Read Worlds Apart Online

Authors: Luke Loaghan

Tags: #Fiction & Literature

Worlds Apart (6 page)

The best boys swimmer was Jacob. He swam for two hours straight on most days. I was in awe, because I loved swimming. However, Jacob made it look like art, and I made it look like an act of survival. If I could swim like him, maybe high school would’ve been different.

Jacob took a break, and I sat down to interview him. Jacob was good looking and full of jokes. He had rock star hair; that’s how the girls described him. I could never picture him without a smile on his face, exposing his large teeth. Sandra joined us – she was the captain of the girl’s swim team, and Jacob’s girlfriend.

Sandra made me nervous. Trying to interview a beautiful girl who happens to be soaking wet in a swimsuit was not easy. She was also intimidating when she was dry and fully clothed. Sandra had curly, dark hair and naturally dark skin. She was tall and muscular, with a swimmer’s wide back and shoulders. Sandra had a physical presence about her that let you know she was in charge. It was in the way she walked, and the way she sat, always with perfect posture. Her commanding presence led some of the guys to nickname her The Amazon. When I was around Sandra, I always felt that I might be slouching, or that I could use about twenty five pounds of muscle on my body. But the truth was that there were hardly any girls in school quite like Sandra. She seemed deliberate in her speech and actions. Sandra also radiated self confidence and pure raw feminine energy, and that’s what probably intimidated most of the boys. In a few years, Sandra would become the ideal woman for any heterosexual male, but at that time she was surrounded by insecure boys.

Jacob was sure he would get a full swim scholarship to Cornell. Sandra had a half scholarship to a small liberal arts school in Ohio, but was still waiting for decisions from other schools. They asked about my college choices and I mentioned that there were no scholarships for sports reporters or guitar players. They laughed, but I wasn’t joking.

I asked Jacob why the Stanton Serpents swim team was the best in NYC and he answered, “It’s because of Coach Don Poseye. Coach uses techniques including summer training at Coney Island Beach on Neptune Avenue. The riptides are very strong, and during the summers we train there for about three hours a day. It is brutal. All the other swim teams in NYC train only in a pool. We’re at an advantage.”

Jacob flashed a smile and shouted, “You can quote me on it!”

These two were nice kids, and clearly athletically gifted. Graduation would probably mean the end of their relationship. Stanton was not the type of school where high school sweethearts ever got married or even stayed in touch. Jacob left the interview and dove back into the pool, immediately splashing us with a series of thunderous dolphin kicks. I was alone with Sandra.

I said, “You must be so happy. You have such a bright future ahead of you. I’m sure lots of good looking guys are waiting for you in college.” She smiled. Sandra and I barely knew each other, but the topic of going off to college was a sore spot. Her demeanor became less Amazon princess, and more vulnerable young woman.

“I really want to go to Cornell with Jacob, but can’t afford it without a full scholarship. I’m just three seconds short of qualifying for a full scholarship,” she said. “I’m realistic. We’re going to meet other people in college. It’s just a shame. We really have a great thing here.”

“I know all about it,” I said. But the reality is I didn’t have a high school relationship, or a half scholarship, so I really didn’t know anything about it. Sandra finished her interview and dove into the pool with a huge splash. I wondered if the few minutes I had spent interviewing student athletes would be remembered. In the future, when student athletes look back on their high school sports life, I hoped they understand that sports reporters recorded their own personal history.

I was leaving the pool area when Delancey entered looking gorgeous. She was dressed very feminine, not a hair out of place, completely well put together. She had on make up, which was rare, and looked like she just walked out of a fashion magazine.

“Hey, David, what are you doing here?” she said with a pleasant smile.

“I had to interview Jacob and Sandra. I hear it’s your birthday. Happy Birthday!”

“Thanks. Sandra, Jacob, and a few of us are going out for pizza; do you want to join us?” she asked.

“I can’t, I have to write an article for the next issue, but thanks anyway.” I didn’t have any money; I had given Sam my last five dollars.

“So what did you get me for my birthday?” she asked coyly.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t get you anything,” I stuttered, completely embarrassed.

“I’m joking. I didn’t expect you to get me anything,” she laughed.

“Oh sure…I knew you were joking the whole time,” I said. I tried to play it off, but I looked embarrassed.

“Maybe you can play your guitar for me sometime as my birthday gift,” she said. She definitely knew me well.

“I’d like that. Anytime you want. You know, I was considering giving up guitar to focus on more worthy things in life,” I said.

“Don’t ever do that. You have a God-given talent, and you should really see it through.” Her reflection in the pool was that of a beautiful nymph, airy, and erudite.

 

The next day at lunch, I asked Sam about Delancey’s present. He was angry.

“I’m so pissed. She’s such a typical you know what. I got $150, cut school with Carlos, and bought her a bottle of expensive French perfume. I gave it to her in front of all her friends. She said no thanks, that she’s allergic to the perfume. In Iran, no one is allergic to anything. I’m done with that girl, man.” Sam was brooding.

Served him right. Sam did nothing in school for the previous three days other than borrow money in an attempt to impress Delancey. He got nowhere fast. I didn’t think he had real feelings for her. He only knew that I found her attractive and that was enough to set him off. It was a game for him.

“Don’t even think of asking out Delancey; she would reject you instantly,” Sam said out of the blue, and his words resonated deep within my head.

The school workload was starting to pile on. I had eight classes, papers due, and tests coming up. Senior year at Stanton was meant to prepare students for college, and the normal heavy workload increased. In addition to state tests, I also needed to take Stanton’s final exams, which were famous for being more difficult than any state exam.

In gym class, some students discussed an assault on a student who was on his way home the day before. It could happen to anyone, and they discussed self defense options. The Deceptors had hospitalized the student. The sophomores in the locker room were in shock.

I felt indifferent, having had heard similar gang stories for years. I rarely saw a policeman on a school street. It was equally rare to see police on the subway, with the exception of Manhattan. I guess their job was to protect the working wealthy of the big city, and everyone else had to fend for themselves.

The boys in the locker room were planning to carry weapons for protection. A few months remained until graduation, and I didn’t want to ruin my chances of getting into a good college by getting caught with a weapon at school. I was too close to the end of high school to make such a stupid mistake. The best way to deal with gangs was avoiding them.

It was common to see a student showing off a knife in the cafeteria. Weapons have become a mundane showpiece; someone always had one. Anyone could buy a gun for fifty dollars in the park across the street. A masked student sold guns in the park every Friday. No one knew who he was, but everyone knew where to find him. He was Stanton’s very own arms dealer.

The kids of Stanton were smart enough to have their brawls outside of the school building. I had never seen a weapon pulled during an after school fight. Brooklyn had turned into the Wild West and if someone were to pull a gun, ten guns would immediately point back in their direction. Most of the fights involved fisticuffs only. The longest fight I had personally witnessed lasted sixty seconds. I could defend myself for sixty seconds without a gun.

In gym class, I lifted weights to exhaustion, but still looked like puberty had lost my address. I’d been lifting weights since I was fifteen, with minimal results. Guys like Mino and Jacob increased my insecurities, and skewed my body image. “A sound mind in a sound body” was engraved on a plaque outside the weight room. I could no longer feel my arms, but still did not resemble a classic Greek hero. Perhaps I never would.

The school employment office finally had good news. That weekend I would start working part time at a café in the city. The owner of the café hired me without an interview. It was good enough for him that I was a Stanton student. I needed to be at the café at seven o’ clock Saturday morning. It was great to finally be earning some money, but the new job also reduced the time I had to study for the SATs.

 

 

Chapter 4

Saturday morning, I eagerly rode the subway at six a.m. to the World Trade Center. An hour later, I was running through the ground floor of the Twin Towers, crossing a sky bridge over West Street, and jogging down the marble steps of a monumental glass and steel building called the Winter Garden. The Hudson River shimmered in the early morning sunlight.

An information kiosk explained that the magnificent building I was standing in was built on a landfill, using dirt excavated during the building of the Twin Towers. It was designed by Cesar Pelli. The newly constructed World Financial Center was like an entirely different world, a different dimension.

The owner of the café promptly started training, teaching me how to bake cookies, muffins, croissants, and operate the register. I was to start baking at seven a.m. every weekend. At eight a.m. a second shift would start. The owner of the café created a four page list of instructions. The first sentence read, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

At eight o’clock, three high school girls and one guy started their shift. They were all Chinese Americans, all young, all pretty. They did not need training and were from his other café at the Seaport. The girls had known each other for years – from Chinatown, elementary school, middle school, and, currently, the same local high school.

They spoke a mix of Cantonese and English. I was listening from the back of the café, shocked by their conversations. They were discussing night clubs, parties, sex from the night before, and how exhausted they were from the whole thing. At times, the girls told dirty jokes to each other and laughed intermittently.

I was feeling awkward around them. I continued to listen, surmising that “Dai Lo” was the head of their gang. They were just teenagers, but had already lived ten years more than anyone I knew. They were hardworking, smart, well spoken, some with ambition to attend an affordable college in the city. Family and gang obligations required that they stay close to home. I spent the first day on the job just listening, hardly speaking.

I was feeling like an outsider on many levels. Toward the late afternoon, about a half hour before my shift was over, Christine asked about my high school. When I told her I went to Stanton, they all laughed. Christine was the most loquacious, and the prettiest of the girls. She said they knew a lot of boys from Stanton. Kenny, the boy in their group, was displeased.

It made sense that they would know students from Stanton. Many kids from Stanton were from Chinatown, and a few were Chinese gangsters. These kids were smart enough to pass the entrance exam to get into Stanton, and smart enough to keep their grades up, but rumors always swirled about their involvement in nefarious activities.

Not all the Asian kids at Stanton were in gangs. The gangsters were easy to spot because they dressed the same. They dressed like the kids I worked with at the café. The gangster dress code included tight black pants tapered around the ankles, plain canvas sneakers, either a plain white or plain black tee shirt, and oversized denim or nylon jackets. Their hairstyle was blown dry very high, spiked, with lots of hair spray and gel. Some gangsters’ hair stood six inches high or more. Most of the boys had earrings in their left ears.

My first day at work ended at 5pm. Exhausted, I fell asleep on the subway ride home. My first weekend at the café ended at 5pm on Sunday. I still had six hours of homework, and three hours of studying to do. Upon arriving home, I did not spend much time with my brother or my father. In the past, the three of us had always spent Sundays together.

The ensuing week at school was typical. I studied for the SATs well past midnight. Sleep was the least of my priorities. The unofficial Stanton policy on sleep was, “you can sleep in the afterlife.” I wrote a few articles for the newspaper, and went home to study and make dinner on my designated nights. I deftly avoided the robberies and gang attacks on the school’s perimeter, and on the subways. More stories circulated about the Deceptors.

The Deceptors were a unique New York City street gang, because no one knew who they were. They operated out of many city high schools, and were always in disguise. It was rumored they had over a thousand members. Stories swirled that kids in school were the same Deceptors robbing and attacking other students. When they attacked, they wore face paint, ski masks, or bandanas. They wore hats and big coats. Some of the Deceptors were students gone evil, some had been co-erced, and others were just students who wanted to be in the gang.

Fear grew with each more incredible story about the terror of the Deceptors. Exaggerated stories became oral traditions, and freshmen often quivered in their shoes at the mention of them.

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