I ran deep into Bedstuy. Eight miles in the grayness and cold rain. With each block east, with each block south, you follow the degradation and abandonment. Elevated subway lines are veins that breathe life onto the sidewalks in their shadow. Away from the veins, things rot and rust. Fried chicken stands and cell phone accessory shops are supplanted by vacant lots with tall grass tangled in chain-link fence. Grocery stores are supplanted by food charities with lines out the door, down the steps, and to the corner. The throng wedge their metal carts through the door. Frantic and fragile, they snatch and pile cans in their baskets. I ran down Fulton past two teenage girls who looked like they had been poured into their jeans. “Woooo! Slow down suga!”
Fulton is a main drag. The side streets are all residential. The hunched brownstones alternate the colors of dark and milk chocolate. I leapt over a curb puddle sparkling from drizzle. Three terse explosions popped forty feet to my right. Up the side street between apartment steps and parked cars, six young black guys dispersed and ran. When I saw them sprint, it forced the uncertainty of the explosive pops (firecrackers? engine backfire?) to congeal immediately into the shriek of some demonic machine. One is well-acquainted with the crack of gunfire from the modern lore of television, but there is a murderous difference between war and a painting of it. Body.
Me, I might as well have been fired down the block by that very gun. My legs pumped until a deep negligible nausea appeared in my thighs. One of the six rounded the corner and sprinted with me in stride. Both of us gasped and clawed desperately at the air ahead of us, trying to propel ourselves forward. We dodged the sidewalk gauntlet of terrified faces, all examining us as heralds freeing them from the limbo between what they heard and what they fear they heard. After two blocks, the kid fell behind and stopped running. I turned back and we exchanged a look. In that fraction of an instant, I asked him if what i think happened, happened, and he told me with watery eyes and a countenance still reverberating with the last image he saw before he ran: yes.