"Diamonds & Wood" is an ongoing series in which music critic Shea Serrano breaks down the 5 hip-hop tracks you need to hear this week.
In high school, probably around 9th grade, but maybe 10th grade, but more likely 9th grade, we went on this big end of year field trip to Fiesta Texas, a theme park in San Antonio.
The teachers teased us with the trip early on in the year. This is, like, a 17-year-old memory, but I believe the situation was as such: Buses were to be provided and lunch was to be provided. All of the kids in our class that year were invited to go on the trip (to be taken in May), but you weren't allowed to go if you: (A) found yourself in trouble too many times, and/or (B) did not pay the required $25 for your ticket.
Now, the A requirement was difficult, but certainly attainable. I mean, I did plenty of hoodrat shit in high school, but I was thin and smart and had a very difficult time growing facial hair so most of the teachers never even noticed. The B requirement though, that one was more troublesome. The area where I grew up was mostly an impoverished place with impoverished people that had impoverished-y problems. The school, they understood that, so they set up a barter system.
If you helped out with THIS THING before school or attended THAT EVENT after school or participated in THIS CLUB during your free time or went to meetings for THAT COLLEGE PREP COURSE and so on and so on, then each time you did one of those a certain amount of money would be deducted from the $25 total you had to pay. Most students, or most of my friends at least, sidestepped the offer. I knew I'd be able to lean on my mother for the money, that she'd materialize it somehow. I don't even think I thought twice about it. "Nah, I'm cool. My mom'll just pick up an extra shift at the corner store where she works 15 hours a day," I definitely said to someone, I'm sure.
But not Keith Delgado.
Keith Delgado, this straw-thin, half Black, half Mexican kid, he hung around us for two or so years around that time. He was definitely the poorest of us all. I don't think I ever saw him with new clothes or new shoes or new anything, really. His glasses were hand-me-downs and his hair, this thick tuft of mange, was always disorderly and host to no small amount of lint and debris. He looked like if you put a pair of old jeans on a dirty Q-tip.
Keith, he wanted desperately to go to Fiesta Texas. He knew his family would never be able to afford to take him. And he knew better than to ask. So he went to work. He fucking busted his spaced apart butt. He was at every THIS THING and THAT EVENT and THIS CLUB and THAT COLLEGE PREP COURSE that was offered. Minus $1 from his bill and minus $3 from his bill and minus $0.50 from his bill x infinity. He went to every single price-reducing thing he could, until finally, sometime around February, he'd earned his ticket.
It was really something special to see. Keith had never fought for anything, but he fought for Fiesta Texas. We were all openly rooting for him, and genuinely proud and happy for him once he'd secured his spot. I don't think anyone was ever happier about anything in history. It was beautiful.
His mother, his beautiful, wonderful mother, she realized a month or so in what was going on. Moved by his determination, she worked too. She saved quarters and nickels and dimes and anything else she could spare for the months leading up to the trip. Then, the night before, she walked into his room and, per Keith, said something akin to, "Keith, I'm proud of you. I've never seen you work this hard or be this involved in school. I have something for you. I want you to take it." Then she handed him a $20 bill.
Keith, he was glowing when he told us about the exchange the next day. He wouldn't even put the fucking money in his pocket, he grasped it tight in his fist. He was a king in years-old pants. The universe was perfect.
When we got to Fiesta Texas, the very first ride we went to, it was that one that's the swings that go way high up and then start going round and round. Keith, he hesitated at first, but after a minute or so of goading, he agreed to go on. We all waited in line and laughed and talked and made fun of each other. It was pristine. And then it was the worst thing I'd ever seen.
Once we'd been strapped into the seats, they started to go up. Keith, having never been on any sort of similar monstrous contraption, Keith panicked. He couldn't focus. His world was ending. He could think of nothing else, but to grab hold of the chains that were holding his swing up just as tight as he could. And that's when he dropped his $20 bill.
I remember him screaming. I remember him crying. I remember focusing in on the money right as it approached the floor. I FUCKING REMEMBER WATCHING SOME KID PICK IT UP, LOOK UP AT KEITH SCREAMING HIS GODDAMN BALLS ABOUT IT, THEN SPRINT RIGHTTHEFUCK ON AWAY FROM THE SCENE.
It was totally, utterly, humiliatingly heartbreaking. And you know what me and my friends did?
We fucking laughed at Keith. "Hey, Keith. You hungry? Let's stop and get some foo...oh that's right. YOU DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY. AHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA." The whole day. That's what we did.
What a fucking miserable group, we were.
I thought about Keith earlier this week because the summer camp I teach at is doing something similar for our end of summer trip to the water park. If you're out there, Keith, my apologies.
But, I mean, next time put your money in your pocket, bro.
Music to make you feel better about Keith:
1. Maxo Kream, "Lewinsky"
2. Chance the Rapper Freestyles on Sway in the Morning
3. Big K.R.I.T., "KING Pt. 3"
4. Vince Stapes, "Stuck In My Ways"
5. Danny Brown, "Kush Coma," featuring A$AP Rocky and Zelooperz
Shea Serrano is a writer living in Houston, TX. His work has appeared in the Houston Press, LA Weekly, Village Voice, XXL, The Source, Grantland and more. You can follow him on Twitter here.