From the ages of 2 to 8, I lived a strong stone's throw away from a place with an infamous reputation on Long Island. My family resided on the corner of Floral and Beta drives in Amityville. When I looked out of the elongated living room window of our modest home, past the vacant lot and across Great Neck Road, I could see the strip mall that people called “The Block.”
The Block housed several places of convenience for the community, including a delicatessen, grocery, Chinese food spot and an arcade. Local street guys hung out in front of those businesses and in the back, hustling drugs. I remember going to The Block with members of my family, oblivious to our dangerous surroundings.
One afternoon, I beheld a shocking scene. A teenager I knew walked toward the delicatessen exit, holding a small bag of chips, acting as if he didn’t intend to pay. The owner readied a shotgun. The guy with the chips smiled when he heard the shotgun get cocked and flipped a quarter over his shoulder. It landed on the counter, adjacent to the cash register, with the kind of accuracy I associate with NBA stars.
My oldest brother got his first job bagging groceries at the local supermarket. He worked there for several weeks until he was promoted to working the cash register. Bad idea. He was fired before he finished his shift that day. I don’t know what made him cry more -- the chastising from my mother or realizing he’d lost getting his weekly minimum wage paycheck.
The Chinese takeout was so tasty, the neighborhood ignored the store's issues with the state Department of Health. Plus, a mere $2 bought six fried chicken wings with French fries or pork fried rice! A friend of my mother would await her call whenever we ordered that meal, knowing our family would save the tips, her favorite part of the wings.
One day, in first grade, I was diagnosed with ringworm on an eyebrow. My brother, who at 14 had been suspended from junior high for calling a teacher everything but a child of God, was summoned by my mother to walk the half-mile or so to retrieve me. The Northeast Elementary School nurse instructed him to immediately take me home because my condition was contagious.
After we left, he insisted we stop at the arcade instead. Watching my brother play video games bored me, so I continued to walk home. I asked an older street guy to help me cross the street. "Walk you across the street?" he said, as if I had asked to borrow his socks. When the traffic stopped, he said, "Go on!" and I bolted.
We moved to Wyandanch in 1984. Years later, my family marveled at a Newsday front page picture with the headline “The Block.” Its demolition was scheduled for that same day because it was a “street pharmacy” -- for not only the poor but also for the rich.
Nowadays, I reflect upon the older dude who “helped” me get across the street. "Keep ya eyes open. Go on 'bout ya business." That advice serves me well to this day. The infamous Block taught me a valuable lesson. Maybe it was not so bad, after all.
Reader Jeremy C. Davis, who lived in Wyandanch, now resides in Orlando, Florida.