This is another story not in Boy @ The Window, though it could’ve been. It was thirty-five years ago this week that a group of my preteen neighbors from the Pearsall Drive projects (now the Vernon Woods co-op community) jumped me on my way home from the store, beat me up and stole a grand total of four dollars. It seems like such a small thing now, getting mugged for the first time, a block from 616 East Lincoln, our apartment building on the eastern edge of Mount Vernon, New York. Still, I learned a few things on that first Saturday in April ’79 about myself, my older brother, my mother and humans in general, things that haven’t changed in the three and a half decades since.
That particular day was definitely a crisp early spring one, windy, partly sunny and cloudy, just warm enough not to need a winter coat. I’d barely been out the house at all since attempting to run away from home some four months earlier. In the months in between, I’d been engrossed in reading everything I could, especially World Book Encyclopedia, not to mention what I hadn’t already read in Charles Schulz’ Peanuts series.
I hadn’t been out the apartment to do much of anything other than go to school or to the store. So little was my time outside that when I had to do a full food shop, I’d forgotten a few basic rules about protecting myself. Like making sure that a group of nine-to-fourteen-year-olds weren’t following us home from the local grocery store. And making sure to take the most direct route home when I could, or a circuitous route home when necessary. Going west on the north side of East Lincoln, making a left on Station Place, then a left on Lafayette Avenue, then a final left on Bradley, walking four short blocks that would’ve left us in front of 616.
On this day, the circuitous route would’ve been better. But that would’ve meant me being better, too. I was already not feeling well when I left with Darren for the grocery store. I had a stomach ache, and the diarrhea that came with it. So my best bet was to go to the store at 671 East Lincoln with Darren, cross over to the south side of East Lincoln, and walk as quickly as we could back to 616.
Only, the half-dozen boys trailing me and Darren back home had crossed with us, and immediately tried to surround us near East Lincoln and Pearsall. Darren, to his credit, ran off for home, leaving me alone and holding two paper bags of groceries. Somewhere between “nigga” and “muthafucka” and “giv’ me the money,” I struggled and ran away with the groceries, where after a minute or two, I ended up in the bottom floor of one of the project buildings.
I was jumped again, punched in the face and the mouth until one of the wannabe thugs had busted my lip and left me bleeding down the side of my face. I somehow crapped on myself during the run, but hadn’t noticed because I was too busy trying to not get mugged. After they took the four dollars’ worth of change I had in my right pant pocket, another wannabe said, “Oh shit, the punk dukeyed on hisself!” They laughed and left me there, in this abandoned, junky apartment, garbage and groceries and two ripped grocery bags all over the room, bloodied and soiled.
I picked up all I could from what remained of the groceries and began the long one-block walk home. By the time I walked through the front door, there was my Mom, angry with me about the groceries. “What I’m gonna do with this!” she said. It was afterward that she noticed my condition. “You let them kids scare the shit out of you!,” she gasped with what seemed like a bit of laughter in her voice. I said, very angrily, “I told you before I left that I had diarrhea!,” then went into the bathroom and cried.
My Mom came in later to help me wash myself down. In the meantime, I had a bruised left cheek, a busted lip, feces all over my lower body, and soreness all over my ribs and stomach. It took about twenty minutes in all, but by the time I was done and washed, I went into mine and Darren’s bedroom and fell asleep.
It was April 7, ’79, and I already knew that I couldn’t count on my older brother to help whenever there would be a crisis. I knew that my Mom cared about me, but apparently not enough to keep me protected. I knew that the assholes that lived around me wouldn’t have minded it if I’d been run over by a Mack truck, as long as they could get a dollar out of me. I knew, most of all, that I needed to look out for myself as much as I could, since there weren’t any cousins or other family around to look out for me.
So when at the end of ’83, the city had sold the projects at Pearsall Drive to a real estate developer, though I was sad for a few individuals, I wasn’t sad in general. Those wannabes had helped make one relatively small aspect of my life — going to the store, going outside and going to Wilson’s Woods — miserable. And with so much misery in my life already, I was glad to see many of those kids move away.