Parked cars lined both sides of North 4th street where Mrs. Hobson lived. I parked underneath a stop sign, which was probably illegal. There’s a silver lining in a city with a stressed police department. They don’t have time for minor infractions. Kendu double parked, keeping his corvette in reach.
The front door opened before we rung the bell. Mrs. Hobson, at 70 plus years of age, was as cute as she was tiny. Her glasses brushed against my cheek as I kissed hers. I held her gaze for a few sympathetic heartbeats. I moved aside so Joe and Kendu could give their embrace.
Kanique appeared behind his mom, a pleasant surprise. He followed his mom out onto the sidewalk. I hadn’t seen him in years, and it was 100 percent his fault, since he seldom replied to my texts. (This would be a running gag for much of our conversation.)
Kanique had been growing dreadlocks for over twenty years. When he untied them, they unraveled nearly touching the ground. The once nuisance kid now had graying edges. We’d come a long way. While Kanique, Joe and Kendu reacquainted, I slid Mrs. Hobson the donation filled envelope.
“This block is crazy. There were nine murders on this block in one year making it the most dangerous block in the country, like that something to be proud of,” Kanique said.
When he said it, I wanted to google it just to see if it was true but didn’t. After hearing that, I was inclined to usher Mrs. Hobson upstairs with the money, but I caught myself. No one was going to mess with her on her own block.
In the house diagonally across from where we stood, long before Kanique and his mom moved on the block, long before it was so murderous, was where I hung out with my cousins.
Nostalgia ushered in images of me playing Tops in the street, watching my uncle Kenny play dice in his backyard. The neighborhood was familiar yet foreign. I thought about my joke about Honduras and its violence. The Honduran would say “And you were talking shit about us?”
An easy argument could be made that a young Rich was a wildcat, especially since he served time in prison. I vividly remember sidestepping the splattered blood on the sidewalk below the steps leading to my front porch. Our apartment shared a balcony with three other apartments, one of which Earl Smith lived.
Once tall, thick-fisted and vigorous, Earl’s vitality had been drained by a machete-yielding Rich, stabbed in his torso. Earl’s future was in divine hands, while Rich’s future was in the hands of district attorney.
Would the charges be murder or attempted murder? The gavel awaited. After weeks of being unconscious, Earl emerged from his coma.
Could it be that Rich was born to be a combatant? I googled Rich’s birthdate. Apparently, he came into being during a time of vehement protest according to the NY Times:
“Gangs of Negroes were throwing pipe bombs and stones again at anyone who dared to enter their neighborhood.” Mayor Frank X. Graves (Paterson’s Mayor) had promised to counter violence with violence. He banned public gatherings in the densely populated Negro neighborhoods in order to contain what he called “the worst hoodlums that man has ever conceived. “He personally arrested a Negro man in the act of throwing a bottle at an automobile. The protest was a reaction against inferior housing, jobs, and education.
Crazy times breed crazy people, I always say.
In my mind, before meditation, the predominant images of the sixties were of police blasting firehoses at Black men and using German Shepherds to attack those protesting for civil rights. Thanks to Rich and meditation I have discarded that particular image of the German Shepherd.
The fiercely loyal German Shepherd is believed to be unparalleled when it comes to its guarding instincts. Rich’s Shepherd Bull, who has an honorable mention in Lighten UP, was our gatekeeper. Bull got loose often and attacked trespassers of our block. This kept miscreants, hustlers, thugs, dealers, bullies, and bastards at bay, thereby keeping us safe.
The Pit was a dead-end street, where me and my boys would go from chasing each other to pursuing higher goals. We formed bonds as tight as the curls on our peezy heads, safeguarded from the shitstorm swirling around us while we played Freeze Tag in its eye. Under the watchful eyes of our Shepherd, Joe, Kendu, myself and many others profited. For that I am eternally grateful to Richard and the Hobson family.
For my Patersonian brethren who never got a chance to cast sail. I laugh for you, I bow to you. I say Aloha, Namaste, and salute you with an enduring bow.