Thursday, November 02, 2006

Harlem’s Lingering Hatred of Brooklyn (Part II)

Part II: Black Socks

Based on a Real Ass Story...

One Easter weekend in a simpler time, a time long before Rudolph Giuliani ran his magic broom across New York, two high-school-aged Harlem boys decided, against the recriminations of friends and family, to take a trip to Brooklyn.

“Psssh, whatever!” said the two young boys. They weren’t scared. So what if the motto “Harlem makes it, Brooklyn takes it” was based on something like fact? It was Easter weekend, and they had on their fresh new gear, and they were from Harlem! They were Untouchable like Elliot Ness.

They had heard that Coney Island was the place to be that weekend, and so they were going to take the train and spend the day there and holler at the girls. And there was no Brooklyn crew out there that was gonna stop them.

The boys tried to recruit their friends so that they could roll with an intimidating-size posse.

“Brooklyn!?” said their other friends. “Y’all must be out your fucking minds.”

“Yeah, they gonna smell Harlem on you.”

Pssssh, whatever. The two boys weren’t scared of no Brooklyn cats. If them kids at Coney Island think they can tussle with us, then they have another thing coming.

It was a long train ride from 125th Street to Coney Island. They had to transfer a couple times, and when they did, the young men milling around the stations in Brooklyn would glare at them. They felt their eyes on the back of their necks, but they strolled through confidently, chins up, a swagger in their stride. Sometimes, they even glared back.

Coney Island, once they finally arrived, was electric with life. They ran into a couple friends of theirs from the neighborhood and embraced them emphatically, excited to see other Harlem cats. They soon formed a little Uptown entourage, walking up and down the boardwalk. They were all dressed sharply, as Harlem cats were known to do. You could tell the Brooklyn kids by their raggedy sneakers and shabby jeans.

The Harlem cats would laugh and point. “Hey!” they would shout. “Look at that fool’s busted ass kicks. Look like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future! You need to travel back in time and get you some new shoes, pimp! Hahahaha!!!”

The two friends laughed as well. What had they been afraid of? Man, Brooklyn ain’t got nothing on Harlem. Just a bunch of dumb, country-ass fools.

The hours wore on, and the two boys started talking to a couple girls. Since the girls were from Brooklyn, they lied and told them they were from Brooklyn, too. “We’re from Bed-Stuy, baby,” they said, winking at each other.

They took the girls under the pier and started having their way with them. One of the friends took it a bit too far with his girl and she ran off cursing. Her friend, who didn’t really want to leave, ended up following her. “Stupid Brooklyn girls,” the two boys muttered.

By now, it was almost dark, and they knew they’d better start heading to the train, just in case.

Hoping to see the familiar faces of the other kids from their neighborhood on the boardwalk, they were instead met by an unsettling silence. “Yo,” said one to the other. “We better get back to Harlem before it gets dark.”

A few blocks from the train, they had the sinking suspicion that they were being followed. Sure enough, less than a block behind them was a group of at least 10 Brooklyn cats, their eyes glinting in the half-light. They picked up their pace, and so did the young men behind them.

“Ain’t you in the wrong neighborhood?” a voice taunted from afar.

As they approached the train station, the two boys ducked into an alley and waited for a few minutes. “When we get to the station,” said one to the other, “they’ll be waiting for us. So this is what we do…”

Without another word, the two friends began unlacing their brand new sneakers. “I hope this works,” they said.

It was dark. The streets of Brooklyn were menacing. It was like a scene out of “The Warriors.” All that the two boys wanted was to get back home, back to Harlem. As they came to the station, they saw them, the Brooklyn crew, lurking in the shadows near the stairs. Splinters of orange light danced on their switchblades.

As the 10 or so young men fanned out around them, the two boys stood there with their heads down. Jesus please don’t let them kill us Jesus please--, they repeated in their heads.

Suddenly, one of the Brooklyn cats started to snicker. The snicker turned into a couple of snickers, and then a few chuckles, and then before the two boys knew it, a riotous fit of laughter had overtaken the Brooklyn crew. One from among their ranks bellowed, “Dammit, somebody already jacked these bitch-ass Harlem niggas! Hahahaha!!!”

The Brooklyn crew made a narrow berth for them, shoving them gingerly and following them onto the platform. Epithets were thrown in their direction, but the two boys just walked with their heads bowed, looking at their socks.

As the train galloped into the station and came to a stop, the two friends boarded it, trailed still by a hail of curses from the Brooklyn crew. “And don’t come back to Coney Island or Brooklyn again, you stupid Harlem muthafuckas!!!”

But when doors of the car sighed shut behind them and the train started pulling out of the station, one could see smiles creep over the faces of the two Harlem boys. Through the window, the Brooklyn crew saw them lift up their shirts. And in their waistbands, in plain view for the whole Brooklyn crew to see, were two pairs of crisp, slightly flattened FILA sneakers. The two boys erupted in a fit of nervous, uncontrollable laughter, as the stunned faces of the Brooklyn crew receded into the night.

When they finally returned to Harlem—the train ride had seemed to pass quickly this time around—they were drunk with pride and couldn’t wait to tell their friends on the block about the whole ordeal: about how two Harlem cats had outsmarted a crew of about a hundred, weapon-wielding Brooklyn niggas.

It was a story for the ages. They would tell everyone.

But first they had to take off their socks, which had gone from a virginal white, to a grimy, gritty black.

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