Somebody Else

(This is a pretty weak re-envisioning of a story. The POV changed from Closed 1st to Reminiscent 1st. Forgive me.)

It would be easy to say, “neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be” and leave it at that. But even when I was younger neighborhoods were already changing, becoming something other than what they used to be.

When I was fifteen, maybe sixteen, I was the last remaining member of the Shamrock Gang. We used to be tough, in the way that kids turned their bikes around when they saw use coming. Tough in the way that Moms used us as a threat to their children, like “Get home before dark or the Shamrock Gang will get you.” Real tough. Or so we thought. In truth, we were just some ambitionless punks who liked to fight.

I guess I shouldn’t say ambitionless, because I had ambitions. Big dreams. But they were in all of the wrong places. Like when I quit school. Just dropped it, like the way that priests give up sex or blind people give up sight. I didn’t need what school had to give me. Instead, I was going to be a writer. Not the kind of writer who scribbles the truth onto paper or seeks out new venues to expose the faults of humanity. I wanted to be a graffiti artist, tagging everything in sight with my name, Chato de Shamrock.

But the Shamrock Gang fell by the wayside as our neighborhood fell apart. The neighborhood was bought up by some Trucking company and as house after house was torn down, the families moved away across town. My father, in an act of bravery and stubbornness, the kind of which I didn’t think him capable, stood out on our front step holding an American flag. He wouldn’t sell the house, because it was his. His sweat had paid for it and that meant something. So our house remained, a sagging two-story that stood like a bastion amidst a sea of bulldozed holes. Pieces of the destroyed homes spotted our lawn like flotsam tossed onto the shore.

So I took up the banner of the Shamrock Gang, whatever banner there was left to carry. I wrote my name everywhere: on street signs, sidewalks, and storefronts. You name it, I tagged it. But there was another gang, one whose neighborhood hadn’t been bought up, that I had to look out for. Without the Shamrocks to keep them in check, the Sierra Street Gang had grown in size and area, which meant that we competed for tagging space. And since they were many and I was one, I tried to keep a low profile. Of course, I tagged over their name every chance I got, but I wasn’t looking for trouble. Really, I wasn’t looking for anything.

I look back now and realize that my whole “Rebel Without a Cause” act was just an attempt to keep the world from slipping away. My neighborhood had disappeared. My friends had moved away. So I went bad. But I went bad in the sort of way that called attention to my problems. On the day that I quit school, I still went to the Boys Club. It was a cry for help, for someone to tell me that they cared about me. Sure, my father had lamented my choice, but I couldn’t take him seriously because he lamented every choice I made. I see it all of the time in the kids I work with: they act out because they want and need the attention. They crave any sort of involvement, whether it’s positive or negative. And that was me back then, too. I didn’t care about any rivalry with the Sierra Street Gang. I cared about someone caring about me.

I had a long way to go (and a lot more names to write) before Chato de Shamrock could become Mr. Montoya.


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