Schooling at 204 Center



28th St. and 36th Ave. 11106

Neighborhood: Astoria, Queens

Basketball has always been my favorite sport to play. I guess that came from living in an urban environment and not always having money. If you had anywhere from 2 to 10 guys, all you needed was one ball and at least one basket. It was a little more complicated in the winter. Fortunately, a local junior high, 204, had a night center where kids like me could play ball on cold nights…for free.

204 Center attracted a colorful array of characters. I lived within two blocks of “the projects,” so the games were pretty ethnically mixed and often fascinating. There was one Latin guy who never came to play, just to hang with his crew. He showed me the machete he always carried with him in case of trouble. He kept down the leg of his pants and would spend all night walking with a funny limp.

I remember one night—after smoking far too much herb—we got into a half-court game with some guys from the projects. Things were confusing and seemed to be moving slower than usual, but my outside shot was on…and I found myself getting noticed by the older guys. I can still feel the pride I felt when they complimented me.

We haven’t come far from our tribal roots.

Later that night, I walked past some black girls who were sitting on the sidelines. They were all about 18. One smiled at me and said: “What’s happening?”

She was slim and very pretty: a little girl face with a woman’s body and attitude. I did not know how to react to her, so I just smiled and started to make my way across the gym. To my surprise, she called me over for a lesson.

“When someone says ‘what’s happening’ to you, you either say ‘nothing’ or ‘me,’ okay?”

I smiled and said, “Yeah.” A cool 18-year-old black girl had taken the time to school my 14-year-old white ass and I was real pleased with myself.

There was one black guy, a few years older than me, who ruled 204 Center. I recall his name as Mickey Sessums. He didn’t come to the center too often but when he did, we all stopped to watch. Another guy who peaked at a young age, Mickey was far and away the best player in 204 and this notoriety did not escape the girls who came inside to stay warm and meet boys.

Mickey made a move on a white girl in my class. Her name was Annie and she made little or impression on any of us. You didn’t even know Annie was there…she wasn’t particularly attractive in that eighth grade sense. But she stunned us by hanging with Mickey at 204 and eventually becoming his girl. Being 14-year-old provincial dopes, we called her “Annie Black Cock,” but only behind her back. None of us wanted Mickey coming after us for messing with her.

I’ll tell you what: I sure looked at Annie in a different light after that. I suddenly felt like a 14-year-old provincial dope…while she was a sophisticated woman of the world. When I would run into her on Mickey’s arm, he’d nod and she’d just smile at me like I was a silly little boy…which, of course, I was.

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