Beer, Bishop Loughlin, Boots, Citadel, Coney Island Avenue, Grady High School, John Jay, Lefrak, OLPH, Parkside, Prospect Park, Prospect Park Southwest, Quaker Cemetery, Rolling Stones, Stickball, Sympathy for the Devil, Windsor Terrace
It’s a little after six on a cold Friday night in late November. I am sitting alone on the wall made of stone which surrounds Prospect Park. I sit patiently, no make that, I sit anxiously waiting for my friends to arrive. I’m usually the first to show up. After supper I rush out of my apartment and head over to the spot everyone calls “The Parkside.” I rest my feet on the back of the park bench in front of me.
Looking across the street at the tall apartment building we call “Lefrak,” I see people waiting for the B68 bus that begins its route down Prospect Park Southwest to Coney Island Avenue. They are standing in the doorway trying to stay out of the cold.
As a young boy I can remember getting on that exact same bus with my mother and we would go to Brighton Beach. The trip seemed to take forever. Out in front of the Lefrak was the first bus stop, we always got seats in the back of the bus.
Some of my friends who attend Grady High School down in Coney Island take the “Grady Special” every morning from that same exact spot. One morning when I cut class I jumped on board with them and went for the ride. As they went to school I got on the B68 and came back alone.
The temperature is dropping with each passing hour but I don’t care. I have a pair of black gloves on, a green parka, two sweatshirts, a hat and long john’s. I can feel the chill of the cold stone on my ass. The boots on my feet keep me warm along with two pairs tube socks. I love wearing two pairs of socks, it’s extra cushion for my bony feet.
I’m fourteen years old, some of my friends are the same age, some are fifteen and a few are sixteen. We started hanging out here on the wall back in August. We played stickball in the empty parking lot right by the tombs; so one Sunday afternoon after we played a couple of games we rested on the wall outside the park. Down on tenth avenue the older guys from the neighborhood hang out on the park benches. The “tenth avenue” entrance of the park as they call it. Whenever we had track practice or baseball practice for Holy Name this was the spot we met our coach. I had walked by a few times at night and would see close to a hundred people hanging out drinking, listening to music and having a good time. I knew most of them by face, some by name, some I would see playing basketball in the boys schoolyard on Saturday mornings.
As for our spot on the parkside, it was cool. We’d bullshit all night with each other, check out all the people walking by, the cars and of course the busses. We would play five-card poker right on the sidewalk. I think we wanted to be like the older guys and gals down on tenth avenue. Across the street waiting at the red light is a small group of my female friends. There’s Karen,, Mary, Laura C., and the two Maureen’s, H. and D.
“What’s up Fin?” Mary asked.
“Nothing much, how you doin’?”
“Things are good,” she answers as she sucks on a lollipop she bought from Tokyo Joe’s Candy Store and smiles. When Mary opened her mouth, she had the prettiest teeth and her tongue was blue from the lollipop.
The girls hopped up on the wall and took a seat next to me.
“How’s school?” Mary asked.
“It’s OK,” I answer as I quickly change the subject.
Little did my friends know, despite hanging out every night, I stopped going to school.
Pretty soon the rest of our crew shows up. One by one, in groups of two’s and three’s. They come from all over the neighborhood. Seeley Street, Windsor Place, Sherman Street, 16th Street, Howard Place, and Terrace Place.
We had a large group of boys and girls combined but I never took the time to count how many we actually had. Some weekends you’d see a strange face show up to hang out. Some would stay with us for the long haul, some would never show up again. There were some nights it was just maybe three or four of us hanging out. I guess some couldn’t come out because maybe they had homework or something. Maybe they were punished and weren’t allowed out?
Most of us became friends at Holy Name grammar school over on ninth avenue. Some had gone to school with me since first grade. There were a few guys that went to I.S. 88’s, P.S. 154’s and we had one kid from P.S. 10’s. When we graduated from Holy Name it was time to go our separate ways for high school. I went to Power Memorial, some guys went to Grady, Bishop Ford, John Jay, OLPH, Xaverian, LaSalle Academy and one went to Bishop Loughlin.
We didn’t have a name for the group like the “Huns” a group of older guys and girls from the neighborhood. Someone had come up with “The Young Sabres” but that didn’t last too long.
My guys are Jimmy, Speed, Sean, Mickey, Johnny G., Jose, John, and Kevin. We argued often and sometimes fought with each other, but overall, we were great friends.
“Who wants to get a six-pack?” someone shouted.
We all jumped up off the wall and were eager to chip in. Some nights I had money, other nights I was broke.
A few people were assigned to go and pick up the brewskies. Jogging across and dodging cars on the avenue, they made their way across the circle and down 15th street to the Bodega on 8th avenue. There were a few different spots around the neighborhood that never bothered to check I.D. – and if they did, we just waited outside for someone old enough to come along and purchase the beer for us.
It wasn’t long before they were back carrying brown paper bags wrapped up, and tucked under their arms. When you bought beer and wrapped it up in a brown paper bag you smuggled it because you didn’t want anyone to see it.
This was our cue to get off the wall and head into the Park. We looked like an Army marching into enemy territory.
My guy D. from 16th street carries a huge boombox blasting “Sympathy for the Devil,” by the Rolling Stones. When we hang out, we always listen to music and D. is the guy who provides the tunes. As we walked some of us sang along with Mick Jagger.
“Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. I’ve been around for a long, long year stole many a mans soul and faith. And I was round when jesus christ, had his moment of doubt and pain…”
As we enter the park, Hippie Hill is on the right. Back in the day many of the neighborhood teens hung out here. We walk the path that leads us to the road in the park. No worries about the cars because you’re not allowed to drive in the park after six at night. We cut through the horse corral as we walk deeper into the park. Passing the baseball diamonds I flash back to the 6th grade when we played St. Saviour and Gordy struck me out three times. We make our way over to the bleachers. There were two sets of bleachers where the families and friends of baseball players would sit and watch the game. But at night we took over. It was our “hideout.”
The cans of Budweiser were handed out and we began to drink.
We paired up, we stood in groups, some sat down on the cold concrete.
Here we were, the teenagers of America, the future…hanging out drinking beer and getting drunk.
The cops from the 7-2 were nowhere to be found; they left us alone. We were too deep in the park for anyone to see us.
The Quaker cemetery was back behind us about 100 yards away. There were rumors that Devil Worshippers hung out at night and would sacrifice goats and chickens using some crazy voodoo shit. Kids around the neighborhood said that they had seen weird-looking people with pink hair and a lot of black make-up chanting crazy shit as they worshipped the Devil. One night while we were wasted we made a trip to see them and actually the rumor was true. We saw a bunch of live bodies about a hundred yards in front of a big fire, I felt like Charlton Heston in the Omega Man. We harassed them from outside the high silver fence and they scattered. We wanted to climb over the fence but there was way too much barbed wire on top.