Ghetto Tales


There are times when someone is relating a story of some sort and they are building toward a dramatic point or a punchline, but in your head, you hear the screeching of tires as you jam on your listening brake pedal. The story teller said something that was so surprising that it will clearly be significantly more interesting than their climax. Many people refer to this sort of occurrence as “burying the lead”. Here is an example:

“So I buy this new crockpot, right? I take it out of the box and plug it in on the counter. I follow the recipe to the letter. I spray the inside with Pam and spread sliced onions on the bottom and then place in the meat. After adding the carrots and celery, I pour in the water up to the top of the possum. Now I put on the lid and”…SCREEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Wait, you’re eating possum? Who gives a crap about your stupid crockpot story? I want to hear about the rodent stew!

This usage of the term “burying the lead” is odd to me since it is used to describe something you might read in a newspaper or hear on the network news. Since so few people get their news through these sources these days, I would have expected the term to have died out by now.

These two stories are of a similar genre, but also took place in an ethnic and socio-economic arena that lend themselves to further classification. These tales have the added adjective of “ghetto”. Ghetto is typically used as a noun, but has taken on the role of an adjective in very specific circumstances. This would not be used for a common ethnic stereotype, but a burying the lead story told by one member of the group to another. This would result in something along the lines of…SCREEEEEEEEEEEE!!! “Wait, she said what? Dude, that’s some ghetto shit.”

I was talking to my college friend Malcolm. He grew up in a housing project in Newark, New Jersey. We were probably discussing sports when the subject of sex came up. This is not as uncommon as you might think among dudes. It went something like this…

Malcolm: Best sex I ever had was when I was married to Nicole.

Me: I assume it was with her.

Malcolm: Yes, asshole, it was on our honeymoon. We were up all night and must have gone four or five times. And you know what? We had both taken some cocaine.

Me: Coke? I never heard of you using any drugs.

Malcolm: That was the only time, even weed. She had used it a few times before.

Me: Where the hell did you get it?

Malcolm: Oh, it was a wedding gift…from our landlord.

Me: SCREEEEEEEEEEEE!!! “Dude, I have little interest in your sex life and only a mild curiosity regarding your drug use. I do have a deep burning interest in who the hell would give cocaine as a wedding gift.

Malcolm: You know, I never thought about it that way. I suppose it’s pretty ghetto.

Me: Ghetto?

Malcolm: Yeah, it’s something that is bizarre to the outside world, but so normal in the projects that no one gives it a second thought.

Me: I assume that I probably shouldn’t use this term.

Malcolm: No, you’re down. We’ve been friends for forty years, and since it would be lost on white folks, you’re good.

I tried to remember what I gave Malcolm and Nicole for their wedding. I’m quite sure that it wasn’t ghetto.

This might be a good time to explain the word “down” in Malcolm’s context. This following example might help. I was in my boss’s office (Dwayne, a black man) with a colleague (Artie, a white man). Dwayne was relating a story about his dealing with a civil service bureaucrat at the DMV. Dwayne turns to me and says “HNIC, brother”. This is evidence that I am “down” with Dwayne. He knows that I have spent enough time around his culture to know what HNIC refers to, and while it would not be appropriate for me to use the term, it helps me to understand his plight. Artie, on the other hand has no idea what we are talking about. Since Dwayne offered no explanation, I told Artie to Google it.

For those of you who are neither “down” or familiar with the term, HNIC stands for the rather offensive Head N****r in Charge, and is frequently used by black people to describe officious other blacks who are in a position of authority and frequently flaunt that authority at members of their own race. The funny part of the story is when Artie came back after looking up the term. He said, “I don’t understand what Hockey Night in Canada has to do with your earlier story.” Dwayne and I laughed for about ten minutes before explaining it to him and giving him his first step into “downness”.

Sometime later, I was discussing the art of cutting school with Malcolm. I mentioned that I didn’t think that my kids had ever done it, while I did it all the time. A friend and I once left the State to go to the Philadelphia Zoo for the day. With no cell phones or telling anyone, we drove sixty miles when our parents thought us to be getting educated. Malcolm said that he had near perfect attendance but cut school once, for him and a friend to entertain a couple of young ladies.

Malcolm: We planned this for about a month. Me and my boy Darryl convinced these two girls to ditch school and come to my apartment for some afternoon delight.

Me: You mean your mother’s apartment.

Malcolm: Yeah, whatever. We get them over and I’m in my room and Darryl is in my sister’s.

Me: SCREEEEEEEEEEEE!!! “Dude, you let your friend screw some girl in your sister’s bed?

Malcolm: What? We changed the sheets. I told you this took weeks of planning.

Me: Dude, I know your sister. Did she ever find out?

Malcolm: Hell no, and you better not tell her. It’s been forty years and I still would never hear the end of it.

Me: Your secret is safe with me, but I gotta tell you, that’s some ghetto shit, brother.

Malcolm: Now, you got it.

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