"Don't you square up on me, you
His words rang in my head. His
voice was the equivalent of sandpaper sliding against a stairwell post, like he
just smoked two packs of Carlton's. It was my birthday. He always came on my
birthday and Christmas; he was consistent like that. I had on my "Hammer"
pants which in 1992, was the freshest rags ever. Add to that my Bobby Brown
Gumby hairstyle, and you couldn't tell me I wasn't "dope times two."
Car after car drove by our house, but not
one gold Cadillac Brougham with the vinyl roof trim. Still, I wasn't worried,
he was coming; he didn't lie, in fact, he was brutally honest. I once asked him
if I could call him Dad. He looked at me like I had keyed his car, then shot
off a series of expletives questioning my six-year-old manhood. Dollar was the
only way I would ever address him.
Grandma had a love/hate relationship
Dollar. The youngest of her seven children, Dollar loved the grittiness and
danger of the streets. It made him hard and cold. For him, life consisted of
the strong and the soft, and he had no use for the soft.
wanted to be like Dollar, rough edges and all. But when he looked at me, he saw
soft. I guess I took after my mother, whom I've never seen. Dollar never talked
much about her, who she was, how she died. If I asked him, I'd get a tirade
filled with multiple B-words.
Suddenly it turned onto our street, the
gold Cadillac. I Quickly composed myself. “Don’t get excited, Dollar hates
that. It’s why he thinks your soft.”
When I was little, I'd cry when he
wouldn't allow me jump up in his arms because of some expensive suit he was
wearing. Once I scuffed his shoes and he called me everything but a child of
God, I didn't realize there were so many curse words in the English language. If
he felt he had hurt my feelings, his favorite thing, to say to me, was
"Don't you square up on me."
Well, today, I was fourteen, almost a
man. I'd show him I was no square. The Caddy pulled into the driveway. As he
emerged from the car, he was a sight to behold.
Draped in the funkiest powder blue Italian wool suit I had ever seen, his
jet-black hair had more waves than the Pacific Ocean. His feet were encased in
expensive Italian shoes; several diamond rings adorned his fingers. A
gold-tipped ebony cane topped off the ensemble. Something about Dollar always
attracted women like bees to honey, like my neighbor Delisa,
“Hi little man.” She waved to
Funny, she never spoke to me before, but
here she was, in Daisy Dukes smiling at me like we were best friends. Dollar
never looked her way.
He semi-smiled at me; I kept my distance,
which actually caught him off guard. Finally, I did my best pimp walk over to
him, no hug, real men like Dollar don’t hug. Instead, I stuck out my fist; he
bumped it, smiled, punched my chest, hard enough that I felt it, but not enough
to cause pain. It was his way of letting me know that my gesture was cool.
“So, Big Momma treatin’ you
“Yeah.” I replied.
After an uncomfortable silence, he
reached into his pocket pulled out two Benjamins and a Grant, and tucked them
into my shirt pocket.
nigga.” He said (his term of endearment for me), “I’m gonna’ go handle mine,
you be cool and I’ll see you in a little minute.”
Dollar’s minutes were more like months,
so that meant I probably wouldn’t see him again until Christmas (my birthday
was in April.)
He slid back in the Caddy, didn't speak
to Grandma or anybody else in the family, and drove off. It would be the last
time I would ever see him alive. Despite being a grown man of fourteen, I ran
into the house and cried like a baby.
"A scorpion is a scorpion and a
jackal is a jackal baby," Grandma said trying to comfort me. "Some
creatures just can't change they nature."
Despite the way he was, I'd always
believed that deep down, he loved me, a belief that faded when the visits ended.
How could he just drop out of my life if he really cared? Grandma was right, he
was no good, and I hated him.
I was twenty-six years old when I
received a call from the Long Beach police department. They'd found a rusted
1989 Cadillac Brougham at the bottom of the pier. A decomposed body was in the
trunk. Driver's license identified him as Ennis Cantrell, my father.
I drove to the morgue his body was
unrecognizable. The coroner declared that he had been dead for more than ten
years, the cause of death, a bullet right between his eyes. I stared numbly at
his bloated carcass, trying to drum up some reaction inside. Part of me was
pleased he hadn't just forgotten me; while the other half still hated him. He
was a selfish, misogynistic bastard who wasn't man enough to take on the
responsibility of raising his son. Therapy and a failed marriage led me to that
conclusion. Still, it saddens me that Dollar died alone that shouldn't happen
As I watched the junkyard machine crush
Dollar's rusted Caddy into a mass of metal, I tried to analyze his life; who was
he? How did he lose his humanity? Did he think of me before the bullet penetrated
his brain, or were his thoughts only of himself? I guess it might be true what
that song says that it's hard out here being a pimp. But as I hold my son's
hand, and look into his loving eyes, it's ten times harder, and a hundred times
more fulfilling being a good dad.