The Broadway Squad pt I
One picture and one story a day is the mission. I fell asleep yesterday before I could post, so I skipped a day. It happens sometimes. I will pick up where I left off. Today's picture is a self portrait. The story is a kind of self portrait as well.
At Dave's supermarket, I had fallen in with the wrong crowd. It was Vincent Black, Jeff Miloro, Dodi Workman, Allen Clark, Andre Franklin, and eventually Sharon Dickey. This lovely bunch of misfit nerds was the wrong crowd because they made it nearly impossible for me to get laid. Vince was the handsome one. He was tall, blonde, and born of German stock. He enamored all the ladies, even my mom, who used to say, "That friend of yours is really handsome." Jeff was slightly older than us. He had a Tom Sellick mustache and long hair. I think he may have even had a mullet for a while. He was the one who introduced the group to dungeons and dragons, which we often played at his parents' house. Every Christmas, his mom would bake thousands of cookies. I must have eaten a few hundred at least. Dodi Workman was the smartest of us. She had the best grades and the best hope of getting out of our shitty neighborhood. She could read at a breakneck pace and went through more books in a week than I could read in a year. She was also deeply into black culture, much to the ire of her father. I loved her wit and burning insults. If she chose to, she could roast a person alive till there was nothing left after her verbal onslaught but ash and bone. I loved her romantically, for a time, but was afraid of ruining our friendship, which had been my life line. Allen Clark was the goth of the group. To this day, I am not sure, but I think one of his parents was Mexican. He loved vampire lore and even became a vampire once with the help of a heroic amount of booze. His favorite movie was Lost Boys, and his favorite bands were Bauhaus and Love & Rockets, which also became one of my favorites. Andre Franklin was the happiest of the group. He had a great big, dimpled smile and love to laugh. It seemed like no matter how tough things got, Andre would always be the one to shrug it off and roll as best he could. He was the first to leave the neighborhood by way of the military. He was Dodi's crush for a long while, which violently pissed her father off when he saw the two of them walking home from school one day. Later, Sharon Dicky became part of the squad. She was a 5ft cheerleader who was goofy as hell. That is probably why I fell for her. She loved telling dad jokes, the cornier the better. For a time, she also loved to laugh just like Andre. For a few glorious months, she was my girlfriend until it all went down in a fiery wreck. All these years later, she still makes laugh (online).
That was the crew. We were inseparable for years. I loved those guys so much, every single last one of them. Although my bandmate Johnny and a few other people I knew were cool to hang out with, I felt an immensely deep connection to the Broadway Squad. I am calling us that now because we all lived on or near Broadway avenue. I don't know why this particular group of folks was special. Maybe it was the way we could have discussions about everything from the nature of the universe to something as mundane as ants. When I told stories or shared poetry, they never gave me the look that other people often gave. The one that says, "What do I do? Ok smile. Nod. Say something encouraging. Now make an excuse and leave." When I was with them, I never felt the need to act cool or pretend to be anything. I was 100% pure me.
Marvin, Jamal, Robert, Malik and the kids I used to hang out with on my side of the bridge didn't get it and often called me strange. I had to censor myself and act cool by reducing my comments to minimal sentences instead of long colorful descriptions. I had to inflate my machismo and tone down anything that would betray that. We talked mostly about girls and absolutely no one wanted to know about Gandalf. "What the hell are you talking about? Don't nobody want to hear that shit." was the typical response I got to most of the topics I brought up. There was one really cool kid who I used to love hanging out with for a bit. He was into fashion, music, and creativity. He didn't mind hearing about a poem I had read or a book I was into. He never made fun of me for being odd. I looked up to him and wanted to emulate him and his friends because they had a swagger that we nerds never had. Unfortunately, I stopped hanging around with him when he started talking about selling crack to finance his dream of opening a barbershop. He was the go-to guy in the hood if you needed a lineup, a fade, or to tighten your do. We all knew that if he could open a barbershop, he would make big money because he was genius-level good at making us look good. I tried to talk him out of becoming a crack dealer. The epidemic was decimating the black community. I saw it as pure evil and urged my friend not to do it. Selling drugs was the only way he could imagine getting the money he needed to open his shop. I didn't want anything to do with that world, so I stopped hanging out.
The Broadway Squad was my new home. We were a collective of imaginative people who were all scarred by abrasive poverty and the nature of our environs. We also shared a feeling of alienness. That's how it seemed to me, anyway. My current friend, Atchan, often says that I project my values on others. Maybe I was doing that with these guys, but I don't think so. Each of us had a feeling of not belonging to the places we were born into. I lived halfway between the world of the real and the world of imagination. I loved the strange, colorful, unexplainable, and impossible. Hobbits, trolls, magic, and mystery fascinated me to no end. I wasn't the only misfit in the squad.
Vince was a deeply closeted gay kid who had been taught by the church he loved that homosexuality was a sin. His greatest dream was to become a Catholic priest, but he left seminary school after questioning some of their ideals. Vince lived in denial of his sexuality for a very long time. He even kept it hidden from the squad. He eventually confessed to me one night, after telling me on several occasions, "remind me to tell you something about myself." One night, he had dropped off everyone after partying at the local nightclub. I was the last one to be taken home. On the way, something made me remember to ask him about the thing he wanted to tell me. Like an idiot, I laughed and said, "Wait, wait, wait, let me guess, you're gay, right?" I said it as a joke and laughed my head off until I saw the look on his face that said he was serious. I spent the days afterward waiting for Vince to laugh at me because I fell for his prank. The moment never came. His confession was real, but it wasn't a proclamation of some burning love he had for me. It was a sigh of relief at not being alone anymore. He had the burden of a secret he could finally share with someone else. It was a symbol of trust. He made me swear never to tell anyone. No matter how much I really wanted to report to the squad, I kept my mouth shut.
…To be continued