“It’s a really stupid, bad idea Harry. What do you think is gonna happen?” Javier pleaded. “ just gonna shoot us down in the alley. We gotta think of something else.”
The group of boys sat on the stoop, many them shirtless in the humid summer night. The younger ones, 17 or 18, carried bats or brass knuckles. The other boys, 20 or 21, were convinced they would only use their fists.
“Fuck, that. We’re going right now. I’m gonna fuck those s—s up,” Harry replied to Javier.
The younger boys we’re clearly scared. Many stayed to fight only because their older brothers were there. Others out of a sense of loyalty.
“Fine, fuck it. We’re all just gonna die,’ Javier sighed. He knew it was hopeless and he knew what would happen. Yet he stayed there, clutching the smooth black baton that Mr. Torino normally kept behind his living room couch for security.
It wasn’t clear what actually had happened during the fight with the Puerto Ricans from Glendale street earlier in the afternoon, but Harry returned from the fight pretty badly beaten up. He insisted he was jumped by five Puerto Ricans. Many didn’t believe him, and thought that in reality he had simply lost a one-on-one fight. Either way, it was clear that something had to be done about the Puerto Ricans from Glendale street, and tonight was the night that something would happen.
On the stoop of the Torino family, members of at least three different groups of neighborhood crews were brought together. The group, mostly white, but a handful black and Puerto Rican, had lived in the neighborhood for their entire lives. They had all known each other since kindergarten. Over the years, their tastes in music and lifestyle had widely diverged. Some got into the skate and punk scene, others more into hip-hop, many of them jocks. What brought them together again was the perceived threat from the new group of Puerto Ricans that lived on Glendale street.
Some just wanted to fight. Others were mad that Harry had been jumped, and simply wanted to get even. Some were just bored. Perversely, if circumstances were different, they’d likely be fighting amongst themselves instead.
Jorge looked nervously down the narrow alley that connected Glendale and Maywood streets. It was about 9pm, and it was almost completely dark. He could make out the shapes of cars, and when someone walked past on the parallel street, he could only see their silhouettes. His older brother Roberto told Jorge to stand there and watch, and let him know if the white boys came back.
It was sweltering hot out, a different kind of heat than he was used to back home. He and his family had only lived in the neighbourhood for about 18 months. They picked this neighborhood because a cousin had first moved here nearly ten years ago. The cousin opened a small corner bodega, and had always sent money back to them. When Jorge turned 18, he and his brother made the trip to Philadelphia, and both started working nights in the corner store.
Jorge was shocked at how scary parts of the city were. Although he quickly made friends at school, he found it incredibly hard to feel comfortable in this neighborhood. He could feel the tension each day as he walked home from the El station. Instead of feeling safer as more Puerto Ricans moved to the area, he only felt more afraid.
Roberto was beaten up badly one afternoon as he walked home from work at lunchtime. He had accidentally bumped into a group of men walking out of the Taproom bar on Whitaker street. He still can’t remember exactly what happened, but within seconds he was on the ground and the men were kicking him, cursing at him, all in broad daylight. Since that day, Roberto carried a pistol in his waistband, determined never to let it happen again.
Jorge was calmer than his brother and would much rather avoid confrontation and play baseball instead. He stood on the porch, still peering into the darkness of the alley. He lit the end of a blunt roach, and took a puff. Through the screen door, he could hear his brother playing Nas’ If I Ruled The World on a CD player. Jorge had a small FM radio, and had put the Phillies away game against Toronto on. It was the bottom of the fifth inning and the Phillies were winning for once.
Suddenly, Jorge’s stomach dropped. As he put out the end of the roach, he could see a mob of people walking up the alley toward the house, the silhouettes of their heads moving cautiously up and down. He called out to his brother.
Javier wondered what it was like in actual wars when the command was given to jump out of the trench or to run towards the machine gun tower. Who was driven enough to be in front, exposed to death, with no protection? Was it bravery and courage, or pride and stupidity that allowed someone to convince himself that this was a good idea? What did they get out of it?
And he himself, right now, why was he there? He was fully aware of the fact that he had a choice in this case, and could actually just turn around and go home. In fact, everyone there had that same choice. He also knew that nothing would change after this fight, no matter the winner. Still, the group of 20 or so young boys and men walked in the dark up the alley towards the corner where the Puerto Rican crew hung out. They were bent on revenge.
Javier saw the muzzle flashes, bright like firecrackers at the end of the alley. What seemed like minutes later, he heard the claps of the gunshots. The group of boys scattered. He and Matt lay next to each other on the ground. He looked to his left and saw Tommy crouched behind a blue dumpster.
A few feet ahead of him, Jeff was laying on the ground. He ran over to him, along with Nick, and they picked him up and carried him to the grass out front of Ms. Berkery’s house.
This is an excerpt from my book Good For One Fare. Send me an email if you are interested in a copy.