In March of 1993, my former “friend” Paul Urios stood trial for third degree felony theft and grand theft auto. I remember waking up to a cool day with the sun out brighter than ever. It was a normal day, but when I got home from school, I learned that dad went to the court house that morning to testify against him and to claim ownership of some of the things stolen from us that we learned were later recovered in a storage shed. Paul stole from us and from our neighbors. The amount of loot was valued at $88,000 in total. Little did I know when I met Paul that he and his cohorts would have my entire neighborhood in an uproar like I couldn’t have imagined.
But unlike my other former (poorly chosen) friends, Paul was never my friend. He was just the friend of a friend whom I chose to put up with—one I shouldn’t have put up with. I put up with him for a time, which means I was still to blame for all the grief we suffered from the guy. Paul had the distinction of being one of the people in my life that I really and truly hated.
Paul had just turned 18 when I met him through my friend Travis, an almost equally big failure of a human being. Paul was very skinny and tall, about 6’1 in height. He was a mixed race kid, half-white and half-Hispanic. He had the hairiest skinny arms of any skinny guy I knew (I don’t know why that detail stuck with me, but it has). Paul’s father was reputed to be a serious drug dealer. I doubted that.
One of the scariest moments of my life came right after I met Paul. It was then that I met his dad. A friend and I were waiting in his car. Paul was taking so long inside his house. Said he would get something from dad and then be back out. He took so long that I proposed my friend and I go in there and see what was up. We walked in not knowing that behind that cracked door were two bad men.
The door floated open and an older man that looked like Paul was sitting down doing something at his kitchen table. He was talking with Travis, who had gone into the room with Paul. The man looked up and saw us, and in a flash of movement, knocked some newspapers and other things off his table and grabbed a large gun and pointed it at us. Travis jumped up and said: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, not them! They are okay!”
I almost pissed my pants right then and there, and so did Tim, the friend I was with. “I almost fucking killed you, Homes.” the man said, who turned out to be Paul’s dad (no surprise there). What was a surprise was the kind of funny-looking gun that was pulled on us when we got close enough to see it; it was an Uzi 9mm! Where the fuck…no, how the fuck…do you get an uzi??? It was real, no question about it. It was the same type of gun Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) used to kill the lizard aliens with on V The Final Battle years earlier.
Fuck, I almost bit the big one! Takes a while to sink in, but it finally occurred to me that I could very well have died that day. His dad was used to the thought of cops busting in. After staring us down and putting down that huge, freaking cool-ass gun, he picked up his things and went back to doing what I suspected he was doing—making blunts and sorting drugs. His whole table was covered with pills of various colors and shapes, and weed (and who the fuck knows what else).
Paul’s dad wrapped up some tan “horse pills” in a paper bag and gave it to Paul, saying: “These go to Reyna. Noon, no later!” Paul didn’t say a word. He just took the pills and put them in his right-side pocket. Paul’s dad didn’t care about me knowing what went on in the house. Travis vouched for me, and besides, he figured that any friend of his son’s was a low enough drug-user just like he was. His son was given tons of drugs that he both sold and used. We dropped off the package, delivered it to a nice pink-bricked house on the north side of town and went on our way.
Paul had a gun too. It was some kind of semi-automatic pistol. He let me hold it. He always had it on him, with those baggy-ass white and gray sports jersey sort of “gangsta” clothes he wore. He could hide the gun well. He pulled it out quite often, which made me nervous as shit. It was not surprising to learn that one of the hits on his boastfully lengthy rap sheet was brandishing a firearm! I was afraid of the guy. I really was. I had good reason to be, too. I would soon find out just how good the reason was. I knew I was dealing with a “hard” character, but I had no idea just how hard…yet.
I remember our hanging out one afternoon. I decided to skip school to see what mischief we would get into. We hid behind a tall, grassy area behind a fence separating the Eden community of homes from Green Spring valley on the city’s northeast side where I lived. Had to be careful not to get spotted by dad on his way to work! It was foggy that day. We hung out doing nothing the whole day, and then a bus full of middle-schoolers drove by and dropped off some kids after school.
Those small kids – staring out the back window, giggling and pointing at things like kids are wont to do – were met with gang signs flashed back at them from Paul. And that wasn’t all he flashed them with. A couple of kids got off the bus and that shiny gun was shown the light of day as he pulled up his shirt to show them what would await them if they messed with him. They were threatened as a group, and of course, ran home crying and told their parents. The police were called and the area was combed. We were hiding out at Travis’ house by then and laid low for the night.
We three hoodlums then met up on a street a couple houses over from mine. As I approached, he and Travis were staring down at some kid, some grade-schooler. They were doing what I thought they were doing. The poor baby was scared to death as Paul lectured him. I remember walking up and hearing how much joy was in Paul’s ordinarily monotonous voice as he threatened this young kid: “That’s right, I could’ve fucking shot your bitch ass right back there for looking at me the way you did, but I didn’t. So get the fuck out of here and don’t ever cross me again!” The boy walked off, afraid as could be. He couldn’t even look down or around. He turned the corner and was gone. This made me so angry. I wanted to hit him, but my mind never left that gun he kept tucked in his pants.
You would think that with “hardness” comes “hard” judgment, but that wasn’t so. Paul wasn’t in any danger, and yet he flashed a deadly weapon at kids much smaller than him. That was weak, not the mark of a big time “gangsta.” Did that connect with me? No. Paul was a dangerous thug who took great pleasure from intimidating people, not a real gangster. He wasn’t smart enough to get ahead in the rough world of street crime. He was too stupid to be a good street junkie. His dad was always chewing him out for his stupid moves. I remember visiting his house for the final time. Paul’s stupid moves got us all scolded. “I will kill all three of you if you fuck me over.” Then he paused and pointed to his son and said: “I don’t give a fuck if you’re my son either! Don’t you ever fuck me over!” I had to find a way to disconnect from this crowd. I knew that now. I never went over there again.
The whole four months I knew and hung out with Paul were infuriating. I got home from school one day, kicked off my shoes, and went to the kitchen to eat. Ordinary enough of a day, right? Wrong. There was Paul, in my fucking kitchen, eating out of my fridge, from my family’s bowl of beans! He was dipping the spoon that went into his mouth back into the bowl—that is a mortal sin against me! I was fucking furious. He didn’t say anything, even when I said: “What are you doing here?” I wanted to say: “What the fuck are you doing uninvited in my house, you son of a bitch?” But I didn’t have the guts. Seeing that I was quiet and curious, he finally said: “I was hungry. Dad’s busy. Needed a place to hang for a while.”
He stayed around all goddamn evening and didn’t leave until nightfall. The rest of his (my) friends came over and we hung out. Paul was so spacey, so out of it, using his own “stuff” that he barely talked at all. LSD on paper patches were one of his favorite things to use. I remember him just laying there and laughing for about 45 minutes. He rolled a blunt in my upstairs bathroom before calling it a night and heading out. I was so mad at myself for not having the balls to man-up and kick them out of there, but there was still the matter of that gun. I felt so sullied just having him around, especially in my kitchen.
The times we were at Travis’ house were no less angering. We would be hanging out and Paul would get finicky. Like a three-year-old child giggling while hitting a cat with a tree branch, Paul would start jabbing people, punching and laughing lightly. It wasn’t funny for longer than ten seconds, but it lasted longer than that. I nearly hit the guy in the lip, I recall distinctly. He was no match for me without that gun. He finally backed off and went to listening to what seemed to be his favorite song, “No Sunshine” by Kid Frost from the 1992 album “East Side Story.” He put the CD player (brand new thing at the time) on repeat. The song was about a 21-year-old man spending life in prison for stabbing another man in the heart in a knife fight. The chorus went…
“Ain't no sunshine. Ain't no sunshine. Ain't no sunshine. Ain't no sunshine. Ain't no sunshine…anytime. "
Neither Paul, nor any of my friends appreciated this song for what it was intended to accomplish. A week later, Paul’s in jail, Travis tells me. What for? Second charge of brandishing a shotgun out in the front yard. He was out and hanging with us again in less than two weeks. Dad pulled some strings or something and got him out…and then beat the shit out of him. And, it was back to his old ways of flashing his shiny gun at young kids and graphitizing sidewalks.
The Paul era ended when he and a druggy friend named Corey got busted trying to steal a car five houses up from ours. The owner spotted the break lights and he called the police. The two were caught in the act. Down they went.
A day before the arrests, Paul had threatened a neighbor who was active in the homeowner’s association. The man made some calls and Paul’s name came up, as did mine. The police raided his dad’s rented storage facility and found the $88,000 worth of appliances and stolen goods. Paul’s dad went down on drug charges and receiving stolen property. I was in the clear, but a neighbor was so pissed about the whole ordeal that he went over to me, poked me in the chest in our own yard, and said: “YOU and your dipshit friends brought this on!” Dad didn’t say a thing, but looking back, I would have done the same thing my neighbor did. Kids are stupid as hell.
The neighborhood was again peaceful. Now we’re back to where we were when we first started the article. I hated Paul, but I was still at fault for letting a bad person into my life. A number of expensive items, including one kick-ass boom box that I miss to this day, were gone forever. It was all because of me.
Sometimes people can be worthless—not just rebellious or misguided, but worthless. Sometimes you have to give up on a person, and that can be hard. The toughest thing about giving up on someone is that you have trouble letting go of that childlike image of the way they used to be. Take the worst druggie in the world; those who love them look past their scars, their never-ending lies, their weathering looks, and their “jones-ing” fits of anger and see the baby who used to crawl around and coo so cutely in the playpen. They aren’t that person anymore. Some people can see that easier than others. Every mass-murdering dictator there ever has been once played and fell down and cried out innocently to mommy for help. Then they grew and became what their rasing and blueprints determined that they would be—evil.
You hear about the stories on the news all the time, about how some mother did the unthinkable to her child, or some quiet and “innocent” kid was guilty of such heinous bloodshed that words can’t capture it fully. But those things aren’t like a rape or a robbery. Those can happen to anybody. The one thing that just about all rape victims have in common is that they never thought it could happen to them. But with genetics, it’s unlikely that you know too many people who are morally defective because of bad genes. But look in the bad crowds and you’ll find them.
Life is such a miserably delicate balance. It takes just the right genetics to live a productive life, to feel emotional pain, to receive instruction, to be balanced chemically and emotionally so as to be productive. We take it for granted, but the conscience isn’t anything but a patchwork system of naturally queued reactions that work together to produce affection and remorse.
People – mostly the kids – wish for things like normalcy, but then they spend their young lives hating being normal. They want to believe they are exceptional, but when it becomes clear that they and their problems/challenges are normal, they aren’t satisfied. They’ve got to be more than that. Look at me and my friend Josh; we weren’t the bad-asses we wished we were. We weren’t “hardcore” when we thought we were. We were just observers, imitators who tried to reproduce what we saw. We were soft. Paul was hard, but look at what being “hard” gets you? It makes you a candidate for self-destruction.
You can spend your life wishing you had something that made you more than average…more strength, more courage, more intelligence, more abilities…but you may not want those after all. Those exceptional qualities will come with exceptional difficulties. It will average out in the end. Just live in fantasy and be content with the fact that you are not your hero idol. Let Jack Bauer be the one to confront terrorists. Let Atlas hold up the world while you stay at home in bed. It’s more fun to dream. That’s the only lesson I can get out of it.
The brightest and most remarkable stars in the sky are not the brightest, like the blue stars, the ones that are a million times larger than our sun. They are the medium-sized orange stars like our sun, the ones that live for billions of years. The big ones consume their fuel too fast and are too heavy. They explode into an array of colors, like the colors a druggie sees all around him when he gets his kicks. Is that a sick coincidence or just the thought of a blob of matter who happens to be onto something? I have no idea.