Uptown Dust

Trevor would never tell his friends, but he’s nervous. He and Kyle and Dave have taken over the front of the subway car, the part near the conductors’ compartment along with the single seat across from the bench that fits 5 or 6 people; basically everything North of the first set of doors. The boys are spread out with their feet up on the seats, like they own the place. To Trevor, sitting this way feels provocative. They aren’t denying anyone a seat. There are plenty of places to sit in the mostly empty train, but they are clearly staking out this part of it as their own. Without saying so, they are telling the other riders to go sit somewhere else. He knows it’s not a very tough-guy thought to have and would never let the others know this is how he’s feeling, but all the same, they are kind of asking for trouble. Why give anyone a reason to fuck with us, he thinks. He would never say it out loud though. If he did, he’d look like a real pussy.They are riding the train uptown to buy PCP in Spanish Harlem.

“Dude, this is fucking crazy, man. You ever been to Harlem before?” Trevor asks Kyle, pushing his bangs off his forehead and smoothing them behind his ear. “Cuz, I haven’t.”

“No. But he has.” Kyle nods in Dave’s direction. “People go up there all the time to buy drugs. Don’t be such a pussy. We’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, it’s cool man. Don’t sweat it. No big…” Dave says from the shadow under his upturned hood.

“I’m just saying, there must be a place downtown that sells dust too.”

“I’m sure there is, but do you know where it is?” When Trevor shakes his head no, Kyle finishes his thought. “That’s what I thought, so just chill. It’s like an adventure. We’re going sightseeing.”

For the record, Trevor isn’t fully on board with the idea of smoking dust to begin with. His concerns when he voiced them earlier were laughed aside, as usual. Unfortunately, it’s too late to duck out now. In 75 blocks they’ll be in Spanish Harlem.

The doors open at 51st Street and a group of 6 black kids get on. They laugh and joke and shout at one another as they pass a basketball back and forth. They settle in towards the middle of the car. The black kids don’t look at or otherwise acknowledge the three of them, but Trevor can’t help but feel like he’s conjured a bad scenario here. This is exactly what he feared would happen. They had to go and sit around looking tough and now they are going to have to actually be tough. If they aren’t going to fight their only options are to get beaten up and robbed or they could just run. And Trevor has never known Kyle or Dave to back down from a fight. Just my fucking luck, he thinks.

Trevor doesn’t understand how Kyle and Dave can just continue their conversation about Vanessa like nothing has happened. For him, the air has become electric with tension. He’s ready to shit himself. As much as he hopes otherwise, he knows something is going to go down here. Even the commuters sitting between the two groups of kids, two older white businesswomen and a couple of old black dudes can sense it. They discretely get up and move to the far end of the train. Now there is nothing between the black kids and them. It’s a face-off. The train arrives at the next stop. The doors open and close again, with nobody getting on or off.

And then it begins. “Yo, look at Bart Simpson and his friends!” the smallest of the black kids shouts as he points at Kyle, who has short, spiky, blond hair. The black kids, a couple of who are fucking huge, howl with laughter, like it’s the funniest insult they’ve ever heard. It’s always the small ones that start shit. The small ones are the ones with something to prove.

“Kowabunga dude!” he continues, to more guffaws.

Trevor looks around. This is not good. What were they fucking thinking sitting up here. They are the very front of the train so they can’t even step onto another car if they need to. They’re trapped. There goes the running option. Trevor knows Kyle’s temper and he’s praying he doesn’t rise to the bait. They are clearly out-manned here. Sure both Kyle and Dave can fight and maybe, MAYBE Trevor can take care of the little skinny one if he’s lucky, but there are fucking 6 of them. Shit. Shit. Shit.

“Kyle, chill man.” Trevor says in a low voice to his friend. Dave and Kyle are looking at one another, speaking wordlessly with their eyes. What are they planning? he wonders.

“Yo and look at the other one, the geek! What’s Bart’s friend named?” The loudmouth isn’t gonna let up, the little shit.

“Millhouse!” another kid shouts.

“Right! Millhouse, tha’s the nigger I’m talking about. It’s Bart’s boy Millhouse! The geek, sittin’ right there next to him! With the stupid hair!” Trevor assumes he’s Millhouse. I can live with being Millhouse, but my hair’s not stupid.

And then one of them stands up. This kid is enormous. He looks like a man. He’s gotta be 6 foot 4 and he’s cool and composed, like an adult. He’s got a baby face that betrays his age, though. He walks till he’s standing right in front of Trevor and looks at the subway map on the wall behind his head. He stays that way for what seems like eternity, running his finger over the map and moving his lips, as if he were talking to himself. Trevor begins to wonder if the kid really is looking at the map. He can’t see Kyle or Dave behind the guy’s enormous body, so he just sits there, feeling like an idiot and smelling the guy’s laundry detergent. He’s got nice clean clothes.

Suddenly, the dude stamps his foot and Trevor practically jumps out of his skin. The kid shouts to his friends. “Yo Reggie, you idiot! We should’a got off at 59th Street if we was gonna get the N train!”

He stomps his foot again, but this time he smashes Trevor’s foot. He grinds the heel of his boot onto Trevor’s sneaker. It doesn’t really hurt that much but it surprises the fuck out of him.

“Hey!” Trevor shouts.

“We ain’ getting no N train, nigga! You trippin!” shouts a voice from down the car.

Trevor attempts to get up, but the guy standing in front of him shoves him back against the seat. He hears the flick of a lighter and sees a flame in front of his face. Then the flame is in his hair and it’s growing! His bangs are on fire! A mini-fireball erupts in front of his eyes.

“What the fuck!” Trevor shouts and tries to get up again but can’t because his foot is pinned to the floor by the guy’s boot! The dude body-checks him back into the sitting position. Trevor beats at his hair with his hands.

“Help! I’m on fire!” he screams. He hears the black kids howling with laughter from the middle of the car. He smells the burning hair as his bangs burn, singeing his eyelashes and eyebrows. He flails his arms, beating the flames. He tries punching the guy in front of him but it’s punching a wall. He’s got no leverage.

“Yo, you tha fool who trippin’, Nigga!” the big guy shouts back at his friend, continuing his conversation as if he weren’t holding Trevor down and setting him on fire.

Finally Trevor is able to pull his foot free, slide down and around the guy’s legs and stand up again. He gets behind Dave and Kyle who are up and ready to fight. Dave has his folding knife drawn and open.

“Just let us off the train motherfucker. Nobody needs to get hurt.” Dave says to the big guy. Some of the other black kids stand up warily; ready to back up their friend. The train begins to decelerate on its way into the next station.

“Aww shit, little white boy gonna cut me. Yo Reggie man! Look at this!” The big guy says to his pals, not taking his eyes off Dave and his knife.

“I seen him, Tre’. I seen ‘em,” another enormous kid says as he starts making his way up the car, towards them.

The lights of the station flood the windows as they pull in. Everyone is silent for a moment. Trevor checks his hair with his hands. It’s gone. My hair is gone!

“I said stay back! One a’ y’all is gonna get stuck. You might kick our asses, but one of you is gonna bleed!” Dave is fucking on it. He sounds tough! Thank fucking god!

“Aww shit, Bart Simpson gonna stick a nigger with a knife! Damn!” The shrill little troublemaker shouts from his seat as the train comes to a stop.

The subway P.A. makes the chiming noise and the doors slide open. “Go,” Dave says authoritatively as Kyle and Trevor slip past the big dude and Dave’s knife and out onto the platform. Dave backs out after them keeping an eye on their attackers, holding the knife close to his side as he exits the train.

“Keep your eye open son. I see you again, you know what you gettin’…'” The big kid says to them. The doors close between them.

“Fuck” Trevor shouts, as the train pulls out. They are standing at the end of the platform.

“Dude! He fucking burned my hair!” he shouts. Kyle and Dave burst out laughing. Dave doubles over, unable to stop himself.

“You should have seen your face!” Kyle shouts, “Dude, why were you just sitting there? What the fuck were you thinking?”

“You saw that guy!?” Trevor can’t believe what he’s hearing. “He was fucking huge!”

“Let me see…” Kyle tips Trevor’s head forward and he and Dave start laughing anew. “Oh my god.”

“What? It’s not fucking funny man!” Trevor shouts. Kyle smacks his thigh with his open palm in hysterics. “What is it? What do you see?” Trevor feels his face with his fingertips. The smell of burnt hair covers his hands.

“You’ve got a bald spot… a small one. It’s not a big deal.” Dave says, matter-of-factly.

“Jesus” Trevor walks to a bench, sits down and puts his head in his hands as Kyle tries to stop laughing and regain his composure. I knew this trip was a stupid idea!

He sulks. He had just gotten his bangs the way he wanted ‘em. He’d wanted a “devil’s lock” since he was like 14 and first saw a video of the Misfits. He finally grows his hair long enough to have one and some homeboy fucking burns it off! He considers just walking over to the downtown side of the train and heading home or maybe going up to the street to try and find a mirror so he can look at his scalp. Instead Dave sits down next to him.

“Listen man, don’t trip. It’s not that bad,” he says.

Trevor appreciates Dave trying to console him, but he can’t help feeling sorry for himself. “Fuck man, if that was you, it would have never played out that way.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” Dave pulls his hood down to reveal his nearly bald skull. “Either way I still have the bigger bald spot.” He smiles. Trevor, despite himself, smiles too.

“How big is it? Really? The bald spot?” Trevor asks.

“You can hardly notice it. It will grow in, in a couple of days. Nobody will be able to tell the difference.” Dave pulls a joint out of his sweatshirt pocket and lights it. “Here take a puff… This will chill you out.” Dave inhales and holds the joint out to Trevor. Kyle comes and joins them on the bench.

The boys are all the way at the front of the station, so Trevor looks down the sparsely populated platform. The coast looks clear. There’s way more traffic headed downtown, so most of the people are on the downtown platform across the tracks. Still, smoking weed in public, especially in the subway doesn’t seem like the smartest idea. He takes the joint from him anyway. Fuck it.

Even though it’s just regular dirt weed it helps calm Trevor down a little. He hasn’t smoked for 3 or 4 hours. He passes the joint across Dave and down to Kyle who looks him in the eye and says, “Sorry about your hair, dude.” Trevor can’t believe what he’s hearing. Did these two take a sensitivity training class while he wasn’t watching? “Thanks,” he says warily.

They finish the joint and another train comes. They get on. They step into the car and sit down, almost like nothing had happened. Trevor doesn’t fail to notice that Dave and Kyle sit in the middle of the car this time. They continue on their way uptown.

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