“Your Dad the dope man…” One of the five boys looking to beat us up said.
I didn’t answer at first, not sure if it were a question or more of a statement, a confirmation or endorsement of some kind that might or might not have granted my younger brother, little sister and I safe passage through the unfamiliar patch of Atlanta’s Housing Projects known as Herndon Homes, a.k.a. Fifth Ward, in which we had found ourselves.
It was the summer of 1980 and I was 13 and heading into my Sophomore year at Southwest High School. I felt vibrant and ready to take on the world. Summer was almost over, but for me life was beginning. Facing a group of boys wanting to beat me down had never happened before. I had always avoided violence or situations that would put me in them. I abhorred fighting, but had a wild side that if pushed meant I would do whatever it took to destroy my attacker.
Usually we were safe in the Projects; relatively, but that was when we were traveling with our father, or at the corner store or in the Pool Hall, or on the Playing Field. Ahhh, the Playing Field. There were some good memories made there, both day and night. It was a sort of neutral zone where everyone in Fifth Ward gathered. Riddled with broken bottles and beer cans, as well as an assortment of other discarded items like dirty diapers, condoms, used dope needles etc, if something bad did happen there, it was almost sanctioned that it would end there, because no one needed friction while trying to enjoy themselves on the Field. Don’t get me wrong, It was by no means the kind of playground that one might expect to find fond memories, but somehow, amidst all the madness I did, and remember fondly the friends I made there as well as the late nights we spent playing, often until midnight, with no worries from our father that we were in any kind of danger.
The field itself was probably 200 feet long and 100 feet wide. There was a youth basketball court in the middle and empty space separating the field from the surrounding red and white brick buildings where people lived. All the kids living in Fifth Ward hung out on the Field, just shooting the shit, and being kids. The older boys, and some of the younger ones too, hung out in the more trashy areas to smoke weed and play craps, but for the most part it was where the fun was had whenever we went to visit my father.
Looking at each and everyone of the boys facing us, I chastised myself for getting off the bus three blocks early just to get a milkshake at a shop that until the current situation I felt made the best milkshakes I had ever tasted. At that moment, however, the milky cold treat was starting to make it’s way back into my throat as well as threaten to escape out the other end. Nevertheless, at thirteen and being a recent member of my high school’s tennis team, (i.e., meaning I had been working out all summer, doing suicide drills and working on my arm strength) I figured I would throw a few good punches, have my brother and sister run up to the Field as fast as possible, and find some of my friends or maybe even my dad and let someone know the situation for me was grim. But just as I was preparing to swing on one of the boys, I remembered that the Playing Field was the neutral zone and although I didn’t recognize the boys who were threatening us, I realized that maybe one of them had recognized us and instead of fighting, I took my chances and spoke up, “Yeah, he the dope man, why you asking?”
That confession didn’t seem to deter anyone except the original inquisitor, but an older boy passing through saw what was going down, and shouted, “Y’all better not fuck with them, they Pork Chop’s kids.”
And like that, instead of taking an ass whooping, we received cool handshakes and pats on the back.
“Damn, Little Chop’s,” The original inquisitor, said, he couldn’t have been much older than me, but acted older, “Y’all need to watch-out around here, motherfuckers jacking fools left and right.”
We walked through the five toughs unharmed, but very shaken, and when we got to the Field, I felt safe, relatively.