I didn’t feel like doing much this weekend. My homework is due on Monday but no way that I’m going to spend an hour or two indoors on such a beautiful day. I’ll just put it off until Sunday just before I go to bed. I finished eating my Olive Oil and tomato sandwich for lunch and went out to scout for some of my friends. I walked over to our usual hang out in front Chickies grocery store on Hicks Street. It was all quiet and none of the guys were there. So I sat on the curb thinking about when Roger the Professor will finish his drawing for the linoleum firing cannon he promised to build for our War Games. Just as I was daydreaming of the War Games and how we can kick ass with the new cannon, I spot Henry Blackface, Reno the Greeks brother, walking towards me. We call Henry “Blackface” because he has shinny greased black hair and his face, well, is darker than the blacktop pavement covering some of the streets in our neighborhood.
As he gets closer to me I call out “Hey, Henry, what’s up? Where is your brother Reno, and the rest of the gang?” Henry shrugs his shoulders, puts out both hands and says. “I don’t know for sure. They may have gone to see that new Pirate movie at the Lido Theater on Columbia Street, or they may have gone to check out those old sneakers and shoes hanging on the electric wires all around the Red Hook Projects?” I say, “What, shoes hanging on a wire? What the Hell is that all about?” Henry sits next to me on the curb and says, “Yeah, there are shoes hanging all over the place. They tell me that a lot of kids and teenagers who moved into the new Red Hook Projects from there dilapidated tenements in the Bronx threw them up there. It turns out that they are mostly Puerto Rican families who can barely speak any English. The Puerto Rican Teenagers joined gangs in the Bronx and when they moved to Brooklyn they were still gang members.” I turn and say to him, “Okay, What do all these Puerto Rican gangs have to do with all these shoes?” Henry started laughing and said, “That’s the thing, there’s all these new gang members now living in the new Red Hook Projects so now they want us to know that the Projects belong to them.
That’s why they mark their territory by hanging the old shoes and sneakers on the electric street wires around the Projects. Now we have to be careful not to wonder into their territory because, the shoes on the electric wires mark the borders of their territory. If you happen to cross into their territory the PR gang members will ask you to pay a toll and if you don’t cough up the money they will kick your ass and take your shoes. “My shoes, what the Frigg is that all about?” “Well, if you have a nice pair of sneakers they will keep them for themselves. If your shoes are all worn out they will throw them on the electric wires as a territory marker.” I am really getting mad now, I face turns beat red. I put my fist in Henry’s face and say. “Holy shit, who in the Hell do they think they are? I want to kill these Bastards.”
Henry holds up his hand and says, “Calm down. They may stake out a territory in the Red Hook Projects but the stupid jerks don’t realize that they’re surrounded by Italians, Irish, Poles, Greeks and our Puerto Rican friends, like Six Fingers Ricardo Lopez and his family. That’s why my brother Reno, Pecker and Jimmy Pizza went over there to check out the hanging shoes around the Projects that they now call little Puerto Rico.” I start to laugh and say, “I get it, so when these jerks come out of the Projects, to shop for food, take a subway, go to a movie, or whatever we will pounce on them. If they don’t pay us to walk through our territory we will kick the shit out of them.” Henry says, “You’re right, The Italian teenagers are just as pissed off as you are. They put together a new gang with all our friends to fight these assholes. They call themselves, The Dukes, and our gang is called The Midgets. The older teenagers will do the fighting and we will help them get chains, bats, rocks, knives, zip guns or whatever they need to fight these guys.” I started thinking to myself, when in the Hell did all this happen?
I was just sitting here thinking about kids playing War games but these things that Henry Black face is talking will be a real War between the Puerto Ricans living in the Red Hook Projects and the Italians living in the neighborhoods around them. I have to go see these freaking hanging shoes for myself. I sat there all pumped up and ready for battle. But to tell you the truth I was scared too. This could be a real bloodbath. I think that Henry could see right through me. He could see that I was pissed off and scared at the same time when he said, “Forgetaboutit, don’t get your balls all twisted.
When these guys get back from scouting the Projects, we’ll have to have a pow-wow about all this shit. There’s nothing going on here right now so why don’t you come with me to the Library on Clinton Street. I want to get a book about Treasure Island.” I said okay, I got up from the curb and walked with Henry to the Library about four blocks away.
As we got closer to Clinton Street we see a group of young girls walking towards us with books in their arms. They are laughing and talking to each other and they looked so happy toting all these books home to read. I can’t believe that they could read all the books they are carrying. I have no interest in reading a book. I have to read history books when I’m in school because my teacher Miss Kent tells me to. Some people, like Black Face Henry, reads a book for fun, that’s why he’s so smart. He always gets high grades in all his subjects. I wish that I could be that smart too. That’s why I tag along with Henry to the Library because I hope that some of the reading he does will rub off on me. The girls with the books pass us and I turn and walk backwards next to Henry as I’m looking at them.
I ask Henry, “What’s the secret about reading a book? You seem to like it so much when for me reading is hard work. That’s why I never finish reading a book.” I’m still walking backwards next to Henry when he gives me a smile and says, “You know for me reading is like breathing I always thought that everybody can do it like I do. But my brother Reno has a hard time reading too. I tell him to go to the Library and look for a book with lots of pictures and pick a subject of fun stuff you like. The book could be about cars, trains, boats, animals, or anything that you would like to learn about. It’ll be like reading a comic book, because the subject doesn’t matter. That’s why I’m going to the Library today to get a storybook about Treasure Island. I like adventures any adventure spark my interest. I like Treasure Island so much I read it again and again, I love it.” I finally turn around and walk side by side next to Henry facing front and say, “Come on, how can, you love a book so much?” Henry’s eyes opened wide as he looked at me, “To me reading the book, Treasure Island is like going to a movie. No, it’s better than seeing a movie because I feel like I’m there sailing the high seas with pirate Captain Long John Silver and the young boy cook he saved from being killed, Jim Hawkins. They go off together like partners with a treasure map to find a hidden treasure on some island. They face all kinds of danger because the pirates want to kill them and keep the treasure for themselves. It’s a great story.” While Henry was telling me the Treasure Island story I felt like I was in the story with him. As we walked into the Library he told me that he reads every adventure story before he sees the movie because most of the time the book is better than the movie. Henry found his book and left me in the Library. I kept looking at all the books to see if I can find one that reads like a comic book. As I was going through the different books I noticed a funny thing, you know what? I don’t know why but I like the smell of all these books around me. I didn’t get the Treasure Island story book Henry talked about because it only had a few pictures in it. I’ll wait until I get better about reading books without to many pictures. So I got this book about ocean and river steam boats that has lots of colorful pictures in it. I hope that some day I can read a book like Henry does so I can see and feel the action in the adventure stories the way he can.