By Enrique Grijalva

“I got dimes of Loud that look like twenties,” said Dubya when I walked out of the bodega.

I said nothing. I just gave him a look that related to him what he needed to know.

“You looking at me like you don’t believe me,” was his response to my momentary glance.

Customer satisfaction is important. It’s essential when you’re out fishing and there’s the potential to reel in a new customer. A one-time deal always gets you hooked. This 16-year-old kid knew that. He’d do well in sales if he went straight, I thought (but that’s the case for a lot of hustlers who choose to exclusively walk through dirt). Once we completed the initial song and dance, Dubya escorted me to his place of business.

Some younger kids surrounded him, excited to see him, as we drew closer to his spot. They bombarded him with questions about his release.

“When did you get out?” asked one of Dubya’s acquaintances. The focused demeanor on his face slowly began to give in to annoyance, as he tried to brush off the kid who asked the question. You can’t blame him, though. How would you feel if one of your irritating friends, who’s constantly looking for a handout, shows up to your job to pester you with personal questions while you’re trying to complete a sale? That’s not very professional. But in your eyes, neither is this kid’s career choice.

There was much wrong with this scenario, but I’d rather focus on the career choice this kid made. Dubya is 12 years my junior and I see him as a kid. This is a kid whose street dreams have become a reality. I’d postulate that he’s already been arrested for possession of a product which is quickly becoming legalized in America, both medically and recreationally.

Now that I’m older, I now realize that the years of watching my friends, classmates and co-workers walking in and out of jail should have never been considered normal. However, it’s one of the many repercussions that come with this lifestyle.

So I wanted to talk to this kid. I wanted to tell him that this isn’t the only avenue to get paid. But who am I to tell him anything? I went straight and I barely have my life together. All the wisdom in the world can’t put food in this kid’s stomach. I can’t pay this kid’s rent. What’s more, at the moment, he probably doesn’t understand that he should be grateful for what he does have. (If more people today understood that you could be happy living a modest life, we probably wouldn’t be doing the things we’re doing.) He’s blinded by the shine of material objects, seductive women, and the power money yields. It’s the only form of respect he understands and he wants it. Unfortunately, he’ll eventually learn that all that glitters is not gold. The best advice anyone could give him, given the choice he made, is to stack money and get out as soon as possible.

I didn’t know Dubya from a hole in the wall, but I empathized with his circumstances. I found myself at a fork in the road at his age. A lot of male youths find themselves on that same road, where they’re forced to make a decision. Some guys walk a straight path and go to school, some don’t. Others do both. They go to school and do their thing on the side for some extra income. To them it isn’t a long-term venture. Eventually they leave it alone. On the flipside, Nas put it best on his 1996 single, “Street Dreams,” when he reveals that some guys “went for theirs; flipping coke is they career.”

I’m currently trying to catch up on Money and Violence, the latest Brooklyn-based Web series which depicts the lives of Brooklyn locals in a hyper-realistic fashion. One of my favorite storylines is that of a character named Kane, which focuses on this issue, of whether or not one should pursue the street dreams. His descent into the street life — which has already taken his brother’s life — addresses the feelings of the archetypal city boy who is trying to become a man, or rather The Man.

In the series, Kane is desperate for money because the mother of his child won’t allow him to see his daughter. The inability to provide for himself and his family forces Kane (and any man) to question his own manhood. This ultimately results in a lack of respect from his family and those around him. (Lesson of the Day: It’s all about money, power, and respect.) Eventually Kane is introduced to the street life by Rafe, his deceased brother’s friend and local thief.

“In this line of work ain’t no room for feelings. You don’t do what you want; you do what you have to.”
– Rafe, Money & Violence

That’s ultimately the reason I didn’t step into that world. I was never starving as a kid. I had a roof over my head, and there was food in my stomach every night. I was good and I still am. So I chose to do what I wanted, because I didn’t have to fill a spot on these streets. I would have been holding a position someone else would’ve wanted and needed to survive. If I had, however, like a few guys out there often do, it would have been because I wanted to foolishly live out some type of Scarface fantasy. But that ain’t me.

I would have never been able to hold down the block forever. That’s a limited way of life for someone who has more than one option. That’s just my opinion. Besides, I know it’s more problematic and a lot more mentally taxing trying to be the next Pablo Escobar than it is trying to be the next Hunter S. Thompson. Either way, you can’t knock the hustle.

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