We were beefing with these guys called the Puma Boys. It was 1976, and I lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and these guys were from my neighborhood. At that time I was running with a Rutland Road crew called the Cats, a bunch of Caribbean guys from nearby Crown Heights. We were a burglary team, and some of our gangster friends had an altercation with the Puma Boys, so we were going to the park to back them up. We normally didn’t deal with guns, but these were our friends, so we stole a bunch of shit: some pistols, a .357 Magnum, and a long M1 rifle with a bayonet attached from World War II. You never knew what you’d find when you broke into people’s houses.
So we’re walking through the streets holding our guns, and nobody runs up on us, no cops are around to stop us. We didn’t even have a bag to put the big rifle in, so we just took turns carrying it every few blocks.
“Yo, there he goes!” my friend Haitian Ron said. “The guy with the red Pumas and the red mock neck.”
When we started running, the huge crowd in the park opened up like Moses parting the Red Sea. It was a good thing they did, because, boom, one of my friends opened fire. Everybody scrambled when they heard the gun.
I realized that some of the Puma Boys had taken cover between the parked cars in the street. I had the M1 rifle, and I turned around quickly to see this big guy with his pistol pointed toward me.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he said to me. It was my older brother, Rodney. “Get the fuck out of here.”
I just kept walking and left the park and went home. I was 10 years old.
I often say that I was the bad seed in the family, but when I think about it, I was really a meek kid for most of my childhood. My first neighborhood was Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. It was a decent working-class neighborhood then. Everybody knew one another. Things were pretty normal, but they weren’t calm. Every Friday and Saturday, it was like Vegas in the house. My mom would have a card party and invite all her girlfriends, many of whom were in the vice business. She would send her boyfriend Eddie to buy a case of liquor, and they’d water it down and sell shots. My mom would cook some wings. My brother remembers that besides the hookers, there’d be gangsters, detectives. The whole gamut was there.
When I was just 7 years old, our world got turned upside down. There was a recession and my mom lost her job and we got evicted out of our nice apartment in Bed-Stuy. They came and took all our furniture and put it outside on the sidewalk. The three of us had to sit down on it and protect it so that nobody took it while my mother went to find a spot for us to stay.
We wound up in Brownsville. You could totally feel the difference. It was a very horrific, tough, and gruesome kind of place. Cops were always driving by with their sirens on; ambulances always coming to pick up somebody; guns always going off, people getting stabbed, windows being broken. We used to watch these guys shooting it out with one another. It was like something out of an old Edward G. Robinson movie. We would watch and say, “Wow, this is happening in real life.”
My mother would do whatever she had to do to keep a roof over our heads. That often meant sleeping with someone that she really didn’t care for. That was just the way it was.
By then, I was going to public school and that was a nightmare. I was a pudgy kid, very shy, almost effeminate-shy, and I spoke with a lisp. Sometimes my mother would be passed out from drinking the night before and wouldn’t walk me to school. It was then that the kids would always hit me and kick me. We would go to school and these people would pick on us, then we would go home and they’d pull out guns and rob us for whatever little change we had. That was hard-core, young kids robbing us right in our own apartment building.
Having to wear glasses in the first grade was a real turning point in my life. My mother had me tested, and it turned out I was nearsighted, so she made me get glasses. They were so bad. One day I was leaving school at lunchtime to go home and I had some meatballs from the cafeteria wrapped up in aluminum to keep them hot. This guy came up to me and said, “Hey, you got any money?” I said, “No.” He started picking my pockets and searching me, and he tried to take my fucking meatballs. I was resisting, going, “No, no, no!” I would let the bullies take my money, but I never let them take my food. I was hunched over like a human shield, protecting my meatballs. So he started hitting me in the head and then took my glasses and put them down the gas tank of a truck. I ran home, but he didn’t get my meatballs. I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. That’s a wild feeling, being that helpless. You never ever forget that feeling. That was the last day I went to school. I was 7 years old, and I just never went back to class.