Street Kid 1964
I was in a choke-hold, getting my face pulverized, when I saw my dad turn the corner and look. I was secretly relieved. Dad to the rescue. He’d break it up; put an arm around my shoulder and walk me home. But, no. He turned and walked the other way.
The incident was never discussed — ever.
It happened in 1964 on east eighty-ninth street, around the corner from where I lived on Third Avenue. It was a frivolous thing. Kids fight all the time. I’d been in fights before. Though, not so many that I had to defend a title. It was all kid’s stuff.
In the years that followed I understood why my dad did what he did. The world is a bitch, son, I imagined him thinking, better get used to it. But the ten year-old in me figured he was ashamed of me for getting the worst of it.
Not long after that I remember standing in my fifth-grade class at Our Lady of Good Counsel having words with another student who was annoying the hell out of me. I‘d always been good at talking my way out of these things, but this time I decided to shove this kid into the three rows of attache cases that were lined up in one the corner of the class. It felt good. I was feeling the power. Misplaced vengeance was mine.
A quick word on those attache cases. James Bond was a big deal in 1964. From Russia with Love had been in theaters that summer, and at the start of the new school year, many parents in the neighborhood went out and bought their kids James Bond-style attache cases to replace their old book bags. Mine was black, with silver latches. It didn’t have a dagger that ejected at the press of a button, but it did its job at making me feel I was a part of Bond’s world. That walk to school every morning was full of wicked karate kicks and blazing gun battles alongside fellow M16 agents.
After the shoving incident in class I managed to make myself the class bully for about a week, and was completely out of my league. I was too nice. I’d always been the peace-maker; never the aggressor. But aggression was what I was feeling. Payback for that day I took a whooping under Dad’s eye. But I was a decent and nice bully; apologizing with every trip and shove I could muster.
At the end of that first week of ruthless tyranny, some of my classmates decided they had enough of me and my new attitude. At the end of one particular school-day, I was chased through the streets by a horde of fountain-pen-flickers. If you flicked the fountain pen a certain way, it would release enough ink to form a lovely speckled pattern on the victim — me. In this instance I wasn’t running fast enough, and my shirt got speckled. A Rorschachach inkblot test splattered on the back of my white oxford like a cry for help. Spelling out: This boy is a product of his environment. Left unattended, and without parental supervision, he is liable to get his ass kicked at a moments notice. God watch over his sorry soul. Lord knows he can’t do it on his own.
In a matter of weeks the incident was forgotten and we went back to being school chums again.
Note: A year or two later, my brother and I got authentic James Bond briefcases for Christmas; complete with all the snazzy, spy-fighting-evil doodads. The best toy we ever received. No other Christmas present topped it. Bond was king of the Yorkville streets for a spell.
I tried being king once, but the peasants weren’t having it.