In order to fight falling asleep at my desk after lunch today, I walked to the corner store (Do we call them delis in New York? Bodegas?) to get a caffeinated beverage and a bit of chocolate. The scorched coffee from the kitchen downstairs doesn’t do anything for me but make me sweaty and fidgety. These days, I’m on to Coke Zero, which is discernably better, in my opinion, than Diet Coke.
On the way to the store, I walked behind a little boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, walking home from school, accompanied by a man and a woman. He was dressed nicely in a red sweatshirt and clean but trendy blue jeans. And he had some kind of funky (probably basketball) shoes on, like every kid in this pocket of the Lower East Side. What caught my attention was the way he walked. He rose up on the balls of his feet before lifting them every time he took a step. And his heels were turned inward just slightly. It was a distinctive gait, and it struck me as somewhat cocky. I wondered if he’d grow up to be a bruiser or a softie.
He was telling a story about something relatively dramatic that happened at school that day. Some trouble he found himself in. Or some sort of conflict with another kid in his class. I couldn’t make it out.
The woman responded by saying, “Stop that kind of talk. That only gets you locked up and in a lot of touble over nothing.” She had a remarkably hoarse voice. I laughed to myself that this woman should remind me of Harvey Fierstein. She would not appreciate my saying so, I’m sure.
I was instantly curious about what he had done. Had the kid talked back to a teacher and gotten reprimanded? It was good of her to guide him, but I was sort of alarmed at the early-childhood notion of being locked up.
I supposed she was an aunt or a friend of his parents. I couldn’t imagine (or maybe I did not want to imagine) that she was his mother.
The boy said something about another kid kicking him in the back. The woman interrupted and rasped, “So then you turn around and kick him back. That’s what you do!”
Act, don’t talk, basically. And take care of it yourself. It’s different from what I was told in similar situations at that age. I had a git reaction against what she said, and immediately judged her to be a bad influence. I imagined him ruined by his mid-teens. Fighting all the time. In trouble at school. But is it really such bad advice? It might be appropriate for this neighborhood. And who could prepare him for the world any better than this woman, who has evidently seen some of the underbelly of life?