Sunday, April 7, 2013

Drums along the Passaic

May 31, 1980

The drum beat rises with the heat like crickets.
But even on days like this with a gentle rain, I hear them rising from the tracks up Passaic Street, a sound track to life here on this boundary between ghetto and the Old Polish world.
The birds chime in, caught up in their own endless conversation that seems made louder by the lack of screaming kids, too typical for other days when the sun shines.
This place would shake the faith of any middle class housewife: shouting and stomping, and the beat of the drums.
The kids dance to the back beat though the older Poles call it noise and call the police, who can do nothing, or won’t, figuring it is better that the black kids beat drums than the staggering Polish drunks who make their way out of eye-opener bars even this early in the day.
The sound of the drums reverberates off the sides of the rusting box cars and unused chemical tankers that are as much icons of this world as the strip club and the Polish bakery.
Our mayor talks about keeping the peace in this part of the city, while someone told me yesterday a cop got stabbed down here, and some has been setting fires, and black kids have been fighting white kids up on Main Avenue, the boundary between rich Passaic and poor.
Wiser people do not go up there after dark, but I’m not wise, doing my tour of the go go scene in search of authentic characters I might write about some day, finding that world all too authentic for comfort, many of the inhabitants looking at me and wondering what it is I put down in the pages of the notebooks I carry – their lives part of this amazing tapestry I can never get enough of, all too authentic even for me to handle sober – except on mornings like this when the drizzle greets me and so do the drums.

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