The small patch of earth we held down, the piece of meager turf we claimed and plunged our invisible flag into was mostly farmland prior to the 1920s. The inhabitants from the surrounding area formed a corporation to purchase the property. It was then handed off to the Parks Department after the corporation failed to pay their taxes. Our park, yes, it would always be ours, was Memorial Field of Flushing opened in November of 1934 and was attended by the townspeople and then Mayor Fiorello Laguardia, also a one time resident of Whitestone. It was part of many developments in Queens under the new deal projects. The park would be sectioned off and landscaped for baseball and softball fields, which the outfields could easily be adapted for football and soccer games. At the end of the park, there was a proper field for football games and soccer matches, which Flushing High School’s football team used as their home field. There were dilapidated bleachers to observe the Red Devils, but we only used them from time to time to drink beer and smoke weed. The bleachers also housed the bats that we admired from the fields in the summer sky at dusk, a time when we should have been exiting the park but we never obeyed the plaques posted up all along the park. There were not many laws that we complied with.
There was the big red house, a kindergarten at one time, and the playground, the basketball and handball courts, where we wore down the soles of our shell tops and suede Pumas and grew calluses on our little hands, and not to forget the scores of benches stationed all around the park for us to loiter and dog with tags. We held down the park, every square foot of it.
Reconstruction was underway. A much needed renovation if we were being completely forthcoming. It took the city roughly sixty years to fix and rehabilitate Memorial Park. Hopefully It would take another sixty years before the possibility of anyone discovering the remnants of Carlton’s rotting body. Human remains. What a feeling it must be to unearth a corpse? It’s like finding out a secret.
Things were starting to come together in a nefarious way. Wilhelm Flood and Sonny Winnows had thrown a keg party in honor of our fallen brother behind the handball court. A throw back. As the sun set on the Flushing Fields, and the bats flew overhead, our friends and affiliates came in droves to purchase red Solo cups for a mere five dollars and drink big foamy swigs of Budweiser in celebration of Ozzy Craven.
Keg parties had been halted at Memorial due to the inability to keep the peace between the home team and the visitors. Friends of friends would get invited and so on, and after a few too many keg stands, chests would puff out and blood would spill. We all possessed a streak of nastiness, we all seemed to love the violence, we loved every rabbit punch, every haymaker, every single headbutt. We waited for the fights to break out in giddy anticipation. It was not a matter of if one would happen but rather when one would happen.
Keg parties were a rite of passage and a regular occurrence in a long lost time in the distant past. Everything seemed so far away now more than ever. There was a sense of nostalgia to be back behind the wall, filling up a cup of mostly suds, another bad pour for the record. It wasn’t the same without Ozzy, but nothing would ever be. I looked at Martin and all of our friends, and a few strange faces and thought about how my mom and dad, and my aunts and uncles all attended parties here. There was just no use for certain things as you grew and changed, you no longer needed keg parties the way you used to, like I no longer needed my Walkman. I might want a good old fashioned kegger or I might prefer my walkman to my discman, but the future swallowed some things whole. I guess when you don’t seem to have much of a future it’s not terrible to revel in the past as much as I seemed to.
There was so much history here. There was heritage but no one thinks about that. I wish I could be more poetic and speak of what type of grass we’ve trodden on or which plush species of trees lined the park, I hadn’t the faintest idea. Years from now who would care anyway? Who would care about the great times we had or the campaigns of crimes we committed right there in that park and in that town? I suppose no one but us. Is everything in life for nothing? Sometimes I feel it might be.
Martin told me that the detective stopped by his house to talk to his father. Detective Jacovino was doing more than just working the case. He felt incredible empathy for Mr. Craven. Maybe he saw that we were not the assholes that we were painted to be. We clashed with lots of people, all different types of people and sometimes for no real reason at all, maybe we were assholes. Assholes or not, Ozzy didn’t deserve what he got. If the police and the courts couldn’t figure out what the truth was on that night, then it was hopeless to argue and Carlton would be a free man when he should be a dead one.
Jacovino was invested for another reason other than it was his job. The Detective was a guardian, a father figure to his sister’s kid who reminded him a lot of Ozzy. He felt in his heart that his nephew could easily meet the same fate. Jacovino was a solid guy, a neighborhood kind of guy. He carried a Smith and Wesson glock and a backup .380. He was prepared, a systematic cop, and quick to drop the gloves jock. His heart was in the right place.
As Martin spoke I thought of what Mr. Polito once said of cops, “It’s tough to be a cop. Everyone wants to hate cops or see them fuck up. Especially those who never commit crimes, them bleeding hearts because they don’t know anything about the real world, they’re lost in a fantasy, they want perfection and that can’t exist here. They don’t want these cops to actually be able to police, they’re not allowed to fulfil the requirements of their occupation. It’s easy to shit on cops. Cops play a role. They have a job to do. How can you be pissed when they do it? It’s the true criminal’s position to be better, to be smarter, to stay a step ahead. You can’t blame the police if you get caught. You have to take responsibility for your own actions. That is the problem with where our society is headed. No one owns up to anything anymore. It’s not about being against the police, it’s about evading them. It’s not the cops fault you committed the crime, it’s yours. You fucking idiots. Don’t get caught. And if you do. Well, then son, man the fuck up.”
Wilhelm looked on as Mort Durfee worked on a piece for Ozzy, writing on the back wall of the handball court wall with colors that clashed. The wall was four courts wide, the piece was spread across the two inner courts. Fill ins and tags would fill the outer walls as the night went on. Sonny and Mort didn’t speak anymore after their metallic hardcore band, Lon Chaney Jr. High broke up. The band was grab bag of influences, a composite of tastes. Sonny and Mort kept distance, they stayed away from each other at the event, and in life. We were all friends for years but when they fell out, Mort tried to get everyone to cut Sonny off, which didn’t happen, and so he bad-mouthed Sonny at every opportunity. Sonny felt that Mort’s behavior in the aftermath of what transpired with the band spoke for itself. It was undeniably Sonny’s fault that the friendship ended and the band had broken up so he left it alone and moved forward, if Mort wanted to be a cunt, then fuck it. It was all over with.
Mort pulled cans of Rustoleum from stolen milk crates. He histrionically made a line here and filled in a section there. He did a PONY BOY for Ozzy. Only no one ever called him that. Maybe a few people referred to him as P Boy, but never the full version. It was the same for me, I was always Colm, and almost no one called me SG, only Viggo once in a blue moon. We addressed each other by our real names, not our tags. Ozzy said I should have written my name as my tag. I thought the memorial piece should have said Ozzy instead, but I wasn’t doing it so I kept my opinion to myself.
One of our friends caught a tag on the front of the wall and got yelled at. Typically we saved the front of the courts, which faced the street until later in the night, so we didn’t blow our spot up. We didn’t want to attract any further attention. I wasn’t thrilled about the possibility of alarming the police because I had a different mission to accomplish that night.
It was ironic that Mort was the one to memorialize Ozzy, when Ozzy no longer cared for the kid. I thought it should have been Wilhelm instead, he had a better style and was a more grounded human being. Mort sought attention, and he made the piece to be about himself as he did with most things. Ozzy saw through him early on. Mort was all about himself. I always felt that we as a collective were greater than any one individual, whereas certain individuals like Mortimer believed that they were single handedly the crew itself. That was just not so. I supposed we loved our friends and he just loved himself. Mort was cool in the beginning, and as time went on and his head swelled from what little street fame he received, which was meaningless in the end, he became increasingly disingenuous, self absorbed and repugnant.
Sometimes you give passes to people because of a shared history that you would not grant to someone else if they acted like an asshole and you just met them. You can’t know that someone you care about will change for the worse, if only you knew from the start, if only you possessed clairvoyance, then there would have been no wasted time or energy on that person, as no real connection or friendship would have even been given a chance to establish. If we could wield that tremendous power of foresight it would thwart a ton of heartache and wasted time.
Everything was Mort’s idea, everything was to his credit and if it wasn’t then it was wack but like I said some people you accept because you cared for them and truly tried to see the good in a bad person. There is no shame in trying. One day you would no longer fuck with a person, and you would come to the conclusion that you’re actually better off for it.
The keg went well. Everyone drank and talked shit, laughed and hugged out the heaviness of Ozzy’s absence. I looked out into the field where the reconstruction occurred, all the trucks and machinery were parked right where they should have been. The fields were dug up with plentiful mounds of dirt all over which doubled as cover to obstruct the view from the street, to keep us out of sight from the public and the police. The blacktop of the basketball court was freshly milled. The park would look great once the work was complete. I wondered where I would be when that happened.
Viggo stumbled over to us. He hugged Martin, telling him something in secret and kept it moving. Ozzy’s death fucked us all up, but it weighed especially heavy on Viggo since his conscience was bogged down in guilt. Viggo may have thrown the first punch but if it wasn’t him it would have been someone else, myself even. That was how we were then. He felt responsible and it was killing him. There was always a chance someone would get seriously hurt anytime we brawled, and most of us have. There was always a risk that something awful would happen to us anytime we left our houses, and maybe in some of our houses as well. We survived the crash on the Long Island Expressway and innumerable close calls. In no way was it Viggo’s fault. If Viggo was going to be held accountable, well then each one of us who fought that night shared that accountability, we were then equally negligent. Only one person was responsible for what happened to Ozzy, and that was Carlton Ailse.
I said to Martin, It’s time I dig a grave.
“Alright then. The shovel is in the back of my father’s pick up. It’s parked on the side of the Red House. Switch.” Martin took my near empty keg cup and held out the one he had refilled to me. “Stay hydrated out there. Go and build some character. We need it.”
“Thank you. Keep everything under control while I go and become a man.”
Arguable, I said.
I slipped away into the night. I walked to Mr. Craven’s pick up and retrieved the shovel, and snuck quietly back into the park away from the crowd through a hole we clipped into the fence. The parks department would fix the fences and we’d take the bolt cutters to them again the same night. There were sections already excavated for the new dugouts, waiting for the cement to be poured into the existing formwork. There were scattered stacks of lumber carelessly left unsecured. I’m surprised no one had stolen it. I intended to dig a few feet deeper than they had already dug to be safe. You could hear the chatter and laughter from inside the darkness of the hole I jumped down into. I heard the echoes of all my drunk friends as they talked, laughed and cried over Ozzy. I could hear the rattle of the metal pea inside the spray cans.
I stomped the shovel down into the earth, broke the dark brown dirt apart and heaved it out of the hole. This was the first grave and hopefully the last I’d ever dig. This was the closest I’d ever come to digging a trench. It was a different sort of battle line. I was not in some war torn region of Europe, nor was I in any immediate danger and though I was simply digging a hole, or just making a pre-existing hole slightly deeper, my adrenaline still rushed as if I was fighting someone or doing an outline on a highway with cars racing past me. This was now an important hole, a most deserving tomb, a crypt for our arch nemesis, Hitobashira, a human sacrifice to bless Carlton’s new permanent address, Memorial Park.
My conscience never wavered, it was not troubled by the seriousness of what was on the brink. I got nice and dirty, broke a sweat and thought about the next beer wondering if the keg was kicked. My actions felt justified as I dug and raised the parapet wall higher.