One thing that was creating a serious moral problem in the neighborhood was the demolition of the city block across the street, obliterating the tenements, retail stores, the 76th Precinct and the St. Francis College campus to make way for an intermediate school. We spent most of the summer playing in the abandoned buildings, but when the city moved in and began construction on the school, everything started to change.
For one, many homeowners were turning a blind eye to the rampant theft of building material that was taking place. At first it was the Styrofoam that we used for karate breaking boards. It next became bricks that were toted across the street for use in people’s back yards. Finally the city put up a fence and hired a guard to keep the kids out. This technically made it a misdemeanor to trespass onto the site, and this was where Manny put his foot down on me, though I should have learned my lesson long before that.
One night I was with the O’Connors in the abandoned police garage before it was torn down. The brothers found some paint buckets and decided to splash the paint all over the walls and floors. Once they ran out of paint, Edward got the bright idea of dropping a match in one of the puddles. Needless to say, the entire place was in blazes within minutes, and the whole neighborhood watched us scurry out from the pried-open front door. I ran home and found too late that I had red paint all over my combat boots. This time it was Lea’s turn to watch as I took one of the asskickings of my life after Manny saw the fire trucks arrive.
Anyway, it was as if lines were being drawn in the neighborhood and I was on the wrong side of them. Neither Lydia nor Ginny, the Yodels’ mom, had any problem with their kids going onto the site, but I had to sneak in from the Baltic Street side and avoid the Butler side entirely. Another big problem that arose was that the O’Connor were now doing drugs, and they were mixing and matching new substances with the Puerto Ricans, who were bringing anything they could find into the site for partying. When my Mom heard of this she came down even harder than Manny, but I still took my chances and snuck in anyway rather than become ostracized by my friends.
As you can see, we came a long way from playing marbles and toy soldiers, and all those bad influences I discussed in the previous chapters were wracking the community with a vengeance. If Nick Yodels or Vincent Reyes were still around, you can rest assured that I might have well remained the loosest cannon on deck. Plus, replacing the police station with this delinquent paradise was not the best thing the city could have done for our neighborhood.
Again, my key to survival was in being able to outwit my larger counterparts, but for a while there I was almost out of control of my newly formed Wild Bunch. Their idea of fun was going down to the highway and dropping rocks down on passing vehicles. Once this got stale, they graduated to throwing rocks at buses and store windows. Eventually the cops paid a visit to the Nieves home, and within a few weeks, Georgie was on his way to Puerto Rico.
(To be continued...)