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You Got Some White Stuff on Your Nose

My daddy always told me to stay away from crack but he never told me anything about cocaine!

I was raised in the heart of New Orleans. I mean smack dab in the middle of the 90’s when Lil’ Wayne and the 504 Boyz had the block hot. And why was said block up in flames? Because the police were cracking down on street boys for selling, well you know, crack. 

My daddy, rest his soul, always told me to stay away from that specific drug. It was a conversation in my house at least once a week. One of his last lines of life was “girl I survived the Vietnam draft, you’re brother in his twenties and the 80’s crack epidemic so Covid don’t scare me.” He had two rules in his house; don’t get pregnant and do not do drugs. If I did I was sure to find myself homeless. Welcome to Black parenting in the South. As you would think, I took that advice to heart and avoided the corner boys as much as I could, to stay on the green side of his rules. And in the mid 2000s I made it out drug (and baby) free. 

Life went on. I joined the Navy, even doing a deployment to South America to fight in the war against drugs. I was honorably discharged from the military, got a couple degrees and moved to LA to follow my dreams of becoming a writer and producer. 

I thought I had gotten out of the “hood” and I was home free. Crack couldn’t touch me in California as long as I stayed off of Skid Row, right?

As it turns out, my dad told me all the cons of weed, crack, shrooms and even alcohol but forgot to mention a lovely lady called Ms. Pearl. Blow. Bump. Coke. Dust. Nose Candy. Yup cocaine. The more “socially acceptable” white powder. And when I say acceptable I mean just that. 

It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-June. I was at a new park I found in North Hollywood watching my oldest run around in a circle with a stick. I really shouldn’t have dropped him on his head as a baby so many times. Not long after I sat on a bench far enough to allow my kid to be himself but close enough to administer the people’s elbow if they tried to harm my baby, a nice five foot five 30-something young lady and her twin girls in their matching fits strolled up for a day on the swings. 

Okay so, I don’t really like people. Let’s just get that out in the open right now. So when the mother of two who we will call “Kate” sat down next to me on this bench, I was already frustrated. But the park is a public place, VERY public, so who am I to tell her to sit on another empty bench five feet to the left instead of directly next to me. 

“It’s a nice day for the park right?” she smiled. 

Damn it! She's gonna talk to me, isn’t she?! Charlie, play nice your son needs friends. 

I gave her a grin, "I mean, Cali's weather is basically that friend who's so positive, they'd find joy in a root canal. Gotta love it here.”

She giggled a little, “Exactly! One reason I love this place. Hi, My name is Kate.” Kate stuck out her hand. All I could think about was didn’t we just get released from a pandemic like three seconds ago? 

“I’m Charlie,” I gave her a fist bump and she realized her germ-filled mistake. We continued to talk a little about the kids and their favorite past times. I was starting to actually like this 90-pound lady. Her daughters were also getting along well with my son near the sand pit, even though he was clearly losing at whatever game they had started. Kate was into baking cupcakes, crafting with the kids and even knew some movies from the African-American culture which took me by surprise. I can honestly say she was pretty dope. 

I guess she liked me too because after I told her one of my hilarious jokes (I’m funny you just haven’t realized it yet) this woman started to dig in her bottomless pit of a purse and asked…

“You want some coke?” 

“No, thanks. I’m a Dr. Pepper girl myself.” 

At first she looked at me confused but soon assumed I was telling another joke. 

“You are hilarious,” there goes that Kate giggle again. Then the moment went silent until she pulled out this tiny clear tube and dabbed a small bit of white stuff in the little space between her pointer and thumb, pushed it up to her nose and sniffed. 

I. Was. In. Shock. 

I mean I was just sitting there staring at her with my mouth wide open catching flies. This woman looked me dead in the face and asked, “What? Do I have some of it on my nose?” 

I looked around to verify I was at a children’s park, not a crack house, then back at her, mouth still open and responded, “Kate, did you just do crack?” 

“Charlie! God no! This is cocaine! I just do a little during the day to keep me going. You sure you don’t want any?” 

 I retorted, "So, what you're saying is, because it’s not cut with baking soda, there’s a difference!?" 

Kate started to calculate in her coked out brain “I mean, well, yeah.” 

I stood up and started running towards my stick-swinging son. My sandals got stuck in the damn sandpit and I buckled to my knees. The ground was coming towards me so fast I barely got the chance to ask my kid to get in the car before my face was covered in sand. Well, what I really said was “Boy, we gotta get the hell outta here! Get to the car! Run!” He turned around in a circle a couple times before he panicked, froze and started to cry. 

Kate stood up in attempts to help me, “Charlie, are you okay? Charlie!” This woman didn’t have that click go off in her head that I was going to drop kick her in the chest if she came any closer. 

I finally made it back to my feet. I could see her twins were clearly scared watching this Black woman bull dozing towards them at full speed. The rest of the park goers were glaring at me like I had lost my damn mind and truthfully they were right. I yanked my kid up, jumped in the car and sped off towards safety. 

Now listen, I grew up on the streets of NOLA but I had never actually seen anyone doing the drugs I had heard so much about. I watched a lot of movies like Belly, Jason’s Lyric and New Jack City that were filled with drug use but my dad really made sure I was blinded to the up close and personal versions. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of drug addicts, dealers and even the “this is your brain on drugs” ads launched in the 80s, but never anything close to what Kate did in that park! That was a scary moment for me. Honestly though, I think I was more upset that this woman truly believed crack and coke were different!

So for all of those out there who want to get scientific: cocaine is a stimulant that is made from the leaves of coca plants of South America. Crack shares its origin with powder cocaine from the coca plant but undergoes a transformation into a solid state when mixed with other substances to allow it to be smoked. But trust me, it’s the same stuff and my disclaimer is to NEVER try either. 

I’m going to be honest with you. The world has always looked down on crack users but glamorized cocaine. Have you seen Talladega Nights? Why, you ask? Well, let me give you a short, but important, history lesson that will lead you down a road of blunt discrimination. 

Cheaper than cocaine, crack became the preferred drug for financially disadvantaged drug users, with many coming from Black communities. This choice intensified the problems of drug addiction and prolonged imprisonment, disproportionately affecting Black populations. Before the implementation of the crack sentencing disparity in 1986, the average federal drug sentence for Black individuals was about 11 percent higher than that for whites. By 1990, though, the gap had grown to almost 50 percent. 

In the early 90s, the law treated a person with 5 grams of crack the same as someone with 500 grams of powder cocaine, creating the 100:1 disparity. Even with the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, criticism remains about the updated 18:1 difference. Long story short; There's really no good scientific reason to treat crack and powder cocaine offenses differently! Many, especially in Black communities, see this as a clear example of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, especially since crack is less pure. 

Crazy right? Now imagine having these facts and the voice of your strict father running through your head as you watch this addict tell you there is a difference 10 yards away from your son. 

That park? Never again.

But it wasn’t the last time. I can recall three other moments when I was in a space that booger sugar was offered and in all three cases I bounced. This is why I always drive myself anywhere I go. 

In this city of angels and white powders, the path from the streets of New Orleans to the parks of Los Angeles has been anything but ordinary. As I reflect on those unexpected moments, like the surreal encounter with Kate at the park, I am reminded that life's twists and turns are unpredictable. The City of Angels, with its dreams and pitfalls, has taught me to be vigilant, to trust my instincts, and, most importantly, to wear tennis shoes to the park.

So! Keep your dreams alive, but keep your wits about you and your nose clean. Whether it's dodging crack rocks on the streets of New Orleans or politely declining a generous cocaine offer in North Hollywood, remember to stay true to yourself. In the end, surviving the chaos of this city is not just about chasing dreams; it's about embracing the unexpected, outmaneuvering the absurd, and, above all, ensuring that the only white stuff on your nose is sunscreen protecting you from the burn of the California sun. Stay safe, stay smart, and keep walking, or running, in those tennis shoes, because in the City of Angels, you never know what you might encounter next.


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