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.

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