The really big gang wars had mostly gone out of style by the time I was coming up in the Bronx. But as you have seen if you have been reading some of these ramblings, I always found a way to make the scene. Looking back on things, always makes me feel like Forest Gump, or Little Big Man. Seems like whenever something big is taking place in the world I would wind up in the middle of it.. Well, my small world any way.
Now I was pretty young when I attended my first gang war. Is that the right word to use for a gang war, attended? I don’t think so, but that’s all I can come up with. I was somewhere in the ten or eleven year old range, because it could not have been any later than about nineteen seventy four. A full year before I attended, there’s that word again, my first rock concert. For the record, and this has it’s own story to be told also, Black Sabbath at Madison Square Garden. I’ll get to that one later. But I was ten or so and the word hit the street that the White Warriors would be having it out with the Black Spades. At this age I didn’t know much about racial relations, couldn’t even spell it I’m sure, but the sound of those two names, gang warring it out had me hooked. In fact I’m not quite sure I couldn’t have told you much about what a gang was except that they all wore the same cool jackets. And between the cool jackets and the promise of knives, and chains, and bats, and maybe even a gun I just had to “make the scene”. As far as the gang names and any racial prejudice, my Dad had his business down on 103rd St and Broadway so I was used to seeing people who had even darker skin then I did, and lighter, being of Italian and Irish descent, and my skin clearly favored the Italian side of the family. So much so that one summer after returning from Massachusetts after a month of out of state fun, I hung out on the corner for a full hour before my friends recognized me thinking I was a Puerto-rican. Go figure? I offer that as a disclaimer of any racially motivated motives in relating this story or others. But that really is not important to the story. What is, is the a full accounting of every detail my young mind took in that day. And for a young impressionable mind, it was almost too much to handle.
To begin with, preparations were in order before attending any gang war, and especially your first. Me and my cousin Johnny decided days before, that cut off dungaree jackets where the way to go, Levi’s of course but in a pinch Lee would do also. Each of us had a fairly new one being so soon after the holidays, so off with the sleeves and hide the clippings and jackets til the war. Can’t be having the parents knowing what’s up, as they most probably bought us those fine pieces of fashion. Besides the fact that we had a good idea they would not be as impressed with us attending a gang war, as we would be ourselves. Add one folding knife each, mine being a Schrade, which would be my knife of choice for many years to come, and Johnny packing a Buck, our preparations were ready. Or so we thought.
The first thing that didn’t go as planned, and you knew something would, was the hiding of our gang war jackets. We had placed them in a brown grocery bag, rolled it down as tight as possible, and deposited the bag in a tight spot in the stairwell in my building. The perfect spot we thought since the left stairwell as you came into 44 Metropolitan Oval was rarely used by anyone being that it went to the basement, where as the right side only went up. I guess this made folks uncomfortable because if you were going up someone could sneak up on you from below without being detected beforehand. I never understood this, since being the streetwise kid I was, I figured any crazed homicidal maniac would just as well wait up a flight for you rather than have to climb up after you, that’s just more work. And crazed homicidal maniacs in my book were smart enough to not want to put in that extra strain beforehand, what with all the work they had coming, slicing and stabbing and carrying bodies and all. But none the less as it turned out, the bag turned out not to be in such a good hiding spot, and it was apparently found. This caused us in the future, when adventure came along, to resort to keeping very important objects on the top of the elevator, which we had now almost mastered the art of riding on top of.
As you can see, we were not the type to let little setbacks ruin the whole adventure. Besides not having the gang war jackets, other obstacles came along trying to rob us of this most important right of passage. Turns out that on the day of the “rumble” that’s gang talk, Johnny had an appointment at the orthodontist to determine his suitableness for braces, and I had a bunch of chores to do, which set us back a few minutes from our original time of departure. But, being it was a gang war and all, and that it was to be our very first, nothing was gonna’ stop us, We wound up meeting in front of Macy’s on Metropolitan Avenue about thirty minutes after the gang war was set to begin. Johnny straight from the Orthodontist without time to change, kinda looked like we would later in history refer to as a preppie, and me not preppie, but certainly not “ganggie”. So without our jackets and no knives, (don’t remember if we just forgot them or felt there no point in bringing them without the rest of our outfit), we made our way through Macy’s which had a door on each side and cut through the tunnel that brought you out near the West Oval.
It turned out we were late, the gang war was in full swing when we got there. Small groups of gang members scattered about here and there around the oval, punching each other, swinging bats, and chains, and all sorts off unbelievable implements of death and destruction. It was beyond even our greatest fantasy’s of blood and guts, we just stood in amazement. And just as we were starting to get a good view and idea about how to conduct oneself in a gang war, sirens! The cops, come streaming in from the opposite side of the oval driving the gang members, who now had stopped beating each other, at full trot straight at us. Me and Johnny take off running also, trying to keep ahead of the gangs as they were fleeing from the police. We made our way back through Macy’s and across Metropolitan Avenue in a flash and headed toward the South, our “turf”. Through the tunnel in the buildings that were next to the Lowes American Theater, and past Parkchester Road toward the South Oval. We managed to stay ahead of the gangs as they headed that way too, at least somewhat anyway. When we hit the Oval I went left, btu Johnny went right. I found out later he had gone to his apartment which was in that direction, since it was dinner time anyway. I slowed as I got to the north end of the Oval, and sat at one of the benches next to a few of the elderly folks from the neighborhood. After all the gang activity let up and most of the cops had all left also, I got up and headed back to the other side of the Oval where some of the other kids from the neighborhood had gathered. What I failed to notice that my uncle Richie was standing there also. As I was approaching, Richie reached down into some of the bushes that surrounded the Oval and pulled something out. When I got there I saw what looked like a metal pipe, and later I learned was a zip gun. A barrel with just a trigger the stock being removed for concealment purposes. My uncle was able to get in touch with an officer who had not yet gone far, and gave the zip gun to him. I didn’t think that was very cool since I figured we could use it for the next gang war, but I never said anything about it. I did get a stern look and an order to go home from my uncle which I obeyed after much protesting about my innocence in all the events of that afternoon.
Back at my house, after dinner, I got a good talking to about the dangers of gang wars and violence in general, along with a small demonstration of violence on my hind quarters. And I was told in the future, that if there should be another gang war in the area, I should observe such from the safety of my sixth floor bedroom window. Which even though there were no gang wars currently taking place, I was given the pleasure of looking out for the next three days, as I was grounded in my room for that period. Turns out that really was the end of such spectacular gang wars in our area. Oh, there were other fights and such, but not real gang wars. We would have to focus our attention on other adventures after that. Stuff like rock concerts, and riding on top of elevators, and graffiti. And believe you me, there’s plenty to tell about those things, for sure. So, if you can hang tight I should be able to tell you a little bit about those things soon.
If things seem a bit different in my story from what you remeber let me know, but I just write as best my memory lets me, and sometimes I have to mix my stories a bit to get a detail in. But really, this is a true story.