I feel like I need to tell you how it all went down, the whole truth, how I went from a crazy street kid, a wanna-be musician back in the day in Brooklyn to a grown man with a little bit of wisdom, Christian wisdom that is. It was a long road, man, and I lost my brother along the way, along with my foolish pride and stupid blindness, but God was lookin’ down on me, man. I made it through. And so can you, kid.
So, here I go: Practicin’ in our mother’s basement was how it all got started. Dubbin’ songs, makin’ mix tapes and performin’ at family parties and stuff. Man, we were all over Brooklyn. Flatbush. Franklin Ave. Crown Street. We were just a bunch of Caribbean kids from the hood tryin’ to make money with music. New York Post called us a ‘one-hit wonder.’ Please. We had more than one hit. Back in the 70’s, everybodywas singing our tunes. New York. Jersey. Connecticut. Philly. Even Atlanta was givin’ us love.
Fast Punk. My father gave us that name. One day, my old man pulled up in his deuce and a quarter and stormed into the apartment all mad and stuff, then came out with his suitcases. Called me a punk right to my face – right before he left for good. Called us all punks, fast punks. It was me, Benny, cousin Pete, and Mickey from around the block. Benny was on drums, Pete on strings and Mickey on horns. I was the lead on vocals.
I know you never met Mickey, at least not yet. He’s a cool cat. We first met him in high school. He transferred in from Jersey. And when our school had a rally one day, I saw Mickey playin’ in the school band. He was killin’ it on the horn. I remember tellin’ Benny we had to get Mickey in but Benny wasn’t feelin’ it ‘cause he was mad at Mickey for pushin’ up on some girl Benny liked. Even though Benny was only one year younger, sometimes he acted like he was older, so I would have to put him in his place and remind him that I was older and that Iwas in charge.
“Benny, it’s really not up to you anyway. I’m gonna get Mickey in,”I had said.
“You don’t even care what I think, Omar?” Benny had told me. “What about Pete? He doesn’t like Mickey, either.”
“How do you know? Pete doesn’t even know Mickey. Mickey just got here last month and the only reason why the girls like him ‘cause he’s new and he’s got that Latin-suavé thing goin’ on ‘cause he’s from the D-R. It ain’t gonna last, Benny. By the time you get to graduation, all the girls’ll be ignorin’ Mickey just like they ignore you!”
My brother punched me kinda hard after I had said that, but I still got Mickey in. I promised him fame and fortune and our mother’s Jamaican cookin’. Man, he lapped it up like a stray dog! Mickey was probably the best band member out of all of us. He even turned out to be a better musician. That’s probably why he’s the only one still flyin’.
But back then, none of us were flyin’. We were all flat broke, broker than dishes, man. My brother and I shared clothes. Pete was still ridin’ his little sister’s bike to school ‘cause he didn’t have money for the subway and he was too scared to jump the turn-styles like we always did. And any money Mickey had he always spent it on hair gel, slickin’ his black hair back as if it was the only valuable thing he owned. We were pathetic, man.
But everybody was like that. The African Americans. The Jamaicans. The Trinis. The Haitians. The Russians. The Italians. The Antiguans. The Hondurans. The Mexicans. The Dominicans. The Puerto Ricans. We were all broke, but tryin’ to make a livin’ anyway we could.
Back then you saw kids who used to do nothin’ but play skelly in the streets suddenly turning into entrepreneurs, chargin’ folks five, ten dollars just to scrape ice from their front porch or sidewalk. You even saw grown men chargin’ forty, fifty bucks just to clear snow from folks’ driveways. The Jews were broke, too, stuffin’ four, five families into one tenement.
You couldn’t say that for the city, though. New York City was a mess. I know it’s hard to believe, but it was true. Folks were gettin’ laid off and fired from their jobs left and right. Police. Teachers. Firemen. Regular people, like nurses, like my mother who was furloughed from the hospital four, five times. You couldn’t find a hand-out even if you begged for one. Nobody cared. Even churches had limits. You had to take a lottery ticket just to get free food or some used clothes or somebody’s ugly used shoes. And Brooklyn was starting to stink, too. The garbage men were comin’ on fewer days and takin’ less trash, just lettin’ it pile up everywhere like Brooklyn was some kind of trash bin or something. It was ridiculous.
But that was Brooklyn. Rough. Strange. Strong. Warm in a way. Even on the coldest nights, I never used to feel the cold in Brooklyn like I do now in Jersey. ‘Cause back then, everybody in Brooklyn was pushin’ and strugglin’ and fightin’ and livin’ and movin’ on with life and when you saw that every day, it kind of felt good and warm, like you weren’t alone, you know? It felt like you weren’t the only one livin’ in insanity.
That’s why Fast Punk took off at first. We were bound for greatness ‘cause we were surrounded by folks who just needed a relief – just like we did. Brooklyn gave us a chance and we took it. I mean, at first, it wasn’t easy. We had to workand make tough decisions and stuff ‘cause not everybody was used to hearin’ island music – even though it wasn’t all that island. But you get my point – we just had a lot of work to do.
And the first thing we had to do was come up with a good song. I remember way back then, sittin’ in the lunch room one afternoon with Benny and Pete. Mickey came by later. Benny and Pete were talkin’ about doin’ an old song for this neighborhood concert that was comin’ up, but I was thinkin’ that we should really show out and come up with somethin’ new.
“Pete, we can’t just re-hash old stuff, man. We gotta come fresh and correct,”I had said.
“We don’t have no time for makin’ up new stuff, Omar. We should just stick with what we know,”he had told me.
But somethin’ in my gut was tellin’ me I was right. I knew that if we could just push out somethin’ groovy, somethin’ cool with an island feel but tough and gritty like Brooklyn, then we would blow people’s minds. See, disco was the thing, disco-this and disco-that. Hip-hop was comin’ up, too, mostly up in Bushwick and I was thinkin’ we could mix it in, you know, make somethin’ people could dance or pop to.
Benny and Pete finally agreed to start workin’ on somethin’ new, somethin’ original that would wake everybody up. Days after, I remember stayin’ up late, tryin’ to scribble some lyrics down. But little did I know, comin’ up with that first song wasn’t as hard as I thought it was gonna be.
Her name was Rosalina, but everybody called her Rosie. She was the cutest thing. Afro-Colombian. Beautiful. Sweet. She spoke Spanglish with a Bed-Stuy accent. I fell in love with her the first moment I saw her – just like that.
I was seventeen. She was sixteen. Rosie was in eleventh grade at the time, but she was in most of my classes. She was smart as a whip, answerin’ the teachers’ questions perfectly and calculatin’ stuff the right way. She was even in some nerd clubs. But Rosie had a little bit of sassy that I just couldn’t shake. She wouldn’t talk to me at first. She wouldn’t even look at me – but she knew I was lookin’.
I remember I used to get to the lockers early and wait for her, just to watch Rosie walk down the hallway with her friends. Benny and Pete used to make fun of me, mockin’ me and stuff, callin’ me a fool in love. She was the first girl I fell head over heels for. I didn’t understand it – I was drawn to her like a magnet that I just couldn’t break from. It’s like I was stuck. All I could think about and dream about was Rosie. Rosalina.
Fifth period was the first time I spoke to her. I think it was geometry class or somethin’. Man, who knows? I wasn’t lookin’ at the teacher, anyway. I was starin’ at Rosie sittin’ up front. I was starin’ at her hair in that swooped up ponytail all the girls did back then. Her outfit was smooth – bell bottom jeans and a fresh plaid sweater. Gold hoops. Lip gloss. Latest Adidas. And she was sittin’ straight up, lookin’ at the teacher as if she was listenin’, writin’ stuff down in her notebook, noddin’ like she was thinkin’. Man, Rosie was bad.
When class was over, I remember I threw my book bag over my shoulder and walked right up to her. She was busy gettin’ her stuff and didn’t see me at first. So I kind of cleared my throat loud enough for her to notice.
“Excuse me, may I walk you to your next class?” I said in my cleanest English with absolutely no slang.
She kind of thought for a moment. Rosie had looked me up and down, then kind of smirked. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing, man.
But then after a few seconds, she nodded her head. “Cool,”was all Rosie said.
I was over the moon! You would’ve thought I won the New York Lottery, man. I held the door open for her. I made sure other kids didn’t get in her way. I cleared a path for her down the hallway. Students were lookin’ at us and gigglin’ and stuff. But Rosie stayed cool. She didn’t walk, she glided. Head high. Eyes straight ahead. Man, she knew she was far out. And she could’ve had any dude walk her to class, but she chose me.
I did that every day – for almost two weeks. I was still workin’ on the song and stuff, but not that much. Mostly I was just thinkin’ about Rosie. I used to escort her to class like I was her personal butler, but I didn’t mind. Being next to her just made me happy, you know?
Rosie talked to me – not much – but she talked.
“Where joo from?”she asked me one time.
“I live right offa Flatbush Ave,” I said.
“No, Omar. I mean, where jor familia from?”
“Oh. My parents are from Jamaica, but I was born right here in Bucktown.”
“That’s muy cool. My first boyfriend was from Jamaica. His people were cool, too.”
Man, I remember I blushed – bad. I think that was the first time I ever blushed. My face looked like some crazy brown-red tomato! It was ridiculous.
“Yeah, my family’s cool,” I said to her. “My mother works for the local hospital. She’s a nurse. And Benny’s my brother. You’ve seen him. He’s in eleventh. Pete goes here, too. He’s my cousin.”
She kind of nodded. “Jes,” she said. “I always see them in me Social Studies class.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. The conversation might seem kind of dull to you, but it wasn’t at all. I was so happy that Rosie used to talk to me and stuff and ask me about my family that I didn’t care how boring I probably sounded. I would’ve told her anything just to keep her attention on me.
I remember like in a split second – I think it was maybe three weeks after I met her – I got the bright idea to ask her to go to that community concert that me and the guys were talking about. I acted like I was a star or somethin’.
“Hey Rosie,” I said. “I was wonderin’ if you’d like to see me perform at the Brooklyn Fest next month.”
It was outside after school when I asked her that and I remember she was waitin’ for her father to pick her up ‘cause he didn’t want his only daughter takin’ the dirty subway.
“Joo performing?” she asked me, kind of shocked and stuff.
“Yeah. Me and a few other guys. It’s gonna be groovy,” I said.
She smiled and then I saw her old man drive up and kind of press his horn. Then out of nowhere, Rosie jumped up and kissed me on my cheek.
Then she just ran away and got into her old man’s car and left. I was standin’ there like I was frozen in place or somethin’, like a snowman. Rosie’s little kiss stopped me right in my tracks. Man, I didn’t even hear my brother call my name! Benny had to smack me a couple of times just to shake me out of it.
“Benny, we gotta work tonight. We gotta get that song down tonight!” I said with a whole bunch of intensity ‘cause I really wanted to impress Rosie at the Brooklyn Fest.
Benny was just laughin’ and stuff. I remember he waved over Pete and Mickey and told them that Rosie kissed me, and they all started laughin’, too, sayin’ I was gettin’ soft and that my new name was Rosie and that I didn’t know how to handle women. I didn’t care. I had girlfriends before, but they all were kinda skeezy, you know? They were the kind of girls that fell all over you, asked you for your number and played stupid games and stuff. But Rosie was different, so I didn’t care when the guys gave me a hard time. I knew I had somethin’ special.
“Hey, we don’t have long to get ready. Meet at the basement tonight! We gotta get this down,”I said while they were doublin’ over, laughin’ at my face which was still blushin’ from Rosie’s kiss.
We did just that. After dinner, we were cooped up in my mother’s basement tryin’ to come up with lyrics, a hook, and the chorus. Pete was good at melody, and he just sat there with his guitar, playin’ with some tunes, tryin’ to come up with somethin’ new. Benny grooved with him, bangin’ on the drums like he was a professional. Mickey chimed in here and there, but mostly he just sat with me, tryin’ to play around with the lyrics.
“What about we go down-tempo at the bridge?” Mickey said.
They played out what we had but it still didn’t seem right. I wanted somethin’ far out, you know? Somethin’ really new. And I just wasn’t feelin’ that vibe.
“I don’t know. What about a calypso beat? What if we switch it up to a calypso beat at the bridge instead?” I said.
They played it. I sang the words we had thrown together, but it still didn’t sound right. We practiced long that night but still didn’t come up with anything I liked. So since I was the leader, I told everybody to keep workin’ ‘cause we still needed a song.
That next day, I was at school early again, waitin’ for Rosie. She came a little late. But when I saw her, I couldn’t believe it, man! She came to school with some dude, some Manhattan-lookin’ dude on her arm! He was young and dressed smooth. I remember his Kangol hat was blazin’ white, matchin’ his fresh white kicks.
“Hey, Omar. This is Wilner,” Rosie said as if nothin’ was wrong. “I told him that joor going to sing at the festival. We can’t wait!”
Man, can you believe that? That girl played me like a fiddle! She had my nose wide open then she just shut me down smooth. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe Rosie was hangin’ onto some other dude.
I didn’t even say anythin’ to her. Like an idiot, I just watched her walk right past me with that phony on her arm. I remember Benny was there and he saw the whole thing. He was really good about it even though he gave me a lot of flak over Rosie. He didn’t make fun of me when she played me, though. Benny just patted me on the back like he was my coach or somethin’.
“Just keep it cool, Omar. Keep it cool,”he said.
I’m not gonna lie, I was messed up. To be honest with you, I was flat out depressed. I just couldn’t take the fact that I meant nothin’ to Rosie, yet she meant everythin’ to me. I know it sounds stupid, but that’s what happens when you’re young and stuff. You think stupid stuff and when your heart gets smashed, you think it’s the end of the world.
So I skipped school that day – ran right out. I waited for my mother to leave for work then went inside the house and straight up to my room. And after I had a little pity-party for myself on my bed, I sat up and grabbed my notebook. Man, within 30 minutes or somethin’, I had three verses, the chorus, the bridge and a never-heard-of groovy island dance melody I called Rosie.