There were two glass buildings that were twin-like and tall at the border of town between Hempstead Turnpike and Merrick on Earle Ovington Boulevard. These were the two tallest buildings in our town, except for the hospital and the other glass building on Earle Ovington. But come Christmas, the two glass buildings put up a huge Christmas tree right in the courtyard. There was also a small ice skating rink but I have no real memories of the skating rink. I remember the tree though. I remember wild teenage nights when we in the rebellious crowd took to the grounds around it, screaming out loud, and running around like the local maniacs we were.
I remember there was a night when drinking was involved. Someone had a bottle and we passed it around. I am sure there were other things passed around as well.
For some reason or another, there was a crew of kids that came from a different town and forgot their turf manners at home. They forget the rules of engagement, which is never start a turf war on someone else’s turf.
I recall my lessons in turf warfare. I remember learning this young when there was to be a fight between the kids from my town of East Meadow against the kids from the town of Levittown.
Full disclosure: I have always hated Levittown after this night . . .
We walked up to the roller-skating rink just at the edge of town by the parkways. There must have been at least 50 or 60 kids from East Meadow, all of us screaming tough until we reached the lights on the Turnpike and saw the parking lot was literally overflowing with Levittown kids. The odds were more than against us and walking over wouldn’t have been a fight. It would have been a blood bath.
I learned turf manners were important when visiting a girl at one of her school’s events. We pulled up in a van one night, a bunch of longhaired kids with a plume of smoke escaping the sliding door to the van when we exited. Our eyes were red and watery, our mouths were loud, and terms were different than the local crowd. Our loud interruption was met with a group of sporty in shape kids, like wrestlers and football players, eager to kick some longhaired ass and when they chose to jump, we had to get out quick. There were only four of us in the van and there were somewhere around 20 of them closing in, screaming for blood, and throwing beer bottles at us.
One of us, namely the driver of the van wanted to go back and fight. The rest of us, namely the other three in the van were all like, “You go head, man. Let us know how ya make out.”
Truth is he didn’t want to go back either. Sometimes though, pride makes you say things just to save face.
However, on the night at the Christmas tree, this time we were in our town. We were in on our grounds and our numbers were big.
There was a small kid, hair all slicked in a fashion that would have us call him Guido. He and his friends decided to come and see the tree; however, I assume he and his friends thought a bit too much of themselves.
Maybe they thought they were tough. And maybe they were if they fought on even ground. But the odds in our town were against them.
My guess is they forgot their turf manners which are if you go in someone else’s town and open your mouth, always be sure to have backup or an exit strategy in place. This group had neither.
I forgot how this started. I suppose it started the way most fights started—maybe it was an accidental bump and shove or maybe this was over a girl or someone looked at someone too long and someone else had to shout back, “What the fuck are you lookin at?!” and the moment declines from there. Next, like an avalanche, the visiting team fell down.
Truth is however, I was never much of a fighter. Sure, I tried to talk tough but everyone knew this was an act. I was little and weak, skinny too, and of course, I was drunk and unable to handle my drink.
I was unable to handle myself or act as myself. And someone, somewhere, of course made mention of this. Someone somewhere said, “And what were you gonna do?” and laughed at me.
And of course, my insecurity spun out of control which caused me to walk off, wearily and drunk, and for a while, I lay on my back at a hill near the Meadowbrook Parkway not too far off from the glass buildings. I looked up at the stars while awaiting the inevitable vomit that always came for me when I drank.
Hours later, I could hear the local kids walking along Earle Ovington, which was up the hill and behind me. I didn’t try to rejoin them. Instead, I just lay still and looked up at the stars. I felt the December wind. But I was fine for the moment. I was fine to be alone and fine to be away from the crowd. I was fine to lie down and feel the wind and fine enough that I knew the vomit would escape me for at least a little while longer.
I took out one of my smokes, which was a Marlboro Red to be exact. I lit it and blew my smoke up to the stars. I thought about the Christmas extravaganzas and the meanings behind events like say, the Christmas tree lighting, and what it means to be a kid and see Santa. I thought of stories and the seasonal movies that came on television. I thought of Jimmy Stuart and the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.”And I thought about the spirit of this holiday. I thought about the meaning and a sign which read, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
I thought of choirs singing in Churches and families humbling themselves in holy submission, praying to their Almighty, in the name of The Father, The Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I thought about midnight mass and what this means to people, how this in fact proves their dignity and washes away their sins and tears because in the depths of their hearts, they truly believe above all in one truth, one God, and one Savior.
I never thought much about what goes on between my God and God as I understood him. I only knew I tried to talk to him. I tried to invite him over a few times. But in my eyes, he never showed . . .
I swear, I think back to those young teenage times when everything like this seemed so goddamned crucial. I swore I thought I would be that kid forever. I never thought I would ever. Maybe this is why I was fine for the moment. I was fine to be alone and away from the crowds. I was fine with the fact that while alone, my company was just with me, and at last, I had no one to impress.
I swear, in the angst of teenage crisis, the crowd is more than just a crowd. Popularity is like a currency that determines the value of your name and word like “They,” or“Them,” defined everyone.
Lying back and alone in, I looked up at the stars that were bright as ever. I watched the sky without a saying so much as a word to anyone. I finished my smoke, passed out for a while, and eventually I made it home.
There was something special to me about that night. Although to you, the reader, you might find something sad about this; I found something redeeming. And although I might not have had the courage to stand up to or walk away from the crowd, at least I realized on that night that I do have the ability to walk away. And I did walk away. I walked away and found myself in perfect thought.
Sometimes, no matter how sad or lonely this may seem; it’s okay to walk away and be alone. This is especially so when you’re drunk enough to piss your pants . . . that would have just opened up a whole new world of abuse from the rumor factory.
I write this to you while preparing a presentation for a classroom visit. I think of the kids now and their different fashions and practices. I think of their politics of popularity and while I grant that fashion has changed and technology is different, in the end, we are still very social creatures, just looking to fit, just looking to find out place in the circle, and just looking to be happy or satisfied within our own skin.