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This piece draws off the townhouse theme and highlights another area that I'd lived in as a child. This one is really all about the setting. It also sets up further BBNB settings.
Some people say we are a product of our environment. Others say we make all our own choices. I'd tend to believe it's a mixture of the two... Environmental effects simply cannot be denied. But the BBNB project attempts to prove that personal choice is the stronger of the two variables that shape a person in their youth. By far.
Let’s look past the fact that my mother was robbed at gunpoint.
Let’s look past the fact that I couldn’t ride my bike down the block.
Let’s look past the fact that we had certain roommates when we lived there.
Life on Hickory was chaotic from all angles.
We’d have been slightly bent even if nobody had ever targeted us.
I remember the display on the counter at the corner store.
“Bitch” was one of the first words I ever learned to read.
It was a joke. A joke no six year old would understand.
A joke you’d only find in a chaotic setting. A ghetto.
Sure, we were on our own. Renting without reduced rates.
But the dealers were just more spread-out.
My very first word ever was “Zoo.”
The Detroit Zoo. I read it on the tower as we were driving by… Mom was proud.
I remember the day two black boys got in a throwing fight at the daycare I was in.
They kept hiding behind shelves, chucking toys, calling “NIGGER!”
Finally, they locked arms. But by then, it was too late.
The caregivers were pulling them apart, as they cried in competition.
Later-on that week, I was driving with my mom again.
Some black guy cut us off at an intersection.
“Nigger.” My mom looked at me in bewilderment… and then kind of giggled.
“DAVID!” She pulled her hand from her mouth to lay the BACKSIDE down on mine.
“Don’t EVER say that word again… I’m sorry… Let me see your face.”
She tried to put her finger under my chin, but I pulled away in a whimper fit.
“Alright… You’re fine. Now stop crying… and NEVER forget we don’t say that word.”
I remember getting in a fight with the only other white boy on the block.
He called me a honky. Me. A honky?
White boys are weird when they fight.
I never had a better friend once we were through.
He just wanted to know if he could beat me.
I just wanted him to know what would happen if he called me “honky” again.
I won, by the way. There might have been an issue if I hadn’t.
Fear was okay with him. As long as everything was cool.
He didn’t need dominance the way I did.
We didn’t talk much after that.
We couldn’t ride our bikes down the block that far.
But we’d wave.
I remember waking up to gunfire in the night.
Mom said some crazy lady was just marching down the street with a rifle in the air.
The dealers were just more spread out.
Come to think of it, my next door neighbor was white too.
His name was William Harras.
But he pronounced it “Hawwats.”
We used to call him Billy.
But then he got tired of being “little Billy with the lisp.”
Temper prevailing, we had to call him William.
Which he pronounced “Miwwiam.”
He never grew out of it. His parents both drank and smoked.
I remember having dinner at the Harras house one day.
Went home to tell my mom not to cook for me.
She had me run over and ask what was for dinner.
William’s dad said “unborn fetus… leg of infant…”
I only relayed the message because I didn’t know what an “infant” or a “fetus” were.
Had he said “baby brains,” I might have caught on.
My mom sent be back, but made me call him a cannibal.
Which I thought was something like a Lunchable.
I remember watching a nature film during dinner.
One that made me sick to my stomach.
They were filming guerrillas, when all of a sudden
Two naked people ran out into the bushes.
The next shot was of a guerrilla chewing the meat off a bone.
I wasn’t sure what that had to do with two naked hippies…
But I somehow felt the two shots were related, having been filmed back-to-back.
I don’t think that is what is meant by “Dedicating your life to science.”
My mom argued with him about it.
Billy came over my house from that point on.
Then one night, I heard shots again.
Only it wasn’t a gun, and I felt way too warm.
There was an eerie warm glow coming from the back yard.
Mr. Harras had set his car on fire in the alley.
Mom called the fire department. Nothing else caught fire, but could have.
She told me he probably did it for the insurance money.
I remember me and Billy playing one afternoon.
Two little black kids came and invited us over their house.
We went to play ball in the back yard.
Granny came out and offered us some lemonade.
I declined when she said we’d have to come in the house to get it.
She gave me “stranger” vibes.
I ran back home. Billy drank-up and returned home unharmed.
But such was the necessary fear my mom had to instill in me.
I remember the day I heard that a kid brought a gun into Trix elementary.
I started first grade at St. Jude as a result. I rode that through until we left Hickory.
One year, the teachers went on strike. Billy didn’t have to start at Trix until October.
Right before Halloween. I was jealous at first, but kind of sad the following summer.
Billy only got one month to play before the next school year began.
Even if Billy could talk straight, he would have been illiterate at best.
I’m not sure Billy ever learned what three years in Catholic school taught me.
We always used to say a Mother Goose-type rhyme…
“Hickory-dickory-dock… the mouse ran up the clock… the… the…”
It’s possible that Billy owned the book and was never able to read that far…
I wonder how Billy’s doing now…
We only have one photo of me and him in my living room.
He scowled until Mom gave up and took the picture.
Life on Hickory was chaotic from all angles.
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