The First Hustle is the Sweetest: CriMemoir by Gabino Iglesias
I read Gabino Iglesias's latest Zero Saints in two short bursts, but the book was probably made to last a single dark rabbit hole trip - takes place over a very compact timeline (a couple of days) and piles fresh horror atop not yet cold body on the floor with a protestant work ethic fueled by Catholic guilt and black magik power - just bam, bam, bam. Nice, man. You should get you some of that. Gabino hooked me up with a funnier and far-less harrowing entry to the CriMemoir series than last time and I couldn't be happier to share that shit with you now...
The First Hustle is the Sweetest by Gabino Iglesias
The funny thing about petty crime and small-time hustles is that sometimes you end up involved in them without realizing what you’re doing. Or maybe I’m just the kind of person who falls into criminal activities naturally. In any case, when I was eighteen, I ran around with two different crowds. The first was a bunch of stoners who lived for the beach and music. The second was a ragtag group of misinformed Goths who loved metal, vampires, black clothes, and calling each other things like Wolf and Shadow. They called me Gypsy. It’s not the worst thing I’ve been called. I liked both groups for different reasons, but dug the second group a little more when it came to going out and getting into trouble.
Happened to the tunes?
You see, this second group religiously went to Old San Juan every day of the weekend, and our weekends started on Thursday. More than lounging around and smoking weed, they liked to show up at bars/clubs and intimidate people. Most of them knew that the rough aesthetic required a reputation to go with it, and they were willing to do whatever it took to prove they were tough. One of the things we did was go into juke joints and take over the pool tables and jukebox (get the fuck outta here with your Bon Jovi and Aerosmith). It was an easy thing to do when drunken gringos and clean-cut college kids populated the joint. When real badasses were present, they story was different. The trick was to accurately place everyone in the right category. If you failed, the odds of getting your ass handed to you increased exponentially, and that went against building the kind of rep that would make people switch sidewalks when you were walking down Old San Juan’s crowded streets.
One night, a guy dressed like us showed up. His thick arms were covered in garage-quality tattoos and he had the kind of long, greasy hair that spoke of skipped showers and flophouse living. He walked up to the bar and asked for a beer. We went back to whatever we were doing. A while later, he came up and introduced himself. He was somewhere north of the six-feet mark and had shoulders and arms that, unlike his bloated gut, spoke of time pushing weights around. After a few minutes, he asked me if I was into weightlifting. When I said yes, he came closer and asked me I wanted to help him make some money. If I did, beers would be on him. The macho bullshit in my head told me to push him away, but he was too damn big, so I asked him what he had in mind.
Half an hour later, the crowd had changed a bit and my new friend, whose name was Ricky, was acting like a drunken asshole at the bar. Then, he walked over to an empty table near the pool table, slammed a twenty on it, sat down, and asked if anyone wanted to arm wrestle with him. No one said anything. I stepped up, put my own twenty on the table (which he had given me), and proceeded to win the match and pocket the money. He exploded in drunken anger and threw another bill on the table. This time, a guy with the kind of haircut you get by pointing to a picture on the wall at the mall sat down. Ricky almost broke his arm. Two hours later, we did the whole thing again.
Ricky was, literally, a weekend warrior: he got in the ring for money all around the island on Saturdays and Sundays. His fighting name was Riquísimo Delicioso (Richly Delicious). He played a bad guy. Apparently he was good at it. As with most folks you meet at a bar, Ricky talked a lot about his wrestling and what he wanted to do with his wrestling career, but never said anything about his past or how he had ended up hustling people in small bars with a bunch of kids. For us, it was fun, and his presence made our crew look about 97% tougher.
I don’t know how many free drinks we swallowed in the following weeks. I do remember that summer came to and end and one day Ricky stopped showing up. Between trying to keep all of our teeth in our mouths while dancing with trouble, a few friends getting pregnant, and some folks moving to Florida, we had enough on our hands and quickly forgot about Ricky and the arm wrestling hustle. Years later, he came up in conversation. Google had nothing on him. Did he get shot outside a bar because someone got smart and then got very pissed? Maybe. Or maybe not. It could just as well be that he moved on to bigger and better things. Or worse things. The point is that he had shown us how to hustle, and despite the fact that many hustles have come and gone since then, none have tasted as sweet as those drinks Ricky illegally bought for us with money we conned out of those suckers.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth, Hungry Darkness, and Zero Saints, which was just released by Broken River Books. His work has appeared in The
New York Times, Verbicide, The Rumpus, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction,
Z Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Word Riot, Entropy, Electric Literature, and a other print and online venues.