From almost the very first day that I was able to discern the nuances of speech and language, I was cautioned against going on 7th Street at night, especially a Friday night. During the day, 7th Street, it seemed, was no different than 6th Street where I stayed, but on the weekend, something or someone—the devil, perhaps—shook 7th Street up until it vomited, throwing up all the bitterness and anger of helpless niggas trapped in a maze of hopelessness.
For nine long years, I had dutifully stayed away, running into the house like a good boy when the street lights came on, knowing that what would come next would be the scream of the police sirens and the blaring horns of the ambulance. And one Friday night, just like that, I was ready to trade away all the shit i knew to be true from books for everything I didn’t know about 7th Street.
Knowing better than to attempt to enlist any of the other pee-wees on the block to join in this caper, I made up my mind to slip out of the house on an adventure to see what all the fuss was about on 7th Street.
The one thing I didn’t truly appreciate knowing was the fact that I would get my ass kicked if I got caught, but I naturally assumed that I could pull it off. This should pose no more of a problem than any of the other shit I was able to accomplish once I set my mind to it.
The first issue was getting out of the house. This was only a minor glitch because all the fuck I had to do would be to wait until everyone was fast asleep and then just walk out of the motherfucking front door! Everything that came next, I would simply play by ear.
I was ready to leave a lot sooner than I thought wise so I forced himself to stay in bed for thirty extra minutes. Why take chances? I had to admit that waiting was like a monkey on my back and I tossed and turned, as restless and as impatient as a dope-fiend anticipating his next fix. I fought this unrelenting war with time until I heard some gentle snoring coming from my mother. That was my cue and I was up and dressed in a flash. I tip-toed out of the bedroom where me, my mother, grandmother, and sister all slept, and danced through the shadows that crept in from the outside, cast upon the walls by the streetlight just outside the window.
At the front door, I realized that my hands were sweaty and pondered briefly just how unglamorous it would be to get beat with an electrical cord, but the chances of me aborting the mission was minimal. This was my very first do-or-die moment and I was facing it down like a true champ. I opened the door and stared at a night as black and as dark as a piece of the coal Mama used in the pot-bellied stove that warmed the crib.
Dashing across one side of Sixth Street to the other, I ran through my aunt’s backyard and hit the alley in full stride, but slowed down because there were no streetlights on the backsides of the alley just above where my half-sisters, Bee and Cee, lived with their Mama. Coming around the corner by Anna Margaret’s house, I paused to catch my breath and considered knocking on the window of Bee and Cee’s room to scare the shit out of them, but remembered that I was not out to play no pranks, so I kept it moving.
Barely able to see, I kept my fears to himself and raced towards the light in the backyard of the Egg-Man whose son, Arthur, would later become a city councilman. Although I was basically just around the corner from home, the darkness made it seem like he was a million miles away, but I refused to let it get to me. I dug into the blackness like a human mole and when I made it to Wilhemena’s, my childhood sweetheart’s, back door, my braveness had returned. I eased down the alley and turned up just a few feet from where Myers Street connected to 7th Street like a crooked, black snake.
Feeling like I was treading dirty water, I positioned himself between the pool room on the corner and the house next door. This was it! When I stuck his head around the corner of the pool room, what I saw transfixed me. 7th Street was both heaven and hell. As far down the block as I could see, it was a beehive of activity where all the pretty people were bathed in a devilish, red glow.
I tried to cancel what I was seeing, but there it was right before my eyes. Niggas getting out of Cadillacs with women on their arms as beautiful as the Queen of Sheba. Gold teeth and diamonds sparkled in the eerie red haze like a thousand crescent moons. Niggas and bitches had on clothes that made the Sunday-go-to-meeting gear the church folks at Little Rock wore seem like tattered rags. I had never before experienced such pageantry and I watched in wide-eyed awe as the Sugar Shack filled with these patrons of the street life.
As it became more and more difficult to believe what I was seeing, I spied my cousin George in the crowd, eager to prove he was an authority on everything that went down on 7th Street. It was like George had been tricking me all these years. Now, I had, at last, finally stumbled upon the mystery of why my cousin was so cool. He was one of them! Even though I was dressed like a pauper, when I saw George, I no longer felt like an accidental tourist. I felt I would one day belong here, would one day rule here.
One second later, I almost choked on my own excitement when a big, black nigga stepped out of his ride and I saw the gun in the man’s waistband. This was the first real gun I had ever seen and even from a distance, I could sense the immense power of the weapon. Fuck typewriters. Fuck books. I wanted a gun!
Satisfied that I had been enough of a witness to my own rebirth, I trudged back through the darkness towards home. Now, I understood why the adults didn’t want me or any of the other kids to see 7th Street after dark. It would demonstrate to us just how emasculated and poor we really were. More importantly, it would prove beyond a doubt that there was an option to being black and penniless. That night I learned a lot and the evidence was hard to refute.
All my life, I had watched the few men in First Ward come home from work, day after day, tired and beat, from working on some white man’s job. All they could do would be to eat, take a bath, and get ready to go to work the next day. None of these hard-working men had shit. They worked but never got ahead. None of them had fine clothes or a fancy car. None of them possessed a diamond ring or a custom-made walking cane. In fact, working only seemed to make them poorer….and sadder.
I closed my eyes, projecting myself into all the tomorrows of my existence and decided that there was no financial value in working for a living. Instead, I would hustle since hustlers were the only black people that had money and fun. Plus, I didn’t want to spend the whole of my sexual career, once it started, making love to lesser women when Queen of Sheba bitches were available to a nigga who got down the hard way.
When I returned to my block, I could more easily see how the wood, stick houses rose up from the dead earth like a row of tombs on a one way street. No one deserved to live like this. And one day, I wouldn’t.