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The Crew from the Parking Lot
Ferentz Lafargue
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The parking lot behind Wertheimer’s department store on Jamaica Avenue was once a place where a lot of boyhood dreams were born. Dreams of growing up and playing for the Yankees or Giants someday, dreams of meeting that girl, the one you knew was out there, the one that was made for you. My friends and I used to spend the whole afternoon there playing baseball, football, manhunt, and practically anything else you could think of.

One day we noticed a piece of wood in the corner of the lot. We found a rock to prop it up and made ourselves a bicycle ramp. We practiced jumping for a week or two until the wood broke and it was back to playing bike tag and waiting for the next thing to come along.

Every winter when it snowed, there would be huge piles of snow in the corners of the lot. We would start out by doing some light skiing to get warmed up and soften up the snow. (The skis were made of the finest cardboard we could find.) But we all know what happens when you put a bunch of guys somewhere with snow...SNOWFIGHT!!

The rules were simple: whichever mountain you were on was your territory and whoever was with you was your team. We would fight until one team captured the other team’s mountain or the teams split up and everyone started fighting amongst themselves. When that happened it was every man for himself. We would go home looking like we had just climbed Mt. Everest and sometimes I think that would have been easier.

We Were a Team

We also shared a lot of disappointments in the parking lot. We felt bad for Ed when he didn’t make the varsity basketball team. We felt sorry when Devon’s girl Wendy moved away. (They were the royal couple of the parking lot.) When Abner and Carlos were sent to fight in the Persian Gulf War we all kept an eye on the news. There weren’t any me’s or I’s in the parking lot—we were a team.

But these days the parking lot is just used for parking cars. We don’t even keep in touch like we used to. Rarely will you see two of us together. Some have moved away, the rest just feel like they’re miles away. At least to me they do. The only thing we all have in common is that we grew up.

When I look around now and see people that I used to be down with back in the days, I feel really sorry for some of these guys.

Devon was the superstar of the parking lot. He could throw, run, catch—the whole nine. We used to think he was the total package. We thought he would play high school baseball or football, then get drafted or get a scholarship, and go on to become a major leaguer. But instead of going out for one of the teams, he opted to be down with the fellas, hanging out and doing things like robbing people, stealing chains or getting caught up in stupid gang battles.

Rikers, Here I Come

Now he’s one of the people who comes up to me and talks about how he messed up, how he should have stayed in school. Now the only things he strives for are his own apartment, a G.E.D., a job and a car. Devon’s only 18 and has been sent to Rikers Island jail two times already. The sad thing is he has no fear of going back.

Devon’s younger brother John was a pretty good ballplayer too but more importantly he was a B+ student and a born leader. He was never afraid of being team captain. In fact, he thrived on it. He used to talk about joining the Marines and getting his M-14. Now John is 17 and has a kid and he’s not even close to a high school diploma. He was hardly ever in school last year. The word is that John is dealing guns. An M-14 is probably child’s play compared to some of the guns he’s come in contact with.

Then there’s Angel. Angel used to be my best friend and in a way he always will be. Angel had drive and determination. One summer he lost his glove and, being that he was the only lefty in the parking lot, he had no one to lend him one. But Angel decided not to let that keep him on the sidelines. He found a right-handed glove and for about a year and a half he tried to be right-handed. He started doing almost everything right-handed.

Eventually he got another left-handed glove. But even after that you could occasionally see him tricking an opposing batter with a wicked right-handed curve ball. Angel hasn’t dropped out yet, not officially, but I doubt he goes to school more than five full days a year. When he does go he usually cuts out early in the day. Now Angel’s dealing drugs. He used to have determination but these days the only thing he seems determined to do is mess up his life.

Role Model?

The sad thing is that these are the guys that little kids look up to. The other day me and one of my friends were walking down 89th Avenue and one of my little brother’s friends came up to us with a fake blunt that he had rolled up, and was telling us how good it was. This kid is 10 years old at most. But you really can’t blame him. That’s what he sees around him. That’s what’s considered cool.

The ones that plan to go on to college—as soon as they’re finished and have some money in the bank, they move as far away from the neighborhood as fast as they can. My homeboy Abner, for example, hasn’t even graduated from college yet and he’s already beginning the process. He recently moved to Forest Hills and if it weren’t for his parents you’d never see his face around the block at all.

He even started to forget people’s names. There’s one girl he’s known for about 10 or 15 years now and the other day he couldn’t come up with her name. It made me wonder if he remembers mine.

I’m Their Last, Best Hope

Then there’s me. I was the youngest kid in the parking lot, which meant I was last to get picked for the teams and the first to get picked on. I was like everyone’s little brother. I never made it to the forefront; I just stood back and watched everyone else. I looked up to these guys. But I knew the real them. I was smart enough to learn from their mistakes.

They still keep an eye out for me. Every time one of them sees one of my articles or hears about me doing anything else good, he’s always ready to congratulate me and tell me to keep it up. It’s almost like I’m their last hope of success: if I come out OK then they’ll honestly be able to say they had a hand in raising me.

I intend to go to college and study communications and advertising. Hopefully one day I’ll be writing for a big-time newspaper, or working for an advertising company. Then I’d like to make sure my little brother gets his act together, help fix up my neighborhood, and do whatever I can to help out some of my old friends. But whatever I end up doing, one thing I won’t do is let those guys down and mess up my life.

Writing this article I discovered I’m a pretty lucky guy after all. Remembering all those good times we had in the parking lot was enough to make me cry. I hope everyone has a parking lot in their lives. What good is a tree without roots?

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(NYC-1992-11-03)


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