In 1987 I fouud myself living in a converted water tower in back of a very old Victorian house on 47th. and Shattuck in Oakland. I had lived here six years prior after a teacher at City Cottage bought the place for next to nothing. I was susposed to be the manager, help this Yuppie keep all the riff-raff at bay, but, he rented another back appartment to two young girls who the local gang were pimping out. In otherwords, I was managing a whorehouse for dangerous young dealers – whom I knew since they were twelve. I had befreinded all of them, and they liked me, remembered me fondly!
One day I emerge from Fort Appache to see a burned out car across the street, I asked my young buddy, the fearless leader, what happened.
“We had a drive by. They torched our car and shot at us!”
Shaking my head, I said;
“You guys are really blowing it.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll protect you.Your part of the hood.”
That was the first time I heard the expression “the hood”. And, right on cue, a few days later, my crazy friend Lester comes to the hood for a visit. We had lived at the University Hotel, and done some serious damage.
“What in the hell are you doing dressed like that?” I asked Lester the Molester.
“What do you mean?” he replied while opening my refrigierator.
“You’re dressed just like a Narco Agent. It’s like you jumped out of your squad car, ran into a telephone booth, and emrerged like this! Look at you. You even got hard shoes on. You’re going to get me killed!”
“Hey, you’re out of beer! What gives? There’s a liquor store down the street. Let’s go!”
I protested, but Lester is extremely compulsive.
Now, walking down the street, this monkey in a Hawaian shirt is turning heads, getting the funniest looks from everyone we meet. Now my buds are staring hard at me. I could read their minds.
“What gives, Oakland Johnny? Why are you bringing the heat down on us? We tusted you. You’re part of the hood.”
Twice in my life someone has pointed a gun to the back of my head, and pulled the trigger, several times, but each time the gun had jammed. Alas, I had found the sure way to put an end to my miserable existance.
On the corner of 47th. And Shattuck was a liquor store where my gang hangs. About six of gthem were there at the entrance when Lester and I walked in. There were no hardy hellos or high fives. There was a cold silence.
Lester and I were into Cobra malt beer, because it was twice the alcohol content. We bought two tall six packs. Coming out of the store, Lester, asks,
“Who wants a beer?”
There was grumbling amongst the gang. There were no takers. Lester thrusts a tall one at a beautiful young girl, who hesitates, then goes for it, because…..
“Today’s my birthday! I’ll take one.”
Her boyfriend, reluctantly takes one after looking at his bros, and opens it.
“That’s not the way to open a Cobra beer!” Lester shouts. And taking one out of the bag, he bites down hard on it, then holds it out as the beer comes squirtung out of the two punture wounds he made with his canine teeth.
“That’s how you open a Cobra beer!” And Lester is sucking the beer out of the can like a Vampire as the gang cracks up. Now, we all want one, and there are big smiles to be shared, and cool talk, because Lester broke the ice, And we weren’t going to die that day, because, we had not reached bottom yet. Instead, we sang Happy Birthday in front of the store that is now Pyung chang’s Tofu House.
My bottom came a week later, while I was in the yard, raking up the needles used to inject drugs into these – children. I was going to plant a vegetable garden right in the middle of Fort Appache as a means to turn the tide of negativty. As I spaded over the hard earth, I had a vision of how my life was going to end. No, I would not get killed, However, on way my home from the bar at 2:00 A.M. someone is going to creep up behind me and hit me with a blunt insturment, and take what’s left of my money. I will suffer iriversible brain damage and become a stumble bum, the very dude I have seen in the Proudce Markety when young. I will be the Fool in the Hood, who can not speak anymore, nor, even think. But, my gang will take care of me until the day they die, which would not be too long into the furture.
I started calling old friends from high in my ivory tower. I called Michael Dundon, and gave him a good cursing out, because he too had betrayed me, left me for dead. He quielty listened, waited till I was finished, then said;
“Do you want to get sober?”
“Then get on a train, come up to Eugene Oregon, and get in the New Hope program.”
The rest is history! Thanks the Blue River Dundons, I entered an out program at Serenity Lane, and got sober. The first thing I wanted to do as a Sober Man was build a raft and sail it around Round Lake. Doing this was a world away from hauling sacks of spuds for Captain Victim, who did not believe in playing with his sons.
The child plays
The toy boat sails across the pond
The work has just begun
Look what you have done