The neighborhood I grew up in had its good and its bad. It was very typical of most San Francisco districts. It had its own history. Its own legends. Just like all the others. It was at the tip of Haight Ashbury and on the edge of downtown, right smack dab in the middle of the city. Back then it was called the Fillmore but now its called the Western Edition, either way its where I'm from.
But an ode to my old neighborhood is not why I’m typing, nor why you are reading. What I want to paint for you today is another sketch from my childhood. A scene that may help you, and most importantly me, understand who is behind the ones and zeroes that make up this cold black internet page. Here we have a brief glimpse into my past, and who are we really, without the stories that make us up?
It was a Saturday, I believe. Or it could have been a weekday, and just during the summer. I can’t really remember by season, as San Francisco’s seasons never change [a perpetual autumn is upon us, why is Oakland so sunny?], but I remember it was warm, the sky was a clear blue, and the day was a lazy free for all. It could have been any day, now that I think about it.
I was about nine years old. It was me, Dion, his cousin Dominick, and this kid named Shawn. Dion was my neighbor; we were road dogs for real. We did everything together. Everything. In fact, if I may take the liberty of assuming that we are still friends, even though I haven’t seen him in about 6 years, I would say that I have known Dion longer than I have known anyone else [not including my biological mother, whom I haven’t seen since I was 15]. I met him when I was seven or eight. He was singing Michael Jackson songs in our shared backyard and I corrected him on the lyrics. Then we had a Michael Jackson dance off, which I believe ended in a tie. Then we became BFF’s. The rest is just stories on the internet.
His cousin was younger than us, but we still let him hang. He would come and stay the weekend at Dion's every now and again. One time he stole a video from the return basket at a video rental place and it turned out to be the first porno I’d ever seen, Debbie Does Dallas part 3, but that’s another post altogether.
Shawn tried to steal a toy from me at a birthday party, but that was way later, at this point he was considered a pretty cool kid. His ninja style was called The Bull. I never witnessed it, but according to him he had wiped out armies of lesser skilled ninjas by the time we were eight and a half. His form was that deadly.
So we are all at this park, which is around the corner from my house, on the same block as some pretty run down projects. It’s a small playground, just a patch of sand with some swings and a spare jungle gym. If I remember correctly, Dion was trying to do back flips off of an elevated tunnel and onto the sand. Shawn was spinning on a tire hung from a bar. Dominick was doing something totally immature, I’m sure, and I was hanging back at the top of the slide. Not really going anywhere, just checking things out.
That’s when Andre showed up. Andre was a few years older than us and he was mean and ugly and didn’t really give a shit what you thought about him. His hair was nappy and uncombed and his clothes were dirty and torn. He was doomed and he knew it and he hated if you didn’t share in his misery. He was with two girls, sisters or cousins or friends or someone, and he was laughing when I first saw him.
He walked up to Shawn and said something. I couldn’t hear, but when I looked at Dion his eyes were wide and he was frozen, balanced on a coupe bars high up on the jungle gym. Dominick had moved up and behind the small web of tunnels that made up the higher plateau of the playground. I stayed my position at the top of the slide.
I could tell the words said weren’t friendly, even though Andre smiled the entire time. Shawn had that shy and surrendered look of a kid being bullied, I knew the score so I waited to see how it played out. When Andre pushed Shawn from the tire, and the girls cackled and pointed, I immediately realized two things, that Shawn had lied about his Bull style of ninjitsu, and that things were not going to end up good as a result of it.
Dion had other ideas, and jumped down from the bar to stop things from going further. It was a simple move, but it didn’t work out so well. The moment his feet touched the sand Andre had his fist sliding across his cheek. Andres white teeth shone in the nice sunny day and when he swung a second time, his smile wider than ever, he said the one thing I ever heard him say, ‘Why would you want to hurt yourself?’ then his fist connected squarely on the jaw of my road dog. I doubt it caused much pain but the scream that left Dions mouth struck me to the bone and I couldn’t wait any longer.
I jumped from the slide and ran.
I didn’t run away really, but I went to find some sort of weapon… that didn’t happen to be on the same playground as Andre. I hardly went around the block, but I left the scene for a moment. The plague of cowardice had moved through me like an anesthesia, and I searched quickly for a tool. A bottle. A blade. A bat. Anything. Finally I found a large stick and went back to the crime, somewhat prepared, shivering and short of breath.
When I got there it was empty.
I’m not sure where every one went but there was no one there when I got back. It wasn’t like I was gone long either. Still, no one was there. Just me and a stick and my own fear and cowardice. I flung the stick over a fence and sat down in the sand for a second, I was about to cry but didn’t want anyone to come see me so got up and left. It was still clear outside but I just wanted to go home. It was the first time I recognized how soft I was. A born pussy. Yellow. I realized I’d have to live with it, no matter how many fights I got into, no matter how many times I got my ass kicked. Id have to accept, I was kind of a punk.
I don’t know what happened to Andre, I saw him a few more times, on the streets, on the corners, in my nightmares, but never had another exchange with him. Dion and me stayed pretty close, Dominick became a hip hop raving weed dealer, and Shawn tried to steal a toy from me. I became me, a product of this here story.
that was pretty rushed but i promised id post on thrusday and im already late. oh well, guess thats how i roll. anyay, you should check out the contributing post from Kool Kim of UMC's fame over at Unkut. its some pretty iteresting insider knowledge of the hip hop world. i liked the UMCs back in the day. Never Never land was my joint.