Newports and Soy Lattes: My uncle and his homeboy, Rod

City Paper

The drug laws in America are more ridiculous than a Tea Party diversity rally. The fact that marijuana, a natural plant that comes from the Earth, remains illegal in most states while poisonous alcohol is available for purchase on almost every corner is beyond me. My uncle taught me the difference between the two way back in the ’90s.

When summer hit, I used to cover my rolled-up tube socks with the scuffed Air Jordans that guided my ashy-bony preteen body up and down Monument Street.

My friends and I would walk, run, skip, and wheelie past Lakewood, Bradford, and keep on going until we reached Patterson Park. There my uncle and his homeboys posted up with their Sergio sweats, Fila, bike shorts, and gold chains. They laughed, they pointed, they screamed, they slapboxed, they made plans, they threw dice, they traded money, and they got their cars washed. He and his homeboys were getting their cars washed almost every time I saw them, even when it rained. 

My uncle used to hold his Henny bottle high over his head like a championship trophy. The two were inseparable. That bottle was a part of his uniform, always by his side and even dark-brown complected––just like him.

Most of those dudes on the corner smoked weed and guzzled alcohol—except my uncle and his homeboy Rod. My uncle wouldn’t touch weed because he had a job that piss-tested regularly and his homeboy Rod didn’t drink alcohol because it was poison. I’d go to the corner store to grab red plastic cups, Chick-O-Sticks, and blunts for them–– coming back to slow rants led by Rod like, “Man, I’m tellllllin you, that liquor will kill you. I can smoke a ounce and be good but if you finish that fifth you’ll die cuz yak is poison, my brova.”

My uncle would wave him off, pour some in the cup, take a swig from the bottle, pass the bottle, down the cup, reach for the bottle again, pour a drip out on the curb for the dead homies, and then spill some into his cold cup all over again.

Rod would shake his head in despair, while he’d split a White Owl with his ring finger, dumping the blunt guts by the curb and then re-stuffing the cracked cigarillo with fluffy green buds that were covered in orange hairs.

Rod didn’t have to worry about my uncle drinking the whole fifth and dying of alcohol poisoning because my uncle never finished a whole bottle. He was a monster after a few cups and his tolerance never picked up.


I started clubbing with them by the time I turned 15. They both had about 10 years on me and were cool enough to get me into adult nightspots like Hammerjacks and Club Fahrenheit. But my uncle’s drinking made partying with them old for me by the time I was two weekends in.

Weekend one starred my uncle, two shots of Hennessy and the squeezing of some random girl’s ass. The bouncers didn’t find his advances funny and threw him out front door ass first. Rod smooth-talked the club manager and the bouncers so that my uncle wouldn’t be thrown in jail. My uncle lay dormant in the back seat of his own car. I rolled a blunt while Rod drove me home, and we both ashed in the half cup that my uncle left in the car.

On weekend two, my uncle and Hennessy picked a fight with some dudes from Park Heights. We were five deep in a packed club and I swear it felt like everybody else in the building was from Park Heights because I’ve never been hit with so many uppercuts and Timberland boots at once in my life. Two of the dudes who rolled with us ran and me, my uncle, and his homeboy Rod fought three on 50. The cops rushed and beat on us some more, but I made it home. I woke up at Rod’s that next day. We all had lumpy faces and rings around our eyes like raccoons. My uncle was filling the toilet with vomit as Rod dug in a weed sack, placed a handful of bud on the table and proceeded to roll––I joined in.

Stories of my uncle’s brawls picked up as the years went by. His actions got so bad that Rod stopped hanging with him. Worse than his tirades and melees was his physical appearance. Is this what alcohol does? His once-tight face puffed and sagged now. He was still thin but his belly poked out, and his eyes were always piss yellow. More surprisingly, his homeboy Rod looked the same as he always had.

Observing my uncle and his homeboy over the years has led me to conclude that even though alcohol’s legal, it makes you mean, belligerent, loud, obnoxious, and crazy all while making you look 10 years older and destroying your liver. Weed, which remains illegal in many places, makes you overanalytical, think deeply about shallow stuff, and maybe a little sleepy.

It’s obvious that America leaves marijuana illegal as ploy to feed its ever-so-lucrative prison industrial complex—I guess the real question I should be asking myself is why do I drink?

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