There’s a white crowd the size of a riot on Clark Street. Pale, red, sweaty bodies sway through the streets pumping fists, screaming the names of those lost from their group. Carmen is a dark speck in the loud crowd of people dressed in white and blue. She feels out of place, covered from head to toe in dark colors, wearing a faded Korn shirt, wide-leg jeans, black k-swiss shoes; standing still taking in the scene of people obviously drunk and—whiffs the smoke—freely smoking weed.
Taking you back again to my little boy days in the Nineteen-fifties when I was living with mom and dad in the apartment on South Ingleside Avenue, in Chicago. I guess you could say I was one of those rough and ready kids with plenty energy, and maybe kind of spoiled because I had lots of toys and got to go to all kinds of fun places. My parents weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we had what we needed, and most times what we wanted. I was a perfectly contented child who played by himself most of the time. Life was ghetto good and I was happy.
Going to take you back to the mid 1950s when I was six years old, to one out-of-the-ordinary Christmas that will always remain strong in my memory.
I’m going to tell you a story. Come on down. Gather around. How about it? This is tale of a girl gone wild and a lover gone lovin’. Of a cat on the prowl and a kitten on the loose. Of a man in the gutter soakin’ in the stink of his own despair. And of a child, a blessed-blue-eyed-angel-gift-from-God of a child. What do you think? How about it?
We never slept in this room without Grandma, and since she’s gone we did not want to sleep in here now, but Mama said the bed in the other room was too little for me and Richard to sleep in together. She is sleeping in that bed, and Daddy is sleeping on the couch in the living room. We had to come down here because of Grandma’s funeral. She was Daddy’s mama, but Aunt Chloe, who lives in Chicago with us, raised him.
Midnight on a dark city street. There are three in a car. There you are in a dying pair of Reeboks. Should you run? Of course. So you’ve got a few extra pounds that have been slowing down your life. You have eluded German Shepherds and your ex-girlfriend’s other boyfriend before, so why should tonight be any different? Can you run? Well, with that deep-dish pizza balanced on your right arm, and that bag of wings balanced on your left, you might not be as elusive as you would like.
The worst of last winter found us in the first-floor unit of an extremely undistinguished graystone, somewhere near the elbow of Independence Boulevard. Often I went outside and looked it over wondering what Red had ever seen in it. From a distance it looked like an antique refrigerator; from up close it looked like contractors had practiced on it. In the soggy alley one of the windows was shivered; someone had lined it with a cheap terrycloth blanket that was covered with Ayanami Rei in a series of provocative poses. When I took out the trash I was subject to her bored gaze, while her colors bled eerily across the white space.
It was Red who chose our apartments, and sometimes they were hardly to be believed. “I’ve got a system,” she explained once, when I decided to press the issue. “Fascism is a system,” I muttered from the other room. But systems were not her strong suit; had she said it in appeasement? Appeasement was not her strong suit either, which is one reason we got along.
The wind is blowing out front of the church. Mexican women are setting up makeshift flower tents. A sign on the door says, “Los Globos no son permitidos adentro de la iglesia.” Beneath that, it reads, “No balloons allowed in the church.” In between, an uneven hand has scrawled “Class of 2014.” The swear word that came next has been scribbled out.