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A Fast Life photo

George Simmons used to sling crack on 42nd St.—why his uptown boys always called him The Midtown Turn. Now he’s 54—and everybody calls him Pop. He’s been running the streets for decades. “The streets is a fast life,” he says. “You can’t beat the streets—the streets beat you.” ■ George has done time at Sing Sing, Comstock, elsewhere. At one point during the early 90s, he was busted with 32 vials—his first offense. He was given six-to-twelve. Could’ve gotten out in six, maybe sooner, but his mother died while he was inside. His nephew, too—flipped off his motorcycle somewhere in Queens. George grew bitter, angry. There were fights, disruptions. “So,” he says, “I lost all my good time.” Months or years off, for good behavior. He ended up doing ten long in Fishkill. ■ Sometime later a young up-and-comer asked George how he’d managed to do so much time. “I told him I had no other eternity, no other way but to do that time.” You mean no other alternative? “Right, no other eternity.” I let it go—I might’ve misheard him. Besides, eternity sounds better. ■ Six-to-twelve seems kind of stiff for a first offense, so I ask about the trial. “It was just like a railroad,” he says. “The only two young people on the jury were alternates.” What about the rest—black, white, mixed, what? “They was all white.” He nods once. “Just like a railroad.” When I ask more about his family, George blinks, gazes over at the cabs racing up Eighth Ave., then tells me how his mom worked surgery for years down at Beth Israel Hospital: anesthesia. “And my Pops, my Pops used to embalm dead bodies.” Really? “Yep. Mortician.” I think of all that morphine, all that embalming fluid. No wonder he ended up The Midtown Turn. George had another nephew, who always wore long sleeves, even on hot days, even at the beach. “Yeah,” George sighs, his tone now a familiar blend of sorrow and affection, “we all liked to make fun of him for that.” I look up at George and nod. We both know why his nephew wore long-sleeved shirts on hot summer days. The kid eventually died of an overdose. His name was Darrel. Darrel with one L. He was twelve years old. The streets is a fast life. Maybe eternity is better…


image: Jamie Alliotts