Tuesday, September 25, 2012

68th and Chappel, 1989 - Part 1

There was an alley behind my apartment where all the kids of the neighborhood hung out, it being the middle of summer vacation from the brown ridiculous schoolyards and absurd yellow buses. Streetside daycare was the way of the neighborhood, single parents sleeping off their dead end jobs and getting the kids out of the bedroom, “Don’t make so much noise, momma’s got to sleep, go outside, there’s a package of hot dogs in the refrigerator and I’ll bring you over to your auntie’s tonight”.

The kids who had parents on the day shift, or even two of the them, would go to the windows, opening them up to the air, no one on the South Side has air conditioning, watching the games in the alley and yelling down to their friends the latest alley gossip, hanging out of the window until an unseen voice would yell from the kitchen, “SilkieRaquel, you come in here right now, I don’t want you hanging out that window no more. Come on!”.

Little girls in pigtails and bright summer skirts would double dutch, and a crowd of waiters and hangers on would watch, waiting their turn and secretly hoping she messed up soon. Two mothers out on a back porch, drinking coffee and smoking Newports saying “Shit girl, when I was young I could do that all day long, jumping and double dutching, now I get tired just going up the stairs” “Oh I hear you sister”.

The younger boys would play some game whose rules were always amorphous but seemed to consist of running around screaming and pointing phallic objects at each other, with plenty of dramatic death-throes. The older boys would play stickball in the abandoned lot until they lost the tennis ball or broke the broom handle down so that they couldn’t use it any more, then they would stand around and mutter and throw stones and eventually disperse and then the younger boys would sneak in and collect the pieces to integrate them into their own new game. “Pow – you’re dead.”

The older boys would sit around and watch, in their slick Converse sweatsuits, the price tags still hanging on them, baseball hats broke left or right, Brothers or Folks, this was Terror Town. Sometimes, a legendary homeboy of the neighborhood would come by, in a Cadillac or just walking, a lot of gold but basically the same uniform without price tags, back to catch up on things or a cousin; “You seen Christmas? He stay with his auntie, you know, Chuck Christmas, he hoops over Stony Island.”

If those were the heroes, the God was Luster. Luster had a garden apartment in one of the buildings on the front of the alley. I think he was supposed to be a janitor or caretaker, but I never saw him do anything , just sit there on the moldy couch in that garden apartment in his undershirt watching tv with a big floor fan going, smoking Kools and leaving them, still burning, the heaped ashtray that I never saw empty.

To the kids he sold icycups, the summer treat of choice in the neighborhood, twenty five cents for a Styrofoam cup filled with frozen Kool-Aid and a stick stuck in it. He also sold Milky Ways and Almond Joys for thirty cents; he bought them by the case and undersold the drugstores. The kids would pester their mother or sibling in charge for a quarter “Wanna get an icycup”, or they would look in the already scoured lot for the small change, chump change that the Brothers and Folks so despised, tossing it away in imitation of their idols, the Rangers, who never carried around anything smaller than a fifty.

As soon as the kids got the money inside their tiny, clenched, fists, they would run all the way down to Luster’s. One of the little girls, she loved money the way cats love catnip, screaming “Money money money, I love money”, kissing it and rubbing it on her skin, squealing in ecstasy “money money money I goin get me an icycup an icycup and a Snickers, no I get me an Almond Joy an Almond Joy and an icycup”.

To the older kids Luster sold dust and buds and wicket, the marijuana coming in little manila envelopes that came from the post office stamp machine, dime or nickel bags, sometimes dust would wind up with the buds, hear kids screaming in the middle of the night “the bugs the bugs I got the bugs”. Luster’s apartment was truce territory between Brothers and Folks, they would just look at each other, with their arms crossed just like Chuck D.

For everyone else, Luster sold crack and horse, still never getting up from that moldy couch. Some of the younger brother dealt the shit down at the basketball courts, and after eight when the games broke up the park would be filled with kids shooting up or lighting the wick of a crack pipe. The cops never went down to the park, don’t fuck with the niggers on their own turf, just keep your head down and do your job, the cycle of shit made real every day

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