By Carl L. Clemons (@CarlLClemons)
“Honest people will respect us for our merit; the public, for our luck.”
(Francois Duc DE LA Rochefoucauld 1613-1680, French Writer and Moralist).
Washington Heights is known for many things, depending on whom you are asking. Oft times during casual conversation, when the topic is Washington Heights, the negative depictions will surface of drug dealing and the violence associated with it. Others glorify the hustler and “the lifestyle” without revealing the nefarious, cutthroat, all for self-culture that it is. There are 8 million stories and better in my city; here is one.
Most neighborhoods have their urban legends, bullies, and horror stories. In Washington Heights there are many of these tales, some true, some exaggerated but one story that needs to be shared is the one of Lil Man The Giant. Lil Man in my perception was a “GQ” cool, smooth, dude who was always with his girl, always had a smile on his face or in his eyes and always “showed love”. Lil Man was short in stature but his heart and reputation preceded him. When asked, what would be the one thing he would want people to know about his friend, Psycho from the TC5 crew replied, “Lil Man is charismatic, he has the gift of gab.” So charismatic, recalls Dave, a childhood friend of Lil Man’s “He was down with all the local gangs, even the rival ones, he had beads from every gang, I’ve never seen anything like it.” Despite gang participation, not one person asked about Lil Man had one bad thing to say about him. “We were downtown and I was buying a pair of sneakers and Lil Man said “get them” and all I needed was ten dollars and Lil Man paid the whole price for them” said another childhood friend of Lil Man’s.
The most touching revelation would come from an ex-girlfriend, who had a notorious relationship with Lil Man in the neighborhood. After 25 years, she said “I have nothing bad to say about Lil Man. He was a good man who made a bad decision.” Lil Man and Tati were the talk of the neighborhood for a while, in part cause of Lil Mans notoriety and also, because many said “they looked great together!”
Lil Man’s heart was bigger than New York City.
For those who like to talk about the “best that did it,” in references to the drug game, here is one of the best hearted dudes in Washington Heights and only one of many disheartening tales of good guys who caught bad breaks. He had the cars, jewelry, and the connections that many know come along with the greed, jealousy and hatred that success breeds. At a very young age, his quality of life was affected dramatically by an attempt on his life, where someone he trusted enough to open his apartment door to, shot him in the head. At the time, there were so many rumors in the street as to whether or not Lil Man had survived, who had been responsible and all sorts of false accounts of the tragic events of that fateful day, which altered his life dramatically. Albeit Lil Man received extensive brain damage, he fortunately is still alive today and miraculously still has the ability to smile that big smile everyone knew and loved.
In my experiences with “Street life”, “Hustling” and “The Game” I’ve learned that the real hustler is that guy with two nine to five’s, hustling between the two on a daily basis and still managing to spend quality time with his family and in all of that, caring about and participating in his community with hopes that one day he will not have to worry about his child getting hit by a stray bullet from a so-called hustler who’s only concern is his own selfish desires. Things that sadly continue to happen to our children, on our streets, and in our communities.
If there were to be one thing I wish the reader gained from the life of Lil Man the Giant, is that violence and death are part of the equation when it comes to hustling. To think otherwise is to be a fool playing a deadly game of consequences. From an ex-hustler and so much more; to those who make the choice to partake in the drug game as a means for survival, peer-pressure, or simply because it is exciting and entertaining; there is no love or loyalty and there are few if any long term success stories. The successful hustlers and street people are the ones who changed their game and stopped playing.