Most nights as it’s getting to dusk I start getting ready to go out.
Everyone is home from school or work. Bustling around, looking through the mail, how was your day and so on. Some share more than others. No judgment—that’s just the way it is.
Then the routine goes from the world outside to inside — everyone eats dinner, followed by the dishes to be done, getting ready for bed. That’s when I think about how to make my move. I don’t have a key so I have to either stick something in the door so it doesn’t close all the way or leave a window open. After everyone either gets lost in the glow of their individual devices or goes to bed, I slip out.
At night, I meet up with friends from the surrounding streets. We don’t have a specific agenda, its really just about feeling like these streets are our place. On my own, I am kind of vulnerable…a little skinny, not naturally aggressive, deferential. That describes most of the gang. Individually, each of us is no big whoop. We are all around the same age, even look a bit the same. Maybe passing by you might think we are related. Maybe we are.
When we get together, though, we swagger a bit. Take up space.
We are not out for trouble, but we are not not out for trouble if that makes sense. Really, we use our gang of youthful swagger to watch over our neighborhood. We are street tough but just our street tough. Keep to your own streets and you don’t get any trouble from us. Likewise, we expect the same—if one of us veers off and finds ourselves on an unfamiliar street, we backtrack like no tomorrow. Let me put it this way—we won’t mess with you if we know you but if you are new or a stranger we will let you know. This is not a welcoming committee, but a committee to let you know who is in charge.
You want to walk around us. At the head of the street, outsiders peer down to see if is safe—you can tell when they are not sure enough to want to go down here. We can sense that fear—smell it like stink on shit. You come down our street with a little fear? Believe me, when and if you make through, that little fear telling you to turn back was right on.
Our gang communicates with a set of calls and signals amongst ourselves. As isolated sounds, they may be familiar to you, but its how we put them together that matters. And when you can’t see what you hear coming at you and it is dark? Those calls can get way scary. A note to our neighbors: Do all the whoops and whistles keep you up at night? Sorry about that—that’s not our goal. We are keeping the streets safe from thieves, vandals, outsiders and sometimes it gets a little out of hand.
On those occasions when they keep coming in spite of our warnings, we rip them. For real sharps, for real flesh, for real blood. The sounds you hear coming from our street fights are not pretty. They haunt me sometimes as I replay them in my head.
After we secure the streets, we head over to one of the vacant parcels of land in the neighborhood. It is not much space, maybe that is why it has stayed undeveloped for so long because it is too narrow for a building. This place is like our clubhouse. There is room for each of us to do are own thing and a place for all of us amongst the heaps of illegal dumping that made it through–the late night ‘deliveries’ before we can chase them off, usually builders letting excess bricks or sand roll off their trucks.
For weeks now we have been packing the dirt in one area to make a ramp. You can use this as a kind of observatory to see in the distance, also sort of a lift off if we need, and for sure, fortification. The greatest thing about our lot is that imaginations can really run wild here with no one hassling us about being out late at night. We can work on it for hours and do some work each night.
Before sunrise we pack it in. Everyone is usually pretty tired by the time we tiptoe in back home.
I catch a little sleep before everyone wakes up.
No one knows I was out. No one knows where I have been, or who I have been hanging out with or where my thoughts are.
No one knows it is us who watches over the streets. No one knows what we have been building.