The Bust Down: Loosies

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Loosie [pronounced Lu-See] – noun

A loosie is a single cigarette that can be purchased illegally in some of the bodegas and smoke shops of the neighborhood. But be warned, if the proprietor of the business doesn’t know you or you look like a D.T. (undercover cop), you will not be able to obtain said loosie.

For the most part, a loosie is synonymous with Newports but a few of the smoke shops also offer Marlboros. Back in the day, when I was a kid coming up, loosies were 10 cents. Now that a pack of cigarettes are like a hundred dollars, a loosie can be purchased for the ungodly sum of 75 cents. Some enterprising individuals are buying packs and selling loosies themselves, just to support their habit and make some money on the side.

Another term that is affiliated with a loosie is a bust down. The bust down is when you give someone else the remainder of your cigarette. The way it works is that as soon as someone you know sees you with a loosie, they will shout out – ” let me get a bust down”. But, now that a loosie costs 75 cents folks are much more reluctant to give bust downs. In fact, people are actually smoking their loosies all the way down to Brownsville, which is the very end of the loosie where the tobacco meets the filter.

Related Words: Loose, Stogie, Cancer Stick

Loosie in a Sentence:

A young man walks into a smoke shop after a long day of work and shouts at the Arab man behind the counter, “Yo Habib, let me get a loosie.”

Dominoes = Dominican Chess

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

If baseball is Dominican’s favorite sport then dominoes is our favorite pastime. In the DR everybody, from the youngest to the oldest, male and female alike, spends countless hours playing dominoes. I like to joke that kids here in the U.S. grow up with an X-Box and kids in DR have a box of dominoes. It is that ingrained in the culture, so it is only natural that the love of the game has continued on American shores. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom and dad playing dominoes with friends and family. Before I could even hold all the fichas (domino pieces) in my hand, I was joining along.

To even use the word “playing” might be considered by some die-hard aficionados as sacrilegious because to them dominoes is not a game – it is more like a science. Dominoes is Dominican Chess. That is how serious some folks take it. To watch a game of good players is to observe a highly sophisticated and synchronized contest of wills and intelligence. Never mind the animated banter, insults and biting humor, these people are really in deep concentration with a laser like focus on the game. The barbs and talk is more of a ruse than anything, another way to keep your opponent off-track. Great players think several plays ahead. They know what each player has in their hands without looking.

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The Magnificent Mangu

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

MANGU! The very word makes me and countless other Quisqueyanos salivate. For those that don’t know, mangu is the Dominican breakfast par excellence. Mangu is basically boiled, mashed green plantains with olive oil and a few others ingredients but that description doesn’t properly convey the magic of this staple of Dominican cuisine. Pair the mangu with fried cheese, eggs and Dominican Salami (AKA Los Tres Golpes) and you have a meal that is simple yet sublime. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the vinegar soaked cooked onions that elevate the mangu to a work of gastronomic art.

I find it hilarious that Mangu Y Los Tres Golpes sounds like an awesome name for a band. By the way, there is a forth, less respected member of that group which is longaniza (Dominican sausage). I would also like to mention that some folks enjoy a mangu made from ripe yellow plantains but I do not count myself as part of that contingent. I like my mangu from green plantains strictly. I guess you can call me a traditionalist.

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I Love Platanos!

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

This poem was conceived while I was at a resort in the Dominican Republic a few years ago, feverishly fiending for some Dominican food. It is only so much “international food” one can eat, especially when you are on Dominican soil.

It is a bit over the top with Shakespearian overtones but that is how I felt at the time.

I Love Platanos – An Ode to Platanos

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
You are forever welcome at every Dominican table whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, entrée or dessert
You delight in all your incarnations; maduros, tostones, asado, mangu or mofongo
Can’t forget the pastellon or the platano con azucar or any of your many variations
I even had a fresh off the boat cousin who made Platano juice,
Umm umm umm, Delicioso
Your versatility never ceases to amaze

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
You are the constant companion, the faithful friend of all Dominicans
Without you, rice, beans & meat is just rice, beans & meat
Who would eat Salchichon without your accompaniment?
You are the muse of all Dominicans mothers

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
Woe be to those who refer to you as green Bananas
That borders on being racist
Bananas are bananas and platanos are platanos
I’m also not too fond of the term Plantain
Words tend to lose meaning when they become anglicized

Long Live Platanos!!!

I Love Platanos is an excerpt from my upcoming book, DR Travelogue.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at ledblackNYC@gmail.com

The Led Black Book Club – When Tito Loved Clara

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Even though I am a voracious reader, I don’t usually read fiction but when I found out that our beloved Inwood, New York City was one of the settings where Jon Michaud’s first novel When Tito Loved Clara takes place, my interest was piqued. Right from the first paragraph I was hooked. By the time I finished the first chapter I knew that I would not really rest until this fascinating and titillating novel was consumed whole. Warning: This book is crack-like addictive. Jon Michaud is a masterful storyteller who reels you in by dropping a bomb on you out of nowhere and then slowly and painstakingly filling in the details. I found myself not being able to put this book down, when I was wasn’t reading it, I was extolling its virtues to anyone that would listen.

Here is the breakdown: Clara Lugo is a Dominican woman who grew up in the hood but does not want to be held back by it. She is firm in her determination to escape her past and by the time we catch up with her; she has moved to New Jersey and is married to an American man, Thomas, who she has a son with and is struggling to conceive another child. By the way, Thomas has a few skeletons in his closet as well.

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Uptown Gem – The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Center

Words by Led Black (@Led_Black)

Photography by Jay Franco (@_jayfranco)

Video by Amanda Hiciano (@_IamNYC)

Malcolm X changed my life. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley literally put the Black in Led Black. The book which has sold untold millions of copies and influenced everyone from Huey P. Newton, to Spike Lee, to Public Enemy, among many others, seemed to materialize out of nowhere at a crucial point in my development as a person and as a thinker. It was during my years in the Bronx High School of Science that the book found its way into my life and thank god that it did.

Coming from P.S. 143 in Washington Heights, I didn’t know I was poor until I attended Bronx Science. Being that I was the only one from my junior high that year to make it to the prestigious public high school, I virtually had no choice but to make the trek everyday from the hood to Bronx Science. All of sudden I was attending school with kids whose backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses were vastly different from mine. Culture shock was an understatement, which resulted in some existential angst and serious soul searching on my part. I felt adrift and ensnared in a downward spiral of resentment and alienation.

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I Love The Shabazz Center!

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

This past weekend, I had the honor of moderating a panel on marketing at a place that is very close to my heart, the Shabazz Center. It is the place where the iconic Malcolm X was slain but conversely it is the place were his legacy lives. To be moderating a panel in that sacred space, hallowed ground if you will, with all those amazing pictures and paintings of that larger than life giant was for me a very solemn and special moment. Thanks go out to NoMAA for choosing me to moderate that panel and to the esteemed panelists.

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The Infamous Washington Heights Nutcracker

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

If you know where to go uptown, you can get totally shit-faced for a mere $10. I’m not talking about happy hour at any of the many excellent bars, pubs and lounges of the neighborhood. No, I am talking about the elusive and enigmatic elixir known to the locals as the NUTCRACKER. This is the story of this storied concoction. Many fights have started, many babies have been made and plenty of people have gotten completely and utterly twisted – all because of this mysterious libation. This column will not only reveal the ingredients of the drink but also tell the tale of the person who first brought this potent potion to the streets of Washington Heights and beyond.

Photo: Briana E. Heard

The first time I tried a Nutcracker was back in the year 2000 when my barber, who will be referred to as Fatyul (pronounced fa tuile) to avoid any legal ramifications, offered me one as she cut my hair. Ever the entrepreneur, Fatyul decided to sell the mixed drinks on the side after noticing how well they sold at the Flor de Mayo restaurant on 83rd street and Amsterdam. After obtaining the recipe she began to sell them out of a cooler she kept next to her barber chair. For a paltry 10 bucks you received a heaping 32 ounces of alcohol laced goodness in a large plastic soup container. My haircut that day took longer than usual because almost every other minute someone was stopping in to buy more of her modern day moonshine. I couldn’t care less though as I was mid way through my Nutcracker and I was feeling euphoric. I ended up having 2 more Nutcrackers and needless to say I wound up whispering sweet nothings to the toilet bowl later on that night.

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The Uptown Driving Manual: Part 1 – Get Your Mind Right

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Photo: Paul Lomax

This is written for anyone who has either never driven Uptown or those who have but didn’t make out too well. You have to understand; driving Uptown takes a whole different mindset. Whether you’re coming from New Jersey, the Bronx or even other parts of Manhattan, realize that once you enter Uptown territory, using whatever bridge, highway, street or avenue that got you here, you better have your A game, if not, it won’t be pretty. It’s not just the locals and cab drivers you have to watch out for but basically everyone on the road. The UPS dudes, the city bus drivers and even the ice cream truck drivers, all those people drive like maniacs.

The first thing you must do, and this is an important step, as bizarre as it may sound, is get your hands on some really hard, gutter Hip-Hop. Someone like Young Jeezy or Uncle Murder (you have to be gutter if your name is Uncle Murder) comes to mind. Believe me, even if you don’t like Hip-hop, the testosterone-laced music will put you in the right frame of mind to drive Uptown. Make sure you get the explicit version, you’re going to need all the curse words you can get to fuel the necessary fire to traverse the neighborhood. Make sure you put it crazy loud, as in the famous words of my dad, “a to le que da”. Seasoned Uptown drivers can skip the Hip-Hop tunes altogether. A dude like myself, could drive with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony playing whisper low and still handle things. But I digress.

The next step, and again, this is a big one, as it is a philosophical adjustment, is realize that you’re Uptown. You have left wherever you have come from and have entered uncharted territory. The comfort and solace provided by rules, regulations and niceties are in the rear view mirror, so its time to man up. The driving rules that exist in other places simply are not in effect here. Red lights, stop signs, one-way streets, anything and everything is up for interpretation. Shoo, up here, turn signals are for woosies. This is a place, where there is such a thing as a good triple parking. With this handy manual and a little chutzpah, you should be on your way. More to follow…..

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at ledblackNYC@gmail.com

El Pale Part 1 – Los Sueños

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

If you don’t know what a Pale (pronounced pa le) is, chances are, that you are not Dominican. A Pale is any combination of 2 numbers that a person chooses as their pick for the Dominican lottery. Typically, depending on where you play your numbers, each Pale pays $1,100 for each dollar a person plays. So if your Pale were to hit and you bet 5 dollars you would win $5,500. The Dominican Lottery’s range of numbers is from 1 to a 100 as opposed to let’s say the Mega Millions, which is from 1 to 46. Back in the day in the 80’s, Dominicans in New York City only bet on the Dominican lottery on Sundays. Now a person can play their numbers, if they know where to go, any day of the week.

Another thing that has changed with the Dominican numbers game since I was growing up, is that is has pretty much been driven underground. Literally – one of the places that I have played my numbers was a basement that you had to go through a nasty urine smelling alley to get to. Not too long ago, one was able to play their numbers in anyone of the many bodegas that somehow exist in the Heights. Believe me, that’s a whole lot of bodegas. There are about 3 bodegas on each block in the hood. That is no longer the case; constant police harassment has sent the Dominican numbers game, better known as Los Numeros, in the Heights to less conspicuous places. Word of mouth is usually the way a person finds out where they can place their bet. It is usually in the back of a legitimate business, a bakery, a salon or a barbershop. In the corner of said business, there will be an older, sharply dressed Dominican man with a beret on his head (Dominicans called these hats boinas) and a toothpick in his mouth. That’s the numbers man.

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