That Real Good Feeling

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You get real good sleep in jail. Especially if you’re hammered.

You gotta do it right though. The cops have to beat you just good enough that when they shove you into a cell down at the precinct, you’ll stumble over to the dirty hard bench, curl up like an alley dog, and snooze.

 

 

 

First things first, you gotta head into the city. They have some real good spots over there in Lincoln Park. Bar-clubs, a few lounges too. Bar-clubs tend to get pretty popping, basically a bar with the dance floor somewhere over by the DJ on a laptop. You can have some of the best times at bar-clubs (but some of the worst too though). Lounges are a little more chill, with fancy couches and bottle service, which tend to bring out the hotter, more sophisticated girls. Those girls are definitely beautiful to look at, but they tend to be a bit… frigid. Stuck-up. Boujee. They’re out looking for guys who wear shiny nice watches and unwrinkled suits to work, guys who can afford bottle service. If you’re that dude, then lounges are where it’s at, but if you’re not, then stick to the bar-clubs. Bar-club girls can be just as hot, just not as sophisticated, at least not outside working hours. But don’t sleep on bar-club girls — they’re down as hell.

Maybe you end up going to a lounge though. You and your nigga Dimitri are hanging with his older brother and his older brother’s friends, all of them with engineering degrees. The type of guys that like going to lounges, the type of guys the girls at lounges are eyeing for. They order up a tall bottle of Grey Goose, to get dibs on some couches. The place is packed and all dark and vibrating to the bass in the speakers. You and Dimitri get drunk in a hurry. You both just turned twenty-one a few months ago, but you’ve been binge-drinking like champs since high school. Those basement days, when all you’re drinking was done down in basements. All you guys needed was a handle of cheap vodka or a 30-pack of Icehouse (also cheap as fuck), supplied by some friend’s older brother or sister, usually Dimitri’s. But you never learned to chill with a drink in your hand and relax; it has to come up to your lips every few seconds, or else you’ll be accused of babysitting. You don’t wanna be a babysitter.

So you and Dimitri keep sipping that Goose and cranberry on a fancy couch at the lounge till your thoughts get dimmer and Dimitri gets sloppy. Even in the pulsating half-dark of the lounge you can tell Dimitri’s shwasted. His eyes are all heavy and half-closed and his mouth is hanging open, drooling a bit. He’s slurring his words, swinging his neck around. You gotta get him to snap out of it — the girls you told to come through are here and sliding next to you on the couch. You spit game at yours but your mind is on Dimitri and his girl. You figure she’s gotta know he’s drunk as fuck right now. When the girls leave (to the bathroom, they say) Dimitri admits to you he’s out of commission and pukes all over himself and his lap. Only you see it, no one else. A few drops splash on you, but it’s fine. Everybody’s gotta get a little puke on them once in a while.

You’re probably a good wingman, so you help your buddy wipe himself with napkins and water from the melted ice. Dimitri’s brother and Dimitri’s brother’s friends all look like they’re having a real good time with their girls over there on the other end of the booth, but you can feel the night winding down. One of the bouncers, a big black guy in all black, starts mean-mugging Dimitri, this drunk Belarusian bastard slumping next to you all over the table and then back against the booth. You throw an arm around Dimitri’s shoulders, leaning in as if you two were conversating. Only twenty-one but you already know some tricks. Big black bouncers though know all the tricks, and this one muscles over to the table and, pointing at Dimitri’s closed eyes, tells you, Ya’ll gotta leave, bruh. Dimitri doesn’t seem to even notice the guy, though he must’ve heard the guy’s voice somewhere deep inside. He’s just not responding, or can’t. You nod your head at the bouncer and get up and go over to Dimitri’s brother and say, Hey, your bro puked all over himself, let’s bounce, and Dimitri’s brother says, Oh, fuck, cool, alright man, and you guys dip.

You gotta take the short way over to the parking garage on Clark where the car is. It’s like one-thirty, two in the morning probably. There’s a bunch of people walking up and down both sides of the street — people leaving the bars or showing up too late. You’re half-scoping all the hot girls with their smooth legs and plump titty-meat showing, and the guys they’re with mean-mug you to make sure you don’t stare too long. Just a quick eye-fuck and keep walking. You’re pretty drunk and the cool night air feels good against your cheeks and forehead. You love the city when it’s like this, in between two days, yesterday and tomorrow. You’re not looking forward to the hangover. You’re hoping God spares you this one time, for old times’ sake. You can barely keep your eyes up. Maybe you’re kicking one leg in front of the other. The parking garage is up ahead on the left, big and concrete. Once you hop in the ride you can–

Nigger!

Maybe that’s what you hear.

You gotta turn to see, across the street, a group of people, white people, young, walking up the street in the same direction. A big white kid, one of those frat-boy types, looking at you, his arms up and out and walking sidewise as if to say, Come at me, bro! His eyes are puffy and red like his face. Two of his friends, a girl and a guy, are pulling him along by the arm and his pale blue button-up, but Frat Boy’s like, Naw, fuck it, bro!

Maybe you aren’t a violent person. And maybe you don’t even really know why this guy wants to fight you. But at the end of the day you’re drunk, so you probably gotta make a bee-line for the dude, stepping between parked cars and out into the street. He does the same toward you, and you two meet in the middle. As soon as he has his hands on you he hip-tosses you down fast and hard to the pavement, something he picked up in wrestling or football, your face smacking right onto one of the yellow lines. The pavement sort of feels nice — maybe just the laying down part does — but you feel a bunch of chaos on top of you — Dimitri and his brother are jumping the dude on top of you. All you hear is yelling. All you see is black, with lights. All you feel is the cold hard street. Dimitri’s brother, he tells you later, punches dude in the cheek with his car key. You never do find out if the key went through Frat Boy’s cheek or not.

Then come the cherries-and-berries, probably, the flashing blue-and-red lights. Good ol’ Chicago PD. They jump out their rides, take out their batons, and start whaling on every body and spraying people with mace. None of it gets on you, thank God. Dimitri’s brother gets a baton to the back and mace in the eyes. Same goes for Dimitri. Maybe tomorrow he’ll take his shirt off and show you the thick red lines across his pale Slavic back. A cop throws Frat Boy off you and starts hammering you with his night-stick. One on the arm, a couple on the sides, there and right here, a couple more on the legs, and you give up and play dead. The cop rolls you over on the pavement, onto your stomach, sticking his huge cop-knee into your back, and cuffs your wrists with a zip tie. Then he hauls you up by the night-sticked arm and shoves you over to the curb where Dimitri and his brother are already sitting, both zip-tied too and hunched over, legs all bent and splayed out. Dimitri looks like the bull near the end of a fight, right before they give him the coup de grâce, his head hanging down, arms tied behind his back, blood and spit and stuff oozing from his mouth and nose, dazed, reeking of puke and liquor and the street. His brother gives you nervous eyes and looks away, and you wonder if he’s blaming all this on you. Dimitri keeps hoisting his head up and talking shit to the cops getting the paddy wagon ready. You fat pieces a shit! he’s yelling. My kids are gonna buy your kids someday! Fuck you, fat-ass!

You probably shouldn’t say anything. Dimitri’s your best friend. You love him like a brother. That’s your nigga for life. From birth till the earth, womb to the tomb. But only whiteboys get away with bitching out the police like that. So you’re not saying anything. Not to the cops, but not to Dimitri either.

Sitting in the back of the wagon with your arms zip-tied behind your back is rough. You’re still wondering if Dimitri’s brother is mad at you for all this, for getting him and his little brother into another fight, if he thinks you’re probably just hopelessly ghetto kid and a bad influence on Dimitri. That isn’t fun to think about, especially when you’re drunk and beat and cuffed up. So you just focus on how many lights the wagon stops at, how many right and left turns it makes, and in what order. Where are they taking you? It feels like they’re taking you to Belmont. They gotta be. Dimitri’s brother is telling him to just shut the fuck up, his words. Don’t be fucken stupid, he tells him. Dimitri just keeps his head down, eyes closed, like he’s trying to catch some Z’s.

Sure enough it’s Belmont. You’ve been here before, just not arrested. It takes a while for the cops to record you guys into the system. They make you sit and wait in separate cells, Dimitri with his brother, you alone. Between the two cells is a painted-over cinderblock wall so you can’t see Dimitri and his brother. You can only hear them now and then talking low to each other. The cops bring Dimitri out, the one cop saying to the other cop, Hey, Burke, check out this retard’s pants! smiling and shaking their heads at the smelly wet-spot. They take Dimitri’s fingerprints and information, and push him back in the cell. Then they do his brother. Then you. They take your fingerprints the old-fashioned way, with ink and paper. Then they put you back alone in the cell and you have some of the best sleep in your life. You don’t toss or turn or anything. You’re like a dead body in there.

 

 

 

Your dad beat you to sleep. He wouldn’t beat you to sleep, he just beat you and sent you to bed, all warm on your outsides. Bien calentito. He beat you for a lot of different reasons which you’ve mostly forgotten. You remember some. For talking back, of course. For playing at the neighbor’s house across the street when he never gave you permission. For being late to school, or ditching. For failing a test. For him having to talk to your teacher. For shitting the bed. He beat you and your little brother, and your mom, but your little brother probably got it the worst. He just kept getting into trouble, and maybe he wouldn’t back down. Big man in a little body, your brother is. Maybe. But neither your little brother nor you could take those beatings like men. You took them like scared chimps, crouched and huddled in each other’s arms in some corner in the apartment, your teeth and tongues and the whites of your eyes flashing.

The worst was when he used his thick police belt. Your dad used to be a cop. He kept the belt hanging specially in his closet, as a warning, a promise of pain. Sometimes he would walk around snapping it just to get a rise out of his boys. But, man, when he swung that thing down on you — on your arm, on your ribs, on the back of your thighs, or across your bare ass cheeks — oou! that heavy leather burned like lightning.

Your dad was a big dude too. He had been a boxer in the Army before you were born, and he still kept in shape. He was actually a good dad most of the time. Funny as hell even. Life of the party. Everybody loved to listen to him talk, at least you did, and he loved to talk. He was a talker, and smooth. He watched eighties action movies, and introduced you to Michael. But then he would switch, always in private, and be like a bull when it first trots out into the ring, his eyes wild, all his muscles hard, mad as hell. And then he would charge at one of you, maybe lift you up by one of your arms like a rag doll, and lay into you with a passion.

After he had enough he sent you shambling to your room all stinging and crying and sore. Your skin was on fire, boy — no maybes or probablies about it. The cool of the sheets felt real good against the welts on your legs and arms. You had to turn over once the one end of the pillow got soaked with tears. But then, finally, dazed, numb, you would knock out and sleep like a baby, cooing. Maybe you dreamt about the time Dad took you for a ride on his weird motorcycle with pedals, though you probably dreamt about getting whooped all over again.

 

 

 

Maybe Dad sometimes liked to wait and catch you in the shower so the belt would sting extra. Maybe one time he whooped you so good you went to the bathroom afterward and left blood on the toilet seat. Maybe that isn’t even the half of it.

 

 

 

Maybe your dad beat you because he loved you. That’s what he told you once when he was beating you. You had shit yourself again — this was back when your mom escaped to the Navy and you and your brother were living with your dad and his new wife in that little house by the Brickyard — and he was whooping you up the stairs to your room. You were begging him to stop and he did stop, for a second. He looked you in the eye and said, Papi, I’m doing this because I love you, and then he started laying into you again real good. You kept crying and screaming but you never begged him to stop ever again.

Maybe that’s why the cops beat you too, you and Dimitri and all your friends, because the cops love you and want you to be better and safe. They say it right across the side of their rides: To protect and serve. They’re protecting you from the real bad people out there, but they’re also protecting you from yourself, to make sure you don’t become a bad person. To save you. To make you real good.

That’s why, maybe after Dad ghosted, Mom started beating you too. Maybe she beat you differently than Dad beat you. Maybe her beatings were more desperate. She beat you with belts, obviously, probably a hanger sometimes, but usually she just hit you with whatever was within reach. She would probably just throw the thing at you as hard as she could. A chancla, a toy, anything — as long as it probably wouldn’t leave a lasting mark. As you grew to her height you started wrestling her, usually over the thing she was probably going to beat your ass with, and she would wrestle you down to the carpet and mush down real hard on your face, screaming mad as hell, like a dad. Somehow you knew she was probably beating you because she was scared. She didn’t want you and your little brother ending up like your dad. And it looked for a while as if you two were going to turn out just like him, so those motherly beatings must have done the trick. (Moms know way more tricks than big black bouncers.) Anyway you’re not a crackhead now like Dad, right, or any other kind of drug addict? You just drink too much, play too many video games, and chase too many girls. You turned out to be a somewhat decent dude, which is better than he did. So you already have him beat. You’re already a fucken success story.

 

 

 

Still, you probably wanna experience good jail sleep but without the getting-drunk-and-beat-by-the-cops part. Understandable. Here’s what you do. If you’re, say, fourteen and your mom works nights, plan a camp-out with the boys in your crew. You won’t be legit camping out like white people do, pitching tents in their backyards and shit. You don’t have any kind of yard, front or back. No one in the crew does. You’re all from the apartment complexes. So you’re gonna have to settle for the suburban-ghetto version of camping out — roaming the neighborhood at night. Pack some snacks in a plastic grocery bag. If there’s something you’ll want to munch on later but don’t have now, you might gank it from White Hen Pantry. Dump your bookbag out and stuff the grocery bag of snacks in it, plus a towel or whatever else in the apartment you maybe need. It’s probably gonna be a long night, so you gotta pack smart.

Your boys will probably tell their P’s they’re crashing at your place for the night. You gotta wait till they all get there so you can roll out. Go to the White Hen up the block and gank some chips, a Baby Ruth bar and a bottle of Mug Root Beer, and split before the Pakistani guy behind the counter knows what’s up. Head over to the little hill where everyone goes sledding in the winter, spread the towel out at the top and just sit under the white September stars twinkling way above. Dig into the snacks and shoot the shit with your boys. This will probably be one of the best times of your entire life, so you gotta try to enjoy it as much as you can. You might remember it later, but maybe not. If you do, it’ll probably make you smile inside.

Sooner or later you guys are gonna have to leave that hill . This ain’t no date night, and you ain’t trying to have no romantic picnic with your boys. Remember: You’re camping out, sorta. You gotta head into the neighborhood where all the families with houses live. It’s probably dead quiet, only the possums are out. Maybe Fila will have brought along a cherry bomb to stick in someone’s mailbox, like last time. But you all gotta be ready to break quick once he sparks the thing and chucks it in. And you gotta cut through the houses, zigzagging, racing across people’s backyards (avoiding the ones with dogs). Stay away from the motion-sensing floodlight that comes on as you run up someone’s driveway, and hop over the fence. It’s easy. You’re fourteen and still fast as a bottle rocket and don’t get tired at all, just breathing heavy. Plus it’s fun to run and be chased and laughing. You probably got scratched up somewhere during the run, either on a fence or some bushes, but even the cuts feel good, with sweat stinging them.

When you get to the park next to your old elementary school, look for stuff to burn. Dry leaves, people’s unused phonebooks and newspapers, stuff like that. It’s gotta be four, four-thirty in the morning. The sun will be up in a couple hours and there really isn’t much else to do now. I’s a lot chillier out than you expected though, and since you guys are camping out, you might as well try to get a campfire going. You’ve seen it done on those nature shows for kids that come on Saturday mornings. It looked simple enough. Fila’s gotta be the first one to start rolling a stick back and forth between his big brown hands, trying to light a dry woodchip on fire, but he gets nothing going. Maybe you try too with your scrawny hands, and nothing. Maybe your little brother tries next with his, but gets nothing too. Maybe the rest of you try but all get nothing going, just a little heat, maybe a little smoke. So you guys say, Fuck this, and light the little pile of dry leaves and torn paper with matches. You start feeding the little flame with bigger and bigger stuff to keep it growing. Money! Fila says as he’s probably pissing down from the top of the big slide. That’s gonna be a real good fire.

You’re probably feeling proud, having built your first campfire. It’s been an epic night camping out. One for the books.

Then you hear a car coming, its engine humming louder. Po-po rides up over the curb and onto the grass, braking right at the edge of the park. Everyone tries to book but it’s probably too late. The cops are probably already on you guys. Maybe they got you surrounded. They gotta point their big flashlights on where you’re hiding in the bushes and say, What the hell do you think you’re doing out here! You gotta be nervous as shit and don’t know what to say, so you maybe ask what time McDonald’s opens. And the cop says, Son, do I look like a McDonald’s employee to you? Well, maybe, sort of, just in a different uniform, you probably think to yourself. But you probably shouldn’t say shit like that to the cops. Maybe not right now.

Maybe they cuff you. Maybe with real handcuffs. Maybe metal ones that probably hurt your bony little wrists. Maybe, while the other cops are inspecting the damage, you see one of the cops slide down the slide Fila pissed on, and maybe when the cop gets up at the bottom his back is all soaked. Maybe he just thinks the slide is still wet from rain. Maybe you and the crew will laugh hard as fuck about that, for years. Maybe the cops throw you onto the hard back seat in one of the squad cars, cherries-and-berries rolling around in the early morning light, red and blue flashing on all the houses waking up. Maybe you’re thinking, Cool! Inside a real cop car! Look at all the shit these pigs are working with in here! (But maybe you don’t think the police are pigs like some people probably do.) Maybe they take you to the one sleepy little police station in town. Maybe the lady-cop at the front desk yawns as they march you through to the back where the cells probably are. Maybe it’s a pretty fancy little jail. Maybe they scan your fingerprints with this fancy new machine. Maybe you’re still scared too — duh you’re scared — but this is probably all so cool to you.

Mom probably looks depressed when she sees you and your little brother sitting in jail. She probably had just gotten home at six in the morning after her graveyard shift at work and was probably wondering where her boys were. You can tell she was probably crying after she got the call. Now she probably just wants to know if her boys are okay. She doesn’t even seem pissed at all. Maybe she just wants her boys out and back at home, safe. The cops tell her there’s still a bunch of stuff they need to take care of before they can let you and your brother out. So she probably asks them if maybe she can go bring you some food, and the cops probably say, That’ll be fine, ma’am. She probably goes and comes back with McDonald’s maybe. Maybe you can even smell it before you see the bag in her hand. Two Big Breakfasts, with eggs and hash browns probably, so sweet and salty and greasy. By now you gotta be starving.

You gotta devour the food, inhaling it, and maybe pass out on the clean bench in the clean cell, even with the lights all bright as hell. It’s gotta be the best feeling though, and you probably sleep real good.

 

Featured image: ABN2/Flickr

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino "artivist" site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including the Huffington Post. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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