Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Growing Up Gangsta

Growing up in Orem, Utah a more sheltered life could not have been led. The Butler family lived in a middle class neighborhood in the heart of the aptly nicknamed "Happy Valley." We didn’t lock doors. Front doors, back doors and car doors were always left open. And by open I don’t necessarily mean unlocked, they were often left wide open. More days than not I’d trudge home from elementary school and find the front door gaping open. Vaguely familiar neighbor children would be skipping in and out of the house helping themselves to sticky handfuls of the giant plastic bags of generic cereal that routinely sat out on our kitchen table.

Despite the painfully monotonous nature of our mostly white, Mormon neighborhood, my younger brother insists a vast gang contingent roams the streets, violently initiating new members and taunting the opposition. After I left home for the limited variety that Salt Lake City offered I’d return to visit my mom and would become privy to Jordan’s latest exploits in the murky, gang underworld of Orem.

His territory - or ‘hood’ as he called it - was the neighborhood immediately surrounding our childhood home. He referred to this area as "Zone B." I think the B is for Bust. As in, gotta keep an eye out for cops patrolling Zone B because they know where the Butlers live. Police were always driving by our house on the off chance disorderly conduct may be underway, and it usually was. Jordan informs me there is also a technical explanation for the Zone B moniker involving city planners and development zones. Suffice it to say, Zone B was our 'hood. His turf.

Around the time gangsta rap emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the pop charts, Jordan swaddled his slender frame in clothing that could fit a man ten times his size. XXL pants hung in shapeless drifts and shirts skimmed knees, or where knees would have been in proper fitting clothing. Along with the new attire, Jordan began sporting all manner of black eyes and lumps on his newly shaved head.
“What happened to you?”
“Certain bitches think they can jump my shit. Sadly for them, they learned otherwise. That’s all you need to know about that.”
“Certain bitches?” I ask.
“Certain bitches. ‘Nuff said.”
“Who are these bitches?” Mom asks.
“Just a bunch of motherfuckers.”
“Well, where do these motherfuckers live? Do I know their parents?”
“It’s been handled.” Jordan struts to the stereo and cranks up his brand new Eminem album. “This bitch can flow, yo.”
“What’s flow?” Mom wants to know.
“Motherfucker can rap some tight-ass shit and this bitch is white.”
“Oh. Wonderful.” Mom went back to slicing vegetables for her chicken broccoli casserole, bopping her head to Eminem's tight-ass shit. “How is your new job, Monica?”

So Jordan was a bonafide gang member. I guess. I’m not sure which gangbangers regularly roamed the vicious streets of Orem. Disgruntled Mormon missionaries? Excommunicated church members out for justice? A rich, white kid lashing out after pulling an unacceptable C on his latest chemistry paper? Apparently these angry gangsters were alive and well and Zone B had to be protected from ‘certain punk asses’ that dared roll by.

When I had been dating Chris for the better part of a year I decided to risk scorn and a possible break-up by introducing him to my family. Meeting my family is like skydiving for the first time. It's terrifying but you become caught up in the adrenaline rush and learn to relinquish all control to gravity. Or you freak out and refuse to ever do it again.
“My mom rides motorcycles sometimes.” I warned Chris on the ride down. “Jordan’s in a gang. I’m not sure which one, but he says they’re dangerous. Oh! And Brandon seems to be angry all the time. He likes to say shocking things to elicit fear so don’t show any, he’ll like you less but respect you more. Oh, and he never smiles so don’t take that personally. Shaun doesn’t talk much but he’s not dumb. He’s very, very smart. Yeah, watch out for him, he’s tricky. Also, someone will end up fighting in front of you. Don't feel embarrassed, it means they’re comfortable around you.

When we arrived at Mom’s house for dinner Jordan, sporting two black eyes, was in the kitchen regaling the family with his latest gang skirmish.
“So this motherfucker was talking shit. He’s like, bitch, you don’t even know! And I’m like I know I’ll fuck you up, punk ass. Go ahead, say that shit again, I dare you!"
“And then what happened?” Mom is pulling a pot roast out of the oven and pauses so Jordan can finish.
“So he says it again and I’m like POW! POW! POW! Pistol whipped that bitch right in the face.” Jordan is jumping up and down on the kitchen floor, demonstrating the pistol-whipping apparently administered to some unlucky rival gang member.
“Pistol whip?” Mom inquires. I glance uneasily at Chris who is staring at Jordan in abject terror then begins looking around nervously, I can only assume, to locate the nearest exits.
“Pistol whip! You know! Beatin’ somebody’s shit with a gun.”
“A gun?” I ask.
“Yeah. Wasn’t mine though. So anyways, I pistol whip this punk ass then somebody taps me on the shoulder so I turn around and there’s a fist right in my eye!”
“Oooh!” Mom is adding milk and butter to a floral ceramic bowl that contains steaming potatoes. “Monica can you set the table please? No, not those dishes. Use the Sunday dishes, we have company.” She smiles at Chris. “Okay Jordan, go on with your story. So this other guy sucker punches you after the pistol whipping?”
“Yeah, just WHAP! Right in the eye! Total cheap shot that pussy punk ass motherfucker.”
“I’ll say.” Mom says. “That accounts for the one black eye, but how did you get the other one?”
“Oh. That’s the old shiner. Remember? Last week? That bitch trifling at the drive-thru? You know, the one talking shit about Cory’s old lady?”
“Old lady?” I ask. “That’s what we’re calling girlfriends now? How old are you again? Twenty? And where is all this gang action that’s apparently ravaging the mean streets of Orem?”
“It’s around man. You just don’t know. I been raised up in this shit. These ain’t no punk white boy clowns with sideways caps. This is a real ass bunch of thugs that kill motherfuckers.” Jordan shakes his head in disgust at my ignorance.

To observe the symbiotic nature of the relationship between my mom and Jordan is a beautiful thing. The surprising chemistry that’s blossomed between the aging Mormon mom and her pistol whipping second son is amazing to behold.
"So I was hauling ass and the pigs roll by! I bailed into a dumpster and waited that shit out for hours man!"
“He sure can tell a story.” She’ll shake her head in amusement.

Jordan is, ironically, the most sensitive child of her bunch. As for me, the only girl of the brood, Mom routinely says ‘You’re just mean. Just a mean, mean girl.’ She shakes her head sadly, wondering where she went wrong.

But Mom and Jordan, certified member of Zone B, they’re two mismatched peas in a pod. Mom attends all Jordan’s court dates as if he were the star of a school play.
“Mom, wanna come up to the news station and watch the anchors do the morning newscast I produce? It’ll be fun. You can check out all the behind the scenes action” I ask over the telephone.
“Oooh, I wish I could but I can’t. Your brother has a court date. Next time maybe.”

When Jordan moved into his own house Mom was over there every Sunday laying down new tile, planting trees and mowing the lawn.
“What the hell are you doing mowing his lawn?”
“Well, he was really busy with community service and his anti-drug class.”
Similarly, when Mom had a minor surgery Jordan parked his baggy jeans-clad rump on the couch with her for a full two weeks.
“Check this shit out, man. I rented Blade Trinity. You’re gonna love this shit. Motherfucker goes around with a badass sword administering justice and shit.”
Mom, delighted, shuffles to the pantry for microwave popcorn.

The two of them will sit in front of the television for hours, bridging their great divide with an immense love of funny commercials.
“Peep this commercial. This shit is fucking hilarious.” Jordan tells my mom. And they’ll laugh deliriously, retelling the commercial to each other for days to come, each time more hysterical than the last.

She doesn’t seem to hear his cursing, is as accustomed to the foul obscenities regularly flowing from the mouth of her third child in the same way she would be if he was an overachieving football star sharing stories about the big game and his prom date.

The next time I stopped by Mom’s house to say hello a CD was sitting on the coffee table.
“Who’s this McReal character?” I ask reading the name on the jacket.
“Not McReal.” Mom, apparently a rap aficionado, scornfully corrects me. “It’s M-C Real.” It’s Jordan’s rap record.”
“He’s rapping now?”
“He’s got a show up in Salt Lake this Friday.” She says proudly. “Want to come with me?”
“A show? I didn’t even know he raps and he’s got a show?”

That Friday I meet my mom at a downtown club.
“Where’s Jordan?”
“Backstage getting ready.” Just as she finishes the sentence the lights dim and Jordan and two friends burst onto the stage.
"He’s good isn’t he?” Mom asks, pride illuminating her face, head bobbing, neck stretching awkwardly as she valiantly attempts to keep time with the beat.
“Not bad.” And he’s not. He’s all over the stage, dancing and fronting. He swaggers to a group of girls while trilling off some rap rhyme and they actually swoon.

That night was the beginning and the end of Jordan’s bid to take over the rap world. But his unique relationship with my mom continues. Recently, their favorite activities include watching the movie Napolean Dynamite, while saying every line at the same time as the characters. They’ll spend the rest of the day repeating the dialogue to each other and laughing themselves silly. Their re-enactments aren’t funny even if you’ve seen the movie.

“What’s for dinner?”
“Why don’t you make yourself one of those quesadillas." (pronounced kay-suh-dill-uhs)
“Because I don’t have cooking skills. I’ve got bow hunting skills, nunchuck skills, drawing skills, but I don’t have cooking skills."
“Bring me my chapstick, my lips hurt.”
“I caught you a delicious bass, bitch.”

And they’ll laugh and laugh.

****** 7/17/15: Happy Birthday, Jordan. I love your charming, hilarious, adorable ass.

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References (4)

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Reader Comments (3)

yo...yo..yo you punk ass bitch, why you gotta be layin down shit like that, straight up lies! I have never cooked a sunday roast in the oven. You know it's always low heat on the burner with onions and mushroom. Come on be real...M.c.real!
December 1, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermama
I sorry -- but this story made me laugh out loud. The way you write the dialogue between your mom and your gansta brother is brillant, just brillant. You are crazy talented.
December 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLovebug
"yo...yo..yo you punk ass bitch, why you gotta be layin down shit like that, straight up lies!"

Great line mama... made me snort tea up my nose! And I'm with you all the way. As a former single mom and self-professed microwave queen, I'd have a fit if my kid implied I was an oven cooker. What next, allegations that I bake my own bread???

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