles all over Northshore and Channelview. We’d wait until late at night and then hit Woodforest and all of the neighborhoods along it, sneaking up to vehicles to check if they were unlocked. These were the days before car alarms were popular and some of these vehicles were unlocked. We stole a variety of items like tools, purses, stereos, speakers or anything we deemed valuable. We robbed hundreds of vehicles over the span of just a few months, sometimes hitting the same vehicles more than once. We were never caught.

I first met Ruben and his brothers when Aunt Lema still lived in the back trailer on Corpus Christi Street and we were just visiting. Ruben Barrios lived with his brothers and mom in a trailer a street over from me, right next to the house owned by his grandparents. Billy Wayne, Troy and I ran them out of the woods at the dead-end of their block, being dumbass bullies. Ruben was about my age, the oldest of his siblings, and as soon as we drove them out to the street I felt bad for being a bully and settled my cousin down. We all became friends right then.

The thing is, I had no compunction when it came to stealing. Very few were safe from me. Ruben and his family didn’t command my loyalty, and so we robbed his grandfather’s garage one night and toted a couple of tool boxes down to the Mexican apartments on Nancy Rose to a dope dealer I knew. He traded us pot and cash on the spot. This was the first business we done with the dude and he was a solid fence for stolen good for years to come.

Rusty and I were out prowling one night when we ran into Mindy and her mom. Mindy was Shane Lee’s girlfriend and her mom was a really sweet woman who let Mindy and her friends hang out at their place and pretty much do what they wanted. Back when I was best friends with Justin we spent a lot of weekends getting stoned at Mindy’s, and her mom rented movies and bought pizza for us with her government check, which was her only income. When Rusty and I ran into them it had been a while since I’d seen them and they were excited to see me. They invited us over to hang out and watch movies with them, but we had business to take care of and said we’d try to drop by later.

We did drop by later that night. Mindy let us in. Everyone but she and Shane were asleep. We hung out with them and started a movie, but they left the room to get it on, leaving us alone. I didn’t have any ill-intentions at first, but Rusty pointed out Mindy’s mom’s purse on the kitchen table. We waited for Shane and Mindy to fall asleep and stole all of the cash from the purse, about $350. We blew the money within twenty-four hours.

Several days later I saw Mindy and Mom walking along Freeport. They called me every lowlife name in the book. I feigned ignorance, denying their allegations. Mindy’s mom said they might get kicked out of their trailer and they had to beg for food and it was all my fault.

I felt bad about what I’d done, but I was caught up in the lifestyle and stayed too high to change my ways. I’ve hurt many people in life, done so many terrible things that I regret, often to people like Mindy’s mom who only ever tried to help me; people who loved and cared about me. I was a selfish kid who didn’t really stop to think about the people I was hurting with my crimes.

Another instance of my self-centeredness occurred earlier in our spree. It was December 1992. I remember this because the trailers we hit across from James Terry’s house all had Christmas trees and decorations. One of the trailers belonged to a single mother and her three small kids. They had a small Christmas tree set up and presents under it. We stole their only TV set, a small color set, and we got away with about fifty dollars in food stamps. We also opened all of the gifts then left them there because they were only clothes for the kids. We never gave this or any our other heartless crimes much thought. All we cared about was money and feeding our addictions.

We hit Northshore Middle School for the first time when I was in the 7th grade. It was an older school and we easily gained access to the buildings by simply jamming a flathead screwdriver into the keyholes and turning. We stole a bunch of instruments from the band room and sold them for drugs. We also hit the computer room. Both areas were subsequently chained and huge padlocks kept us out.

Before long we started burglarizing houses and buildings all over Northshore and Channelview. We concentrated on the homes along the gully, jumping fences and gaining entry to places then we’d haul our loot into the nearby woods. That same gully morphs into a concrete drainage ditch at Beltway 8 and runs right through Channelview. There are nice, middle class houses all along it, and over the next few years we must’ve robbed hundreds of them along that ditch and throughout the surrounding neighborhoods.

The plan was simple and invariable. We looked for homes without alarms and without anyone home. One of us would knock on the front door or ring the bell. If the door is answered you simply ask for a girl, someone we knew from school. If no one answers after a few normal knocks or rings, then we’d pound on the door loud and hard just to be safe.

Once, before we took the precaution of pounding on doors, we broke into a house in Northshore. We must’ve been in there ten minutes before all the hell broke loose. I was making a sandwich and helping myself to their icebox when I heard a blood curdling scream, followed by Eugene shouting, “Get out! Get the fuck out! Someone’s home!”

We flew out the back door and over the fence, into the woods. Eugene calmed down and told us what happened. He was making his way from room to room, as we normally did, when he walked into the master bedroom. The bed was unmade and looked inviting after a long night out on the streets, so he dove into it without turning the light on. An old man was sleeping in it and grabbed Eugene by the arm! They both screamed and Eugene twisted free. From that point on we decided to make sure no one was home before busting into a place!

No matter who I was out burglarizing with, I was usually the first one in. When we first started burgling places no one wanted to be the first one in for fear of someone being inside. So I did it. After the first time of being the first in I let them know that whoever was the first one in a house, the house belonged to him. He had the first pick of rooms and whatever he wanted. I’d bust out a window and then open a door to let them in, then I’d make it clear which room belonged to me. The thrill of being the first one in a house was electrifying and highly addictive.

I was outside chopping wood one afternoon with Troy and suddenly sky went dark and a light rain began to fall. We heard a rumbling in the distance. Dropping the hammer and wedge, we ran inside for cover. Shortly thereafter, the electricity went out. We braced ourselves as a strong wind shook our trailer violently.

After the power came back on a few hours later we heard on the news that three monster tornados ripped through Channelview. The following day, after the storms had passed and it was safe, Troy and I went to inspect the damage. We ran through the woods and crossed Beltway 8, then followed the open field with the main power lines to Sterling Green. We arrived to find most of the affluent neighborhood destroyed. Many of the homes were missing roofs, trees were strewn everywhere and planted into the sides of houses and on top of cars and the streets were vacant. A yellow police tape ran along the former fence line and there were police cars roaming the streets to deter looters, but there was no way they could watch the entire area.

Troy and I hit the woods until the coast seemed clear. We ducked under the yellow tape and entered a two story home through a broken window. The place was largely unaffected by the tornados, but the owners were probably forced to evacuate with everyone else in Sterling Green. We searched the home for anything valuable and small enough to fit into the pillow cases we’d removed from a bedroom. We stole video games, some cameras, a VCR and various other items. Then we jetted back home with our loot.

Troy’s siblings saw us return. They were on us like flies on sugar, trying to see what all we had. I didn’t want any of them snitching on us to the grown-ups, as Tonya and Rebecca were prone to do, so I gathered them at the clubhouse in the woods and laid out the plan. Everything that Troy and I already had was ours, so hands off. But, if they came back with us and helped haul stuff back to the safety of our clubhouse everyone would get a piece of the pie. They happily agreed.

Over the next few days we all walked the twenty minute journey over to Sterling Green and looted the area, carefully toting our stolen goods back to our clubhouse. Everyone kept a few items for themselves and I fenced the rest of the stuff off for close to $1,000. I gave each of them $100, which they were satisfied with, and I pocketed the rest.

She’ll Just Write a Check

An older white lady named Ann owned the four trailer lot at the dead-end of Corpus Christi Street and her thirty-something son, Dan, lived in the middle trailer with his black wife, Katrina. Dan was very reserved, rarely speaking to anyone over the years that I knew him. Katrina was a sweet woman who was severely cognitively inhibited, as I discovered that first year. She just didn’t process things and couldn’t hold her end of a conversation. She’d just nod as you talked to her and smile, adding a few words occasionally.

One afternoon Junior’s kids came running up to me with pizza in their hands and on their clothes, rubbing it in my hungry face. “Nah, Nah, Naa, Nah! We got pizza and you don’t got nothing! Ha-ha, ha, ha-ha!”

Just before I could pin Troy to the ground he jammed his pizza down his throat and squeezed his eyes closed. A knee grinding into his stomach brought some of it back up. “Where’d y’all get the pizza?”

They told me they’d been hanging out with Katrina and she bought it for them. Troy told me to let him up and he’d ask her to give me some. I followed them to the middle trailer, but Katrina didn’t have any leftovers. Tonya asked, “Katarina, can you order another pizza for our Cousin Robert?”

“Yes,” Katrina smiled. “I can write a check.”

That’s how it all began. Katrina ended up writing a check for several more pizzas and drinks for our entire family. She simply sat in our living room smiling as we all scarfed the pizzas. I sat next to Junior and whispered in his ear. “Dude, this lady is a space case. She has no clue about anything. Whatever your kids ask of her she gives them. I don’t think she understands that she’s spending money when she writes a check. Just look at her.”

Junior and I devised a plan. He spoke sweet to Katrina and asked her if she wanted to go to the supermarket and write a check for some steaks and his wife Bonnie would cook them up for everyone that night. Katrina just smiled and nodded her head in agreement. She rode to the Fiesta on 1-10 with us and we wound up loading down a grocery art with over $300 worth of groceries, including a pager for me, which she wrote a check for. Simple as that.

That night Junior and I schemed further, while Bonnie listened with a disapproving frown. She said she wanted no part in it. Bonnie worked at a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop in Beaumont and made the ninety mile commute six days a week. The next day Junior asked Katrina if she wanted to go for a ride and go shopping with us in Beaumont. Of course she smiled and agreed. We made sure she brought her handy check book.

After we dropped Bonnie off at work we hit the mall. Toys-R-Us was the first store we hit. Junior’s badass little kids ran around the store as if they’d won an unlimited shopping spree, bringing toy after toy up to the counter. I knew that wasn’t going to fly. Junior and I tried to settle them down, but they were bouncing around like piss ants at a picnic. After it was all said and done the clerk rang up a bill for over $800 worth of stuff! Katrina happily wrote the check, but the dubious clerk took it to her manager and returned apologizing, saying they couldn’t accept an out of town check.

We left the store and Junior gathered his kids by a restroom. He smacked them around some and regained some semblance of control. We’d try another store, he said, but this time it was one item a piece and they had to bring it to Junior and I for approval. Nothing too expensive. That day all of the kids ended up with about $100 dollars worth of toys each, I got a couple hundred in video games and Junior got a tailored suit from the Men’s Wearhouse for $400! Katrina smiled the entire day, happily writing checks.

About a week later I overheard Dan yelling at Katrina. He forbade her from leaving their trailer while he was at work from that point forward. He’d been driving a relatively nice car, but not long after the hot check spree he had to trade it in for an older model. He never once mentioned anything to anyone. I’m not sure he knew exactly what happened.

Joseph Day

When I first met Eugene’s family on Force Street, Joseph Day was living with them. Joe, or Joe Daddy as Jessie called him, was tall and slim with long, curly brown hair, and he was a few years older than me. Everyone loved Joey. He was the pretty boy type, yet he was street savvy and tough as nails. The thing is, Joe didn’t have to live in the Dump. His mom and step-dad owned a badass two story house in Sterling Green with a swimming pool in the backyard. Soon after I met him I was at his mom’s place with him and I asked him why he didn’t just live at home. All he ever said about it was, “I love my mom, but I can’t stand it here. End of story.”

For about six months or so after I met them, Jessie and Joe were always together. “Joe Daddy’s my little brother. He goes with me, period,” was what Jessie told anyone with reservations about taking a kid along with them. Jessie sold pot and kept traffic at their place and people were constantly taking them out somewhere. They went to Mardi Gras-Galveston and returned with hickeys and hella beads; they were always going to parties and bars together, returning with wild stories; they worked with Fred Zabac, an older Arab dude who ran a pressure washing business, and he took them to strip clubs where they chilled in VIP sections and got wasted. Eugene and I often tried to tag along when they went out, and we were always rejected. If you seen one you, knew the other was around somewhere. That is until Jessie started seeing his ex-girlfriend, Cricket. Around that time Joe started running with me, Rusty and Eugene. We’d hop on our bikes and hit the streets. We had loads of fun trying to wreck each other, catching each other off guard or just overpowering one another on bikes. Like Kelso from That 70’s Show said, “It’s fun seeing your friends get hurt.” We were always bruised and banged up.

Joe also went thieving with us. He was actually the only one I’ve ever gone stealing with that dared enter a house first with me. He wasn’t cool with giving me my pick of rooms. He also knew dope dealers and fences that we didn’t and hooked us up with them.

Before long Joe was living with me. My parents loved him, called him son and he called them “Mom” and “Dad,” as Eugene and many of my friends did. He pulled his own weight, working with my brother or Fred Zabac (or out stealing with me) and gave my dad money. As with Eugene, Joey was like a brother to me. Jessie joked after he found out Joey was living with us, “Hey, you stole my Joe Daddy!”

It was Joe who got me a job with Fred Zabac. Fred shown up to pick up Jessie and Joe for work. They were going to pressure wash some Hostess Twinkie trucks, and Joe asked Fred if he could use another hand. Jessie protested at first, acting like he’d have to watch me and Eugene, who was already on board to go with them, but Joe intervened and assured them I’d be cool, that I could handle my own. We spent the day getting soaked as we cleaned the Twinkie trucks and got stoned on some grade A Arab bud as we munched on pastries.

Joe and I became two of Fred’s favorite workers. When he just needed two hands he always looked for us first. It was cool riding with Fred in his brand new Chevy step-side truck, smoking his herb and occasionally eating his mom’s delicious Arab dishes. Once, we pressured washed Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon’s house in Olympia, a rich neighborhood just south of Houston. Unfortunately, the then Houston Oilers’ star wasn’t there and Joe and I never got to meet him, but Fred said we weren’t missing nothing. He said, “That fuckin nigger makes a Jew look generous! He busted my balls on this job!”

Fred was one to talk about generosity. He was tight with his money. He’d try and pay us with pot, or he’d string us along for several days without giving us anything except promises. My dad asked me how much I made one night and when I told him I hadn’t been paid yet he looked upset. I said I’d get paid the next night, as Fred promised. When Fred dropped us off the following night with more excuses my dad pulled a knife on him. My father told him he’d pay me right then. Fred had lost the color in his face. “C’mon, Sambo! You ain’t gotta be like that, man. See, I can pay little Robert now.”

Fred paid me on the spot. Problem was, he wouldn’t let me work with him again. Thanks, Dad!

Pioneer Tree Service

The tree business became our primary source of income through the 1990’s. At first Junior helped my brother build the business up using his truck and money. Together they came up with names like “Pruett’s and Mclain’s Trees” and “Po Boys Tree Service,” but my brother came up with “Pioneer Tree Service” and it became his company, ultimately.

When we first started the tree service it was Steven, Junior, Mike and sometimes John who worked, but my dad worked with them from time to time. Junior’s sons and my friends also helped us occasionally. I have many fond memories of working with my family and friends in the tree service. When I close my eyes I can still see my brother John – before he got too fat – up in a tree, yelling down instructions to the ground hands, systemically brining a tree down piece-by-piece. I can still see Junior in his cut off shorts and long sleeved button down shirt holding my brother’s rope because, “Someone’s gotta hold the fucking rope, smart ass!” Yeah, but that’s all his lazy ass EVER did! I remember rolling logs and hauling limbs to the truck and trailer, unloading and loading them. I can still smell freshly cut pine and oak trees mixed with chainsaw smoke and oil gas. I can still hear the buzzing of saws or a tree cracking as it falls. It was backbreaking work, but we had fun doing it.

I was a hard worker, an aspiring climber myself, but Joe had by and far the greatest work ethic of any of us besides my brother. No one outworked Steven. After Junior quit and moved his family to Beaumont, Joe was my brother’s top ground hand. I used to get pissed at Joe for outworking me and would tell him to slow the hell down. He told me to man-up and get to humping logs!

While I grew stronger lifting logs and dragging bush, chopping and stacking wood, loading and unloading debris, what I was best at was landing jobs. My dad bragged that I was the best salesman he had. Being just a kid but very well-spoken and charismatic, I had many homeowners eating out of my palm after delivering my sales pitch. I’d ring a doorbell to a house with a dead tree. “Excuse me, I’m Robert Pruett with Pioneer Trees.” I’d extend my hand for them to shake. “I noticed that you have a dead and rotting tree threatening your nice home here. Would you care to have a free estimate for a full removal and haul off?” Potential customers often thought I was cute and more often than not I got them to commit to paying for tree work.

As good as we were, sometimes accidents happen. We’ve dropped logs on doghouses, swimming pool water pumps and fences, and an occasional branch busted a window. We had to deduct damages incurred from our pay, so we were very careful during a job. Usually.

Undoubtedly the biggest mistake we ever made happened in Kingwood, one of the richest areas in all of Houston. We were doing a $5,000 job that lasted a week and we teamed up with Cousin John’s company Nationwide Trees to do it.

There were about thirty pines that needed to come down in the backyard of a $750,000 home. We had three climbers – my brother, John and Mike – and ten ground hands – my dad, Cousin Chucky, his friend Johnny Solice, Joe, Jessie, Eugene, Junior, Billy Wayne, Troy and me. We were at the end of the last day of work and everyone was tired and ready to be done with it already. My brother had topped out the last pine and brought it down to about a thirty foot pole before shimmying down to the ground. He declared the tree ready to fall.

The woman who owned the place was as cordial a customer as we’d ever had. She bought us all lunch every day and laughed and joked with us, particularly when my brother ripped the crotch of his pants out in a tree. He never wore underwear and his junk was hanging out for all to see. She couldn’t tear her eyes off of my brother or stop blushing, as Junior pointed out to her, and she thought that was just the funniest thing. Yet when  that pine pole split her beautiful garage in half like a cheap piece of wood (my brother had misjudged the pole by about five feet) her entire demeanor instantly changed, she screamed at the top of her lungs, started crying and became hysterical. “My garage! You destroyed my garage, you fucking imbeciles!”

We quickly loaded our gear into the truck, dejected because we knew we’d done all that work for nothing. My dad showed her husband fake insurance papers from American Trees because we weren’t insured, then we left.

Cutting trees was an exciting job at times. I enjoyed getting the gear ready in the morning, smoking a joint before and after work and the joy of landing a job. But one of the most thrilling aspects of the job was illegal dumping. For awhile there we used to charge customers a fee to haul off tree debris, plus a dumping fee. Rather than pay the money to a landfill to dup we often found abandoned lots and secluded areas to dump the loads. We made a game out of quickly unloading our truck and trailer and timing ourselves, then trying to beat the previous times. But Steven and I were caught dumping out off Beltway 8 once by a cop. Fortunately, he only issued us a warning after making us load everything back into the truck. After that we found legal places to dump, most of the time. We often gave our customers a discount just to let us leave the debris in their yards or drag it out by the road for the city to pick up.

The problem with the tree service is it’s a seasonal job. During winter months it’s hard to find work. So we sold fire wood. Throughout the year we’d chop wood and stack it in cords. Once it got cold and we couldn’t find work we’d load the truck with fire wood and find a spot in a parking lot of a shopping center or grocery store close by middle – upper class neighborhoods (where people had chimneys) and make ten dollar and twenty dollar stacks of wood to sell. After making our stacks we retreated into the warmth of the truck to smoke pot and jam out to Z-Rock as we waited for people to stop and buy wood. We had a sign that read, “FarWood 4 Sail” that an old bum painted for John. It made people smile and pull over for wood.

Once, we were doing a job in an upscale neighborhood on the Northside of Houston called Champions Forest. It was a $600 job. About halfway through it I asked the owner if I could use the restroom. He showed me to it. On the way back outside I passed his office and saw the $600 cash on his desk. We usually asked for cash so we wouldn’t have to cash a check. We tried to keep everything under the table because we didn’t pay taxes. Without giving it a second thought I pocketed the money and casually walked to the truck where I stashed it under the seat.

After the job was complete, the customer went inside to get our money. He came back confused, scratching his head. He said he must’ve misplaced our money and asked my dad to please take a check, which he reluctantly did.

Everyone was bummed out because it was after 5:00 p.m. and we couldn’t cash the check to get hamburgers, as we had our hearts set on doing after work that day. I waited until we stopped at a store for gas and pretended to find $100 bill in the restroom. They were all excited and my dad was generous enough to let me keep twenty dollars of it. If he only knew!

That was one of the first times I stole from a customer. Over the years I was bad about asking to use a customer’s restroom so I could look around for small items like jewelry, guns or cash to steal. I only got caught once. I stole a ring from a woman in Orange, Texas and she told my dad it had to be me. My dad kicked my ass real good and, from then on, I wasn’t allowed inside customer’s homes when he was on the job.

River Rats

The San Jacinto River snakes along the east side of Channelview and Houston. There were many spots along the river where people from all over came to swim. Banana Bend charged admission, so we never went there. The older generation from Cloverleaf loved barbequing and camping out off of Old Highway 90, a place where my family and our friends went many times. Those from the river bottoms seemed to like swimming down by the old train tracks closer to the 1-10 bridge, but there were rocks and junk metal out that way. One time Eugene cut himself wide open on a car submerged out there, so I never liked swimming there.

My favorite spot on the San Jacinto River was “the ropes,” under the New Highway 90 bridges. Someone – years before I ever stepped foot out there – had climbed under the bridge and attached two heavy duty ropes to the beams about fifteen feet from the first set of concrete pillars that supported the bridges. You had to swim the fifty to seventy-five feet out to that pillar and climb the wooden ladder, then someone in the water would swing you one of the ropes to catch. There was about twenty feet of concrete slab to run along and swing off from. I loved to ride my momentum to the highest possible point, about thirty feet above the water, and let go! The two ropes were close enough together so one person could swing off in one direction while another went the opposite. My friends and I liked to do this and play “king of the rope,” a game in which the key was to try and knock your opponent off his rope. Dudes incurred serious injuries playing king of the rope, lost teeth, left the river with broken noses and black eyes, but it was seriously fun!

On any given day during the Spring or Summer you’d find more than fifty people down by the ropes. Country and rock music blared from vehicles, bonfires were lit, barbeque pits were fired up and the smell of alcohol and pot filled the air. It was a hot spot for the river rats of Cloverleaf and Channelview. We often brought our dogs, Razor and Sizzor, down to go swimming with us. From the time they were just pups, all you had to do was slap the side of our truck and they’d jump into the bed, ready for the ride down to the river. I used to help them up onto the pillar and let them dive off after the singing ropes. They absolutely loved it down there, just as we did.

There was a white sandbar next to the banks of the river by the ropes. A dense patch of woods with a trail by the sandbar lead to Crystal Lake, a small body of fresh water. You could swim out to the center of Crystal Lake and still see the bottom, the water was so clear. Many of us teenagers used to go skinny dipping back there and find a secluded part to make out with our chicks.

I have so many wild and crazy memories from the ropes and Crystal Lake. There is the time I finally built the courage to jump off the bridge. It was such a rush falling from such distance. There is the time I took my shorts off and was playing with them in the current they slipped out of my hands. It was embarrassing running to our truck to get a towel to wrap myself in. There is the time that Jessie, Eugene, Joe and I hitched a ride out there to go swimming, and told our ride to leave without us. We’d noticed a stack of seemingly abandoned bikes about hundred yards down the bank, and we planned to steal them and ride back to Cloverdump on them. It wasn’t until our ride had left that we discovered the chain locked around the bikes. We had to walk the fifteen miles back home!

Then there was the time Heather left a hickey on my neck. Heather was known for her oral pleasures – her claim to fame, if you will – and I was embarrassed that those lips had left that hickey on my neck. My trailer had become a favorite place to hang out for a lot of the youngsters from all over the east side, sort of like Eugene’s was. One night there were a group of teenagers hanging out and everyone eventually burned off except for Heather and me. We ended up sleeping together, and she left a huge passion mark on me. The next day at the ropes my friend Dough Boy asked me who gave me the hickey. I told him it was some chick he didn’t know from Northshore. I can still vividly recall sitting in the cab of my brother’s truck, rolling a joint, when it finally dawned on Dough Boy who gave me that hickey. “Holy shit!” He shouted at me from the bonfire. “I know who gave you that hickey, Little Robert! When I left last night, it was just you and Heather left! Oh man, how does it feel to have mine and half the dudes here dicks on your neck, by proxy?” I turned red as a beet! But it must’ve been worse for Heather, who heard him and ran away in tears. What an asshole, that Dough Boy.

Like a Thief in the Night

Robert “Pops” Sutton moved back in with us around late 1992, while we still lived in the back trailer on Corpus Christi Street. Everyone else had moved out, so Dad gave Grandpa the middle bedroom. I remember hanging out with him in there, watching his old black and white TV set, smoking camels with him while he drank beer or wine. I could tell the years were starting to catch up to him, and he was hard of hearing and his memory was slipping. We were all happy to have him around again, especially my dad because he had him a drinking buddy. By then we weren’t letting my dad go to bars to drink anymore. Not after the episode in South Texas.

One night we were having supper in the living room when we heard a loud crash outside. I opened the door and found Pops lying on the ground, bleeding from his leg. He was intoxicated and had lost his balance climbing the stairs, dropped his 40 ounce of malt liquor on the concrete sidewalk and he fell onto the broken glass. My dad, Eugene and Joe helped me lift him up and into the house, where my mom cleaned his wound. It was a gaping cut that didn’t seem to want to stop bleeding.

A couple of days later Grandpa went to East Texas to spend some time with blood relatives, people I’ve never even met. Mom received the call from them a week later to inform us that Grandpa had died. Apparently the cut from the beer bottle had gotten infected and it killed him. He left a short will and wanted my mom to have his little Chevrolet S-10 truck. I don’t even remember going to his funeral, but I seem to recall visiting his gravesite.

We were all shaken up by Pop’s death. He was such an impressionable figure in the early years of my life, as I’ve recounted here. He gave me my first smoke – his Swisher Sweet cigars, and my first drink – his Mad Dog 20-20 wine. He was there when we needed him most, when my dad couldn’t be, and his death was unexpected, left me sad that I never got to say I love you and goodbye. I guess that’s why they say don’t ever go to sleep angry at someone, because every moment could be our last.

 

****    ****    ****

 

Shortly after Grandpa Sutton died, Aunt Lema had to be hospitalized because she couldn’t breathe on the own. I remember going to the hospital with my parents and Eugene to see her. Uncle Bill was there, as was many of her kids and grandkids and Ricky. I sat with my Mom and Eugene in the waiting room waiting to go to her room. Mom was holding a novel open, staring blankly at the pages. She finally put it down and began crying. Eugene and I tried to console her and hugged her. She said, “I can’t lose anyone else, Bubba. Not after losing Pops.”

Eugene and I went in to see Aunt Lema together. She’d only met him a few times and I doubt she recognized him, but she motioned me over. She had wires and tubes running to her and couldn’t speak. I hugged her and stared into her eyes, told her I loved her and everything would be okay. She squeezed me tightly, meeting my stare. I saw and felt raw fear emanating from her, as if she knew death was imminent. I recall thinking how mean she’d sometimes been, how she liked to gossip and talk shit about people. I left the room lost in thoughts about her, trying to remember some good things about her and not just the bad. I have no idea why I went straight to the negative, but I did.

Aunt Lema died that day. All of her kids – except for Ronnie and Mike who were in prison – were there with their kids, as were my parents. We later viewed her body at the San Jacinto funeral home, right on the intersection of Beltway 8 and 1-10 where she was buried. She was the matriarch and backbone of our family, and her death left a crushing blow. Brother Nash presided over the funeral services, recalling memories from the distant past, then spoke of streets of gold and a river of milk and honey. Junior wore the suit Katrina’s hot check paid for, the first and only time to my recollection. My mom, Bonnie and several of the kids tried to comfort Junior and my dad. My dad shed silent tears as they lowered his sister into the ground, lost in his own mind. Eugene, Joe and I fired up joints and passed them around before disappearing into the woods and back onto the streets of Cloverleaf, anxious to wash off the stench of death.

 

****    ****    ****

 

Steven and Marina moved into the Victoria Street apartments, right beside Justin’s house, in 1992. Marina loved my mom dearly, but she was ready to have her own place and was super excited when they finally moved. We were all proud of Steven. He’d sacrificed so much of his time and energy on helping my father pay the bills over the years, so it was awesome to see him out on his own with his family.

Everything seemed perfect for several months. My brother bought furniture for their apartment, new clothes for the kids and Marina, and the cupboards and refrigerator stayed stocked with food. I know because I used to raid both regularly! I always enjoyed hanging out with Marina and her kids, watching TV with them and getting stoned together. Of course my brother ran me off after awhile because he wanted to be alone with his family. I totally understood.

Then one day my brother’s world suddenly came crashing down on him. He returned home from work to an empty apartment. There wasn’t any note from Marina. She’d just packed up their clothes and disappeared with her kids, leaving my brother heartbroken, with so many unanswered questions. After about a week with no word or sign from Marina, Steven finally moved back home with us.

For about a year we had no clue where Marina had gone or why she left. I recalled her stories of disappearing on her foster family on the east coast as well as leaving her kids’ father back on the west coast in the middle of the night. It seemed to be her modus operandi. My brother was inconsolable, yet continued to remain hopeful that he’d find her someday.

I stepped into our trailer one afternoon and found my mother crying. She held a hand over her mouth and in the other a newspaper. I read the article with shock and horror and buried my face into her chest. Chris, Marina’s five year old son, had drowned to death in the San Jacinto River. Services were to be held at The San Jacinto Funeral home that day.

What had happened, we later learned, was that Marina had moved down by the river bottoms with a Pentacostal family she’d met. One Sunday after church she was outside cutting people’s hair as her kids played with a group of other kids from the church. The kids had gone onto a pier and Chris accidentally fell into the water, busting his head on a wooden post. He died before anyone could get to him. Christina watched helplessly from the pier.

            We went to the funeral home to view his body. Marina was there with Christina and some people from her church. My brother kept trying to talk to her, to find out what happened and why she left him, but she refused to speak to him. All she said was, "We'll talk later. Please leave me alone and let me grieve for my son."

            I never even approached her that day. I looked at her with anger, resentment. I wasn't merely upset that she'd left my brother and broke his heart, I was hurt and deeply saddened by Chris' death and I blamed her. Chris was like a little brother to me. He was such fun to be around. He was super smart, very funny and just one cool ass little dude. It's almost twenty years now since I last saw him alive, and I can still hear his infectious laughter, still see him doing his "sailor," which was him rolling his stomach muscles like waves at sea, and I can vividly picture his handsome little face. I used to take him walking through Cloverleaf. Chicks would stop us and he'd charm them, be a door-opener for conversation. Out at the river he would wrap his little arms around my neck and I'd swim him out to the pillar so he could climb up and hang out while we swung off the ropes. I loved that little dude so much and his death hurt me unlike anyone else's ever had.

            After the funeral my brother begged Marina to take him back. She told him she just wasn't happy with him anymore and that's why she left. She'd been taking the kids to church while they were together, but Steven never went with them. I think the people at her church advised her to end the relationship. For several months Marina blocked my brother's every attempt at reconciliation, but they hooked back up for about a month before splitting up once and for all. They just weren't meant to be together.

            A couple of years after Chris’ death, Marina was living in Channelview at the Ashland Trailer Park, the same one we lived in back in the 1980's before moving to Aransas Pass. She was living alone with Christina and her infant daughter Calista. I'd barely spoken to her over the years. One evening I was at the trailer park at a chick named April's trailer with a bunch of friends, smoking pot and drinking. I recall April flirting with me, but I was lost in a sea of memories and wasn't encouraging her.

            Finally, I stormed out of April's trailer and walked to Marina's. I was fucking wasted because I had been slamming beers and wasn't much of a drinker. I tried to open Marina's door but it was locked, so I banged on it and demanded for her to open the motherfucker. She unlocked the door and I forced myself inside, wrestling her to the couch, screaming curses at her as I pinned her down. "How the fuck could you do that to your own son? What the fuck were you doing letting him play by the goddamn river, you stupid fucking bitch? I fucking hate you, fucking HATE YOU!"

            She absorbed it all, silently crying, holding me as I sobbed uncontrollably all over her. After I calmed down some she whispered, "Chris was my baby boy. I loved him more than anything in the world." I looked into her eyes and finally saw what I'd failed to realize all along. She did blame herself, but the truth is no one can be blamed for something like that happening. No matter how careful we are, what measures we try to take to prevent tragedy, it's inevitable. All we can do is learn to deal with it.

            Marina went on to tell me that she left my brother because she wasn't in love with him anymore. She apologized for breaking his heart, but she wanted me to understand that she had to leave. I got it. We spent half the night reminiscing and crying together. I had about $300 cash in my pocket and close to an ounce of pot, and I gave most of it to her. She was a single Mom with a couple of kids to support and barely making it. I tried to help her every chance I could after that.

Caught by the Flame

It was early 1993 and I was thirteen, with raging hormones. I'd had girlfriends that let me get to first and second bases, but I'd never made it home and was growing frustrated, especially living with Joe. He was nailing chicks left and right and rubbing it in my face. Literally, he came into our room once and rubbed his fingers under my nose right after having sex. Eugene claimed to have had sex already, as had many of our friends. The pressure was on for me to catch up!

            One night before I crashed out my dad said Cousin Chucky was coming up from Corpus Christi to stay with us. Steven was headed to the bus station to pick him up. I woke up the following morning to get ready for school and found Chucky snuggled up on our couch with what looked like a short, blond dude. I mentioned it to my dad in the kitchen and he chuckled. "Naw, that's all gal, Son. She's just got her hair like a dude. She sure is purty, you'll see."

            Her name was Felicia. We called her Flea, and she sure was purty. She was about twenty-two years old, short with a petite body, but curves in all the right places. She and Chucky took my room as he worked with my brother in an attempt to save money for their own place. That plan didn't work out very well. Chucky was a lazy little fucker and my brother constantly rode him down on a job. They were always arguing. When my brother had had enough of his bullshit he ran him off. Chucky and Flea ended up moving in with James Terry for a couple of weeks, and Chucky worked with James.

            Flea says she awoke one morning and James was in their room with his cock out, smiling down at her as he bounced it against her lips. No one else was home. She told him to get the fuck out of the room and he left. She told Chucky what happened. James denied everything. So Chucky beat Flea up and ran her out of James' house.

            Flea had nowhere to go so my dad let her stay with us until her parents came home from vacation and wired her the money to get back down to Corpus Christi. Flea slept in the back room with my sister for a couple of weeks while she waited.

            A few nights after she moved in Flea, Joe and I were in the back bedroom smoking pot. Joe was putting the moves on her as she sat between us. She acted as if she couldn't be bothered by a boy his age, but it was obvious she was interested. All of their flirting while sitting close to her hot little body had me incredibly turned on. I molded my jeans around my hard-on and got Flea's attention. "Hey, Flea. Check that out."

            She looked down and gasped. "Ohmigod, Robert! That's NOT all you."

            "Touch the end of it then if you don't think so!" I dared her.

            She hesitated a second. She was stoned and highly amused, I could tell. She tentatively poked it with her fingers. "Ohmigod! I can't believe it! That IS all you!"

            I could only smile. Joe, on the other hand, turned the charm back on and recaptured her attention. I left the room for some reason and didn't return for quite some time. I opened the door and turned on the light and caught her naked, straddling Joe, his pants around his ankles! I quickly apologized and turned the light out before leaving the room.

            Joe followed Flea around like a lovesick puppy dog the next day. Flea fended off his advances. "Look, man. You can't be falling in love. It was one special night. I'm going home soon. Besides, you're a sixteen year old kid." Joe finally got the message and left the trailer.

            I hung out with Flea the rest of that day and night. I joked that Joe needed to move on already and she said she was glad that I understood. We were alone in the back room listening to Nirvana, smoking pot, when she asked me if I wanted to play a game. She tied a plastic bag in a string of knots and filled a bowl up with water. She turned the light out and lit her Zippo lighter, bringing the flame to the end of the plastic. We watched it burn and turn into bright, blue streaks as the flame reached each knot and melting plastic dropped into the water. She crossed her hand under the melting plastic, racing the flame, and told me to try it. She warned me to be careful as she burned her thumb once. After a few times of beating the flame I was caught by it right on the thumb. "Whoa! Check that out!" I showed her my burnt thumb. "It caught my thumb just like yours. We're forever connected."

            "Aw, Robert. You're a sweet boy." She kissed my thumb.

            My sister came home and walked into the bedroom. "Robert, get your ass out of here. I'm tired and about to go to sleep."

            Just as I was about to leave Flea grabbed my arm. "It's okay, Tammie. He's going to sleep on the pallet with me tonight."

            I was speechless. My sister stared at us and shrugged her shoulders. She told me if I disturbed her and made any noise she'd kick my ass out. Flea assured her I'd be cool. Flea flipped the Nirvana tape over and turned the volume down low, then turned the light off. I crawled onto the pallet, a little nervous.

            My heart raced as Flea laid down next to me in her thin, silk nightgown. She grabbed my hand and whispered into my ear, "Thanks for being sweet and nice to me, Robert." One thing lead to another and before I knew it we were kissing, my shirt came off along with her nightgown and panties and my pants and shorts were around my ankles as she straddled me, making a man of me.

            We were briefly interrupted when the door opened and light came on. Joe stuck his head into the room and caught us in the same exact position as I'd caught them the previous night. We shared clothes and I even had the same Girbaux jeans he had on the night before! He left the room quickly, as I had the night before.

            Afterwards, I left the room and went and snagged a couple of cigarettes for Flea and I from my mom's pack. We'd run out earlier. I brought one lit to Flea. She smiled and kissed me, telling how sweet I was again. I was on cloud nine for days!

            I left the room after awhile and found Joe asleep in our room. I shook him awake and told him I finally had sex! I was so excited and proud of myself for scoring. He only grumbled and pushed me away. "So? Go fuck her again!"

The Front Trailer

A couple in their late twenties named Shorty and Annette lived in the front trailer on Corpus Christi Street with their two kids Matt and Ashley, ten and eight years old respectively. They were friends of ours, and they often came over to our place to smoke pot with my parents and Steven. For awhile there, I never smoked in front of them because they struck us as squares almost. They made their kids go outside to play before they'd get high, and I went out with their kids to play with them. When they finally found out that I got high they were more than surprised a kid my age smoked pot. I promised I'd never let their kids see me.

            After Marina left my brother, he started having an affair with Annette. Perhaps Shorty suspected because it wasn't very long after that he and Annette started having problems. Shorty eventually split with Annette and moved out and my brother briefly moved in with her. That situation didn't last long before Annette decided to move out to Spring, Texas with her mother in an upper class neighborhood. It was what was best for her kids, she said.

            We moved into the front trailer as soon as Annette left. It was just a two bedroom trailer, but it was a better trailer in every way. The rooms were larger and the living room/kitchen area was huge. By then, it was just my parents, Steven, Joe and I so it was plenty of room for us. Joe and I put up a basketball hoop on the tree in the driveway, and we chopped a trail into the woods from beside our trailer.

            Right around this time Eugene and Rusty both moved to Channelview and started classes at Alice Johnson Junior High. They told me how much better it was there than Northshore, how much hotter the chicks were and how they already had girlfriends. I felt abandoned by them, didn't much like being stuck at Northshore for the rest of the 7th grade. I'd gotten my wish and was pretty popular at Northshore, but my notoriety stemmed from being a bad boy. I began hanging out with the likes of Ricky Romero, Edgar Martinez and Ricky Roblez. They were the younger brothers of the OGs (Original Gangstas) of the Boyz street gang in Northshore and Cloverleaf, a rival to the Brotherhood street gang. I was cool with both gangs, did business with members of each at various times.

            At school, all I cared about doing was flirting with chicks or cutting it up with my friends. At lunch break Ricky Romero and I sweet talked the girls into giving us money, which we used on weed to roll into pinner joints to sale for two dollars a piece at school. That little endeavor ended when they caught me with my pipe one day. I had it in my pocket and it fell out right in front of a teacher while sitting at my desk. The principal suspended me for a week and gave me fourteen days at SAGC! All the kids knew me, but for all the wrong reasons.

            I actually failed the 7th grade. My teachers in the classes I failed gave me the option of attending summer school so I wouldn't have to repeat the 7th grade. I dreaded going to summer school at first, but it was held at the high school and there were lots of older, pretty girls there with me so it wasn't so bad. I passed the 7th grade, but about a month into my 8th grade year I was expelled for the rest of the year.

            I recall the day I got expelled. I called Eugene early before school one morning and asked him to skip school with me and come with me to hit a house in Channelview. He agreed so I rode over to his house on my bike. On the way there I saw a bike in Sterling Green just laying in a yard and I told myself I'd come back for it. When I made it to his house on Woodforest he was apologetic, saying he had to go to school that day. He said he had a talk with his mom after our phone call and he really wanted to straighten up and finish school. We often said we'd be the first in our families to finish high school, but our behavior wasn't exactly conducive to reaching that goal. The truth is, Eugene had already slowed down by then. He wasn't coming out thieving with me as often. He cited his stint in the Juvenile Detention Center for stealing a stereo with Steven Canable before he met me and said he wasn't trying to get arrested again.

            I left Eugene's house on foot because I wanted to steal the aforementioned bike. It was right where I'd spotted it and I easily made it off with it without anyone seeing me. A few miles into the neighborhood I ran smack into a cop. There was no escaping him from where I was at. He rolled his window down and asked me why I wasn't in school. I lied and said I'd spent the night with a friend and woke up late and was trying to get to Northshore right then. He told me to get into the back seat and he loaded the bike into the trunk. He said he'd take me to school and radioed in to the station to call the school and let them know we were on the way.

            The principal was waiting out front when we arrived. He'd already called my house to tell my mom I was being expelled for an unexcused tardy, it being the final straw in a long list of disciplinary infractions that extended over two years. He was fed up with my bullshit. "Your daddy answered the phone, Robert. He said he thought you were at school and didn't have any idea why you'd be riding around Channelview. He'll be picking you up shortly."

            My dad was supposed to be at work! I learned that Gary sent him home early because he was sick, so he was there to take the principal's call. My dad arrived and he had a conversation with the principal and cop. The principal explained his decision to my dad to expel me and my dad kept cutting terrifying glances at me. He was surprised to hear about my long record.

            Just as we were about to leave the cop said, "Don't forget your bicycle, Robert."

            My father watched as I loaded the bike into the back of our truck. He said nothing until we were about a mile away from the school when he smacked the hell out of me. "Where'd you get that goddamn bike, boy?"

            "It's a friend's."

            He didn't believe me. He lectured me about screwing my life up, stressed the importance of education and wondered aloud what he would do with me. In retrospect, he seemed worried about me and the road I was headed down. He could tell I was spiraling out of control. He let me know that I wouldn't be spending the year sleeping-in and running the streets. I would work with Steven every day.

A Close Call

My cousin John moved into the apartments on Hershey with his mom right before she died. He lived with us briefly while he saved his money, then he moved and started his own tree service, Nationwide Trees. He could climb and figured all he needed was a good truck, some equipment and a few steady ground hands and he'd be set.

            One of his ground hands was Jessie. You'd think that just having one leg would inhibit Jessie, but he more than pulled his own weight. He'd been hopping around on one leg since he was sixteen years old and he was solidly built, ripped from head to toe and strong as an ox. He used to ride bikes with us and, using just one leg, he'd work one pedal to perfection and outrace all of us. He was also one helluva scrapper. I've watched him hop around on one leg with unbelievable swiftness and beat the hell out of dudes bigger than him. It wasn't anything to be ashamed of to lose a fight to Jessie Young. It was expected.

            After work one night, Jessie and Eugene were over at John's eating supper with him and his chick, Michelle. Earlier that day John had come home for lunch and beat the hell out of a black dude leaving a crack dealers apartment. John had been told that the dude was seen stealing his pit bull puppy a week or so before and he was waiting to catch up with him. As they were eating that night there was a knock at the door. Michelle answered it and found two black dudes with AK-47s. She slammed the door and screamed for everyone to get down.

            The black men sprayed the apartment with bullets. Everyone except Jessie caught the floor. He hopped over to the wall to grab a rifle leaning up against it and return their fire. He was hit by three bullets in the mid-section and had to be life-flown to the hospital.

            Miraculously, not a single bullet passed through his body. One doctor said it was probably because he had a thick, inordinately muscularly core. Still, he nearly died. I visited him with Eugene and it was frightening seeing him barely holding on to life, looking so weak. Very few can take three rounds form an AK-47 and live to tell about it.

            Jessie was my brother from another mother, like a son to my parents, and there was no way this action was going unpunished. My friends and I searched for the people who sprayed John's apartment and shot Jessie. The dude running the crack house acted as if he didn't really know them, that he'd only sold to them a handful of times. We didn't believe him. There was no way we were going to let anyone who might be connected to the shooting sell dope in our 'hood. We never found the fools who did the shooting, but we made the dude running the crack house move out at gunpoint.

Uncle Sam to the Rescue

Sometime in 1992 we went to Beaumont to visit relatives, as we often did. Cousin Nancy lived in a predominantly black neighborhood, dominated by Crips, along with Mike, Tammie and a handful of others. I was in the living room when Brandy, Nancy's youngest daughter who was about fourteen then, came bursting into the house and ran straight to my father. "Uncle Sam! The niggers rode by again showing me their dicks!" Brandy recounted to my father how it wasn't the first time the black teens down the street exposed themselves to her on their bicycles. My father looked at James Allan, Brandy's father, and asked him about it. James said, "No one but her has ever seen it, Sam. She's exaggerating like always."

            "That don't mean she's fucking lying, James!" Mike said. He grabbed his homemade nunchucks and put a death grip on the wooden handles. "Uncle Sam, this isn't the first time she's said them niggers flashed her. Let's put a stop to this shit right now."

            Nancy and my mom tried to calm everyone down, but my father was a few beers in, and he told James Allan to show him where these boys were. James drove his truck with my father in the passenger's side and Mike and Steven in the bed. They stopped by a small group of youngsters, all Crips, just down the block. James stuck his head out the window and asked, "Do any of you know anything about someone flashing my daughter?"

            The group erupted in anger. "Ain't no one know shit 'bout it, white boy. Who the fuck is you, tryin' to check me and my boys?" an older man said.

            "Ok, I'm sorry, man." James back pedaled. "I was just asking, that's all."

            James tried to put the truck in drive and my father stopped him cold. "Showtime, James," he told him. My father jumped out of the truck along with my brother and Mike and a small riot broke out. Mike beat one dude up with his nunchucks, my brother used his fists on another and my father stabbed the old man of the group. James Allan never left the truck the entire time.

            They returned with blood on them. My family immediately left Beaumont before the cops could arrive. Nancy later informed us that the man my dad stabbed survived, but he had to walk around with some sort of brace holding his arm up. My father had pinned him against James' truck and stabbed him several times under the arm. Nothing ever came of the stabbing. Probably because they were gang members and the investigating cops were white and, according to James, sympathetic. James tells the story as if he was a part of the brawl, but everyone knows what really happened that day.

An Aspiring Stripper

After hitting a lick (doing something illegal) one night Eugene, Rusty and I had our pockets filled with cash. I wanted to start selling pot, and they pitched in with me to buy a quarter pound so we could slang twenty sacks. I called John and told him to get us one ready, we were on our way.

            We hopped on our bikes and rode over to John's apartment on Hershey. John had started selling weed in Cloverleaf. He flipped a few quarter pounds at first, slanging twenty and thirty sacks, then he used that money to buy a pound and sell ounces. Soon, his primary source of income was selling weed and his tree service was just a prop for his dope business. He later became one of the biggest dealers in the Golden Triangle (Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, Texas) when he moved to Orange.

            As soon as we arrived at his place John said, "Damn, Little Robert! Have you seen that hot blonde on Manor? Chick was wearing some Daisy Dukes out on her back porch. Fine as hell! I might have to send Michelle to the store later and go hit that!"

            He sold us our QP, we rolled a few joints for the road and burned off. The blonde was right where he said she was on Manor. We rode into her yard and introduced ourselves. Her name was Deedra, she was fifteen years old and had the body of a twenty year old. We got her stoned and flirted with her for about an hour before she asked us to come back later. She said her stripper mother would be home later and would for sure buy some pot from us. In the meantime, she needed to take a shower.

            We returned several hours later after weighing our dope, showering ourselves and grabbing a bite to eat. All of the curtains were drawn at Deedra's trailer and no one answered our knock, yet we heard music inside. I pounded on the door and it was finally opened by Brad Issacs, a kid we knew from school. He was smiling when I asked, "What the hell are you doing here, man? Where's Deedra?"

He waved us inside. None of us could’ve predicted what we’d walk into when we stepped inside that trailer, not in our wildest fantasies. There were about ten boys around our age sitting in the living room as Deedra, in only a thong and bra, gave everyone lap dances to a Stone Temple Pilots’ tape! We joined the fun, sparking joints and waited our turn. Deedra said her mom was a professional dancer at a club in Pasadena and she needed to practice. We were the perfect boys to practice on, she said, and we were more than happy to let her

Deedra only had one rule: no touching. The moment a boy touched her, she’d smack him and move on to the next one. Of course she’d always come back to you so we were always copping feels. I talked her into taking her bra off, then later she came out of the thong. I recall lying on the floor as she instructed. She danced all over me to “Wicked Garden” by STP, rubbing her breasts against my chest and her wet middle over my legs and abs. Her face was right next to mine when she whispered, “We might as well be fucking this dance is so hot!” I smiled and squeezed her ass. “Why aren’t we then?” She playfully slapped my cheek and rolled off of me. Dance over.

Later, she ran all boys off except for my friends and I. Eugene had to burn off for some reason, otherwise he’d have stayed. She got dressed and acted normal when her mom and her boyfriend showed up. Her mother was an old barfly, with wrinkles and loose skin. I wondered who would pay to have her dance for them. She was drunk and obnoxious and spoke unintelligibly, slurring every word. Before she led her boyfriend into the back bedroom, she promised to return and buy some pot for us.

She seemed even more out of it when she returned. She asked if we’d been fucking her daughter and Deedra had to calm her down. She ordered Deedra to pull out a couple of chairs from the kitchen because she was going to show her daughter how it’s done. Both mother and daughter stripped down to bra and thongs for me and Rusty, competing against one another. Thankfully, Rusty got the vomit-inducing mother’s performance while sexy Deedra teased me. Afterwards, the mom wanted us to rate them from one to ten. Out of fear of being forced into another dance by the mother we gave her tens and let her win. I didn’t want those tobacco stained teeth anywhere near me!

Later, I brought Joe over to meet Deedra. Over the next couple of weeks we charmed her and they hooked up. For about a month straight we all partied day and night (it was summertime), doing cocaine and even going on a mini crack smoking binge. We went through a quarter ounce a night, easily. We’d go out thieving and use the money on dope, then sleep all day and do it again the next night. Eventually, after Deedra and her mother got into a fight, she moved in with us. Joe and Deedra grew really close really fast, and he wanted to bring her everywhere we went, even to break into places. Those were some wild and crazy times.

Before I met Deedra, I’d never smoked crack. Eugene, Rusty and I had started snorting coke after a dealer gave us a sixteenth for a TV set we’d stolen, but crack was an entirely different high. The rush washes over you, leaves you breathless in a euphoric trance for about ten to fifteen minutes before you begin craving it again. It was easy to see how people became so addicted to it, and it shouldn’t have been any surprise that Deedra became strung out.

I first noticed that Deedra was hooked on crack while we were at a crack house. By then Joe and I both had stopped doing coke and crack, but we were in the game and we sold it occasionally. We were at the crack house to drop some dope off for another dealer. Deedra and Joe got into a fight because she tried to take some crack from the offering hand of the dealer and Joe stopped her. “Hey, I thought we said no more of that shit?” He asked her. She left it alone, but I could see the addiction in her eyes. She was craving a hit. I later caught her flirting with that same dealer, but chalked it up as Deedra just being Deedra – a flirt and a tease. I didn’t tell Joe.

I also never told Joe when Deedra came on to me. I was headed home from a dope house after scoring a quarter ounce of coke to sale, and I ran into her at the end of my block. I showed her the dope, just fucking with her, and her eyes got wide as she wrapped an arm around me and said, “Robert, you know I’ve always had the hots for you. Why haven’t we ever fucked, baby? Oh, because your stupid ass brought Joe into my life! But you know I’ve always wanted you, right?”

It was bros before hos with Joe, but I knew he’d fallen in love with Deedra and, as much as I was tempted, I didn’t take advantage of her. I did give her a few bumps of coke and told her to take it into the bathroom and not let my dad catch her with it. He knew what I did, or at least suspected it, but to put it in his face was asking for him to put a boot in my ass.

Deedra continued to smoke crack behind Joe’s back. We also suspected her of selling herself to an old man in a white truck, a dude we knew for a fact bought sex from the prostitutes on Nimitz Street. Joe was so in love with her that he didn’t want to believe it. Not until the day we were standing at the dead-end sign in front of my trailer and the white truck dropped her off at the end of the block. My brother and homeboy was visibly shaken as Deedra pranced up to him and tried to hug and kiss him. He pushed her away. She acted hurt and confused. Without explanation he told her to pack her shit and get the fuck out. She tried to reason with him, but he wasn’t hearing it. She then asked me if she could stay since it was my parents’ trailer. I told her to just go.

After she left to pack I told Joe, “Sorry, man. But she’s a dope fiend and you know what they say? ‘Once a dope fiend always a dope fiend.’”

Bad Influence

In the 1980’s Cousin John had a chick named Julie Poole, the mother of his first three children. Julie remained friends of the family after John broke it off with her in the early 1990’s. I’m not entirely sure how or why, but my dad took Julie in while we were living in the back trailer on Corpus Christi Street. She didn’t have anywhere else to go, I don’t guess.

It wasn’t long before Julie and my sister began hanging out together. They’d walk the streets of Cloverleaf just to get out of the house for awhile, or so they said. I found them at the Fleabag Motel, the same one were we lived years before, talking to a well-known crackhead. I stopped by on my bike to see what they were up to and it was clear to me that my sister was on cocaine. Tammie is mentally handicapped. She doesn’t have initiative. She’s a follower, easily influenced by the people around her. When I realized she was high on coke I pulled her to the side. “Sis, please don’t be messin’ with any coke. That stuff’s poison, you hear me?”

“I ain’t doin’it, Bubba.”

“Tammie,” I tried to be stern. “I ain’t stupid, okay? That shit will eat you alive and I don’t want you fuckin’ with it!”

“I said I ain’t, Robert Lynn! You don’t tell me what to do, I’m a grown woman!”

For about a month Julie and Tammie got cracked out. Tammie spent every penny of her SSI check on it. My parents were pissed because she didn’t give them any money that month. I came home in the middle of them arguing about it, and I gave her and Julie up, told my dad everything. Had Julie been a man my dad would have beat the living shit out of her, or worse. Instead, he told her to pack her shit and get out of his house. Julie ended up moving to Beaumont with some Crips who sold crack. I blame Julie for my sister’s addiction to crack.

Julie’s absence didn’t cure my sister, sadly. Tammie ended up moving out and in with a guy in the apartment on Corpus Christi Street and Franklin. They both receive SSI checks and blew most of them on crack. It used to piss me off to see them all cracked out together. Once, they asked me to sell them some crack because the dude knew I slang it. My sister said, “Don’t ask him! He’ll snitch on us to his daddy!”

            “No I won’t, Sis. How much y’all looking for?”
            I didn’t have any crack and wouldn’t have sold them any if I did. I took their money and gave them candle wax with some of that toothache medicine rubbed on it. They didn’t know they’d been burned until they tried smoking it! When the dude came looking for me my brother met him on the front porch and knocked his ass right off of it, running him away from our trailer. She ran off after him. Nothing we said or did could help her.

            Another time, Joe and I went to a crack house to make a drop for one of the biggest dealers on the east side. We were in a stolen car to make the delivery, per our connect’s request. We knew the dude who ran the place well, having partied with him and his chick and done plenty of business with them before. We stayed awhile after the exchange just to shoot the shit.

            There was a knock at the door. A short, skinny and dark as coal black dude with bug eyes came in to buy some dope. He talked fast and cracked jokes, which made us all laugh. When he went into the kitchen with the dude of the house Joe asked me if I knew who he was. I’d never met the dude and had no recollection of ever even seeing him before. Joe said, “That’s Tammie’s pimp.”

            I’d heard my sister was selling herself for crack. We’d seen her out on Nimitz before, where the whores gathered. Joe even mentioned the pimp before, but I’d never thought much of it. Seeing him and meeting him, though, made something inside of me snap. I launched myself at him, yanked him to the floor and rammed my fist into his face a couple of times before they could pull me off him. The pimp was in a house full of white street hustlers and didn’t want any trouble. He just kept repeating, “I’m cool, man, I’m cool. It’s cool.”

            Joe apologized to the dealer and physically removed me from the house. Thankfully, I’d left my gun in the car. When I reached for it Joe snatched it out of my hands and snapped at me. “Little Robert! Brother. Chill the fuck out. You can’t stop shit. You can’t change nuthin. She’s gonna do what she wants to do and keep doing whatever it takes to get her next hit. Let it go.” He was right, but it still fucked my head up meeting my sister’s pimp. My head was twisted from the experience.

Valuable Experiences

Joe and I were cruising our bikes through The Dump when he swerved in to an apartment complex. He said he knew some chicks living there and winked at me. The chicks were a couple of obese women in their late thirties/early forties! They were wearing nightgowns, chain smoking cigarettes and watching soap operas on their bed in the living room. I was astonished when Joe crawled into bed with them and began fondling the uglier of the two. I sat uncomfortably in a chair by the bed, trying not to look at anything except the TV set, as if I’d been dying to know what would happen next on General Hospital. Finally, I said, “Hey, Joe. Man, I forgot to tell you something. Can you step outside with me a sec?”
            Outside Joe asked, “What’s up?”
            “What’s up?” I was beside myself. “Those aren’t chicks! They’re fat and old and ugly, dude! What the fuck?”
            “Look, dude. Those are women, not stupid, inexperienced little girls. They’ve been around the block a time or two, and they can teach you things. Trust me, a few days with them and you’ll have all the hot, young chicks all over you. Just roll with it, man!”

            “I’ll pass, you freak!”

            I left Joe alone to gain all the experiences he wanted. Joe didn’t discriminate when it came to sex. He got it wherever and with whoever he could. Maybe that was his secret with the girls? He had experience on me, that’s for sure.

            Once, Joe had this big girl named Jennifer that he was banging from Channelview High School. He’d met her at school, and I was with him over at her place one time. While they made out on the couch I looked at the wall of pictures. There was a pretty redheaded girl that caught my eye and I asked Jennifer who she was? “Niki Collins, one of my best friends. She lives down the road.”

            “Damn, she’s hot!” I said.

            A couple days later Jennifer hooked me up with Niki. The four of us talked on the phone between my place and Niki’s and the girls talked us into coming over there. She lived on the other side of Channelview, about ten miles away, but Joe and I decided to take the train tracks and walk, for some reason.

            By the time we arrived I was ready to go inside and relax. The girls met us at the end of Niki’s block and told us to be quiet as they lead us to a bedroom window. I wouldn’t have walked all that way had I known we’d have to sneak inside! Or maybe I would have. Niki was pretty fine.

            We crawled into the window of her brother’s room. I’m not sure where they were at the time, but I knew her parents were asleep in their room because she kept reminding us to whisper. We kept the light off the entire time. Joe and Jennifer were on the bottom bunk, and Niki and I crawled on the top bunk. We were in the middle of the act when, suddenly, the door opened and light spilled over our nakedness! I looked up and saw Niki’s mom’s face, staring directly at me and her daughter’s backside! The mom screamed for her husband, and Joe and I, followed by Jennifer, got dressed at light speed and flew out the window!

            Joe and Jennifer spent the night in some nearby woods so they could have sex. I walked back home, incredibly frustrated. Niki later became my girlfriend, and I was cool with her parents, but that’s probably because her mom didn’t recognize me from that night. Or if she did she didn’t let on to it.

Not So Fast

The same train tracks that lead to Niki’s house were the same that Joe sometimes walked to get to Channelview High School. Joe told me about the “perfect” house to hit along those tracks. He said he’d discovered it at the intersection of the tracks and North Brentwood and it was nestled beside a patch of woods.

            One cold and rainy day we went on foot to hit that house. We crept through the woods and forced our way into the place. We loaded several bags with watches, other various jewelry, cameras and a couple of pistols. We stashed everything in the woods, then returned to the little shed beside the house. Inside it we stole some tools and a Stihl chainsaw with a sixty inch bar on it! We moved all of that to the woods as well.

            Joe wanted to leave everything in the woods, in a spot we knew it wouldn’t be found, and come back later in a vehicle and get it. I wanted to at least take the chainsaw, just in case they found the stuff. I knew my brother would salivate at the mouth at the sight of that bad motherfucker! Joe argued with me, but he finally gave in and said, “Fuck it! Grab the saw. I’ll grab the cameras, jewelry and guns.”

            Carrying the saw on my shoulder we crossed North Brentwood and headed down the tracks. We made it about a hundred yards before a guy in a truck stopped on the tracks at North Brentwood, stepped out and yelled after us, “HEY! THAT’S MY DAMN CHAINSAW!”

            I dropped the chainsaw and we darted into the woods. Joe bitched me out for not listening to him and being a hardhead. We were in the middle of the oval road of North and South Brentwood. We knew we’d have to cross a street somewhere to get to the safety of the woods connected to Cloverleaf or Channelview. Being inside that oval, which stretched about five miles in circumference, we were trapped. We decided to walk close to the woods and off the tracks up to Dell Dale Road and try to pass it. If we could just pass Dell Dale we thought we’d be in the clear. We got about twenty yards from Dell Dale and waited in the woods for about ten minutes until the traffic dissipated. Just as we were crossing the road a police cruiser came out of nowhere, turned its lights on and sped towards us! We broke off running!

            Joe ran into the woods on one side of the tracks and I ran to the other. I was in a thin patch of trees and knew I wouldn’t be able to hide there, so I jumped a fence into a backyard and again into another patch of woods. I then decided to cross the tracks so I wouldn’t lose Joe. I didn’t see any cops so I made a dash for it, but no sooner did I step out into the open when several cops appear from the woods on the other side of the tracks and ordered me to the ground with their guns.

            They cuffed me and lead me to a cop car, where Joe was already in custody in the backseat. We were taken to the Wallisville substation, charged with burglary of a habitation. They questioned us and, miraculously, released us to my father. They’d called him after we told them he was my dad and Joe’s guardian. He showed up and had a conversation with the cops, and then they simply let us leave with him.

            My dad was silent at first. When he finally spoke he was calm. “I’m disappointed in you boys.” He was misty-eyed as he told us about prison, how were on the fast track there if we didn’t knock the bullshit off. He said he couldn’t beat the system, that he tried to do just that for over thirty years and look where it landed him: an uneducated, burnt-out, ex convict struggling to make it. He wanted better for us and begged us to please stop. We promised him we were done with that lifestyle.

            I was given a court date and sentenced to six months of probation. Joe skipped his court date, but was later arrested during a raid on my trailer. He was detained for about six months in a placement home for juveniles. Once he was released, I don’t recall him ever robbing or stealing again. He smoked pot and drank occasionally, but it seems he learned from that experience. The same can’t be said about me.

Don’t Shit in Your Own Backyard Parts II, III and IV

After we moved out of the back trailer, a group of thieves in their twenties moved in behind us. They were three men and three women. We were cool with them, hanging out at their place and playing their stolen instruments while we got high together. Joe even started banging one of the chicks.

            These people had a trailer filled with stolen goods. Pistols, rifles, a huge entertainment center, stereo systems, huge speakers, guitars, drums, basses and amplifiers. They didn’t work. They went out thieving, much like I did but they were a little more organized.

            One night everyone wanted to go down to the ropes for a swim. As my brother, Joe and others got ready I told them I’d pass because I had to go take care of some business in Northshore. No one seemed to think much of it as we all went our separate ways.

            Juan and Ernesto Jr. used to live right down the road from me on Corpus Christi Street. They sold pot and coke out of their apartment and kept a house full of youngsters and customers. I used to hang out with them and play Nintendo with Juan, whose collection of games rivaled my own. I also used to fence stolen goods through them and their dad. Just a month or so before I walked into their apartment wearing a trench coat. Once inside, I opened it up to reveal seven handguns, as if I was some kind of 1920’s gangster! They bought all of them for a couple of ounces of coke. Ernesto Jr. had told me if I came across any speakers to holler at him, he’d buy them for coke or cash.

            When everyone left for the ropes I rode down to Juan and Ernesto’s. I asked Ernesto Jr., who was home alone, if he still wanted some speakers. He did. I explained my plan to him. He thought about it a second and said he wanted to come with me. I tried to protest because I figured he’d want to knock off some of the price, but he assured me he’d give me a good deal in coke. We took his dad’s truck down my place and backed it right up to the back trailer. I’d lived there over a year and knew how to get inside easily. We quickly loaded the truck with the speakers and made a clean getaway without anyone seeing us. He weighed me out a righteous eight-ball and I was on my way.

            The thieves returned with my brother and Joe a little later. They were furious when they discovered they’d been robbed. They just KNEW it was me, but I denied it and they couldn’t prove it. For the longest they didn’t want me around their place, but they eventually eased up on me and let me hang out again. I really couldn’t care less back then. I had no loyalty to those people.

 

*****    ****    *****

 

Around this same time I robbed Katrina and Dan again. My mom sent me to ask Katrina for some milk. She opened the door with her hand behind her back, saw it was me and let me in. She placed a brand new .357 revolver on the counter as she got the milk.

            I couldn’t stop thinking about the gun for over a week. It was chrome, had a long barrel and wood grain handle. I absolutely had to have it. I waited for them both to leave one day and broke into their trailer, found it under their mattress and took it. I stashed it for awhile just in case they said anything about being burgled, but they never did.

            My parents were struggling financially. I overheard them with my brother at the kitchen table worrying about bills. I made a rash decision because I wanted to help. I retrieved the .357 and placed it on the table in front of my father. He looked up at me and said, “Ooo-Wee, boy! Where in the hell’d you get this?”

            “Does it matter?” I asked. “I took it away from some kids down the street. They said they stole it in Channelview. I figured they’d just shoot themselves with it so I strong-armed them for it. Can’t you sell it? All I want is half the money and you keep the rest to cover those bills.”

            He sold it to one of his bosses at Bill Dee’s for a mere $250! I could’ve gotten at least twice that since the thing had never been fired! He said the guy he sold it to had been good to him and he wanted to return the favor. He gave me twenty bucks and told me he’d rip my head off and shit down my neck if he caught me with another pistol.

 

****    ****    *****

 

Jeremy Bellamy was a tall, skinny dude about five years older than me with really long, burgundy hair. He sold LSD most of the years I’d known him, and he often came around with exotic weed. One afternoon while I was home he showed up to see what I was up to. We got stoned in my living room and he asked if I knew where to get a portable air-compressor? He said he’d give me a sheet of double-dipped LSD for one.

            I told Jeremy I’d seen one across the street in my neighbor’s yard and I thought I could hop their fence from the woods and get it. The people across the street had been living there for years. We weren’t friends with them. They were squares. The husband had a large shed in the back where he worked on cars and he had lots of tools. It’s a wonder that I’d not robbed him to that point. Jeremy said he wouldn’t help, but if I safely got the air-compressor to his truck I had myself a deal.

            I slipped over the fence to their yard from the woods and found the air-compressor in his shed. I realized it was too heavy for me to lift over the fence alone so I went back to my trailer and asked Jeremy to come help me. He wasn’t trying to hear it. “You find a way to get it to my truck and I’ll help you lift it into the back, but I’m not going with you to steal it.”

            I jumped the fence through the woods again and pushed the air-compressor to the entrance of their fence. I looked down the road and made sure on one was around and I quickly pushed it across the street. Jeremy was waiting on me and we loaded it into his truck.

            As he was pulling out of my driveway the old man a few lots down stepped out onto the road. Jeremy panicked and peeled out down the road, nearly running the old dude over! I freaked out and ran inside my trailer, kicking myself for being so stupid.

            Jeremy called me about five minutes later. “Goddammit, Little Robert! You’re going to get me thrown into jail! I got a newborn son. I can’t deal with this shit, man. I’m about to dump this shit in the middle of the road!”

            “Calm down, dude!” I was a nervous wreck myself, but I had a plan. “You know the side road where we used to dump illegally on Beltway 8?”

            “Yeah. What the fuck, man?”

            “Look, just drop it off there. I won’ say shit about you. I think I can fix this. Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. Leave it where I can find it, though!”

            My mom and brother showed up just before the police did. The old man gave everything up. He said he watched me cross the street with the compressor. Thankfully, Jeremy didn’t hit him. My mom begged the cop not to arrest me. The cop wanted to know who the truck belonged to. I told the cop that the person in the truck had nothing to do with it, that it was all on me, but that I could get the stolen property back. The cop made me a deal: take him to the where the air-compressor was and he wouldn’t arrest me, but it was up to our neighbors whether or not charges would be filed.

            I took him to the air-compressor and it was returned to our angry neighbors. They weren’t lenient on me. Charges were filed and I was again convicted of burglary of a habitation. My probation was extended for one year, and I had to do community service. Furthermore, Ms Ann, our landlord, was notified and she evicted us.

            My dad kicked my ass when he got home. Again I got the lecture about not shitting in my own backyard. He didn’t want me stealing at all, but damn sure not where I lived. Again, I’d gotten us kicked out of a place. My father was at a loss for what to do with me. He knew I was headed down the road to nowhere, that I was wasting my youth.