Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Street Theater


We never go out after dark.

Whenever I visit my girlfriend in the Bronx, I always plan on staying in.

It's a simple set-up. She cooks a fabulous meal while I hog the remote and HBOverdose on all the movies coming out the TV.

We've never formally declared that we won't leave the building until sunrise, but that's how things work out. The neighborhood around Pelham Parkway is not the safest place in town and frankly there's not a hell of a lot to do...except get into trouble.

I’ve almost gotten used to the blasting boom boxes, roaring motorcycles, screaming sirens, shouting from the street at all times of the night, and the regular rumble of the No. 2 train clattering on the elevated tracks just two blocks away.

I can tolerate the noise, but only from the safety of my girlfriend's apartment, and an incident this past weekend really brought that point home, so to speak.

On Saturday we had gone to see “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage’s haunting play that takes place at a brothel in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The characters in this Pulitzer-prize winning drama are at the mercy of gun-toting thugs who consider themselves soldiers fighting for "the people."

The madam who runs the brothel likes to think her place is a sanctuary from all the surrounding insanity, but she and the other characters learn a hard lesson when they run afoul of a brutal army officer.

After eating dinner a few blocks from the theater, we left Broadway and chugged up to the Bronx, where I took my usual spot in front of the TV and started watching “Street Kings,” a film about corrupt L.A. cops with Keneau Reeves and Forest Whitaker.

At some point during the movie, I heard loud voices rising up from the street. The local lowlifes like hanging out in front of my girlfriend’s building, even though I doubt any of them actually live there.

The racket is nothing new to this neighborhood so I didn't pay it any mind. But the noise got louder. And louder still. And more voices chimed in, urgent and angry.

While Reeves and Whitaker were bashing each other onscreen in the movie's climactic fistfight, my girlfriend peered through the blinds at the mayhem happening live two stories down.

“Rob,” she said, “there’s a fight going on.”

I knew I should get up and take a look, but I was kind of into the movie. Plus people are yelling and fighting around her building all the time. It’s hardly breaking news.

But it bothers me now to think that I was so numbed by the constant noise and so mesmerized by the TV violence that I had no interest in the real thing.

Finally, car horns started blaring and I got off my rear end and looked out the window. A group of young men were circling two African-American teenagers in the street who were beating the living crap of each other.

They were both bare-chested and one held his opponent by the neck while he threw a series of looping right hands into the other kid's face.

This was nothing like a movie fight scene. No slow motion spin kicks, no spectacular judo throws or fancy boxing footwork. This was just brutality.

And while these kids were in the street, they were anything but kings. They were the lowest of the low: poor, uneducated, with little hope of ever getting out of the Bronx.

The fighters moved out of our line of vision and so we went to the next window. I heard more yelling, the group apparently separated the two kids, and then I saw one of them being held back by another young guy.

Fuck you, nigger!” The kid shouted.

I looked at the shocked faces of people hanging out at an all-night bodega on the corner. They looked like ordinary people trying to enjoy the last weekend of summer before a small-scale riot erupted right before their eyes.

The crowd slowly broke up as things settled down, people walked away, and traffic started up again. I didn't see any sign of the police.

Is it even worth asking what they were fighting about? Some imagined insult, the wrong look, someone brushed against somebody else without apologizing--what difference does it make?

My girlfriend compared the bunch outside to warring tribes in New Guinea, though I'm thinking of bloodthirsty soldiers in the Congo.

She said there would probably be a revenge attack the next night, but things were relatively quiet for the rest of the weekend. It doesn't matter, though. Somebody else will be fighting there for some other reason soon enough.

I've always hated the end of summer. When I was a kid it meant I was going back to school and now that I'm an adult it means I'm going back to freezing my keester off in just a few painfully short months.

I hate watching my tan fade, I hate watching the days grow shorter and colder. I hate being stranded in my home because of snow, freezing winds, and subzero temperatures.

I'm a native New Yorker, but I can't stand cold weather and every year I vow that I'll never spend another winter here again. And yet I'm still here.

My girlfriend, though, is looking forward to the winter. That's impossible for me to imagine--you welcome all that misery?--but then I'm just a tourist visiting her neighborhood; I don't live there.

She says that the cold winds will drive the mutts indoors. The street kings will have to get off the corners and take their boom boxes and their brawls with them.

Maybe so. But even if they do, we still won't go out at night.

1 comment:

BestViewInBrooklyn said...

Real violence is always a lot less impressive and a lot more disturbing than the movies. I can't watch much of it on tv or film anyway, but in real life it's stomach-churning. Now that I'm a parent, I dread the day my son receives or gives that kind of punishment. If it's my daughter, I'll be even more horrified.