my ratchet experience


“This place is ratchet”. It had been three weeks, six days and seventeen hours since I had moved into my new apartment. After I rushed back to New York to bring some sanity and stability in my life, there was nothing I was more proud or excited about than my new place. I had lost sleep imagining the decorations, how the colors would look next to each other. I would daydream about doing simple things like making myself a cup of coffee in the morning and reading in the evenings.

I had been flirting with this guy on and off for the past two years. He found me on the Q train, eating raspberries I got from the Whole Foods in Union Square. I don’t imagine what I was doing there. Probably grabbing a snack after hanging out at Strand (the bookstore). I had a long cape-like jacket on that day. I rushed down the stairs fast enough that the cape rose to the height of the stair railing which by chance, romantically graced the top of his hand.

His name was Adam and he was Jewish. I knew it because he told me in the first three minutes, and then each minute following after. He was with his friend and there we awkwardly stood, swaying slightly on the Q train. He was in business. I was in business. He asked me questions about tech. I knew the answers about tech. He was impressed. I was bored and I’m not going to lie…a little impressed. He gave me his card. I texted him the day after. He took me out to see the Steve Jobs movie the next week. 

In good old New York fashion we bickered and flirt at the same time. We argued about tech companies, stocks, anything. He said the word “bitcoin” a million fucking times but, I liked the aggression. Nothing like an angry New Yorker to argue with on a Saturday night. We went home on the Q. He got off on his stop. I got off on mine. I didn’t see him for another two years but he would like my pictures and send me stock advice here and there. You know how social media never keeps the boys away. 

After I came back to New York the second time, I was ready to spend more time with him, you know, see what this guy was about. The first guest to come into my house. I had warned him that all my art and some small furniture had not arrived yet. My hair was curly and my shorts were, um, short. “Just be comfortable when I get there.” He texted “No lipstick. Nothing fancy, just be you.” We had gone on two to three dates a few weeks before and I was ready to hang out at the house. He’s a tea snob, so I offered to make him tea. You know—so we could argue about that.

“This place is ratchet.” He walks in out of breathe from the stairs, two wine bottles in his hand.  Hurt, I tried to laugh it off.

“I love my apartment, okay? I’ve been spending so much time decorating it.” He repeated himself as he looked around.

“This is a Brooklyn ass apartment!” the "B" in Brooklyn was emphasized. I tried to take it nicely, but it seemed like he meant it in a mean way. I know it’s a Brooklyn ass apartment. There’s a sloppy paint strokes over the window seals and door knobs. The space between the counter and the oven is mysterious and dark. I don’t want to look down there. The walls look like they’ve been painted about 10,000 times.

To me, all these careless, used aspects of the place were comforting. I grew up with closet doors old enough that the locks didn’t latch and radiators that stained the floor. This was home. “I thought you would be living in a nicer place than this.” He said as he gave me a kiss on the cheek. 

If I had a penis, it would be soft and cold at this point. The arguing and sharp jabs were hot walking down 2nd ave or even under the unflattering light of the Q train but we were in my house now and I was beginning to get pissed. This guy, a year younger than me, I think was nervous. He struggled to talk about anything without a hint of middle school sass. I tried to gulp down the wine as fast as I could. At least he was cute, really cute. He had a dark brown beard. Long eyelashes. And even though they were small, protruding lips. I was waiting for him to sit closer to me. Stop talking.

He was trying to be calculative. He didn’t want to make a move right away. That’s fine. He eventually came over and put is hand in my hair. “Your hair is ratchet. When did you make it curly? Didn’t it used to be straight?”.

I almost wanted to check his bag. This had to be some type of joke. He had to have read some kind of manual on the exact things you are not supposed to say to a black woman— like ever. He was reciting the top five taboos of black girlness almost verbatim and I didn’t know what to do. Do I take a jab at his Jewness? That didn't seem right. Do I mention the fact that we only met at my apartment because he still lives with his momma? I wasn’t trying to go there tonight.

“Okay.” I put the wine down. “What does ‘ratchet’ even mean to you?” I had to ask. 

“You know, like fun! Like, colorful lipstick, stripper clothes. Fun things. Fun things are ratchet.”

I suddenly saw how so much of what was going was a loss in translation. See, to me, ratchet is usually a diss unless coming from a fellow girlfriend. Ratchet is a ghetto bitch on the train. Ratchet is posting a picture of you and your boyfriend tongue kissing on Instagram. Ratchet is well— it is stripper clothes. In a way he was right but to him, stripper clothes were “fun” and to me, stripper clothes were—ratchet.

He saw my hair as “fun” , my apartment as “fun”. Like ha ha ha. This is a fun way to go about life. This is something different, something adventurous, oh, la la. Experimental. Yeah. I guess to him I was. Luckily, I was ratchet enough not to hit him upside his head. 

As the alcohol sunk deeper, we turned the night into a little party, playing music which even though our definitions were different, still fit our description of ratchet. We danced. We laughed. He called me beautiful, well actually no, he called me “bad”. The next morning he texted me “Did you have fun last night?” “Yes Adam, it was ratchet.” 

Alex Wolf