I’m thinking kinda creepy may just be what works best in this neighborhood though. There are a lot of street punks hanging about and I don’t need any of them thinking they might want to try and break in.
So, I invited them in for dinner.
I’d been walking passed them for a few days. Every day they’d be hanging out in the alley, smoking cigarettes and talking about… I didn’t know what. They always stoped talking when I walked through. A few of them would be sitting on the low cinderblock wall that ran along the side of the alley opposite my building. The rest stood around, shifting from side to side, kicking rocks around or just shuffling their feet. It was a narrow alley. One or two of these kids always had to move for me to get through comfortably.
They really were just kids. I called them punks in a previous post because the term fit my attitude at the time. But when I think about it now, they projected a kind of Punk Rock look as well. And without really trying. Still… in late 1978 and early 1979, I doubt kids this age in Omaha would even knew what Punk Rock was yet. I certainly didn’t. It was clear that these kids were just trying to look tough. And they did look tough… for kids. They were tough kids, so I thought of them as punks.
At least I did at first.
I must have realized that it wasn’t fair to simply discount them (as punks) like my creepy neighbor must have done. They were scared of him. So was I. My neighbor scared everyone. Whenever he rumbled through the alley in his flat-bed Ford, we got out of the way. No one actually saw him. His apartment had no windows AT ALL! and his truck’s windows were either so dirty or full of obstructions you couldn’t see inside if you’d tried. I doubt anyone ever tried though. They would be too scared he’d see them looking.
My mature, adult self now thinks I might have been able to pull off a scary look as well, if I’d tried. This might have made a lot of things easier on the streets of Omaha (and later I actually acquired a pretty scary look without trying) But despite all my experiences on this road thus far, this road full of predators and scammers… (and perhaps BECAUSE of those experiences) I still ended up insisting on being the good boy in some way or another. I was becoming the good man really without trying, I guess. I can’t really recount my internal processes for any of this. You my dear reader, will just have to take my mature adult self’s word for it.
Whatever it was that got me to thinking this way, here. Here in this alley. Just outside my very first apartment. MY FIRST ROOM! I must have realized that these kids (these punks) were my neighbors. My real neighbors. So one day I decided to just stop and chat.
They were cool with it, and it wasn’t long before I invited them in for dinner.
I was coming home from the Safeway with a bag of groceries. Coming through the alley to my door on that side of the building, I greeted my little neighbors and noticed how a few of them seemed to look at the bag I was carrying in a certain way. Instead of thinking they might be looking to jump me (as a bunch of punks would) I took the plunge and asked if anyone was hungry.
Well… this simple act of common decency was just the thing. Just what I’d needed to do to win the trust of these kids and facilitate my entry into their little gang. This little gang of “punks”. From the moment I let them into my dingy little basement room with the dungeon-like door and the scary, creepy guy on the other side of the building, and fed them… I was their pal.
And what did I feed my new found young friends? It was THE classic bachelor dish. Top of the list of entrees, on the menu for solitary young male “just get the food in me” cuisine.
Shit on a Shingle
My new young punk friends thought I was a genius! They were absolutely amazed by how I could feed the whole group for just a few dollars. They were in awe of me but you all know the recipe, yes? A few pounds of hamburger, a loaf of bread and one giant can of Cambell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. Brown the hamburger in a fry pan and mix in the soup with some salt and pour the resulting MESS o MUSH! on top of a few pieces of toast for each person and wa-lah… the whole gang got full up and they LOVED it!
They loved me for feeding them and better yet, for teaching them how to feed themselves with so little money. It was Omaha street survival skills 101 and I was the number one professor.
I couldn’t have planned a better way to ensure the safety of my stuff in this neighborhood if I’d tried. My new young friends put my place on the protected list. It was automatic. I had nothing of value in my room, but it was safe. Of course, I had only so much time to find the money to keep this room that I had now made so very safe.
This would require other skills. Skills I also didn’t really understand I had. But I had them and I did find the work that would bring in the money… for a time.
I’ll go into the story about that time, in time. When this continuous story will of course have to be…
To be continued…