It was a little before seven, I was putting on my coat and gloves in the living room of our five-room, railroad apartment.
We have it all planned out; me and my friends that is. Hit the liquor store on 16th street and despite the temperature being in the low teens, head over to Prospect Park, get drunk and hop on the F- train to Times Square.
I’ve been over to the city plenty of times but never on New Year’s Eve. First I needed some money. I was broke.
“Can I have ten dollars?” I asked mom as she was sitting on the couch watching TV.
“We’re going over to the city.”
Mom looked at me with a puzzled look.
I was beginning to get annoyed.
“Yeah, hanging out, gonna watch the ball drop” I answered. I hate when she answers my questions with a question.
“I don’t have any money,” she snapped.
Frustrated, I zipped 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, helping him sucked, especially Saturday night. You had to put all the sections together and the next morning, they were heavy as shit.
Walking across Windsor Place I 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 Jay 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, some days the line at the register goes out the door.
Jay placed the bag 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, Jay knows me and knows I live across the street. They would put me in Spofford and I’d be fucked.
Looking down Windsor Place towards 8th avenue I see Laura, Maureen and Mary K walking up the street coming my way. As they approach, I see Maureen chewing bubble gum.
“What’s up?” I shout.
Laura and Mary K say hi but not Maureen. You see, Maureen is my girlfriend, well not at this moment, we broke up last night.
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, skinny man holding a container. He looks at me. I give him the finger.
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?” John asks while we pass Sabella’s pizza.
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 Maureen wants to go. I need to apologize to her. Last night we had a 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. I gotta stop.
A few of my friends walk to the Bodega and liquor store. A cop car pulls up in front of the park and the cop riding shotgun, Officer Doyle, 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 Doyle tells us something, we listen.
At nine o’clock everyone’s hanging out having a good time. There’s a boombox blasting out Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones. Seems like more kids have joined us. This has been happening lately, kids from Bishop Ford have been coming by to hang out with us. I know a lot of them from basketball.
“Yo John, let’s go to the city,” I say.
John is involved in a conversation with his girlfriend Mary K, they’ve been dating for over two years.
“No rush man, we have plenty of time,” he assures me.
I walk away from him and sit on the bench, alone.
Looking around I see groups of three and four kids standing in isolated circles talking and drinking. Everyone has a beer can or plastic cup in their hand. I haven’t tasted a drop of booze all night. How can I, I am broke.
Glancing over I see Maureen talking with some boy who I don’t recognize. I think he’s from 21st street. I get a little jealous. Matter of fact, I always get jealous when she talks to other boys. I gotta stop.
Getting up from the bench I walk out of the park and head home. Passing Farrell’s I see the same tall skinny guy standing in the front window just looking out onto ninth avenue. We lock eyes again. And once again I give him the finger.
I walk upstairs and no one is home. Earlier in the day I had heard mom on the phone talking about a big party tonight at Timboo’s Bar.
I figure now’s my chance. I head straight for the liquor cabinet. Mom always has a few bottles of booze stored away so I grab a bottle of vodka. I also see Gin, Johnny Walker, some Jack Daniels, plus 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 too but I don’t like the taste of beer. Walking along ninth avenue I have my hands in my pocket holding onto the bottle so it doesn’t slip out.
The guy in the window in Farrell’s is gone.
I get to the park and pull out the vodka and start drinking. It tastes awful straight up. 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 Mike the bartender mix this drink for my father every Saturday.
Now I feel part of the group. I hear Maureen’s laugh, most times it’s usually the loudest. She’s standing alone with the same fucking kid. They are having a good time; more jealousy creeps in. I may have to knock him out. I gotta walk over to her and end this shit, now.
“Yo Red, Happy New Year,” Jimmy 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 Maureen and her new friend. Not sure how much longer I can take this.