Out here on my own.
Hot as hell. Probably the hottest night this summer.
We spent the afternoon at Brighton Beach. I got an awful sunburn.
Now I’m perturbed.
Mom left for upstate with my sister. I didn’t want to go because I had a summer league game in the boys schoolyard. We lost. I barely played. The coach is a jerk. He barely plays me. Why am I even on the team? I think of quitting.
The bottom door of our apartment is locked; I check my shorts for the key. Oh shit, I lost it.
Now I’m fucked. They won’t be back until late Sunday night. Shit, I should have went with them.
It’s after eleven, summer league is over, it’s pitch dark in the boys schoolyard, I go back and try to find the key.
It had to fall out of my jean shorts while I was sitting down. This isn’t the first time I lost my key.
Walking around in fucking circles, I can’t find anything. Wish the lights were still on.
I’m frustrated as shit.
One night Danny forgot to shut the lights off so I came back at midnight with my ball and got some shots up until a priest threw me out. Hey at least I was staying out of trouble, right?
I give up looking for the key after ten minutes; story of my life.
The key has to be here somewhere, no?
I’m outta here.
Walking down Prospect Avenue towards Fuller Place I think I’ll go to my cousins house.
They own a sweet house with a cool front porch that no one ever sits on.
I like going over there. My Aunt and Uncle are cool.
My cousins, well let’s just say they’re like my brothers and sisters.
I hang a left on Fuller and see a few people out on their stoops.
“Hey Red, how you doing?” an old lady asked me.
She’s sitting on her porch. It looks comfortable. Wish she would invite me up to have a seat next to her.
But that probably ain’t happening. I don’t think anyone on Fuller Place likes me to tell you the truth.
I wave and keep going.
There’s a girl I know who lives in the corner house, she’s walking her dog. I smile at her. She pays me no mind as I pass her.
As I walk up the steps At twenty-nine Fuller Place, I look through the window and the lights are off.
Oh shit, don’t tell me no one’s home?
There’s always someone home.
Where could they be?
Whenever I play stickball on Fuller Place and I have to hit the bathroom, I always run inside, up the stairs and use their bathroom.
“You only come here when you have to take a shit!” My uncle shouted from the kitchen. He likes to break my balls.
I glance at him and smile.
Out the door and back to my stickball game…
But tonight there’s no one home.
Good thing I don’t have to go to the bathroom. I try opening the front door but it’s locked. The doorknob doesn’t move. It’s weird because when they are home, they never lock their door.
I take a peek in the neighbor’s window and there’s someone on the couch watching television. He’s laughing at something.
Walking down Fuller towards Windsor Place I hang a sharp right and head towards tenth avenue.
There’s a crowd outside the Windsor Pub.
A couple of guys are yelling. The noise gets louder as I get closer.
Maybe my brother’s there, I’ll get the key from him. But he gets mad when he see’s me around the bar. So maybe I should keep going down to 154 schoolyard. There’s a girl I have my eye on who lives on Horace Court, maybe she’s hanging out?
I get closer to the group on the corner and there’s a big fight.
A couple of guys are on the floor, rolling around punching the shit out of each other.
“KICK HIS FUCKIN’ ASS!” one guy demanded, as he holds a bottle of beer in his left hand.
I hear a cop car coming along tenth avenue from Prospect Park southwest; the siren, the lights flashing. It’s like a scene out of ‘Dog Day Afternoon’.
I have a feeling there’s going to be some heads smashed in. The cops don’t take any shit from anyone.
A few people who live nearby are out on their stoop taking in the action. They probably called the cops.
Go back inside.
Bartender buys the two fighters a drink.
The black and white pulls up in front of the bar.
Two cops get out with nightsticks. They leave the car doors wide open. I move closer, to get a better look.
“BREAK IT UP!” one cop ordered as he muscles his way through the group.
The two cops make their way to the two fighters on the ground and pull them apart. The cops look funny because one is real tall, the other is short.
“GO BACK IN THE BAR YOU BUMS!” the taller cop shouts.
“YEAH, DON’T MAKE US COME BACK HERE AGAIN,” his partner stressed.
Both fighters do as they’re told and walk into the bar.
One of the fighters picks up his blue, New York Mets baseball cap and places it on his head; it’s backwards.
The cops walk back into their car and drive away. The cop on the passenger side looks at me.
“Get home, it’s late,” he says.
I head across tenth avenue towards Prospect Avenue.
“Get home?” He’s gotta be kidding, right?
I don’t have a fucking key. I’m locked out.
“Excuse me Mr. Officer, can I sit in the back of your patrol car and cruise with you guys?”
McBears is quiet.
Just a few people sitting at the bar. Not a soul out on the corner in front of the bar.
Across the street there’s a girl sitting on the stoop of the deli.
I walk across Prospect Avenue notice it’s Mary, a good-looking blonde who lives on Prospect Avenue; we used to be in the same class together at Holy Name.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She looks up and shakes her head, “Nothing,” she assured me.
I don’t know what to say.
She probably had a fight with her boyfriend. He’s always yelling at her.
Mary has her head down, hands on the side of her head.
Looking across the street I see two people walking out of McBears, they’re clearly drunk. A Car Service pulls up, they hop in and make a dash up Prospect Avenue.
I don’t waste Mary’s time, leaving her alone I head up Prospect Avenue, towards ninth avenue.
‘Take care,” I offered.
She kept crying.
What else could I have done?
What should I had said to her?
Should I have sat down and talked to her?
Yeah right, then her boyfriend pulls up in a car with his friends and they kick my ass.
I get to the corner of ninth and Prospect outside the church.
I look at Jesus on the cross.
“What am I gonna do Jesus?”
He stares back at me.
“I’m locked out of my house.”
Again, no answer from the son of God.
There’s a homeless guy sitting on the church steps, he’s sniffing a brown bag filled with glue.
I head across the avenue and walking towards me is La-La.
Holy shit, he’s gonna kill me.
It was just a couple of days ago we made fun of him and he chased us down to PS 154’s.
La-La is deaf. He always wears black dress shoes. We break his balls often. He’s never caught us. I once saw him go to the rectory and cry like a baby to a priest.
I think of crossing the avenue but it’s too late.
We cross paths and he looks at me. We make eye contact and I thought I was going to piss my pants right there.
He stops. I keep going past him.
I speed up as I pass Key Ford.
I turn around to look back and he’s still looking at me.
“FUCK YOU!” I shout. to him.
That’s what he said.
That’s all he ever says along with pointing his finger at you like my third grade teacher Miss Lynn.
I pick up the pace and quickly turn the corner at Windsor and ninth and head down towards eighth avenue.
Thank God La-La didn’t chase me. I’m in no mood to run.
Saturday morning, May 3
Most people sleep in on Saturday. In my case, it’s called over-sleeping. Or late…Or lazy.
“GET YOUR ASS UP!” Is what I heard often from Mom.
On this day, I get up extra early; Shower, get dressed and I am out the door. My first thought is “food.” I head to my favorite spot, The Windsor Cafe.
These guys are great. Nick, Gus and George.
Love our sports chat.
A plate of scrambled eggs, ham and two pieces of whole wheat toast.
As I pay my bill I notice their i-pad on the counter – it’s cool.
Terrace Bagels is packed.
I head to Connecticut Muffin. There’s a short line. A couple of tables open in the upper deck. I notice a guy with his laptop open. I’m reminded of how dumb I was to leave my MacBook back home. (A few hours later I would return and see the same guy sitting there…) Hey sports fans, there’s a time limit on how long you can sit in a coffee shop, especially if you don’t have a drink in front of you!
The moment of truth. I make my way across the avenue and head to the boys schoolyard. It’s been a long time, too long to tell you the truth. The sun is shining, the weather is gorgeous.
As I approach the entrance, where the chain linked fence has been replaced by black, steel bars I hear a basketball bouncing.
Who beat me to the yard?
I was always one of the first to arrive whether it was Saturday morning or right after school (Wish I had that mentality for school).
I see four people on the middle court. Back in the day the yard would be packed.
Two young boys and two adults. I walk over and introduce myself.
They are very friendly.
We chat while their oldest boy, who must be 13 or 14 is shooting jumpers from the outside. He’s a left-hander. Reminds me of John Corrar, Frankie Cullen and Jerry Coles; three southpaws from the neighborhood.
First thing I notice is that the backboards are fiberglass; we had half-moon boards, made of steel. I never banked a shot unless it was “humble.”
I keep thinking to myself that this family is awesome. Makes me want to move back to the neighborhood and hang out with these people.
In case you are wondering, I did get up a few shots. My jump shot will never leave me.
The one thing I show the young man is the game we used to play called, “Around-The -World.” It’s a big reason why I think we had so many good outside shooters come through the yard.
The coach in me wanted to take them through some dribbling drills up and down the court but the sign up on the church wall was no longer there. I knew the schoolyard hours by heart; just from dribbling up and down the court, reciting the words on the sign. It was a great drill helping us keep our heads up while we dribbled.
After about thirty minutes, its time to say good-bye but not until a boy, probably about fifteen years old walks into the yard with a basketball. He takes a few shots. We talk a little about the NBA and on the way out I notice he is following me down Howard Place.
“Can I have your e-mail address?” he asks me while we stand in front of the black picket fence.
I give it to him.
Wondering why he would want my e-mail address?
Do kids even do that anymore?
By the way, it’s been a few weeks and have yet to get an e-mail from him. Maybe he lost it?
Kid says he is going on a job interview.
I look at him and ask, “with your basketball?”
He smiles, walks away and disappears down the train station on Windsor Place.
Making my way back up to the avenue I hang out on the corner of Windsor and ninth watching the people go by. I don’t recognize anyone.
Boy has the neighborhood changed.
Bishop Ford High School is closing its doors in June. No doubt it’s a sad day at 500 19th street. Growing up in the neighborhood and having many friends attend Ford, I have so many memories of the Falcons. Let me take you back 34 years ago…
On a warm Friday afternoon in May, I was shooting all alone in my paved paradise; the boys schoolyard at Holy Name.
It was a little after three. Students from Bishop Ford were making their way to the F-train down on Windsor Place. Their route was simple. Exit the school up on nineteenth street, stroll a few short blocks across ninth avenue, hang a right at Joe’s Pizza down Prospect Avenue and make a quick left on Howard Place.
On their way down Howard they would pass the yard. I had seen them for years. Most would be walking pretty fast to catch their train. Some would walk slow and watch us play ball. I would see some kids smoking cigarettes and at times catch a boy and girl holding hands. The girls were pretty.
At times I was envious. Jealous too. I always wanted to go to Ford. Many of my friends attended the catholic school up by the cemetery.
The Ford kids had a habit of breaking balls.
“GET A JOB YA BUM”! I heard a kid shout.
I stood there motionless on the middle court. The kid kept walking but I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was a wise-ass punk.
I was hurt inside, embarrassed and ashamed. I wanted to run out and rip this kid’s fucking heart out. The only problem was I was alone and he was with a bunch of his classmates who were all laughing.
I let it go but deep down, it was building up inside of me. “It” was the rage.
“Hey man, you ever go to school,” another kid called out. I glanced up from my dribbling drill.
Boy, these kids love to fuck with me, I thought to myself.
This was actually the first time I had ever heard any comments from them.
Ignoring the jerk I dribbled through my legs, crossed over, and stutter stepped like Earl Monroe, down to the other end of the court against the church wall pulling up for a mid-range jump shot.
“Yeah man, you’re always here!” another kid barked.
Now I was pissed.
This was my yard. Of course I was here all the time.
I felt like going out there and fighting them but they were in large groups. On other days in the past some of them would stare at me and call out, “nice shot!” after I made a jumper. The girls would be watching too. When I’d catch one of them out of the corner of my eye I would try to show off by going behind my back with the dribble, just like Walt Frazier avoiding a defender.
One afternoon a tall white kid walked into the yard. He was wearing black slacks, a dark dress shirt and black shoes that were shiny and pointy. We called them, “cockroach killers.”
This kid must have been about six-foot-five. He had three expensive, looking gold chains hanging from his neck. He resembled a football player, but Ford didn’t have a football team.
“Hey can I take a few shots with you?” he asked.
“Yeah sure,” I replied, as I threw him a crisp, two-handed chest pass.
“Nice shoes.” I uttered to him. He didn’t hear me, he was too excited about having the ball in his hands.
I watched him as he shot the ball from twenty feet away and missed everything.
“Airball!” came a cry from outside the fence.
A bunch of kids paused to watch him.
There they go breaking balls again.
I chased the ball down and threw it back to the tall kid. He caught it and placed it down on the concrete. Looking at me he said, “Here we go.”
He we go? I thought to myself? This kid was clearly an inside player, he had no right stepping out and trying to make a long jump shot.
As he rolled up his sleeves he looked like someone who was about to have a fist fight. That’s what the tough guys did in the old days.
“Here we go,” he proclaimed.
Picking up the ball he attempted another shot from the same distance.
As the ball was on it’s way to the netless rim; another comment came from the peanut gallery.
“Hey Tony, give it up man, you suck!”
The ball sailed through the air and ended up being another airball.
It didn’t hit a thing.
No rim or backboard. It just landed on the ground and bounced away.
This kid sucks, I thought to myself. I chased the ball down again and listened to some more kids ridicule him.
“Tony, you suck man, that kid will school you!”
“Yeah Tony, go home and study!” another kid screamed. They all laughed.
I looked at Tony and shrugged my shoulders.
“Later for them man, they probably suck anyway.” I pointed out to him.
Tony looked at me and asked, “You wanna play one on one?”
This kid was kidding, right? I thought to myself. How the fuck was he going to guard me wearing shoes?
I started dribbling the ball between my legs and said “your ball first.”
I zipped another crisp chest pass to him catching him by surprise as he fumbled the ball.
Tony took the ball out first and couldn’t buy a basket for the next five minutes. I scored with ease every time I touched the ball. I took it right by the uncoordinated kid. His first problem was trying to shoot from deep. I was waiting for him to back me down into the post. He had me by at least a hundred pounds.
When I had the ball and he tried to get close to me on defense, I would back him up with a few pump fakes and jab steps, and launch my jumper. A crowd had gathered outside the fence, and after enough of taking it to him, the tall fella called it quits.
Tony was like a defeated boxer in the ring throwing in the towel, he had enough.
“Hey man, you’re good, what school you go to?” He asked me.
I looked at the kid, thought about the question and tossed up a long jumper that went straight though the rim.
“I go to Jay.”
“What year you in?” He asked
“Wow! You’re fuckin’ good, you play varsity?”
I chased the ball down and didn’t answer him.
“I gotta get home, take care. It was nice playing with you,” he said.
The kid extended his hand. He told me he was the center on the freshmen team at Ford.
“Nice meeting you,” I answered.
Tony took off out of the yard and down Howard Place.
I continued to shoot…alone.