Oh, brother: the 411 in the 801
"Raised up in this shit."
Note: Here’s a free essay to check out while I’m working on a new one. I’m going to sprinkle in some favorites from the archives of my old website, The Girl Who. A version of this post was originally written in 2013. Thank you for supporting my writing, it means everything.
Jordan and Monica, 2014
I spent most of the first two decades of my life in a small city tucked deep within the repetitive urban sprawl rippling out of Salt Lake City. The Butler family lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in the heart of ‘Happy Valley,” the nickname given to Utah County because 90 percent of the population is composed of members of the LDS church.
We didn’t lock the doors. Front doors, back doors, and car doors were regularly left open and by open I don’t necessarily mean unlocked. They were often left wide open.
It was not unusual to find the front door gaping open after I trudged home from elementary school. 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 alongside a half-empty gallon of milk someone left out at breakfast.
Despite the painfully ordinary nature of our Mormon neighborhood, my younger brother insists a vast gang contingent roams the streets, violently initiating new members and taunting their opposition.
In my twenties, after I exchanged boring Orem for the limited variety Salt Lake City had on offer, I’d return to visit Mom and would become privy to Jordan’s latest exploits in the murky, gang underworld of Orem, Utah.
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 we live and love to bust a Butler, but I’m not entirely positive.
Police cruisers would often prowl past 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, Jordan’s turf, and woe to all infringing motherfuckers.
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 around white chicken legs in shapeless drifts and hot air balloon-sized shirts skimmed knobby knees, or where his knees would have been in proper fitting clothing. Along with the new attire, Jordan began sporting all manner of black eyes, and lumps and bumps 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,” he snaps his fingers in aggressive finality.
“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.”
”Wonderful.” Mom goes back to slicing vegetables for her chicken broccoli casserole, bopping her head to Eminem's tight-ass shit. “How’s your new job at the news station, Monica?”
So Jordan was a bonafide gang member. I guess? I’m not sure which gangbangers regularly roam 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 chem paper? Apparently, these angry gangsters were alive and well, and Zone B had to be protected from ‘certain punk asses’ who dared roll by.
When I had been dating a journalist colleague for the better part of a year, I decided to risk a possible break-up by introducing him to my family. Meeting my family is like skydiving for the first time. It's terrifying at first but you become caught up in the adrenaline rush and ride that shit out until you’re safely back on the ground where you marvel over the unique and scary experience. Or you freak out and refuse to 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. And Brandon is scary and angry all the time. He loves to say appalling, sometimes racist things to elicit shock and fear so don’t show any emotion! 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. Someone will end up fighting in front of you. Also, my mom will scream at one of us kids at one point and probably cry, too. Don't feel embarrassed. I mean, you should feel honored maybe? 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 and waving his right hand like he’s hammering an imaginary nail, I guess demonstrating the pistol-whipping apparently administered to the aforementioned punk ass?
“Pistol whip?” Mom inquires as she pulls fistfuls of cornflakes from the white, rooster-adorned Kellogg’s cereal box and crunches them onto a casserole cooling on the counter.
I risk an uneasy glance at Chris who is staring at Jordan in confused 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.” He dismisses me. “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! BAM!”
“Oooh!” Mom is adding milk and butter to a floral Pyrex bowl containing steaming potatoes. “Monica, can you set the table, please? No, not those dishes. Use the Sunday dishes, we have company.” She smiles at Chris who is still watching Jordan with an uneasy expression. “Okay Jordan, go on with your story. So this other guy sucker punches you during the,” she pauses, “…pistol- whipping?”
“Yeah, just WHAP! Right in the eye! Total cheap shot that pussy punk ass motherfucker.”
“Total cheap shot!” Mom exclaims. “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? What? You’re like nineteen? And where is all this gang action apparently ravaging the mean streets of Orem?”
“It’s around, man. You just don’t even know. I been raised up in this shit,” he says like we didn’t grow up in the same house for twenty years. “These ain’t no punk-ass clowns with sideways caps. This is a real ass bunch of thugs that kill motherfuckers.” Jordan shakes his head in disgust at my ignorance.
Observing 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 kindest, 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, are two mismatched peas in a pod. Mom attends all of 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 phone, excited about my promotion at work.
“Oooh, I wish I could but I can’t. Your brother has a court date. Next time, maybe.”
When Jordan finally 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. When he graduates the class he gets a diploma and everything!”
Similarly, when Mom had a minor surgery Jordan parked his baggy jeans-clad ass 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 laughing more hysterically than the last.
The next time I stopped by Mom’s house to say hello a CD case was sitting on her coffee table.
“Who’s this McReal character?” I ask reading the label Sharpied on the clear jewel case.
“Not McReal.” Mom, apparently a rap aficionado, scornfully corrects me. “It’s EM-CEE REAL,” she proudly enunciates like I’m hard of hearing. “It’s Jordan’s rap record. He’s M-C Real.”
“He’s rapping now?”
“He’s got a show up in Salt Lake this Friday.” She boasts. “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.
“Backstage getting ready.” Just as she finishes the sentence the lights dim and Jordan and two friends burst onto the stage as some kind of fog or smoke pours from behind them.
"WHAT UP WHAT UP WHAT UUUUUP SALT LAKE CITYYY! ZONE B IS IN THE HOOOOOOUSE!"
"He’s good isn’t he?” Mom asks, pride illuminating her face. Head bobbing, her neck stretches awkwardly while she valiantly attempts to keep time with the beat.
And he is good, all things considered. He’s all over the stage, dancing and swaggering. He strolls 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 Utah rap world. But his unique relationship with my mom continues. Their favorite activities include Trailer Park Boys sessions and rewatching 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 real bad.”
“I caught you a delicious bass, bitch.”
And they’ll laugh and laugh.
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