Alphabet City

We played skelsies on the sidewalk. We dunked basketballs in the bottom rung of the fire escape ladders. We sunbathed on Tar Beach. We rocked to Block Party Sound Systems. We were sent by our moms to the corner bodegas to pick out dried saltfish from out of cardboard boxes. We saw old Puerto Rican men slamming dominoes down on fold out tables by boom boxes playing Salsa for days. We watched police men pick up paper bags full of cash. We learned how to box in Henry Street Settlement. We ran in circles under tidal waves of fire hydrant showers. We saw Chico tag graffiti-memorials for the mounting dead. We kissed our girls in the quiet concrete-courtyards. We bought cheesecakes from the retired mafia dons in De Robertis. We shadow boxed with the Italian kids from the First Avenue side of East 11th street. We learned how to play chess watching ancient Ukrainian men playing on stone chess tables in Tompkins Square Park. We learned how to shoot pool watching the hustlers in Julians. We saw a godfather raise his hand and stop traffic on First Avenue so rockets could shoot up in the sky on the 4th of July and give us our own fireworks show. We saw our neighbor, a tranny prostitute, get into a knife fight with our neighbor, a crack dealer, on a Saturday night. We saw a corpse taking a nap in the empty lot on our block. We saw artists build an igloo in the Blizzard of 78. We saw pimps with green feathers sticking out of their pink hats strut down Avenue A. We saw bikers staring down Feds. We saw nuns from Mary Immaculate playing kickball with their students. We saw gangsters keeping streets safe from murderers and pervs. We saw our moms going to work every day on the city buses. We saw some of our fathers getting high in Washington Square Park. We saw Moslems praying toward Mecca by the corner mosque. We saw abandoned buildings get invaded by hippy white kids. We saw helicopters with state troopers kicking those hippies out. We saw store owners who all knew our names. We saw neighbors who looked out for the children. We saw musicians playing saxophones on roof tops. We saw Tent City being assaulted by the police. We saw Marxists at war with the state. We saw the State win that war. We saw long lines of cars from Jersey with passengers hungry for a fix. We saw rock stars and movie stars trying to be cool by hanging in our Brown part of the city. We saw the Seventies turn into the Eighties. We saw white kids decide it was cool to do more than visit. We saw empty buildings get knock down. We saw bodegas close because the rent became too high. We saw the mobsters all die of old age. We saw Alphabet City become L.E.S. We saw schools turn into million dollar condos. We saw cleaner streets. We saw the graffiti masterpieces get whitewashed. We saw all the stores we once knew become different versions of Starbucks. We saw our neighborhood disappear. We saw ourselves replaced. And then we saw nothing at all.

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