|My house on left. Dispensary is now an empty lot.|
We were sitting around telling lies and drinking wine after dinner in my next door neighbor, author Steve Cannon’s house when the front windows started glowing red. Then there were cop sirens and fire engine sirens so I went out on E. 3rd street to see what was going on. “Some little yellow Datsun is on fire,” I said.
“Omigod,” Christopher said, “that’s our car.” So we all went out on the street.
I have no idea when the gang showed up on our block. One day they were there. It was a peaceful block. People sat on the front steps of the old brownstones in the evening, drinking beer and looking out for each others kids. Blacks tended to live on the west end of the block that ran between Avenue C & D. Puerto Ricans on east end. They didn’t mix much, but they didn’t fight either. We were among the very few palefaces scattered up and down the block.
One hot summer day Jo-Don, a big black kid used to run circles around me on the basketball court, was walking up the middle of the street with a six pack of Ballentine Ale under his arm, singing, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, Sunshine on my penis makes me sad.” He sat down on the stoop to share a beer, talk about this girl he was seeing over on Second Avenue.
Another morning my old ‘53 Chevrolet would not start. Nothing. So I looked under the hood to find the battery was gone. Which made me mad not just because it was stolen, but also, it was so stupid. Who could ever use a 6 volt battery? The hood was still up when Cat Eyes came up.
He was a beautiful cinnamon color with green eyes. “Dude stole your battery,” he said.
“Yeah well he wasn’t from around here so we stopped him. I said dude that owns this car is OK. He lives here. We got your battery in the alley. I'll go get it."
So we got along with the gang of about 25 kids, the oldest in his mid twenties, OK. They lived in the abandoned apartment building down the block, we lived in our half of a 1820s brownstone.
Out on the street, it turned out that it wasn’t Christopher’s car after all. One of the gang kids was talking to a cop. When he was done, Chuleta, the little scrawny 14 year old leader of the gang put his arm around the bigger, older kid. “You don’t want to talk to cops ‘cause then they gonna think we know somethin.’ Dig?”
You have to wonder where Chuleta (Pork Chop) is now. He was a 14 year old genius running a gang of 20 mostly homeless kids on the force of his will and brainpower and he was sniffing glue. “Chuleta,” I told him, “you’re gonna have no brain if you keep sniffing.”
“Yeah,” he said. “ So fuck off. It’s my brain.”