BROTHERHOOD --/-- a weekly series

Episode 1: Vanilla Dutch


The first problem was that Marlin never learned how to read. I mean, he learned how to read, he just never learned how to enjoy it. That's why when we found Alicette's journal in the back seat of his car, I was surprised to catch him flipping through the pages.  I was standing in line at the bodega buying a vanilla dutch when I looked out the Plexiglas window and saw him sitting in the driver seat reading the journal. I got back in and before I could even close my door, I swiped it away from him, then slammed the door closed.

"Yo first of all don't slam my fucking car door. Second of all, bitch don't touch me."

"Yo, first of all, this ain't yours so don't fucking read it. That's messed up.  This shit is private."

"Man, fuck you and your little philosophical righteous ass. First of all, if it was really that private, she shouldn't have left it in the backseat of her drug dealer's car.  Second of all, you don't know girls, so don't talk man."

"What's that supposed to mean? I'm fucking 15 bro.  At least I know how to respect their shit."

"Little dude, you will learn their tricks one day. See, what you don't realize is that she left this here on purpose," he talked as he unpeeled the dutch leaf and broke down weed on a Jadakiss mixtape. 

"You are seriously an asshole," I said as I watched his dutch rolling method closely. For some reason he was able to roll the best ones, and I was trying to learn without telling him I needed a lesson.  

"What, you don't think she wanted me to read it? Girls don't leave things behind unless they mean to do it for a reason. Like you said, it's private - Why would she leave it here for me to read if it's private?"

"Wow. Maybe because she just left it by mistake."

"Listen little Mikey boy, we will see what happens when she calls next time to re-up. Now I know that she likes the movie "The Notebook", plus she is starting to get annoyed with her step dad who she caught cheating twice on her mom."

"Really?! Isn't her step dad the state trooper?"

"Ahhh look who's interested all of a sudden," he finished rolling and toasted the blunt by waving a lighter back and forth like a magic wand. Just then my phone lit up, it was a text from Alicette.

"Hey, I think I might have left a journal in your brother's car, it has stickers all over it. See it? Thanks... and this bud is dank btw. See u tmrw in class :P."

"Why is she texting you, doesn't she have my number?"

"Because she's my customer, and no I didn't give her your number."

"Wait, wait. What did she just say at the end of that text?"

"See you in class tomorrow."

"No, before that."

"This bud is dank btw."

"Ah right. And who's bud is that?"

"Okay I get it bro, but just let me deal with her man, please."

"See you like her, that's why you care about her journal. How did you meet her anyway, isn't she my age?"

"Yeah but I told you I'm in that one class with a bunch of juniors."

"You are such a fucking nerd. Yo hand me the eyedrops we gotta go stop by mom's house before we smoke this."

"Mom's house?! Why? I thought you weren't allowed over there right now."

"Damn, what are you the police? Fuck is up with all these questions. Just hand me the eye drops."

We rolled up in front of my mom's house, a three story, three car garage mini mansion. It's the house we grew up in.  Biggest house in town. Our father owned a construction company and built their dream house on this cheap quarter acre lot in this cheap central Jersey town. I loved growing up there, don't get me wrong... but it was awkward living in that house. I like my dad's house better because it was small and easier to explain to people. It was just more regular, and I like that.  But I loved my mom's artwork.  I loved the way she designed the interior. It was like stepping into a museum of modern art.  I was embarrassed to show my friends this type of wealth and usually just stayed out with my brother. But secretly I loved the library, I loved the grand piano and the crazy sculptures. 

My mom came out and met us on the driveway.

"Hey Mikey! Marlin what are you doing here?"

I could see her and Marlin had some stuff to talk about, so I went inside to play some piano. As I walked away all I heard behind me was my brother saying, "Look I am sorry I just needed the money. you don't understand what it's like out there..."

Kirby, our little bichon frise puppy, liked to bark and sing under the piano when I played.  Over on the bookshelf I found a pill bottle of Xanax. I didn't know who's it was, the label was ripped off. So I took a few of them and put them in my pocket.

"Mike, what the hell are you doing?"

I turned around to see my mom standing there with her hands on her hips. Marlin was standing right behind her, wide eyed and shaking his head trying not to laugh. My mom continued..

"Did I just see you do what i think I just saw you do?"

"Yes, you did mom but they weren't for me I was just going to sell them.."

"What the fuck is it with you two? What do you think you come from the ghetto, the trap house, you think this is the bando?!"

Me and my brother looked at each other and laughed at her choice of words. We loved it when she said bando.

"Okay, both of you are now officially not allowed in here, let's go, back out on the street if you want to act like criminals." Really, she thought we would just go to dad's house. What she didn't know is that we were actually on our way to the bando.

That night, after going to some bloods' house to pick up a pack out in Wilburtha Section, we parked the car over by Caldwalader park near the Green Store on Stuyvesant and sparked the blunt.

Marlin reached under some clothes in the backseat and pulled out a shoebox.

"Damn why do you waste all your money on jordans yo," I said pulling on the blunt. He just looked at me in disappointment."

"Okay, so I won't give you the shoes I bought you then."

"Wait, what?"

"Yeah man, I can't have you walking around in them Grateful Dead sandals looking like Forest Gump trekking across America. You deserve nicer... we made three thousand bucks today.  Come on man, try these on, see how they feel." 

I stepped out into the night air.  The stars were clear over the park's treelined perimeter.  I have to admit, those jordans felt good.  They were Jordan 3's, official, black and grey jawns with the little red up by the tongue and on the logo.  Ten years later, that pair of shoes are way past their prime, but I still bring them with me everywhere I go.  I even wore them to Marlin's court date later that year, after they caught him.

"Man bro," I said looking down at my new feet, "these look even better on me than they do on you."

"Yeah okay you Ringo Starr lookin ass don't get all caught up. Now you just look like Jimmy Neutron put on some Jordans. Next week I'll get you a pair of nice jeans and a cardigan.  Then you'll really be able to talk to that lil mami of yours with the journal."

"First of all she ain't no lil mami, she's a young woman."

"First of all pass me that blunt you little woman."

After listening to the second half of Weezy's "Drought III" we drove north up River Road towards the suburbs.  Mansions everywhere, spotlights set up in the big green lawns glowed up on the front doors of each one. 

"See that one right there, bro," Marlin said, lowering his head to see through my window, "that one right there is where our dentist lives."

"How you know that?" He looked at me sideways.

"Man why do you question everything? Because I sold his daughter an eighth last week, that's why. Cuz I'm out here really making sales to these rich people. That's what you gotta be doing next year when mom sends you up to the private school."

"Yo if I get into that private school I'm not gonna start selling to everyone and get kicked out."

"Damn you are weak bro. I never said to get caught. Anyway if you don't sell to them, you will just make friends with them and I will sell to them instead.  I was just thinking you might make a little money for yourself."

"I don't care about that shit."

"I know, that's why I'm trying to teach you. You won't learn everything in them books little man."

"I'm not even trying to go to private school anyway.  Them kids are soft up there. I can get just as good an education as I can down in the Town. Plus all my boys are back home, you know?"

"No offense man, but them kids won't take you anywhere but trouble. They'll never leave the Town. You are lucky to get this opportunity, meet all them rich kids and they will hook you up later in life."

"So you want me to go to private school, but you want me to sell weed when I get there?"


"How does that make sense?"

"Well, you are right, not just weed. Them kids are gonna want adderall, pills, molly and... shit that reminds me... you still got them xanax in your pocket?!"

We both laughed. I took out the two I had and handed him one.

"Good looking out little man. Let's just split one for now though, I don't want you getting addicted."

"Bro, you are the most confusing mentor of all time."

"Yeah, well you're lucky. You're lucky you're the baby. I don't have all the answers, but I know one thing. I'm here to take the fall for you little man. Just remember that." 

We washed down the half bar and pulled up the great big hill that looks over the river. Just trees and stars and the lights from mansions as far as the eye can see. That's where our dad had a little cabin up in the woods. As he pulled up we both saw the tv flashing through the window and knew he was asleep. As I got out of the car,

"Yo, you forgetting something?"

He was holding Alicette's journal.

"Thanks bro. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, see you tomorrow."

"Where are you gonna stay tonight?"

He laughed as if it was not a valid question, "Bitch what you think? Hotel suite in Princeton, trying to see some college girls."

I laughed, too, but as he reversed down the driveway I knew that's not where he was going. I didn't know where, but I knew it was something I didn't understand yet.  He usually explains everything to me that I don't understand, even if I don't want to hear it.  But this was something he really didn't want me to know about.  The next morning in math class with all the juniors, I walked over to Alicette right after the bell rang and handed her the journal. 

"Hey, I'm not trying to be nosy or anything, but if your step dad is treating you and your mom bad you don't have to put up with that."

"Okay, so, you read my journal."

"No, well"

"Yes, you obviously did."

"Okay, well maybe I was interested."


"So you left it on purpose, then, right? Cuz you wanted me to read it?"

"No, I left it by accident. And didn't want anyone to read it. That's why it says private on this huge sticker right here."

"Yeah, that's what I thought at first, but..."

"You are a funny one. Your brother told you to read it didn't he."

"Not exactly. Well, something like that."

"Aren't you like 15?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Well I am 17."

"Yeah whatever. Just do me a favor, when you need weed just text me and not my brother, okay?"

She laughed and walked away in those jeans... "Okay, I wasn't going to text him though. You're my plug, right?" she asked without turning around and exited into the hallway with a slight flick of her wrist, as if to say "see ya later" with a hand motion.

After school I walked over to my best friend Bryon's house, but he wasn't home yet, so I ended up smoking a blunt with his step dad, Marcus. Marcus was watching porn in the basement and acted like it was just a regular movie. It did have some music videos in it, I guess. But that was kinda weird.

"Ay lil Mikey you ever seen anything like this before? I know your mom keeps you on a short leash. Go ahead, look at that right there, that's called loving."

"Yeah I've seen stuff like that before," I said as he passed me the roach.  I sat back in the green velvet couch and wondered where the hell Bryon was and why I wasn't invited.

"Man, lil Mikey you are the coolest little white boy in this town. You know you are the only white friend Bryon has?"

"Yeah, I knew that. But Marcus you are white too aren't you?

"Yeah I'm white, what that means I can't say you a cool white boy?"

"Well maybe I'm cool but he still doesn't let me go everywhere with him."

"Yeah well that's because he respects you Mikey, trust me it ain't anything else but respect. All them other kids aren't going anywhere in life. But you are different."

"That's what I am tired of..."

Just then the house phone rang and it was my mom calling.

"Yeah, he's right here," Marcus said as I waved my hand "no, no."

"Actually, you know what he is already on his way home."

Marcus hung up the phone and I knew what the deal was. 

"Sorry lil Mikey, but I can't get in the middle of that. When mom says come home you better get your ass home. You are lucky to have a mom like that."

I cut through Bryon's alley and through the Williamson's yard into my backyard.  Our mansion loomed over the neighborhood. I sat inside the all white living room playing the piano. I wondered when my brother was going to come pick me up. There was a huge book of poetry by some guy named Jorge Luis Borges, and another one by Pablo Neruda. I opened one up and fell on this passage: 

"string electric lines, bake bread late into the night, our daily bread, with an iron pick and they pierce the entrails of the earth and convert the iron into locks, they climb into the sky, and carry letters and sobs and kisses, someone is being born."

...Episode 2 drops Tues. Oct 18th.

Preview Episode 2: Marlin takes Mikey to visit the private school.  While Mikey goes on his tour, they invite Marlin to sit in on a ceramics class, where he meets an unlikely connection. A plug out in the suburbs? Tuesday on "Brotherhood". Right here on riojones.Live