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St. Croix, Chapter V: Fati’s syringes

rasta

This isn’t Fati Master — I doubt he’s still alive — but the Rasta here is a perfect representation of him. Credit for the image goes to an unnamed blogger at http://blog.allthedumbthings.com.

(Continued from St. Croix, Chapter IV: Getting my feet wet)

 

It was a raucous night in the Moonraker.

A cruise ship had evidently docked for a couple of days in Fredriksted, the city on the western side of the island, and had vomited a stampede of sunbroiled tourists onto St. Croix.  Many had made their way to Christiansted along with a gaggle of early spring breakers fresh from the airport.  As they were probably advised, the mainlanders avoided the more questionable areas of the town in favor of the relative safety of lower King Street, and had piled into my club with the enthusiasm of first-nighters.

It was February of 1995, and I was in the middle of my second stint, a veteran of more than six weeks at the Moonraker.  In many ways, I had morphed into a true islander, if not an honorary one.  My hair was longer than ever and was now halfway down my back.  I was sporting a goatee.  My entire wardrobe consisted of three pairs of Levis cutoffs fringed on the edges by ragged white connective tissue, an assortment of faded T-shirts advertising various beers and liquors, a pair of swim trunks, and three pairs of flip flops.  (I splurged on those.)  My distant native American heritage seemed evident because I was as tan as a dermatologist’s worst nightmare.

I had also become an official Christiansted street urchin.  I knew practically every jewelry store and t-shirt shop owner in town.  The beggars had given up on asking me for quarters because they knew I was the “guitar mon” at the Moonraker, was part of the local economy, and was as poor as they.  (In fact, their street enterprises probably netted twice what I did in a week.)  I could walk through the dangerous streets in the wee hours of the morning unmolested, though I usually carried a beer bottle or an oversized adjustable wrench I’d found in my apartment just for appearances.

I was somewhere in the middle of my second set and it close to midnight — the shank of the evening in a town that was just getting warmed up.  I was playing one upbeat cover tune after another — “Moondance,” “The Joker,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Brown-eyed Girl” — you know, crowd favorites.  One song would lead directly into another as I relentlessly dissuaded the dancers from taking a rest.  The floor was packed, mostly with University of South Carolina students reveling in an early Spring Break schedule.  Now they were trying out their awkward reggae moves as I made my way through my acoustic version of Bob Marley’s anthem, “One Love.”

I didn’t notice him until he was practically on top of me.  It was Fati Master, one of the aptly named street Rastas who frequented the area.  He tended to lurk on street corners at night with his buddies, pushing weed on the spring-breaking college students.  There were several Rastas who I liked immensely and was friends with, but Fati was not one of them.  His condition was perpetually somewhere between bleary and unconscious, and he was humorless to the point of rudeness.  Plus, he never seemed to remember the fact that I wasn’t interested in purchasing his product, which pissed me off.

Rastas rarely entered the Moonraker — they probably hated my music — so it startled me when Fati appeared.  He swayed at the front of the stage, directly before me.  We made eye contact and he drew a fist out of his hoodie pocket and uncurled his fingers.  I expected to see a fat joint, but instead, he brandished three sweaty, uncapped syringes in his cupped hand, inches from my bare, bent knee.  Behind him, the crowd swelled, bumping into each other.  Let’s get together and fee-eeeel alright!

Not unlike the Moonraker that night.

Not unlike the Moonraker that night.

We stared at each other as I sang, Fati moving his lips.  (I’m sure this was the only song in my repertoire he approved of.)  With my eyes, I tried desperately to convey the message, “Get the f–k away from me.”

Fati just smiled with glassy pink eyes.

I looked toward the bar.  Robin was busy mixing drinks.  Curtis, the bar back, wasn’t even visible behind the crowd and wooden pillars.

For the first time in 10 years of playing in clubs, through hundreds of gigs and thousands of drunken fools, I did the unthinkable.  I stopped.  In the middle of a song.

“Quick break, y’all!” I shouted into the mic, and grappled for the CD player beside me that was piped into the house system, starting a song before the crowd could realize something was up.  I dropped my guitar into its stand, stepped off the stage, and grabbed Fati’s bony elbow.

“Let’s go outside,” I said.  “Put your hand back in your pocket.”

We snaked through the humanity, a journey I thought would never end.  Guys high-fived me and called out requests.  A couple of cute coeds flashed their eyes at me — a gesture that would’ve normally proved distracting — but I was undaunted.  I pushed Fati through the crowd, holding the arm attached to his potentially fatal hand tight to his side.  The scenario of him slashing out at the crowd — and me — with dirty needles infected with God know’s what was enough to keep me focused.

We made it out the door and down the steps to the street.  Fati jerked his elbow away from my hand and stumbled, spinning to face me.

“Why you tek me outa der like dat, mon?  I know you gonna buy my sheet now.  Don fokin’ desrespeck me like dat.”

My fear quickly became anger, and I momentarily forgot my sense of good caution.

“Dude, you know I’m trying to make a living here,” I hissed at Fati.  “You disrespect me by bringing that shit into my place of business.  What you do out here is your own affair, but as long as I’m playing the Moonraker, keep you and your stinkin’ needles the hell outta there.”

Fati’s pink eyes stared at me through his dirty dreds.  In that instant, I figured that at 6’5″, I had a distinct reach advantage, not to mention the fact that he was totally shitfaced and I was stone sober.  I calculated that I could take him, provided I could avoid the syringes.

But an illegal grin creased his face, and he turned casually and stumbled away with a faint, “Irie, mon.”  I stood there for a minute more until my knees buckled and I nearly fell.

From that night on, it seemed that I had earned a modicum of street cred with the Rastas, though it could’ve been my imagination.  Fati never hit me up for weed — or anything else — again.

(To be continued.)

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