Growing up in the Bronx was a lot of different things. Fun. Frightening. Rough. Loving. As crazy and unpredictable as urban life in the 60’s and 70’s could be, there were always rules. They weren’t written down, and they weren’t legally binding, but they were rules. Violating them could result in anything from exclusion to ridicule to, in extreme circumstances, a good beating. And that was just from the nuns!
Our Corner Of The World
The sprawling neighborhoods were rooted in groups of friends. Some were seeded by shared addresses, a common Little League team, or similar heritages. Others, like mine, were cultivated by a love of music. Some of us fumbled our way through the first shaky chords on a crappy guitar. Others found their groove on a basement drum kit or discovered their true soul on the church organ. New friendships grew out of those circles, as cars and motorcycles added to the list of passions. New introductions were made as sisters dated boys from a few blocks away. Part-time jobs connected us with people from exotic areas like Pelham Parkway and Far Rockaway. Promises, hearts and the occasional bones were broken.
Like kids, teens and young adults everywhere, we developed loyalties. We learned how to deal with differences. There were small spats and heated exchanges on the street or the basketball court, and as we became more familiar with the demon rum, in the drinking places and later the bars.
When we would hang around, busting balls and talking smack, things could sometimes escalate, with nobody wanting to back down, ever. Paul Lamacq, who lived in the next apartment building, would sense when the insults were getting out of hand, and would sternly say, “HEY! No mothers, and NO BOOTSIES!” Bootsie was his mom’s little dog, who was often the subject of some amusement. Paul loved that dog as much as he loved his mother. So, when things got heated, the rule he invoked was simple. Fight all you want, but do not cross a line with words that can’t be taken back. Family, faith, anything that was personally painful or cruel stood out of bounds.
Today, over forty years removed, those core friendships still endure. Memories appear with an odd word, a faded picture, or a chance connection. A friend, out of touch for years, can call, and ten will answer.
As I look across the tortured political climate that grips our country and our beautiful town, and I see and hear the hurtful things new friends and acquaintances say, I think to myself, No Mothers, No Bootsies.