I was born and raised in the heart of South Central Los Angeles – on Seventieth Street, between Hooper and Central Avenue. It was a long residential street with the neighborhood elementary school on the far, east end. I hated my years at that school. I was one of the fashion and personality disasters there.
An old Goodyear plant stood at the far, west end of the street, across the main street, Central Avenue. I remember staring into the distance at its robust, dingy brown façade. Sometimes a Goodyear blimp would take flight and I would stand, gazing into the sky until its enormous size shrunk into the distance.
There was a dirt field in the middle of Seventieth Street that morphed into a lake of stinky mud riddled with trash of all kinds. If some passed by, stepping over large black ropes of mud that somehow had been dragged onto the side walk, one would have to stop the natural act of breathing to remain free of the stench. Miss Clarkson lived in the sand colored apartments there, parallel to the dirt field. However, she was only seen creeping down the sidewalk with an old wooden cane when she needed a single bag of groceries. I always thought she was a pretty, gypsy looking old woman. She never went without a fancy scarf tied around her head and gold, hoop earrings. Whenever I saw her, I’d yell, “Hi Miss Clarkson!” and she’d hold up an open palm or smile and nod. Many of the neighborhood elders received a greeting from our household whenever we saw them taking a walk or sitting on their porch.
Warm days brought the neighborhood children through teenage into the street to play some kind of sport or just to ride bikes, skates or go-carts. I can remember one teen who always came dancing across the street whenever he had a sandwich from the kitchen and others who were always taking pictures in suits and ball gowns for some grand event for school: prom, homecoming, or graduation. Sometimes we just stood at the fences of our yards laughing and talking. I remember my older brother made a tent in the backyard for my little brother and me. Using a king-sized blue blanket, he supported the middle with a tall stick and held down the corners with large rocks. He went to the store on his bike and returned with snacks for us to munch on. For a little while, we were camping like those brave hearts that frequent Big Bear and the Red Woods.
One day, I saw a man across the street behaving really weird. One of my brothers said he had flipped out on Sherm or something. With a staggered, Sumo stance and bulging eyes, he awaited cars and chased them as they passed. After being patient, he actually caught one having leapt off the sidewalk and latching onto the passenger door (the window was rolled down). It dragged him a few yards before he finally decided to let go.
I can remember one by one, the prideful elders began to pass on, like clouds blown away by heavy winds, leaving behind thugs and new-booty, wannabe gangsters. But soon, we children grew up and passed on too – we moved away to other places and things.