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Monday, February 06, 2006

When I was 17 Part I

I worked at McDonalds when I was in High School. A fast food job was the last place you wanted to work at back then as it was less embarrassing to be unemployed and broke than flipping burgers for minimum wage. While working there I made some great friends including my best friend at the time Jonathan. Jonathan was a gangly awkward kid with an offbeat sense of humor who looked high all the time, even though he never smoked weed a day in his life. His nickname in the hood was ‘spliff’. I remember spending so much time in the kitchen scoping out the cute girls in the dining room, stealing Chicken Mcnuggets or throwing food at one another when we should have been making BigMacs and Quarter-Pounders. We were alike in so many ways. We had a similar sense of humor and outlook on life. We spent hours walking home together just talking although we both lived not longer than 10 minutes from the store. After a few months there, a young big breasted Puerto Rican named Arlene joined the staff and sent my hormone raging body into a flutter. We ate together on lunch breaks, flirted over the condiment stand and made out in the changing room downstairs. For Valentines Day, I decided to do the most romantic thing I could think of for the women that captured my heart. I would have a local DJ create a slow-jam mix tape for her.

Johnny Wishbone was the hottest DJ in the neighborhood at that time. Because Jonathan was good friends with Johnny, I had him ask him to make me a romantic mix tape that would melt the heart of my Puerto Rican love goddess. After hearing the tape I wanted her to get buck naked, cook me a plate of Arroz con Pollo and feed me while I played video games. Late one afternoon Jonathan came back to McDonalds with the finished product. Excited, I ran downstairs to the break room to listen to the compilation of love songs which I was sure would contribute to me loosing my virginity. But instead of being wowed, I heard what I thought was a product I could have made myself taping late night 'quiet storm' sessions off the radio. Disgusted I ran back upstairs and tossed the tape at Jonathan.

“If Johnny thinks I’m going to pay him for this crap he’s CRAZY”

Now Johnny was not exactly someone from the neighborhood that you really wanted to challenge. Besides knowing all the unsavory characters in the neighborhood, he was 6-5, 250 lbs with numerous knuckle scars. Realizing the potentially life threatening error of my ways, I called Jonathan minutes after I got home and told him that I would indeed pay for the tape next week after I got paid.

That Friday was payday. Another friend of mine named Joseph was working that day as well as Arlene. Joseph and I planned on cashing our checks and going to the local club to hang out. At 9:00 o’clock I punched out and ran downstairs to change out of my greasy burger smelling uniform and into my jeans and sneakers which were suitable for a teenaged night on the town. When we got back upstairs another co-worker, Lavanno was by the counter getting his check with a friend I didn't know named Craig. Craig looking dirty and unkempt stayed to himself while Lavanno, Joseph and I cracked jokes as our manager cashed our checks. Just then, Jonathan and Johnny Wishbone walked in.

I felt my blood run cold as Johnny Wishbone strode over to where I was standing with a not so pleasant look plastered to his face. Jonathan awkwardly trailed behind him still looking high as ever.

“Yo Larry” Johnny Wishbone starts. “I hear you said my tape was garbage and that you aint paying me”

I immediately look over at Jonathan who won’t meet my gaze.

“That aint true man” I reply. I’m a little scared at this point. Johnny Wishbone is with someone else from the hood, Joe Willoby known for his short temper and quick fists. From out the corner of my eye, Craig shuffles over to the group watching us intently.

“I was planning on paying you next week. Aint that what I told you Jonathan?” I ask

Jonathan is barely acknowledging me at this point. I don’t know why he came back or why he told Johnny what I said. I do know I just want to walk away from this with my dignity and/or teeth intact.

‘Is that what he said?’ Johnny asks Jonathan with a hint of aggravation.

‘Yeah’ Jonathan responds.

Arlene is watching the scene unfold. In the back Lavanno and Joe Willoby are engaged in a conversation that doesn’t seem altogether pleasant. Johnny Wishbone gives me a pound, and Jonathan a half playful half serious smack across the back of his head for wasting his time. He motions to leave with Willoby who by this time has clearly established that he does not like Lavanno. The three of them, Jonothan, Joe Willoby and Johnny Wishbone walk out of the door with Lavonno and Craig behind them. Me and Joe follow.

We get outside and the trio of Jonathan, Joe Willoby and Johnny Wishbone jump into a mustard colored sedan, blast the stereo and start to pull out of the driveway. Joe Willoby is driving and in a half playful, half serious gesture makes a slight motion over to where Lavonno and Craig are standing as if he was about to hit them with the car. As they continue down the driveway and wait to pull out into the oncoming traffic on the Avenue, I see Craig pull out a gun.
I had turned and went back into McDonalds when I heard the gunshot.

Joseph came back in after me with a look of bewilderment on his face. At this point we were both in a state of panic and shock as we really didn’t have a good grasp on what was going on. All I knew was I saw a gun, heard a shot and as far as I was concerned Johnny Wishbone could be waiting for us outside to exact his revenge on being shot at by who he may have perceived as being a friend of mine.

Joe and I stood by the counter for a few minutes to collect our thoughts. We decided to just go to the club as was our original plan and just figure everything out later. From our collective point of view, whatever beef was taking place did not involve us in the least. As we made a move to step through the doors of McDonalds, we found ourselves face to face with three 9M semi-automatic revolvers.

"POLICE!!! ON THE GROUND NOW!!!!!"

"But we didn’t do any...."

"ON THE FUCKIN GROUND BEFORE I BLOW YOUR HEAD OFF!!!"

Me and Joe both dropped to the ground in McDonalds, in front of our all co-workers, supervisors..in front of Arlene, in front of a packed Friday night lobby. Face down on the tiles that I had swept and mopped hours before, I was searched, handcuffed and forced to lean on the same counter I had leaned on minutes prior when flirting with Arlene. Cops swarmed the place. There were detectives and uniformed officers all over taking statements, searching for evidence and rolling out yellow caution tape. Leaning against the counter I turned to ask the officer who had so politely introduced me to his gun what was going on.

"Shut up before I stick you head in that fry vat" was his response.

While all of this was prior Rodney King we still knew about people that were interrogated by the cops who left in a lot more pain than when they went in. With the last bit of teenaged bravado I could muster, I meekly mouthed the following words to my manager at the time.

'Call my mother'

We were led outside and into separate squad cars. As the officer forced my head down in order for me to enter, I caught a glimpse of Johnny Wishbone in another car parked next to the one I was getting into. He simply shook his head as our eyes met.

I was taken to the 113 Precinct in Queens and led upstairs to an interrogation room. I was introduced to a blond burly Detective in his mid 30's who would take my statement. Following the code of the street, I said nothing. I told them that Joe and I were going to pick up our checks and go to the club. A bunch of guys came in who I didn’t know and started beefing outside. From there I didn’t know what happened. Hours went by with me under the illusion that I could still make it to the club. I remember staring at the large clock on the wall as the minutes ticked by thinking that I still had a slight chance of making it out in time to dance with a hottie.

Every time the detective came back he had more information. He would ask me about the tape. He would ask me about Johnny Wishbone. He knew I knew more. I didn’t know who was talking but I really didn’t care. All I knew I was too smart for them and I was going to beat this. At one point he slammed his hand on the desk and asked me if I knew what "Acting in Concert" was. I didn’t. He was only too happy to tell me that I could be convicted of a crime just by me being there. "What crime?" I asked figuring he was playing some good cop, bad cop game and was unprepared to deal with a wily 17 year old who was wise to the world.

"Homicide" he replied

"Homicide??" What are you crazy?

The officer briefly left me alone to think about what just transpired. He came back and showed me a picture of Jonathon.

"Do you know him" He asked me.

'Yea that’s Jonathon' I replied feeling a little less sure about myself.

'He just died from a gunshot wound to the head. If we don’t get some answers from you, you're going to be booked for second degree murder'

My head was reeling as I stared at Jonathans HS graduation picture. He couldn’t be dead; he was barely 19 years old. He was a good kid. He was harmless. He was my friend. Just then the door opened and my mother walked in. Seeing her concerned but visibly angry face caused all composure to wash away from me as I broke down and started to cry with the detective still holding Jonathans picture inches from my streaming tears. Not known to me at the time, the police should not have interviewed a minor without the presence of a lawyer or a parent in the same room. But that was irrelevant at the time as I told them everything I knew up until the point that I heard the shot that took the life of my friend.

I ended up having to testify for the grand jury against Craig, who pulled the fatal trigger. Craig was a 15 year old drug dealer at the time who by now has been released from the youthful detention center he was sentenced to. Lavanno was forced to testify at the trial and later had to move to Florida because of the threats he was receiving from Craig’s crew for testifying. He is now an ordained minister.

I got fired from McDonalds, dumped by Arlene and never did get that tape that caused so much trouble. I never went to Jonathan’s funeral because I didn’t want to face his parents or the likes of Johnny Wishbone and Joe Willoby. He was my friend and his life was cut short in part due to ignorance, due to immuturity..due to myself. It’s been a long time but I never have gotten over Jonathan or gotten over the fact that my actions led to the death of someone so young and on the cusp of life. As the world takes me on her travels I think back on all the things that Jonathan never got a chance to experience; love, heartbreak, hangovers, hookers, extacy, great loss. As corny as it sounds I sometimes feel as if I have to live for two people and experience life for someone who missed his chance at doing so. So on the days when I'm doing double shots of Tequila at the bar, instead of looking at me like the lush that I am, remember one of those is for Jonathan.

3 Comments:

Blogger Dem Soldier said...

Getting fired from McDonalds! It can't get any lower than that....sorry I had to say that.....

Monday, February 06, 2006 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous ostrava said...

i liked the story but the typos kid....

Tuesday, February 07, 2006 8:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your actions did not lead to Jonathan's death, Craig's did, but keep drinking Jonathan's shot of Tequila for him.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 8:15:00 AM  

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