It’s no game, Worcester!
By Rosalie Tirella
So there I was, a few nights ago, the moonlight shining down so prettily on me and my two dogs, Lilac and Jett, the three of us sitting in my parked jalopy, waiting for a friend to bring us some gasoline because I had run out of gas in one of Worcester’s dicier inner-city neighborhoods. AGAIN. During a summer when every other person in Worcester seems to be carrying a gun and using it at the slightest provocation! Why, just a few days ago, an off-duty Boston cop, out of uniform, spied a guy causally walking around our downtown, a gun jutting out of his pants waistband. In broad daylight! By our Main Street – the once commercial hub of our fair city! Like it was the most natural thing in the world to do – walk around Worcester with a gun sticking out of your pants! The off-duty cop followed the guy to the Worcester Public Library where he saw the man hide the gun, the weapon, the evidence??? behind a book, among all the other books on the shelves of our public library, the place where our kids go to check out books to read for their school summer reading assignments, the public place where adults research job opportunities on line or plan a family vacation … . A gun, a symbol of mayhem and death, hidden within a community’s library, the penultimate symbol of immigrant aspirations, American opportunity. After the guy hid his gun, he went to the library’s computer area, where I sometimes sit to work on InCity Times! He sat down at one of the computers to … do what? Catch up on world news? Check his email? Post something on his Facebook page? Yo! These Worcester homeys are sooo stupid!
Why just yesterday as I was getting out of my car, a sleek, new, sporty Honda drove by me and the young man in it, looking at my ass, pretended his hand was a gun and pointed his index finger, his trigger finger, at my ass, and pulled “the trigger,” with his thumb.
POW! POW! The middle-aged white lady is dead! Ha ha ha!
I saw what he did and stared at him, my eyes narrowed, lips tightly drawn, as if to say: I am trying to remember your face. No impact whatsoever. He drove by me, with casual impunity, ZERO embarrassment or remorse. Only boldness and arrogance. The streets were his! he was telling me! I can do whatever I want, lady!
Trust me! These guys are not interested in playing hoops with officers from the Worcester Police Department gang unit. They have bigger and more exciting games to play! And Worcester is their personal Monopoly game board! And we are all their game board pieces!: the tiny silver baby shoe, the teeny old silver iron (that’s me!), the silver highland terrier dog (Jett?) – all puny, disposable toys – easy to manipulate, easy to lose. Roll the dice! Move your piece! Oops! Did you land in the GO TO JAIL space? Well, wait a few rounds and you will be dealt a GET OF JAIL FREE game card!
With these feelings/experiences in the back of my mind I sat in the front of my car (the dogs were on the rear seat) in this once desirable Worcester neighborhood, with its once glorious Victorians whose big trees in their front yards once created the most pleasant, coolest shade to walk through on your way to the corner store to meet friends … there I was, with six month old puppy Lilac and my handsome husky mix Jett, scared shitless.
I looked out my car window and saw a kid walking by with a long canvas case with a big strap across his skinny shoulder. It was dark but the street light illuminated him. What could a long, funny-looking, triangle-shaped case like that hold? I asked myself and answered: a rifle, a long gun, a machete, a bow and arrow. The kid walked by my car cooly, calmly, heading to wherever he was going that night.
FUCK! I muttered under my breath, feeling our unsafeness, when I so longed to feel the softness of my bed!, Lilac’s skinny little body all wiggly and squirmy under my hands – wiggles of joy! – as I patted her and played with her after dinner.
Dogs, if they are treated well by their owners, are always upbeat, anticipating some new, fun adventure at every turn, their mouths slightly open, in that easy, friendly doggy smile that says HELLO, WORLD! Jett and Lilac, now roused from their slumber, were up and wagging their tails and “smiling” that doggy smile.
I knew better.
FUCK! I said to myself, face to face with not another adventure (my dogs’ point of view) but a misadventure (Rosalie’s p.o.v.) – another hour literally ON THE ROAD in the hood. At the side of the road, to be more precise. In this once beautiful Worcester neighborhood that is not so much poor now (who cares about that?) as violent and drug-riddled.
For instance, the Worcester inner-city school where I used to walk Jett, is a five minute drive from where I was parked. The school has been crazy with kids and their toy guns – its windows sprayed with bb gun bullets all summer long! Several of its big windows sporting the large, sprawling spider web cracks that the bullets made. Each time I visited with Jett, we seemed to be in the middle of another “incident,” but I, stupidly, ignored the bb guns and bullets and the police, firemen who would be at the school, safeguarding the building, looking for the person who’d broken into the school, fired the guns. The school’s alarm would be blaring. No matter. Jett and I blithely walked around the school grounds as Worcester Fire Department trucks, sometimes as many as three, were parked outside the school, their big engines idling noisily and the police entered the building, their faces grim. I’d give them a little wave, and Jett and I would carry on, take our little walk. The perp may have been in the building, he may have had a gun, but the cops had their guns, too! Probably bigger ones! Plus the firemen were at the site! Jett and I could not be any safer!, I told myself.
In a few weeks, neighborhood kids will be walking down this Worcester public school’s freshly polished corridors, heading to their classrooms to meet their new teachers and begin a new school year. They will be oblivious to the fact that their school was shot up over and over and over again during summer vacation.
I had actually been OK with all of this. There is so much gun play going around town these days you get a little desensitized to the violence – not as intensely as the thugs who perpetrate it, but a little bit. Just around the edges, just enough to be able to continue living in and running your life in Worcester’s urban core.
But a few weeks ago, when I was at the school walking Jett, things changed for me. I watched as a teen came nonchalantly before me and Jett and leapt up and scaled the building’s fire escape. Then holding on to what looked like the building’s security camera, he jumped onto the school’s roof and walked out of sight. He did all of this in front of me, in a matter of seconds, with the athletic ease of youth. There were no breaks in his fluid moves. He had dismissed me straight away, a boring, white, middle-aged lady walking her dog, and had no interest in the school’s obvious attractions for most youth, courtesy of the City of Worcester: great basketball courts, a big beautiful green soccer field, a huge kiddy playground with slides and swings nearby. Nope. This young man had other attractions tugging at him at this school, now closed for the summer.
Holding my breath I tried to look just as nonchalant as he did, all the while thinking FUCK, FUCK and dragging a stubborn Jett ( he had not been properly walked and didn’t want to leave!) back to my car. I put Jett in, hopped in after him and drove off … never again to return to the school, where my dog and I had spent many a pleasant afternoons, me chatting with the kids about Jett. They’d jump off their bikes to pat him and ask: Wolf?! I’d smile and say: No! Just Jett – he’s half Siberian husky! And they’d stroke Jett, so curious, and look at his two different colored eyes (one is brown, the other blue) and ask: Is he blind?
So many good kids playing on the school grounds of this beautiful Worcester Public School! Having fun only the way kids can have fun because their summers are as young as they are and their sprints, tumbles, leaps are wrapped in youngness! They ride their bikes lickety split down the pavement or jump off their bikes to land on the green grass, grinning at each other … Everything physical comes so naturally to them! They break out into a run or jog when they’re walking! Just for the hell of it! They were so beautiful to watch! A delight to this middle aged broad’s soul.
Not anymore. I drive by the school often. I don’t see hardly any kids playing soccer or riding their bikes or running on the grass. The huge kiddy playground, sometimes filled with as many as 50 or 60 kids and their parents, looks pretty deserted these days. And as for me and Jett (and now Lilac), we are walking in new places these days.
FUCK! I said again, as I reached for my cell phone to call my friend to ask him to bring me some gas cuz I had run out in the hood.
My cell phone had gone dead. I remembered just then that I had forgotten to charge it the night before.
FUCK! I shouted, but not too loudly because I was in the ‘hood and didn’t want to disturb the hoods in the hood.
The dogs were looking out the car windows, their heads way out now, sniffing the warm, soft summer air, tails wagging. I put the windows up and looked back at this portrait of slap-happiness, annoyed.
Fuck seemed to be the operative word that night because the people in the car I waved down, used it with abandon. One of the women in the car got out and tried to get her friend to give her a cell phone for me to use to call my pal.
So I said: I don’t want it – just dial this number and talk with him yourself. Tell him Rosalie is out of gas …
The woman yelled at her friend: JUST GIVE ME THE FUCKIN’ PHONE!
The dog in their car was barking up a storm now that I had approached their vehicle and the woman, hefty and wearing tight black leggings and tight black tank top, was yelling over her dog’s barking: SHUT THE FUCK UP! She was yelling at the people in her car – not the dog.
They did just that and the woman dialed my friend’s cell phone number. I walked back to my car so their yapping dog would SHUT THE FUCK UP and heard her hang up on my friend, after having what I thought was an unusually long conversation.
I thought WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT, YOU FUCKING IDIOT? But, thinking: diplomacy above all else, Rose, don’t be a FUCKING idiot, and asked the woman innocently enough: What happened?
The woman said: HE WAS ASKING ME TOO MANY FUCKING QUESTIONS!
FUCK! She was telling the truth: my friend DOES ASK TOO MANY FUCKING QUESTIONS!
FUCK! I thought to myself again but said to her politely: Can I use your phone and ask him myself? Just redial his number …
This time, trusting me some, she gave me their phone to talk into. I walked away with it some and when my friend answered wanted to say to him: What’s your FUCKING problem? I’m in a FUCKING jam, here, you FUCKING fathead! But instead, knowing he was my salvation that night and a good friend, said: Didn’t you believe it was me she was talking about? How many Rosalie’s do you know? I did not press my case because he could have said: IT’S NIGHT TIME – I’M IN BED. FUCK OFF, ROSE.
He was doing me a favor: getting his gas can, driving to the gas station, filling the can with gas and driving across the city to fill the gas tank of my shit car.
I waited for my knight in curmudgeon armor! He arrived almost a half hour later, after I had had a few more interesting Worcester in-city encounters! First, I had asked a few kids milling about in front of a three decker, across the street from where I was stuck, if I could use their parent’s cell phone to call my friend to check to see if he was indeed on his way to help me. The hefty lady and her crew had driven away after I talked with my friend on their cell phone.
The kids went upstairs to ask their parents and came back down. The oldest one told me: My father said he just took his medication.
Of course he did! I wanted to say. Your whole FUCKING neighborhood is on FUCKING MEDICATION! But the slip of a girl was sweet. She couldn’t help it if her father was a pointless layabout who would ruin her life, or a good chunk of it. So I said: Thank you so much!
Then came the van driven by the deaf driver. This was turning into one hell of a night, that’s for sure! I didn’t know the guy was deaf until I asked him to use his phone. I did this as he got out of his vehicle and he, now standing beside his vehicle, facing me, gave me a dirty look and pointing to his ears began shaking his head NO.
I thought, what bullshit!
But then some little kids and a woman came downstairs and circled his vehicle, and they began signing in a very animated way to him. They were all signing away like mad now, not a sound was to be heard … they looked like they were saying a lot to each other and having a good time saying it.
I figured I’d join in.
I yelled across the way, signing in my own way with fluttering fingers and waving hands: I broke down, I said loudly AS IF THIS WOULD ENABLE THE GUY TO HEAR ME. I said this while pretend steering my steering wheel. You are parked right across from me! I shouted at him! You’re making four cars in a two-lane street. This is dangerous! I put up four fingers for four cars and waved my arms back and forth to show him the lanes.
He looked at me as if I were fucking crazy!
I thought to myself: You can fucking understand what you wanna understand! Aurgh!!!!! I WANNA GO HOME SO FUCKING BAD!!!!
Just then, making his way around the bend, my huckleberry friend and his gas can! I gave him a thumbs up and shouted: THANK YOU!
After my friend gave me the gas, I said: Can you follow me home? I’m a little shaken up.
As we were climbing up the hill, I slammed on my brakes to behold this sight: a caravan of dark, dusty souped up dirt bikes and dune buggies (all terrain vehicles – ATVs – they’re called these days) THUNDERING DOWN THE STREET. I, like everyone else around them stopped short and stared, mesmerized. There must have been 20 of them, with 20 young men riders. No headlights, no license plates, no rules of the road for them. They were riding in a herd, like you’d see in the Old West, making a cloud of dust and dirt as they rumbled by. The amount of dirt and dust that they churned up enveloped them, and they looked like phantoms come back from the dead to haunt a racist Worcester. But it was the noise that got me. They rumbled down the street with ear-drum slicing ferocity! Not one muffler in this dusty, scrubby herd. They wore dark clothes, too, to match their bikes and the night sky, and one rider raised his fist and punched the sky and stood up while driving through the middle of the intersection. It was a kind of rallying cry because a few of the other guys whipped out bandannas and raised their arms to let their bandannas flutter in the breeze. The ATV’s had big dark, round, smooth wheels, like the black inflatable inner tubes we swam with as kids. The dirt bikes had tires with deep, dusty treads. Yes. I was that close … and the street lights at this intersection acted like spotlights. The guys knew they had the spot light, were the stars of their own mad max movie. Princes of their own urban dystopia, the progeny of a city that had long forgotten them. The street they rode down I’ve driven down and walked up hundreds of times through the years. Yet tonight it felt unfamiliar, even surreal.
Bikes up! Guns down! That’s their motto. We are the good guys, they tell us. We are riding in the night and this is a higher high than killing. They say to their peers: lay down your guns and ride with us!
They look so cool – and foreboding.
I was filled with dread and wonder. Once we got to my house, I said to my friend, who was driving right behind me and saw what I saw: WOW! That was FUCKING AWESOME.
He said, I’m fucking beat. I’m going home. Good night, Rose.