“When I was younger I could remember anything,
whether it had happened or not.”
-- Mark Twain
Made my bones playing ledgeball on the block, but during college
no taxi’d drive back into the Southside snatch-‘n-grab boarded up
storefronts below Chicago’s elevated trains. Hertz’d have none of it;
Avis required signing stacks of notarized waivers. Bounding four flights,
I’m scrutinized by a scraggly old gent who cackled, Beg pardon, lookie
we got here in Spookville! – slamming the door before could catch my breath.
Back in the 50s, 71st and Jeffery seemed just booooring Jewish
(no one’d buy Christmas cards I sold door-to-door) except my riverboat
gambler Uncle Sugar whose fortunes handicapping the Daily Racing Form
turned a 3-hole Buick Special into a jalopy into a cherry Impala with rims
— you know that kind of thingamajig. But thanks to auspicious demographics,
later on playing with house money, I faked having survived the Blackstone Rangers.
Planning better lives, when they got the chance my parents moved
our quartet through prairie dog towns west to another walk-up
in paradise so Sis and I’d do well at the best available LA public schools.
As it happened, right up the alley of my lifelong partner whom I’d eventually
meet during high school, she spent indifferent time playing in the same alley
— though we didn’t figure it out until four decades had passed.
When Dad’s finances afford it, he relocated us to a ramshackle fixer-upper
a few miles north in the part of town the world thinks of as Beverly Hills;
the miniscule antique swimming pool’s hand-painted tiles were a drainless cesspit.
There no one played on the block or in the alley where only maids went.
Took months to get invited into mansions with triple-stemmed cherries, big rock
candy soda fountains, tennis courts — if you can believe it, even Otis elevators.
Harvard pre-med home the summer of South Central’s riots of 1965, I’d volunteered
to administer vaccines at the Watts Health Center. Maneuvering to avoid pepper spray/
duck snipers in here while outside, establishments burned and Crips pulsated blood,
jostled below window level by ex-gangbanger Community Organizer Julio Bates
(nicknamed Master), my high-tops bid to establish bogus street cred
based on résumé more than cajones: “No problemo. I was raised in Chiraq.”