TC was, in my childhood, one of the best friends I ever had. I found him again this morning, 45 years later.
He was the first kid and only kid in my neighborhood where I could sleep over. He lived one house from the corner whereas we lived in the middle of the block. I can remember that sleepover when we decided, like boys will do, to count all of our scars and scabs and tell the stories of how we got them. Both of us had over 100. TC was a smart kid, polite and trustworthy. In the old neighborhood, the combination was rare. Darrell was trustworthy, but his family was dodgy so he'd cover for them when they didn't deserve it. Vincent was polite but his mother never let him come outside. The Myers boys were athletic and smart, but full of tricks. Basically they put us smaller boys up to gladiator fights for their own amusement. Lonzo was polite and trustworthy, but not the sharpest tool in the shed.
There were other kids who made decent enough friends, Teedee aka August Lewis whose dad had a real boxing ring in his backyard and whose fine sisters were also named after months of the year. But he lived a mile away on Blackwelder. Ebon Grant was the Huckleberry Finn to my Tom Sawyer, but was about as two-faced as anyone I ever met. Winky aka Kevin Brooks was a fun kid with big curls in his hair, but we fell out after a big fight. His family fell on hard times. TC and I were closest in age, temperament and spirit. So one day we decided, momentously to form a club.
It was probably TC's idea to form the Travermike. The three of us, he the leader, Verdis the muscle and me the brains, planned to rule the neighborhood with a benevolent triumvirate dictatorship. It formed enough of a bond, short-lived as it was, to keep our neighborhood gang free in the days when Pirus and Crips roamed the blocks and alleys challenging everyone they encountered. The Travermike was dedicated to fair play. In a neighborhood with 50 kids, it was a big deal. Over at Virginia Road School, the local elementary, TC and I stood a chance of becoming kings of the school in the sixth grade. I was already the reticent brainiac, but way too shy amongst kids who cursed up storms and picked fights. I had courage, but not nerve. TC had nerve.
Then he collapsed. Something went wrong in TC's family and I couldn't understand it. It had something to do with him hating his father or his step-father. Step fathers and half-brothers were nothing I could understand at the age of 9, smart as I supposedly was. I didn't understand how kids could have different last names than their parents. I didn't understand how mothers and fathers didn't live together in the same house. It was a complete mystery. I remember him stifling tears in the front yard of the school as he told me this story, mad at me for not understanding. Before I knew it, he was moving out of the neighborhood far south over near Sportsman's Park. In the days when you had permission to ride bikes with your friends 15 minutes in any direction, Sportsman's Park was a world away.
I never met his father but his mother was a slim, pretty and disciplined woman. Think Diahanne Carroll or Nichelle Nichols. At some point I got a chance to visit my old friend and have another sleepover. This one wasn't as fun as the other. I remember his mother chastising me for not brushing my teeth before I went to bed, and then telling me I was sleeping improperly, mumbling something about how my parents must be so ignorant. My parents were the strictest of any I knew, but not for TC's mom. I felt sorry for TC, coming up all alone with that woman and no dad, living way down near Sportsman's Park under the buzzing high tension lines. After that night, I never saw him again.
The effect on me was deep. Not only did the Travermike end, though the idea of fair play survived, but I felt that I would never have a best friend again. It fell to the two-faced Ebon who taught me how to play poker with daily rule changes, who dissed me publicly at school but traded Sizzlers with me after school. He wasn't just a friend, he was a boss, and also Third King of Virginia Road behind Mark Vincent and Mark Bavis, both certainly prisoners or dead now. I heard Ebon's DD-214 wasn't very commendable. I have had occasion to thank the steeliness of the dastardly knuckleheads of my youth for toughening me up, but I have also long regretted not socking at least one of them in the nose as I knew they deserved. Very deep, psychologically deep in me is the knowledge that I will never trust anyone to be my best friend again because TC left the neighborhood.
I had skipped two grades but had to stay in sixth grade two years because it would have been considered child abuse to send a kid my age and size to the local junior high. A year later I took the bus across town to attend Holy Name of Jesus school and by then my alienation was complete. I kept my head and took advantage of my second chance to make first impressions. Did well academically but wasn't a real Catholic, survived and went even further afield to summer school in posh Pacific Palisades, and finally on to Loyola High where I met Richard Peete who was polite, smart and trustworthy. Except Richard was nowhere near as scrappy and feral as I could be when pressed. So I doubt that was ever as true a friend as I might have been to him, the man who introduced me to the literature behind Star Trek. I suppose if I were George Orwell or Christopher Hitchens I might go on in this vein of old schoolboy memories for several in-depth chapters, but that is not the point of this material which must suffice until I reorganize it in my retirement (provided the clouds of Typepad remain intact).
When I think about what is required to know what makes me tick, complex monster that I have become, it always seems necessary in my inventory of qualifications, that one must have known what it was like to grow up in my neighborhood. It is something I have felt was never done right, and if there is any hope of it, then that job falls to either myself, Paul Beatty, Wanda Coleman or Jervey Tervalon. I have possessed and cultivated a surplus of disgust for other auteurs who might have done it right but went the Hollywood route which also illuminates the specifics. I lament the failures of that portrayal to materialize although it can certainly be cobbled together by knowing the works of us four, but I more greatly lament those of us who fell silently. Men and women on my Facebook friends list who remain steady reminders of who we were and what we went through, Gerald Brown chiefly among them, but also the late lamented Patrick Reese and the lost but unforgettable Steve Butler. What it is worth to have known such men and such women as the Brown sisters and the Raymond sisters and the Andrews sisters goes beyond any one man's ability to tell, and yet we are all the poorer for not knowing such lives as they were lived in the cauldron my my generations coming of age in America. I am an alien familiar with my old world, watching its denizens die, all of us too busy living to be bothered to spare a Friday evening drink together. We were a black community once. I'll never quite know if I am a defector or a survivor. Perhaps I don't even care enough to know. It's hard to say. Ernest is dead. Scoobie is dead. We use death as an excuse to make for unbridgeable gulfs between us. Between myself, my actual neighborhood, and the myths of South Central there are thousands of stories that can never be told. Who has time to stop living in order to recreate the past? Who can even answer such questions?
Work interrupts memories, as does life. I have to arrange which lunch date to take. The Spousal Unit is putting together some perfect planning for my birthday celebration happy hour thing for this weekend. I had a good cry about all this. And now it's time to close. I'm out of the zone.
There are a few other historical and autobiographical slices here about The Old Hood at Cobb that I hadn't noticed before, or forgot that I wrote. One is called Wayback Machine, and TC found it. Surprising details; glad I remembered when I did. There was the legendary mess over Tookie, founder of the Crips. I should make sure all of these get into the Crenshaw and/or Local Deeds categories to make them easier to find in the future. I have nothing witty left to say. I am actually emotionally exhausted.
TC is back. Just wow. That's how I remembered him. I wonder who the man is.