I just met somebody on the blog that I went to elementary school with. Gerald Brown is another brother who stops by here every once in a while. He too grew up in my old neighborhood and incidently has no use or tolerance for Crips. But this coincidence has released a flood of memories of my old stomping grounds, well actually I had little feet, but I stomped nonetheless. In fact, we had stomps on the playground at Virginia Road. And we played suicide and open chest and bb-britches and all kinds of Tom Sawyeresque games.
One of the biggest pastimes for a while, especially after the Symar earthquake in 71 that destroyed the cafeteria, was to stomp on the little packets of French dressing we got with our sack lunches.
I still remember all of my teachers. In Kindergarten I had Miss Hallenan, then for first grade I had Mrs Kissick and Mrs Pleasant. In the second grade I had Mrs Pollack, the wonderful Jewish lady who said I shouldn't rub my nose side to side but pinch it so it wouldn't get flat like a..oops! Why I remember that I don't know. She was cool. Not like Mrs Hoskins that everyone hated. Her nickname was 'Bullface' because she had huge jowls. In the third grade I had evil Mrs Byers. She got fired after I left the third grade. She used to deny kids the chance to go to the bathroom during class, made us pee ourselves. She said our parents were ignorant for not sending us to school with our own pencils. In the fourth grade I had Mrs White, who was black but could pass for white. She was incredibly strict, but never unfair. In the fifth and sixth grade, I was in Miss Milliken's class. She was without question, one of the best teachers I ever had, and was the first one who told me without question that I should go to college. USC, specifically. She was the kind of teacher who would make bets with us that we couldn't do something she knew we could do. She paid us money to find mistakes in the textbooks and rewarded us with a Big Mac if we finished a color group in the SRA reading lab.
There were a bunch of kids I remember from school. Doreen Horn, Pheobe with the big mouth, Diana White with whom I had an almost fight. The kings of the school, Ebon, Daniel, Mark Vincent, Mark 'Baby' Bavis. A kid named Danny Henderson whose ass I kicked and later really felt sorry for. Shermalyn Thompson, my first girlfriend. Pamela Pratt. Nudie, Suitcase, all of the Arnold Kids, Verdis, Derrell, Teresa, Rabo, KK. Jerry who lived right across the street from school. August Lewis and his foine sisters. Tracy the kid who made Eagle Scout. Mario Nesbit and his little badass brother Marlon. There was Chuckie McDermott and the kid who stole my bicycle whose name is blocked in memory. There was Freddie, the Japanese kid who didn't play football, and all the kids my younger brothers and sister knew. There was Margaret Chung and all the adopted kids, plus her blood sister Vivian. Mark Levi, Deet's best friend. There was Cherry Lewis the smart girl whose face got burned in a fire and her big brother. There was stupid Marcella and her even stupider brother Richard. Their father married a white woman who never came out of the house. She was so stupid that when Richard got a 8th percentile on the SAT, she thought he was in the top 90%. There was Lonzo, Frankie the pimp, the low life Chambers family. There was Caroline and the Turners, all them redhead frecklefaced blackfolks. There was nasty Anita and her sister. There was London and his brother whose dad worked at Mattel. There was Kevin 'Winky' Brooks who was my best friend who moved away. Kevin had a tall skinny sister and a big curly headed brother. His dad drove really fast. Then Tracy Caldwell who became my new best friend then he moved away to over near Sportsman's Park and then to Ohio.
Our principal was Edna Cohen. She was also president of the Links of West Adams. She was a black woman who could pass. Her portrait hung on the wall at the Wilfandel Club up in Arlington Heights. She was part of the reason my parents chose our neighborhood which was full of every kind of fruit tree that grows in Los Angeles including the plum tree next door. Oh. I forgot Roosevelt Ivory whose grandmother grew the sweetest peaches on the planet. We called Rosy 'Tank'. He ended up coaching football in Hawaii and then at Santa Monica College. I could tell his parents thought we were all little rowdies. We were. But Tank was a real freind.
Charles Rixter was the neighborhood Crip. He got Wanda pregnant when she was 16. I have to think, in retrospect that Pops was afraid of Rixter or that at least it came to a threat of violence that Pops was unwilling to face. We know he broke in our house once. But he wasn't around long enough to cause too much trouble. So off to jail he went. We were a neighborhood of sports roughnecks as well as dirtbike mechanics and skirt chasers. Me Tracy and Verdis thought about forming a gang - the Travermike. But when Tracy moved away that collapsed. While he remained we had our secret handshake and basically ran things around the neighborhood. But that was before Mr. Arnold died and Rixter came around. The Arnold's 8 kids came apart and poor Mrs. Arnold was overwhelmed. Verdis, who was a brilliant mechanic and always QB of our football teams, oldest boy of the Arnolds collapsed under the strain. He got caught up in the stolen cars game as far as I recall.
The neighborhood maintained until Verdis and I and all our cohort left for college or the military. 80-82, Crips, crack, guns, boom. The place was never the same. The very thought that there would be a murder on our street was unthinkable back in the 70s. A fight? Hell, every week. A knife fight? Only if maybe some Mexicans brought them. But a gun? Never. We knew old JC, Mr. Arnold's brother had a shotgun. But he was an old cuss from Texas set in his hunting dog ways and regularly brought rabbits for Mrs. Arnold to cook up with her homegrown mustard greens. You could have thought of Kool Moe Dee's Wild Wild West as our theme song, except that nobody ever brought static. Nobody except the cops, who made us give up our homemade nunchucks and gave us tickets for riding our minibikes.
We were skinny tough kids in sweatpants, Chucks and t-shirts with sweatbands and ankleweights, heading over to Dorsey or Vineyard for pickup ball. Football, Basketball, BMX, Skateboard, Swimming & Gymnastics. That was us. Pickens made it to the Buffalo Bills, Nudie became a BBall coach in the Valley. My late brother Scoobie played semipro football and he and Doc both played in the Inglewood Basketball League. Donald and Cragie Shane could do nohand wheelies all day long. Donald and I build a tandem dirtbike and rode it up and down Crenshaw to applause. Everybody could swim. My brother Deet and I both had full twisting back summersaults and ruled flipflop grass from Centinela to Sportsman's Park to Dorsey Pool.
I used to think of us all as kids in the form of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. We grew up on the Three Stooges, Little Rascals and Speed Racer. We ate Cheerios for Go Go Go Power and we busted the Presidents Physical Fitness test ready to kick Russia's ass if it came to it. We always watched the Indy 500 and cheered the Miami Dolphins through their perfect season. We smoked weed out of the shoebox and got our hair braided sitting on the front porch in the late summer evenings. We wore fat leather wristbands for our Timex watches and puka shells around our necks. We slow-danced to 'Wildflower' and pretended to be Jim Kelly in Enter The Dragon. We snuck into the Baldwin Theatre to see Chinese Connection five times and stole the flashing yellow lights of the construction sawhorses and put them in our bedrooms. We ogled Angela Davis' blacklight poster and made lamps in electic shop out of 7up cans. We drew afros on all the athletes on PeeChee folders and thought Muhammad Ali was the greatest who ever lived. We watched all the moonshots, listened to 1580 KDAY and rolled six deep to KACE concerts in the park. We had chinaberry fights, played doctor in the garage and mowed the lawn with pushmowers.
We put money under Free Parking and never paid the interest to get properties out of hock. If you landed on Go, you got $400. We slammed bones, ran Bostons and played Tonk for quarters. We ate Bomb pops and played 'intendo. We got grease and gasoline from the junkyard up the street, took apart the guts of our kickback threespeeds and put them back together with chickenwire when we lost the bolt for the brake brace. We traded Wacky Packages and peace patches for our notebooks and jean jackets. We read Mad Magazine, ate Chickosticks and spit poly seeds at each other. We popped M80s and did street luge down Arlington Doubles. We rode bikes up to the broken Baldwin Reservoir and hiked into the bowl.
Somewhere along the way to adulthood we learned lessons that seem to defy all the poltical correctness of today's America. We were all about living as large as possible, our way, with no shame and no hesitation. We didn't know a whole lot about the world except that it better be ready for us, because we ain't backing down. People tell me 'we didn't know we were poor' and we didn't walk around making excuses about being oppressed. We sung the black national anthem and we prepared to look the white man in the eye. I don't think we realized how strong we were. I don't think the world realized either.
Black youth in the 70s - that's my generation. There will never be another quite like it.