“Palmolive” by Freddie Gibbs featuring Killer Mike and Pusha T puts me into a zone. It’s easy to get caught up in the perfect vibe as the emcees to wax poetic about their past pursuits to make money over super producer Madlib’s sampled-soundbed, “Cry of a Dreamer” by the Sylvers.
The lyrics sound like the cries of a dreamer and why I relate to the record. I’ve never made dope money. In college, my roommate Devin and I considered selling weed to pay rent. We had a three-bedroom townhouse and our third roommate backed out after our parents signed the lease. My dad spent over two weeks in Atlanta: he looked for apartments off-campus; flew from Atlanta to Akron, OH to buy a car for me to drive in Atlanta, drove the car to New York, and then the two of us drove from New York to Atlanta. School began and, my dad had already done more than enough.
Our parents split the difference for two months. We were told “Look, we love y’all…but if you don’t find a roommate by the end of November, y’all gotta cover the third roommate’s rent.” One evening, the Devin and I sat in our thrift-store-furnished living room and had that talk. We never told anyone about the executive decision we went on to veto. However, we would both smile at the Jeezy line from “Go Crazy:” It’s kinda hard being drug-free/ When Georgia Power don’t give a nigga lights free/” It was a mutual understanding of the decision-risk-we deliberated. 15 years later, it is hilarious to picture Devin and I selling weed.
Salvation came in the form of our friend, Walter, who needed a place to stay overnight. He was about to obtain dual master’s degrees at Morehouse School of Medicine and The Interdenominational Theological Center (two of the six schools that made up the Atlanta University Center), and lived in Austell, which was a 20 minute ride away. When Walter mentioned it, Devin and I told him to stay with us. We knew we had to sell the idea of a permanent roommate and it worked.
815 Magnolia Way, Magnolia Park Apartments. We lived in the hood. I think our second next-door neighbor was killed; he moved in around November and a month later, family cleaned out the apartment, and “RIP” to someone was written in shoe polish of their car. We knew quite a few people who were robbed in Magnolia. A car chase with the police ended with a thud in front of our house; a high speed chase came to a dramatic end when the getaway car crashed into a tree (clearly he got arrested and the crazy thing is the car didn’t put a dent in the tree but the car was totaled). We have heard gun fights that sound like action flicks blocks away from our complex. I almost got arrested by police, as I sat on my front stoop and two white officers told me I “fit the description” of a robbery in the area. For my cinephiles unfamiliar with Atlanta, the movie Snow On Tha Bluff, was our neighborhood.
We had our share of disagreements; but I can’t recall a time we fought. Maybe that’s because Walter was 31 and wouldn’t entertain doing so a 20 and 21-year-old; in my thirties, I’d be damned if I did. We got along very well. Many nights, conversations would go from male foolishness to our relationships with Jesus.
About a year and a half later, our three became four when Timile moved in. She suffered from depression and her dorm room triggered severe panic attacks. Adequate sunlight kept both her anxiety and depression at bay, so Devin and Walter accommodated. I think we all needed and benefitted from her feminine presence; we needed it.
I’m not quite sure how or why in this current moment, this particular song prompted this story. While I can’t relate to anything Pusha T said, I felt it. I close my eyes and I think of the 20-year-old kid who took a series of risks to become the 34-year-old man who wrote these words down. In presence alone, Walter gave me a glimpse into what life looked like North of Thirty. Devin was my partner-in-crime as we figured manhood through trial and lots off error-turned-good times. I owe a lot to my two friends.
In 2018, I gave Cydney a tour of my former life in Atlanta. We were in town to celebrate her mother’s 10-year reunion at Spelman College. I felt Cydney needed this experience to give context to who her mother and I were. As I showed her around each of the six schools that make up the AUC, I saw flashes of friends and experiences I hadn’t seemed to revisit since I left more than a decade prior.
I drove across the street and ventured into Magnolia Park Apartments for the first time since 2007. I drove past my old apartment and told Cydney “This was my first place. Me, my old roommates Devin and Walter, and your mom used to live here.” I parked for 30 seconds to snap a couple of pictures. Magnolia hadn’t changed at all; so much, I knew it was the same generator outside of our front stoop from when I lived there.
Cydney thought the experience was cool; but I did it for me as well. I needed a reminder of the kid from New York, who moved to Atlanta to figure life out, and returned home to become a father.