Whitestone Park was neutral, a shared space since no particular crew claimed the park but many different heads hung out there to chill because of its picturesque scenery. The backdrop for thousands of wedding pictures in cheap frames bought from Genovese. As kids we often pedaled our modified GT Performers and Mongoose BMX bicycles there, and all across the world’s borough, without bike lanes and parental consent. Once in a while we’d go to drink a beer on the water, smoke a joint with a female, or write on the anchorage. The bridge would always act as a guidepost, a towering signal to welcome you back home to our dearest town. The same feeling of familiarity and sometimes joy, sometimes pangs were also felt driving by Shea Stadium, or seeing the old U-Haul building off of the Van Wyck Expressway as you passed the dirty waters of the toxic Flushing Bay.
It’s amazing how you can love and hate something at the same time, the contradiction of the two-sided coin that is our emotions, tossed and spinning in limbo. This place was nothing special, in actuality it was in decline, run down and shitty, polluted but it felt good to see because after all it was home. It was all most of us knew or ever would know.
The night of Ozzy’s funeral, hours after we rolled, Martin and I found ourselves at Whitestone Park as the sun came up. We were the last ones standing and thought better of being home or sobering up, plus the neighborhood was now hot since we rekindled old beef, better to not sit where we would be expected to be. We walked and stopped at Cherry Valley, each of us filling up a plastic bag of cold 24 ounce bottles of Heinekens. Martin’s beeper went off non stop during the walk until he eventually turned it off.
Pagers were a funny thing. None of us had cell phones yet. Pay phones were still used and not just relics of a bygone era of New York City. It’s not like we were hard to find unless we didn’t want to be found. I might have been the only person I knew of that never owned a beeper. We were either home or at the park or bar outside of work, and if we weren’t at any of those destinations then you didn’t need to know our whereabouts. I wondered how long before the beeper would be beaten to death by the cell phone. I remembered when Martin first got his, Ozzy and I ripped on him about it, even though Ozzy was secretly envious. Ozzy would have to wait another year before his mother would get him his.
When Mr. Craven first saw Martin’s translucent bright blue Motorola Pagenet he said, “There’s only two types of people in this world who need pagers: surgeons and drug dealers. And you’re no fucking surgeon.” Martin denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Craven looked at his firstborn, his fourteen year old son standing in the living room with his baggy pants sagging, a polo shirt two sizes too large and a baseball cap with a marijuana leaf emblazoned on it. I don’t think he thought Martin was telling the truth. I could see his point but Martin was being truthful he didn’t sell bud until two years later.
“How the fuck is this kid going to skate? I don’t understand how the judicial system will allow him to fucking walk,” said Martin. He was sick over this and in the process of drinking himself sober. “It’s so fucked.”
“It’s fucked just like everything else is. It makes no sense.” I had learned young that life was not fair so this came as no shock.
“I can picture that motherfucker’s face when they draw their conclusions. Like those shitty courtroom dramas on television. They will read the verdict and his side of the courtroom will gasp in relief. He will stand there like a fucking winner. A champion of cowardly deeds. Like he won the world series or something. I could picture him jumping in the air and falling to the ground like Jesse fucking Orosco after striking out Marty Barrett in game 7. Come on, Dude. This is so fucked. I could see this piece of walking around the courtroom hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head like Messier.”
“Well, it’s not over yet, Martin.”
“Just the way they said he acted when he was granted bail. His smug fucking face. A face only a hammer could love.”
“A chipping hammer.”
“It’s just crazy to me that he’s really going to get away with murder. Literally getting away with murder. Self defense. What bullshit? That entire party of herbs are going to testify for him, and state we were the aggressors, and that we were the ones that started it. Which may be true but it was just a run of the mill fucking dust up, they level jumped. Not us. No need to pull a knife. No need fucking need to do to that shit.”
“No need whatsoever.”
“Ozzy Loved the anchorage. Do you remember coming here and going down there and looking at all the wonderful graff? Do you remember that nice 21PK straight letter that one delinquent kid did for us? That was dope,” said Martin, looking at the fill inside his head. I could close my eyes and see it perfectly as well.
“Yeah man. It was summer squash and flat black. Super dope. It is something for the crew to be proud of. We were so little and to have him rep it like that was a big deal for us. Ozzy worshipped him. You know. What about that piece, that Rubik’s cube boxy thing that TP did?”
“I remember that. It was weird and cool,” said Martin. “Then herbs came and ragged everything with cherry red, leaving no tags, leaving no crews, just a mess of lines criss-crossing and wriggling through everything dope on that wall. I’m sure we could all surmise who were responsible for that disgrace.”
“Such pussies. We admired the walls. We wouldn’t take out shit just for us to be up. We did fills over dudes who were already dissed or if it was beef. Not to be known. Not to make it about us. We were respectful disrespectful little dudes trying to maintain the preservation of the walls, to keep them rad. Toasty. Crisp. Those fucks came down and ragged everything for no reason. They ragged people they disliked and people they sweated just the same. No concept of history or love of the mythology, no respect for anything, anything at all. Remember how cool and mysterious everything about graff was? Does everything in life have to be so unsatisfactory?”
“People make it lame. People are lame. Too many egotistical cry babies. The saddest part is it will probably get worse as time goes on.”
“Writing graffiti does not make you special. Get over yourselves. A person’s word should still be worth something, no? The denigration of humanity is well underway. Maybe if we’re lucky the world will end soon.” Right as I said it, I realized, a portion of our world had, the world as we knew it had already ended.
“We can only hope,” said Martin. “You know what’s bothering me the most about what happened with Ozzy?
I asked him, what?
“The fact that it happened here. Not that it would make me feel any better if it happened in the city or BK, or any other shitty part of Queens for that matter. Ozzy loved Queens and he loved Whitestone. It’s just wild to me that it happened in the first place and then for it to have happened in our own backyard. It just seems worse. I don’t know. Maybe it makes no difference.”
“It’s not surprising. The worst things tended to happen close to home. No?” Sometimes the worst things happen in our homes.
“To live and die in Whitestone is a terrible fate.” I knew what Martin meant.
The water of the East River splashed upon the shore as we looked on through drunken lenses, in bloodied suits and scuffed shoes, from behind a rusted iron gate that ran along the perimeter of the park. Garbage and empty soda bottles found their way across the rocky beach. The bridge loomed large. My visions of destroyers disappeared. It was a beautiful morning despite how we felt. You could understand why people came here to live.
Whitestone was founded in 1645, many found its idyllic setting perfect to set up camp. The town held residence to many notable people, which is always weird to think that over timelines we shared this place with some interesting individuals, people who actually did things unlike us. Francis Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the namesake for Whitestone Park and a boulevard guidos used to cruise, lived here. His house was attacked by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, the home was then torched and his wife was arrested and held in captivity, which led to poor health and ultimately her death, but Peter Cushing gets us all eventually. Many early film stars lived here like Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, as well as magician and escape artist Harry Houdini. A few players from the Mets lived here, supposedly Howard Johnson, the switch hitting third baseman lived around the way, but I never saw him. Do you ever wonder about the people who traversed the same streets as you? Have you ever thought about who stood where you’re standing? I’ve always found it weird.
Walt Whitman spent some time in our town, he wrote of it, “Every morning, I am kissed by the sun coming through my window by the bay of Whitestone.” Maeve told me about that line once. I had not forgotten it. My memory would humiliate an elephant and be the bane of my existence. The sun rose it’s pretty, shameful head that morning, and instead of kissing us, it seemed to spit in our faces. Another day in this world did not feel like a blessing.