Monday, June 15, 2009

Introduction to the Detroit Hustle

Before I moved into the house for unwed teenage moms, I'd lived a pretty sheltered existence. Even though we ate welfare cheese and got free lunch and wore second-hand clothes and lived in a raggedy house, my family was mostly middle class in its values, if not in its outward appearances.

Foster Mama was anything but. She was unabashedly old-school ghetto, the queen of the Detroit hustle:
  • She had two different names and two different ID cards that she used for different purposes.

  • She had a beauty shop in her basement, and you could bet your life she wasn't reporting the income to any government entity in existence.

  • She had an arrangement worked out with a cashier at a local supermarket. The cashier would ring up a small portion of Foster Mama's groceries. Foster Mama would slip her $50 as a bribe and take home most of her shopping cart for free.

  • She kept in touch with someone who worked at a beauty school. He'd leave a stash of stolen hair supplies in a dumpster, and she'd swing by in the evening to pick it up.

  • She knew where to buy food stamps for half their face value from local drug addicts who bought their drugs with their government provisions.

  • She had a business relationship with one of Detroit's biggest drug dealers, an unassuming, unattractive seemingly poor guy – until he pulled a four-inch-thick wad of cash from his sock. He was her loan shark. (And he died a particularly bloody death a few years later – 40-something bullet wounds.)

  • One of Drug Dealer's many side businesses was running Detroit's illegal lottery, where people would pay a nickel, dime or quarter to play the three-digit or four-digit numbers. For a while, Foster Mama was "the house" where people placed their bets, and I was the accountant who used my straight A's in algebra to keep track of the earnings. But Foster Mama even had a hustle on top of this hustle – every so often, but not often enough that Drug Dealer would get suspicious – she arranged for herself and a friend to hit the winning number for $500 and split it 50-50.

  • And my absolute favorite of all her hustles was her booster clothing liquidations. She had a working relationship with boosters, slang for professional shoplifters. They would steal clothes from department stores, and Foster Mama would hold clearance sales in her dining room. The rule was, the consumer paid 1/3 of the ticket price. I went off to college looking real cute in all my 67 percent off stolen outfits.
I wish I could say I disapproved of Foster Mama's scheming, hustling ways, but truthfully, I kind of admired them.

At least until she eventually hustled me, and until I eventually realized that in all of her hustling, she never, ever came out ahead.

But those realizations came years later.

In the short term, I blossomed under her unorthodox and unethical tutelage in a way that I hadn't under my dad's rule.

9 comments:

Lion-ess said...

U have to admire her business skills! She could have taught at any of those business school with her skills... well if her skills were legal, she would have been a professor.

Nana said...

hustla! Damn, this woman could make a dollar out of 10cents. Trouble is, easy money isn't easy after all; it takes away more than you think.I wouldn't trust that woman for the life of me, she sounds shady, like she'd rent her mother if she could make a profit.

Chaotically Calm said...

Boosters, I haven't thought about them in a minute. A couple of my family memebers used to do this but they had a little boutique that they had to stock so I mean could you blame them.

Its sad though when you can't trust the people put in your life to nurture and care for you.

Nelia said...

Her hustle doesn't seem easy to me. All that hustle and nothing to show for it. Nonetheless, her hustle was impressive. Imagine what she could have accomplished if she applied that hustle instinct to an "above board" endeavor.

Are we going to get some details about the blossoming?

DC DIVA DATING ADVENTURES said...

That's Detroit for ya...Some of My fam lived off Jefferson. In the summer when I went to visit my g-ma, I seen a lot of that from her neighbors... I guess it's not really a Detroit thing... it happened in my hometown too... I recall days when my Mom would buy food stamps for half the value, or when a pretend Aunt offered to pay me in "Food Stamps" to babysit...

LOL

Don't Be a Slut said...

Interesting that so many of you pointed out what could have become of her business skills had she been "legit." That's a viewpoint that had never occurred to me.

I also want to say that even though she was "fiscally immoral" and full of shady deals, Foster Mama had a big heart and was a very caring person.

It takes a special kind of person to provide a home for emotionally scarred children year in and year out, especially teenaged mothers. Most people don't have that kind of gumption.

And I think I speak for me and many of the dozens of girls that she helped raise when I say that the good in her far outweighed the bad.

More on that in my next blog post...

mr. nichols said...

straight up hustler is right!

Vitchie said...

That was very funny..

Robin Hood Queen!

Cheron L. Hall said...

Can't knock the hustle...for some of us, that's all we have. I'm from Chicago...(got people in the D we love ya'll in the Chi) anyway...I know many people like her, lol...she was a beast...but most importantly she took care of her foster children. I know people who definitely do not use the funds they receive for their foster children towards them at all...

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