I grew up in the streets of 69th and Morgan, the south side of Chicago. Rough as hell. We did all that bullshit -- fighting, cuttin' each other with glass, shootin'. But back when we were coming up, we could joke with each other hard. We killed each other with jokes, all day long. And we didn't run and get no pistols or nothin'. Learning how to take a joke, learning how to tell one on somebody -- that shit made you stronger. People talkin' about you: "Ya hair nappy"; "You got on floods up to here."
Lint in ya hair? Shit, you had the teddis.
And it's always a guy that smells like piss.
"Black ass tar baby," they used to call me. "Spooky Juice." I'm sitting up there, they laughing at me and shit. I went home mad, can't sleep. Next day, I come back: "Motherfucker," I was talking that shit, too. "Yeah, look at you..." You learn how to fight back, man. I didn't go get no pistol. That's when I learned to come back. "Look at you!"
Growing up, I laughed at stuff that people couldn't understand. I'd be laughing at the craziest thing, and people would be lookin' at me like, What the hell? Something wrong with that muthafucka.
I laughed at people's misfortune -- because I had so many misfortunes. But I didn't look at them as misfortunes. I learned hard lessons in life; I had to because I had so much happen: My mother died my sophomore year in high school. The next year, same day, my brother dropped dead. Two years after that, I got married because my girlfriend got pregnant. The year after my wedding, my father -- who I had only recently met -- died.
That was just life to me. So my mentality was, your misfortune wasn't all that bad because that's the way I thought about mine. But on the flip side, you were like, "This muthafucka laughing. I'm sitting up here, house burnin' down, and this muthafucka up here laughing."
That's true. One time, there was this fire on our block, and everybody had come running out this house. They was in they draws, hair all messed up, and there go Ms. Lee screamin', "Aw Lord, our prop'ty, our prop'ty!"
And I'm laughing. Ms. Lee snapped on me: "It ain't funny! It ain't funny!" The more she screamed, the harder I laughed. But I wasn't laughing at the fire. I wasn't laughing at the fact that their house was burning down. I was laughing at their expressions.
I just kept seeing her face, all frowned up, eyes bugged out, raggedy-ass headrag on, and she just screamin'. One side of her panties was in the crack of her ass. Her old man -- he had lost a leg to diabetes -- and this peg-leg muh'fucka was just kickin' at the air. Just kickin'. Talkin' to firemen, talkin' 'bout, "Hurry up!"
I just couldn't hold it. I was falling out.
But like I said, I could laugh at people's misfortunes because I had so many of my own. Like a lot of black people, I grew up straight po'. Wasn't no question about whether we was po', either. If you really wanted to know, all you had to do was look in our refrigerator.
You go to some people houses and the kids got all kinds of cookies and cakes and ice cream and shit. You know, snacks.
But not us. We ain't never have no good food, man, nothin' for kids to just munch on. Shit, fuck around and ask my granddaddy 'bout some damn snacks.
KIDS: Daddy, can we have a snack?
GRANDDADDY: Mm-hmm, yeah, you can have a snack. Put you a coupla boiled eggs up in that pot in there.
Seriously, that was a snack at our house. We'd put about three or four eggs in a pot, boil 'em, then my granddaddy would cut 'em up in halves. I'd get a half. My brother would get a half, and so on. Then you'd add salt and pepper and hot sauce.
Maaaaan, you'd be farting all damn night.
Everybody would be in the bed trying to get some rest, my grandmama and granddaddy in the next room, and then all of a sudden -- fffrrrrrppppppp.
"Man, why you -- why you -- why you do it by my face? Mamaaaaaa! He fartin' in people's face!"
"Well, he just did in mine! He did it in mine!"
That's from eating all them eggs.
And it wasn't just snacks. You know you poor when you eatin' breakfast food late. You fryin' toast? At nine o'clock at night? With bacon?
We'd have to get some baloney and fry it until the black forms a circle around the edges. Don't even have no bread. Just roll it up like a hot dog and eat it.
And don't let us really get some ice cream. Booooyyy. When we'd get ice cream, my granddaddy would give us all one scoop each. I'd get mine, stir it up, mash it, make it seem like I had a lot. And you know kids: always examining what the other kids got.
My brother would be lookin' at mine, and then he'd start complaining to my grandfather -- which was the wrong thing to do.
"Granddaddy, he got mo' than me!"
My granddaddy'd tell him: "Ain't nobody got mo'! Ain't nobody got mo'!"
"Yes, he do! Everybody got mo!"
Then my granddaddy would just get mad at all of us. He couldn't just get mad at one of us. He had to get us all.
"Ain't nobody got -- You know what? Go to bed! All y 'all, go to bed!"
It'd be two o'clock in the afternoon. "Go to bed!"
We all laying up in the bed, the lights out. We just layin' there, eyes wide open, mad. That was motherfuckin' torture. We all in the bed, can't go to sleep. My granddaddy would peek in the room and be like, "Close ya eyes! Close ya eyes!"
Two o'clock in the goddamned afternoon! You hear all the other kids playing outside and shit: "One potato, two potato, three potato, fo'..." We can't even look out the window. We just laying in the bed, 'cause my brother done said I had more ice cream. Ain't that some shit?
I used to go to all kinds of lengths to get some snacks. I'll never forget the time my grandmother took me and my sister with her to the market. We walkin' around, and I saw this bag of marshmallows I wanted. And I kept asking her to get us some marshmallows or something. She kept telling me no. So I thought, Fuck it. I'll get some for my damn self.
Soon as she walked out of the aisle, I broke open a pack of marshmallows and started diggin' one of them sum'bitches out with my fingers. Man, it was good.
So I'm tryin' to eat that muh'fucka fast -- before my grandmother came back and caught me.
She came walking 'round that corner, man, I got scared as hell. I started tryin' to chew all fast. Big Mama saw me and was like, "Boy, what you eatin'?"
I was like "mmnumphin'." I'm trying to lie, but my black ass got white powder all around my lips.
She walked up on me and was like, "So what's that in yo' mouth?"
I couldn't just start chewing in front of her, so I just started to suck on that motherfuckin' marshmallow, tryin' to get that bitch to dissolve. My cheeks all sunk in and shit. I'm thinkin' if I suck it down, she won't get me.
But you wasn't just puttin' anything over on my grandmother. She was gon' catch my ass. "Spit it out!" she said. I'm still bullshittin' like I don't have anything. Sucking, sucking.
Man, don't you know she just started diggin' in my mouth? Right there in the aisle. Pieces of marshmallow all on her fingers and shit. "Gimme that! Give it here, got-dammit!" I'm busted like a muh'fucka.
Boy, she tore my ass up when we got home.
I remember one time, I stole a candy bar. I had wanted me some sweets, so I took it. I had really went in there to steal this rubber ball. Me and my friends had knocked our ball on the roof, so I went in to Stanle's Store to get another one.
By me not knowing how to steal, I told on my damn self. I'm walking all around the store. First of all, I looked like I ain't have no money. Second of all, I ain't have no note. You know, back then, a lil' muh'fucka wanted somethin' from the store, he had to have a note from his mama.
So I'm walkin' around. I see the ball. I put that ball in my draws and tried to leave.
Now, the man who owns the store sees me, right? And he know ain't no eight-year-old with a dick like that. So either I was stealin' or I had the blue balls.
Anyway, I made it to the door. The man was gon' let me leave with the ball, too. Now, I done made it to the door -- but I wanted some sweets. So I turned my black ass aroun' and gon' steal me a Baby Ruth!
I put the Baby Ruth in my shirt, started walking toward the door. So now, it looked like I had titties -- huge, deformed cancer breasts -- and a big-ass dick.
That old man caught me at the door. He said, "What you got?" I said, "I ain't got nothin'." He knew me, so at first he threatened to call my mama. But then he said, "Tell you what. I'm gon' let you have the candy and the ball. But first, you gotta take that ball out of your pants and the candy out your shirt and walk out of here with it in your hand."
I walked out, and at first, didn't understand the message. But when I got older, I understood: He had given me a break, but he didn't want me hiding the truth. Own up to what you do. We all will get breaks, but take advantage of the second chance. That's what I learned -- and I never stole again.
Well, not from him anyway.
Yeah, snacks, man. I wanted 'em, but couldn't get 'em. Even when we would go out, we weren't going out for good snacks. Like fast food? We never had no McDonald's. We had White Castle. Two hamburgers and three fries apiece, and two drinks to split between me and my brothers and sisters. You'd take a sip. He'd take a sip. You'd take a sip. He'd take a sip. And we used to fight about who was going to have the last sip. We'd all be looking, watching -- making sure nobody else got that last sip.
Then after we did all that fighting, it would always be my grandfather who'd take the last sip. He'd just grab the cup, swirl the ice around in it and say, "Aw, we ain't even gon' worry 'bout it -- Slllllrrrrrrrrppppp -- Ain't no sense in arguin' over it. Buurrrpp."
We'd just be sitting there, looking at him like, "This nigga is cheap!"
That's why I used to say that when I got grown, we were gon' have snacks and food at our house. 'Cause we ain't never have no snacks. No good food.
Northern beans. Red beans. Lima beans. Pinto beans. That's all we ate. Chicken and noodles. Chicken and fries. On Friday, we'd have fish and spaghetti. Saturday we ate in church, 'cause they sold dinners. Sunday, my mama made a big dinner. Roast. Mashed potatoes. Hot butter rolls. She made a cake. I couldn't wait for Sunday to come. Every Sunday, we had a good dinner.
Monday? Beans and rice.
That's why with me, it ain't about money. I'm doing great. I was doing great when I was poor. You couldn't tell me I was poor. I didn't know what poor was. We ate oatmeal and oatmeal alone. We'd eat cereal, and my grandmother would pour milk into my bowl, but you couldn't slurp that muthafucka. When you got through eating your cereal, you had to pour your milk in the next bowl for my brother n'em. And when he got through, he'd pour it in the next bowl. I ain't lying. We ain't think nothing was wrong with that.
We ate party meat -- everyday. Party meat. I ate the shit out of party meat. Party meat, vegetables, alphabet soup. That was our lunch. Shit, I used to write sentences in the soup: "Help! Please, help!"
I ain't lying. I was trying to send a message, man.
When you opened our refrigerator, all you saw was light. Lightbulb and butter, that's all you saw. But we was happy as hell because I never had a sense of doubt as a little boy, I never had a sense of worry. I guess that's why right now, I'm not a materialist cat because I never had those things around me. Suits? Cars? Shit, I didn't have a key to the house until I was a senior in high school.
We used to have this station wagon when I was a kid. And when we'd go somewhere, we'd all pop in the station wagon. That was when people could still sit on your lap. Now, you can't sit on no laps -- but back then, there'd be eleven of us kids in one goddamn seat. And the windows didn't let down in that muh'fucka, either. We'd look like the Beverly Hillbillies, everybody's face all smashed up against a window, complaining to my granddaddy.
"Grandddaddy, his knee in my side!"
"Move ya gotdamn knee! Move ya knee. Move ya knee. Move ya knee. Move ya knee!"
That was the thing about my granddaddy: Whenever he warned ya, he would always tell ya things four, five times.
"I ain't gon' tell ya no more. I ain't gon' tell ya no more. I ain't gon' tell ya no more. I ain't gon' tell ya no more. Let me have to tell ya again."
He ain't never say nothing once.
"You kids, don't let me come up there! Let me come up there. Let me come on up there. You want me to come up there? I'll come up there. But you don't believe it, though. You don't believe it. You just don't believe it. Don't believe it. Hmmph, he don't believe it."
We'd be like, Why does he always have to say the same shit four, five times?
Like if I was messin' up in school, he'd tell me, "The teacher wants me to come up to your school. If I got to come up to school, I'm gonna bust your ass wide open. Wide open. W-i-i-i-ide open. You gon' be wide open. Everybody gon' be able to see inside you."
And he'd slap you in a minute, slap the shit outta ya. He just liked hurtin' you.
"Now, didn't I tell you something? Didn't I tell you? Didn't I tell you? I told you. You heard me tell him?"
Then my grandmother would say to him, "Don't say it again. Don't say it again. Please don't say it again."
"Naw, I ain't gon' say nothing. I ain't gon' say nothing. I ain't gon' say nothin'. I ain't saying nothing. Hmmph, see if I say something."
My grandfather used to give us baths. That whole scene was crazy. First, he'd spend 'bout 15 minutes trying to get the hot water to work 'cause our pipes would be frozen.
You'd hear him bangin' on the pipes for a long time. Every now and then, he'd stop to yell to us.
Tink, Tink, Tink.
"Is it on yet?"
"Naw, grandaddy, it's still cold."
Tink, Tink, Tink.
"What about now?"
"Well, let me try this back end."
Tink, Tink, Tink.
"Yeah, grandaddy, it's getting warm now...Yeah, now it's boiling hot."
He'd get that muh'fucka to where it'd be like the damn swamp, steam just coming up off the water.
Then he'd just throw yo' ass in there.
You like, "Aaagggghhh!" Skin comin' off yo' ass from the heat and shit, and my granddaddy talkin' 'bout, "Hurry up and get you ass in there before it get cold."
Then he'd wash us. Man, he would scrub us until we niggas was raw. You'd be bleedin'. I used to have scabs from where that muh'fucka used to be scrubbin' on my black ass.
And then, after you took your bath, you didn't just let the water drain. Hell naw, not with all them kids. You got out, and somebody else got they ass in.
You'd be cryin', talkin' 'bout, "The water dirty!"
My grandfather'd be like, "Aw, shut up, boy. A lil' dirt ain't never hurt nobody. Ain't hurt nobody. Ain't nobody ever got hurt from a lil' dirt."
Man, my grandfather came to school with me one time. I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to do.
And you know kids. They parents come to school lookin' all fucked up, people are like, "Who mama is that? Who daddy is that?" And you could always tell whose mama it was because whoever her child was, he'd be the only muh'fucka in the class lookin' at his paper and writing, tryin' to pretend like he was doing some work.
So my grandfather comes up to the school to talk to my teacher. "Uh, I'm Mr. Mac. I'm here for Bernard Mac."
Then he'd try to use big words while he was talking to the teacher. "So, uh, what seems to be the calculation?"
Everybody was looking around like, What? Then the teacher told him, "Well, Bernard's being a disruption in class. He laughs a lot."
"He laughs a lot? I done told him about laughing. Didn't I tell you about laughing? Didn't I tell you about laughing? I done told you about laughing. Keep on laughing. Laugh one mo' time."
Kids all teasing me and everything. I'm just sitting there all humiliated, like, "This ign'ant sum'bitch!"
And it wasn't just in my school when he did that. My grandfather always tried to use big words, and was always fuckin' 'em up: "See, boy, you know, when you get the job and it's inferential, what happen is, it rederdefried itself."
When I got older, I'd challenge him. He'd get tight with me -- get really mad -- when I asked him about a word. He'd be offended that I questioned him.
"See," he'd say, "first of all, you gotta abstract yourself from all the inferentials."
So I'd ask, "What you say?"
He'd get tight. "Don't play with me, boy."
"What you gettin' tight for? I don't know what you talking about."
Then he'd really get tight. "Don't worry 'bout it. Don't worry 'bout it. Just-just don't worry 'bout it. You ain't gotta worry 'bout it. You all worried 'bout it."
He'd just get mad at you because he was making up words.
There was plenty of moments like that, too. I'll never forget one time when he was sittin' on the porch with his fan. It was scorching outside this day -- I mean, really, really hot. A neighbor pulled up. We all sittin' there. (You couldn't just run around when my granddaddy was around; we had to sit on the porch.) The neighbor comes by, says to my grandfather, "Hey, Brother Mac."
Granddaddy spoke back, "Hey, man, how's it goin'?"
"It's a steamer today, ain't it?"
"Yeah, man...It's about 100 degrees centipede."
Ain't nobody even say nothin'. We all just looked around. Centipede? What the fuck is some centipede?
My granddaddy was a hard-working man, and wasn't scared of a lot. But one thing he was scared of, boy: my grandmama. Big Mama ran things back then. She wasn't scared to fight him. They'd always be fighting about something. All night long, just fighting. The police used to come to our house so much that when they would just roll past the neighborhood, my friends would be lookin' at me.
We'd be at school, hear the siren -- waaaahhhwaaaaaaahhhhh -- then somebody'd say, "Bernie, they gettin' ready to go to yo' house, ain't they?"
The police stayed at our house, talking all nice, trying to calm my grandparents down. "Mister, Missus Mac, y'all stop."
Granddaddy'd go on in a corner: "Hmmph. That's her. That's her. That's her. Her be startin' all that. Her be doin' all that."
Grandmama would just be sitting there. "Yeah, I'm gon' show you what her be doin'."
"Oh, yeah, we gon' see what's g'wains on." That's where I got that from -- "g'wains on" -- from my grandmama. Then she'd be like, "Tell ya what: it's gon' be a new day in the week when I get up on ya. 'Cause on the eighth day, I ain't gon' get off ya."
Then she'd get tight-lipped on ya -- and she'd always close her eyes when she was threatening him. That meant she serious. Her eyes would close real slow and tight, and she'd always have to add: "I'mma cut yo' ass in two."
I asked her once why she always closed her eyes when she said stuff like that.
"Baby, so I can say it with conviction," she said.
Scared the shit outta me.
But most of us came from that. That's what was real. That was how our families were back then. But that's also when families were strong and were upright. You got pregnant, they sent you down South. They hid you. It was an embarrassment to the family. You were a bastard.
And families took care of each other. When somebody got old or had something bad happen, they didn't go to no doctors. There was always that sick uncle or aunt that you kept in the attic or somewhere.
We had an uncle like that, my grandmother's brother, was crazy as hell. He had had a couple of nervous breakdowns. You never saw him. They kept him in the back.
All you'd hear is him hollerin' "Hhaaaggggghhhh!"
You'd be eatin, hear that shit, look around...
Big Mama would be like, "Don't worry 'bout what's back there. Eat ya supper."
You'd start eatin' again -- and all of a sudden he'd break out again: "Haagggggghhhh!"
Big Mama: "Didn't I say eat yo' supper?"
I'm thinkin', How am I supposed to eat with that crazy muh'fucka back there hollerin' and shit?
And we couldn't go in the back either. They had a skeleton key where they kept the door locked. That nigga would be back there going crazy. And they'd go and knock on the door and slide him his food. We never could go back there.
One day my grandmother was gone. (And you always knew when your grandmother was at home because her wig had the little styrofoam stand. If her wig was on that styrofoam she was in the crib; if that wig was gone, that mean she was gone.) So I got my brothers and them and said, "Come on, y'all, I got the skeleton key. Let's see who back there."
So went back there, banged on the door.
He went, "Haaaaggghhh!"
I went, "Haaaaahgggghhh."
Then I said, "Who back there?"
He ain't say nothin'.
I said, "Why don't you come out?"
"If I could come out, I'da been gone."
I said, "You want me to open the door?"
Then I heard my brothers, "Here come Big Mama, here come Big Mama."
I ran. Put the key back. My grandmother came in, asked us what we wanted for dinner, then went back there where he was.
And don't you know that crazy sum'bitch told on me?
He wasn't that damn crazy. He knew my name and everythang.
"Bernie came back here, tried to let me out."
My grandmother ain't say nothin' for a coupla hours. We was sittin' at the table. We all eatin'. Then she started talkin' to me, real calm and quietly.
GRANDMAMA: So, ummm, you went back in the back, huh? Tried to get your uncle to escape.
GRANDMAMA: I'mma ask ya one mo' time. Did you go back there and try to get him to escape?
BERNIE: Naw, I heard him -- I heard him -- I -- I heard sumthin' fall and I went back there and I asked him if he was all right. That's all I asked him. That's all I asked him. I asked him if...
GRANDMAMA: He say you tried to let him out.
BERNIE: Naw! I -- How I'mma let him out? I don't even know how!
GRANDMAMA: Ya lyin' to me, ain't ya?
BERNIE (head down): (sniff) I -- I'm lyin'. (sniff)
I mean, I knew to tell 'cause she had that look on me, right?
Man, she whooped me with an ironing cord. I hollered. I screamed. I ran all around the house.
But that sum'bitch used to run track. She was dead on my ass.
The next day, she was gone. I went back there again, stood outside that door. Maaaan, I cussed his butt out.
"Oh, you's a punk sum'bitch, you know that? Wit' ya -- ya -- ya trick ass!" I'm all up in the keyhole talkin' shit. "I hope ya go crazy. I hope it ain't no lights on in that muthafucka. I hope ya go blind."
He on the other side of the door, "You, too! You, too!"
"That's why ya locked up in there....Hhhhhaggghhh!"
Grown folks stayed on us 'bout everything. Always tellin' don't do this or that. Let them tell it, everything was gon' "put yo' eye out."
MAMA: Boy, don't be runnin' with them scissors. You gon' fall down, put yo' eye out!
Put yo' eye out? How come it was always yo' eye? How come you never heard, "You gon' cut yo' ear off?" Or "Boy, you gon' lose yo' nose?"
Nope. It was, "Carry the knife by the handle. And walk wit' it! Walk, before you mess around and put yo' eye out!"
But what happened to those kind of injuries you had when you was a kid? Lil' kids don't have those kind of injuries now. They don't fall down the stairs. We used to get cut up, bruised, scarred. One time, we had a board holding up our window and I knocked it away, and the window smashed my hand. My nail was all black, hurtin' like a muh'fucka.
Those were the old injuries. Kids don't have those no more. Now, they just continuously get shot. They can't just hurt themself no more.
BYSTANDER: Man, you heard what happened to that nigga Pierre?
BYSTANDER 2: Naw, what happened?
BYSTANDER 1: Got to arguin' with a nigga, and he got shot.
BYSTANDER 2: Whaaat? Damn, dog, how old was he?
BYSTANDER 1: Eight months.
What happened to the kid shit? Worst happened to us was, we'd get burnt. "Get the butter!"
I always tell people how I had it hard so they'll understand my hunger, my desire to succeed. That's why I'm not complacent. I'm not settling for less. I ain't never been picked first to do a damn thing. Even when I was a young dude and we played ball -- and man, I was an athlete. I played baseball, football, basketball. I boxed for four years. I always had to earn it. Always. When we picked teams before we played ball in the street, folks used to look over me all the time.
CAPTAIN NO. 1: Give me Jacobs.
Look dead at me...
CAPTAIN NO. 2: Give me Bob.
CAPTAIN NO. 1: Give me Raymond.
I'm just standing there...
CAPTAIN NO. 2: C'mon, Pete.
CAPTAIN NO. 1: Gimme Michael.
I'm the last one.
CAPTAIN 2 (rolling his eyes): (sigh) C'mon, nigga.
I got cut from my high-school basketball team four times. We had practice early in the morning, six o'clock. We had two sides in the layup line. I was on one side, did a layup, shot a jumper. The coach looked at me and said, "You can go." Shit, I went...
...on the other side of the layup line. Did the same thing over there, ran a little drill, layed up the ball. The coach tapped me on my shoulder this time: "You can go."
I came back the next day.
Got in line. Blended in. Did my lil' shit. The coach lookin' at me -- leaning down, squinting. He said, "Didn't I cut you yesterday?"
I'm looking all surprised and shit. I said, "Naw, you ain't cut me."
He stared at me some more, thought about it, then he said, "Go on, man. Get in line."
I got in line, did a little drill. Then the coach nodded and said, "You cut now."
So I went back on the other side. I'm in line and everything. The coach came over to talk to the assistant coach about something. Then he looked at me.
COACH: Come here!
I came over.
COACH: Didn't I cut you yesterday?
ME (voice high-pitched and cracking): Naw. I...I thought you had tol' me to come over...come over here...That's why I came on over here.
COACH (exasperated): Psshhh...maann...You gon' sit here and lie?
ME: Unh-unh. I ain't lying. You tol' me to come over here. That's what you tol' me to do.
COACH (Shaking head): Let me see what you got, man. You taking all this doggone effort. Lyin' and shit.
I made the squad.
I had to work harder than everybody. I didn't start. I was sitting on the bench, just sitting. Everytime he'd say a name -- "Frank" -- I'd scoot down. Just trying to get close so he could see me. I started stickin' my head out real far so he could just get a look at me.
But I wouldn't play. I'd go to the locker room, take a shower, guys teasing me: "Ain't no need in you takin' no shower, man. You still fresh." I'm the Minute Man -- it'd be a minute left in the game and the coach'd put you in.
And when you get in, you ain't gonna pass that ball either. I ain't passin' shit. Everybody on your team out there yelling: "Bernie! Bernie! Berniiiieeee!"
Man, shit, I'm out there shaking and baking on myself. I'm puttin' moves on and shit. Ain't nobody even checkin' me but I'm pump-fakin', takin' the ball through my legs, behind my back.
Shit, I had to get two points. At least I'd get in the paper.
ME: When I was about 14, 15, we moved away to a nicer neighborhood. It was almost like the suburbs. I went to CVS High School. I went to high school and started playing ball and liking girls. I started combing my hair. I started getting lines every Saturday. I started creasing my slacks and polishing my shoes. I just went into a hygiene fit. I started getting manicures. Got into smell-goods. I started noticing fashion and shoes. I had to be clever. People were starting to say, "Mac smooth, man."
Now, before that, I was a nasty muh'fucka: Type of nigga who'd turn his draws inside out instead of putting on a new pair. Wear the same socks and shit. Rub my ankle, and dirt used to just roll off that muh'fucka, man.
Butter over there is my brother-in-law. We been knowing each other for years. He knows. We done talked about that shit. Ain't it the truth, Butter?
BUTTER: Oh yeah, I know how it used to be. I was a lil' chubby muh'fucka growing up. Take a bath? Fuck it. I'd just wash my socks or something in the bathtub, make the water dirty, come out and I'd be dry than a muh'fucka. My mama'd be screaming: "Get your fat ass in that bathtub, you lil' nasty muh'fucka!"
ME: You know how you was musty and you ain't think it was you? Swear up and down it wasn't you; shit, it'd be you like a muh'fucka.
That was back when you'd get up in the morning and just put ya slacks on. Don't brush ya teeth; just get up in the morning and wipe your teeth off. Take your nail and scraped your teeth and wiped that plaque off. I mean, just a nasty muh'fucka.
I remember the first girl I liked. I had had girls I liked before, but they weren't real girlfriends. They were those girls you just fire on, hit in the mouth when you were younger, just to be stupid.
That meant you liked her.
She talkin' 'bout, "You play too much!"
The girl I liked was built. She was built like a woman. She had quads, a small waist, her hair tapered and cut fine. She was cinnamon brown, had some fat, red lips. She was one of them fast-ass heifers, too fast for me, but I liked her.
The most we'd ever done was kissed. But one night, we were in her house. I told her I was getting ready to go. She told me her mother was working nights and that I didn't have to go. I put my deep, sexy voice on and said, "Well, I'll stay a lil' bit."
We got on that couch, man, and she moved her panties to the side. This my first real piece, okay?
I said, "Daaaaaamnnn." I was rubbing her, and it was like somebody turned the water on my hand. That's how wet it was.
She laid down, man. This is true shit. I took my pants off, man.
...and exploded. I mean, soon as my dick went in that muh'fucka, man, all I remember is, "Ugggghhhhhhhhh...rrrrrrggggggghhhh...uuugggggggggh." Man, I shook so hard.
She just looked up at me and said, "No, you didn't."
I couldn't help it. That muh'fuckin' nut was so damn good, I wish I could've saved it!
Not long after that, I started going steady with another girl. First time I bust a nut in my slacks was with her. I was going steady with her. Her father was a minister. I grew up in the church, too. I really dug her.
We talked about sex. We'd grind. But her big fear about sex was, she didn't want to have sex and God come down. Her mother and them had instilled that in her head. "If Jesus come while you're having sex, you're going to hell." She really had that concept in her head. That was her belief.
She got to me with that shit. I'd be like, "Yeah, I believe in the Lord, too, and I -- I -- I don't want to die on a piece of pussy." I didn't want to go to hell smelling like pussy.
So we would just grind. Man, I bust so many nuts in my slacks messing with her that I broke out in a rash. We used to be on the floor before I'd go home, grinding like a muh'fucka. I'd get that nut and it'd be so strong it'd have my motherfuckin' voice changin'. But I dug her.
As I got older, I got into all kinds of things in the streets -- but for some reason, I never got caught up with the gangs growing up. Everybody dug me, man. I never had problems.
Well, actually, I had a couple of incidents, but they weren't that big. I once had a situation where they tried to draft me. They just walk up on ya and try to recruit you.
One day, I was in the alley with my friends, playing football. I was quarterbacking. This one play, I told my receivers to go for the bomb. I said, "Hut one, hut two. Hike." And they took off running -- but then those muh'fuckas kept runnin'!
I turned around and there was about five members of this gang, the Seven-Oh Gangsters, standing there surrounding me. They said, "G-thang" and put their hands across their chests. Then one of 'em said, "You in a gang, nigga?"
I said, "Naw."
He said, "Well, you is now."
They took me to a basement and jumped on me. That was part of their recruiting ritual; they beat yo' ass, then you were a part of the gang.
But I was cool with the leader of this gang, and he knew I ain't have no business in that bullshit. So the next day, he told me not to worry, that he wasn't going to let them force me to be in the gang.
It was a good thing, too, because two days later the Seven-Oh Gangsters had a falling out with the Mafia Gangsters. They had been allied, but now they was enemies. You know: Nigga shit.
Man, they was shooting each other, coming into the build-ings popping each other. The Mafia Gangsters had a dude whose name was Sam. Crazy-ass nigga, but he was more cockeyed than a muh'fucka. One night, he caught the leader in an apartment building and was gon' kill him. He had a shotgun up to the leader at point-blank range. He pointed and fired two times.
Ed turned and flinched, but the shells only hit the two sides of his jacket.
Sam missed him! Twice! Cross-eyed sonmofnabitch.
When I was real young, we lived above a church, Burning Bush Baptist Church. We was also members. It was one of those small churches. You know the kind: they got three members -- and all of 'em are relatives.
Maaaaaan, we was in church all damn day, every day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Bible class, rehearsal. Sunday, I used to set up the church. Had to clean the benches, set the hymns out. Run the Baptism pool. Sunday evening we had Bible Training Union. Then there was Young Deacon Night.
And because we lived right above there church, we had to be there. You know how you wanted to miss school, so you played like you was sick the day before or that night? Or you go to bed early so they'll figure you're sick. That next morning you get up and ya mama tell you, "Time to go to school." You tell her "I don't feel good. It's my head, my stomach, something." She tell you to go lay down.
And I used to really act out: I would chew some food or drink some water so -- bllleuuch! -- I could throw it up and make it look like it was vomit.
Couldn't do that on Sundays.
Sunday? "I'm sick! Bllleuuch!"
"Just sit your ass in the back. You going to prayer service."
You'd have to sit right in the damn back. You couldn't miss no church. If the kids was upstairs, we used to slide our feet across the floor to keep from lifting them up walking. If they heard you walking, my grandfather would come up from the church: "I'ma whoop your ass."
Preaching, praying, and everything -- and he'd come upstairs and beat the fuck outta ya.
That was them: They'd cuss your ass out and then pray.
"Bernie, sit yo' ugly-ass down, ya black bastard!
"But you know, the Lord been good to me..."
I talk about 'em, but my family didn't know any better. They used to whoop my ass. I was always put down. I was always told, "You too black." I was always told, "You ugly." I was always told, "Sit your ugly ass down."
But I guess I was too ignorant to listen. I didn't know the validity of what they were saying, I just kept on laughing. "All right, okay." That's how my mind was, I didn't dwell on it.
I'd go sit down and start amusing myself. And that's another way I learned to act and do voices and be creative on my own. I'd play with pencils and shit. I'd have 'em talkin'. I'd have a GI Joe doll, take my sisters' Barbie dolls and make my own stories. So Ken was screwing Barbie, but so was GI Joe and Captain America. Later on, they all pulled a train on her.
That's how I was playin'. Lil' sick muh'fucka, you know.
There was plenty of shit I got into as a kid, but because I was an athlete growing up, the one thing I really didn't get off into was drugs. I tried. But very, very seldom.
I had a bad experience with marijuana, man.
Back when I was in high school, I used to play like I was high all the time. I'd be slurrin' my words and shit: "Ha-ha. Yeah, niggaaaa." Cats would say, "Bernie, fuuuuucked up, man."
A cat named Joe, he knew I was bullshitting. He trapped me. He came to the lunchroom and said, "Gimme a dollar on a bag." That was when reefer was five bucks and you'd get 15 joints. I would put money in, but I would never show up. So word got around that Bernie be bullshittin'.
But this time, they got a dollar from me and came and got me. They took us over to the west wing of the high school.
Man, they had me doing everything: shotgunning me, had me firing up shit. They gave me the joint with instructions.
JOE: Okay, puff. Now, hold it. Hold it. Hold it. Hold it. Keep holdin' it. Hooooold it. Let it go. Nowtakeanotherone!
Whooo! I was so blowed! And my chest, I could hear my heart racing. My heart was pumpin' so hard it was hurting. It felt like something was pulling my esophagus down. My eyes closed.
Then I just took off!
People just started bustin' up laughing. I was running so fast. I jumped on the bus. I sat next to this lady. I was sweating profusely. My heart was going bump, bump, bump, bump.
I said, "Lord, please!" I felt like if I closed my eyes I'd die.
The lady said, "You all right, son? Bus driver, slow down. Something is wrong with this man!"
I jumped off the bus and took off running again. I ran from 87th Street to 69th Street in four or five minutes. Cars almost hit me and everything.
I got home, my grandfather asked me what was wrong. I just started trippin'.
Next thing you know, they rushed me to the hospital. Man, my whole nervous system was shot!
They had angel dust in the weed. That was my sophomore year. I was on medication 'til my senior year.
So, ah...I'm kind of...ah...anti-drugs.
After that, I was never really no marijuana guy. It took a while for my body to be strong enough to even be around marijuana. I would have flashbacks.
My buddies would do powder. They would always try to get me to do powder. I ain't gon' lie: I did a line or two.
Every time I came around, they wanted to try to get me high. By you not gettin' high, muh'fuckas always want to get you high. Now, if I got high, they'd have been talkin' about, "Put it up! Put it up! Here come that muh'fucka!"
But I didn't know what I was supposed to feel when I did it. I'd seen all these cats spending all this money. But the shit was like an inhaler to me. It just opened up my damn sinuses.
My vice used to be cigarettes. I smoked cigarettes for years before I quit about six years ago.
I started off puffin' a little bit in high school. I'd puff just a lil'. Cool Daddy, you know.
I used to like to smoke so that smoke would come out of my mouth when I talked. It would make you look real cool: "Yeah, I tol' that muh'fucka" -- you laugh, a whole bunch of smoke comes out -- "hahahahaha."
I started off smoking Kools. Then I started smoking Salems. Then I left Salems and went to Newport. Then I went back to Kool Mild. Then I went to Newport Long.
Then I started picking up the habit for real.
When I started going in the clubs, I started smoking after shows. I was going to four clubs a night. I'd wind down, have a beer, and smoke a square.
A pack would last me a week. Me and Big Nigga. He'd have a pack, I might have a pack. I went from ten to a pack a day. Then I went from a pack to a pack-and-a-half.
When I quit, I had been smoking two packs a day.
When I finally quit, I just up and did it. I didn't need anything except myself saying it was time to stop.
It had gotten to the point where, every time I'd breathe, I would whistle.
One night, I'm in the bed with my wife, and I just keep hearing tweet, tweeeettt. I'm lookin' around, all out the window and shit. But it was me.
That next day, I couldn't even walk up the stairs. I would cough and nothing would come up. I thought I had a cold. I was takin' short breaths. I asked my wife to take me to the doctor.
My lungs were closed. I wasn't getting air. The doctor sprayed a mist in me and opened my lungs back up. I had bronchitis of the worst kind.
When I walked out that hospital, I had a pack of squares in my pocket. I said, "Mac, you dyin', man. Is this what you want to do?"
I grabbed those cigarettes and threw them as far as I could. And I haven't smoked since.
I was never an alcohol cat either. I sipped some wine; I threw up on myself.
When I first started drinking beer, I was out of high school. I was playing in the summer league after school. A brother said, "Great game" and threw me a beer. Now, they're smoking marijuana, and I'm having flashbacks. I'm trying to be cool.
I had two beers. Between the contact I was gettin' off the reefer and the beer, I was high as a Georgia pine. It was like somebody injected propane in me.
But I think it's good I can't do all that. Plus, that was a motivational thing for me, watching people who did drugs. I keep saying entertainment is a bad business, man. Cats be wanting you to fall. I used to be around a lot of athletes, and I saw how cats were jealous and were constantly giving them shit. You would see how their games would just diminish. That was drugs, man. Even in the comedy clubs. I saw it all in the comedy clubs.
I'll drink some brews, but that's the strongest I do.
Plus, anything stronger than that and I'm givin' you a lap dance.
Copyright © 2001 by Bernie Mac
Bernie Mac on How Life Is
I Ain't Scared of You
Bernie Mac on How Life Is
Touring through a wide range of topics with equal parts insight and irreverence, Bernie Mac presents a way of looking at the world guaranteed to make you laugh. Tackling superstar athletes, the movie business, his fellow comedians, his marriage, and, of course, his friends and family, Mac offers side-splitting riffs on sex, religion, hygiene, money, and more. Nobody is safe; nothing is sacred. Not even Bernie himself. Throughout I Ain't Scared of You, Mac turns his humor inward, firing off hilarious self-deprecating salvos about his golf game and his own hypocrisies.
Bernie Mac's hit show and his vital live performances have earned him critical acclaim and international popularity. Now, I Ain't Scared of You reveals his humor whole -- unpretentious, unafraid, and unbelievably funny and raw.