My boy Marvin Haynes and I just knew we were going to get caught, go to jail if lucky, get shot if not.
Nassau County in Long Island New York once (maybe still) had the highest paid police force in the country. Some of the homes in the Five Towns area of the county were so grand as a young child I thought they were department stores. That highly paid police force made sure nary a worry would the residents of Inwood, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, and Hewlett have.
There was very little crime in Nassau County and no black people. The only place you would see people of color in Five Towns were the shopping malls or the cotton fields. Cotton fields? Can’t say I ever saw them, but I was born free.
Give that a second…
This was a community African Americans were not welcome in and the towns made no attempt to hide that. The city council must have been high when they green lit a shopping mall that featured low cost anchor stores black people loved. Most likely they were unaware that black people could read or perhaps figured we wouldn’t
But I think they were high.
Mays, Times Square Stores, (TSS.) and Korvettes were Mecca to poor black people back in the day. Throw in a Robert Hall store and poor black people living in the hood would gladly travel a great distance at least once in their lives to shop there. The funny thing is poor black people lived rather close to Nassau County but distance does not equality make.
Marvin and I lived in Far Rockaway Queens or as we called it, the Rock. He lived in Redfern, I was from Edgemere. Both were housing projects in different hoods and if you were from one you didn’t even think about going to the other.
Think, Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, Crips and Bloods, Yankees and Red Sox, Ted Cruz and a clue.
Five Towns was surprisingly close to both of us. That’s because for some reason Far Rockaway is considered Queens and not Long Island. That’s mighty curious considering you have to pass Nassau County to get to Far Rockaway coming from most places in NYC. Just the name alone, Far Rockaway, would make those unaware of its location assume Long Island.
I wonder if it has something to do with all the poor people of color living there and Long Island property values. Far fetched? Maybe, but consider the world famous Beverly Hills California street Rodeo Drive. It’s pronounced ro-DAY-o. Fun Fact: Rodeo Drive runs from Beverly Hill all the way to the hood. However, where working people of color live it’s no longer Rodeo Drive (ro-DAY-o Drive), it’s now simply rodeo and its pronounced rodeo, as in bucking broncos and the like. That must be because of all those black cowboys who live there.
Marvin and I met at Five Towns that cold September Saturday night to have our first meal as future Masters of the Universe. There were no suitable eateries for such a moment where we lived, so it was off to Long Island.
That night became the most important night of my life up to that point. That evening we changed from boys to men and did so in the belly of the all-white beast. That night we faced down the beast that had wrought our lives in the past by limiting our future.
That was the night the future became our future. That September we became who we are today. So much happened that night but I remember it all without much help from my journals. I can’t believe how crisp in memory that night is to me still, It seems that night was both forever ago and yesterday.
Oh, and we robbed a white boy.
Yeah, we robbed a white boy, that’s why we were running. We crossed Rockaway Blvd at breakneck speed. It’s a miracle we didn’t actually break our necks. My cousin, Ronnie, had both legs broken when he tried that stunt a few years earlier. That was forefront in my mind. So why risk being crippled or perhaps death?
Let’s see, arrested in Five Towns or death?
Our destination was Mays and its connected mall. That’s if by some divine miracle we made it, we figured we could lose ourselves amongst all the other black people there. But two black kids alone and outside in Five Towns we had no chance and we knew that.
I’m sure there were and are people in Long Island that welcome African Americans as they would any other American with respect and kindness. I know because I met one a long time ago… on that very night.
Rockaway Blvd. is a massive street, 4 lanes of traffic heavy with cars, the preferred route to JFK airport and the two massive shopping centers positioned on opposite sides of the Blvd. We were now across (thank you, Jesus!) the Blvd. and the bright red neon lights of Mays lit the way to our escape route, its connected mall.
We stopped running and resisting the urge to skip in happiness as we approached the welcoming doors of Mays. About 20 feet from the entrance the door opened and an officer appeared walkie-talkie in hand. He held the door and motioned us in… shit.
Part 2. Take The A Train
Two Years Earlier…
It was my first day at the High School of Art & Design. I didn’t know anyone, nor did I care. This was the first day of a true to life dream come true. From that moment in 6th grade when I was told there was a high school where you could study art I was determined to be admitted there.
I have never wanted anything so bad before or after. It was at Art & Design I started to develop a keen sense of my own life and what would be important to me. Somehow, I knew those scant years I spent at A&D would be the best years of my life, and they have been.
I was filled with joy but I was also a kid from Edgemere so when I met this Marvin from Redfern I was on guard. Edgemere and Redfern were always at war and I had to represent the best I could.
We unofficially met on the walk from the Lexington Ave 59 St. Subway Station. But I noticed him when I made the switch from the A Train at Broadway Nassau to the 5 Train. You tend to notice people from other Hoods more when you are away from yours.
Before long it was obvious we were going to the same place, but neither of us said anything to the other. This was our ritual for about two weeks. He would get on at the beginning of the line, Far Rockaway Mott Ave. Four stops later I would get on at Beach 60th Street.
Our official meeting came on a cold winter’s day when I had taken train back to Mott Ave. There was a little chance of me getting a seat at 60th street and in the cold of a Far Rockaway winter I wasn’t the only person backtracking to Mott Ave. There were so many people doing it the odds of Mott Ave. riders getting a seat was greatly reduced as well.
At Mott there were a ton of people waiting to get into the car. Marvin was one of the first into the car, on impulse moved my backpack off the seat next to me to allow him to sit down. “Thanks” and “Sure” were our first words exchanged.
Before long we had worked out a system. Depending on the time of year it was pretty easy to figure out when the seating situation would warrant action. To that end I’d save Marvin a seat if I backtracked and he’d save me a seat if I didn’t.
We soon became good, no, great friends.
The day Marvin told me he was a Fashion major, I was amazed at how much I’d grown since entering A&D. My first Redfern friend and he was gay on top of that!
To my surprise I had no problem with it. Up to that moment I’d spent my entire life thinking gay meant faggot and that meant sissy, punk, homo, pussy and assorted other names I’d knock a motherfucker out today for calling any of my gay friends such.
Back then I was a product of my environment. The atmosphere today in the black inner city is not much better and the black church isn’t helping much. But that’s another story someone can bitch about having no superheroes in.
It wasn’t until I saw Marvin leaving the 5th floor bathroom heading towards the up staircase to return to his 7th floor class, I learned he wasn’t a homosexual. “Why didn’t you just use the 7th floor bathroom?” Marvin stopped, looked at me then he started laughing. “Good one, Mike.”
At Art & Design, the 7th floor restrooms were unofficially reserved for homosexuals.
This was part of the magic of the High School of Art & Design. Two black kids from warring hoods could become the best of friends, a tradition of stupid prejudices wiped away in a few weeks and life long friendships you would know were going to be just that, life long friends.
One of the happiest and saddest days of my life was the same day. My graduation day was so bittersweet, even now thinking about it I’m moved from a huge smile to tears. It was that day Marvin and I decided we would not drift away as friends. So, a few months later there we were in Five Towns enjoying what, to both of us, was our first ‘adult’ meal at a real restaurant. Beefsteak Charlie’s was an upscale eatery as any Marvin and I had ever encountered.
Our waiter was Jim, a white boy not much older than we were. Jim explained the menu items, but patrons who were getting up, placing some money on the table and leaving without so much as a goodbye to the woman at the cash register. Their waiter or the guy who leads you to your seats captivated both of us.
This was a culture shock like no other. There was no way we would even think about rolling out like that in the places we eat at in the hood. After the novelty had worn off and Marvin and I settled down for our first mature feast and it was what we thought it would be. All the talking on the phone about our new lives as college men and our bright future seemed to truly be within our grasp.
Then Stevie Wonder ruined everything.
Part 3. Songs In The Key Of Life
Long before Twitter, Facebook, Google, or even the Internet, word of mouth was the social network. Without a doubt the biggest buzz in every hood (it seemed) all over the world was the release of Songs In The Key Of Life that very day.
As if the world knew it would be, it became Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece.
Once Marv and I got on that subject we talked of little else. “Man, if we didn’t have dinner we could have brought the album…”
And that, boys and girls, is how Marvin and I ended up running across Rockaway Blvd after ripping off Jim at Beefsteak Charlie’s. To this day whose idea it was to fold a single five dollar bill so it appeared to be a few five dollar bills, making a false run to the bathroom, which was inches away from the entrance, then calmly walking out only to brake into a crazy run as soon as we were out the door, has been the subject of the longest debate of my life.
Marvin swore it was mine and I swore the idea was his.
I could tell you precisely who came up with what part of our master plan from memory and Marvin could also. This was part of our routine. We would embellish the story each time we talked. After a while all it took was one word from the story such as Mays or Jim to crack us up. Man, that story never got old and never ceased to get a laugh from each other or whomever we told it to.
Laughing was the last thing on our minds when the officer holding the door open at Mays said, “The store’s about to close, you guys better hurry up.” Hurry up? Hurry up and get arrested? When we got to the door the cop turned out to be a security guard who was locking the doors because Mays was closing.
He wasn’t looking for us. It seemed no one was looking for us.
“I saw you guys jet across the freeway, whatever you want must be important. “ Marvin and I could not believe our luck. That luck continued when Songs In The Key Of Life was on sale.
Around 11 pm Marvin called my house to see if I had gotten home, I had. The bus we took from Five Towns let his lucky ass off right in front of Redfern. I still had a decent click to go. He had already started playing the album and I soon joined him while still on the phone. This was the back in day, Google Hangout.
We talked about the evenings adventure and our laughter would always peak when we talked about Jim. Jim the white waiter, Jim, whom two black kids from the hood ripped off. No idea at what time of the morning Jim stopped being funny or when Marvin and I realized we were better than that “from the hood” shit.
The High School of Art & Design made us much better than that so the next day we went back with Jim’s money. Jim was off but the lady at the cash register remembered us and knew exactly why we had come back. She put the money in an envelope, wrote Jim’s name on it and placed it in the register. She did this with a huge smile on her face the entire time.
She’s the reason I know there are people in Long Island who see black people as equals. Her boss on the other hand came at us like a mad man. He refused to listen to his cashier and demanded we wait for the police. Art & Design aside, we were still two kids from Edgemere and Redfern. In mid-rant he realized his situation when Marv and I stepped in his direction he stopped screaming.
“Tell Jim we’re sorry.” Marvin and I said to both the manager and cashier then we were out. We walked to the bus stop but then decided to just walk the rest of the way to Redfern. I’d get the bus from there. Best walk I ever had. I began the walk as a boy by the time I reached my house I knew I was a man.
Marv and I were true to our word and stayed in touch. There were pockets of time when we fell out of contact for a bit but never for long. He was the first of my A&D family to come to L.A. to see me. Years later he asked me to look after his daughter Ashli when she got to L.A. She’s an awesome actress and as Marv is like a family to me, she is also.
Ashli called me a few months ago and ripped me apart on a matter. Although, I didn’t agree with her reasoning, the last thing I should have done was debate her, but I did.
Bad, bad move.
She caught me pissed and feeling sorry for myself so I did what I do when that happens, I react like I don’t give a fuck and usually I don’t but she’s family and I should have been better. Yes, I’m dealing with severe depression but that isn’t any excuse. My illness is no excuse for anything except damage done to me. I know that shit. I wondered if I should have run the conversation by Marvin but I decided against it. I figured I’d call him after offering Ashli my apologies. I’m smart enough to wait until I’m better suited to handle disputes with people I care about so I haven’t yet.
Once it works itself out, I’ll call Marv and we’ll have a good laugh.
I haven’t been laughing much lately. I could do with the always-hilarious trip back to Five Towns via Memory Lane.
I’ll see Marv on Memory Lane many times in the future but we won’t make any more trips there together. My friend, my brother, my boy, Marvin Aaron Haynes, passed from this earth Oct. 1st 2015.
That was over two weeks ago. Since then I’ve done little but write this and write my shrink a check.
So much for my weekly return to Bleeding Cool, ComicMix and life as I knew it.
Earlier I joshed about someone bitching about no superheroes or for that matter comic’s related fodder in what is now the longest single article I’ve ever written.
I went to A&D to become a cartoonist ended up never taking cartooning. I went another way. Those types of things are to me infinitely more interesting and informative than another, you can see Spiderwoman’s ass cheeks article. Yes, these are personal insights and not for everyone but there are plenty of people who write for everyone.
I write for those who want to see beyond the narrative of an article. An artist’s work is his life and my art, regardless of the medium, is fueled by events from my life. This particular event was to be the backstory for the Static Shock / Rocket, Milestone graphic novel, ‘the roof, the roof is on fire’ I wrote more than 20 years ago for the original Milestone.
It was to be Vigil’s coming of age story taking place in the future. When I was part of M2.0 I was going to revisit and update it. Now I’d consider doing that with M2.0 but I’m done waiting for answers.
Lastly I write for those out there who want to do what I’ve been lucky enough to. To achieve any level of success those who mentor, advise and teach you must share more than what any book or website can teach you. They must share real life facts about any profession in all its gritty reality. That goes especially for those who mentor black kids. Tell them the truth warts and all. I’m sharing this for everyone who has a person in his or her lives there the moment you became you and regardless of who you become they accept that person.
Hopefully that person not only shares that moment but also joins you in it. Like Marv and me. The following is just for Marvin but you’re welcome to read it.
Only love could get me back to Rockaway, and I loved you but damn Negro, could you have waited a click? You knew long before my bout with depression how much i dread flying. Once I was diagnosed, flying was something even my shrink said was a bad idea. Dude, because it was you, I brought a plane ticket and reserved a hotel room for the trip back to Rockaway for your New York memorial. You know I’ve much respect for those who live and work in the Rock, I’m from Edgemere and proud of it. That said the Rock took half of my family, so I’d just as well stay the fuck away.
Sunday night I arrive at LAX and all is well. Checking in, finding my gate and boarding could not be easier and as luck would have it, I’m in an exit row. You looking out for me, Aaron? Yeah, it took a while but you knew I’d call you the ‘A’ name before I saw you again.
Now about seeing you again…a funny thing happened on the plane. I started to have a panic attack the moment my ass touched the seat. I left the plane, left my luggage, laptop and meds, exited the terminal, and went to my car and for the next hour cried like a little girl.
I thought you’d like that. Yeah, I cried, Negro, you would have also, that was a brand new Mac.
I’ll miss you, you sexy BITCH.
A&D always, Friends for life, Family forever.