I didn't really want to work that summer. I was sixteen, and I wanted to hang out with my band and wail on my sax. Maybe if I was lucky, I'd talk my friend Fats Waller into listening to us. Fats played awesome piano and had even made some records.
But when my folks lost the land they had down South, my mother decided that since I was sisxteen, I needed a job. I ended up working for The Crisis, a magazine run by the NAACP, about the New Negro, the top ten percent of the race that was gonna lead the rest of us to success. It sounded pretty good, but I figured I had a lot better chance of making money by following Fats than some New Negro.
But it wasn't too bad. I got to meet a lot of writers and poets like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Most of the folks at The Crisis were kind of strange, but in a good way. I was liking it pretty well when the world up and crashed in on me.
You see, earlier in the summer, me and my friend Henry did a little loading and unloading job for Fats and one of his friends. He paid us $5 each, so we knew it was something at least a little illegal. What we didn't know till afterwards was that we'd been loading and unloading illegal booze that belonged to Dutch Schultz, one of the biggest hoodlums in Harlem. And when Fats's friend ran off with the whole truckload, worth $1,000, Dutch came after us. Where were we gonna come up with $1,000 when I wasn't making even $15 a week? Henry and I didn't know what Dutch said to Fats, but we sure knew what he said to us!
How can I even think about being a New Negro when Dutch is threatening to end my life if I don't pay up fast?