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I live in South Central Los Angeles and experience an endless cycle of tension, waiting for something bad to happen.
Gunshots ring out at random moments.
Helicopters circle overhead in the dead of night and sometimes during the day.
Police slowly cruise the streets staring out their squad car windows, and they make me feel like a criminal for walking to the store for a quart of milk.
I’m often hassled by hustlers, homeless and con men on my way home from school.
My mom, off on Saturdays from her graveyard shift caring for an elderly man, prays for a better life for her eight children.
At a relatively young age, I roamed the streets.
Not looking for trouble.
Looking for pick up basketball games.
I knew every park in the neighborhood and my cousins and I would shoot hoops until midnight, when the lights went off.
One thing I didn’t do was read. Except when forced to at school.
In elementary school I refused to pick up a book to read for pleasure. Didn’t even understand the concept.
But in middle school a friend starting reading, actually plowing through, Twilight. Instead of talking to me at lunch she’d go off and read, ignoring me and everyone else.
I was jealous, so I found a copy of that thick novel and was hooked from the start. Twilight brought me out of the world of sirens and ambulances and into a fantasy world that transported me into a dreamlike state far away from the dangers right outside my front door.
For years I picked and chose books on my own. A memoir here, a young adult novel there. Later I was attracted to African America writers, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.
And then I fell.
For a man.
Walter Mosley.
He grew up in South Central, same as me.
How effortlessly I could relate to his main character, detective Easy Rawlins, a sharp, clever gatherer of information who knew the streets where I walked. His characters were the characters that I saw at the bus stops, outside liquor stores, shooting hoops at the park.
I connected with Mosley’s prose because he writes the way I speak. He gives voice to the forgotten and ignored people on the street corners where I walk.
Easy Rawlins is a stand-in, a substitute, for the beat cop. He offers those who have very little, a bit of hope. And in some cases, a shot at justice.
Everything Mosley writes about, I feel. It’s as if I am riding along with him in his front seat solving mysteries in my own little part of the world.
How refreshing, how shocking, how eye-opening to discover a writer who was born and raised within a few miles of where I go home to every night; where I curl up in my bed, block out the sounds of the city and disappear into the gorgeous sounds of Walter Mosley’s and my world.