Thursday, June 09, 2011

The King of the Woods-A Novel By Der Kosmonaut Part 1

The King of The Woods
A novel by Der Kosmonaut

Part 1
  It was May 1986 when I first met the King of the Woods. Ed Koch was beginning his third and what would be his last term as Mayor of New York City. It would prove to be the most tumultuous period of his mayoralty. The New York Mets baseball club had their best start in franchise history. Mario Cuomo was in the last year of his first term as Governor of New York State. Ronald Regan was midway into his second and final mandate as President of the United States.
  I was 14 years old and had become a member of my mother’s Episcopal Church in Lower Manhattan. At the end of May, I was to be confirmed into the church. I had to take weekly Confirmation classes to learn about the history of the Christian Church as well as the philosophical theology of Anglican Protestantism. It was here when I first met the King of the Woods.
  The first day of confirmation class a rather ugly looking boy arrived. He was a short, fat and burly dark skinned boy. He sported what had become fashionable among Black males of the mid 1980’s; the flat top hair cut. The first thought that came to my mind was that a Black Frankenstein had arrived to class. The King of the Woods was greeted by the vicar of the parish the Reverend Tee Alexander. The King of the Woods returned the vicar’s greeting with a loud booming voice.
“HELLO TEE!”
  His voice was so loud that I had to turn around to see who was speaking so loud. His loud booming voice added to his overall ugliness. Yet at the same time, there was something about the King of the Woods which fascinated me. I had always been drawn to the weird and unusual. Despite my first impression of him as ugly and unsightly, he seemed to be most interesting.
  We were the only 2 Blacks in the confirmation class. The Episcopal Church in the United States was an overwhelmingly white church. In the Parish of St. George there were only about 7 Black families out of a total membership of about 500. Most of us were Upper Middle Class Blacks from Manhattan. The Black adult members were all professionals in middle management positions such as my mother. Most Black Episcopalians in the United States had long roots in the Northeastern United States or had West Indian ancestry. The West Indians were members of the Anglican Church. When they migrated to the US they joined the American Episcopalian Church. It had been widely noted that Black Episcopalians were BASP or Black Anglo Saxon Protestants. I will not deny it. We were just like the WASPS in every way. Upper Middle Class, university educated, professional and conservative. The only difference between us and the WASPS was skin color. Other than that, there was no difference between the Black and white members of the church.
  After the first confirmation class ended I introduced myself to the King of the Woods.
“Hey! My name is Kevin. What’s yours?”
“My name is King.”
“King?”
“Yes King.”
“King of what?”
“King of the Woods.”
I couldn’t help but to laugh.
“King of the Woods!” I started to joke. “You must be the King of the Don!” I started to laugh.
“No. That’s my name. King of the Woods.”
  I came from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I had attended public school there. Boys from the Upper West Side were a snarky, sarcastic and rambunctious lot. We were rebellious and never hesitated to make fun of anyone. King’s ugly looks and dreadful hair style was too tempting not to poke fun at. Moreover, King’s flat top was very nappy and not well combed or groomed.
“King, where the fuck did you get your hair cut? It looks awful! You look like fucking Frankenstein!”
“NO, I DON’T LOOK LIKE FRANKENSTEIN: I LOOK LIKE CARL LEWIS!” King replied.
   Carl Lewis was the famous Olympic athlete who had broken world records in sprinting during the 1984 Summer Olympics. That was too much for me to take seriously. I laughed.
“Carl Lewis my ass! You look like Frankenstein!”
“CARL LEWIS!” King shot back.
“Frankenstein!” I insisted.
“CARL LEWIS!”
“FRANKENSTEIN!” I shouted back
“CARL LEWIS!” King of the Woods insisted.
“Frankenstein!” I wouldn’t budge.
We went back and forth.
  King lived down near Cooper Square with his mother and sister. He lived on the corner of 4th Avenue and 11th Street. His apartment was adjacent to The Ritz. King was one year older than me but we were in the same school grade. We were both finishing the 8th Grade. The following term we would both begin High School. King told me that he had been left back one year in school. I tried to ask him why but he didn’t want to talk about it. The fact that he had been left back a year in school made me lose even more respect for him. In my family, school and education was the top priority. My family would drive me insane with worry and fear. The worst thing that could possibly happen was to have to repeat the same Grade for another year. It was also a very effective threat that teachers and principals would use to keep students in order. Indeed, the final day of school was always looked forward to with both trepidation and happiness. We were happy to end the year but the most important thing for us was the bottom of the report card. Would be move on to the next grade or were we to be left behind? I already had two classmates who had been left behind. In my 8th grade class, there was a boy who was 15. He had been left back twice. At the end of 3rd grade, one of my classmates had been left back as well. So King’s announcement that he had been left back made a bad impression on me.
  Though King lived in The Village he attended prep-schools on the Upper West Side. He attended McBurney School. I went to I.S. 44 which was a public school on West 77th Street. McBurney was on West 74th Street. We attended schools three blocks from each other but we inhabited completely different worlds. From 3rd to 8th Grades I went to Public School. Public School students hated private school kids. Students from I.S. 44 used to beat up private school kids. Our favorite school to attack was Collegiate which was located on 77th and West End Avenue. Every Halloween, we from I.S. 44 would throw eggs and rocks at the Collegiate Prep kids. We tormented Collegiate to the point that the school would every Halloween dismiss it students at Noon. However, those of us who had our lunch period around that time would still find time to harass the preppies.
  I.S. 44 was synonmous with terror among the 4th to 8 Graders on the Upper West Side in the blocks of the 70’s. The elementary school kids at P.S. 87 across the street were afraid of us. All of the private school kids lived in mortal fear of us. However, there was only one school which all of us feared which excelled I.S. 44 in violence and fear. That was Martin Luther King, Jr. High School. All the students at Martin Luther King were older and most of them were not from the Upper West Side. Martin Luther King was practically an all-Black school with most of the students from Uptown and The Bronx. By comparison, I.S. 44 was a racially mixed school with most of the students from the Upper West Side. Despite the reputation for being rough and for fights, I.S. 44 was actually a good school. Kids are at their roughest those years by nature. I was well liked and had many friends. Though I had my share of fights, I could hold my own.
  Most of my classmates were going to Public High Schools. I was among the smartest of my class. I was to start Stuyvesant High School the next year. Being an Upper Middle Class Black Anglo Saxon Protestant I had all of the arrogance and pretentious airs that’s an unfortunate characteristic of that class. Add to it, that I was from the Upper West Side made it all the worse. I had to go to the best schools. I wanted to go to Stuyvesant and then go on to Harvard.
  The King of the Woods wanted to stay in McBurney but that was not possible. Many of the old elite Prep Schools of Manhattan were closing down due to lack of money. Many of the old alumni had died and the endowment funds were in the red. McBurney was closing down. King was to start his High School years at Baldwin Prep also on the Upper West Side.
  I do not understand why I decided to go to Church and become a Christian. I never really believed in God. Though my mother was somewhat religious she never insisted that I went to Church. She would take me when I was about 5 and 6 years old but I was too obnoxious and mis-behaved that she kept me home. She would drag me along to Easter and Christmas services once in a while but always plead with me to be on my best behavior. My father was also religious but he rarely attended church. My father was Presbyterian. However, I never re-called him going to church at all. In fact, I only saw him attend Church twice. The first was during my baptism the year before and then later to my confirmation.
  My mother wanted me to be baptized before I turned 13. She had a strange religious mixture. Her father was Episcopalian but her mother was Baptist. The Baptists believed that people should be baptized by the age of 12 or else they faced the risk of going to Hell if they died without being baptized. My mother asked me if I wanted to be baptized. I agreed only because I didn’t think it would come to anything. A year later, my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to get confirmed into the Episcopalian church. Again I didn’t object. I guess that I went through with it out of boredom more than religious conviction. I also wanted to make my mother feel happy.
  The confirmation classes were rather enjoyable. Tee Alexander was the only religious man that I ever liked. He was human, funny and warm hearted. He was not arrogant nor did he come across as being superior because he had the title of Reverend. He was from the Low or progressive wing of the Episcopalian Church which would later lead to a global crisis for the Anglican Communion. Tee Alexander de-mystified religion, God and Christ. In St. George’s Church, the entire clergy staff refused to be addressed by their titles. They insisted on being called by their first names. Instead of Reverend or Father Alexander, we simply called him Tee. It was same with the Rector Tony Turnpike. Everyone simply called him Tony.
  I found Tee hilarious. During one class about the Eucharist he recounted an anecdote about how one young assistant celebrant stumbled and fell upon the alter steps while carrying the wafers and wine. To demonstrate Tee acted out the scene. The moral of the story was that the young assistant was too nervous. While the Eucharist is important and sacred, one should not take it too seriously nor should one be afraid.
  Tee wanted to the confirmation classes to be very informal and open. He encouraged participation is group discussions. King of the Woods was very keen on the group discussions. However, King always spoke so loud. The class was held in a small room, yet King spoke with a volume more suited for a stage on Broadway rather than a small room. He never failed to get everyone’s attention. If anyone dozed off, they were certain to wake up during King’s interventions.
  I never understood why King was so loud. It was terribly embarrassing. In addition to the full volume, King spoke like a 5 year old child. Or perhaps he spoke as if he were a Kindergarten teacher addressing his pupils. I often had the urge to tell him to shut up. Moreover, King had a strange habit when he spoke. When he wanted to make a salient point, he would tilt his head upwards; squint his eyes shut and make his point. Sometimes he would nod his head as he spoke. He came across as a blind Ray Charles suffering from The Palsy like Mohammad Ali. Those were the moments when he looked most ugly. I used to think to myself: What a retard! I felt a mixture of pity and revulsion for him. On one hand, I felt sorry for him. On the other, I felt disgusted by him. His Frankenstein hair cut along with his fat and burly body was bad enough. His face was round which made the flat top hair cut even less flattering. A round fat face with a cube hair cut made his entire body look disproportionate. On his face were patches of dark and light brown spots. Under his right eye, he had a small mole which at first glance looked like flakes of dead skin which appear in the eyelashes while sleeping. When he would squint his eyes and speak, the tension would cause his face to quiver. The small mole would move up and down underneath his eye. I had to resist the urge to take a Kleenex and wipe his face. King had very dark complexion. I do not mean to perpetuate the racist notion that people with dark complexions are less attractive then those with light complexions. Rather, the sum of so many disproportionate and unfortunate features added up. The unevenness of his facial complexion with its black and brown spots made his dark skin stand out in less than flattering ways.
  The King of The Woods had too much energy. His enthusiasm was boundless. Yet, he came across as a big cumbersome dog. He reminded me of a Sheep Dog. He was rather nervous. He left the impression of a Sheep Dog with the nervousness of a Chuaiha. He would often end his sentences with a nervous and awkward laughter. His laughter sounded half human and half ape.
  As the Confirmation date neared we found out the name of the Bishop who was to confirm us. Bishop Wetmore was the name. The King of the Woods was tickled by the name. He liked to say it over and over and laugh.
“BISHOP WETMORE! BISHOP WETMORE! COOL NAME! BISHOP WETMORE! OOO HEH HEH OOO HEH HEH OOOOOOOOOO!”
  The day of Confirmation arrived. The King of the Woods, the others and I had been confirmed and we all became new bona fide members of the New York Diocese of the Episcopal Church. .
  There were about 2 dozen children whose parents were members of attended St. George’s Church. There were 7 of us who were teenagers. During this period the church had undergone profound and radical change. Under the leadership of Tee Alexander, the 11 o’clock service had become rather informal and boisterous. Tee had a radical liberal approach to religion. He had the alter rail removed so that during the Eucharist the entire congregation could gather around the alter for half of the service. Instead of the congregation kneeling before the alter rail to receive communion, they were to receive it standing around and behind the alter. During the first half of the service, the Sunday school was in session in the basement. During the Eucharist, the children were brought upstairs and about 20 children would sit in front of the alter. They were often loud and rambunctious as children can be. During the warm months, most of the adults would not bother to dress up formally. Many of the congregants would come to Church dressed in shorts, sneakers or in sandals.
  The music director at the time was a radical progressive named Johnny Mime. He was also a song writer who had published lots of music. He replaced the more formal, traditional and somber Hymns with light, progressive rock music. In addition to the organ and choir, Mime added acoustic guitars, bass, and drums to the ensemble. All together, the 11 o’clock service was more like an open jam prayer rock concert than a religious service.
  This horrified the older and more conservative members of the church which included my mother. They felt that Tee Alexander and Johnny Mime had taken the dignity and soberness out of church. My mother wanted a quiet service so she could pray and enjoy quiet contemplation. She preferred the conservative practice of lining up and then kneeling at the alter rail to receive communion. She believed it was more orderly. She complained on several occasions that she had never received Communion because of the crowded and disorderly fashion of group communion.
“I have to deal with the crowded subway everyday going to and from work! Sunday is a day of rest! I go to church for peace and quiet! I don’t want to have Communion as if I was riding the subway during Rush Hour!” My mother complained. However, that was not all she was dissatisfied about.
“The drums, the guitars and loud music are too much. It reminds me of The Holy and Sanctified Church!”
  My mother was not the only one to complain. The Rector Tony Turnpike was so bombarded with complaints that he set up a separate chapel service at 10 o’clock which was formatted on the traditional or High service.
  Personally, I liked the 11 o’clock service. It was lots of fun! I never had to dress up or worry about what people would think about the way I looked. I liked the music. I was just getting acquainted with pop and new wave rock at the time. The songs and arrangements of Johnny Mime reminded me of New Wave songs with Christian themes. I never knew that Church could be so enjoyable. St. George’s Church had changed so much from when I was smaller when my mother had dragged me there. I had always associated Church with boredom and conservatism. However, the 11 o’clock service was my cup of tea.
  King of the Woods told me about the Teen Sunday Group which met after the 11 o’clock service.
“KEVIN YOU GOTTA COME TO THE TEEN GROUP!” King would say in his characteristic fashion. “IT’S REALLY COOL! THE LEADER IS A VERY COOL GUY NAMED ADRIAN FLAMMER. THERE ARE ALSO 2 OTHER GUYS THERE WHO YOU WILL LIKE! THERE’S BOBBY CHAN AND MICK KOLAWSKI!”
“Oh really, King!” I replied. “What do you do there?”
“IT’S COOL! ADRIAN IS REALLY COOL! WE TALK ABOUT GOD! WE ALSO TALK ABOUT OTHER THINGS. USUALLY ONCE OR TWICE A MONTH ADRIAN TAKES US OUT FOR PIZZA OR TO THE MOVIES. IT’S REALLY COOL!” King was so enthusiastic that his enthusiasm infected me as well. I decided to go.
  The first day that I went to the Teen Sunday group was the last Sunday of May that year. Adrian Flammer was in his early 30s. He had a large untidy mass of red hair which formed a bushy beard on his face. The front and middle part of his head was bald. He kept his hair very long and uncombed. His entire head and face presented a most sloppy appearance. He had deep blue penetrating eyes which unsettled me. There was something about the way he looked at me which made me most uncomfortable. Adrian lived directly across the river from Lower Manhattan in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He seemed quite proud to live there. He would take the LL train one or two stops under East River to get to Church. He was married to a woman named Lydia. She was a skinny and plain looking woman with long stringy blonde hair which seemed that she had kept since 1973. She reminded me very much of the actress who played the wife in the 1970s TV sitcom: Welcome Back Kotter. Adrian worked as an art director for an advertising agency.
  The teen group comprised only of boys. The first boy Bobby Chan lived in the neighborhood of the church. He was 16 years old, 2 years older than I and a rare breed coming from a Christian Chinese family. He was rather taciturn but had razor sharp eyes. There was something very distant about his disposition. He struck me neither as shy nor anti-social but yet he seemed to have some quiet and secret inner turmoil within.
  The second boy was Mick Kowalski. He, like Bobby, was also 16. He lived in the neighborhood of the church as well. He was of Polish ancestry through his father’s side. He lived at Waterside Plaza, a high rise development next to the East River. He was extremely tall. He was 6ft2 and over-weight. I took a liking to him from the start. He was silly yet good humored and liked to laugh.
  Bobby, Mick and I all attended Public School. Bobby went to Humanities High School in Chelsea. Mick attended Bronx High School of Science. Only King of the Woods attended private school. On the other hand, I was the only one who resided outside of the vicinity of the church. I was the only one who lived north of 28th Street.
  Adrian, Bobby and Mick welcomed me warmly. Adrian said the program for today was to go the Hudson River to join Hands Across America. Hands Across America was a nationwide charity event to raise money and awareness of homelessness. The idea was to form one long trans-continental human chain from New York to Los Angeles with millions of people holding hands. It had been hyped up for several weeks before hand. Everyone who joined the human chain was supposed to have pledged or donated money. However, the registrations and funds were far short of what the campaigners had hoped for.
  We walked across 14th Street to 12th Ave. When we arrived there was a throng of people assembled. I stood between King of the Woods and Mick holding their hands. There were loud speakers blaring awful pop music with a MC voice trying to excite everyone. There was a theme song called Hands Across America. We sang swaying back and forth singing the stupid song. The entire event lasted about 45 minutes.
  When I got home later that night, I watched the news for coverage. The chain started at Battery Park. The first person on the nationwide human chain was a 6 year old Black girl with one arm. The organizers decided that the first person on the human chain should be a poor Black child with one arm. She held hands with Mayor Koch. The human chain had miles and miles of gaps particularly in the southern states and Texas.
  I told my parents about the teen group and going to Hands Across America. My mother was particularly pleased that I was attending church regularly and that I had joined the teen group. I told her about all boys but the King of the Woods took most of my description.
“There is another Black kid there. His name is King of the Woods and…………”
“What’s his name?” My mother interrupted me.
“King of the Woods.”
“That’s not his real name. What’s his real name?”
“That is his real name, mom! His first name is King. His last name is Of the Woods.”
“CHSSS, CHSSS, CHSSS!!!” My father started to laugh in his unique way. When my father was amused he had a laugh which he would hiss through clenched teeth. His laughter always reminded me of the cat from the cartoon “Josie and the Pussycats”.
My mother continued. “Seriously Kevin, what’s his real name?”
“I told you mom. His name is King. Everyone at the 11 o’clock service knows him. He was in my confirmation class. You can ask Tee Alexander.”
My mother’s face went into her usual shock and dismay.
“Really! His name is King of the Woods? Was his mother drunk when she named him?”
“CHSSS, CHSSS, CHSSS!!!” My father laughed again.
  My mother steered the conversation towards school.
“Are you ready for graduation?”
“Of course I am. I never thought I would finish 8th grade!”
“You know Kevin; you will not be able to play around in Stuyvesant like you have for the past 2 years.”
“Oh Mom!”
“Don’t oh mom me! I am glad that you are getting away from Goulash. He’s been such a bad influence on you since 3rd grade.”
“I like Dave! I’m going to miss him!”
“What school is he going to?”
“He doesn’t know yet.”
“He doesn’t know? How can he not know?”
“Well he didn’t pass the exams for Stuy, Sci or Tech. There is no way he can go to Martin Luther King or Brandeis.”
“I am surprised he has yet to flunk out of school!” My mother added derisively!
  My mother was never fond of my friends. She never liked David Goulash. He had been my best friend for 6 years between 3rd Grade and 8th grade. The teachers never liked him and thought the two of us together were disruptive elements in I.S.44. I was a bit nervous about starting a new school without David. It was the first time since 3rd grade that I would start a new school year without any friends or knowing anyone. That was one of the reasons why I was happy to make new friends at the church.
  At the end of June I graduated from I.S. 44. To my surprise, I received an academic award for “Achievement in Writing.” As was customary, the top student of the class gave the valediction speech. It was given by Adam Mann. He was always the best student since elementary school He was also the 5th grade class valedictorian when we graduated from P.S. 87. We knew each other because we were in the same class in elementary school but were never friends. He was always in the top class of each year. In the public school system each grade was broken into sections. Section 1 was always for the so-called smart students. Section 2 was always for the above-average or satisfactory students. Section 3 were for the struggling students who were capable and had potential but a little slower. Sections 4 to 6 were for the stupid students or those with behavioral problems. Section 7 was reserved for the students who by State law had to attend school compulsory but had little expectations of going on to higher education. So each group was numbered as such:
6-1, 6-2, 6-3 or Grade 6 Section 1. I was always in Section 2. So I spent my middle schools years in 6-2, 7-2 and 8-2.
  Adam Mann was always in Section 1. He was a nerd. Adam had a core of 5 friends. During recess they would always sit in the corner of the school yard playing Dungeons and Dragons or chess. Adam was headed to Bronx High School of Science. He wanted to become a chemist. He gave a meandering, boring speech which I paid little attention to. I was sitting with David Goulash and Chris Volker who were my two best friends. We spent most of the commencement laughing and making jokes. We made fun of the teachers, assistant principal and principal. When Mr. Block, the Principal gave an address we booed him and shouted insults at him. We were leaving school and there was nothing they could do about it.
  Dave and I bid each other a sad farewell. Chris and I exchanged punches for old time’s sake. We all posed for photographs with our different parents taking pictures. As usual, Dave and I parted ways with an exchange of vulgar jokes.
“They’re all pussies at Stuy! Kick their asses for me!” Dave said.
“I will. And don’t let the super dyke bitches fuck you up the ass at Martin Luther King!” I bantered back as my mother stood at a distance rolling her eyes at Dave.
  I had no plans for that summer. There were 3 books that I was supposed to read over the summer for my English class the first semester in High School. The books were “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, “The Outsiders” by H.S. Hinton and “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I was in no hurry to read them as I had the entire summer ahead. I could even read them the first week that school started.
  The King of the Woods told me about a teen summer camp associated with the Episcopal Church. It was called FOCUS which stood for Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools. Mick was very keen on FOCUS. He urged me to go. I was rather skeptical. Like most Manhattanites, I detested camping and nature. The summer before 6th grade, my father had the bright idea to send me to sleep away camp. I was miserable and hated every minute of it. I had complained so much that my parents had to pick me up after 5 days. Moreover, at the time there were many Christian sects and cults which had camps out in the woods. I had read with fascination and horror about the Jim Jones sect.  Mick did quite the sales job but I argued with him.
“No, it’s not a cult! It’s part of the Episcopal church!” Mick argued.
“So what? Just because St. George’s is not a cult doesn’t mean the other churches aren’t!” I rebutted.
“No Kevin! It’s not like that. It’s all about fellowship. The kids are really cool. The encounter with Christ is Fresh!”
“What makes you say so Mick?”
“You will be free. After breakfast there is a small prayer time but you have the entire day to do what you want. Then you have dinner. After that you sing songs and there’s time for prayer and fellowship. Believe me Kevin, it’s Fresh!”
“It sounds wack to me!”
“Oh come on! I went there. I came back fine. My sister went. Even Bobby went!”
The King of the Woods joined in the debate.
“REALLY KEVIN, MICK IS RIGHT! I WENT FOR THE FIRST TIME LAST WINTER. IT’S REALLY COOL. DO YOU REMEMBER MY FRIEND DONALD? WE BECAME FRIENDS LAST YEAR. IT’S A GOOD PLACE TO MAKE FRIENDS! THE COUNSELOR’S ARE COOL! YOU WILL LIKE JACK AND CUCU!” As King spoke I had to back away because of the spittle which landed in my eyes.
Adrian Flamer interjected and handed me a flyer about the next upcoming FOCUS session. I reluctantly took the brochure and took it home with me.
  I showed it to my mother. She was just as skeptical as I was. However, the price of the week made her balk.
“$500 for a week! Are they crazy! For what? To go up to the mountains to pray and talk about God? Shit! You can do that for free right here in the city!” My mother was always hysterical when it came to money. We were hardly poor but the way my mother spoke, we seemed to live in dire poverty.
My father joined the debate.
“Damn Barbara why do you always have to be a cheap bitch? Let me look at the brochure.” My father took it and observed it. He further remarked. “Oh, I thought this was in the Catskills! It’s up in the Adirondacks. That must be nice! Where is it? Silver Bay? Kevin, get the atlas so we can see where that is.”
  I took the atlas from our library. We had a rather large library. Actually, it was my father’s library. My father was a professor of History up at Columbia University. He had a collection of thousands of books, magazines and journals. At the bottom he kept a reference section. We had the 1973 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia plus maps of New York City, road maps of North America and a global Atlas featuring political and physical maps of the countries of the world. My father and I found Silver Bay. Silver Bay was a village along Lake George about 90 minutes from the Canadian border.
  “Tell me son, what do you want to do?” My father asked.
“I think that I want to go. Everyone at church tells me that it’s really nice. King of the Woods…”
“CHSSS CHSSS CHSSS” My father laughed. “Sorry son! I can’t help but to laugh at the name of that boy at your church. It’s a trip!”
My mother steered the conversation back to earnestness. “Yeah but $500! It sounds like it’s for rich white folks!”
“Barbara please! If you don’t want to pay for it, I will!” Turning to me he asked; “So Kevin do you want to go? I will give it you as a graduation gift.”
I reluctantly nodded my head in the affirmative.
  A week later my father took me to Grand Central Station. All the people from FOCUS in New York going to Silver Bay were to meet at the information booth. On the subway down, my father gave me a last minute prep talk. He told me to be aware while I was upstate. He said that there were not many Black people upstate. While he re-assured me that nothing would happen, he said that I must always be prepared for the worst. He gave me techniques how to hit people in certain spots of the body so that I could flee safely. He said that I ever got lost in the woods that I should pick up and gather stones in case I came across a hostile band of people or wild animals. He drilled me to remember what he had taught me when I was younger to navigate by looking at the position of the sun in the sky and by the shadows.  
  At Grand Central, I met Jack Black for the first time. He was a 24 year old from Baltimore. As soon as I saw him I knew he was prep. He was one of those very WASPY men that are rarely found in New York City outside of West End Avenue, Central Park West, 5th Ave or Park Avenue. He was friendly enough when we introduced ourselves.
  Soon King of the Woods turned up. He carried a green duffel bag with great difficulty. His jeans needed a belt as evident by the fact that he had to stop to lift them up from around his behind after every 10th step he took. He wore a Yankees cap which was slightly tilted to the side of his head.
“HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! KEVIN YOU MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HI JACK!”
  My father was so startled that he looked in the direction with great alarm. King of the Woods dropped his duffel bag with the greatest of effort. He lifted up his jeans.
“WHEW! IT’S HOT TODAY!” He took off his cap and wiped his forehead with it. He was drenched in sweat.
I introduced my father to him. My father came from New Hampshire. He was always polite, formal and stiff whenever he was introduced to someone. With hesitation he shook King’s hand. However, when he heard the name King of the Woods, his reserve dropped and he had to hold back his laughter. King of the Woods was very happy to meet my father.
“HI THERE MR. BLAKE! IT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO NICE TO MEET YOU! TO MEET THE FATHER OF KEVIN.” Spittle flew out of his mouth onto my father’s eye glasses. My father jerked backwards involuntarily. He removed his glasses, took out a handkerchief and wiped them clean.
“SORRY MR. BLAKE!” The King of the Woods apologized.
  My father put his glasses back on. He looked at Jack Black. “Is there anything else that I am needed for?”
“No that’s fine. We are waiting for some other people.”
“Very well.” My father looked at me and as always we went through our last minute checks.
“You have your ticket?”
“Yes.”
“Do you have your money?”
I put my hand in my pocket and felt the five $20 notes he had given me.
“Yes.”
“Do you have Aunt Mary’s phone number in Kingston?”
“Yes.”
“All right. Now listen call us at anytime. Call collect if you have to.”
“Yes.”
“Take care son and have a good trip.”
My father said good bye to Jack and nodded his head at King of the Woods.
“SEE YOU MR. BLAKE! IT WAS NICE MEETING YOU!”
  Two other girls showed up. Both of them were white. King of the Woods seemed to know one of them very well.
“HEY BRANDY!”
  Both girls were named Brandy. The first was named Brandy Frequent. The second was named Brandy Pint. Brandy Frequent was also 14. She lived Greenwich Village and had bright red hair with brown eyes. She had just graduated from Grace Church School only a couple of blocks from where King of the Woods lived. Brandy Pint was 15 years old. She went to Trinity School on the Upper West Side though she lived on the Upper East Side. She had jet black hair with hazel eyes.
  The five of us took the Metro-North New Haven line up to Greenwich, Connecticut. Greenwich was where the head office of FOCUS was located. From there, we met up with the other campers going to Silver Bay. They all lived in Connecticut. There were about 8 of us all together. We split into 2 cars to begin the long drive up to Silver Bay. It took under 5 hours to get there. I was somewhat familiar with the area. Two years earlier I had taken the Greyhound up to Plattsburgh to see my cousin’s college graduation.
  To reach Silver Bay, we took the New York Thruway to Glens Falls before turning on to a back road which followed the shore of Lake George. We arrived at Silver Bay in the late afternoon. Silver Bay was actually a private resort owned and operated by the YMCA. FOCUS leased a small two story motel on the grounds.
  When I discovered our cabin assignments, I was disappointed that King and I had been assigned different cabins. There were other teens and counselors from other cities on the East Coast. There were people from FOCUS branches in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston in addition to those of us from New York and Connecticut. That was a pleasant surprise! Naturally, King of the Woods knew them all. He was particularly close with a boy from Baltimore named Pay Daly. Pay was 15 years old. I had not expected to meet people from all over the Northeast.
  As Mick had said there was lots of freedom. After breakfast there was small prayer meeting. We were free until Lunch. After lunch, we had many activities we could do. We could go and learn sailing. We could learn to play Archery. We could play Shuffle Board. We could swim. We could go hiking. We could play tennis. Tennis led to my first confrontation with the King of the Woods.
  Though I was more or less in the same class with most of the other people at FOCUS there were some major differences. King of the Woods and I were the only two Blacks at FOCUS. Everyone else was white. We were, along with the two Brandy’s, the only ones that actually lived in the city. Everyone else came from the affluent suburbs outside of Baltimore, Philly and Boston. However, there was one point which set me apart from everyone including the King of the Woods. I was the only one who went to public school. Though we had Physical Education class, we mostly played basketball, kickball, baseball and sometimes volleyball. Manhattan public schools lacked the resources and facilities for tennis, swimming, shuffleboard and archery. With the exception of swimming, which I had learned from the Y Summer Day Camp, I had never played any of the other sports.
  King of the Woods got on my nerves. I could take his personality once a week for a few hours. I could not take consecutive days and nights in close proximity to him. Moreover, since he was my friend and the only one I knew at FOCUS, he was a source of major embarrassment for me.
  On the third day four of us decided to play tennis doubles. I had never played tennis before. I was rather inept holding a tennis racket. I would swing it as a baseball bat. King of the Woods explained the rules of tennis to me. His loud kindergarten voice grated me. I found it very condescending. When I did hit the ball with the racket, it usually flew high and out of the court. When I did hit the ball within the court it usually went out of bounds. After every play, King would make a loud commentary.
“FOUL!”
“ACE!”
“40-LOVE!”
“MATCH POINT”
“NO GOOD!”
It went on and on and on.
I hit the ball and it touched the line.
“NO GOOD!” King shouted.
“Bullshit! It was in!” I contradicted
“NO KEVIN! IT WAS OUT!”
“Like Hell it was out!”
King and I stood in each other’s faces.
“NO KEVIN! IT WAS NO GOOD.” His spittle flew in my face. I became incensed.
“The ball is good!” I shouted. “Anyway, who made you the fucking umpire anyway? I’m tired of your stupid moronic commentary after each play!”
“WELL THE BALL IS NO GOOD AND YOU MUST DO IT OVER AGAIN. TECHNICALLY IT’S OUR BALL BUT I WILL LET YOU HAVE IT.”
  The I.S. 44 mentality came back. On the Upper West Side, when we used to argue, we would make a cutting remark and then turned our backs on the person we walked away from.
“Sure King. Yeah what ever you say! What’s your name King of the Woods or King of the Tennis Court? King Tennis here in the middle of the woods! What ever you say, you stupid fat retard!” I turned my back and walked away. I was through with King of the Woods and the game.
  As I walked away I felt something hit my behind. I turned around. King of the Woods had thrown his tennis racket at me. It was time to fight.
“You ugly fat piece of shit!” I stormed up to King of the Woods and punched him in the chest.
King became enraged and took a swing at me. He was too slow and I dodged it. I gave him a roundhouse kick to his thigh. He charged at me. His bulky mass knocked my frame to the ground.
The others started to shout, scream and yell. “Fight! Fight!”
  I stood right up into King’s fist as it landed on my lower lip. Enraged, I grabbed King and put him in a headlock. I rammed the crown of his head into the fence. He lifted my body off the ground but I wouldn’t release the headlock. King started to choke and couldn’t breathe. Phil, the counselor from Philadelphia ran up and demanded that I let King go. I could hear King gagging. I let him go. I was about to finish him off as Phil grabbed and dragged me away. As he dragged me away, I hurled abuse and a torrent of profanity rained down upon King of the Woods. The white suburban kids stood with their mouths agape in shock.
  It took Phil one hour to calm me down. He dragged me kicking and screaming to the bank of Lake George. Phil negotiated with me. All his entreaties were answered with obscenities.
“Now Kevin, will you calm down?”
“Fuck you!”
“Kevin, I will not let you go until you cool down!”
“Suck my dick!”
“Kevin, I cannot let you carry on like this!”
“Let me go you fucking piece of shit!”
  It went on like this for about 15 minutes. I had little respect for authority. I only obeyed my parents because only they could control me. Since 3rd grade, I never had any respect for my teachers. I used to curse out my teachers, assistant principals and other school staff without hesitation. The public schools had no effective means of discipline. There was no detention because neither the Teachers nor Principals Unions would stay beyond school hours without over-time pay. Suspensions were only for the most heinous offences of violence. In the 6 years in public school I had spent up until then, only one student was suspended back in the 3rd grade for stabbing another student in the buttocks with a sharp pencil. Teachers were too lazy and afraid to report the students to their parents, Black parents in particular. Moreover, I was an intelligent student as indicated by my official test scores. If I could swear at my teachers with impunity, a camp counselor from Philadelphia was even more prone to abuse. I threatened Phil.
“If you let me go, I will kick King’s ass! I am a fast runner. You can’t catch me!”
Phil was not daunted in the least by the threat.
“I am a marathon runner. I am not worried about it.”
That effectively ended the debate. I calmed down. I explained to Phil how King got on my nerves and provoked me. Phil was sympathetic but firm.
“I know King can be very difficult but fighting with him is not going to change him. Come on, Kevin! You and King are good friends! Don’t spoil the week for each other and everyone else. You are a smart kid, Kevin. You should know better than to fight.”
Suddenly, I was embarrassed. I realized that I wasn’t making a good impression. There I was up in Adirondacks behaving like some low-life ruffian from Harlem. I was worried what the white suburban kids would think of me. There was a good chance that they wouldn’t like me or would want to be my friends. I felt a wave of shame.
  Phil took me to my cabin and instructed that I wait there. A few minutes later he came and took me to meet King. He made us both apologize to each other. He made us shake hands. After Phil was satisfied that there was peace between us and there would be no other outbursts and disruptions he left us.
  I thought it would be best that King and I separated from each other for the rest of the week. I was happy that King and I had been placed in different cabins. That greatly diminished the possibility of another fight. For about a day we kept our distance from each other but eventually we reconciled and became friends once again.





 









   I returned to New York with heavy bitterness. I hated being in the city during the summer. I actually enjoyed Lake George and the Adirondacks. I liked the clean air and the relative emptiness. Apart from the fight with King of the Woods, it had been peaceful.
  New York in the 1980s was a city on the edge. Since the Bernard Goetz case in 1984, New York was a racial cauldron. Summertime in New York was particularly unpleasant. The temperature never went below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The relative humidity of 95% hung in the atmosphere choking the life out of the city. This naturally led to lots of social tension. I was most depressed during the summer months. The pace of New York slowed down considerably. New York was most boring during the summer.
  On the Wednesday after my return from Silver Bay, my father and I went to a Mets night game at Shea Stadium. It was my first game of the season. Every year I made it a point to see the Mets at least twice during the season. I almost never failed to watch a game on TV. The Mets were hot that year! Just before the All-Star Break, they were the best team in the Major League. That night the Mets played against the St. Louis Cardinals. Those were always the best and most exciting games. The games were always close with one run often separating the victor and loser. Most of the time, games between the Mets and Cardinals were only settled in the 9th or extra innings as both teams had excellent pitching and fielding. This game promised to be a pitcher’s duel between Ron Darling of the Mets and John Tudor of the Cardinals. Of course my favorite pitcher for the Mets was Dwight Gooden. However, whenever I went to Shea to see him pitch, he always lost. That was typical of my luck. Ever since I started attending Mets home games in 1984, I had seen them win once. Being a Mets fan was an exercise in masochism. They were always exciting to watch but they broke the hearts of their fans. The Mets found innovative ways to lose. Whenever one was certain they were going to win, the game collapsed. The pitchers got lazy and would toss slow moving balls over the heart of the plate giving an easy opportunity for the batter to hit a home run. That was bearable compared to the remarkable errors the fielders would make. The Mets in 1986 had three amazing infielders: Keith Hernandez at First Base and Raphael Santana at Short Stop. However, the second base man Tim Teufel had butter fingers. The third baseman Howard Johnson had difficulty throwing balls to first base. Fortunately, the Catcher Gary Carter was the best infielder of the team and could patch the holes at Third and Second base.
  The game started. Ron Darling walked the first batter. The stadium sighed. A fan sitting next to me shouted: “Ron ‘No Decision’ Darling!” He was right. Darling was a talented pitcher but unreliable. Some games he was almost flawless pitching shout outs. Other games he never managed to last by the 4th Inning. Those were the games where he had 40 minute innings giving up no less than 5 runs. 3 outs were hard for him to come by. Most of the time, he would maybe last 5 or 6 innings with the game tied. He was usually taken out to prevent the team from losing all together. As a result he would pitch many games but his recorded number of wins and losses was always in deficit to the number of games he actually pitched.
  I knew the Cards John Tudor as a player. He was one of the best pitchers of the 1980’s. He could pitch 6 consecutive innings without giving up a hit or a walk. So I expected Darling to lose or at best obtain another no decision. The Cardinals had the best Shortstop in the Major Leagues. Ozzie Smith was not only an athlete but acrobat as well. He could catch any ball which came within reach. He would do gravity defying flips and jumps to catch balls. It was common to see him leap 7 feet across the field, catch the ball then fall and land doing a cartwheel and then throw the ball lightening quick to the base which was play.
  The Cardinals were the defending National League Champions after losing a well played World Series to the Kansas City Royals who defeated them to win the 1985 Series. The Cards were a good team which I had the utmost respect for. There were not many teams in the National League that I liked. Besides the Mets, I only liked the Cards and the Montreal Expos.    I detested the Philadelphia Phillies. I had lost all respect for that team after their rotten performance against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1983 World Series. The Phillies sucked! However, they were the one team that always had the Mets number. The Phillies would often clobber the Mets. The Mets always played their worst against the Phillies. Those games put me into outrages of indignation. The Mets played like the Keystone Cops getting mugged by the bums from Broad Street.
  My father was an avid sports enthusiast. He was not a fan of any particular sports club. He would always insist that he was not a fan. He liked to watch sports. When he saw good matches he would get emotional at the moments when the match was at its best. There were only two occasions when I observed him as a partial observer.
  The first occasion was during the NBA Basketball Championships. In the early 1980s, the Boston Celtics had a dynasty. However, most Blacks outside of Massachusetts hated the Celtics. The Celtics always used all white players. The Celtics were the only majority white basketball team in the NBA at the time. It did have a significant Black token. That was the head coach. He was the first Black head coach in the NBA. At the time, he was the only Black coach. However, for most Black people that seemed to be such an obvious ploy to cover up the racism of not hiring Black players. Moreover, Boston was known to be a racist city in general. Boston had a race war in the 1970s which captured national attention. The city’s baseball team, the Red Sox was notorious for its racism. The Red Sox was the last team in the Major Leagues to hire a Black player. That occurred in 1971, 24 years after Jackie Robinson. Moreover, the Red Sox fans at Fenway Park were crudely overt in their displays of racism. Visiting Black players were taunted to racial jeers and slurs. So most Blacks in the country didn’t like any of the Boston teams and always wanted them to lose.
  The second occasion when my father was partial was back in 1982 during the Holmes-Cooney boxing matches. Larry Holmes was the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Gerry Cooney was the most recent manifestation of the Great White Hope. It was natural that most Blacks wanted Holmes to win. My father was no exception. My father was very political and he integrated his politics with Sports sometimes.
  We often talked politics. On this night we did. My father explained to me the Cardinals pitcher’s name.
“John Tudor. You should remember the name Tudor.” My father started.
“Yeah,” I reflected. “Tudor does sound familiar.”
“The Tudors were the royal English family of the 16th Century.”
“That’s right!” I remembered.
“John Tudor is a descendent from them.”
“No way!” I contradicted. “There’s no relation between John Tudor and the Tudors of England!”
“How do you think he got the name Tudor?” My father asked.
“The same way we got our name!” I rebutted. “There are lots of Blake’s around. We are not related to all people with the name Blake!”
The father made the most serious face I had ever seen. Then his countenance became extremely grave.
“Yes, you are right about that son.”
  Ron Darling survived the First Inning without giving up any hits or runs. The Mets were up at bat. The Centerfielder Mookie Wilson was first at bat as usual. He often struck out but when he got on base, he was dangerous. Whenever he could get the bat on the ball, he could hit it high and far. My father changed the topic.
“So how was it up at Lake George? You didn’t say much about it. We were surprised not to hear from you. We were excepting your call and letter screaming to come home!”
I smiled at him. “Yes I actually liked it a lot! It was completly different from Camp Miniact!”
My father’s eyebrows raised in surprised. “Really! What was the difference?”
“Well it was much nicer than Miniact! Our cabins were like motels! The counselors were really friendly! The kids were nicer. They were mostly from Philly and Baltimore. I think kids are nicer there than in New York.”
My father’s eyes lit up at my enthusiasm. His grave continence had left. “Would you ever go back?”
“Yes!” I did not hesitate to reply. “As a matter of fact, I wish I were still there now. I hate being back in the city! New York’s so dirty! People are mean here! Everyone was so nice at FOCUS.” I ended the statement on a wistful note.
  Mookie Wilson struck out which was greeted with the usual general indifference. No one expected otherwise.
“How was what’s his face-CHSSS! CHSSS! CHSSS!” My father started to laugh. “The King of the World. CHSSS CHSSS CHSSS!”
 “It’s King of the Woods, Dad.” I corrected.
“CHSSS CHSSS CHSSS”
“I don’t know about him Dad. He’s kinda stupid. He gets on my nerves!”
“CHSSS CHSSS CHSSS!!!”
“He’s a funny kid. But he’s a real dick!”
“CHSSS CHSSS CHSSS!!!”
  The crowd roared. Keith Hernandez hit the ball through the First and Second Base gap deep into right field and got a double. Darryl Strawberry came up to the plate and we all got to our feet. The Public Address system played a loop of the beat from “We Will Rock You!” We stamped our feet and clapped our hands in unison to the beat. The first two bass beats we stamped our feet to. On the third snare beat we clapped our hands. The sound effect produced was STOMP STOMP CLAP. STOMP STOMP CLAP. STOMP STOMP CLAP.
  Strawberry hit the first pitch. The ball shot right back at John Tudor knocking him down. He recovered his composure never losing sight of the ball. He picked up the ball and threw it sharply to First Base. Strawberry had spindly legs which helped him to run the bases effectively. The ball reached the First Baseman just as Strawberry touched the bag. The tie goes to the runner. He was safe. The First baseman argued with the umpire. Hernandez took the opportunity to advance to Third. When the First basemen realized that the play was still in action, he frantically threw over to Third but Hernandez had beaten him by 5 seconds. We were in frenzy.
  Gary Carter was due next. Despite loud cheering, we were drowned out by the engines of a Boeing 727 taking off from LaGuardia Airport. Shea Stadium was built on Flushing Bay about a mile directly in the path of LaGuardia’s runway 113. Sometimes the jets would take off every five minutes. Shea Stadium was the noisiest stadium in the Union. Even during seasons when the Mets were hopelessly in the cellar with no chance of winning and there were never more than a couple of thousand fans in the stands, the jets taking off made the stadium noisy nonetheless. The noise pollution disturbed the visiting players. Pitchers and batters alike found it difficult to concentrate on the ball. The loudest jets of course were the L-1011 planes which 3 of the airlines serving LaGuardia used for long-haul flights to Florida and the Southwest. The L-1011 was a fat wide-body plane with 3 large Rolls-Royce engines.
I learned quite a bit about the models of jetliners in service at the time by attending games at Shea.
  The Cardinals were in a dilemma. They had to play their infielders close in because there was a runner in scoring position and to try to turn a double play to get out of the inning. However, Gary Carter was a power hitter. The outfielders would have to play deep or closer to the fence. Keith Hernandez took a huge lead off Third Base. On First, Strawberry was threatening to steal. Tudor was under pressure. He was afraid to throw strikes at Carter. He would pitch outside to get Carter to swing and miss. His pitches were often wide forcing his catcher Darrel Porter to over exert himself to prevent the balls from hitting the back stop which would have given Hernandez the opportunity to score. Between these almost wild pitches, Tudor spent more time throwing the ball to first and third bases to keep the runners on or try to pick them off. He was losing his composure and we in the stands could see it. At one point he bluffed throwing to both bases at the same time. Tudor was roundly booed for that. All around me I heard epithets and slurs against the St. Louis pitcher.
“Stop fucking around you asshole!”
“You fucking faggot!”
“Stop wasting time you moron!”
Tudor was now behind Carter 3 balls to no strikes. The Cardinal’s manager Whitey Herzog decided to play it safe. On the last pitch Carter was intentionally walked. First the crowd booed but when the bases were loaded we cheered. Howard Johnson was the next batter. My heart sunk.
“Ah shit!” I snarled. “HoJo is up! Ah fuck! Here comes a double play!”
  The PA system played the sound of an army bugle announcing the Calvary battle cry. As was customary at the end of few notes the crowd in unison yelled. “CHHAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”
  Howard Johnson hit 3 fouls balls. The third foul was hit deep and just missed being a homerun. Tudor was ahead of Johnson 2 strikes and no balls. On the fourth pitch Johnson hit the ball sharply to Center Field. Vince Coleman fumbled the ball. It bounced off his body and rolled towards the warning track. All 3 Mets runners came home. Johnson tried to go to Third base. He was tagged by Ozzie Smith. It was the second out. It didn’t matter. He drove in 3 runs and the Mets were ahead of the Cards 3-0. The next batter was Ray Knight. He hit a fly ball to right. Tom Herr easily caught it. The first inning was over.
  As the Mets took to the field, the fans began to settle down. A hotdog vendor appeared. My father asked if I wanted one. I did. We ate our hotdogs.
“The Mets are really good this year!” I said between bites.
“They know how to play ball this year.” My father confirmed.
“I hope they can keep it up.”
“So you don’t like the Yankees anymore?”
“No. I hate them!”
“I remember when you were the biggest Yankee fan. You are a fair weather fan. Now that the Mets are good, you are their fan now. When they become bad and the Yankees become good again, you will drop the Mets and become a Yankees fan again.” My father teased me.
“No! No I won’t!” I protested indignantly.
My father smirked at me.
“That boy from your church is something else!”
“Yeah.”
“Where does he live?”
“He lives down in the Village.”
“Really! His family must have quite a bit of money.”
“I don’t know.”
“He’s the same age as you?”
“No he’s 15 but we are in the same grade.”
“He got left back?”
“I think so.”
“I can see why. He seems to be maladjusted.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that he does not fit in. He’s a misfit. He has behavioral problems. He seems too nervous.”
“Oh. I think he’s stupid.”
“What school does he go to?”
“He’s going to some prep-school somewhere around.”
“Which school?”
“I think McBurney.”
“I see. His family must have money. The Village, prep school, and FOCUS means that they must be making good money. What do his parents do?”
“I don’t know.”
  My father changed the subject to my education which always annoyed me. He always picked the worst times to talk about school. I just wanted to watch the game. It was summer and there was no school. This often is the case when children have academics and intellectuals as parents.
“Do you think that you’re ready for Stuyvesant?”
“School doesn’t start until September, Dad.” I gave him an annoyed look.
“You are going to have to compete with kids who went to better schools than I.S. 44. You will be competing with kids from Wagner. With kids who went to prep schools like the one your church friend goes to.”
  I moved around restlessly in my seat. I hated school and didn’t want to think about school during the summer. I also was not happy that my father mentioned competition. I never saw school as competitive. My parents drilled and instilled this notion in my head ever since 3rd grade. My father was obsessed with grades and marks. He scrutinized every report card. I was always happy when I had passed a quarter without a failing grade. However, my father would always look at the numbers. It was not good enough that I simply scored the passing mark of 65. He insisted that my grades were never to be below 80. I used to argue with him about it. He said that I wouldn’t be accepted to good colleges if I just aimed for 65 to 75.
“Well Dad, I did pass the test for Stuyvesant. I got into Stuy. So I don’t see what the big deal is!”
“The big deal is that you got into Stuy, but will you stay in Stuy?”
“Of course I will stay in Stuy!”
My father became aggressive as he always did with me when we talked about school.
“Listen up, Kevin! You cannot go through Stuy simply with grades of 65 or 75! High School is different. You will be compared and ranked with other students of your grade. I don’t want you to be in the bottom half of the class! I don’t even want you to be in the middle. I want you to be in the top 25%!”
“What?”
“I want you to be in the top 25%. If you want to go to Columbia you must be at least in the top quarter of your class!”
“I don’t want to go to Columbia, Dad! I want to go to Harvard!”
“Oh do you really!”
“Yes!”
“Do you think that you can make it to Harvard being in the middle or bottom half of your class?”
  Ron Darling pitched a perfect 2nd Inning and the Mets were at bat again. A Piedmont Boeing 737 flew overhead. I hated the Boeing 737. I felt depressed. My parents never failed to find ways to bring me down during the moments when I should have been happy.
“Listen,” my father continued. “I want you to go to Columbia. I can get you in. I will be able to get you a scholarship. Your tuition will be half since I am faculty.”
“But Dad, I don’t want to go to Columbia! I want to go to Harvard! I want to leave the city! I want to go away to college!”
“Oh and how do you plan to pay for Harvard?”
I was quiet for a moment. I hadn’t thought about it. After all, I was only 14. I never had to confront or think about finances. I finally answered. “I can get a scholarship to Harvard.”
My father had a look of triumph on his face. He proceeded to go for the kill.
“Do you think that you can get a scholarship to Harvard with mediocre grades?”
I didn’t answer.
“Do you believe that you can even get into Harvard without being in the top 10% of your class?”
I had no answer. I wanted to punch my father in the face.
“I can guarantee you admission to Columbia but your grades must be good! I am not going to have you embarrass me by entering Columbia not falling into the top 25% of your class.”
“Oh for crying out loud!”
“If you want to continue the way you have at I.S. 44 then you can go to City College.”
  That was a low blow. For me City College was the worst college in the world. My father used the same tactics between 7th and 8th grades. He threatened that if I didn’t do well at I.S. 44 that I would end up at Martin Luther King, Jr. or Louis Brandeis High School. It was a form of psychological terror that my parents used. I would’ve rather jumped off the George Washington Bridge than attended Martin Luther King High School. My father suggesting that I go to City College was the ultimate threat. For me City College was the school where people from the ghetto and the Projects went to. It had a predominately poor Black and Puerto Rican enrollment. To make matters worse, City College was in Harlem. I simply refused to entertain any notion that I would schlep on the dirty Number 1 train up to 137th Street each day. It was bad enough that my father even considered me going to Columbia up on 116th Street. I didn’t want to schlep on the dreadful M11 or M104 bus to college everyday; that I would have to commute with students who were still in elementary through High School. I wanted to get out of New York for college. I did not want to stay on the Upper West Side for the rest of my life. For me College was the defining moment of adulthood and independence. I wanted to have my own dorm. I needed my own place away from my parents. I wanted to change of scenery. I had been in Manhattan all my life. I wanted to go out on my own into the world. I didn’t want my College years to be simply an extension of my childhood years in school.
  Fortunately for me on this night, the Mets played well. My father’s attention focused on the game. We only talked about baseball for remainder of the evening. The Mets shut out the Cards by the score 5-0. On the subway ride from Flushing back to Manhattan, I kept the conversation exclusively on baseball.



 
 



















  Before the summer of 1986, I had not given much personal consideration to music. I was not particularly a lover of music. Still, it was impossible to ignore. There was always music in the streets to be heard. People would carry their loud boom boxes listening to music. People would always sing the popular tunes of the day. There was music on TV.
  My family listened to music. My father liked Jazz and 1960’s Soul as well as Rhythm and Blues. My mother liked the 1970s Soul music such as Marvin Gaye and the O’Jays. When my parents threw parties, which they did once each season, there was lots of music and dancing. When I would visit my uncles, aunts and cousins there was always music playing. When people asked what type of music I liked, I replied Disco. My entire family listened to Disco. Disco music in the late 70s and early 80s simply connoted Black Music.
  I remember the anti-disco sentiment amongst white kids in school. All of the Blacks and Puerto Ricans liked Disco. All of the whites liked Rock. I always equated Rock with Heavy Metal. I thought that Rock music had no soul and rhythm. The reality was that I knew very little about music. There were only a handful of contemporary musicians I could name. I used to look down with snobbery upon people who were into music. I thought that listening to music was an activity for uneducated people. I preferred to read and watch TV rather than listen to music.
  In I.S. 44 many of my Black classmates made fun of me because I couldn’t rap nor beat box. I never knew the words of the popular rap songs of the day. My white classmates couldn’t believe that I had not heard of Pink Floyd or that I hadn’t any idea what “The Wall” was. I remember seeing stickers all over the city which had “Pink Floyd: The Wall.” I actually thought that was the name of a person. I thought it was a strange name to have. There were 3 things which saved me from absolute ridicule in school. The first was that I had a quick witted and sharp tongue. Anyone who tried to insult me or put me down would regret it after I got through with them. The second reason I was saved from ridicule was that I could fight. I had acquired a reputation of being crazy. In 6th Grade, I bashed the head of a 7th Grader with a    record player who had bullied me. If I got beat up, I would always exact revenge. However, no one knew when I would do it. Sometimes I would wait weeks or a month after the other had completely forgotten. The third aspect which had saved me was that I was well liked and popular. Half the school had known me since 3rd Grade. I was generally thought of being cool even though I was crazy. In fact, Goulash was my foil. He was generally perceived to be crazier than I. I seemed to be the normal and sane one of the two of us.
  Another factor in contributed to my ignorance and lack of interest in music was that my family did not have cable TV. I think we were the only family without it. That meant that I did not have MTV. We did have HBO but that was contentious. Back in when I was in 4th Grade my father wanted to get Cable TV. My mother absolutely refused. There was a nasty row between my parents about it. My father wanted Cable TV to watch Boxing matches. My mother refused because she associated Cable TV with pornography. She didn’t want my father or me to watch pornographic films. My father thought her reasoning was the epitome of idiocy and hypocrisy. After all, had not my mother taken me to see R rated films with sexual content? The channels of “free” TV played films with edited but nonetheless sexually explicit themes. My mother countered that she had taken me to see R rated films herself and could supervise me. With cable TV, she feared that I would watch pornography when she wasn’t home or when she went to bed at night. My father said that he was tired of having to go to his friends houses to watch the title bouts. He wanted to watch them at home and be able to invite them over to watch. My mother then argued that Cable TV cost too much money. When he proved that it cost only $30 each month, she said that it was not within the household budget. That was such an obvious fallacy that my father railed against her. The row lasted for days. My mother said that if he went ahead and got Cable then she wouldn’t pay for any more of the household expenses. She would only pay half the rent and he would be forced to pay for the rest. When he called her bluff, she then threatened to leave him. On these days and nights, I would sleep over at Goulash’s house. I was worried sick that my parents would divorce.      They eventually came to a compromise. My father became friendly with the Cable man who served our building. The Cable man was a young Black man. My father paid him $20 cash to have him splice off a cable for only HBO down to our apartment. So by the end of 1981, my house had HBO. My father was satisfied because he could watch title bouts and bring his friends over. My mother was happy because she also enjoyed the films which were broadcast on HBO.
  The following Sunday after I had returned from Silver Bay, I went to church. After the teen meeting, King, Mick and Bobby hung out. Radio stations came up in the conversation between Mick and King of the Woods.
“I got my WPLJ card last week!” Mick said.
“OH THAT’S SO COOL!” King of the Woods exclaimed. “WHERE DID YOU GET IT?”
“I got it at the street fair. There was a WPLJ van there and they were giving out free cards.”
  I liked Mick best out of the other two. I thought Mick was the coolest in the group. If Mick had a WPLJ card, I assumed that he listened to that station. When I got home, I turned on the radio in the kitchen and set the dial to 95.5 FM. This was the beginning of my active music listening.
  WPLJ was a Top 40 radio station. The summer of 1986 was a good year for pop music. One song which received heavy rotation was “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister. I thought it was sad yet beautiful song. I found the bass line especially interesting. Another song which got heavy rotation was “Something About You” from Level 42. However, the song which WPLJ played which affected me most was “West End Girls” from the Pet Shop Boys.
  When Channel 7 WABC TV was on the TV there were promotional ads for its weekly music video program called “New York Hot Tracks”. It came on every Friday night at 11:35PM. It was an 85 minute show which played the videos of the Top 20 songs for the week. I became addicted. Channel 4 WNBC had a nationally broadcast music video program called “Friday Night Videos” which started at 12:30AM and lasted 60 minutes. “New York Hot Tracks” had more diversity in its rotation. It would feature the Top 10 videos from both the Rock/Pop chart as well as the Soul/R&B chart. “Friday Night Videos” only played the Rock/Pop chart videos.
  The first night I watched “New York Hot Tracks”, I fell into deep fascination. Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” was broadcast. It was one of the strangest things I had ever seen. That was followed by “Missionary Man” by the Eurhythmics. That was just as weird as Sledgehammer but more intense and sinister. Sledgehammer was a weird but light-hearted video. Missionary Man was weird but heavy and dark.
  When New York Hot Tracks ended at 1AM, I switched to Channel 4 to watch the last half-hour of Friday Night Videos. I saw Madonna for the first time. Her video “Papa Don’t Preach” played. I thought it was a well made video. I especially enjoyed the scenes filmed on the Staten Island Ferry.
  I became hooked on to music. I asked my parents if I could keep the kitchen radio and take it to my room. They made no objections. It was a 1975 Emerson radio with a single monophone speaker and cassette deck. There were so many good songs that I heard on WPLJ. I went through my parent’s pile of cassettes. They didn’t have any blank cassettes. When I was 5 and 6 years old, my parents used to record my voice singing Christmas carols and other songs that I had learnt in Kindergarten. I didn’t dare record over my parents music tapes. Instead I recorded over my voice recordings.
  I then spent entire days and evenings listening to WPLJ. I had the record button on pause. Whenever I heard a song that I liked, I would frantically release the pause button. The tape player and recorder was worn out. When I would record songs, often times the mechanism would make a cranking sound. For example, when I recorded “Twist and Shout” from The Beatles, the cranking sound came out in the recording. It sounded as if someone was playing with drumsticks on a table. Also, I realized that when I hit the record button, not only would the sound from the radio be recorded but all ambient sounds of the room. There was a small microphone built in. I would dance on my bed during the recording sessions. The recorder picked up the sound of the bed springs creaking as well as my voice singing along. After a couple of weeks I had recorded over my voices. I erased my childhood.
  To my surprise, I was the only one in the group who actually listened to WPLJ. Mick listened to WAPP 103 FM. Bobby listened to WNEW 102.7 FM and KROCK on 92 FM. The King of the Woods listened to Z-100. This created tensions and rivalries between us.
  WPLJ and Z-100 competed for the number one ratings slot for the most listeners. I had never bothered to listen to any other radio station except WPLJ. King of the Woods only listened to Z-100. Z-100 was ranked by Arbitron and Birch for having the largest share of listeners. WPLJ was ranked second. The competition between the radio stations would be our personal competition.
“Well, WPLJ is number one on weekends!” I argued.
“THAT DOESN’T MATTER, KEVIN! Z-100 IS NUMBER ONE DURING THE WEEK. THAT’S MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEEKENDS!”
“That’s not true. More people listen to the radio on weekends because they don’t have to work or go to school!”
“THAT’S NOT TRUE! MOST PEOPLE LISTEN TO THE RADIO IN THE MORNINGS BEFORE THEY GO TO SCHOOL OR WORK. THAT’S WHY Z-100 IS NUMBER ONE!”
“Well, watch WPLJ is going to be number one soon!”
  However, King of the Woods, Mick and I all agreed about one song. We all loved Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel. We used to sing and dance to that song. Mick and I would imitate the John Travolta dance of the raw headless chickens from the music video in the basement of the church. We did not get the lyrics right. For example, we sang “Open up your fruitcake cause I will be your honey machine.”
  Mick was the most earnest of religion among the three of us. He always wanted to talk about Jesus. He saw that I was not very serious nor that my heart was really into God. Mick wanted to be the most enthusiastic, most devoted believer and follower of Christ. We came to a clash and long debate about the Eurythmics video “Missionary Man”. Mick insisted that it was an anti-Christian song. He went even further calling it Satanic. I thought he was mad. It was the most ludicrous argument I’d ever heard. We had fierce debates about “Missionary Man.”
“The Eurythmics are against the missionaries!” Mick argued. “The missionaries were important. They spread the good news all around the world! They brought Christ to the Indians.”
“So? What does that have to do with the song or video?” I countered.
“They say, ‘Don’t mess with a missionary man.’ They are saying that men who preach and bring the gospel of Christ are to be avoided.” Mick was adamant.
“That may be true Mick. However, the video and song makes no mention of God or Jesus. No where do they come out against God or Christianity! It’s not anti-Christian!”
“But they are against the missionaries who bring Christ into the world. Being against the men who bring the gospel is anti-Christian!”
“You’re a moron, Mick!”
“No, I’m not a moron! For example, there is that line: ‘I’ve a message for you that you better believe.’ That’s not what Christianity is all about. There is nothing that forces people to believe. The message of Christ and the missionaries is to love. It is acceptance of love.”
“You have not proved shit, Mick. Missionary Man might be against missionaries but there is nothing that shows it to be anti-Christian!”
“I think it’s Satanic!” That was Mick’s final rebuttal.
  This argument went on for weeks. Mick and I would never talk about anything else except debate whether or not Missionary Man was anti-Christian or satanic. Adrian Flammer suggested that we have a group discussion at our next Sunday meeting. I had already purchased the cassette of their album “Revenge” which had Missionary Man as the first track. I brought the cassette with the lyrics to church the next Sunday. Adrian read the text aloud pausing to analyze each line.
 “OK. Let’s look at the lyrics and see what they say.” Adrian began.
“‘I was born an original sinner. I was born in original sin.’ Well that is in accordance with the Bible. It’s true. We are all born with original sin. That’s true!”
He continued reading. “‘If I had a dollar bill for all the things I’ve done there’d be a mountain of money piled up to my chin.’ What is she saying? She is admitting to being a sinner. She is saying that she has sinned a lot. So far, the lyrics amount to a confession of sin. That’s good! Confession is the first act towards redemption. Yes?” He looked around us for confirmation. We all nodded our heads in agreement.
“Let’s continue.” Adrian read on. “‘My mother told me good. My mother told me strong. She said be true to your self and you can’t go wrong.’” Adrian paused. “Here is a problem. One cannot always be true to themselves and not go wrong. One must be true to faith, true to Christ. That is the only way not to go wrong. Hitler was probably being true to himself but he was obviously wrong. Right?”
This digressed into a general philosophical discussion about putting one’s interests ahead of others. How selfishness and self-centeredness is inconsistent with the practice of Christianity. However, though the concerned line of the song contradicted Christian teaching it was still not anti-Christian. Adrian read further.
“‘But there’s just one thing that you must understand. You can fool with your brother. But don’t mess with a missionary man.’” Adrian paused. “What do you think this means?”
Mick charged into the debate. “This means to stay away from missionaries! This means to avoid and ignore men of God! She means that men of God are dangerous!”
“No it doesn’t!” I interjected. “It means that one might be able to fuck with regular people but one should not fuck with missionary men. That one might be able to sin against a brother but sinning against a missionary man will lead you to Hell!”
“I think Kevin is right.” Bobby spoke. He surprised everyone because he was always taciturn.
“ME TOO,” said the King of the Woods.
“I think that Kevin’s interpretation makes the most sense in the context of the words.” Adrian settled the point.
Mick was suddenly isolated in his argument. I was winning the debate and the others were taking my side. We had yet to finish reading the text. Adrian read on.
“‘There was a woman in the jungle and a monkey on a tree. The missionary man he was a following me. He said stop what you’re you doing, get down upon your knees. I’ve a message for you that you better believe.’”
“THAT’S THE PROBLEM!” Mick shouted. “That’s wrong!”
Mick’s outburst puzzled everyone. No one understood his vehement objection.
“What’s the problem with this line that you have Mick?” Adrian questioned.
“The problem is the tone of it!” Mick’s pitch was hysterical. “‘Get down upon your knees. A message that you better believe’!
“So what’s your point?” I asked very aggressively.
“My point is that Annie Lennox is saying that Christianity is something that you better believe rather than something you should believe! She turns Christianity into something that is forced. She takes away the compassion and love! She makes it negative!”
“Well,” Adrian replied, “I’m not so sure about that. After all, the New Testament states: ‘That every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.’ One must also remember that hundreds of years ago, it was preached that if you didn’t believe in Christianity that you would go to Hell. So if a preacher or priest said that you “better” believe, they meant that you better confess that Jesus was your savior or you would go to Hell. If you didn’t want to go to Hell and wanted to go to Heaven you had better believed.”
Mick became exasperated. He knew that he failed to convince Adrian of his argument. “But you haven’t heard the song! You haven’t seen the video! It’s really anti-Christian!”
Adrian ignored that point all together. “The Episcopalian Church has a different attitude. We try to focus on the positive aspects of believing in Christ. Other denominations are a bit more coercive. Reading the text of this song, I don’t see that it’s anti-Christian.”
He looked back at the text. There was nothing more to it. He handed it back to me. “So that’s it. There’s nothing more to words.”
  The debate ended. Mick’s expression was disappointment. He lost the debate. Our religious leader saw nothing anti-Christian or Satanic about the song. Nor did Bobby or King of the Woods. The debate was settled from the theological viewpoint using the text of the song. Still, Mick remained firm in his conviction that Missionary Man was anti-Christian. For the next two years we debated and argued about this.
  Adrian’s wife Lydia came. They wanted to take us to the movies. They planned to take us earlier but the Eurythmics debate delayed us. We went to Greenwich Village and saw “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Afterwards, we went to “Mamma Mia! What A Pizza!” on Broadway and Astor Place to eat. Before we left Adrian had asked for my home phone number. I gave it to him. Though Adrian seemed to be very nice and had effectively taken my side in the debate against Mick, there was something about him which creeped me out.
  The following Wednesday, a crisis erupted. The telephone rang and my mother picked up. I was in my room listening to Missionary Man. As the last song on the first side of the tape, “The Miracle of Love” played my mother barged into my room with the greatest of indignation.
“Kevin, who the Hell is this Adrian Flammer?”
I knew she was angry. I became frightened. Though my mother had not beaten me with a belt since I was 10, she came into my room with the expression that I was about to be punished.
“Adrian is the leader of the teen group at the Church.” I answered.
“Oh yeah! Well that was just him on the phone!”
My heart jumped. I thought he had called my mother to complain about my behavior at church or to tell my mother that I was not a good Christian. I had been used to so many teachers calling my mother to complain over the years, I had expected this again. I tried to think what I had done wrong. I racked my mind frantically to figure out any possible transgressions that I had committed. I was nervous.
“What did he say?” I asked timidly.
“You know what that man just asked me?”
“What?”
“He asked me if he could take you out!”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“He asked if he could take you out to dinner alone!”
“Oh.” I didn’t see what the problem was.
“He wants to take you out to dinner alone to some restaurant down in the village.”
“OK.” I was confused. Adrian had not denounced me. He wanted to treat me to dinner. I did not know the reason for my mother’s anger. I was waiting for the bombshell.
“It’s not OK. He’s a homosexual.”
I leapt out of bed. “What! No he’s not! Mom, he has a wife!”
“So what? Many homosexuals pretend they are not by marrying women!”
I was horrified. Was Adrian really gay? Did he really want to molest me? I shuddered and felt nausea.
“Why does he want to take you out alone to dinner? He wants to mess with you!” My mother’s eyes narrowed. Her breathing was hard and heavy.
“I want you to stay away from Adrian Flammer! Do you hear me, Kevin! Stay away from him! I don’t want you going anymore to that group after Church!”
“Yes, mom.”
  When my father came home my mother continued her hysterics. Her hysteria infected my father. He went into a rage.
“I told you Barbara about these religious men!” My father huffed. “Shit most of them are faggots! Look at the Pope. He’s the biggest fag of them all! Lots of popes throughout history have been pedophiles. Pope Pious the 9th used to kidnap boys and molest them sexually!”
  My father came into the room.
“Kevin, has this man touched you?”
“No Dad!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes”
“Are you sure?!”
“Yes Dad! Adrian has never touched me.”
“It’s ok Kevin if he has.” My father then corrected himself. “No, it’s not OK. But if he has, it’s not your fault. Just tell me if he has touched you!”
“No Dad! He hasn’t!” I was terrified. Tears streamed out of my eyes. I felt as if I were being questioned for being homosexual.
“Tell me Kevin, if he has. I will go down to the church and kick his ass!”
My mother came into my room.
“No Dad!” I was in full tears now. “No, no. He has never done anything to me!”
“Are you sure Kevin?” My mother joined in. “Don’t lie to us! You shouldn’t lie to us!”
“No Mom! I’m not lying.”
My father realized that I was traumatized and decided to back off. “OK son. It’s all right. We just want to protect you.” He looked to my mother. “Let’s talk about this in the kitchen, Barbara.” They left my room.
  These were the worst weeks of the summer. My mother was obsessed about it. When she came home from work, it was all that she talked about. She spent hours on the phone discussing it with her friends. She called her closest friends in the church, spreading malicious rumors about Adrian being a homosexual pedophile.
  The following Sunday I did not go to church. My mother was surprised to see that I was still home. I told her that I didn’t feel like going. This only added to her suspicions and confirmed her worst fears. The crisis intensified the following week. I could not think about anything else. What if Adrian was really homosexual? Why did he want me? Was I homosexual too? Why me? Had Adrian molested the other boys in the group? I started to question my sexuality which I didn’t even think I had. Since I had started puberty, I had noticed an increase in my sex drive. I had masturbated once or twice a week. During masturbation I used to fantasize about Melissa Gilbert, the actress from the TV show, Little House on the Prairie.
  Though I was naïve and inexperienced sexually both of my parents taught me about sex when I was 9 and 10 years old. They explained it to me only in a scientific manner. They simply explained to the actual mechanics of sex but left me ignorant about sexuality. I knew that homosexuality was bad. I had hated faggots. In fact, homosexuals scared me. The worst insult growing up was to be called a faggot. It was better to be called a nigger than to be called a faggot. Even though certain people were pointed or singled out for being homosexual, I hadn’t known anyone personally to be homosexual. Now, I was confronted by one. The leader of the teen group was homosexual and he wanted me.
  I dreaded the next Sunday. I went to the 11 o’clock service. Adrian showed up. He sat next to me in the pew. He was friendly and smiled at me.
“Kevin! We missed you last week! Where were you?”
“I was sick.” I lied. I felt even more creeped out.
“Well it’s good to see you again!”
  During the service he put his arms around me. He started rubbing and massaging the back of my neck. A deep chill ran throughout my body. I was mortified. When it was time to stand around the alter for the Eucharist, I remained in my pew.
“Aren’t you coming up for Communion?” Adrian asked.
“No!”
  Adrian gave me a puzzled look. He went up with the others. After the service ended, I saw King of the Woods.
“HEY KEVIN! I WILL SEE YOU DOWNSTAIRS!”
“No you won’t King. I’m not going!”
“WHY?”
“I can’t. My mother doesn’t want me to go.”
“WHY NOT?”
“I can’t say.” I turned to run. I ran into Mick.
“Kevin! Where are you going?”
“I gotta go!”
I continued running. I then ran into Lydia.
“Hi Kevin! Where are you going?”
“I gotta go!”
I ran on. Adrian was standing on the front steps talking to another woman. When he saw me he smiled and tried to put his arms around me.
“Don’t touch me you pervert!” I shouted.
  Tee Alexander was talking to the parishioners on their way out. He turned to look at me as did the others.
  I ran down the steps through the gates of Stuyvesant Park. I ran around the fountain to the 2nd Avenue gates. I then booked it towards 14th Street. At 14th Street I turned west to 3rd Avenue. I ran down into the subway. My heart raced. I took the LL train to 8th Avenue. When I ran up to the 8th Avenue line, the A train had just pulled into the station. I took the A train to 59th Street. I went into Central Park to my favorite playground. I went to the swings. I swung hard and high. The other kids looked in amazement for they had never seen anyone swing as fast and high as I did. After 45 minutes I had calmed down. I then walked home. When I got home, my parents were waiting for me.
“Well? You didn’t go to the teen group. Did you see Adrian?” My mother asked.
“Yes.” I averted my eyes from her.
“What did he say?”
“Nothing.”
“Did you tell him that I told you not to go anymore?”
“No, mom. I just left.” I went into my room.
  A couple of days later, my mother called the rector Tony Turnpike to lodge a complaint. Now it was official. My mother formally charged Adrian for being a pedophile. This was becoming terribly embarrassing for me. Soon the entire church would know that I was the target of a homosexual pedophile.
  I didn’t go to church for the next two weeks. On the second Sunday of my absence my mother came home.
“Well I had a conference with Tony and Adrian. He says that he’s not homosexual. He said that he only wanted to take you out to dinner because you are new. He said that he only wanted to welcome you. Tony confirmed this. Tony said that Adrian only wanted to be friendly with you.
“I told them that I still thought it was improper for him to do so. They assured me that he had no intentions to molest you. I told him that if he did, I would call the police. I threatened Tony that as Rector of the church, he was responsible. If Adrian molested you, I would sue the diocese.
“I like and trust Tony. You can go back to the teen group if you want. I don’t like that Adrian Flammer but he knows that I’m serious as cancer.”
  I breathed a sigh of relief. However, my trust in Adrian was never restored. I never told my mother about Adrian putting his arms around me and rubbing my neck. I was glad that this ordeal was over.


















 



  At the start of August my mother took her two weeks vacation. As a professor, my father had the entire summer off. My mother was a civil servant. She worked for the New York City Department of Health. She was the Assistant Head of the Bureau of Vital Records. My parents went to Vancouver, Canada to attend Expo 86. I had wanted to go but my parents wanted to be alone.
  During their absence, I stayed with my grandmother. She lived up in Harlem in an upper class apartment complex called Lenox Terrace. Lenox Terrace was where some of the city’s affluent Blacks lived. Lenox Terrace comprised 3 city blocks of high rise buildings between 132nd and 135th Street between Lenox and 5th Avenues.
  I loved my grandmother and enjoyed staying at her apartment. She was my maternal grandmother. She had been born in Harlem and lived there all her life. She grew up in Sugar Hill in West Harlem near Convent Avenue next to City College. She had married a jazz musician from Kansas City, MO. He was my Grandfather Lewis. Their marriage was strained because he worked nights and slept during the day. He would often leave town for extended periods while touring with various ensembles. Grandfather Lewis liked to drink strong liquor. He also had a weakness for women. He had fathered 5 children from all over the country.
  Grandmother Harriet often received mail addressed to my father during his extended absences. She became suspicious of the numerous letters from women all over the country. Her suspicions were raised when correspondence with letter heads from lawyers and official court documents started pouring in. She began to open and read them. My grandfather had been sued and prosecuted for child payment supports.
  She was left in a dilemma. Grandfather Lewis regularly sent money to her. He remained faithful to his financial obligations. Still, Grandmother Harriet took up a job as a Para-legal once my mother started school. She confronted my grandfather about the various women. He apologized and cried. He always blamed the women for throwing themselves at him. He then blamed liquor for making him lose his senses. He promised never to sleep with other women. Grandmother Harriet loved him deeply. She forgave him.
  Then one day a large letter arrived postmarked from Seattle addressed to her. The return address had the name of a woman. My grandmother opened it. It was a letter from a white woman. In the letter, she declared her love for my grandfather. My grandfather had refused to marry her because she was white and didn’t want to divorce my grandmother. The letter was a direct appeal to my grandmother. A photograph was inserted into the letter. It was a picture of a baby girl who had light complexion. It was the daughter of Grandfather Lewis.
  That was too much for Grandmother Harriet. She could swallow Grandfather Lewis’ sleeping and impregnating other Black women. They had been discreet enough to leave her alone. They didn’t want to be with him. They just wanted him to give them money for the children he created. The woman from Seattle wanted to marry him and had the nerve to appeal to my grandmother directly. She filed for divorce. When Lenox Terrace was built she moved there and left him.
  Her apartment was much larger than my parents. She had 3 bedrooms, a large dinning room, and living room with two bathrooms. Her kitchen was large enough to fit a small table for eating. She had a gas oven as well as a microwave oven. In the living room she had a 19 inch color TV set. To me, it appeared that she lived in luxury. My friend Goulash lived on West End Avenue, which was more affluent than Lenox Terrace, yet Grandmother Harriet’s apartment was much nicer. Grandmother Harriet even hired a maid to clean the house weekly.
  Grandmother Harriet had just started her retirement 2 years prior. She had worked as the Chief paralegal for a Wall Street law firm. She was the first Black person ever to be hired in a Wall Street law firm above the rank of secretary. She was the first Black person to ever be in charge of any Wall Street law firm’s paralegals. She was extremely intelligent and meticulous. She was also tough as nails. No one dared to contradict her. She had a razor sharp wit and tongue to match it. She had a rather formidable temper as well.
  None of the lawyers, not even the partners did she fear. She always disliked lawyers and thought they were lazy. They delegated most of their work and case preparations to the paralegals. Grandmother Harriet was a stickler for detail. She was a hard worker. She could memorize legal decisions and precedents from the top of her head. She did most of the work for the lawyers. As often happened, when the lawyers went to court unprepared they would blame her. She wouldn’t take it. Any lawyer, who raised his voice at her, would be drowned out by her loud boisterous voice. She would not hesitate to swear at them. Since she was also rather large, she could be physically intimidating. Very quickly, the law firm realized that Ms. Harriet Johnson was to be taken very seriously. Moreover, she always called the white lawyers on their racism. Though she was only the top paralegal, she was the de-facto boss of the firm.
 One Partner who had come from the South and not accustomed to the ways of the North made the mistake of trying to force himself on Grandmother Harriet. He saw her the same way he saw his Black maids and cooks back in Alabama. They were simply easy women to have sex with.
  Grandmother Harriet rudely rebuffed him. She told him repeatedly to leave her alone. She didn’t like white men. She especially didn’t care for Crackers from the South. He never took her seriously. He came into her office one day to continue his attempts of conquest. He called her “the sexiest colored woman” he had ever seen. She bounced him out of her office bodily. She then complained to the Partners. She publicly denounced him.
  One night, as she worked on a difficult case well after office hours, he tried to once again. He tried to rape her. He called her “a nigger.” Grandmother Harriet beat him to a pulp. She broke his nose. She then called the police. He was arrested. She dropped the charges only if he would resign from the firm. He acted promptly with accordance. His reputation was ruined in New York. He was in the process of disciplinary procedures by the New York State Bar. He left New York for Florida and never heard from again.
    This was her favorite story to recount over and over. I loved her stories. She was funny with a brilliant sense of humor. She always spoiled and indulged me. Whenever she knew that I was coming to visit she would always order a freshly baked chocolate layer cake for me. I was also relieved to get away from my parents and away from the Upper West Side.
  “I’m so proud of you Kevin! You are going to Stuy-ves-ant High School” Grandmother Harriet beamed. “I have told everyone that my grandson Kevin is going to Stuy-ves-ant!
I smiled as I devoured my chocolate layer cake.
“There is a boy who lives on the 10th floor who is also starting Stuyvesant in September.” Grandmother Harriet stated.
“Really?”
“Yes. He such a nice boy! A very smart boy! His name is Edward. He is the youngest boy of Miss Stephens. I think it would be a very good idea that you go up and meet him. I’ve told him all about you. I told him that you were staying for 2 weeks. He lives in apartment 10H. You should make friends with him. It’s important to have friends before you start a new school.”
  The next day I took the elevator to the 10th floor. It was top floor. 10H was at the end of the corridor. I rang the doorbell. A boy my age opened. I liked him at first sight. He was very striking. He had the same light brown skin complexion as me. He was a good 2 or 3 inches taller than me. He wore glasses. He had a very intelligent face. He looked liked an intellectual. He also sported a flat top haircut but unlike King of the Woods, it looked good on him. The dimensions of the cut were in proportion to his face. With his square shaped glasses, the flat top framed his face perfectly.
 “Yes, how may I help you?”
“Hi! My name is Kevin. My grandmother lives downstairs in 7D. I am looking for Edward.”
“Oh hello there, Kevin! I’m Edward. How do you do?” We shook hands.
“Please do come in. I’ve been told about you.” Edward stepped aside and I stepped inside.
  The apartment was smaller than my grandmothers. It was a bit more cluttered. It wasn’t dirty but rather untidy. There were lots of newspapers scattered about. There was also lots of clothing lying about. The door led into a small living room. The apartment only had 2 bedrooms and one bathroom. There was no dining room. The kitchen was smaller and had the odor of stale grease. It was about the same size as my apartment but not as comfortable.
  I followed Edward into his room. It was cluttered with lots of clothing. There were two beds. One was flawlessly made. The other was unkempt.
  “Please excuse the mess.” Edward apologized. “My brother is home for the summer. He’s a slob! I can’t wait until he goes back to college in a few weeks.”
“It’s fine.” I said.
“Please sit down, Kevin. You can sit on my bed.” He indicated the perfectly made bed.
I sat down on his bed and he sat on the chair at his desk.
“So you are going to Stuy too?” I started the conversation.
“Yes I am!”
“Cool! What school did you go to before?”
“I went to St. Marks.”
“St. Marks? Where’s that?”
“It’s here in Harlem. It’s on 138th Street between 5th and Lenox.”
“Oh ok. I’ve never heard of it.!
“It’s a Catholic school.”
“Oh really!”
“Yes. What school did you go to?”
“I went to I.S. 44.”
“Oh a public school!”
“Yes.”
“Where is it located?”
“On the Upper West Side. 77th between Columbus and Amsterdam.”
“Where do you live?”
“I live on Amsterdam between 78th and 79th.”
“Oh wow! That’s a nice area!”
“It’s ok.”
  We were both taken aback by each other. He was surprised that I lived on the Upper West Side. I was surprised by his surprise and that he considered the Upper West Side to be a nice area. I had lived there since 1980. I was used to it. It was just the neighborhood I lived in. I didn’t think there was anything particularly special or nice about it.
“I have never been to public school. I’ve always gone to Catholic School.”
“Really?” I was genuinely surprised. Edward was the first person I ever met to have attended Catholic School.
“Yes. I took the test for Stuy, Sci and Tech. I also took the Co-Op Exam.”
“The what?”
“The Co-Op Exam. It’s the test for all the Catholic High Schools in the city. I took as many tests for High Schools as I could. I got accepted to Stuy and Tech. Sci rejected me. I was going to choose between Stuy and Spellman.”
“Spellman?”
“Cardinal Spellman High School.”
“Never heard of it.”
“You’ve never heard of Cardinal Spellman?” Edward asked incredulously.
“No. Where is it?”
“Cardinal Spellman is the best Catholic High School in the city! It’s up in The Bronx.”
“Oh, I see.” I really hadn’t a clue. I couldn’t name a single Catholic school in the city. I could name a dozen of private schools off the top of my head but not a single Catholic one.
“Are you Catholic?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m Roman Catholic.”
This was another novelty for me. I had never met a Roman Catholic before. I hadn’t known any. I had only known Protestants, Jews and those without religious affiliation. I knew little about Catholocism and it didn’t leave me with a good impression. When I thought of Catholic schools, I imagined sadistic nuns and priests who viciously beat the students. I also did not like the Catholic Cardinal O’Connor. He had recently been appointed the head of the New York Archdiocese. He was very out-spoken and opinionated. He seemed to meddle in the political affairs of the city. My father was always of the opinion that Cardinal O’Connor was homosexual the same way Pope Paul John IV was. My father said that all Catholic priests were “faggots”.
“What are you?” Edward asked me.
“I’m Episcopalian.”
“Oh!” Edward seemed startled. “I’ve never met an Episcopalian before.”
“Really?” I was once again astonished.
“No. Anyway, I wanted to go to Spellman because it has a really good band.”
“Really.”
“Yes. The Spellman Marching Band is the best in the city.”
“I didn’t know that. Do you play an instrument?”
“Yes. I play the clarinet. Would you like to see me play?”
“Why not?”
    Edward reached for his case. He opened up and neatly set the pieces of the instrument on his desk. He meticulously assembled it together. As he assembled the clarinet he held the mouth piece in his mouth to make it moist. He attached the mouth piece to the top of the instrument. He finally put on the brace and tightened the screws. He played warm up scales. Then suddenly he played one of my favorite tunes. He played “Blue Train” by John Coltrane. He played a different arrangement from the Blue Note record rendition of it. I was genuinely impressed.
  As he disassembled his clarinet I noticed his record collection. He had every record of the songs which I had just recently heard on the radio. He had the 45 Single of “Sledgehammer”. I asked to play it which he did. I also saw that he had the 12 inch single of “Missionary Man”. I requested to hear it after “Sledgehammer”. He had lots of records by Eurythmics. He had their previous album “Be Yourself Tonight.” He had two 45s of “Who’s That Girl” and “Here Comes The Rain Again”. He had the 12 inch record of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”.
  “Wow Edward! You have a great record collection.” I was genuinely impressed.
“It’s OK. Half of the records belong to my brother.”
“I see that you only have records. Do you listen to tapes?”
“I only buy blank tapes. I buy all my music on records. I record them onto tapes so that I can listen to them on my walkman.”
“You’ve got a walkman!” I was so excited. Being a new found lover of music, I wanted lots of records, tapes and my own walkman.
“Naturally!”
  Before I knew it the hours passed and Edward’s mom returned home from work. She looked exhausted as if she had done strenuous labor. Edward introduced us.
“Oh you are Miss Johnson’s grandson! I’ve heard so much about you! You’re starting Stuyvesant next year too?”
“Yes I am Ms. Stephens.”
“Good. Now Edward has a friend.” She smiled at me for a few moments before her face took on a more aggressive countenance.
“Goddamn Carl! I told him to clean up the house today!” Ms. Stephens fumed.
“I know ma! I told him to clean up but he ran out of the house to see his girlfriend.”
  Seeing that domestic matters were being discussed I decided to take my leave. I told Edward that I was staying in the building for 2 weeks. I invited him to come down and visit. I made my salutations and went downstairs.
  Grandmother Harriet was baking a chicken. She also had candied yams, string beans and rice cooking on the stove. I told her that I had been hanging out with Edward. I gave a most enthusiastic and positive recount. Grandmother Harriet was pleased.
“Yes, that Edward boy is very nice and very smart. Much nicer than his dum-dum older brother. I don’t like that Carl child! He’s very fresh!”
“It’s cool Grandmother that I will have a friend at Stuy.”
Upon hearing that word Grandmother Harriet’s face beamed. “Stuy-ves-ant. My little Kevin is going to Stuy-ves-ant! I knew you would make it. Your parents fussin’ and worryin’ about nothing. You poor thing! Having to deal your parents hasslin’ you and acting as if you were some hoodlum and dum-dum. I told them that you were just a boy and to get off your case!”
  I went over and kissed her on the cheek. She accepted it kindly and hushed me away.
“Go wash your hands boy. When you are finished go and set the table for Grandmother Harriet.”
  Whatever Grandmother Harriet wanted from me, I gave without hesitation or complaint. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2 weeks with Grandmother Harriet. It was nice to be away from my parents. It was also a change of scenery from the Upper West Side. I still went down to St. George’s Church on Sundays. It was a much longer ride from Harlem than from the Upper West Side. I had to take the numbers 2 or 3 train down to Times Square and then changed to the N train down to Union Square. King of the Woods and I continued quarrelling about the best radio station in New York. Mick and I prolonged our endless debate about “Missionary Man.”
 
  August is the worst month to be in New York. Anyone with resources tries to get out of the city even for only a weekend. My parents went away to Vancouver. They came back full of joy and praise for the city and Expo 86. I felt sour. I always felt sour during August. New York is a sour city in August. Being back with my parents added to my sourness. I knew that I had only a few weeks before school started. That was the always the main source of my sourness. The dreadful prospect of going back to school. The retail shops never failed to remind students that the summer vacation was nearing the end. All the shops had “Back To School” sales and signs in their windows and open displays. The TV’s were full of advertising for “Back To School” Sales. TV bored me to tears in August. There was nothing on but repeat episodes from the previous season. I grew weary of seeing the same episodes 4 times. To add insult to injury, the major networks had advertising blitzes hyping up the new shows for the coming fall. The best entertainment found on TV in August was the Crazy Eddie commercials. Crazy Eddie was an appliance, hi-fi and electronics discount retail chain in New York. Their commercials were something to behold. They were made in an intentionally cheesy manner. The actor played his role very well. He would scream and rant like a lunatic. Every August, Crazy Eddie would have its “Christmas Sale in August”. The ad went like this. The actor who I used to think was Crazy Eddie himself was as always surrounded by TV’s and radios. However, every August he was surrounded with electric fans blowing and oscillating. He would wipe his face of sweat and grimace: “It’s hot in the city! Everyone is miserable! Can’t sleep at night because it’s too humid” Suddenly he would don a red cap with white trims and pick up a decorated miniature Christmas tree. Other hands would suddenly appear from all sides coming up from the TV’s and radios ringing bells. “IT’S TIME FOR THE CRAZY EDDIE CHRISTMAS SALE IN AUGUST!” The bells would ring frantically. The actor would rant and scream about the sales of fans and air conditioners. As always, he ended on the patented line: “At Crazy Eddie OUR prices are so low……THEY’RE INSAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNE!”
Apart from the Crazy Eddie TV commercials, August always felt to be a time hung in suspension of tedium, boredom and humidity.
  There was another FOCUS camping trip coming up the last week of August. The next camping trip was to take place on Martha’s Vineyard. I wanted to go. I asked my father and he gave me permission and once again agreed to pay for it. When my mother found out she blew her top.
“What’s this about you going to Hyannis Port?” She asked me accusingly.
At first I did not know what she was referring to. I had never heard of Hyannis Port. So I truthfully denied it. “What? I’m not going to Hyannis Port?”
She moved in on to me and raised her hand as if to slap me. “Don’t lie to me!”
“I’m not lying! I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Yes you do. Tony Turnpike told me that you were going on another FOCUS trip to Hyannis Port.”
“Oh you mean Martha’s Vineyard!” I suddenly understood.
“Yeah, Hyannis Port. That’s where the Kennedy’s live. Who told you that you could go?”
“I asked Dad and he said I could go.”
“You asked your father but didn’t tell me?” She raised her voice.
“Well, I asked Dad because he paid for the last trip.”
 My mother rolled her eyes at me and left my room. When I father came home she started cursing him out.
“Why are you wasting another $500 so the boy can go up with the rich white people?”
“You better get out of my face, Barbara!” My father’s voice thundered back.
“I am in your face nigger! Why didn’t you ask me if I approved of Kevin going?”
“Because I knew you would’ve said no!”
“Damn right, I would’ve said no. I’m saying no now!”
“Barbara you better get the fuck out of face before I slap you into the middle of next week!”
“Don’t you threaten me Harold or I will call the cops and have your ass locked up!”
“Well Barbara if you don’t get the fuck out my face you won’t be alive to call the motherfucking cops!”
“We have already spent more than 2000 fucking dollars this summer. First it was $500 for Kevin to go upstate. Then went spent $1600 going to Canada. Now we are going to spend another $500 so Kevin can be with the rich white folks!”
“Who’s we, bitch!” My father counter attacked.  “I am the one who paid for everything. Me, me, me! You ran up my motherfucking Master Charge buying clothes and bullshit in Canada. Who’s going to pay for that? Me. You don’t pay for shit Barbara!”
“Excuse me, nigger!” My mother’s tone became more confrontational. “I don’t pay for shit? Who pays half the motherfucking rent?”
“You do and you don’t pay for anything fucking else. I pay all the rest. I pay for the phone, the ConEd, the gas and the insurance for the car. I pay for the food. What the fuck do you do with your pay check anyway? You have your own secret savings account. You set up a private post office box so I don’t know what the fuck is going on!” My father’s tone was so aggressive I thought he was going to hit her!
“Well that’s none of your business.” My mother went on the defensive.
“Yeah in that case bitch, it’s none of your business what I want to spend my money for. Kevin is going to Martha’s Vineyard and that’s it!”
  Needless to say the atmosphere was tense in the house. My mother took her bitterness out on to me. Every morning she rudely woke me up at 7 o’clock and ordered me to go to the store. She intentionally wrote shopping lists of items which would force me to have to walk between 72nd Street and 110th Street including Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues as well as Broadway. Of course there were items that I couldn’t find. When I returned home without the items on her list, she would yell and insult me. My father never intervened on my behalf. He would sit in the living room reading the New York Times tuning us out. I started to resent them both.
  My parents had different tastes when it came to reading newspapers. My father read the New York Times on a daily basis. He had a home subscription. By contrast my mother read the Daily News only on Sunday. My father detested the tabloid Daily News. He called it “pap”. Conversely, my mother found the Times too complicated to read. For her, the Times was an “intellectual” newspaper. My mother derisively called my father “Mr. Intellectual”. I preferred the Daily News because it had a comics section, as well as a comprehensive sports section and rather large entertainment section. A week before I was due to go to Martha’s Vineyard, I came upon an advertisement in the travel section. New York Air had a sale on flights from LaGuardia Airport to Martha’s Vineyard. The same day I went to church and excitedly told King of the Woods about the New York Air seat sale.
“King! New York Air flies to Martha’s Vineyard! I think I might fly.”
“AH THAT’S NOT CORRECT KEVIN! THERE ARE NO JETS ALLOWED AT MARTHA’S VINEYARD AIRPORT!”
“Really? Then how come New York Air flies there?”
“NEW YORK AIR MIGHT FLY THERE BUT THEY MUST USE TURBO PROP PLANES!”
  My heart sunk. I loved to fly but on jets only. I didn’t trust propeller planes. I considered prop planes to be a very flimsy way of flying. I called New York Air the next day to enquire about the stock used to fly to Martha’s Vineyard. The customer service representative confirmed that they provided jet service to Martha’s Vineyard. Immediately, after I hung up with New York Air, I phoned King of the Woods.
“Ha! I just called New York Air and they told me that they do fly jets to Martha’s Vineyard!”
King of the Woods remained unconvinced.
“NO KEVIN! THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE! MARTHA’S VINEYARD HAS AN ORIDINANCE AGAINST JETS BECAUSE OF NOISE POLLUTION.”
“King, I just called New York Air! They told me that they send a jet.”
“NO KEVIN.”
“Then why would New York Air lie about it?”
“I DON’T KNOW. ALL I KNOW IS THAT JETS ARE BANNED FROM THE VINEYARD.”
At the end it didn’t matter as my father saw no reason for me to fly. I was taking Greyhound and that was the end of the discussion.
  The morning arrived when I was to leave for Martha’s Vineyard. The bus departed at 6:45AM. Ironically enough, it was my mother who took me to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. We arrived at 6 o’clock to purchase my tickets. We went to the basement level and stood on line for the bus.
  King of the Woods arrived. My mother had met him a few times in passing as she left the 10 o’clock service. He knew she was my mother and would always wave hello to her when they passed on the street. He was usually on his way to church as she was leaving. My mother had not really known his personality.
“HEY KEVIN!”
King of the Woods voice boomed throughout the corridor causing all the passengers to give startled glances at his direction.
“Hey King! What’s up?”
“COOL! I’M SO EXCITED!”
  I became embarrassed. People were looking at us. My mother gave King a most disturbed expression.
“HI MRS. BLAKE!” King of the Woods bellowed into her face.
My mother backed away and nearly tripped over my suitcase. She regained her balance and composure. “Hello King.”
King of the Woods dumped his duffel bag on the floor behind us.
“CAN YOU WATCH MY STUFF? I’M GOING UPSTAIRS TO ZARO’S TO GET SOME BAGELS. DO YOU WANT ANYTHING KEVIN?”
“No thank you, King.”
“WHAT ABOUT YOU MRS. BLAKE? IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN GET FOR YOU?”
“No that’s all right.”
“OK! BE RIGHT BACK!” King of the Woods walked away.
  My mother stared at him. People looked his direction and then stared at me. I felt increasing embarrassment. My mother turned to me.
“What’s his story? Is he always so loud?”
“Yes mom. He’s always like that.”
“Is he retarded?”
“No mom he just seems so.”
“Oh.” My mother was left speechless.
  I decided that instant not sit next to King of the Woods on the bus. I didn’t want to be associated with him. More people lined up behind us. It was going to be a packed bus. King of the Woods returned. He recognized some of the other kids who were going to FOCUS as well. These were all kids that I had never met or seen before. The driver opened the gates and announced the boarding for the bus. My mother hugged and kissed me. She politely but distantly said good bye to King of the Woods.
“BYE MRS. BLAKE!”
    I told King of the Woods that he could go ahead of me. It was a deliberate ploy so that he would not sit next to me. If I went ahead of him he would naturally take the seat next to me. I did not want to be seen with or even to appear to know him. All the seats had been filled in the front half of the bus. King of The Woods took his seat two rows from the rear. I took an empty window seat 2 rows ahead of him. When he noticed that I sat away from him he remarked:
“SO YOU WANT TO SIT THERE, KEVIN? OK I WILL COME UP TO YOU!”
  Immediately I got up and intercepted him in the aisle. I tried to speak as quietly as possible.
“No King. I want to sit by myself. I don’t want you to sit next to me.”
“WHY? WHY DON’T YOU WANT ME TO SIT NEXT TO YOU KEVIN?” King’s voiced boomed that everyone on the bus turned to look. I had an urge to put duct tape around his mouth. I replied in a whispering hiss: “because I want to be alone!”
“OK. WHATEVER YOU WANT KEVIN.” King of the Woods retreated to his seat.
  The aisle seat next to me was occupied by white college student on his way to Cape Cod. The bus pulled out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It drove cross-town to Madison Ave. We drove uptown through Harlem just a few blocks from my grandmother’s apartment. We crossed Madison Bridge over the Harlem River to The Bronx. We turned on to the Bruckner Expressway. We sped northeast. It took about 45 minutes before we cleared the city limits. 20 minutes later we crossed state lines and were in Connecticut.
  The college student next to me struck up a conversation. He asked where I was headed. I told him that I was going to Martha’s Vineyard. He was headed to Hyannis. He asked me what school I went to. When I answered that I was going to Stuyvesant he was rather impressed. He was about to enter his second year at Brown University in Providence. He had spent the summer in New York working an internship at Merrill Lynch. He was studying Business Administration. He and I had a good rapport.
  Meanwhile, King of the Woods struck up a conversation with his neighbor. The entire bus could hear.
“YES I PLAY SPORTS! I PLAY SOCCER, BASEBALL AND BASKETBALL. I AM THE BEST PLAYER IN MY SCHOOL! I HAVE WON MORE TROPHIES THAN ANY OTHER STUDENT IN MY SCHOOL! I GOALTEND FOR THE SOCCER TEAM. IN BASEBALL, I PITCH. I AM A VERY GOOD PITCHER! MY E.R.A LAST SEASON WAS 2.00! I AM NOT THE BEST BASKETBALL PLAYER, THOUGH. I PLAY DEFENSE. I AM A GUARD!”
  My neighbor turned around to look at King of the Wood with a disapproving face. He turned to me and said: “Who’s that asshole?”
I feigned ignorance. “I don’t know.”
He shook his head. “What a bragging idiot!”
“Yes he is.” I concurred. It simply confirmed my decision to sit separately from King of the Woods.
  I had to change buses in Providence. I said good-bye to my neighbor. There was a 45 minute layover for the bus to Wood’s Hole. I went to the gate and sat. I put my suitcase on the empty seat next to me to prevent King of the Woods from sitting. As he approached, he looked directly at me. I returned a nasty look. He grinned and started with his moronic laughter.
“HEY KEVIN! OOO OOO HU HU HEH HEH.” He waved at me and stood in front of me.
“SO NOW WE MUST WAIT 45 MINUTES FOR THE BUS TO WOOD’S HOLE!”
“Yes, I know King.”
“THEN WHEN WE GET TO WOOD’S HOLE, WE HAVE TO TAKE THE FERRY TO EITHER OAK BLUFFS OR VINEYARD HAVEN.”
“Ok.”
“CAN I TAKE THE SEAT NEXT TO YOU?”
“No!”
“WHY NOT?”
“I told you back in New York, I want to be alone!”
    The other passengers stared at us. Why do I know this kid? I asked myself mentally. Why did he have to be Black? Never before had I ever felt so self-conscious of my race. My family raised me to be proud of being Black. However, I was instilled to be on my best behavior in public. Blacks in general were regarded to be criminal and anti-social. I had to set an example of being a “Good Black.” I felt being associated with a loud and uncouth Black like the King of the Woods would make whites look down upon me. I vowed to keep my distance from him during the entire week. I was not going to let the white kids from the affluent suburbs think that I was as loud and stupid as King of the Woods.
  We boarded the second bus. As we pulled out of Providence the driver made an introductory announcement with a New England accent.
Good mohning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome aboahd Bonanza Buslines 11 o’clock sehvice to Wood’s Hole. We will make stops at Fall Riveh, New Bedfohd Falmouth-”
  Upon hearing the driver announce Falmouth, the King of the Woods burst out into laughter which made everyone on the bus turn around. The driver looked in the rearview mirror with a disgusted expression, and then continued.
And Wood’s Hole. There is to be no drinking of alcohol on this coach. This is a bus not a bah! The playing of radios without headphones is not alloud. I ask that you keep the volume low on yah headphones. I don’t wanna heah ‘boom-boom-tchak, swish whsesh’ out of the headphones. It gives me a headache. Relax, sit back, enjoy the scenehy and ride!”
  Most of us smiled and quietly chuckled at the driver. He was entertaining and amusing. I stared out of the window. I was not familiar with this part of New England. I was impressed by the landscape of southeastern Massachusetts. I had driven through the state countless times visiting my father’s side of the family in New Hampshire. I used to hate the stretch through Massachusetts. I found the state very ugly and barren. However, this stretch was very nice. I had not seen much of coastal New England with the exception of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
  Moreover, the bus took a state highway route as thankfully the Interstate was not built to Cape Cod. I liked the quaint white painted houses which dotted the towns and villages we passed through. We pulled into Fall River. It struck me as a run down trashy town. When we left that city, the landscape became scenic again. We arrived in New Bedford which really struck me as a slum. On the streets, I had never seen so many trashy, dirty and fat people in my life. I was glad that I didn’t live there. When we pulled to our next stop, the driver announced “Falmouth.” King of the Woods burst out in laughter.
  “HEH HEH OOO OOO! THAT’S FUNNY. FOULMOUTH. ‘YOU’VE GOT A FOULMOUTH!’ HEH HEH OOO OOO.”
  We arrived in Woods Hole. I had to follow King of the Woods because he knew where the ferry terminal was and which boat to take. The next boat was leaving in 30 minutes to Oak Bluffs. We bought our tickets. King of the Woods recognized more people who were going to FOCUS. I noticed how politely they regarded him yet at the same time remained stiff and cold. It was obvious that King of the Woods put most people at un-ease. Unfortunately, he did not have the emotional intelligence to read people’s facial expressions or eyes. He had no sense of embarrassment or that he was awkward in anyway whatsoever.
  We embarked on the ferry. It took 50 minutes to cross from the mainland to Martha’s Vineyard. Standing next to me was a sharp looking Black man accompanied by two white women. He wore a small Afro and had the composure of a funk band bass player. He looked so elegant and refined I asked if he came from Boston. He and one of the girls with him smiled at me.
“No,” he replied. “I’m not from Bahston!” The two girls giggled.
  We docked into Oak Bluffs. There were counselors from FOCUS waiting for us with cars to take us to the camp site. I saw Jack Black for the first time since Silver Bay. I went in his car. We drove around the island. The landscape was not what I had thought it would be. Since the name of the island was Martha’s Vineyard, I expected to see miles and miles of vineyards. Before the trip, I fancied how I would spend a day or two exploring vineyards and picking grapes. I had promised my parents that I would return with bunches of grapes. However, it increasingly appeared that wouldn’t happen.
  FOCUS owned 45 acres of land in Lambert Cove. The compound had its own entrance off the road tucked ½ mile into the woods. I was a bit disappointed. This was not as nice as Silver Bay. There was a tennis court which I decided to avoid after Silver Bay’s fiasco. The boy’s cabins were built upon a hill. Next to the cabins was a large tent. The girl’s cabins were on the far side of the camp. There was a wooden cabin which housed the kitchen and dinning room. There was a stone two story structure which was the main meeting room. The camp was set high above the cove. As one walked down the slope, there were the cottages where the head counselors and paid staff of FOCUS lived. At the bottom of the slope was a lake.
  I went to the dinning room to register and check in. At first, I had wanted to sleep in the tent and was disappointed when I was assigned a cabin. That changed once I actually saw the tent. The tent was built as a Native American teepee. It was dark with a foul musky odor. There were 6 beds crammed inside. The entrance was made with the canvas of the tent pulled apart. It was too exposed to the elements for my taste. Moreover, there were lots of insects which had used the dark and musty tent as their residence.
  The cabins were slightly better but not much. There were 6 double bunk beds per room. The room had only a screen door. They were just musky as the tent but better illuminated. I wondered if I had made the right decision. Silver Bay was not a camp but rather a resort. Lambert Cove was a proper camp and I became uneasy.
  My unease would grow day by day. I was horrified to learn that each day all the campers would rotate taking turns to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner; and each meal crew not only had to cook but wash all the dishes as well. This was not what I had bargained for. I knew that I would have an attitude problem all week. I could see it in the stars.
  I ran into Pay Daly. It was the first time I saw him since Silver Bay. His sister Jane was with him. This time around there was a slightly larger contingent from Baltimore. Pay and I were in the same cabin. There were lots more people for this week than at Silver Bay. There were two blonde boys who looked like twins. They were from New York as well. I recognized them but I couldn’t place where from. One of them kept staring at me with the same vague recognition. Then there was an adult counselor who reminded me vaguely of a teacher from the private school I had attended during First and Second grades. The same group of kids from Philadelphia I met at Silver Bay had also come to Martha’s Vineyard. We greeted each other warmly. There were two boys from Hartford, Connecticut who I hadn’t met before. They were fascinated by me and I ended spending a contentious week too much with them.
  Brandy Frequent had returned as well. She was rather excited to see me. I hadn’t even notice her when she screamed my name and pounced on me. During the 3 years at I.S. 44, I had gotten nearly into as many fights with girls as I had with boys. All the girls that I had ever fought with were Black. The Black girls that went to I.S. 44 were tough. They were mean, nasty, sour and aggressive! They were the epitome of sassiness. They were loud, vulgar and vicious with their insults. Moreover, they proved eager to provoke fights. I had never been in a fight or had been provoked by the white girls in school.
  So when Brandy sprang on me, I thought that I was being “jumped”. At that time in New York we used the verb “to jump” to describe being attacked or being the attacker. Growing up in New York during the 1980’s, I was always on my guard and constantly aware of the danger of getting “jumped”. I knew the danger very well since me myself used to “jump” the prep school kids. However, rather than hit with blows, Brandy hit me with kisses. It was the first time a girl had ever kissed me. Not a day passed at Martha’s Vineyard without Brandy getting her lips on me. They were rather sweet pecks on the lips without tongue or saliva. Nevertheless, they had quite an erotic spark to them which did not fail to arouse.
  Mindy Mime, the daughter of my church music director John Mime had also attended. She was a Goth girl. She was moody, disenchanted, and dismissive, with an air of murky impenetrability. During the week on the Vineyard, I discovered that she was King’s girlfriend. That made complete sense to me. They were both terribly awkward yet they expressed their anti-social behavior in opposite means. King was an extroverted anti-social. He alienated all those around him. Mindy was an introverted anti-social. She felt alienated by all those around her.
  Before dinner, I sat with Pay and Jane and talked about our summer. They told me a story about the King of the Woods. Two weeks after Silver Bay, King of the Woods spent a weekend at their home in Baltimore.
“Did King tell you about his trip to Baltimore when he came to visit us?” Pay asked me.
“No, I forgot that he went. I do remember he said that he was going to visit you.”
“Kevin, you won’t believe what happened!” Pay exclaimed.
“What happened?” My curiosity was aroused.
“King cleared out our fridge!” Jane added with emphasis.
“What?” I didn’t understand.
Pay spoke at length.
“Our parents bought lots of food the day before King came. Our fridge was stocked. We had 3 gallons of milk, 3 dozen eggs, 2 gallons of orange juice, and 2 giant loaves of bread. Our freezer was stocked with beef, chicken and fish. Our shelves were full with unopened boxes of cereal. We had a giant jar of jam and a giant jar of peanut butter. We had stocked the shelves with all types of cookies and potato chips. King ate it all!”
“No!” I was truly stunned.
“Yes!” Jane affirmed. “Every five minutes he kept going to the kitchen! Right, Pay?” She looked at her brother to validate.
“Yes! He raided our kitchen. Even from my room, I could hear the fridge door open and close all the time!” Pay said.
“No way!” I had never heard anything like this before.
“He never once asked if he could take food. He never even said “please” or “thank you”! Jane sounded especially offended.
“And,” Pay continued. “He made a mess! He never washed the dishes. There was food everywhere. When my parents told him to wash the dishes he broke a few of them.”
“Say what?” I simply couldn’t believe how deep the disaster was.
“Hun-uh.” Jane nodded to banish any doubt I might dare entertain.
“King dropped a jar of mustard on the floor. It broke and mustard was all over the floor. My father was fuming!” Jay concluded.
“By Sunday, the fridge was empty. So were the shelves. What would have taken us two weeks to eat, King finished in two days.” Jane finished the story.
  The evening dinner bell rang. We walked to the dining cabin. During the walk, I thought about King of the Woods. The story that the Daly’s told disturbed me deeply. King’s behavior on the bus ride up added to the sum of my doubts about him. Suddenly, I felt self-conscious. King was obviously bad news. Why was I friends with him? I suddenly no longer wanted to be associated with him. However, we were both associated by race. If the whites at FOCUS were aware of King’s sordidness, they might by extension think that I was exactly like him. I had decided that I was not going to associate with him at all. I wouldn’t talk to him. I would not be seen together with him. I would keep my distance as far as possible.
  I sat with Pay and Jane. Across the table from us were the two boys from Hartford, Toby and Toga. Sitting at our same table at the last two seats was the blonde boy whom I had vaguely recognized as well as the woman who had an uncanny bearing to a teacher at my early elementary school. During the meal, I spoke mostly with the Daly’s. The blonde boy leaned across the table and addressed me.
“Didn’t you used to go to St. Hilda’s and Hugh’s?”
“Yes!”
“You’re Kevin aren’t you?”
“Yes!”
“We were in the same class First and Second grades.”
“Yes!”
“I’m Simon.”
“Simon Simonivic! I remember you!” I then pointed to the other blonde boy sitting at the other table. “That must be your older brother Alexander.”
“Yes! I thought it was you Kevin.”
 Simon and Alexander Simonivic were the two most popular students at St. Hilda’s and Hugh’s. Their father came from Yugoslavia and was a diplomat at the UN. Their mother was American who had chaired the American Cultural Studies Department at Columbia. Their parents were the head of the parent’s association and wielded influence within the school. Many of the meetings and social events of the school Parents Association were hosted by them. St. Hilda’s and Hugh’s was an Episcopal School one block away from Columbia University. Many of the professors at Columbia sent their children to St. Hilda’s and Hugh’s. That was the reason why I was sent there a year after my father became a professor himself.
“Where did you go after you left St. Hilda’s?” Simon asked me.
“I went to public school.”
“Which school did you go to?”
“I went to P.S. 87 and then to I.S. 44”
“Cool!”
“What high school are you going to?” I asked.
“I’m still going to St. Hilda’s.”
“What? St. Hilda’s goes up to 12th Grade? Since when?”
“It’s always been from K to 12.” Simon replied.
“Really! I thought it just went up to 8.”
“That’s because the high school is in the next building over separated from the lower school.”
“I forgot.” I left St. Hilda’s in 1980. Six years had passed.
“Where are you going to high school?” Simon asked.
“I’m going to Stuy.”
“Really! Congratulations! That’s a really good school.”
“That’s what they say.”
Simon pointed to the counselor who reminded me of a teacher from St. Hilda’s. “That’s Mrs. Torrez. I had her the next year after you left.”
“Mrs. Torrez!” I exclaimed as I looked at her.
“Yes!” She looked at me with surprise.
“I remember you! You were the 3rd grade teacher at St. Hilda’s.!
“Yes, I still am.” She confirmed.
“I went to St. Hilda up to 2nd grade. If I had stayed you would have been my teacher.”
“Really? I don’t remember you. I only remember the students I teach. Who was your 2nd grade teacher?”
“Mrs. Volkstag.”
“Oh! She left years ago!”
“Is Mrs. Stapleton still the first grade teacher?”
“Oh no, she’s left as well.”
“There have been lots of changes since you’ve left Kevin.” Simon explained.
“Seems like it.”
  30 minutes after dinner, we sang religious folk songs and heard lectures on the challenges of being a Christian in a world which did not value or take Christian principles of compassion and love seriously. We then had about one hour to ourselves before bed was called. I slept uneasily in the dusky cabin that evening.
  I had a most unpleasant surprise when I got up the next morning. I had been enlisted for the cooking and cleaning duty for breakfast. I had a nasty attitude during breakfast. I resented having to prepare food and to tidy up afterwards. I did not look forward to repeating it twice more for lunch and dinner. Pay, Jane, Simon, Toby, Toga and I were assigned kitchen duty for the day.
  I decided to spend the morning with Pay. Pay wanted to play tennis with King of the Woods. Pay asked me if I wanted to play but I declined. After Silver Bay, my interest in tennis dissipated. Moreover, I knew better than to play King of the Woods. I was going to avoid all fights this week. So I decided to watch the two of them play.
  In the middle of their game, the calm and quiet of Martha’s Vineyard was ruptured by a sonic boom. The unmistakable sound of a jet plane taking off increased in volume. Then just above the trees a New York Air DC 9 ascended. We all looked up. I jumped up with excitement.
“Ha! I told you that New York Air flew jets to Martha’s Vineyard!” I shouted triumphantly.
“You were right!” King of the Woods appeared both shocked and embarrassed.
“I was right!” I spoke to Pay. “I called the airline and asked if they flew jets to the Vineyard. Mr. Bigmouth here kept saying no.” I relished this petty conquest. It further validated my hostility and superiority complex against King of the Woods.
  The counselors were offering rides into Oak Bluffs for the afternoon. I wanted to get into town and out of the woods. I took the first car with Toby, Toga and Pay. Oak Bluffs was the second largest town on the island. Many of the other campers went to the Black Dog to have lunch. Oak Bluffs consisted of souvenir shops, tea houses, antique houses, book shops and taverns. Toby, Toga and I discovered a video game arcade. The arcade was the only attraction for 14 year old boys. We spent about 90 minutes in town before driving back to Lambert Cove. That evening, I got into some tiffs with Toga. I didn’t like his attitude. He was bossy and I resented it. We got into each other’s face a couple of times exchanging threats and insults. However, mindful of my reputation, I kept the sparing and hostilities limited to the verbal rather than the physical.
  The next day we went to Gayhead. It was at the far end of the island and famous for being a nudist beach. Naturally, we didn’t go to the nudist part of the beach. It was a nice drive on the twisting and curving roads of Martha’s Vineyard.
  The next day, rides were offered into Vineyard Haven. I eagerly went. Vineyard Haven was the largest town on the island. I found it dull. It was filled with really expensive shops and restaurants. It was very old. Unlike Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven didn’t have a video game arcade nor did it have anything of interest for me. It seemed to be a town for rich old people. It was very much like Palm Beach, Florida except more picturesque, despite lacking palm trees and a tropical balmy breeze.
  Though I went out of my way to disassociate myself from the King of the Woods, people found my behavior to be strange. Since the All-Star Break, I started the habit of wearing my Mets cap all the time. I never took it off except to shower. I slept with it on. When the other boys saw me sleep with my Mets cap on, it aroused their curiosity. They saw that I never took it off. Some would ask me to take it off. I refused. When I went to the beach, I had on my swimming trunks and my Mets cap. I even waded and swam in the ocean with it on. I explained that I was not going to take the cap off until the Mets were either eliminated from the playoffs or until they had won the World Series.
  As I passed that Labor Day weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, I began to feel depressed. Another summer was closing and I would have to start school. It was not so much school which added to the bleakness, though it certainly played a key role. It was returning to live with my parents which weighed most on me. I had come to hate them both. They were going to be on my case all the time about school. Then they would have their fights. I wished that I could to go live with the families of the kids that I spent the week with.
  The Sunday which was the last full day before were to leave, I had kitchen duty again. Toga and I had a shouting match at each other. I had a begrudging respect for Toga. He was the only kid at FOCUS who could match my profanity and toughness. He would’ve been the only kid there able to survive a year at I.S. 44. He later told me that he went to public school in Hartford. King of the Woods got on my nerves. He wanted me to pay catch with me. I flatly refused. He followed me up along the road between the dining hall and the boys’ cabins. I turned around on him.
“Why the fuck are you following me!” I snarled.
King had a blank face and stopped.
“Stop following me! What are you a faggot?” I hurled abuse at him.
“AH KEVIN, YOU ARE NOT BEING NICE!”
“Get away from me! I don’t want you around me!”
King of the Woods tilted his head towards heaven and squinted his eyes. “KEVIN SHUT UP! I’M JUST GOING TO GET SOMETHING FROM MY CABIN!”
I ran ahead and went into my cabin. King came directly in my cabin.
“KEVIN, CAN YOU DO ME A FAVOR?”
I jumped down from the top bunk in a fury. “Get the fuck away from me!”
A blonde boy from Martha’s Vineyard stepped out of his cabin to see what was occurring.
“KEVIN, WHAT’S WRONG?” King of the Woods asked.
I shoved King of the Woods out of my cabin onto the terrace.
“You are a fucking stupid moron! I hate you! You are a disgrace to me! I don’t want to associate with you!” I raised my fists and threatened to hit him.
“DON’T HIT ME KEVIN!”
“Then get the fuck away from me!”
King of the Woods walked away from the cabins. The boy from Martha’s Vineyard confronted me.
“What was that about?”
“I hate that kid!”
“Why do you hate him?”
“He embarrasses me.”
“Why does he embarrass you?”
“He’s a dick. Everyone knows he’s a dick. I don’t want people to think I’m a dick.”
“So what if King’s a dick? What does it got to do with you?”
I couldn’t answer. The boy continued.
“You are a nice kid. Nobody thinks you are the same as King.”
I felt somewhat relieved and my anger slowly subsided. The boy went on.
“The only weird thing about you is that you never take your cap off.”
“What’s so weird about it?”
“Dude, you sleep in your cap! That’s pretty weird!”
“Is it?” I contemplated. “It’s for good luck. I’m superstitious.”
“Superstitious? Superstitious of what?”
“Well, the Mets have the best record in baseball. They are probably going to make it to the World Series. If I take my cap off then they might not win.”
The boy from Martha’s Vineyard shook his head and walked away from me.
  As was customary with all week long FOCUS camps, a talent show was held on the last night. The kids and the counselors would often play skits. The Simonivic boys played Guitar. Since it was the mid 1980’s many kids would lip synch to their favorite songs at the time as the tape played in the background. Pay Daly, for example, played air guitar and lip synched to his favorite Christian rock singer Michael W. Smith. King of the Woods had a rather novel idea. He decided to play the tape of “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister. Instead of lip synching he had a different idea. He wrote lyrics about the poor playing quality of the New York Yankees and sang his words over the voice of the singer of the group. Rather than “Broken Wings”, he renamed it “Yankee Wings”. That was another contrast between us. I was a Mets fan. He was a Yankees fan. I always wore my Mets cap. King often wore his Yankees cap.
  When it was King’s turn to perform, he placed the tape in the player and hit the “Play” button. The bass line of “Broken Wings” started. King of the Woods began his interpretation.
“YANKEES, DON’T UNDERSTAND
WHY THEY JUST CAN’T HOLD ON TO ALL OF THEIR FANS
THIS TIME MIGHT BE THE FAST, I FEAR
UNLESS I MAKE IT ALL TOO CLEAR
YOU NEED IT SO, OHHHHHHHHHHH

TAKE THESE YANKEE WINGS
AND LEARN TO PITCH AND CATCH AND LEARN HOW TO FIELD
AND WHEN THEY LEARN HOW TO SWING
THE BATS WILL OPEN UP AND THE YANKEES WILL WIN
TAKE THESE YANKEE WIIIIINNNNNNGGGSSSS

YANKEES, I THINK TONIGHT
WE CAN TAKE WHAT IS WRONG AND MAKE IT RIGHT
YANKEES, IT’S ALL I KNOW
THAT YOU’LL END UP IN LAST AND THAT MAKES MY BLOOD BOIL
I KNOW IT’S SO, OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

SO TAKE THESE YANKEE WINGS
AND LEARN TO PITCH AND CATCH AND LEARN HOW TO FIELD
AND WHEN THEY LEARN HOW TO SWING
THE BATS WILL OPEN UP AND THE YANKEES WILL WIN
TAKE THESE YANKEE WIIIIINNNNNNGGGSSSS

YANKEES, IT’S ALL I KNOW
THAT YOU’LL END UP IN LAST AND THAT MAKES MY BLOOD BOIL
YEAH, YEAH, YEAH…
YEAH, YEAH!

SO TAKE THESE YANKEE WINGS
AND LEARN TO PITCH AND CATCH AND LEARN HOW TO FIELD
AND WHEN THEY LEARN HOW TO SWING
THE BATS WILL OPEN UP AND THE YANKEES WILL WIN
TAKE THESE YANKEE WINGS
THEY’VE GOT TO LEARN TO PITCH, LEARN HOW TO CATCH AND HOW TO FIELD.
AND WHEN THEY LEARN HOW TO SWING
THE BATS WILL OPEN UP AND THE YANKEES WILL WIN
YEAH YEAH
OOOOOOOOOOOOOO
YEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!”
 
  His rendition was received with mocking applause and laughter. I thought it was it was hilarious joke until I realized that King of the Woods was in earnest. Still, I thought it was a clever re-make of the song lyrics. Mostly, I delighted in hearing the lamentation of a Yankees fan. King of the Woods was the manifestation of how bad the Yankees had degenerated after their humiliating lost to the L.A. Dodgers in the ’81 World Series. The Mets were now the kings of baseball in New York.
  The hour before lights out, many people spent time saying their goodbyes. It was only on the last night that boys were allowed to go to the girls’ side of the camp. Brandy Frequent lightly kissed a few of the boys on the lips including King’s. She came to me last. She sat on my lap and wrapped her legs around my waist. She wrapped her arms around me. Her eyes lit up and danced with excitement.
“Kevin, we hardly saw each other all week!” Brandy said.
I didn’t answer because I still couldn’t believe what was going on. She pulled my Mets cap off my head.
“Let’s see what you look like!” Brandy said with mischief.
“Hey! Give me my cap back!” I pleaded
“You’re so cute, Kevin! You look so much nicer without it!” Brandy put it on her head with the bill of the cap backwards. I tried to snatch it off her head. When I did she kissed me. I froze. I felt an electric charge throughout my body. I felt the tip of her tongue tickle the ceiling of my mouth. I started to get an erection.
“You’ve got the sweetest lips!” Brandy said with a mischievous smile.
I continued to sit dumbfounded. This had never happened to me before. It was my first kiss. Brandy began to peck my neck with kisses. I leaned my head back. She began biting my neck. I stared up at the sky which was brilliantly illuminated with millions of stars which were invisible to the naked eye in New York. It was last summer night of 1986.
  The next morning most of the campers headed to Vineyard Haven for the ferry back to the mainland. I bid farewell to the kids from Baltimore and Philadelphia. On the bus from Wood’s Hole to Providence, Brandy sat next to me. She could not keep her hands and lips off me. When I tried to resist, she tickled me. King of the Woods sat behind us. He kept looking over our seats at us getting excited and aroused. I was embarrassed this time by Brandy. I didn’t want people to think she was my girlfriend. She was not good looking girl to be honest. The prettiest girl I had ever known was back in 3rd Grade was named was Emily. She left the school after 3rd Grade and I never saw her again. She was the first and only girl I knew I found to be pretty. Brandy was not ugly. Nor was she homely. However, she had long curly hair which was common among white girls in the 80s which I didn’t find attractive. Moreover, she had too many freckles on her face. Whenever she kissed me her constellation of freckles was right before my eyes.
  When we transferred for the New York bus at Providence, I quickly sat next to Simon Simonivc. Brandy was on to me.
“You don’t want to sit next to me because you know I will eat you up!” She gave another mischievous grin and tickled me before she settled into the seat behind me. King of the Woods eagerly sat next to Brandy. His girlfriend Mindy rolled her eyes at him and sat alone sullenly in the back row.
  As the bus made its way to New York, I struck up a conversation with Simon. Brandy reached over and snatched my Mets cap off my head.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen you all week without the cap on.” Simon remarked affirmatively.
I got up and turned around in my seat facing Brandy.
“Give me my cap!”
Brandy sat looking out the window pretending to be innocent. “What cap? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“You know what! Give me my fucking cap back!”
“Oh you mean this.” She opened up her thighs. In her crotch was my rumpled Mets cap.
“Yes that! Give it back!” I tried to reach down to grab it when she closed her thighs over it.
“No. You can’t have it back. I’m keeping it! It’s mine now!” Brandy stuck her tongue out at me.
  I didn’t know what to do. This had never occurred before. I was used to boys taking caps off and playing celucci. I knew how to deal with boys who took my cap. I hit them. But I never had a girl take my cap away. I also knew what she was doing. She implied that if I wanted her cap, then I would have to make out with her to get it back. I decided to wait until we pulled into the Port Authority before I settled my accounts with Brandy.
  I talked to Simon about my fears and doubts about High School. I expressed my disappointment about summer being over. I told him that I felt a bout of depression coming. He simply assured me to pray everyday and ask Jesus to help me. For nearly an hour he sermonized. It didn’t help me at all. As we passed New Haven, Brandy started to harass me more. However, I was powerless against her. Every 10 minutes she would lean over the seat and demand a kiss from me. Soon, we were driving down Columbus Avenue. We were right in the heart of the Upper West Side. My heart sunk. I was back at home. My spirits were temporarily raised when I felt my cap being slapped back onto my head.
  At the Port Authority I said good bye to all the kids who lived Downtown. The Simonivics were taking a cab up to Riverside Drive and 114th Street. They offered me a lift home which was on the way. I agreed. I regretted that. It took the Simonivic boys a long time to say good bye to everyone. I wanted to get away from Brandy.
“You’re so cute!” Brandy said between kisses. “Give me your number! I want you to come over and sleep at my house!”
  I shuddered but not for the reasons one might think. The sexual invitation eluded me completely. I was still only a naïve 14 year old. What made me balk was that I hated “sleepovers” in general. I didn’t like sleep-over parties that some parents liked to organize. I always preferred to sleep in my own bed or in the bed at my grandmother’s house. I didn’t mind hotel beds because they were made specifically for the purpose of short term visitors. I didn’t like sleeping over at most people’s homes. David Goulash was the exception because we had known each other for so long. He was the first person I knew to have a VCR. He also had Cable. We used to sit up late at night watching horror and sex films. So Brandy’s invitation to sleep over was greeted with great reluctance. I gave her my phone number.
  Simon and Alexander finally were ready to go. As the cab made its way up 8th Avenue, depression sank its claws in and would not leave. The dirtiness and seediness of 8th Avenue repulsed me. Seeing the hustlers, pimps, prostitutes and junkies did nothing to cheer me up. Though I wasn’t completely comfortable at Lambert Cove, the Vineyard was much nicer than the city. We went through Columbus Circle passing the ugly Columbus Coliseum. Alexander asked me where I lived. He then told the driver to make my house the first stop. I felt an urge to beg them to let me live with them. The cab pulled onto my block. When I motioned to give them money, the Simonivic brothers refused.
  I stepped out of the cab and took my suitcase out of the trunk. I hugged both of them. I stood on the curb watching the cab drive up Amsterdam before turning west on to 79th Street. I looked at the door man who approached me. He smiled at me as he picked up my suitcase. “Welcome Home, Kevin!”
 I looked up at 5th floor which I lived. With heavy heart and tears in my eyes I entered.















  Freshman Orientation was held the following Thursday though the first day of school did not start until the following Monday. My father spent lots of time at his office. The classes at Columbia started the next day. On Wednesday, I called Edward Stephens and asked if he was going to orientation. He confirmed that he was. That lifted my spirits a bit.
  I couldn’t sleep a wink Wednesday night. I was too excited and nervous all at once. I was excited to start high school yet nervous about another year of homework, tests and report cards. I wondered what my teachers would be like.
  At 6 o’clock in the morning my mother came to wake me up. As usual my father was in the shower. In the morning my mother put on 1010 WINS radio. My mother had the usual breakfast fare on the table: Raisin Bran cereal, a half gallon of milk, Nestle Chocolate powder mix and orange juice. At 6:20 my father would open the front door to bring in the New York Times. He then sat down with his Folgers coffee and scanned the headlines.
“Damn! Donald Manes killed himself! Giuliani is something else!” My father remarked. He often commented aloud his thoughts regarding the articles he examined in the newspaper.
“Didn’t he try to kill himself before?” My mother asked.
“Yeah but this time he did it right.”
“I feel sorry for his family.” My mother replied after some moments.
“Giuliani’s taking out the entire Democratic machine. Half the politicians in The Bronx have been indicted. Manes was the boss of Queens! Giuliani was about to indict his ass too! I wonder if he will convict Bess Myerson.”
  I sat noiselessly eating Raisin Bran and drinking orange juice. I followed current events quite closely. My parents were well informed and often discussed politics. In our household, Koch was a detestable figure. However, we reserved most of our scorn for Regan. When the sports results came on the radio, I tuned my ears. The Mets magic number was 10. They needed to win 10 more games to clinch the National League East and make the playoffs. Over the Labor Day weekend, they had completed a 4 game sweep over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The previous day they beat the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. I wanted to check the Mets schedule to see another game. Perhaps I could try to see them clinch the Eastern Division Title at Shea.
  As part of my preparation I navigated the best way to get to Stuyvesant. I could’ve taken the Number 1 train down to 14th Street, but as a local it would be slow. I thought about taking the 1 train to 72nd Street to change over for the Numbers 2 or 3 express which would be faster to 14th Street. However, I had to then transfer to the LL train. To transfer from the 7th Avenue subway to the LL entailed walking through a long dark corridor which was a haven for muggers and homicidal psychopaths.
  Another option I explored was to take the Number 1 train to 72nd and then catch the 2 or 3 down to Times Square. From there I would transfer to the N or QB express down to Union Square and make a final transfer to the LL. However, that didn’t make any sense. That meant taking 4 trains.
  The final option was the IND. I could catch the CC train from the 81st Street-Museum of Natural History. Transfer to the A at Columbus Circle. Take the A down to 14th Street where I could have a direct transfer to the LL. However, I dreaded the CC train.  At the time I thought it was one of the worse lines in the city. It was my least favorite train to take. When I was 11, I saw someone attacked with a machete on the CC train at 72nd Street.  Another issue was that it ran the oldest rolling stock on the subway system. The cars were from the 1930s. They were noisy. Moreover, the trains looked weird. First they were painted pea soup green. On every other line, the conductors opened and closed the doors in cabs in the middle cars of the train. On the CC, the conductors stood in-between cars. The knobs which opened and closed the doors were located on exterior poles jutting on the front and back of each car. The conductors stood between the cars on two foot rests. A foot rest was attached to each car. The second on the connecting car. The conductors had to stand with their bodies sprawled. It was quite startling to see a conductor in uniform ride spread eagle between cars. The mechanics of the train were old fashioned. The conductors would pound their fists on the knobs that were pneumatic levers which triggered a system of air pumps to open and close the doors. The opening of the doors was prefaced with the sound of de-compressing air.
Pssshhhhhhhhhh!
  The CC was an anomaly, for the IND rolling stock was usually the newest, slickest and fanciest of the entire NYCTA rolling stock. The IRT always used old, dirty and decrepit trains which were slowly being replaced by new Japanese and Canadian rolling stock. However, the CC cars were the oldest in operation.
  Another anomaly with the CC was that the rest of the IND trains were air conditioned. The CC trains from the 30s used fans. However, unlike the fans on the IRT and BMT which were covered with grills on the ceiling of the train, the fans on the CC were small portable fans attached to the hand poles on every seat of the train. There was a pair of fans above every seat. The seats were double sided. They could seat 4 people back to back. 2 facing the direction the train moved. 2 facing the opposite direction. There were 2 fans corresponding to the seats. Directly above the seat were two fans facing the opposite directions blowing air downwards. Each car had 16 fans. The fans made a racket when they were on. Half of them would creak and squeak. The wheels and motor of the trains were loud enough. With the sound of 16 fans blowing at once, riding on the CC would cause the ear drums to enter the threshold of pain.  I calculated it would take 30 minutes to commute. That was how long it took to get to St. George’s Church which was located opposite Stuyvesant Square from Stuyvesant High School. I was supposed to report to orientation at 8:30. I left at 8. However, I had not commuted to school since I lived in Stuyvesant Town and went to St. Hilda’s back in the years 1978 to 1980. I had been accustomed to walking no more than a block and half to school. I forgot about the Rush Hour in New York.
  I seriously miscalculated. First it took me 10 minutes to wait for the elevator and walk to the subway station on Central Park West. When I waited at 81st Street, the B train came first. I did not take it. 81st was a local stop. I waited 10 minutes before the CC train arrived. I got off at 59th Street and waited for the A train. The D train waited to connect with the CC. The CC train pulled out. The D train left one minute later. Then the B train came in after the CC. Then the B train pulled out. I still waited for the A. I looked at the clock. The time was 8:25. I started to panic. I was supposed to be at school within 5 minutes. Where the fuck was the A train? I realized that the time I had waited for the A train that I would’ve already been at 14th Street had I stayed on the CC. By the time I got to 14th Street, the clock in the station indicated the time was 8:35. I ran down the steps to the LL. Just as I come to the next to final landing before the platform, the doors of the LL train closed. I took two large jumps down the stairs. Just as my feet landed, the train pulled out.
“Shit!” I cried out.
8th Avenue was the terminus for the LL train. There was another train waiting on the other track. The minutes passed. I became aggressive.
“Close the fucking doors!” I grunted aloud.
I saw a motorman slowly walk down the platform. I was in the middle of the train. I stood up and looked at him take his time strolling down the platform towards the first car. Then the conductor appeared and entered my car. He went into the cab. I stood in the door. The conductor poked his head out the window of the cab.
“Are we leaving now?” I asked impatiently.
“That’s up to the dispatcher.” He pointed to the row of 3 light bulbs suspended over the platform at the bottom of a metal pole. “When the green lights go out and the bell rings then I can close the doors.”
“Oh fuck!” I cried. “When will the lights go off?”
“Well usually when the other train pulls in. We are on the inbound tracks. We must wait for the incoming train to cross over to the outbound platform. Once the tracks are clear then the green lights will go off.”
As he spoke a train from Canarsie slowly pulled into the station.
“What time is it?” I asked the conductor.
He lazily looked at his watch. “We are on time. It’s 8:41. We are due to pull out at 8:42.”
“Shit!”
  I off at First Avenue and ran to Stuyvesant. When I entered the lobby of the school, an old clock with iron bars read 8:55. I went up to the desk where a woman sat.
“I’m here for orientation.”
“You’re late!” She said in a rude and impolite tone. “Orientation started at 8:30!”
“I know but the train was late.” I replied
“Don’t give me the ‘subway broke down’ excuse.” She closed her eyes and shook her head disapprovingly. “If that were the case you wouldn’t be the only one late!”
 “Sorry!”
“Sorry is not good enough. Attendance is taken seriously! I’m the Attendance Dean.” She spoke with an air of authority and certainty. “However since you are new, I will let it slide. But starting on Monday, we will note your attendance officially. What’s your name?”
“Kevin Blake.”
She went through the list of names. She handed me a piece of paper.
“Go to the auditorium right behind me. Mr. Silverstein is addressing the freshmen. Be very quiet!”
  I entered the auditorium. A teacher saw me and indicated with her hands for me to sit in the empty seat next to her. I looked at the paper the Attendance Dean gave me. It had a list of my course load and teachers for the semester. I glanced at it as the Dean continued with his address.
“You will notice that the school building is very old.” Mr. Silverstein said. “A new building is being built downtown. Those of you entering the 10th Grade will be the last graduating class in this building. Those of you starting 9th Grade will be the first graduating class of the new building. The new building is scheduled to open up in the fall of 1989.”
  I didn’t think much about the implication. 1989 was still 3 years away. I would be a senior by then. That seemed to be light years away. Mr. Silverstein continued.
“Watch out when you take the stairs. You are all old enough to know better but I will state it anyway. Avoid the peeling paint on the walls. They contain lead. Do not touch the walls. The walls are soft with asbestos falling out.”
  I looked around the auditorium for Edward Stephens. I could not see him. The diversity of the students reflected the entire city. The majority of the students were white and Asian. There were lots of Black students. The only group who were least represented where the Puerto Ricans. Mr. Silverstein ended his address. We were all told to go to our Homeroom. Checking my schedule, I saw my Homeroom was on the fourth floor. The teacher I sat next to was a middle aged woman with blonde hair. She smiled at me.
“Your Homeroom is in 412. You can walk up the staircase next to the auditorium.”
“Oh OK.” I replied.
I waited in the lobby for Edward. I spotted him and grabbed his elbow.
“Hey Edward! What Homeroom are you in?”
“Hi Kevin. My homeroom is 510. What’s yours?”
“412.” I replied with disappointment.
  We walked up the narrow and dark stairwell. The building was really in a terrible condition. The stairwells were extremely narrow. There was barely enough room for large numbers of students. The corridors were quite dark with the light fixtures hanging precariously from the ceiling. My homeroom had a foul odor. I was taken aback. Was this the best school in the city? It looked liked a dump. He seemed more like an abandoned building in The South Bronx than the top High School in the city. I.S. 44 was a much nicer school. It was built in the 1950s. Stuyvesant was built in the 1920s.
  I sat at a desk next to the window. There were only about 10 students in my homeroom for the day. The homeroom teacher was an over-weight middle aged man. He addressed us.
“Good morning. My name is Mr. Kerry. I will be your homeroom teacher for the year. I am the typing teacher. I will not see most of you until Junior year. I will hand out the Delaney cards. Fill in your name and student number.”
  It was the first time I had heard of Delaney cards. They were used principally by the teachers to keep track of attendance and grades. Stuyvesant had more than 4000 students. Teachers had at least 100 pupils each day. So the Delaney cards were also used for identification purposes. The seats which we took on the first day of the class were to be our assigned seats for the entire semester. The teachers had custom made folders. There were cut out spaces for the cards to be placed. The cards would be arranged in the row and aisle for each class.
  After we filled in the Delaney cards, Mr. Kerry took them. He then read the name of each card aloud. When each name was called, we raised our hand. He put the card in the allotted spot. Afterwards, he handed out the student handbook which was rather large.
“This is the student handbook. It has all the rules of the school. Read it when you get home.”
After 20 minutes, he took us on a tour of the school. We started from the Gymnasium which occupied the entire top floor of the school. Then we went down to the 5th floor and saw the cafeteria. We walked around each floor. We went to the basement where the swimming pool was located. It was the filthiest swimming pool I had ever seen. The stench of chlorine assaulted the nose. I made up my mind that I would never step down into the basement.
  We were dismissed at Noon. I waited for Edward outside. We walked together towards the First Avenue subway stop on 14th Street.
“Well that was a waste of time!” Edward said.
“What do you mean?”
“We didn’t do anything. We just heard a boring speech and then walked around the school. I didn’t think it was worth the effort and time of getting up early and coming downtown.”
We descended into the station. The platform was packed with other Stuyvesant students.
“Which trains do you take to get to school?” I asked Edward.
“I take the 2-3 down to Times Square. I then transfer to the QB or N to Union Square. I take the LL from there.”
“Cool! I can take the 2-3 up to 72nd!”
  At Union Square we waited for the Uptown BMT Express train. I brought up the debate about “Missionary Man” to Edward. The N train arrived and we boarded. It ran express. It was only 2 stops to Times Square. I spoke at length about the debate and Mick’s arguments. Edward listened patiently before he spoke.
“How long have you two been arguing about this?” Edward asked.
“Two months now.”
“Two months!” Edward’s face became really skeptical. “You have been arguing about this for 2 months?”
“Yes. Because Mick insists that it’s anti-Christian.”
“So what if it was?”
“Well, it’s not. Mick insists that it’s anti-Christian.”
“Don’t you two have anything better to talk about?”
“He is so stupid!”
“So are you!” Edward said.
That stopped me dead in my tracks. I felt very offended.
“Why do you think that I’m stupid?”
“Because you are having a retarded debate. You are stupid for arguing with him. Really Kevin! Arguing about a song for months is extremely trivial!”
I changed the subject to music. Edward told me about two channels that I should watch.
“Haven’t you ever watched U-68?”
“No. What’s that?
“It’s channel 68. It’s an all music video channel.”
“Really!”
“Yes. Also you should watch Video Music Box. It comes on twice a day on channel 31 at 5 and Midnight.”
“That’s really cool!” I was genuinely excited.
  We got off at Times Square and walked up the ramp to the Uptown IRT. We took the Number 3 train. It was covered with graffiti. It was only one stop to 72nd Street. I bid farewell to Edward. I waited for the Number 1 local and got off the next stop, 79th Street.
  I returned home to an empty house. I was the typical latch-key kid. We were a common breed in New York. There were very few house wives in New York. The economy dictated that both parents had to work. I had become a latch key kid since 3rd Grade. My mother never arrived home until 5:30 in the afternoon. My father usually returned home by 6 o’clock. Moreover, I was part of a distinct minority of children in New York who lived with both parents. Most children lived in single parent homes more often than not with the mother. The divorce rate was high. So too was the birth rate of children born out of wedlock. So most of my generation returned from school to empty homes in New York. I didn’t complain. I enjoyed having the house to myself. There had been a general political, psychological and sociological debate at the time about the negative effects of latch-key kids. However, there was little choice. Single parents needed to work to support their children. Married parents needed all the income they could generate. Even among the more affluent classes, women worked. So the majority of children living in New York in the 1980s were latch-key kids.
  I turned on the TV and tuned to channel 68. I never watched the UHF frequency channels. Most of the programming in New York was on the VHF frequency. VHF were the channels from 2-13. UHF was the frequencies from channels 14-68. I had a 12 inch black and white TV set in my room. There were two knobs to change channels. The top knob was for the VHF frequencies, the bottom for UHF. To watch the higher channels I had to turn the top knob to the letter U. Then I had to turn the lower knob to surf the UHF channels. I turned to the knob to 68. The first video I saw was “Sarah” from Starship. Then came “Higher Love” from Steve Winwood. This was followed by a strange video from Talking Heads which used clips from televisions advertisements edited to the song. I watched U-68 until 5 o’clock. Then I switched to channel 31 to watch Video Music Box.
  Video Music Box was by far the best music video show on TV in New York. The video aired was “You Be Illin” by Run-DMC. I was very impressed. The only video I had seen by Run-DMC was “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith. I didn’t particularly like that song because I didn’t like the Heavy Metal component. “You Be Illin’” was much better. This followed by another strange video. The video opened with an amplifyer having smoke come out of it. The music started with a loud guitar riff. It was a stupid video about some white kids wanting to party but being thwarted by their parents. It was “Fight For Your Right” by the Beastie Boys. This was followed by “West End Girls” from the Pet Shop Boys. It was the first time that I saw the video for it.
  The next video was the best production that I have ever seen for any television program or movie. The video was completly digitized. There were animated figures of holographic men. Sometimes were only the graphic lines which compromised the heads. The eye sockets were hollow. Then were scenes of the heads of men revolving in cyber space. Their skin color was grey. Their lips were red as if they were wearing lipstick. My mother came home just as the video started. She came into my room in the middle of the video. She stopped dead in her tracks. She had the most bewildered expression that I had ever seen. I stared back at the video.
“What is this?” My mother asked with the greatest concern.
“It’s a video.”
My mother’s face distorted into horror and fascination.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before! What is this?”
 The video ended. I turned off the TV and looked at my mother.
“How was orientation today?” She asked me.
“It was fine. We took a tour of the school. Nothing much had happened. We were let out at Noon.”
“Did you see the boy from Grandmother Harriet’s?”
“Yes I did. We don’t have any of the same classes this semester.”
“Did they assign you homework?”
I knew she was going to ask me that question. As soon as school was in session, the issue of homework was always on her mind. It reminded me unpleasantly of what the next 9 months had in store for me.
“Of course not, mom! It was only orientation. School doesn’t start until Monday.” I wanted to remind her that I was still free for another 3 days.
“Did you read the books you were assigned for the summer?” She asked tenaciously.
“No, not yet.” I said sadly. I forgot about those books. I realized that I did have homework. Worse, my mother knew it as well.
“You better get cracking, then!” My mother said sharply. “Where are they anyway?” She looked around my room.
“They are on my shelf mom.”
“And collecting dust! Start reading. How many books do you have to read anyway?”
“Three.”
“You have 3 books to read and you haven’t read any of them yet?”
“No.”
“I want to see you reading. I want to see the books in your hands. You are in high school now! Fun and games are over! This is serious business!”
“Yes mom.” I stood up and picked the books off my shelf.
“I am about to cook. Do you want steak or what?” My mother asked.
“Steak is fine.”
“Now start reading!” She left my room.
  I didn’t worry about finishing the books. I was a fast reader. I must add a caveat. I was a fast reader only for interesting books. Books which were tedious or dull took me longer to read. I looked at the 3 books. The most interesting book cover was “Animal Farm”. I began reading it. It was a strange book. The animals on the farm could talk. However, it wasn’t a children’s story like “Charlotte’s Web” where animals often spoke. The animals’ language was very complicated for me to read. My first impression was that it was a stupid story. I found it implausible that the animals overthrew the farmer.
  My father did come home at 6 o’clock as he usually did. My mother turned on the TV News. She always watched the Channel 2 WCBS local news. She liked Channel 2 because of the anchorwoman Carol Martin. My mother appreciated seeing a Black woman present the news on TV. She always turned on the news as she cooked in the kitchen. 7 o’clock was the time we always ate dinner. My mother came into my room.
“I don’t know what happened to your father. I called his office and there was no answer.” My mother sounded cold. “Come to the table and eat.”
  We watched the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather as was the custom in my house. The 3 of us always ate dinner as we watched the national news broadcasts. My father’s absence was noticeable. He always made comments about the news stories. My mother would also comment and we would have general discussions about current events. We always finished dinner when the news went off. I always washed the dishes because my parents forced me to.
  As I washed the dishes my father came home. I heard my mother greet him.
“Harold where on Earth have you been? I called your office number but there was no answer.”
“I was in the library. My proposal for Black Scholar was finally accepted.”
“You mean about global apartheid? They finally accepted!”
“Yes finally! I had to go to the library to begin my research. See all the books I’m carrying?”
My father passed me as he went to the bedroom. He came into the kitchen as I was finishing the dishes.
“How was Orientation today?”
“It was OK. Sorta boring to be honest. The Dean made a speech and then we were given a tour of the school. We were done by Noon.”
“Right on! What do you think?” My father suddenly asked.
“About what?”
“About Stuyvesant.”
“Well, it’s actually quite a dump!”
My father’s eyebrows rose. “How so?”
“The building is falling apart. It’s really dirty. It seems like a school somewhere in The Bronx.” I explained.
“Are you serious?” My father asked incredulously.
“Yes. They are building a new school. After Junior Year, the school will be somewhere else.”
“Really! Where?”
“I don’t know exactly. Somewhere Downtown they said.”
My father turned towards the direction of the living room. He shouted to my mother.
“Did you hear about this, Barbara?”
“Hear about what?” I heard my mother respond from the living room as the closing music of “Wheel Of Fortune” played from the TV set.
“About Stuyvesant being run down!” My father shouted back.
“Say what?” My mother walked towards the kitchen.
“Did you tell your mother?” My father looked at me.
“No.” I answered.
“Tell her.”
“Stuy is really run down. The stairs are narrow and dangerous. There are light and electric wires dangling all over the place!”
“Say what?” My mother was genuinely stunned. “Stuyvesant High School is falling apart?” She paused in genuine wonder. “Stuyvesant!” She repeated still in disbelief.
“Yes mom. I was really shocked. But they are building a new school after Junior year. By Senior year the new school will be Downtown.”
“Where downtown?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hunh, hunh, hunh!” My mother shook her head. “I can’t believe that Stuyvesant has turned into a dump! New York’s gone to the dogs! Everything in this city is run down! The whole place is a dump!”
  The following Sunday I went to church. I asked Mick what is was like for Freshmen in High School. I wanted to know if they were picked upon by the older students.
“Well I entered Sci in 10th Grade. So I was a Sophomore when I entered.” Mick explained.
“You started high school in 10th Grade? How?”
“I went to I.S. 106 which went up to 9th grade.”
“Really? I didn’t know any intermediate schools went to 9th Grade. Mine only went to 8th.”
“Well I went to P.S. 40. That went to 6th grade.”
“Really!” I was really surprised. It appeared that the public schools on the East Side were different from those on the West Side. My elementary school only went to 5th Grade. I.S. 44 went only to 8th Grade. I preferred the West Side system. I could not bear to think of having to do another year at I.S. 44, though that would have ensured another year with Goulash.
“So I didn’t have any problems.”
  King of the Woods was uncharacteristically quiet that day. It was the first time I had seen him since we returned from Martha’s Vineyard. He looked sad. I felt a bit guilty about my treatment. However, since we were back in church and back in New York, I didn’t feel embarrassed by him anymore. Moreover, he seemed not at all as himself being so subdued.
“How are you doing King?”
“I’m all right, I guess.” King spoke quietly. It was the first time he didn’t yell.
  Adrian Flammer introduced us to a Christian version of Dungeons and Dragons. It was a role-playing game. I thought it was rather dull. We spent the time that day rolling the dice to determine our power and weapons capacities. Over the next couple of weeks, the game would start in earnest.
  It was really hot day. It was 88 degrees but a brisk wind blew providing natural relief. The wind was a reminder of the coming changing of the seasons. The teen group finished. Adrian, Bobby and Mick walked east. King of the Woods and I walked west. We passed by the diner on the corner of 17th and 3rd.
“I’m hungry. Let’s go in and eat!” I suggested to King of the Woods.
“OK!” King said in a slightly more upbeat tone.
  We took a booth next to the window facing 3rd Avenue. The M101 bus made its way uptown. The bus was painted white. It was a 1970’s Flexible model. The waiter took our order. I ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a strawberry milkshake.
“Ah Kevin. I don’t have any money.” King said.
“I can spot you for fries and a coke with you want.”
King nodded his head. I ordered a side plate of fries and a coke for him.
“So have you started school yet, King?”
“Yes I started last Wednesday.” King of the Woods was remarkably subdued.
“How was it?”
“It’s cool. I like McBurney better.”
“Why?”
“McBurney was cooler. The teachers were really cool.”
The waiter came with my milkshake and King’s coke.
“Oh I forget to tell him no ice.” King said. King and Mick took up Bobby’s habit of ordering soft drinks without ice.
“So King, I’m curious about your family. What are your parents like?”
King’s face turned saturnine. He sighed. “My mother is all right. She’s very strict.”
“Sounds like my mom!”
“She has a temper.” King continued.
“So does my mother!”
“Not like my mother.”
“And your father?”
  The waiter brought the food. I opened the bun and melted processed cheese was exposed. I put salt and pepper on the cheese on top of the beef patty. I then poured ketchup on and slapped the bun back on top. King devoured his fries in a manner I had never seen. He stuffed his mouth with handfuls of fries. Fries fell out of his mouth onto the table and his lap. He took the bottle of ketchup and emptied nearly half of it on to the fries. I looked at King with dismay. I turned around to see if any of the other diners were watching.
“And what’s your father like?” I asked.
King closed his eyes and sighed. “My father’s dead!”
“Oh I’m sorry to hear that! When did he die?”
“He died when I was little.”
“How did he die?”
King leaned closer to me and whispered for the first time. “I will tell as long as you don’t tell anyone else.”
“OK.”
“I’m serious Kevin. Don’t tell Mick, Bobby or Adrian.” I never saw King so earnest.
“I won’t tell anyone. I hate snitches. You know what I say? Snitches get stitches!”
“My father was killed by my mother.”
I was floored by this revelation. “Really?”
“Yes. When I was 6 years old my mother shot my father in front of me.”
“Oh shit!” I was flabbergasted.
“So that’s what happened with my father.”
“Does your sister still live with you?”
“Yes. Tia is going to divinity school. She wants to become an Episcopal minister.”
“That’s cool!”
  King of the Woods had long finished his fries and coke. I had not even eaten half of my cheeseburger nor had I hardly touched my fries.
“Listen King,” I started. “I’m sorry for the fights and insults over the summer. I really like you. I just like to fuck with people. I go too far sometimes but I….”
“Don’t worry about it Kevin. I know.” King interrupted me.
The next moments passed in silence before King started.
“WASN’T LAMBERT COVE COOL?”
“Yes it was!”
“I SEE THAT BRANDY FREQUENT MADE OUT WITH YOU!” King was back to normal form. Everyone in the restaurant turned to look in our direction.
“Don’t remind me!”
“HEE HEE HEH HEH OOO OOO HEE!” King was excited once again.
“I didn’t know you and Mindy were going out.” I said to deflect the conversation away from Brandy Frequent.
“YEAH. WE’VE BEEN DATING SINCE AUGUST. SHE’S GOING TO LAGUARDIA THIS YEAR!”
“Oh really!”
“YES! MINDY IS STUDYING ACTING AND DRAMA!”
“Really! I didn’t know she talked.” I said sarcastically.
“MINDY IS REALLY COOL! SHE JUST HAS SOME PROBLEMS THAT’S ALL.”
“I know.” I understated.
“SO HOW IS STUY?”
“I don’t know. School starts tomorrow. But it’s really run down.”
“YEAH I KNOW. I KNOW SOMEONE WHO GOES THERE. HE TOLD ME HOW OLD THE SCHOOL IS AND THEY ARE BUILDING A NEW SCHOOL IN A FEW YEARS.”
“That’s true.”
I finished my food and milkshake. I ordered the check and paid. King and I stepped out onto the corner.
“THANKS KEVIN FOR THE SNACK!”
“Don’t worry about it, King.” I smiled at him.
We shook hands. King walked south on 3rd Avenue. I walked west towards Union Square. I thought about King’s father. I could not imagine what King went through. I thought about my parents fighting. The worst I ever expected was for them to get into fisticuffs with each other. That never transpired. I could not imagine my mother shooting my father. I couldn’t imagine my father harming my mother. For the first time, I was happy with my parents. King gave me a reality check.









  After consultation with my parents poring over the subway map and calling the Transit Authority, I had to face the inevitable. The fastest way for me to get from my house to Stuyvesant was to take the CC train down to 14th Street and then take LL train. Even though the CC was a local train making all stops it was a waste of time to get off at 59th Street and wait for the A Express train. The CC arrived at 14th Street as the A train would leave 34th Street. Besides taking the route was the most direct. I would only have to take two trains. I was not happy about being assigned the CC train but I had to be on time for school. The first class was at 8:15 in the morning. I had to leave my house no later than 7:25. 7:30 was pushing my luck. That meant that I would have to leave the same time as my mother. The good thing was that she and I had different routes.
  My mother had quite the hike down to Worth Street. The only trains that went to Worth Street were on the East Side IRT. The BMT was out of the question. Though the RR train ran to City Hall, the station was on the other side of the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. To get to the RR entailed taking the Number 1 local to Times Square, then taking the RR local all the way down to City Hall and then a 10 minute walk from there to work. To make matters worse, the RR train was the BMT. Back then, the BMT had the worst lines in the city. The BMT was notorious for being late. One never knew with the RR train. One never knew when or if it would arrive. Like most BMT lines, the RR had a dis-poportionate share of crazies on it. Even if one were lucky enough not the get mugged, stabbed or shot, it was impossible not to have an experience of psychological terror being intimidated, threatened or generally harassed on the RR train. The IND was faster getting to the same part of Lower Manhattan. The problem with the IND was the Chambers Street station was on Church Street on the West Side next to the World Trade Center. However, that entailed a 20 minute walk across Chambers Street to work. So the most direct route for her was very complicated. She took the Number 1 down to Times Square. At Times Square she transferred to the 42nd Street Shuttle to Grand Central. From Grand Central she took either the Number 4 or 5 train down to Worth Street-Brooklyn Bridge. From there she had only a 3 minute walk to work.
  I finished reading “Animal Farm” on the ride that morning. The LL train was packed like a fat rat. Most of the passengers were other high school students. At First Avenue the train emptied. I followed the throng of teenagers out of the subway. En masse we trooped two blocks up First Avenue to 16th Street. On 16th Street were hundreds of students milling in front of the school. Every one was yelling, laughing and conversing. I never saw so many smokers. Most of the smokers were the older students; sophomores, juniors and seniors. It was the first time I ever saw kids my age smoke. What was most shocking was how blatantly they smoked right in front of the school! The teachers and deans walked right past the smoking students ignoring them.
  I entered the school lobby. There was a long confused line of students. I saw something else for the first time. There were security guards in school. At first, I thought they were plain clothes cops. They wore dark suits with badges. We had to present our schedules to the guards to show that we were students. Climbing up the stairwell was a hassle. They were too narrow and it took a long time to get up and down.
  My first class was Earth Science 1 in room 212. As I walked along the corridor, students were sitting on floor outside the classrooms waiting for the teacher’s to arrive. All of the older students that sat were eating breakfast. Most ate bagels and drank coffee. This was another novel experience for me.
  I came upon room 212 which was the only classroom to be opened. It was a rather bright room. I took a seat at a desk by the window in the 4th row. The other students poured in. We were all Freshmen. I looked around the classroom. In front of the room was the blackboard. Above it hung a large chart of the Periodic Table of Elements. On the other side from the windows stood a long table with scales and trays on it. At the back of the room stood a cabinet with glass panels. There were more scientific instruments.
  A teacher arrived. He was the ugliest and most stupid looking human being I had ever seen. He was middle age and overweight. He had a huge ball head with the remainder of his hair cut short. He wore thick coke bottle eye glasses. To show how smart he was, he sported a bowtie. The first thing that crossed my mind was Pee-Wee Herman. The teacher’s name was Mr. Test. When I saw the name on my schedule, I thought it to be a mistake. My father thought the school had not yet to assign a teacher for my class. My father concluded it was a clerical error. Instead of typing “TBA”, the clerk must’ve have written Test by accident.
  The public schools did not use a traditional ringing bell to signal the beginning and ending of classes. It was a mono-tone pitch which lasted 5 seconds. Mr. Test began. He had a very gravelly voice. He spoke like the Muppet Grover from Sesame Street. He didn’t sound very intelligent.
  “Good morning! I am Mr. Test. This is Earth Science 1” He paused and looked around the class. “Does everyone belong here?” He paused again.
The students looked at him and looked at one another with bewilderment. No one answered.
“I mean,” Mr. Test continued. “Is there any student that should not be in this class right now?”
  We became even more bewildered. That was a stupid question. How could we not be anywhere else? We all had schedules which indicated this class and this room at this particular time to be in. All of the boys looked at each other and started to smile and chuckle. We sensed that we had a live one. We were going to have fun with this teacher! In New York City public school when the boys knew we were going to have fun with a teacher, it always meant that the teacher was going to have a nightmare with us.
 “OK then!” Mr. Test went on. “I will take attendance. That will be the best way to make sure that everyone belongs here.” He shuffled through his desk looking for his attendance papers. He was much disorganized. The boys in the class started to chuckle and laugh with mirth.
“OK. John Anderson.” Mr. Test spoke. “John Anderson?” He repeated as he looked around the room. “John Anderson is absent.” He then called the next name. “Alejander Cortez.” Again there was no reply.
“Also absent.”
  Mr. Test went through 5 names. No one replied. So far 6 people were absent. Then Mr. Test came upon a realization. “Oh! This is the list for 3rd Period Class. This is 1st Period now!”
The class erupted. He was a live one for sure. He did not know up from down. He was going to be our victim. We were going to have lots of fun during 1st Period. Yes indeed!
“OK settle down class!” Mr. Test faced his first test of discipline and control. “What I think I will do is hand out the Delaney cards. You fill them out. I will take them from you and then we will start again.”
  The boy sitting behind me fired the opening salvo. “So Mr. Test, when do we have our first test?”
“We will talk about that after attendance.” Mr. Test said as he handed out the Delaney cards.
A Puerto Rican boy joined in the attack. “Yo Mr. Test! Do we have any tests?”
“I told the other student that we will talk about this after attendance!”
Then a Black student took his shot. “Yo! Nice bowtie Mr. Test! Where did you get it from? Did you borrow it from Pee-Wee Herman?” The class erupted into laughter.
Mr. Test tried to show indignation. “No talking out loud! If you want to speak you must raise your hands!” He continued walking the aisles handing out the Delaney cards. As he passed by the Puerto Rican kid, the kid put his hands under his shirt to his armpit. By lifting his arm up and down with his hand in the armpit made simulated farting sound.
“Yo Mr. Test, that’s nasty!” The Puerto Rican then waved his hand under his nose pretending to blow away the foul odor. The other boys imitated him.
“Yo Mr. Test! That’s nasty!”
“You stink, Mr. Test!”
  The insults continued for 5 minutes as Mr. Test tried to regain control of the class. The first spitball hit Mr. Test on his eyeglasses.
“Now stop it!” Mr. Test shouted. “Stop it! If anyone continues to be disruptive they will get a dean’s referral! Now fill out your Delaney cards! When you are done pass them to the front of your row.”
 This took a few minutes. As he went row to row a student tripped him causing him to stumble and to drop the cards. Peals of laughter erupted. The first Puerto Rican shouted “Pee-Wee Herman!” Mr. Test bent down to pick up the cards. He walked to his desk and began to read out the names on the cards. He was interrupted and made fun of. By the time he managed to talk about the class the tone indicated the end of 1st period.
  I stepped out of class and had to go up to the 4th floor for Homeroom. The stairwells were packed and it took quite some time to get up two flights. I entered Homeroom. The boy who sat behind me in Earth Science 1 was also in my Homeroom. He hadn’t come for Orientation. He took a seat next to me. He laughed as he talked to me.
“Mr. Test is a real nerd isn’t he?”
“He looks just like Pee-Wee Herman!” I laughed.
“Except Mr. Test is fat and bald!” He laughed back.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“My name is James. What’s yours?”
“Kevin.”
“Where do you live?”
“I live on the Upper West Side.”
“I live in Co-Op City.”
“Where’s that?”
“It’s up in The Bronx at the end of the Number 6 train.”
“Damn, that’s far!”
“Yeah but it’s not too bad. The 6 runs express in The Bronx. At 125th street I take the 4 train the rest of the way.”
  The tone indicated the start of the next period. Mr. Kerry took attendance. Homeroom period lasted only 20 minutes. I could never figure out the purpose of Homeroom during my school years. We didn’t learn anything. We just sat and talked. We had Homeroom in I.S. 44 as well. The difference was that Homeroom was before First Period. At Stuyvesant, Homeroom was between the 1st and 2nd Periods.
  I had English 1 for 2nd Period. My teacher was dark complexioned women who I took to be South American. Her name was Mrs. Lombardi. She was a very short woman with dark hair and eyes. She liked to dress in revealing clothing. She often wore mini-skirts or strangely designed one piece dresses which fell short on her upper thighs. I didn’t like her on sight. I had developed an eye and sixth sense for teachers over the years. Usually, I could tell if a teacher was cool or not by their face. I could see in Mrs. Lombardi’s face an arrogant, narrow minded and tight ass person. She did not prove me wrong. She had a bossy attitude from the start.
  Mrs. Lombardi was much more organized than Mr. Test. The first thing she did was hand out Delaney Cards. Within 15 minutes she had taken attendance and organized the class. On her desk she had a stack of text books piled on. She handed them out. They were reading text books called “Adventures in Literature.” Then Mrs. Lombardi asked if we had read the summer assignments.
“The first test will be on Animal Farm on Friday.” She said in a rather snotty manner. I knew the two of us were going clash. I had always detested arrogant and snotty teachers. Besides, she had a lot of nerve to give a test during the first week of school.
  For 3rd Period, I had Health with Mr. Polio. He was a very light-hearted teacher. At the time all students in New York State were required to take one semester of Health to graduate from high school. Mr. Polio indicated there would not be any homework assigned for his course. I was going to enjoy this class. I could sense that Mr. Polio was going to be a pushover.
  For 4th Period, I had Physical Education. I trudged up the narrow and congested stairs to the top floor. My teacher for the semester was Mr. Beame. During the first class we sat on the bleachers and filled out the Delaney Cards. He then told us that we needed to bring shorts or sweats to class. Mr. Beame, like most gym teachers, struck me as being, what they say in Newfoundland, as stunned. He had a slight speech impediment which made him slur his words which only made him to appear even less intelligent than he looked. To be honest, I was less than enthusiastic about having to take gym every day. That seemed a bit excessive in my opinion. Twice a week was enough.
  I had lunch during 5th Period. I walked down one flight of stairs to the cafeteria. Edward had lunch during 6th period. I didn’t know anyone. The cafeteria was packed with hundreds of students. The students were loud and rowdy. I had never seen a cafeteria so large before. I stood on line for food. As usual the food offered was crappy but I ordered fries nonetheless. I was shocked to discover a cashier who demanded that I pay. In I.S. 44 the food was always free. I paid the 75 cents for the fries.
  Looking around I saw a boy who was from English class. I sat down with him. His name was Chris Napolitano. He came from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He was Italian with severe acne and wore braces on his teeth. Another boy from English class sat with us. His name was Dennis O’Connor. He came from the Woodlawn section of The Bronx. The third boy to join us was a Black kid from Jackson Heights in Queens. His name was Brian Robinson. He was in the same Social Studies class as Dennis and Chris during 4th Period.
  It was very unusual for me to meet kids from other parts of the city. Since I had always gone to school on the Upper West Side, all my classmates were from Manhattan. Stuyvesant was a city-wide school drawing students from the 5 Boroughs. Stuyvesant would be another encounter with the world beyond Manhattan.
  I had World History 1 during 6th Period. The teacher’s name was Mr. Gleichschuh. The class was held directly opposite the corridor from Mr. Test’s classroom on the 2nd floor. I saw many of the students from lunch in this class. For some reason, we were all hyper after lunch and couldn’t be still. Mr. Gleichschuh closed the door and shouted in a friendly way.
“Sit down, guuyyyyyyyyysssssss!” He would say this at the start of each class for the rest of the semester. Mr. Gleichschuh was really nice though he had simian features. He was a balding white man. The shape of his head was remarkably similar to that of a gorilla. He had oddly shaped nose on his profile which jutted out peculiarly. He had extremely thin lips. He made facial expressions which reminded me of the chimpanzees I saw at The Bronx Zoo.
  The focus of study would be the history of the non-Western world. We would study mostly African history from pre-colonial times to the present. We would also study the history of Latin America from the same time span. I liked Social Studies and History. That was the one subject which I never minded. It helped that my father was a college History professor. I also liked to study foreign cultures. I always liked to discuss history and global affairs with my father. It was the one subject which I actually liked doing the homework for.
  I had German 1 during 7th period. It was taught by Mr. Aquarius. That was his name even though it was not his astrological horoscope. He was the teacher who I would come to despise most that semester. He was a tall man with a beard. I could tell by his face he was what the British called a wanker. To be honest, I had resented having to study German. I wanted to study Russian. My father spoke fluent Russian. He used to read the Russian language newspapers published in New York. He gave me a few informal lessons on the alphabet. However, Stuyvesant only offered German, Spanish, French and Latin. I didn’t want to learn French. My parents went to France back in 1970. They hated Paris. For years they complained about the French. My father was very critical of France regarding its imperialism. I wanted to go to Europe one day in the future but I figured that I would go to England, Holland and West Germany. Finally what use would I have for French in my life? Latin was out of the question. It was a dead language. My mother took Latin when she was in high school. I dreaded the prospect of her on my back making sure that I did my Latin homework. So I settled for German.
  For 8th and last Period I had Math 1 given by the notorious Mr. Fink. Mr. Fink was Teutonic man with a bushy mass of red hair with a bushy mass of red hair for a beard. He was absolutely sadistic. He was funny, sarcastic but extremely mean. He was the most dreaded and feared teacher in Stuyvesant. It was going to be a long semester. Why did I have to have Math during the last period? I asked myself.
  The last tone rang at 2:35. We were dismissed. The following day there was no school. It was Primary Day. The Primary elections were held to determine the party nominations for the general election held in November. In 1986, all the statewide offices were up for election. The Governor and both houses of the State Legislature were being voted for. It was also a midterm federal election year. The entire House of Representatives were being elected as well as one third of the Senate. Mario Cuomo was running for re-election as Governor of the New York State. Al D’Amato was running for re-election as the junior Senator for New York. Cuomo did not face any serious challenges from the Democrat Party. He was expected to win re-election easily. Things were messier on the Republican side. D’Amato who was a product of the Nassau County Long Island Machine faced stiff challenges from Republican politicians from Upstate New York.
  In New York, most of the polling places were held in public schools. Though many of the highs schools were not used for polling, the Board of Education had a uniform schedule. Each school from Kindergarten to 12th Grade had the same schedule and days off. We got many days off in September. In 1986, after the first day of school came Primary Day. The Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hosanna came in the latter half of the month.
 So I started my first day of school without being assigned homework and I had the next day off. I hooked up with Edward outside. We took the subway uptown. I took a different route. Going home, Edward and I would walk to Union Square. Edward did not want to wait at First Avenue for the LL with all the students from school. We took the N express up to Times Square. We both transferred to the 2 or 3. I got off at 72nd Street and waited for the 1 train. Edward stayed on to go to 135th Street. It took 20 minutes longer to get home than it did for me to get to school. I didn’t mind very much. I went home and watched U-68 and then Video Music box.
  I went back to school on Wednesday. On Friday Mrs. Lombardi gave us a quiz on Animal Farm. I had quite a heavy load of homework to do over the weekend. Another school year was underway. I was a high school student. Life was dull and monotonous.

















  I went to church the following Sunday. I had met Mick’s mother for the first time. She was a member of St. George’s Church though she did not attend regularly. Mick introduced us. She was in her early 40s with short blonde hair. She wore sunglasses during the entire service. When she shook my hand she lifted up her sunglasses. She had a blue bruise around her right eye. As usual I went to the teen group after the service. The King of the Woods was in a crisis. He looked devastated in a way I had never seen before. I was not the only one to notice. King of the Woods wanted to have a discussion. He had a bad week at school and needed fellowship and comfort. Adrian thought it would be best to post-pone our Christian role playing game and let King talk about his problems. We sat around the table as King began to tell his story.
“On Thursday I stayed after school with the soccer team.” King began. “The other kids started making fun of me. They called me “The Black Spook”. King spoke so softly and quietly which was uncharacteristic of him. He continued.
“I thought they were just kidding around. We were in the gym. The other kids went into the equipment room and started bringing out all the balls. I thought they were taking them out so we could practice. They started throwing the balls at me. First, I thought they wanted me to catch the balls and throw them back. They threw the balls hard aiming for my head. I tried to catch the balls but then they started throwing lots of them at once. The balls hit my face and stomach. It hurt a lot. I left the gym. They came after me and continued throwing the balls at me. I ran down the hall. The balls hit me in the behind and legs. I fell down….”
  I roared out in laughter. I thought it was a funny image seeing King of the Woods being chased and hit with balls. It was something which would have probably happened at I.S. 44. I found it extremely hilarious. No one else did. Adrian shot a fierce and scornful face of disapproval at me. King looked down. He felt more humiliated. The heavy seriousness of the group made me quickly realize my laughter was most inappropriate. Adrian put his arm around King.
“Please continue King.” Adrian said as he rubbed King’s back.
“When I fell down they continued to hit me with the balls. I ran out of the school building. I haven’t been back since. I haven’t told my mom about it. She doesn’t know that I haven’t gone to school. If I go back to school, I must give them a note from my mother explaining why I was absent.” King stopped. He folded his arms on the table and dropped his head into them.
  We were all silent. Mick looked shocked. Bobby’s face went blank but his eyes looked deep and heavy. Adrian kept rubbing King’s back. I felt terribly self-conscious and ashamed for having laughed a few moments before. We all stared at King of the Woods. He lifted his head and spoke out loud.
“HEY GUYS I THINK WE SHOULD PRAY FOR ME. WE SHOULD PRAY TO JESUS ABOUT THIS.”
Mick became suddenly filled with animated enthusiasm. “Yes! We must pray about it! Only Jesus has the answer!”
“Yes, you are smart King. If we pray about it, Jesus will provide a solution. Let’s all pray.”
We put our arms and hands across the shoulders and necks of the people we sat next two. From clockwise it was King, Bobby, I, Mick, Adrian, back to King. We bowed our heads. Mick led the praying in earnest.
“O Lord Jesus, we pray to you to that you help your servant King overcome the demons which torment him at school and home. We pray to you Jesus that you find a solution for King. We pray that you protect him from torment and trouble. We pray that you give King the guidance and strength for tomorrow. We ask you Jesus for all this because King is your servant. King is your child. We ask for all this in Jesus’ name. Amen!”
“THANKS GUYS.” King of the Woods was satisfied.
 

  “King, do you have time to spend with me privately?” Adrian asked. “I’d like to discuss things with you privately.”
“SURE ADRIAN!” King accepted.
  Mick had invited me over to his house. When we assembled on the sidewalk to part ways, King and Adrian headed west. Mick, Bobby and I headed east. We headed uptown on 2nd Avenue and walked to 23rd Street. Bobby went into his apartment house complex. Mick and I continued east of 23rd Street. East of First Avenue we passed the VA hospital to our left and the Peter Cooper Village housing development on our right. After the VA hospital we passed the Astor swimming pool. We walked to the edge of Manhattan to FDR Drive. Following Mick, we turned left on the service road and walked past the outdoor pools. We ascended an elevated ramp and crossed over the highway.
  Waterside Plaza was a New York State housing project built in the early 1970s. It comprised of four 40 story high rise buildings. When we crossed over FDR Drive we passed by the United Nations School which was part of the Waterside complex. The buildings were built of orange tiles. Every 5 floors the windows of the building changed angles and patterns. We came across a wide cement plaza which comprised a supermarket, a drug store, a Dry Cleaner, and empty storefronts. There was a small playground which was built in one side of the cement plaza. Though Waterside was a State Housing project, the residents were mostly white and middle class. Waterside was not like the New York City Housing Authority Projects which by contrast had mostly low income and minority residents. I was impressed with the scenery. Waterside Plaza was built on landfill right on the East River. From the plaza was an upper promenade over looking the East River. Across the river one could see the entrance to the Newtown Creek which separated Greenpoint and northwestern Brooklyn from Queens. On the Queens side of Newtown Creek stood the printing plant for the Daily News.
  Mick lived in on the 31st floor of 7 Waterside Plaza. The elevator was rather intimidating. It shook violently as it ascended rapidly. We both stared up above the door as the flights were illuminated. Though Mick had pressed the button for the 31st floor we did not slow down as the floor indicator illuminated 31. The elevator didn’t stop. The floor indicator lit up 35. Suddenly the elevator dropped. My stomach and heart were in my mouth. I thought the cable snapped and we were in free fall. The elevator screeched to a halt and the doors opened. I quickly dashed out.
  “What the fuck was that?” I was scared out of my wits.
“That’s normal.” Mick explained. “The elevators are really weird in this building. That was nothing compared to other trips.”
  We entered into the apartment. The view took my breath away. From the living room the window faced north. I saw a helicopter land just as one ascended at the 34th Street heliport. Further north stood the UN complex. The 59th Street Bridge stood beyond the UN. Looking northwest the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings stood majestically. On the East Rive a tugboat pushed a barge upstream.
“What a nice view!” I said in great awe. “It’s awesome!”
“Yeah it’s nice. I don’t like living so high up.”
“I would love to live here.”
“Come to my room.”
I followed Mick past the bathroom and a bedroom on the left side. In the bedroom stood a music stand along with a stand up piano. There were posters hung and a neatly made bed.
“That’s my sister’s room.”
We walked on. The last room on the left was Mick’s room. On the other side of the corridor was another bedroom. “This is my room. That’s my parent’s room.”
I could hear voices coming from his parent’s room. I heard a woman’s voice.
“Is that you Mick?”
“Yeah mom. Kevin is here.”
“Oh wonderful! There’s some cake and cookies in the kitchen!” The voice spoke but the door never opened.
  Inside Mick’s room, he closed the door. He had a heavy and gloomy expression.
“Both of my parents are here.” Mick spoke in a hushed tone.
On his desk were stacks of cassettes.
“Can I look at your tapes?”
“Go ahead. I will go to the kitchen and bring back some soda.” Mick opened the door and tip-toed out closing it behind him.
   As I looked through the cassettes, I heard a slight commotion from the parent’s room.
“You stupid bitch!” It was a man’s voice. Then I heard the sound of something heavy hit the floor. I looked out the window. I watched a large passenger helicopter ascend from the heliport slowly and make a wide turn over the river and pass by the building on its way to JFK airport. I went back to looking at Mick’s music. He had lots of tapes. I didn’t know most of the names of the groups and songs.
  Mick tiptoed back into the room with two glasses of coke. He looked really sad. He spoke in a whisper. “My father’s an atheist.”
“What?” I could not hear him because he spoke so softly.
“My father’s an atheist!” Mick spoke up so that I could hear him.
“What does that mean?” It was the first time I had ever heard the word.
“My father doesn’t believe in God.”
“Oh, ok.” I said. “You’ve got lots of music here.”
“Most of it is old. Mostly recordings that I made 3 years ago. I don’t listen to most of it anymore.”
There were more sounds that came out of the parent’s room.
“Pat you disgust me!” I heard the man’s voice bellow. This was followed by the muted cry from a woman’s voice. A loud thump came from the door of the parent’s bedroom. It dawned on me what was going on. Mick’s father was beating his mother. Mick and I looked at each other. He cast his eyes down. I quickly drank my coke. I no longer felt comfortable. Mick broke the silence.
“I can lend you two of the tapes.”
“Really!”
“You can’t keep them but you can keep them for a while.”
“Thanks Mick.”
Mick surveyed his tapes. He selected two and handed them to me. “I think you will like these best.”
  I thanked Mick and told him that I should go home. He understood perfectly clear.
“Do you know how to get home from here?” Mick asked.
“No I don’t.” I was never in this part of Manhattan before. Waterside Plaza stood on the eastern edge of Manhattan between 26th and 28th Streets behind Bellevue Hospital. It was quite out of the way from any subway line. It was 3 long blocks away from First Avenue which was the largest uptown thoroughfare on the East Side of Manhattan.
“You have to go Crosstown right?” Mick asked.
“Yes I have to get to 7th Avenue.”
“When you go downstairs to the plaza, walk towards the supermarket. Just right of the supermarket is an escalator which will take you down to the M16 bus. It runs crosstown along 34th street. It stops at Penn Station.”
“That’s super!”
  I tiptoed out of the room in the manner that Mick did. I took a harrowing elevator ride back down to sea level. I had never been in elevators which rattled my nerves as those that serviced 7 Waterside Plaza. Mick’s directions were perfect and I went home.
  At home I put on one of the tapes. It was a mix tape of various singles from 1982 and 1983. I loved the tape. It contained all the classic New Wave hits from those years including “Der Kommissar” by Falco, “Don’t You Want Me” from the Human League, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) from Eurythmics, “She Blinded Me With Science” by Thomas Dolby, “Stepping Out” by Joe Jackson and many others. It was only a 60 minute tape or 30 minutes per side.
  The second cassette was 90 minutes or 45 minutes per side. However the music lacked the edge of the first tape. On side one was the “Thriller” album by Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson bored me. He was one of the few pop artists I could name. Between 1982 and 1984 it was impossible to ignore or escape that album. The album was played on every boom box on every street, bus and subway line in the city. The album blasted from the open windows of cars on the street. Whenever there was a street fair in any part of Manhattan, it was an absolute guarantee that songs from “Thriller” would be played. Then there was the 2 year debate in the news and all of pop mass media about whether Billie Jean was a real person or not. Women from all over Texas and other states came forward to say that they were the “Real Billie Jean”. I didn’t know or care who Billie Jean was but it was impossible not to hear people in school, on the subways and on TV mention it. I was tired of seeing Michael Jackson’s face everywhere. Twice an hour his Pepsi ads came on TV. Indeed, it was Michael Jackson which turned me off from music in the first place. It was the obsession and gossip around “Billie Jean” which prompted me to believe that people who were into music were un-educated and stupid. There was also the Rap-Soul-R&B gossip and rumors which took the headlines of the Daily News about who was the real “Roxanne” based upon another stupid song which was heard all over the city “Roxanne, Roxanne I want to be your man!”
  The second side of the tape was selected tracks by Pat Benatar. Some of the songs were decent but I generally found her boring. Michael Jackson’s music was much more interesting than hers. Still, I was learning more about music. I was acquiring a taste and sensibility for music.
 
  Given my temperament and proclivity for aggression, it was simply a question of time that I would have a fight at Stuyvesant High School. However, I ended up in a war. I had been in countless fights growing up on the Upper West Side. I won some and lost some. I was more or less evenly matched even against boys bigger than me. I had only engaged in warfare with 3 teachers in I.S. 44. These were psychological wars of attrition. They were battles of wills contesting my resistance to authority. I won 2 of the wars and came to a draw on the third.
  I fought with boys of all races and backgrounds. I fought with the white and Jewish kids, along with the black boys and girls. I had a couple of fights with Puerto Rican boys. However, the fights had been more or less like the fight I had with King of the Woods. What started out as a battle or words escalated into fisticuffs. However, there was never any racial, ethnic or religious dimension to our fights. At least not in the fights I had.
  At the beginning of the school year at I.S. 44 some of the Black kids in the 6 and 7 sections from Uptown would bully and harass some of the white kids. I had assumed it was because the kids from Uptown were tough as nails and they naturally picked on the weaker kids who were usually the ones that lived on Riverside Drive. It just happened to be that the white boys from Riverside Drive were the ones easiest to bully.
  At Stuyvesant, I had my first encounter with racism. By the end of the 2nd week of school another boy joined and ate with us during lunch. He was in one of the same classes with Chris. His name was Al Pataglia. He was an Italian from Corona, Queens. He was 4 inches taller than me with an olive complexion, hazel eyes and short curly hair. He wore metal braces on his teeth.
  One day during lunch, I excitedly mentioned the songs that I had heard on the radio and the videos that I saw. I then spoke about the debate about “Missionary Man” I had with Mick. Al interrupted me.
“You’re a stupid Nigger!”
Chris, Dennis and Brian looked at me in alarm.
“What?” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.
“You’re a stupid Nigger, Kevin!”
  I sat stunned in mute silence. I felt an invisible sword disembowel me.
Al had a nasty expression. His eyes were hard and full of hatred. His sadistic grin was made more sinister by the braces. “You’re s stupid Nigger the way you talk. All you talk about is music and videos. Who cares about your retarded argument with that dick from your church? You are the dumbest Nigger I ever saw!” Al was relentless.
  I had never felt my emotions as disturbed as they now were. I put down my sandwich. I couldn’t speak. The period ended. The other boys at the table got up and left. For a few minutes I sat growing increasingly into a rage which broke my stunned paralysis. I followed Al. I grabbed his shoulder from behind and confronted him.
“Why did you call me a stupid nigger?” I shouted.
“Because you are!”
I punched Al in the chest. He slapped my face.
“Don’t fuck me with me, you stupid Nigger.” Al walked away.
  The day was ruined for me. I had never felt so humiliated. I kept hearing Al’s mocking voice calling me a stupid nigger in my head. My face was flushed and burnt from both the slap and the anguish I felt. My parents had warned me of racism but no one can really ever be prepared for it the first time. It took all of my might to hold back the tears.
  When I met Edward after school and we walked to Union Square I was livid.
“Do you know what Al Pataglia said to me?”
“What?”
“He called me a stupid nigger!”
Edward didn’t respond. He kept walking. His lack of response surprised me.
“He called me a stupid nigger! He called me a stupid nigger! How could he say that! He called me a nigger!”
“Oh, so what Kevin!” Edward yelled. “Who cares?”
“So what?” I was incredulous. “So what? I care!”
“Why do you care?” Edward asked as he looked annoyed and harassed by me.
“What if Al called you that? Wouldn’t you be mad?”
“No. Why should I be?”
“Because calling us niggers is racist and mean!”
“No it’s not. It’s just a word. You are so sensitive, Kevin! Really!”
  I couldn’t believe what Edward was saying. How could he not be angry? Why was he so dismissive? I continued my harangue about Al on the subway up to Times Square. Edward sat in stony silence. On the IRT platform he lost his patience. “Oh Kevin, you always talk about the most trivial things!”
I felt an invisible dagger through my heart. Edward was not sympathetic. He didn’t care. He lacked any empathy. He didn’t offer solidarity or friendship. The local train arrived in the station first. I left Edward on the platform alone and went on the train. He gave a quick me glance and waved. He turned his back to me. The doors closed and I began a heart wrenching ride home.
  I was so distraught when I got home, that I did not bother to turn on the TV or listen to music. I lay down on bed. I stared at the ceiling thinking about the day’s events. I wasn’t sure which made me angrier: Al’s racial slur or Edward’s put down. My mother came home at the usual time. She came into my room and saw me.
“What’s wrong with you, boy?” She looked very concerned.
I turned on my side with my back to her.
“What’s the matter Kevin?” She sat on the bed. “Tell me Kevin, what’s the matter?”
I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to tell my mother about my humiliations.
“Are you all right, Kevin? Are you sick?”
“No mom.”
“What’s troubling you? Are you in trouble at school?”
“No mom.”
“Tell me Kevin, what’s wrong. Something is obviously wrong with you.”
“I don’t want to talk about it mom.”
“Would you rather talk to your father about it?”
“No mom.”
“Look Kevin!” My mother became more serious than concerned. “If you are in trouble at school you better go ahead and tell me now. It’s better that you tell me than for me to get a call about it.”
“Mom, it’s not about that. I’m not in any trouble like that.”
My mother fell silent for a few moments. She spoke at last. “I’m going to bake Blue Fish. Are you hungry?”
“Yes mom.”
  I couldn’t do my homework that night. I had to pretend if I wanted to keep my parents from harassing me. During dinner, we watched the news. I ate in silence. I washed the dishes in silence as my father stood smoking a cigarette watching me. He tried to pick my mind but I had a strong lock around it that evening. I went back to my bedroom room. I had 4 textbooks open at once. I drew pictures of various commercial jet models. My parents came into my room to make sure that I was doing my homework. At ten o’clock I turned off the lights and climbed into bed. I didn’t sleep all night.
 As the hours passed, my anger boiled. At the same time I felt hopelessly impotent. I felt a strong hatred for Al Pataglia. Yet he scared me. He was a tough kid. I feared that he could beat me soundly in a fight. I tossed and turned in bed. Around 3 in the morning I turned on the radio. “Captain of the Heart” played. It was the first time I heard the song. It had a calming effect on me. I was restless and agitated.
  I got out of bed and 5:55 and went to the living room. My mother was surprised that I was up early without having to be woken up. She asked me if I was doing better. I didn’t answer. I was irritable. My mother had 1010 WINS radio on. At 6 o’clock the station broadcast its jingle. It was an analog synthesizer with a thin tin sound. It sounded like emergency vehicle urgently rushing through traffic. I realized how I was tired of hearing those jingles in my head over the years every morning.
  I took the subway to school. My resentment swelled. I wanted to hit someone. During First Period I had my first test in Earth Science. After First Period I spotted Al. He was coming in the same corridor in the opposite direction. I ran up and shoved him backwards. His body flew into the other students. He landed on the seat of his pants and tumbled over. I quickened my pace and disappeared into the staircase.
  After 3rd Period English class I was walking along when I heard someone say.
“You fucking Nigger!”
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around. I saw Al’s fist land on my jaw. I saw the hallway spin around twice. The next thing I saw were dozens of feet walking pass in front of my face. I heard a female adult voice yell!
“You’re going to see Mr. Silverstein! What’s your name? Stay where you are!”
I felt the hands of a woman help me off the floor. It was the woman that I sat next to during orientation. “Are you all right?” She asked.
  I nodded my head and walked on to my next class. I didn’t see Al at lunch. Chris asked what was going on. I told him what had transpired since the end of lunch period the previous day. Between 7th and 8th Period I saw Al. He cornered me. “OK Nigger. I’m going to kick your ass after school. Watch.” He left me.
  I spent 8th Period in dread. I was going to have a fight after school. I knew that I could not beat Al Pataglia. I knew he would mop the floor with my ass. I didn’t pay any attention to Math class. I plotted my escape. I decided that I would leave school by the 15th Street exit of the building and then try to sneak across Stuyvesant Square to Union Square.
  The last tone for dismissal sounded. I frantically tried to exit the building as quickly as possible but the stairs were clogged. It seemed to take ages to get down to the ground floor. Just before I stepped out of the building I thought that I was home free.
  As soon as I stepped out the doors Al was waiting for me.
“I knew you would try to leave by this. You think you are so smart but like I said before you are a stupid nigger.” He came on me.
I dodged him and ran towards Stuyvesant Square. Al pursued me. A gang of other Italian students also chased behind. “Get that Nigger!”
  Al caught up to me and grabbed my knapsack. He tossed me into the street. I went head over heels as I hit the pavement. I quickly got up and went into Stuyvesant Park. Al ran after me. He tripped me. He then kicked me in my thighs and buttocks. Al punched me. His blows struck my face and arms. I curled my body into a ball. For 5 minutes he hit me.
“You fucking nigger! I got a fucking Dean’s referral because of you!” He spit on me. He left and celebrated with his friends.
  As I curled up in a ball my mind snapped. When Al spat on me I crossed the point of no return. I uncurled my body and stood up. I walked over the nearest garbage bin. It was filled with empty beer bottles. I picked up a 40 ounce bottle of Colt .45 Malt Liquor. I hurled it across the square. It landed and smashed into pieces at the feet of Al. He and his friends gave a startled look of surprise.
  I picked up another empty bottle. It was Ballatine Triple X. I smashed the bottle on the steel garbage bin with the neck in my hand. It broke. At the end of the neck were jagged and sharp edges. I ran towards Al. I went on the attack. Al fled. I was in close pursuit. I shouted.
“You motherfucking Wop! I’m going to slice and dice your ass!”
  I chased Al down 2nd Avenue to 14th Street. He ran against the light. He was about 8 paces ahead of me. I was blinded with fury. I crossed 14th Street. A loud horn blared. The M14 crosstown bus bore down on me. The driver hit the brakes. The bus screeched to a halt 2 inches before me. I ran onto the sidewalk. Al had disappeared.
 I fell into a homicidal rage for the rest of the week. I had made up my mind that I was going to kill Al Pataglia. It was all that I could think about. Al had not shown up for school for the rest of the week. Reports and rumors of the fight had spread around 9th Grade. I made no secret of my intention to kill Al. I never failed to mention to everybody.
“The next time I see Al Pataglia, I am going to murder his Italian ass!”
  The next Sunday I reported what had transpired at church. I told Mick that I was going to kill.
“No! Kevin, no! Murder is a sin!” Mick pleaded.
“I don’t give a fuck! That motherfucker deserves to die!”
“No Kevin. If you kill him you will go to Hell.”
“No I won’t. I will tell God exactly why I did it. God will be forgiving.”
“Kevin!”
“Think I’m wrong?”
“You are wrong, Kevin!”
“Anyway, Al is going to Hell that’s for sure! I’m going to send him there!”
“Kevin!” Mick was frightened. “Kevin you are not God!”
“I know I’m not God!”
“Kevin, if you are not worried about going to Hell, you should worry about going to jail.”
“I’m not going to jail. I will kill him far away from school. The police will never know who did it.”
“Kevin! The police will find out. That’s why they have detectives. Detectives can find out these things.”
“That’s bullshit! How many murders are in this city every year? Do they ever catch most of them? Of course not!”
“Kevin! You are talking about killing a kid who goes to Stuyvesant! The detectives will make an extra effort to find the killer.”
  I slowly came to my senses. After all, I had publicly announced my intentions to kill Al Pataglia. If I killed him, it wouldn’t be very hard for the police to find me. I promised Mick that I would not kill anyone.
  Al returned to school the next day. He made every effort to stay away from me. He would avert his eyes whenever we saw each other. I did not have any more problems with him or with any other student. Once again, the rumor went around school that I was crazy.  That was the best way to garner absolute respect in New York at the time. Once a person gained the reputation of being crazy, no one dared to cross them. That was the last school fight with a boy I ever had.













  I never got to see another home game at Shea Stadium to see the Mets. They were playing mostly night games during the week and on Friday and Saturday evenings. My father was too busy with his work to take me. My mother was afraid to ride the subway at night. The only home day games remaining in the season were played on Sundays with one day game during school hours. My father was too busy and my mother used her Sundays to go to church and spent the afternoon reading the news paper. So I only got to see the Mets once during the 1986 season.
  The Mets Magic Number was down to 1. However, the Mets had difficulty winning that one game. They had swept the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium. They had a 3 game series against the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. I watched every game that was broadcast on Channel 9 WOR.
  On Friday night, the Phillies pounded the Mets by a score of 10-0. I was angry but I figured that they would win the next game. On Saturday night the Mets played even worse. The Phillies hammered them by the score 11-1. I was convinced that the Mets were not going to make the playoffs. I watched the 3rd game on Sunday afternoon. Most of the people in Philadelphia were New Yorkers who had spent the weekend there to see the Mets clinch the Eastern Division title.
  The Mets got only 2 hits in the game. The majority of the batters struck out. I was incensed. I started yelling at the TV. My mother was reading the newspaper.
“Calm down, Kevin! It’s just a game!”
“That’s it mom. The Mets are not going to make the playoffs. Watch! They are going to blow the season.”
“No, they’re not. They’re going to win one game before the season’s finished. You know it!”
My mother failed to convince me. I thought about Brandy Frequent. It was all her fault. She was the one who had taken my Mets cap off my head. She was the one who jinxed us. I was tempted to call her on the phone and curse her out.
It was the top of the 9 inning and the Mets were 2 runs down. The first two batters struck out.
I roared, shouted and stamped my feet in anger.
“Stop carrying on like that!” My mother shouted.
“Why don’t the Phillies just let the Mets win? They have no chance of making the playoffs!”
“Why should they do that?” My mother replied. “The point of playing is to win. Why should they lose just so the Mets can win the pennant?”
  The last batter struck out. I stormed out of the house. I was convinced that it was the fault of Brandy Frequent. I was convinced that the Mets would not make the playoffs. I walked down to Lincoln Center. I bought a hot dog from a street vendor. I then walked back home and completed my homework.
  The next game was Tuesday afternoon at Shea against the Chicago Cubs. I dashed home as quickly as possible. When I turned on the TV, the Mets were leading 4-0 in the bottom of the 7th Inning. Mookie Wilson hit a solo homeroom putting the Mets up 5-0. The last batter for the Cubs, Ryan Sandberg hit a pop out. The Mets won the game and clinched the Eastern Division Title.
  Thousands of fans descended on to the field. On TV, the field looked like one huge Mosh Pit. The fans ripped up the bases and tore up the grass and dirt of the field. The players quickly retreated to the locker rooms for safety. For more than 20 minutes the riot throbbed and flared as ecstatic Mets fans mobbed on the field. It took another 20 minutes before stadium security had managed to clear the field of people.
  The TV cut to a commercial break. During 1986, the Mets had two major TV sponsors: Garcia y Vega Cigars and Purolater Currier. What always confused me about the Garcia y Vega ads was that the Spanish “y” was never pronounced. The actors and the voice over simply called it “Garcia Vega”. They did not even attempt to pronounce Garcia in the proper Spanish form. Instead of pronouncing it “Gar-ci-a” it was pronounced “Gar-cha” “Gar-cha Vega.”
  The ads for Purolater Currier played on the trouble of pronouncing the name. The ad always featured a ditzy secretary from New Jersey who could never pronounce it pu-ro-la-ter. She would often pronounce it Percolator Currier until her boss, some sleazy middle aged man from Westchester would always correct her.
  When the ads were finished the screen panned across the field of Shea Stadium. One of the commentators Tim McCarver spoke.
“Shea Stadium looks as if the United States Air Force has used the field for target practice! This is despicable. The behavior of the fans is inexcusable!”
  This was reported on the evening news. It was the first time since 1973 that the Mets had made it to the playoffs. However, the news stations re-played the mobs tearing up the field. The Shea Stadium ground crew was not happy. They had to work all throughout the night and the next day to get the field back in shape. The Mets had many more games to play for the year. The media was filled with consternation of editorialists and sports columnists deploring the behavior of the fans. It was further evidence of the anarchy which New York had descended. Mayor Koch made an angry denunciation of the fans at a press conference. Never again would such behavior be tolerated in New York City.
  I didn’t know what the big problem was about. After all, it had been the custom of New York baseball fans since the 1977-78 Yankee Dynasty. When the Yankees won the World Series at home, the fans did the same thing. The same behavior was repeated when the Yankees won the 1981 playoffs at Yankee Stadium. It was normal at the time that the fans stormed the field and tore it up after the home team had won a championship.
  The Mets were to face the Western Division Champions Houston Astros in the playoffs. I was nervous about that series for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that after the Mets were swept by the Phillies, my confidence in them was lost considerably. The Mets had a spotty record against the Astros. The second reason was that the Astros had home field advantage. The Mets never played well in the Astrodome. I could rarely recall seeing the Mets ever win a game on TV there. The Astros were a boring team and their matches with the Mets were usually long and uneventful. The Mets didn’t play well on artificial surface. It was the where the Mets made the most fielding errors. Moreover, the Mets were prone to lose to a sub-standard team such as the Houston Astros.
  Over in the American League, the Boston Red Sox were to square off against the California Angels. The Angels were one of the few teams on the American League that I liked and respected. I also figured that if the Mets got past the Astros, they could easily defeat the Angels. I was convinced that the Mets would get murdered by the Red Sox.
  The Mets played a very sloppy series against the Astros which diminished my confidence even more. Fortunately for the Mets, the Astros played sloppier ball than the Mets. The Astros did not have any really good players. I hoped that the Mets would win the playoffs at Shea rather than have to go back to the Astrodome. However, the Mets had to make things complicated and were forced to play Game 6 in Houston. Ron Darling nearly lost the game but Ray Knight saved the same with a 3 run homer. Jesse Orosco was the Mets closing relief pitcher. He had been with the Mets for years. He was their only decent relief pitcher which was not saying much for the Mets Bullpen. Since the acquisition of Gooden and Darling, the Mets had a decent opening pitching staff but their relievers much not as good. Orosco was certainly better than the middle reliever Doug (Doughboy) Sisk. However, I had seen Orosco blow too many games. He had an unusually high Earned Run Average for a relief pitcher. It was always between 4.00 and 5.00.However, Orosco survived. He struck out the last Astros batter. He seemed to be just as relieved as I was that he did it. The Mets were the National League Champions. Since they won it in Houston, the players were able to enjoy their victory celebration on the field peacefully. I breathed a sigh.
  The only question was the Mets opponent in the World Series. The Red Sox and Angels played a grueling and gritty series. It was a series dominated by homeruns. The series went 7 games. The Angels had the lead going into the top of the 9th until Wade Boggs hit a Grand Slam lifting the Red Sox over the Angles. The next day, the losing relief pitcher of the Angles shot himself dead.
  It was final. The World Series was going to be between the Boston Red Sox and the Mets. I was afraid. I knew the Red Sox quite well from the days when I was a Yankees fan. The Red Sox were serious as cancer. No other team in the Major Leagues except for the Yankees had power hitters like the Red Sox. The Red Sox were deadly. They were a solid hardcore American League team. The American League was all about hitting. The National League was more about technique. The National League was about pitching, fielding, running and strategy. The American League was mostly about hitting. American League players were always fatter than the National League players. One can’t have a fat ass if the game plan is about running the bases and stealing.
  However, the Red Sox had an ace rookie pitcher. Roger Clemens was the hardest throwing pitcher in Major Leagues. He was certain to win the Cy Young award as well as Rookie of the Year. He was ranked the best pitcher in all of baseball. Dwight Gooden was not close to the same league as Roger Clemens. I knew that Strawberry, Carter, Knight and Hernandez might be able to challenge Clemens but I was doubtful. I was absolutely convinced that the Red Sox batters would eat the Mets pitchers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  New York City was buzzing with baseball fever. There is no other place in the world like New York in October. October was the best month to be in the city. It was peak month for everything. Art, culture, theater and entertainment was in abundance. The weather was cool, brisk and sharp but still sunny and pleasant. It was a nice change from the heat and humidity of August. By October, everyone in the city had gotten back into their groove and rhythm. However, whenever one of the two baseball teams was in the post-season New York became electrified. It was the first time since 1981 that post-season baseball had been played in New York. Moreover, the city was playing its old historical nemesis: Boston.
  There was no love lost between New York and Boston. New Yorkers hated Boston. Bostonians looked down from their noses on New York. Relations between the two cities were through the lens of baseball. The Yankee-Red Sox rivalry was the biggest in baseball. Ever since the 1978 one game playoff for the Eastern Division Title which led to a bench clearing brawl between the two teams, the antipathy between Boston and New York was beyond repair.
  The Mets and the Red Sox had never faced each other before. This was a decade before the introduction of inter-league play. National League and American League teams never faced each other during the regular season except for the All-Star Game which was played between the most popular players of the American League against those of the National League. It was only during the World Series that the champions of each league faced each other.
  Though most Yankees fans did not like the Mets, they had no choice but to root for them against the Red Sox. The entire city rallied behind the Mets. Mayor Koch made a public wager with Ray Flynn, the Mayor of Boston. If the Mets lost, Koch would give the Mayor of Boston a bushel of apples. If the Red Sox lost Flynn would give the Mayor of New York a crock of Baked Beans. Koch was fresh off his victory wager against the Mayor of Houston. Koch publicly put down the city of Houston. He would pronounce the name of the city “House-ton” which was the way that Houston Street in lower Manhattan was pronounced.
  The week before Game 1 of the World Series, baseball was the talk of the town. As usual everyone disparaged Boston and the Red Sox. One morning as I commuted to school on the LL train I overheard two Puerto Rican Stuyvesant students conversing. They were sure that the Red Sox were going to lose against the Mets. They thought that Roger Clemens was an over-rated and over-hyped player. They made vulgar comparisons between Roger Clemens and Larry Byrd, who was the basketball player for the Boston Celtics.
“Roger Clemens sucks Larry Byrd’s dick!” One of the Puerto Ricans said to the other.
   The only factor which gave me any confidence of a Mets victory was that they had home field advantage. The Sunday before the start of the World Series, the Daily News had a special supplement to hype up the Mets. A four page scorecard was included so fans would keep score for all the games. I knew how to keep score and I took the scorecards out of the paper.
  Game 1 was a match up between Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens at Shea. As I feared, the Red Sox line-up destroyed Gooden. Clemens was un-relentless against the Mets line-up. He overpowered the Mets power hitters.
Game 2 proved to be even les inspiring. The Mets had lost the first two games at home against the Red Sox. They were in a deep hole heading up to Fenway Park. I feared that the Mets were going to get swept and buried in Boston.
  As usual, the Red Sox fans indulged in the basest form of vulgar racism. As Darryl Strawberry took his position in Right Field he was taunted and jeered by the fans. Each inning that the Mets took the field 35, 000 fans chanted. “DAR-RYLLLLLLLLLLL, DAR-RYLLLLLLLLLL, DAR-RYLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”
  Darryl Strawberry in a sarcastic and annoyed gestured tipped his cap to crowd. In response the crowd cheered and applauded.
“See what I told you about Boston!” My father said as we watched the game. “I don’t know how Jim Rice manages to play up there. He’s the only player on the team that I like.”
The Mets played well in Fenway Park. They won 2 out of 3 games there. However, the Red Sox had a 3-2 lead in the series. They had only to win one more game to win the series. Game 6 was to return to Shea.
  The Red Sox were clearly the best team the night of Game 6. The Mets were down by a couple of runs. They couldn’t hit the ball that night. The pitching staff was exhausted. By the end of the 8th Inning I was certain that the Mets were going to lose the series. I flew into a rage. I tore up the scorecards. I kicked over the tray in the living room which I used to keep score.
“Hey!” My father shouted. “What’s your problem?”
“The fucking Mets! They are going to lose to Boston!”
“I’m not happy about it either Kevin but we can’t do anything about it. You don’t see me acting up, do you?”
  The top of the 9th inning the Red Sox were retired in order by Jesse Orosco. I knew whose fault it was that the Mets were going to lose. It was Brandy Frequent’s fault. If she had not taken off my cap the Mets would’ve won the World Series. I stormed into my room and found her number. I stormed back in the living and picked up the phone.
“Who are you calling?” My father asked.
“I’m calling this stupid girl. It’s her fault that the Mets lost!”
“Say what?” My father’s eyebrows rose.
“Yeah, up in Martha’s Vineyard she took my cap off my head. That’s why the Mets have lost the Series.”
“CHSSS, CHSSS, CHSSS!!!” My father laughed.
I dialed the number. The answering machine came on. The greeting was given by an adult woman. I assumed it was Brandy’s mother. I hung up the phone not bothering to leave a nasty message.
  It was the bottom of the 9th Inning. The first two batters were at the bottom of the batting order. It was quickly 2 outs. Mookie Wilson came up to bat.
“That’s it!” I stamped my feet. “It’s over! Mookie Wilson! It’s done. He’s going to strike out!”
Mookie Wilson swung and missed at the first two pitches. It was 2 outs and 2 strikes at the bottom of the 9th Inning. The Mets were toast. On the next pitch Mookie Wilson hit an easy grounder to First Base. The most remarkable event in the history of baseball transpired.
The Red Sox First baseman Bill Buckner bent down to retrieve the easy ground ball. The ball went underneath his glove and rolled out to Right Field. Shea Stadium erupted. Mookie Wilson ran to second base. The ABC TV announcers were just as stunned as the rest of us. The TV replayed the scene over and over. The commentators were at a lost to explain it. Gary Carter was due next. He hit a double bringing Mookie Wilson home. The Mets were now one run behind the Red Sox. Two batters later, the Mets scored the winning run. The Mets were alive!
  The next day, the entire city was buzzing about the previous night. How did the Red Sox First baseman fuck up like that? I was excited and giddy though I felt remorse for tearing up my scorecards. When I got home the phone rang. It was King of the Woods.
“HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY KEVIN! DID YOU SEE THE GAME LAST NIGHT?”
“Yes I did!  I can’t believe what happened!”
“I THINK THE METS ARE GOING TO WIN IT TONIGHT!”
“You think?”
“YES AND THAT’S WHY I’M CALLING. I WANTED TO KNOW IF YOU WANTED TO GO TO THE BAR WITH US. MICK, BOBBY AND I ARE GOING TO WATCH THE GAME AT A BAR ON 23RD STREET. WANNA COME?”
“I’d like to but I don’t know if my mother will let me stay out late. She’s afraid of the subways at night. She'll probably say no.”
“WELL THE NAME OF THE BAR IS RUSTY’S ON 23RD BETWEEN FIRST AND SECOND. IT’S IN THE SAME COMPLEX WHERE BOBBY LIVES.”
“Right, King. I will see what I can do.”  
  When my mother came home I told her that David Goulash had invited me over for dinner and to watch the game over at his house. My mother rolled her eyes at the mention of Goulash but she agreed to let me go. I took the subway downtown to the bar.
  New York was a much more liberal and tolerant city back then. Though we were between the ages of 14-16, we were allowed into the bar. I sat with King, Bobby and Mick. None of us even considered ordering alcohol. We sat in a booth with a good view of the TV ordering cokes without ice all night. Since we were not trying to buy alcohol and were paying for the many rounds of coke, we were allowed to stay.
  Game 7 didn’t start off promising. Gooden had given up 7 runs. By the 7th inning stretch the Mets were down 3 runs by the score 4-7. However, the Mets tied the game in the bottom of the 7th and took the go ahead run in the 8th inning. During the top of the 8th inning the second strangest event of the 1986 World Series occurred. A man dropped out of the sky and flew into Shea stadium on a parachute with a huge manner which read LET’S GO METS!
  Bobby excused himself and left the booth. At the top of the 9 inning Jesse Orosco was pitching to save the game. After he recorded the first out of the inning riot police on horseback assembled in the bullpen. Time was called as 50 mounted police came onto the field. Mayor Koch had warned that if the Mets won the World Series at Shea, there would not be a repeat of the fans tearing up the field.
  The Mets won the game. They were the 1986 Champions. We celebrated and cheered in the bar. The bar gave everyone a small glass of champagne which we all drank. We suddenly realized that Bobby had not come back. Bobby had disappeared. Mick went to the bathroom to see if he was there. He came back puzzled. We stayed longer to watch the World Series Trophy be handed to Davey Johnson, the Mets Manager. The MVP was given to Ray Knight. I realized that I had to get back home soon.
  Mick, King and I left the bar.
“It was weird that Bobby disappeared like that!” Mick commented.
“Yes, I hope nothing has happened to him.” I added with a bit of concern.
“I hope so too” Mick added.
“YEAH IT’S TOO BAD THAT WE LOST BOBBY BUT AT LEAST THE METS WON THE WORLD SERIES!” King of the Woods said as we walked downtown.

   





















  A week after the World Series, life in New York went on. The following month I had received my first report card and the grades were not good. I hadn’t failed any subjects but my highest grade was in World History 1. During the parents-teachers conference, my teachers reported that I was a bright student but had not done my homework.
  My parents were incensed. Why did I not do my homework? They demanded to know. I was not to watch any more TV. My parents took my TV set out of my room. They were on my back and aggressive with me. I was feeling depressed and oppressed again. How I hated school.
  Thanksgiving was spent as it always was at Grandmother Harriet’s. That was the only high point since the Mets won the World Series. There was another FOCUS week coming up. It was a ski week at Silver Bay. However, both of my parents refused.
“Not with those grades!” My father huffed. “I will not send you on any more trips until your grades improve.
“That’s right. You had your fun for this year. You are going to keep your black ass right here in New York with the rest of us!” My mother said.
  King of the Woods and Mick were going away to Ski Week. They asked if I was going. I replied in the negative. I was on my parents S-list and I had to stay in New York.
  December came and the temperature dropped. My mother got a Christmas tree as she did every year on Columbus Avenue behind the Museum of Natural History. I was wondering what I would get for Christmas this year, if anything. 1986 was coming to a close. I wondered what the next year would bring for me.
  My parents were taking too much of my time forcing me to study for upcoming tests.
The father and I spent hours going over my history class and books. I was looking forward to Christmas vacation. I would have over a week free from school. I wouldn’t have any homework or tests to study for.
 During the last week of school before the Christmas recess an incident sent New York in social upheaval. A group of Blacks had been beaten and chased by a mob of whites out in Howard Beach, Queens. One of the Blacks had been chased to the highway. He had been so frightened that he tried to run across the busy Van Wyck Expressway. He was struck and killed by a car.
  The Black population in New York was in an uproar. Mayor Koch and Governor Cuomo gave public addresses and tried to keep the social peace. The racial tension in the air was thick. On the subway, Blacks and whites exchanged steely glances at one another. The talk radio airwaves were buzzing about the subject. It appeared that most whites outside of Manhattan did not think anything bad happened.
  Bob Grant, the right wing racist host on WABC 77 AM, asked what the Blacks were doing out in Howard Beach in the first place. His callers from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, New Jersey and Long Island expressed opinions that the Blacks had what was coming to them. They had been in the wrong area at night where they had no business to be at. It was sad that one of them was killed but he was stupid enough to run across a busy highway.
  A few days later, the case took on a more sinister twist. The driver of the car that struck Michael Griffiths was driven by a retired New York City police officer. He had turned himself in to the police. Many Blacks in New York felt that the driver was part of the plot to kill Michael Griffiths. Moreover, as an ex-police officer he had committed a crime by not stopping after he struck a pedestrian. He committed a hit and run offence. Was it because the man he had run over was Black that he thought he could get away with it? If the case had not blown up and created a social tinder box, would he have bothered to turn himself in?
From the perspective of the city’s Black population things had gone too far. First, Bernard Goetz shot unarmed Black teenagers on the subway for asking him for money. Second, a Black elderly woman named Eleanor Bumpers was shot and killed by the police during an eviction. Now, Blacks were assaulted and killed for being in the wrong part of town at night. The city’s Black people felt that their lives were not worth anything. They felt that it was open season to kill and disrespect Black people.
  Howard Beach would for years to come become synonymous for racial violence and strife in New York. Although the Upper West Side was light years away from and ahead of Howard Beach, no part of the city would escape the escalating racial conflict which had descended upon it. The happiness and good will of the Mets World Series win had evaporated. As 1986 came to a close, I had a premonition about the New Year. 1987 was going to be a bad year for the city, the country and for myself.

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