I'm driving past the Chicago Boys Club on North Leavitt when I see two black boys, about ten years old, walking back and forth across the stomach of a smaller white boy. I am about to get out of my car when the man in the white Lincoln Continental behind me honks his horn. I zoom on.
Some blocks away, I am driving aimlessly on Albany near School Street. The gang graffiti on the houses' brick walls contrasts ironically with the neatly kept homes and two-flats. It's a Monday afternoon, and the neighborhood is pretty empty. Here and there, kids are playing by open fire hydrants; a pregnant mother in a tight black skirt is wheeling bedraggled navy-blue baby carnage; a young tough in a Bon Jovi shirt is waxing his chartreuse Chevy Nova, circa 1970.
As the sizzling air blows through the window and ruffles my hair, I spot three men in their 30s seated on the stoop in front of a red brick house. I drive past again. Like villains in an old western, they have droopy mustaches and yellow teeth. They wear chains around their necks and are listening to Spanish music blaring out of a purple Plymouth Duster parked out in front. Two wear black tank tops, one wears a white undershirt. They are drinking cans of Old Style. They drink, spit, laugh, curse loudly--completely oblivious to the plight of a small boy in front of their house being pummeled mercilessly by neighborhood bullies.
One of them, about ten years old, wears long Hawaiian print shorts. He is holding the boy, about six, by the hair and pulling him up and down like a yo-yo. The boy, who wears a turquoise T-shirt and too-big brown corduroy trousers, is shouting "Daddy" loudly, but his daddy would appear to be elsewhere.
"Work it to him, Tony. Work it to him, Tony," a boy in a plain white T-shirt shouts at the one in Hawaiian shorts. His face is covered with filth. A third boy, who wears a red bandanna around his head, Springsteen-style, and a black baseball jersey with blue sleeves, is laughing and scratching his groin.
"I get him next," the boy in the plain T-shirt says over the sounds of laughter, blaring music, and breathless screaming. Tony, the ringleader--they all seem somewhat afraid of him--takes the boy and wheels him around by his arms like a merry-go-round before dropping him with a thud on the unkempt lawn.
The three form a circle around the boy and pull him up. The boy bounces off one after another like a pinball caroming off bumpers. Whenever he hits one of the boys, the older boy says, "You pushed me," and slaps him in the face. The six-year-old makes fists of his hands and punches wildly, his head shaking back and forth, his skinny legs barely able to support his thrashing body. It is a sight that the trio of young toughs finds hilarious. They cannot stop laughing.
I am at a loss what to do, watching the scene from a distance. I decide to circle the block again to get a closer look. Maybe my presence will be enough to scare the young toughs away. I stop the car in front of the purple Plymouth Duster. From this close range, I see the three men on the stoop even better, still laughing and drinking, still ignoring the fight. One has a bottle of Jose Cuervo, which he is taking swigs from.
Still sitting in the car, I see Tony is laughing. Suddenly he stops laughing and adopts a steely glower, a terrifying expression in such a young kid. "You kicked me in the balls," he snarls. "I'll getcha. Fuckin' kickin' me in the balls." Tony pounces on the young boy and begins pounding his fists into the kid's groin. The kid in the plain T-shirt and the kid in the baseball jersey have started a chant: "Get him in the balls. Get him in the balls."
It is too much for me. I honk the horn, leaning on it. Tony gets up and sees me. He spits on the ground, ignoring the young boy and challenging me with his eyes. His two henchmen stand behind him as I speak.
"Leave the kid alone, or I call the cops," I say.
The three look at each other as the young boy runs for safety behind a metal fence. Tony raises the middle finger of his right hand at me. "Fuck you," he says, and the others laugh.
Suddenly, the three older men on the stoop are paying attention. The man with the white undershirt, whose droopy mustache is highlighted by a black goatee, stands on the stairs and calls out in a snarling voice, "What's the problem?"
"These guys were beating up on that kid," I yell from out of my car window, my right foot poised to switch from the brake to the accelerator if a hasty escape is warranted.
"Are you his family?" the man asks, and laughs. His two friends echo the laugh, just as the two young toughs had echoed Tony.
"No," I shrug. Tony mouths the words "fuck you" again.
"I'm the kid's father. These are his uncles. If there's a problem, we can take care of it."
I shrug helplessly and lay on the accelerator, not looking in my rearview mirror. I drive for about a mile and stop at a service station and go to the pay phone. I call the police. A troubled officer says he will do what he can. But I do not know the address or the names of the parties involved. He says he will do what he can, but I have my doubts.
The temperature at the bank on the corner of Devon and Western reads 98 degrees, and in the parking lot of a medical center nearby, a boy of about 12, wearing a black suit jacket and black pants and a maroon yarmulke, is trying to push a young Filipino kid off a bicycle.
I park my car in the lot and watch as the Orthodox boy yells at the Filipino kid, "You stole this bike from me two years ago. It's mine now, chink!"
"Please, sir," the little boy yells at me, "he's trying to take my bicycle."
I get out of the car and look disapprovingly at the older kid, whose face goes red when he sees me staring at him. He begins to let go of the bike and backtrack. "Why don't you leave the kid alone?" I say.
"You know you're a cheater," the bully yells at me. "Keep stealing bikes," he cries mockingly as the young Filipino boy begins to pedal away. The boy on the bicycle keeps saying over and over, "Thanks, sir, I really appreciate it." Meanwhile droves of people of all persuasion's have walked by the parking lot, their eyes averted from the mild confrontation.
The boy pedals out of sight, and I get back in my car. I start it up, turn on the air conditioner, and close the windows. I turn up the stereo and jam on the accelerator, feeling slightly proud and almost totally helpless.