I could hardly see over the steering wheel as I stepped on the gas, slammed on the brake, then back onto the gas, jerking and bumping the car along with the two of them screaming at me. The only thing their yelling accomplished was to make me nervous, and I continued to alternate between the gas and the brake, driving all over the road and jerking the car back and forth.
Matthew finally jumped on me, slammed his foot on the brake, and we skidded to a sudden stop. Everyone gasped as we looked up out of the windshield and discovered that Matthew had stopped the car just short of a light pole that now stood mere inches from the car’s front bumper. They swore I would never drive with them again. Robbie took over the wheel and drove about a block before the car stalled. We couldn’t get it running again, and it was a 30-minute walk from Clason Point back to the projects. So we started the hike. All the way home, I got teased about my driving skills. I decided that Clason Point was not a lucky place for me because another incident would take place there.
God Verses 17
The remainder of the ten-minute ride was very quiet as we pondered our fate. I imagined myself, old and gray, walking out from between the huge iron gates of the federal prison. To our surprise, instead of the police station, they took us to Ferry Point Park, a dark and deserted place underneath the Whitestone Bridge at the spot where the Bronx and Queens connect. It was dark and late when we rolled into the parking lot. One by one, we got out of the car, and the police officer took off our handcuffs. That’s when the slapping started. A smack to the head for one, a kick in the butt for another, a punch to the chest for the third as the police officers told us they were letting us go. (This was well before any of the citizenry was hollering about police brutality!) The clincher was that we had to walk all the way home.
They gave us a good talking to about our future, and what would become of us if we didn’t straighten up and fly right. Finally, they climbed into their car and drove off. We stood like statues, absorbing the reality of our situation, and then burst out laughing, rubbing our heads and groaning over our injuries at the same time. I don’t know how I ever made it home that night with the trauma my body had endured during our big day of adventure. When we got home, we found Dad drunk, fast asleep on the couch. Thankfully, we were able to avoid a belt-lashing, and we tip-toed off to bed. All was right with the world!
The gang ran towards our car to greet me as we pulled up to the curb on Seward Avenue. The hill on the side of our building was the one every kid used for sledding after a heavy snow. The grass was mobbed with kids riding sleds, building snowmen, and enjoying nonstop snowball fights. The end of the sled path from the top of the hill was right outside our apartment window, and kids from other buildings came to ride on our hill. It was good to be home.
I was being prompted by Gumby to take the sled he was holding and take a ride down the hill. I looked at Dad for the okay, and he nodded his head with a yes, but added, “Be careful of your eye.” As I was on the top of the hill down on my knees ready to push off down the hill, my brother, Billy, asked if he could ride on top of me on the way down. His request was not some new idea that he had come up with. Kids were always catching a ride downhill on someone’s back, but what occurred next, I believe, was a record setter in our neighborhood sledding adventures.
After Billy hopped on my back and we pushed off, Gumby screaming with laughter ran and jumped on top of Billy. Tommy T. with his Tarzan scream jumped on top of Gumby. Brian, hollering a pile-on scream, jumped on top of Tommy. Then Robbie joined in and jumped on top of Brian. There we were—a stack of six pancakes with me on the bottom of the pile being squeezed to death while everyone was laughing and hollering in sequence.
As the balancing act continued picking up more speed, we traveled down the hill, and with all the pressure on top of me, I couldn’t steer the sled any longer; my only concern was being able to breathe. Kids were screaming as they jumped out of our path. We were headed straight ahead like a runaway freight train into a snow bank at the bottom of the hill. BAM! As we slammed into the snow bank, bodies went flying everywhere with screams of wild laughter, and the groaning was louder than before.
As everyone was getting up covered in snow from head to toe, Gumby looked at me and let out a loud screeching sound “YIKES!” The patch which covered my eye flew off after crashing into the snow bank, and I was now exposed for the hideous one-eyed monster I had pictured myself to be back in the hospital bathroom mirror. I took off running with an apprehensive trail of onlookers, following right behind me into my apartment. Dad patched me back up in no time, and I was as good as new.
God Verses 15
Heading back to the Laundromat, hoping the wash was done, our wish came true as all three machines had stopped. Our luck ran out when we saw all the dryers were being used. It took two dryers to hold all our clothes. As Billy and I sat there waiting, one machine became available, so we thought it would be faster to just stuff the one machine with all of the clothes. Of course, before the clothes went into the machine, Billy insisted on first getting inside and going for a ride.
Accommodating his demands, he jumped into the dryer. As the machine started to spin, Billy was now tossing and tumbling inside the dryer, laughing and making faces through the glass window. The dryer was now heating up, so Billy’s ride was over—but not before I leaned up against the door, refusing to let him out.
His laughing now turned into panic, screaming and crying for me to open the door. After a few minutes of hysteria with his kicking the dryer door, did I finally let him out. With only a few burn marks on his elbows, we stuffed the dryer and headed back up to the front of the stores.
God Verses 14
Sarah was the girl I would snuggle next to in the school theater when we would watch documentaries on the big screen Friday mornings during the weekly assembly. After we became good friends, Sarah let me in on one of her very private secrets: she was terrified of fire. I consoled her and even held her hand, assuring her no fire would come to the theater while we watched the documentaries.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I was telling my brother Billy about her little secret, he had a much different view other than holding her hand and consoling her. Sarah lived in the 2140 building across from our building, facing the three mountains. I didn’t know what extortion was then, but I was about to find out. I was told to follow him because “We are about to make some money.” I didn’t ask questions but just followed Billy over to 2140 as we stood in the grass below Sarah’s fourth-floor apartment window.
Billy yelled at the top of his lungs for Sarah to come to the window, and after about five minutes of loud screaming, she raised the window and stuck out her head. Billy said, “Bring any money you can find in your house and throw it out the window to me.”
Her answer was a nervous “NO.”
Billy shouted back, “Sarah, don’t test me!” But she still insisted, “NO.” Billy then whispered to me, on his cue, to run toward the other side of the building where Sarah would not be able to see me. He then said in a serious voice, “Sarah, unless you throw money out of the window, we will burn down your house.” Sarah was now in a panic but refused to throw money out of the window. Billy whispered for me to run to the other side of the building out of sight. Billy then looked in my direction and shouted, “Light it up!”
Crying hysterically, Sarah then shouted, “Okay! Okay!” She disappeared into her window and minutes later she began throwing change down to us. This extortion became a monthly ritual until she moved out of the projects shortly afterward, and our “cash cow” quickly disappeared.
God Verses 13
Panicking, I immediately took off my shirt, grabbed Patricia, and held the shirt against her chin to stop the bleeding. I looked at the large gash in her chin and almost passed out myself. Together, we ran toward the benches where our families sat talking. What felt like minutes later, I was holding the lobby door open as the ambulance drivers rushed into the elevator and up to the twelfth floor where Patricia was waiting to get her stitches. Before long, as I waited in the hallway outside the C,’s family apartment, I realized the sense of humor the C. brothers normally had was gone. Now only anger filled their eyes, and those eyes pointed straight in my direction. They chased me from the twelfth floor all the way down to the first floor, running all the way down the stairs and screaming about how they were going to kick my backside for what I had done to Patricia. Luckily for me, I made it into my apartment only steps away from being devoured. For the rest of my life, Patricia never let me forget that day. Whenever I would see her, she would always point to the lifetime scar left on her chin from that day, and being such a forgiving person, she would just smile.
God Verses 12
One day when we were sitting on the benches outside the building with the C. family, I ventured off to the park for some mischief with Patricia C. who was a few years younger than me. As we entered the park, our choice of recreation turned out to be the seesaws. I sat on one end of the seesaw, and Patricia, with a excited smile on her face, sat on the other end.
After a few minutes of this up-and-down activity, I thought I would tease and scare her. So when it was my turn to touch the ground again, I held her up in the air, laughing as I kept my weight anchored to the ground. Listening to her laughter turn into cries because I would not bring her down, I continued to laugh as she begged me to lower her end of the seesaw. “Are you really sure you want to come down?” I asked. “Yes! Please let me down!” she cried as her eyes were swelling with tears pouring down from her cheeks.
So without any understanding of the severe consequences that were about to happen, I just said, “Okay,” and with one motion stood up, which quickly released her weight to the inevitable pull of gravity. She came screaming down to the ground, smashing her face into the metal handle of the seesaw. Her chin split wide open, and blood was splattering everywhere …
God Verses 10