All Souls

All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald

Book: All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Patrick MacDonald
midcalf, and flipped our collars up. Hospital pants and shirts were popular—and sometimes a surgical mask around the neck!—and everyone had a “Southie cut,” the trademark hairstyle that proved you were from the neighborhood. I had to get a Southie cut once I noticed everyone had something to say about the bushy mess of curls I’d inherited from Nana’s people in the hills of Donegal. The Southie cut consisted of hair severely parted down the middle in a perfectly straight line, cut very short, and blow-dried back to form wings. People walked with a stiff neck to keep all their hairs in place. The toughest guys in Southie looked as if they’d spent hours getting their hair just right for a day of milling about on the corner.
    All the boys had homemade tattoos, done with a sewing needle and green ink. Some had a shamrock outline and “Irish Power” on their arm. On some afternoons you’d see teenagers sitting on curbs tattooing a cross onto each other’s middle fingers, and a dot onto their wrists. The “Southie dot” identified you as okay within the neighborhood but would get you into trouble if you ever ventured into downtown Boston, where everyone said there were loads of blacks looking for fights, and liberals who branded Southie kids as thieves, punks, or racists. Most people in my neighborhood didn’t have any reason to go downtown anyway, except to steal bikes from college students or to shoplift, none of which ever was to be done within the neighborhood. Those were the rules. And if you ever ended up in jail, your Southie dot would make you a target among the black inmates. But everyone went ahead and did the Southie dot anyway, to prove their loyalty to the neighborhood, regardless of the consequences in the outside world.
    If South Boston was its own world, Old Colony was a world within a world. Aside from the strolls up Broadway, we mostly spent our entire day in the project, especially in the summer when school was out. There was plenty of excitement. Every stoop had its own group of mothers and babies sitting all day, next to wading pools and a hose that spilled water onto the sidewalk and into the gutter. The water in the gutter was called polio water, because it stank so bad from mixing with mud and garbage, and if you ever stepped into it you were branded for a whole day as the one with polio on your sneaker. Skoochie and a few other shoplifters went door-to-door, with people excitedly calling them from windowsills to come up and show them the hot goods. Dizzo came down our street with his ice cream truck about five times a day, blasting the warbling recorded melody to “Three Blind Mice.” Dizzo knew everyone in the neighborhood and got out of his truck to share all the latest news with the women up in their windows or on the stoops, while kids poured out of the woodwork to buy their third or fourth ice cream for the day. If the little kids couldn’t get the ice cream money from their mothers, there was always some neighbor who had an extra quarter, and Dizzo was known to give a free ice cream if you looked really desperate or put on a “left out” face at the truck’s window.
    Like us, most of the kids in Old Colony had no set time to go into their apartment to eat. So around what would have been suppertime, someone would pull out the illegal firemen’s wrench and open a hydrant, spilling more water into the gutter, making floods of polio water at the bottom of the street. The news traveled all over the project in minutes, with kids calling up to their friends’ windows that the hydrant was open. We lined up at the mouth of the hydrant to jump into the blast of water and were pushed across the pavement on our backs all the way to the other side of the street. If we touched the polio lakes forming on the downslopes of the pavement, we could wash it right off with the rush of hydrant water. When cars came down the street,

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