blocks away from the warehouses of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the perpetually jammed elevated nightmare known as the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, three young boys chased each other with sticks. Out of eyeshot from their respective parents, coincidentally (or not) all Hippie Generation artists, they played within a large, fence-offed space situated between two aging apartment buildings. The buildings stood as survivors during an era of widespread fires, crime, and general neglect. Not that the three boys, ranging between the ages of five and seven, seemed to mind. They were too busy running over cobblestone, slabs of concrete and patches of dirt in their multicolored Keds and bellbottom jeans to show any concern for the happenings on the other side of their spacious play area. They certainly weren't aware of the crack epidemic and cuts in social services to come. The private lot was guarded by a ten foot high gated wall and only opened for neighborhood cars to park in. Going through the many locks attached to the gated wall was a process and the boys always had ample time to stay clear of the incoming and outgoing vehicles which crawled past the broken ground.
From the boat-sized Ford Gran Torinos to Plymouth Gran Fury's, each vehicle kicked up pebbles like real boats do waves. Despite their massive size they all easily fit inside one of the two barns at the back end of the lot. The barns were a throwback to a time when the area still demanded work horses. Although the horses had been sold a half century earlier, the lot still featured smaller animals and included a nice sized vegetable garden as well. Between the tomato plants and the gas guzzlers inside the two barns were smaller coops for rabbits, hens, a particularly hostile rooster, and even homing pigeons used by a dying breed of pigeon racers.
The area, off the corner of Franklin and Park (city planners showed their sense of humor in not placing a single park anywhere near Brooklyn's Park Avenue) was once an Italian ghetto known as South Williamsburg. In actuality, by the late '70s and with Italians having escaped to Long Island, the area was really an extension of Do or Die Bed-Stuy. Puerto Ricans had chased out the Italians just as earlier the Italians had chased out a large Irish population. Today the Puerto Ricans are gone too. The area is now dominated by Hassidic Jews with pockets here and there of Midwestern hipsters trickling down from the other side of Broadway. To attract more hipsters, realtors now refer to the neighborhood as Clinton Hill.
The three boys played their games long before any realtor had moved the goal lines. Jesse was the strongest of the three. He was the leader and the one who'd come up with ideas like chasing each other with sticks, or throwing rocks at the gated wall. Sean was the sensitive one who'd usually prefer playing with his two Siberian Huskies. Despite their wolf-like appearance, the Huskies knew to respect the space of the territorial rooster although they weren't as shy in going after the healthy supply of stray cats. John-John was the youngest of the three and pretty much followed the two older boys around. He looked up to the group's leader, recognizing Jesse's street-smarts. He liked the tough sounding second grade words like "chicken-butt" Jesse tossed around. John-John would take those words as well as Jesse's taste in music, movies, and comics back to kindergarten to appear just as tough. Sean offered fewer obvious things for an average five year old to admire. In fact, little John-John was often thrown off by Sean. He looked different. His black hair and olive complexion didn't seem to match his almost abnormally bright blue eyes. A blue that stood out as much on young Sean as they did on his pet dogs. He spoke different. His words were of someone older but not the type of stuff John-John could use for material in kindergarten. He had different hobbies. While Jesse was learning karate, Sean's parents had signed him up for fencing. He acted different. Much more polite in sharing his toys than Jesse or any other young kid. With an electric train set and an endless collection of Star Wars action figures he even had better toys.
One day Sean moved to Manhattan. Others moved in and out of Sean's old first floor apartment, but whenever John-John looked into the back or side windows, he saw Sean. Nothing melancholy there, just a sincere understanding that those windows were Sean's well before the arrival of any interlopers. As confident in his belief that the old apartment belonged to Sean, John-John knew he'd run into his friend again. He knew his parents were still in touch with Sean's and that they'd meet at the type of parties parents often throw. John-John had an Aunt who moved to Las Vegas and she still came back for Christmas visits. Manhattan was a lot closer than Vegas so John-John figured that in no time he'd find Sean at the kiddy table, right next to Jesse. For whatever the reason, however, that never happened. The parents lost contact. Each set stuck in their own things that life has a habit of serving up. Occasionally there was a phone call between the parents and once in a blue moon Johnny, as he was later known, would hear stories about Sean. Some good, others bad. In high school Sean became a male model. By 16 he was featured in a Rolling Stone Magazine ad. Later on, during the early '90s he worked for Calvin Klein in print and television ads. Later still, he moved to South Beach, dated beautiful fashionistas, partied with actors and actresses while also picking up a drug habit. He had gotten sick while in England where they discovered a heart problem. Then the stories faded away. As did the magazine and television spots. In 2004 he was mentioned in a New York Magazine article featuring the final days of designer Stephen Sprouse, but other than that, little else on a once recognizable male model.
Nearly 30 years after last seeing Sean, and 10 years after last seeing Jesse who he'd run into at the occasional wedding or funeral, John finally completed a pair of short films. Both shorts made decent runs on the festival circuit and while thinking of a third project, he decided to look Sean up. Maybe just a Facebook friend request to see if Sean had remembered him. The Facebook search went nowhere but a Google one, leading to an IMDb page, showed that Sean had traded in his career as a model for one as an actor. Small experimental stuff mostly. More recently however he co-wrote, co-stared and co-directed an indie feature with the brother of one of the world's best and most famous filmmakers. John was happy for the former friend who decades earlier, had taught him to play the closing theme song to the Incredible Hulk on his piano. They'd meet again, John thought. Maybe they'd discover common friends from the indie film world. Those thoughts didn't last. Further web searches revealed something horrible which had been omitted from his IMDb page. Sean completed his final project while bravely fighting cancer. Hair gone, complexion gone, his body frail, Sean passed away several months ago, shortly after putting the finishing touches on his final work. He leaves behind a wife and two kids. He also leaves behind parents who John-John remembers fondly and sends his deepest regrets and condolences to.*