Monday, April 4, 2016


Letter “B” is for 'bangers and 'ballers and we've got lots of them around. They're not what you think. The 'bangers are the hard-working men who are day-laborers and who fix the houses in the 'hood or go out and work in more splendid houses in the suburbs. They leave early in the morning if they're traveling and come home to their families in the mid-afternoons. They may have a beer or two, cook some bar-b-que, or a goat, listen to a little reggatone (mariachi hip-hop) music on the box, play with the kids and go to bed early, so to do it all again the next day. These are the men of families who live in my 'hood. Some young, some not so young. My Mr. Fixit and his wife live right next door and he's the odd-job guy for my landlord. Neither he nor my landlord speak much English and when they come into my flat to fix something it takes 4 hours and a lot of hollering in Spanish; it's like the 2 Stooges.   

A group of day-laborers, or " 'bangers" working out of the Port of Tampa. These men and women have to be up and ready by 3:30 or 4:00 a. m. to be picked up and taken to the various works sites. They're typically paid daily and they work hard.

The 'ballers are the younguns. The little kids with their plastic balls that they ALLL get at the grocery store and throw up and down the street. We have to watch for the little ones, and try to keep them in the yard. Nebraska Ave. and it's environs is not kind to the young. More people are hit and maimed by cars here than in any other place I can think of. But, kids love to play with their balls and it's a hard lesson to learn. We try to keep them on the side streets or in Cuscaden Park, if we can't keep them in the yards. The yards are tiny and not all that much fun, but the kids are.

These balls are ubiquitous and innumerable. Their poor, deflated carcasses are all over the street, lying there forlorn; little wrinkled flags of dirty and semi-colorful plastic, now stiff and degrading, having given some child or a batch of kids their 15 minutes of fun before turning up their little toes and dying. I remember these from MY childhood and they haven't changed one iota.

Like kids everywhere, they've managed to turn an asphalt and grit driveway right next to my flat into a wonderland of their own design. There are anywhere from four to twelve of these kids tearing around, in this small space, 20' x 80' on a sunny afternoon, making up games, laughing and shrieking. There are more girls than boys, so I think there's more shrieking and if I remember my own childhood correctly, it involved a lot of shrieking in the streets. I was so loud my mother used to complain, but then, she complained about everything I did, or maybe it's just that the girls are a bit more shrill. Whatever, as long as they're not crying, it's good.

The bigger kids in the 'hood have these colorful plastic balls that they buy for a buck or .99 cents in the grocery store and the balls are pretty much the same balls we all had when I was a kid. Large, colorful and none-too-sturdy, they'll stand up for a couple of games of kickball and then deflate and lay there, dead soldiers in the street, while another kid offers up his sacrificial ball to the eternal game of whiling away an afternoon, pre-rush hour, when everyone starts peeling off Nebraska Avenue and dropping off folks from jobs, or coming home themselves.

The prostitutes are ubiquitous as well, but they are bolder after dark. The fact is, crime is prevalent 24/7. There's a saying around here, "I'm not afraid of the dark; I'm afraid of what's in it." I don't ascribe to that; it pays to be alert 24 hours a day.

Then, as day turns to early evening and fades into night, I can finally sit on my own porch, which faces due west and is a mother in the summertime and only good for catching varying degrees of melanoma during the day, but very pleasant in the evening and at night. I can then sit in the shadows and watch the Avenue stir, and awaken in her other form. She comes to life with another beat of her own, that has nothing to do with the day's innocence of children and hard labor of the working-class poor. This is the time when the Avenue stretches, yawns, and breathes, as her pulse quickens and the sirens are heard up and down Nebraska. A new set of 'ballers and 'bangers have arrived, only these are not the benign ones seen during the day. These are the ones who deal the poison, and pack the muscle to make the reluctant do their bidding. Which is the real Nebraska? As in any complex and multi-layered tale, they both are and sometimes it is difficult to see where one ends and the other one begins, because they do overlap.

As in most depressed and poorer areas, crime rates do drop during inclement weather, but they skyrocket during heat waves. Unfortunately, Florida is in mid-heat wave from about May until November. 

Children have been known to commit the most horrific of crimes here in daylight, the same as in any other place on earth. There are people who risk their lives both by night and day, and not just the police and the Fire-Rescue people, but folks who are out there all the time, taking care of the most at-risk folks; the mentally ill, the youngsters whose mothers are too zoned out on heroin to know where their kids are and they do it out of a sense of caring, not because they are receiving paycheck or a check from Social Services.

There are the soldiers of a gang, or the 'bangers. We don't see so much of this, thank God, but we do see the Kingpins, who typically, drive very pristine and expensive cars; exotics like Lamborghinis and Mazeratis. One dealer, or " 'baller" drives a limited edition Mustang Shelby Cobra, and I can recognize the sound of that engine from anywhere on Nebraska Avenue. The car is awesome, and very well taken care of. Drugs have been a part of Nebraska Ave. since forever, and with the mixed-zoning, it's impossible to stop the flow.

It is a rich and varied tapestry of damage and the mending of souls that makes this Avenue beat. Her rich and tough and completely unstoppable human spirit that makes people rise up again and again, to try and care for and stop the greed, corruption of the soul and bring a little kindness, light and some laughter into some lives that may have never had any. That, more than anything explains my fascination with what goes on here and also, my understanding of why I belong here on Nebraska, at this time. I am a keeper of the Chronicles, I guess. Nothing more than that.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sad to think of those kids out playing with street gangs fighting.
Bangers sometimes BBQ goat?

Crystal Collier said...

You know, I sometimes wonder about those poor kids--what their lives would be like if they could just be raised in a community with good ideals. It's mind boggling how much the lives of the parents transfer to the lives of the children.

C is for Cheese

Kathe W. said...

oh my- chiiling and scary parts....those poor little kids-

Viola Fury said...


Thanks for stopping by! There are actually 2 kinds of 'bangers and 'ballers. The good kinds are the kids and the day-workers. The kids with their balls, which are overseen by everyone on the block. It's been a long, long, long, long time, since the bad kind of 'banger has shot a kid. The kids with their plastic balls play in my driveway in a fenced-in yard with those rubber plastic balls. I think I was going for artsy and came up with "confuse much?". At night-time, when the littlest ones are off the street, and the day-laborer 'bangers, with their hammers are sleeping, the 'bangers (soldiers) and 'ballers (drug kingpins) are out and tearing up and down Nebraska. That is when I hear the gun-shots and the roar of that Mustang Shelby Cobra, although I've seen it, and the car has actually stopped to let me cross the street (legally blind with cane and all - he doesn't want to mess with me or the cops, I'm guessing over something so minor).

We all do our best to keep the kids from all of this blight and there are success stories, but it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that by the time they get to junior high and high school, the lure of easy money and the streets is too much to keep them on the right track. Thanks for stopping by, Alex. Sorry if I confused you. BBQ'ed goat is a staple for the Hispanics around here; a working class delicacy. <3 Mary

Viola Fury said...


Thanks for stopping by. Some of the kids are raised right, in one parent families, but it's really hard when everyone around them is being raised by a single mom, who has 3 or 4 kids with different fathers and mom has either no job, or 3 jobs and is still being paid handsomely by the State for having those extra kids.

Speaking as a private teacher and software educator who never stepped foot inside a public school classroom in Florida except to observe, it really is meaningless when the teachers are forced to teach for a test in Standardized Teaching, in a subject that they are not qualified to teach and the students have little interest in learning.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a teacher, both as a violist and as a software trainer is that all I could really do was inspire. I could give a student the basics, but if I could not imbue some sense of mystery, either about the sound of the viola, or the magic of manipulating at it's most basic level 1s and 0s, then I was not a good teacher.

If you can get a kid to buy into that, you can grab them in the palm of your hand and they will listen for hours. The parenting is up to the parents. I'm fortunate in that I made a decision to NOT have children, because my mother was a horrible mother, and I would have been a horrible mother, but my mom was a good teacher and I can be around kids all day long. There are six of them living on my property and God willing, there are six souls, who will grow up right. Their parents are good parents, as well. Thanks for stopping by, Crystal. I know you care. I wish we could save every kid in this 'hood, but I'm happy with the batch that came my way! <3 Mary

Viola Fury said...


Thanks for stopping by! Kathe, it is not as bad as it sounds. We have not had a child shot in this 'hood in ages. Across the bay in St. Pete, there have been shootings and killings of children there, but thankfully, it has been a long time since one was shot here on Nebraska in quite some time. The kids are pretty well protected, and they don't play ON Nebraska. There are parks well off of Nebraska where they play and they play in my yard and driveway and that is fenced in. That is about 100 feet off Nebraska and is separated by a cement-block wall, so they're pretty safe. If we hear helicopters overhead, or a bunch of sirens, everyone just goes in the house.

Unfortunately, playing outside at twilight is out of the question. That was my favorite time to play outside and it probably is for most kids, still, but it isn't an option here. However, that doesn't stop them from galloping up and down the halls, because I can hear them next door. :) Anyway, kids are ever malleable and these are a delight. We keep them safe. Their parents are good parents and I enjoy playing with them and teaching them some things along the way. Thanks again for stopping by! <3 Mary