Rollin' With the Times

Two veteranos from two different paths of life agree

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: February 9, 2009

Rollin' With the Times

Although many of my acquaintances are loathe to admit it, some of them, like me, have friends and relatives who have spent a little time behind bars, if not themselves.

‘«™another part of life in L.A. or any other big city, if you live in the real world, know what I mean?

Sometimes, there are lessons to be learned from behind bars...if a person's lucky and smart enough.

I recently had lunch with a boyhood friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in over 36 years. We both had strict parents, grew up in the tough neighborhoods east of the Los Angeles River, and we both remember not being given anything we didn't earn or deserve‘«™in other words, we weren't "spoiled".

We survived a lot of racial discrimination, even though as youngsters we didn't know it at the time.

In 1972, I entered the U.S. Marine Corps, while he entered the California correctional system. The next five years in these institutions changed both of our lives forever‘«™

Our lives took different roads even though we were in the same street gang together as kids‘«™and here we were now, two grandfather veteranos, almost 37 years later in 2009, having our favorite type of burrito and a cold beer like we used to, sitting at an outside table on Olvera Street in Los Angeles and discussing life on the Brown side of town as it passed by in front of us.

We sat and talked for a long time...

We both agreed that what the world is lacking is a good dose of respect. Because of the failure to teach and learn it, or the perceived denial of it, wars have been started, lives have been shattered, and the world that is twice as populated and crowded than it was over 30 years ago suffers in ways that were unthinkable a generation or two ago.

...still not too late to change things, though...

I remember coming home from Viet Nam and people openly resenting me, even blaming me, for political mistakes I had no idea about, nor any responsibility in. As a brown guy, I felt even more resented than the young cholito I was who had left the barrio to serve his country. I always remembered and resented that disrespect, so I always make it a point to respect and openly appreciate U.S. military veterans.

I've also worked in the mental health field for over 30 years, and have realized that some forms of stupidity are organic, and some just come by easily.

He remembers the brutality of prison life experienced by men and boys who had disrespected the society they lived in by committing crimes, and were now being punished for that disrespect by society's laws. Some suffered severely behind bars as the cost of learning respect, and some no longer walk this earth having paid that cost‘«™he remembers that as well, so now he makes a living teaching youngsters about the dead end of gang life and drugs.

"Nowadays, young people just don't get it," my friend says. "They think acting tough or looking slutty like in a music video will get them through life‘«™till they get confronted by the real working world of paying bills, feeding themselves, and taking care of themselves, with maybe an unplanned baby or two, outside of mommy's and daddy's house and paycheck. Then, they try to be a real hustler and suffer what most posers do when they realize they don't have NO hustle‘«™jail, homelessness, drug addiction, the street, and losersville‘«™not everybody's cut out to make it on the street, but today's media world (music, TV, movies, etc) makes it look so simple and easy to do, that that's what kids believe will make it for them. HE-LLO!! Doesn't work, huh? If I had it to do over, I would have finished school, maybe gone into the military ('maybe', he laughs) and not suffered the BS and hard times I've had."

He made mention of how the average age on skid row is now somewhere in the late 20's, early 30's...the prime years of adult life.

We both looked on in amusement whenever we would see some young kid begging on the street, or looking like they were starving, usually in their early 20's‘«™pendejos had no shame!

"Go back to school" or "Get a job" or "go home and appreciate your parents" became one of our usual answers whenever some young beggar would approach us with the worn out line of "Can you help a brother or sister in hard times out with some bus money?"

Seems hoboes and bums were a lot older back in our day.

These youngsters were not physically disabled in any way, didn't appear stupid or brain dead, and they seemed to have too much false pride to do a real hustle like sell something like flowers or food on the street, or off freeway ramps like real hustlers, instead of begging for a handout. Same kind of kids who ridicule the hardworking staff at fast food restaurants for doing work "they" wouldn't do, same kind of kids who "tag" our community for amusement (and they cry when they get arrested for it), same kind of kids that have probably never been hungry or had a good ass whupping because they had caring & progressive parents, and now find themselves losers as young adults‘«™we seen it all, me and my friend, and these beggars couldn't get a dime off us just because their free ride was over.

We also both agreed that in our house, we gave our children at least four options after high school when they turned 18: (1) go to college (2) get a job (3) join the military (4) move out and make it on your own‘«™in that order. Hell if they were going to eat, sleep, watch TV, kick back and enjoy the fruits of our labor FOR FREE! No pendejos here, junior, sorry!

By the grace of GOD, and only his grace, do we have 13 children & step-children between us, and NONE of them are on drugs, doing time, or bumming in the street.

..and ALL the adults either work or are attending college!

(Of course, we give ourselves a "high five" on that one, mi Gente!)

I guess there was something after all in all the strict parenting we had, along with the ass whuppings, hard times, surviving danger‘«™and the respect for our world it taught us, that has helped us survive past the half century mark, despite our rides in two different worlds!

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the "Al Capone of the microphone, and the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul"
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