|Posted by Admin on May 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM|
Robert Daly got us into another fine mess one night when he talked me into going with him down into the projects. Parkview Courts was a new development just across East Chester from the Parkview Baptist Church. The apartments were all alike, row upon row of red brick low-income housing, strung out in a rambling circle. As such government developments invariably do, the place soon became a slum. The night we went down there some of the apartments had not been occupied. But already the project was getting a reputation. It wasn’t known as a good place to take a lot of moonlight strolls.
It turned out that’s why Robert wanted me along. He was afraid to go down there alone. As he laid it out for me, there was someone who lived in Parkview Courts he wanted to pick a fight with, and he needed me to watch his back.
Among the rougher element who had moved into the projects there was some punk who had challenged Robert’s manhood or something, and he wanted a chance to take this punk down. I would just be there for insurance. By the time it was over I was wishing I had insurance.
Of course, being a greenhorn in East Jackson, I had no hint of what it meant for a stranger to go boldly into Parkview Courts at night. As we entered the property we saw a dark figure standing alone on a grassy slope highlighted by the green glow of one of the few unbroken street lights in the project. Something about the figure didn’t look right.
Robert lifted a hand in greeting. The figure responded with a casual flip of the hand. I thought at first the hand was missing some fingers. It takes me a little time to figure some things out. Then the figure began smacking one fist into the opposite palm, slowly, emphatically…menacingly.
Then I saw the ponytail.
I hit the brakes. “This ‘punk’ is a girl?” I asked Robert. “You brought me down here to face off with a girl?”
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” he said with a tight face. We stopped before the girl and said hi. She was about our age, shorter than us, with a good figure, dressed in tight jeans and a denim jacket. She was trying to look as much like a boy as possible, and wasn’t quite succeeding. But she had the attitude.
Robert obviously knew her, and must have introduced me, but I don’t remember her name. All I know is that she had what it took to back up the attitude. It gradually dawned on me that what my buddy really wanted was to be sweet on the girl, but she kept making him mad. As we talked, sitting in a circle on the grass, swatting at mosquitoes, the girl seemed to want to take offense to everything Robert said. As pretty as she was, his pride wouldn’t allow him to overlook the sharpness of her tongue, and it wasn’t long before he decided that by golly it was time to teach this irreverent female a lesson. He’d been getting madder and madder every time she challenged something he said. Finally she made some crack that was the last straw, and he up and tied into her.
He rushed the girl, surprising her, and took her down on the ground. For a few minutes I just sat there astonished, watching the two of them threshing back and forth on the turf. First one was on top, then the other. I could hardly tell them apart. Arms swinging, legs kicking, they struggled mightily, grunting and cursing. Then, out of the tangle of knees and elbows, I saw the girl sit upright. She was astraddle Daly and had him pinned to the ground with her knees on his arms. She was punching him in the face, and they weren’t love taps.
“Joe…dang it!” Robert yelled, “feel free to pitch in anytime!”
Without thinking, I dived at her and knocked her off Robert. Then a bee stung me on the nose. Then it stung me on the chin, then something hard as a brick hit me upside the head, and we were rolling over and over across the grass. She was beating the stuffings out of me. I don’t know if I ever got in a good lick, but I got knees to the belly, an elbow to the jaw, head slammed into the ground, a whack on the goozle, and ended up in the same position Robert had ended up in – pinned to the ground, with that blasted punk female pounding me into jelly with her fists.
I would like to say that the two of us big, strong boys finally prevailed and taught that smart-alec girl a lesson she would not forget…but we didn’t. The fight ended when she finally got tired of swinging and just quit.
Suddenly, strangely – everything smoothed out, and we were just three dirty, sweaty teenagers, lying in a circle on the grass, face up to the street light, wiping bloody noses, nursing split lips and talking calmly like nothing ever happened. Robert and the girl were getting on. I felt left out, but I sure as heck wasn’t ready to get cross with nooobody again right away. Actually, it felt kind of peaceful to just sort of lie there on the soft grass and talk quietly, with no stress in the air. With friends I had just… shared a moment with.
I don’t know if Robert and the girl ever became an item. If so, he was welcome to her. One thing I was sure of…I never wanted to have a girlfriend I had to whip every time I went to see her.
The neighborhood. Nothing like it. Griffin’s Grocery and the mean streets around it in East Jackson. Where else could you find a place where black people are white, acrobatic shows are free, where terror walks the streets and even the girls are men…and where else could a six-year-old get a beer for breakfast?