By: kmarulis

Mar 23 2010

Category: 1

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In our New York City housing project, and in the little playground hangout of a group of kids known as the Eastchester Juniors, everybody called him Wally. Of course, when considering the economic poor and sometimes rough subculture of our everyday reality, almost everyone in our group of fifty(give or take) had a nickname. Mine was Kenny Goon. There was Johnny Bone, Mama Hilbert, Bug Eyes, Chinky, and the great Eddie the One Armed Bandit (thalidomide).

Names like these were given for all sorts of reasons with the chief reasoning being that the individual had a physical oddity or a personality quirk. I always considered the anointed and so named to be recipients of affection. Even if your moniker had it’s foundation based on personal derision, to have one meant you had acquired an acceptance into the gang and you thus became an appreciated color in our group‘s montage.

Wally, not his real name, was also called Wally Gator. Or just Gator. Also Wylie Coyote.

Wally’s family, I do believe, were part of the southern Negro great migration northward and his parents and siblings were endowed with elaborate names of their own. Wally’s father was named Sunshine and his mother was named Pinky. He had a brother Sherman and a cute sister named Edwina and a little brother named Anacin. There were others in his family but my memory fails when trying to recollect their names.

You should know, dear reader, that sometimes there was a violence produced by those streets and hierarchy was sometimes determined by a person’s ability to fight and to show courage. You didn’t have to be the biggest and the strongest but if you bravely fought when you were sure to lose, then you gained the respect of your peers. It also helped your social standing if fighting made you go crazy. Foaming at the mouth was worth much and would gain you instant gratification.

Wally though, wasn’t much of a fighter. He was slight and of moderate height and his physical strength wouldn’t be worth mentioning, even for these purposes.

Wally had courage. I wanted to mention that fact here, for that is the impetus of this story. To pay homage to an old friend and to send his name out into a world where it has long since been forgotten.

In those days we used to slither on over to various construction sites to steal their lumber. It wasn’t unusual to see a dozen young guys running down those streets carrying construction materials. Our purpose in those escapades was to get enough wood to build a shack in a vacant lot and thereby have a place to bring girls, drink, plot mayhem, and to be shielded from the prying eyes of the police and other authoritative types. We burnt a couple of them when we got crazy but loved our shacks and we built more than a few.

Idle hands, when possessed by youth, can create situations with nefarious results. Summertime breeds not only the mosquito but also testosterone induced dreams of glory in the minds of young guys with nothing to do. Such is the beginning of this story about Wylie (The Gator) Charles.

Me and Wally were hanging out at one of our shacks with not much to do when someone produced a six foot long bullwhip. Well, me and Wally took to that bullwhip like flies to shit. I mean to say that we got good. We could flick over a dime or take a cigarette from someone’s mouth and pluck berries from a tree. We were fast with that whip and we were good. I’m not sure, but I’d guess that to this day, some forty five years later, I could still swing a six foot bullwhip with at least a small amount of accuracy and speed.

There was a point though, that my interest waned and I put aside that whip for newfound interests. Wally, unbeknownst to me, continued on and became even more proficient in its usage.

As we were wont to do on warm summer days, we would sometimes lounge under a shade tree that sat alongside a busy traffic light that was situated on a very busy road. One day, as we idly lounged under that tree like a pride of lions, a group of pretty girls showed up at that red light and we immediately engaged them in the New York sport of social interaction between the sexes. Mating sounds came from our lips and the sincerity of “baby I love you” and “what are you doing tonight?” was uttered in all due romantic respect. Forthright we were, but respectful too. In our eyes, we had done nothing wrong and had only expressed an interest in those lovely young things. Naïve we were.

As lions, we lazily bellowed our love calls and when the light turned green our attention returned to our conversations and our surroundings.

Unknown to us our entreats to those girls had struck a raw nerve within the ranks of another pride of lions from a particularly tough by reputation neighborhood and soon afterwards a group of guys show up and forcefully disembarked from the innards of a beautiful 1963 Chevy. Obviously agitated and being led on by an oversized muscle-bound lout, these guys approached us expressing their displeasure over our supposed disrespect towards their women.

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx had a fearsome fighting reputation and these guys obviously intended to capitalize on that name when the big lout informed us, with much intended intimidation that they were from Arthur Avenue and that they will be back that very evening with an even larger group of guys to kick our ass.

Well, little skinny Wally takes umbrage to this insult and reaches inside a paper sack that he always carried with him. ”Why wait tonight?” says Wally, and out comes the Bullwhip.

Wally lets loose on that big guy who immediately becomes enraged and charges headlong, hoping to circumvent that nasty strand of flicking leather and get his hands on the Gator. Wally, in response begins backpedaling, all the while snapping away ferociously with that whip. Needless to say, eventually it is the big guy who is backpedaling and it is Wally who is in hot pursuit.

In the meantime we attack the rest of that group who, sensing the fate of their leader and realizing the beating they are about to receive, retreat in all due haste. A few of them have the wherewithal to sprint away across that busy street but one poor soul makes the mistake of going into that beautiful Chevy to get a tire iron for use as a weapon. I remember disarming him and then, forgive me, putting it towards it’s most immediate useful purpose. I can still remember his screech.

In all due logic for that moment, we continued on to our next dutiful task as we proceeded to dismantle that beautiful 1963 Chevy with it’s lone terrified occupant screaming inside. As Robert DiNiro said in the movie Raging Bull, “That car wasn’t pretty no more”.

Our defensive maneuver complete, our fighting force scattered for a few days only to wait for the police department’s interest to die down.

We never heard from the boys from Arthur Avenue again but that evening the cops showed up looking for the “black guy” and pulled another friend of ours off the corner who happened to share Gator’s pigmentation. The cops would do that in those days. They’d come by and pick someone off the corner, take him somewhere and beat the shit out of him and then, if he fought back, they’d charge him with assault.

Well, Wally had courage and Wally was a good guy but as it so often happened in my neighborhood, Wally succumbed to heroin addiction and did a bunch of jail time. The last I heard, Wally had gotten into a fight over drugs with another good friend and stabbed him in the stomach. Instances like that were always kept between friends and I don’t think Wally ever served any time over that.

Wally eventually died of a drug overdose.

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