Sunday, January 29, 2006

There were exactly 17 cement steps between my front door and short yellow school bus that picked me up at the curb in front of my house every morning. The first four were covered in the same grayish waterproof paint as the fllor of the porch with the wooden chair swing and potted plants. The next five continued halfway down the small hill between my house and the street, to a perpendicular walkway. Turn left on the flat walkway. Go a few feet. Turn 360 degrees and go down the final eight. Turn right and step off the curb. It’s confusing , I know.

The short yellow bus didn’t stop right in front of each of our houses because we were stupid, it was because at that time the city school district had decided to bus kids from one neighborhood to schools all the way across town in in the hopes that they would mix social classes, races and ensure a good education for all. The plan inevitably failed when all the middle class whites moved a few miles down the road to the suburbs, but for four tumultuous years I took the 20 minutes bus ride into the heart of the city to a school where no one was allowed to go outside on the day of the Rodney King verdict for fear of a riot, where if the doors weren’t locked, disgruntled husbands chased their wives into the gym brandishing a kitchen knife, and where you had to carry around everything of value in a fanny pack because anything left in your backpack in the hallway (say a giant stack of your Favorite X-men trading cards) was fair game for 6-10 year old thugs.


It was there I got my first black eye. One day I just had to reach out and touch Dante's hair. Dante was black and I could't resist the curiosuty to see what his hair felt like because, compared to the wavy mop on top of my head it looked really cool. It was on that playgroupd where I learned that sperm don’t magically fly from a dad late at night to the mom’s uterus, a fact that the health book they let us read in class had conveniently left out.

Back then I was bigger for my age and I had some street cred. Atumble down those very same 17 cement steps left me with a cracked baby tooth and my dentist decided to cap the thing with a shiny silver cover. It was just far enough back in the left side of my mouth that you could only see it when I flashed one of my brilliantly wide smiles and I remember crying for hours when my real teeth began to come in and it finally fell out.

I drive by the house raised up on the hill every once in a while. I wonder what the little kid would think of me now. An idiot with a car and a few guitars and a queen size bed and a part-time job at a newspaper. He’d probably marvel at how far I’d come from riding the short bus. But I, of course, know better.

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