While this blog entry is inspired by real people, places and an actual event, names have been changed to protect the innocent.
It’s New Year’s Eve night.
I was putting on my coat and gloves in the living room of our five-room, railroad apartment thinking of how I was going to ask mom for some money. Later tonight we have it all planned out though; hit the liquor store on 16th street for some booze and despite the temperature being in the low teens, we would head over to Prospect Park, get drunk then hop on the train to Times Square and watch the ball drop. I had been over to the city plenty of times but never on New Year’s Eve. In the past we watched the ball drop on TV. On this night it was about the bottle. Pretty soon, every night would be all about the bottle.
First I needed some dough.
“Can I have ten dollars?” I asked mom as she was sitting on the couch watching TV.
“Me and my friends are hangin’ out.”
Mom looked at me with a puzzled look on her face.
I was beginning to get annoyed.
“Yeah, hanging out,” I answered. I hate when she answers my questions with a question.
“I don’t have any money,” she barked.
Frustrated, I zipped up my coat and stormed out of the apartment.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY THAT!” I screamed to her as I walked down the stairs, out into the cold night.
Mom would turn me down all the time. I was getting sick and tired of having empty pockets. I needed a job but I hated to work. Plus I was tired of hearing her say, “Get a job.” I tried delivering the Daily News once but I had to wake up too early for that. My cousin had a paper route and boy did that suck, and I was just helping him.
I walked across the street and stood outside Ballard’s Pharmacy waiting for my friends to show up. After dinner this was our meeting place. When everyone arrived, we marched along ninth avenue to Prospect Park.
I hopped up on the blue mailbox that was planted on the sidewalk on the corner and watch Jason close the iron gate of the store. I notice he has a brown paper bag tucked under his arm. I’m sure it is filled with money. Probably all the cash they made from the whole day. Ballard’s was always packed.
Jason placed the bag down on the sidewalk as he reached up and pulled the gate down.
I thought of running by and scooping up the bag and sprinting down Windsor Place, I’d then have money and be able to buy some booze. Nah, I couldn’t do that, Jason knows me and knows I live across the street. They would put me in Spofford up in the Bronx and I’d be fucked.
Looking down Windsor Place towards 8th avenue I see Missy, Naomi and Kennedy walking up the street coming my way. As they approach, I see Naomi chewing bubble gum.
“What’s up?” I yelled.
Missy and Kennedy say hi but not Naomi.
Pretty soon more and more of my friends begin to show up. Our group, which is close to twenty strong begin to walk along ninth avenue towards Prospect Park.
We’re an army of teens about to hang out all night. We don’t care what people say. We make our own rules. As we pass Farrell’s, I look through the huge window in front and see a tall man holding a container.
In our neighborhood, it’s a two-step process; start out drinking on the street as a teenager, soon as you become legal, you step inside Farrell’s, walk up to the bar and order a drink.
“We goin’ over to the city or what?” Willie asks while we pass the pizzeria.
Everyone has mixed reactions. Some want to stay in the neighborhood, some want to go over to Times Square.
“Fuck yeah!” I scream out.
I’m hoping Naomi wants to go over to the city. It was just last night that we had a big fight over the phone and I broke up with her. We’ve been boyfriend and girlfriend for a few months. We’re always getting into fights.
A few of my friends start heading to the Bodega and liquor store. A cop car pulls up in front of the park and the cop in the passenger’s seat tells us to move inside the park.
No one says anything back, we do as we’re told. We’re wise-ass kids but when a cop tells us something, we listen.
About an hour later, everyone’s hanging out having a good time.
“Yo Willie, let’s go to the city,” I cried.
Willie is involved in a conversation with his girlfriend Gabby, I think they are dating.
“Yeah sure, it’s only nine, we have plenty of time,” he declared.
I walk away from him and sit on the bench.
Looking around I see groups of three and four of my friends standing in isolated circles talking and drinking. Everyone has a beer can or plastic cup in their hand. I’m sitting on the bench and haven’t tasted a drop of booze all night. How can I, I was broke.
I glance over and see Naomi talking with some kid who I don’t recognize. I get a bit jealous. Matter of fact, I always get jealous when she talks to other boys.
Getting up from the bench I leave the park and head home. I walk upstairs and no one is home. Earlier in the day I had heard mom on the phone talking about a big party down at Timboo’s.
I figured now’s my chance. I head straight for the liquor cabinet. Mom always has a few bottles of booze in there so I grab the bottle of vodka. I also see Gin, Johnny Walker, some Jack Daniels and a bottle of wine. Grabbing the vodka I look at it and notice it’s half full. I stuff it inside my coat and head back to the park. No way Mom is going to miss this. There’s beer in the fridge but I don’t like the taste. Walking along ninth avenue I have my hands in my pocket holding onto the bottle so it doesn’t slip out.
I get to the park and pull out the bottle and start sipping. It tastes awful. Looking over at the bench I see a carton of Tropicana orange juice and a few empty cups. I play bartender and mix myself a screwdriver. Down at Timboo’s I had seen the bartender mix this drink for my father.
Now I feel part of the group. I hear Naomi’s laugh above everyone’s talking, but the booze has some people yelling now instead of talking. She’s standing alone with the same kid. They are having a good time; more jealousy creeps in.
“Yo Red, Happy New Year,” Sammy screams out to me as he raises his can of beer and we toast.
I tap his can and drink up. As I sip from my cup I glance over at Naomi and her new friend. Not sure how much longer I can take this.