hustler*I was just strollin’ down memory lane, thinking about the old-school hustlers of my youth. They were a lot different than these youngsters who think they’re players and hustlers today.

No joggin’ suits and tennis shoes for these brothers, it was Florsheim’s and very expensive Brooks Bros. suits all the way, and you’d never see ‘em in the same one for weeks.

And they weren’t loud and crude, Edward G. Robinson-like cutthroats. While they undoubtedly lived outside the law, they reflected a style that was more like a Michael Corleone, yet, less intense.

Whenever I think of them, Black versions of Cary Grant, or Caesar Romero comes to mind, because their most pronounced characteristic was style.  They were the product of an era where class was everything.These were gentlemen . . . illegitimate businessmen. And unlike the young brothers you see today, they weren’t in it for show, they were dead serious about what they did. My father explained it simply – it was all about surviving in a White man’s world without having to carry a tin cup. It was about living with dignity.
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He told me that what he and his friends engaged in was no more criminal than what White business men do every day, within the law. He said, crime is robbery, theft, and taking from others what doesn’t belong to you. They didn’t engage in that kind of activity. What he and his friends did was provide services for consenting adults, just like the White man does routinely, and legally, on a daily basis. So the only difference between what they did, and what the White man does, is they don’t have politicians in their pockets to sign off on it. So the crime wasn’t what they did – the crime was not giving the White man his cut.
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I remember how Ronnie, who was something of a hustler himself, would open up the barbershop just for them every Monday so they could get their domes laid. Monday was hustler’s day at Ronnie’s barbershop. The shop was closed for everybody else. What was funny about that, and the hustlers used to joke about it inside, was how the up-and-coming wannabes would try to get in there on Monday through hook or crook, because just managing to get their hair laid at Ronnie’s on a Monday could make their reputation on the street. It would also allow them to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers, and maybe gain the attention of one of them, which meant a tremendous boost in both prestige, and pay grade.
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I recall how one Monday even a preacher tried to get in there. After Ronnie politely turned him away, they waited long enough for him to get out of earshot, then everybody fell-out laughing. Then Wakeen, who used to run “the book,” said, slow and draggin’ voice, “You should have let ’em in, Ron. He got more game than anybody in buildin’ – and his is Betty Crocker approved.” Everybody started laughing. Then the ladies started telling stories about the good reverend. That taught me very early in life that no matter where you go, you just cannot escape politics.
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So every Monday around noon, the whole block would be lined with a row of shiny new hogs, and the beauticians who worked for Ronnie (only on Mondays) were the cream of the crop. They were the most fabulous sisters in the hood, and everyone of them smelled like a freshly picked rose after a Spring rain. I can still smell their aroma to this today. Absolutely, the cream of the crop – they had to be – because they were servicing the royalty of the Black community.
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And these weren’t silly wannabes with delusions of grandeur, trying to pattern themselves after someone they’d seen on television. These brothers were the real deal. They were the aristocrats of the darker side of the Black community, those who simply chose not to allow a racist society to hold them hostage. Any one of them could have thrived on Wall Street, had they not been blessed with various hues of Black skin. And the community recognized this, so while many “mainstream” Black people weren’t crazy about their lifestyle, they understood the rationale behind it, so the community not only accepted them, but they even treated them with a grudging respect and deferment. My father was a part of that lifestyle, but you would never have known it by the way I was treated as a child. When I was a young boy and visiting my dad, the neighbors wouldn’t hesitate to whip my butt, and I was treated just like the other kids in the neighborhood.
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Ronnie was a friend of the family, so during the Summer, every Monday at 11 a.m. I was headed for his shop. That was my hustle. I’d make a young boy’s fortune just going back and forth to the store and taking messages around the corner to the various people who worked for these impressive brothers. But I didn’t just love the money, it was a thrill just being acknowledged by these bigger-than-life personalities who made such a huge impression on my life – and I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit it. Sometimes in my writings even today, I’ll take on the persona of one of them to make a point, because they had a dry, bottom line wit about them that cut straight through all  manner of bullshit. Listening to them taught me to look beneath the words that a person says, and address the their motive for saying the words instead. That’s why my column is called “Beneath the Spin.”
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I really admired these people, so I loved just hearing them say my name. It made me feel like I was a part of an inner circle, or a world that others couldn’t gain access to. But I especially loved hearing those gorgeous and pretty-smelling women say my name – “Eric, honey, will you run around to the drug store and ask Mr. Reed to send me a large jar of this?” and then they’d hand me an empty jar of something. “Thank you, baby.” How I loved that – especially when Harriett did it, and rubbed her hand against my face or shoulder.
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Harriett was so beautiful that she didn’t even look real. She was the finest and most refined of them all. She looked like someone had painted her. And when she moved she was so sensuous that it made you think that when she walked, her thighs must’ve even made one another feel good, as they rubbed up against each other. Yet, she didn’t even seem to notice how beautiful was.
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I knew Harriett best. We had a special relationship, because we had Jimmy in common. She was Jimmy’s girlfriend, and how I envied him that accomplishment. But actually, it wasn’t an accomplishment on Jimmy’s part. Harriett just sort of dropped into his lap. Jimmy was a guy my father hired to teach me to play the saxophone. He had a serious heroin addition at the time, and he used to drink a lot too. So we’d see him nodded out in alleys and behind the pool hall, or getting sick and throwing up in public, so everybody used to look down on him – everybody, that is, accept Harriett. She went to high school with Jimmy, so you’d often see her waking him up, and scooping him up from behind the pool hall. He probably would have died if it weren’t for Harriett, because his wife left him for another man, and she and the other dude would walk past Jimmy nodded out somewhere without even looking down. So he didn’t have anyone who gave a damn for him – except Harriett, the finest thing who ever lived. Go figure it.
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Just think about the character of that lady. Harriet was a woman who was so beautiful, sexy, and classy that she could, literally, get any man she wanted, at any station in life – in or out of the hood. Yet, she catered to the needs of a man who had been a dope fiend for years, and had degenerated to the point that he’d become the neighborhood joke. Jimmy wasn’t simply at the bottom, the bottom was sitting on him.
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But Harriett had the last laugh, because by that time, Jimmy had become one of the most impressive, and respected personalities in the community. By this time, while Jimmy wasn’t no hustler, he could walk into Ronnie’s any day of the week and command the respect of everybody in the building. Harriett helped to make that happen – and not because she wanted him, but because she was a friend. I think the only reason they ended up together was because Jimmy made such an impressive comeback, and so fast, that it made her fall in love with him, as it did the entire community, including his wayward wife who had deserted him for another man and left him to die. That’s another story, however, and a very good one.  But I digress. . . . (Get MORE Here)

eric wattree

Eric Wattree

Eric L. Wattree
Http://wattree.blogspot.com
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