Thought I was a donut, you tried to glaze me.
—“Eric B. is President”
I was giving Lisa a ride but she was the one who knew how to get there.
We were going to a college party at St. Peter’s in Jersey City. My friend Dominic Dimaano was spinning.
Lisa had high hair and liked to walk down the street singing 2 Live Crew’s “We Want Some Pussy.” It kind of embarrassed me, but I also liked being around her. The first time I met her, she came out of her shower in a towel and kept me and Dominic waiting for half an hour while she dried her hair. She went to a public high school. I went to an all-boy Catholic school. When we stopped for gas, she asked me to steal her a cigarette, but I didn’t.
I hadn’t known the Filipinos in the party scene until I got my car, a blue and silver used Nissan 280ZX. It was a stick with four on the floor. My dad had taught me how to drive it.
On the drive down 280 I rapped along to Eric B. and Rakim and Lisa said, “That’s cute.”
My sister and I liked to watch Video Music Box on channel 31. She was into A-ha and Duran Duran, but I was all into New Edition’s “Popcorn Love” (“P is for her personality…”) and Whodini’s “One Love” until the night we heard Eric B. and Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke.” In the video Rakim stood on a street, surrounded by people. Wherever it was, I wanted to be there. He was writing his own legend in the song, saying nobody could mess with him. Like—who were the seven MCs?
Rakim was a little guy but he looked regal. He knew how to carry himself. I thought about this whenever I walked into a party and didn’t know if the guys there were going to be potential friends or enemies.
One time I was hanging out at the Dimaanos’ and Dominic flipped a record over and the “Paid in Full” remix was the B-side. “Let’s listen to this,” he said.
Later I danced to the remix in my room, thinking of my own master plan. Where would I go to college next year? Where would I live? Would I still have the same friends, or would I have to make all new ones, so soon after I’d finally found the ones I had?
By the time we parked in the lot at St. Peter’s, there were already lines outside the auditorium. The security guy patted us down. He was Filipino, shorter than me, but beefier. I wore Girbaud jeans that I’d tapered myself, a white Willi Wear shirt buttoned to the top, and suede creepers with a buckle and two-inch soles. I’d put so much Depp in my hair you could smell it.
Inside the party it was dark. I didn’t know who was local and who wasn’t. There was always the threat of a throwdown—last time there were Vietnamese guys rolling up to cars outside and saying, “Fuck Filipinos.” Lisa looked for her friends and I looked for mine, checking out the men to make sure there was no trouble, checking out the women to see who could dance.
I headed for the DJ booth. My friends were there, the Bastos Boy Crew. Dominic; Apolonario Bautista, who we called Jun-Jun, short for Junior; Kelvin Chua; Dominic’s younger brother Dante; and Dante’s girlfriend Dimples Gatchilian—we called them D&D because they were so attached to each other. The Gaon brothers, AJ and Victor, were there, too. All the guys had pompadours.
The Gaon brothers were from Jersey City. I liked how laid-back they were and always got along with them, but my other friends didn’t. We were suburban kids, not from Jersey City. And because we were suburban kids, we had the money to buy equipment and learn how to DJ. That’s how Dominic got the gig at St. Peter’s.
I worked in the Essex Street movie theater after school, cleaning toilets and pumping fake butter onto popcorn. My dad was an engineer. But my friends’ parents were doctors. They lived in Livingston, up the hill. They bought their clothes at Matinique at the Short Hills Mall, not at Marty’s Shoes in Secaucus, where I’d gotten mine. For their seventeenth birthdays they got brand-new cars bought right off the block. Dominic had a Toyota Land Cruiser. Jun-Jun had a white Mitsubishi Stealth. The first question I’d asked him after he got it was, “Is it manual?”
But I had already known the answer. The thing was an automatic.
Last year around this time, I’d just been getting in with the Filipinos. Kelvin had invited me to a party in the city, at NYU, and I didn’t want to go on my own so I took two of my friends from the track team, who were Italian and Black. Dominic and another DJ had a battle and Dominic beat the guy. I wanted to dance, but I didn’t because I didn’t know anyone, and we left early and went and got pizza. After I was in with the Filipinos I didn’t bring my track friends along to parties anymore. I didn’t need to.
I took off my coat and dumped it on a chair. Freestyle was playing. Then LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run DMC.
The drumbeat to “I Know You Got Soul” started up. Rakim went, “Been a long time.” Like he was saying: Where have you been? Now we can dance. This is a song we can dance to.
It was like—reassurement. I was an Asian guy listening to Black music but I had soul. I knew I could dance. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in here.
Years later I’d meet a guy who confessed to stealing stuff at the St. Peter’s parties, just going through the coats when people were dancing and lifting their wallets.
After the party, I carried the crates of records outside and helped load up the van. We went to VIP Diner on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City. Lisa was there, sitting in a booth with Dimples and some of their friends. We ordered veal parm, disco burgers with gravy and cheese, and fries. As the plates made their way from the waitress into the booths, guys would start biting into the burgers and taking fries before it got to whoever ordered it. Lisa found someone to bum a smoke from.
I’d move to Chicago after the end of the school year. The week before I left, I’d be in the city at a party and Dominic would say, “Do you really want to be leaving all this?” I didn’t, but I did.