Omaha on a Shingle
The ally outside my dingy little basement dungeon of a room, is also a hangout spot for this group of kids. Most appear to be in their early teens, a few as young as eight or nine.
I’ve seen them nearly every day now, on my way in or out. They stand around, smoking cigarettes, talking… looking tough. Some sit on the low cinderblock wall that runs along the side of the alley opposite my building.
They always stop talking when I walk through.
Shifting weight from side to side, they kick rocks around or just shuffle their feet. It‘s a narrow alley. One or two of these kids always has to move for me to get through comfortably.
They really are just kids. But they project what my adult self would now see as a kind of Punk Rock look. And without really trying. In late 1978 and early 1979, I‘m not sure kids in Omaha would even know what Punk Rock is yet. I certainly don’t. But then, I don’t know much. For all I know, these kids are totally up to speed with all the latest in urban youth culture.
Either way, it‘s clear that these kids are mostly just trying to look tough. And they do look tough… for kids. They are tough kids, so I think of them as punks, in the way my naive, nineteen-year-old, ignorant, rural, midwestern self… imagines punks to be.
At least I do at first.
Somehow, at some point, I realize that it’s not fair to simply discount them (as punks) like my creepy neighbor probably does. They’re as scared of him as I am. My creepy neighbor scares everyone.
Whenever he rumbles through the alley in his flatbed Ford, we all get out of the way. No one has actually ever seen him. His apartment has no windows AT ALL! And his truck windows are so dirty and full of obstructions, you couldn’t see inside if you tried. I doubt anyone has ever tried though. They would be too scared he’d see them looking.
My naive, midwestern, good-boy, self doesn’t realize it yet, but I’m developing a bit of tough, scary look myself. Without trying. Seems a scary and/or tough look is a good idea in this part of Omaha. I guess I’m seeing these kids differently now.
Whatever it is 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) are my neighbors, my real neighbors. So today I decide to just stop and chat.
They seem cool with it, so I invite them in for dinner.
I’m just getting back from the Safeway with a bag of groceries. Coming through the alley to my door on that side of the building, I greet my little neighbors and notice how a few of them seem to look at the bag I’m carrying in a certain way. Instead of thinking they might be looking to jump me (as a bunch of punks would) I take the plunge.
“Is anyone hungry?”
Well… this simple act of common decency was just the thing. It’s just what I 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 am their pal.
And what do I feed my new found young friends? I feed them what is no doubt THE classic bachelor dish. The 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 now think I’m a genius! They’re absolutely amazed… in awe of me by how I can feed the whole group for just a few dollars. But you all know the recipe, yes?
A few pounds of hamburger, a loaf of bread and two cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. Brown the hamburger in a fry pan and mix in the soup with some salt and pepper to taste. Pour the resulting MESS o MUSH! on top of a few pieces of toast for each person and wha-lah… the whole gang is full up and ready to go!
They love it!
My new little gang of punks now love me for feeding them and better yet, for teaching them how to feed themselves with so little money. Omaha street survival skills 101 and I’m 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. No doubt my new young friends have now put my place on the protected list. I have nothing of value in there, but it is safe now. Of course, I now have a more pressing concern. I have only so much time to find the money to pay the rent so I can keep my dingy little dungeon of a basement room.
This will require other skills.