“Snow Fight” is a story about the complex relationships between joy, power and objectification in the lives of young black people and young people of color. In many ways, I think that this story is pertinent to the moment we’re experiencing right now, particularly in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder. In the story, I explore how young people of color navigate critically the fraught social terrains they live in, and the place of fun, play, and disallowed youthfullness in that process. I hope you enjoy, and I welcome your comments.–Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
This old white nigga starts talking and everybody shuts up real tight for a second. Then they start screaming, “Eeeeeh! Eeeeeeh!,” cheering like on the playground watching Pito and Slimminy try to murder each other one-on-one, or when Sonjra and Ana-Rosario skipped Mr. Dominic’s math class to go snatch clothes from on two-fifth and rocked their new Baby Phat jeans straight through eighth period still with the plastic lock tags on. They ain’t even hear what he said, and I’m not gonna front, I didn’t really hear it either, it was so loud. I was just surprised to see him open his mouth, and even more surprised to see the snow come out. And when he said “shit!” forget it. It was a wrap. I always wondered what one of those random old white niggas on the train would do if you touched them or winked at them, rubbed your ass up on them one time when it was crowded or something. I thought maybe they would turn pink and start sweating and maybe pull on they necktie like that old video for “Baby Got Back,” Sir Mix-a-Lot, I think, when he sees the black girl with the phatty and it hits him too close, closer than white people like to go.
But your boy didn’t do any of that. All he did was clear his throat and say “HEY!” real loud like Principal Scaprioni does at assemblies when Light-skin Chris and them or some other niggas is actin loud, singing R. Kelley songs to the girls in the back row. Scaprioni screams ‘HEY!’ louder and they sing louder, going from the Chocolate Factory album and Step in the Name of Love straight back to some shit I can’t even remember the title ‘bout “your booody’s caaallin fooor me.” Scaprioni says “HEY” real loud, not loud as five or ten niggas singin to cute girls, but who got the microphone? You can feel his voice shaking the walls from out the speakers, if you not talking you can even feel it under your feet.
Me, I sit with my homegirl Patricia and she teaches me words in Spanish. When Chris and them act up she tells me they acting mad ‘bobo,’ and when Scaprioni starts sweating like the white dude on the video, his fat face shining like a ham hock, she says “que parece cerdo.” I laugh, cause my homegirl is funny, and cause I like how things she say in Spanish be so close to what I think in English. I don’t know, shit like that be real funny to me. Sometimes, if Dominique showed up to school that day and decided to sit with us instead of her flavor-of-the-week nigga, she bite on her braids how she do and say some Jamaican shit ‘bout “dat de man a puar wharff daawg!” but I’m not good at understanding all that. She make me laugh in the same way, though, for the simple fact that when me and Patricia went to her house, she had ox tails and fried fish and hush puppies, but her whole family called it ‘ox tail’ with no ‘s,’ and they call hush puppies ‘festival,’ and when Patricia asked what kind of fish it was, Dominique said it was ‘salt fish,’ but Patricia said she coulda swore it was bacalao. Crazy how shit could be different as night and day, then turn out to be the same damn thing just in a different language or a different sauce. I don’t know, I just laugh.
Principal Scaprioni doesn’t usually have to shake the ground more than once, even though they say 155 is the worst school in the city. They only say that because that time the twins Andrew and Alex put on black t-shirts and brought heat to school last year, their senior year, okay, in April, not even two months before their graduation, and tried to shoot the nose off the sphinx statue in the lobby, talking ‘bout “THIS IS POLITICAL!” Now we have to go through metal detectors every time we come in and out. The line be down the street, almost to the train station. And still they expect us to get to class on time. What is that? And now we posed to be these bad-ass kids, meanwhile the worst shit that happens on a regular day is some dumb-ass, bobo-ass, wharff daawg-ass niggas singing “Sex Me!” to a bunch of eighth grade girls who can’t even be bothered.
Well, I guess that’s not true, depending on whose side you look at it from. What shit does go down at 155 is cause they send these teachers whose names are probably Mary-Jane and Becky-Sue, to come teach us, mad heads, like 35 if everybody would show up, offa three or four books and a halfa piece of chalk. Even when these niggas have the book, half of them can’t read worth shit so what are they gonna do? Act up. I feel bad for the Mary-Janes sometimes. September they be really trying, lazy blonde hair all combed up, button down shirts and shit. They come in with all these books they photocopied, and crayon-colored name tags they make to show us they really want to learn our names. By June they be done got blown wet-ass kisses by some dudes, been cursed out by a couplea’ females, then they probably cursed out the whole class theyselves, cried, and cried some more. Or if not, they just broke out before they had the chance. Then I think harder and don’t feel sorry at all. They go home to Long Island, the Hamptons or some shit. I go home to 143rd.
The Mary-Janes don’t know what to do with us but Scaprioni has his ways of shuttin niggas up. On the news and in the movies they front like principals are some bitch-ass people who just love the kids so much they can’t find it in they hearts to control them. Picture that. Scaprioni is not scared of a damn body. He is quick to throw you out of the auditorium, or your classroom, or his office, or wherever, and send you right down to the glass box in the lobby with the security guard. (There’s two, and people say they are both Five-O. I don’t know about all that, but I know they have guns and that’s all I really need to know.) If it’s the white security guard, you’re lucky. He just makes you sit in the box with your eyes closed so you can’t make faces to any of your peoples that might pass by. But if it is the black nigga, it’s a wrap for you. He’ll sit you with your back to the door and shove a book under your face, and he’ll tell you you better not touch it for any reason other than to turn the page. He hem niggas up with books like They Came Before Columbus, about black people been in America earlier than the pilgrims, or Cultura Afrocaribeña, about Dominicans and Puerto Ricans really came from Africa and just try to front. One time Dominique got caught fucking some Haitian nigga under the counter in the cafeteria and when they found them they got sent straight to the box (nobody even called Scaprioni). Well it was the black guard, and he sewed them both up tight. She had to read a book about When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, and the Haitian nigga got stuffed up with The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. That nigga does not play for real.
But after school it’s everybody together and there’s too many heads for Scaprioni and the Mary-Janes to do a damn thing about us, really, other than try to make us leave. When it’s warm, not like now, niggas be runnin around the courtyard and dancing crazy. Dominique and Patricia and me maybe start a game of double-dutch, and sometimes even some of the ninth grade girls will jump in, and we will all sing the double-dutch songs we used to sing back in the P.S. days, back when we thought cursing was some hot shit: “1,2, my boyfriend wants to do me, 2,3, he wants to fuck my coochie…” We sing loud cause we can say whatever we want, cause it be so loud out there that nobody can hear, and it’s so many of us that couldn’t nobody do shit even if they could hear.
And plus when its warm and you chill outside you can just listen to people speak their languages. It gets so uncomfortable having to talk to the Mary-Janes and Becky-Sues all day, for those of us who try. Talking like you’re reading from a book or some shit, like wearing a turtleneck sweater, how it stuffs up your throat. After school when it’s warm, none’a that. Niggas talk like how they fuckin talk: “This bitch” this and “yo, son” that. The Haitians talk their African-French that is so pretty, and the Jamaican girls go on and on so fast I have to get Dominique to whisper to me just so I can know what’s happening.
In the wintertime, like now, it’s different. It be so cold outside, only the straight-up bobos and wharff daawgs stand around the playground smoking cigarettes. Everybody else takes it to the train. That’s when me and Patricia say bye, cause she lives on the A and I take the 1-9. Me and Dominique do us, though. We sit close as we can get to the middle of the train and listen to the Washington Heights niggas fill up the whole seven cars with loud-ass Spanish: “Eres preciosa, amor, es una placer…” This scraggely-looking Dominican nigga is trying to spit game to a light-skinned girl. “¿Eres freshman?” She don’t seem to know how to respond, I guess she too young.
Down at the other end of the car they are talking so loud I can’t hear a damn thing, they laughing and running their mouths ‘bout “¡Culiquitaka ti, culiquitaka ta!” and “¡Diablo, que’esa vaina!” I don’t know exactly what they’re saying, but it’s loud as hell and it sounds like they having a good time. Dominique is too, talking to some nigga I have never seen, so I just sit quietly and do me, try to pick more words out the air. Then I notice this old white nigga, his back all bent over like a pterodactyl or some shit, this Jurassic Park nigga, face all up in a newspaper. He’s not making no noise, but his lips are moving fast as the keys on one of those old-ass typewriters, and I am wondering how long he’s gonna ignore all this nigga loudness bumping up against him.
When the doors open at 125th, the only outside stop on this side of the city, Light-skin Chris and some other nigga jump out the door, and I think that’s weird cause Chris live on my block and we both get off at 145th. But then he comes back into the train with a handful of snow and throws it cross the whole car and hits Slimminy right on his neck. Everybody is like “Ooooh!,” and niggas start laughing. The train makes that doorbell noise to let you know the doors are about to close, but Slimminy sticks his little foot between them and reaches out. The doors click and bang against his foot like they don’t know what to do, till then he comes back in with a whole armful of snow. Now it’s on. Everybody’s laughing and cheering in no language at all really. Some girls in the middle of the car reach out there too and start flicking snow at each other. The bells keep ringing and niggas keep blocking the doors, reaching out and throwing big-ass handfuls of dirty snow at each other. Then I catch it. And I’m glad right then that I am the kind of person that watches shit insteada getting caught up in it. Light-skin Chris was aiming for Slimminy, but his right hand slipped down the pole he was leaning on. He lost his balance, and the old white nigga got caught in the face with a clump of nasty gray snow. Chris looked like he saw his mama ghost coming for him.
“HEY!,” like Principal Scaprioni, and everyone shuts up quick, like if he was gonna send them to the glass box or expel them. Then, I don’t know, everybody starts cheering, screaming eight times louder than before, like if the Knicks would win a championship, like that. Like this was the funniest, best shit in the world. This old white nigga, the only one on the train fulla mad rowdy, laughing us, and he gets caught in the face with snow, and what was he gonna do? Niggas cracking up. Then he said something: “something-something, SHIT!” And it was over. People was dying, laughing so hard. Dominique was biting her braids hard now, looking like she bout to piss herself. The door bells rang again and nobody stopped them this time, everybody caught up in laughing so hard. The snow fell out old boy’s mouth and niggas laughed some more. They kept laughing after that and went back to doing their thing, just a little more loud and a little more happy.
But you know, I watched. And I’m glad too, cause with everything that went down, the funniest shit to me, the part of this story that nobody else even knows, was the way your boy tried so hard to keep his typewriter lips straight while everybody was laughing. It was me, just me. I was the only one that caught this old white nigga stretching his face over his teeth and scrunching up his neck and his eyes just to keep from laughing with us. I laughed hard then, real low in my stomach, cause I never woulda guessed that after all that, even this old white nigga himself would have a urge to smile. I don’t know, shit like that is real funny to me.
“Snow Fight” first appeared in Baby Remember My Name: An Anthology of New Queer Girl Writing. Ed. Michelle Tea, Carroll & Graf, 2007. Read the full story in Mecca’s short story collection, Blue Talk and Love, forthcoming from Flipped-Eye/ Lubin & Kleyner press in 2012.