I know who they were then and I know who they are now. I was one of them and together, we were the wild ones of the town. We were only kids at the time, with the emphasis on the word, “Kids,” being confused and angry—we were young and willful. I know what we were and how others saw us. We were the opposite side of the good kids in lunchroom crowd. We were the kids with the long hair, ripped jeans, a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, stuffed in the pocket of a denim jacket or a leather jacket. We were part of a tragic fashion, beautiful in our own way and aggressive—mad to the touch but wonderful and curiously eager, yearning to feel the rush of something better than simple complacency of a spoon-fed life.
I was amongst those voted less likely to succeed and more likely to end up someplace, some long time after, only to turn around and see my life with regret. Except this vote is short on fact. As I look back, I know who we were. I know where we came from. We were the kids from the park on Prospect. We were high, young and drunk against the odds, looking to press the edges and howl at the moon like big men often do. There were the kids from the stores up on Newbridge, which were a different group, and the kids that gathered behind Barnum Woods, but we knew each other all just the same.
We hung around at corner stores or in empty parking lots and in the back fields at either of the local schools. We hung around in vacant lots and in local sumps like the double sumps on Maple Avenue where Estremera, Napo, and Kenny, showed me a place called The Underworld.
We found places to go and better places to hide away from the local authorities. We hung around at the side of the bowling alley on Front Street. We hung around in a video arcade named, “The Wiz,” until it was closed down. We were all over the town, misunderstood and mad, which to me, was somehow wonderful and amazing. It was good to feel this way. It was good to be on the outside and challenge the rules—challenging everything, including the limits of my mind.
We walked nearly every block in our small crazy town. I know who we were and what we were doing. To some this was tragic and unfortunate. To us, there was no other way. To us, there could be no other way and so to perfect our teenage revolution, we lived as wild as we could. We were sharp as razor blades and ambitious to bleed. This was us. We were neither tough nor absolutely strong. We were simply this— we were the misguided youth, counted out, or cast aside, and written off as those expected to fail. And if we should fail, then we planned to fail catastrophically and perhaps sit back to light up a smoke as it all burns down in front of us.
I know who we were then and who we are now. I know exactly what we did. Still, I say we were beautiful. We were all alike and anxious to feel the rush of adrenaline or the thrill that comes when daring the ledge with nothing below us, no protection, no safety net, nothing to hold us back or stop us from falling to a glorified or romanticized death. This was us. I remember.
We were known. We were known by our teachers as well as by the town. We were known by the unfriendly names like Officer White, and Officer Flowers who took a perverse delight in seeing any of us fall or fail. And maybe we deserved this. A part of me knows we did. Still, it was us against them. That was my mindset and this is how I saw the world. It was us against them, and to me, “Them” meant the world.
I remember the last time we were all together in the same place at the same time. It was a night in early summer in. The month of June was about to make way for the month of July. The sky was clear and the moon was full. It was a starry night in the town of East Meadow. I made my way with Tommy, Pete, Lavelle, and Anthony. We were heading over to the carnival, which was being held in the parking lot of the school at St. Raphael’s. Jay was with us and Stewart too. Randy came alone as well, and together, we headed up East Meadow Avenue towards Speno Park to pass through and enter St. Raphael’s from the back entrance.
On our way, we stopped at one of the baseball fields. We sat beneath on the silvery aluminum bleachers and passed a smoke around. At this point, my interest in drug use was a bit more intense. I preferred something more deliberate than the effects of weed. But hell with it all, I smoked along with everyone else until my eyes turned bloodshot and my eyelids fell to half mass. We smoked until we found that perfect glow, the kind that comes with a perma-smile, which is a permanent smile that will not go away.
After our smoking session, we walked through the field to head over towards the carnival. The night was young and so were we. I remember the green grass beneath the bright glow of the full moon. I remember passing through the gate behind the field that bordered St. Raphael’s and Speno Park. The glare from the carnival lights beamed from above St. Raphael’s; behind it was still somewhat quiet and dark, in front was the colorful action, alive at the carnival, and flickering with lights and life. I recall this walk as we approached the school and meeting up with others, who like us, had bloodshot eyes and eyelids half-closed.
Paulie was there with some of the other kids from the stores. Both the Pollettieri brothers were there, and Casella too. Hansen was also there, and perhaps this was the last time I saw him alive. Suddenly, our numbers had more than doubled.
We were behind the school at St. Raphael’s about to make our way up to the front. O’rourke was there with a few others and our numbers grew again.
Mike was there and so was Fred. So were Andrejko and Cotungo, Chris the Bum, and Danielowich too with Desio nearby and Salvia behind him.
I remember the way I felt, standing in the crowd of us young, local hooligans, laughing too loud at the rest of the world, high and crazy. We could hear the sounds from the carnival growing as did our expectations. We were all on the verge of something that summer. Only, I had no idea what it could be.
I cannot say who did what. I cannot remember who dared me to eat the goldfish we won by tossing a ping pong ball into a small fishbowl at one of the carnival games. I am not sure who it was that believed it was a good idea to come into our town and start with one of us. Pajot was there, smiling, so it might have been him that made this point very clear. It could have been Matt or Ed too. As a matter of fact, it might have been Ed that started the fight. Nevertheless, whoever it was that came in to our town, he and his friends were quickly beaten because regardless to whichever crowd we were in, fights within our crowds were accepted. However, no one from outside our town was ever permitted inside. In this case, we were all equally protected. In this case we were all the same, whether we were burnouts or jocks, clean-cut, or otherwise, we all stuck together.
This was the last time I saw everyone in the same place and at the same time. Dorian was there. I have another memory of Dorian. This one began on 116th Street in Harlem and came back with us to the quiet streets of our suburban town. This was a night that we spent with someone we called Crazy Eddie.
Eddie was not exactly a person. Crazy Eddie was a small package with tea leaves soaked in formaldehyde and other chemicals. They called this drug angel dust. I called it a surefire way to kill as many brain cells as possible. When smoked, Eddie numbed the body and dumbed the mind. It caused a great sensation and a beautifully deranged sense of euphoria. This, however, is a story for another chapter and Dorian’s memory to me is far more precious than a wild night on the town.
I cannot say what else happened that night. I cannot remember where it was that I vomited all the goldfish I swallowed on a dare or who else came along to see it. I remember the yellow, white, and orange flashing lights that swirled around the carnival rides. I remember the sound of bells ringing from the carnival games and the sound of balloons popping, which was followed by cheers from a man standing behind a ledge as he handed darts out to people so they could toss them at the balloons and win a prize. It seemed as if everyone was there this night; the older crowd and the younger, us, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I know who we were then and I know who we are now. I was among a list of many. Some of the names on that list have moved on and far away. Some have yet to find their way out from the bottom of a bottle. Some are on methadone lines and some are held up in a prison cell, doomed to repeat their actions. Some have sobered (like myself) and chose to change their life. Some on this list have become famous and some have become infamous. Some have passed too young and fortunately some are still in contact.
In my first published story, the main characters always toasted each other before drinking. The toast was this, “To guys like us!”
I feel this way and this is enough to bring on a smile, followed by a surge of nostalgia.
To guys like us. I say this because there truly are no friends like old friends.
Above all, no one forgets the kids from the neighborhood.
I know I never will. . .