Archive for the 'kids' Category

on the subway

It was that one day that felt like summer in the middle of the endless rain. The kids on the subway were bursting out of themselves.  A curvy girl in jeans and a skinny boy in school uniform trousers were sparring around the vertical pole, daring each other to take off articles of clothing, pretending that they might. She offered a seated boy a lap dance. He tentatively accepted, knowing there’s a catch here somewhere. She laughed at him, “No way!”

“I bet you all choke your chickens every single night,” she laughed again.

“What about you, huh?” Ventured the boy she refused to dance for.

“Not me, no way. I’d never do that.”

“Never say never,” said the skinny boy.

“That one I’m sure. Never.”

Then a boy who had been silent through all this said, “You’re what, 16? Say you live to be 90. It’s statistically impossible in all those years you’d never.”

“Statistics is for white people,” she spat back.

near the high school

Six antsy cops are guarding the corners against some dark potential I can’t perceive. The kids have been sprung for the day, milling around on the sidewalks. Somehow they’ve all grown great pillows of fat since I saw them last, it spills out of their tight clothes, and now their bodies take up as much of the sidewalk as their voices.

Around the corner on a sidestreet, some girls are jumping double dutch, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, “ice cream soda pop cherries on top / how many boyfriends do you got?”

on the subway

Two boys, brothers, with creamed-coffee skin and halos of long kinky hair that’s just a shade darker. The older one plays guitar by the doors, the younger one sits on the bench and plays bongos, it’s a halfhearted rendition of “Norweigian Wood.” The younger one’s fingers are gifted, and he is languid. He takes off his glasses with one hand, tucking them into his shirt,  still tapping the beat with the other. The song ends far short of the coming stop. The tips are collected in a plastic bag. The train jerks across the bridge. The boy puts his drums aside and makes a fist, which he tries ambitiously to shove into his mouth.

He knows I’ve been watching him. I ask, “Does it fit?” He shakes his head. He tries again, compressing the fist first with his other hand and stretching his mouth to its limit. “Ouch,” he says softly to no one, pulling his hand away. “That hurt.” There is one final attempt, again falling short of success. The train slows into the station, and he slides out after his brother just as the doors are closing.

in the subway

A platoon of junior-highschool kids striding along the platform in full military dress. An accordion plays.

in the projects

A little kid is trying skateboard tricks on the stairs. He keeps falling down. The big kid says, “it’s okay, skateboarders are allowed to hang on to something,” and then he winks at me.

in midtown

At certain hours it’s like the shift change in a factory town. A crowd spills out, merges briefly, overtakes the sidewalks and quickly disperses toward home. I’m walking uptown, at each crossing the Western sky is all violet and smog, darkening at one-block intervals. A pack of boys with piercing whistles trails behind me. They are delighted with their disruptive noises, their own unsupervised presence in the stately district to which they are infrequent visitors. All around them the German tourists frown.

in the cafe

A young girl is off in the corner, dancing. Her moves are slow and subtle, cleaving to the baseline and the places where it stretches out a beat too long. She’s unaware of anyone’s eyes on her. Her face is awkward, but it’s evident that she will grow up sexy, hard to resist. Her twin sister comes out of the bathroom. She’s stiff and unmoved by the music. But she’s taller, and there’s more symmetry in her face. She will have to fashion herself aloof and unreachable to match her sister’s charms. She leads the way out the door, and her sister shimmies along behind her.

outside the bodega

It’s dusk, and the rain is coming. There’s a man, unsteady on his feet, with a long, curled-handle umbrella. He’s holding it up to his shoulder like a machine gun, staring down the barrel and swiveling like a jungle commando, catching his image in the scratched plexiglass window of the bodega. I wonder if the yellowed, dust-refracted reflection suits his idea of himself better than a harsh mirror. A small boy wanders out of the store and stands a few feet away, watching. The man pivots slowly, beginning to grunt and growl before he comes around to face the boy. The boy pulls his arms around himself and waits to see where this is going. So do I. The man hunkers down and grunts his way toward the boy, the umbrella-gun carefully aimed. I’m weighing my slightness against the man’s new equilibrium. In case. Then, something invisible passes between them and the tension breaks. The boy giggles and runs behind a tree, peeking out. The man pulls a 40oz out of a pocket and sits down on the bodega steps. The evening begins.

in the projects

They are eleven or twelve, some age just before sex alters their ways, though it’s approaching by the narrowest of margins. They are boys and girls piling on top of each other on one of the benches lining the walkway. One boy is singing, forcing his voice to squeak and growl for emphasis. He’s striving for James Brown but not quite making it that far. You can see it in their faces, they are getting away with something, all this squirming in each other’s laps, the contours of their bodies pressing together. They’re laughing and pushing and restacking themselves. In a year’s time this grace will expire, they will avert their eyes and decline to speak. They will never recover this moment.

on the subway

A thin boy with bony cheeks, reading a small paperback. He stares at the page and then smiles, contented, like he’s seen the face of an old friend there. He tips the book and I can see that it’s filled with a list of names and tabulated numbers. Where some of the numbers would be are question marks. At the top it says, “ELEMENTARY PARTICLES.” After a while he flips ahead and lights on another page, “THE RICHTER EARTHQUAKE SCALE.” He has friends there too.



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