The Extortionists of Sixth Grade



100 W 77th St, New York, NY 10024

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

It was 1978 and I was in sixth grade at public school I.S. 44 on the Upper West Side. A group of boys robbed me- daily.

Tyrone, a mean little black kid in a blue down coat, which he wore regardless of whether it was summer or winter, grew up in the projects just a few blocks north of where I lived. His voice was high and nasal and there was an accent of summers spent with his aunt in the south. The robberies were his plan.

Ketchup was his cousin; he was light-skinned and lived on ninetieth. He was my age and we had been it elementary school together; back then he would just punch people when mad and then a little while later he’d like he was your best friend.

The third boy was tall enough to be a man. I was very afraid of him. He seemed to have been left- back for five years or something. He should have been in high school or working, not taking money from a sixth-grader.

Tyrone would take the money from me; the other two would assist in one form or another, depending. The part that truly terrified me was that it would happen anywhere or anytime. The school yard, the walk home, after school and even taken directly out of my classroom. Tyrone would even politely ask the teacher if he could speak to me for a moment and she would call me over to tell me someone wanted to speak with me and I would just go with them.

I would be walking home and they would appear out of nowhere, at these moments I would barely even bother to run. What was the point? They were faster and stronger than I would ever be. They were boys who attended gym and didn’t care about any other class. I never asked myself what was I doing to deserve this treatment from these boys.

They would catch me and separate me from the boys I was walking with and demand whatever money I had.

After school I would go do errands for my grandmother and they would be waiting for me by the supermarket or at Arthur’s, the local paper store taking the money that was giving to me for the supermarket. My whole life became the chore of sneaking, just to get to and from school or up to the local stores. Hiding from three boys.

The pressure that surrounded me was like the dark bottom of the sea with all that strange adapted sea life that seemed like monsters.

Once a routine had been established, they started to request how much money they wanted. I tried to comply, going home to my Mother and my Grandmother, lying to them for extra money, telling them there was a school trip to Wolman Skating Rink or the Bronx zoo. I also stole as much of the money as I could from the laundry quarters or out of purses. Every so often the lie would be discovered when I actually did have a school trip and really did need money.

I would take the blame, saying I wanted for candy. Some days they wouldn’t get to me. These were the days I loved and could remember to exhale out into the world. They had cut school or seemingly forgot and the relief I felt that the day would have one less lie. I knew that sooner or later they would catch up with me, so the anxious feeling of wanting to get away, to be left alone was never far away. I never knew or ever really wanted to know.

I suppose I was a victim- helpless when all I had to do was tell someone what was going on but I couldn’t. I didn’t see there being any point in telling. I wanted for someone to take notice and help me, save me. It just went on. I was the only one they did this to or there were other kids they did this to. Secretly, I hoped there were others.

Tyrone would walk into my classroom and march me right out to the bathroom and start going through my pockets for money. The walls of the bathroom were a bright shiny blue and it smelled of cheap disinfectant and young boys urine. My legs would be sweating and I couldn’t stop shaking. Through his teeth Tyrone would tell me to shut the fuck up and it would begin. He would be looking for the money.

His hands in my pockets tugged and pulled and then Ketchup would punch me in the back of the head. The third one would act as a lookout.

They told me to bring more tomorrow. I would haggle for a day or two to get the money.

“If I had another day then I could give you five dollars instead of two.” That was my bargain.

Then I would walk back to my classroom like nothing happened. The day for the exchange of money would come and I would cut school and hide in Central Park. Days would be spent in playgrounds alone, or watching flashers over at Belvedere Castle. One time I found a man near death in the bushes by the King of Poland statue, his wrists were slashed. I called the cops.

Finally, my teacher figured out that something was going on with me and these boys. I was questioned, told her that they were taking money from me. Phone calls were made to parents. A meeting was held in the Principal’s office- Tyrone, his older sister, my mother, myself and the Principal were present.

Tyrone couldn’t sit still and I was incapable of moving a muscle. He squirmed and sucked his teeth with every mention of his name.

All that was occurring was that he was being reprimanded for torturing another child into submission, to the point were asking for help no longer made any sense. Nothing else happened- no suspension, no police investigation. We walked out of the principal’s office.

I walked to the third floor to my classroom and Tyrone walked down to the basement to his room. Tyrone and I never spoke again. Christmas Eve when I was a senior in high school after opening presents, I was going to get stoned with friends on 110th street I was walking by the projects and Ketchup and his four of his friends mugged me and stole one of my Christmas presents- a Sony Walkman.

I had only had it about an hour. I asked them to give me the tape; I said they wouldn’t like it. They did. As they ran away, Ketchup stopped, apologized, and then punched me in the face.

I fell into the snow by the chain link fence and bushes, got up wiped the wet snow off my jacket and walk uptown and got high. I got really high on bong hits for the rest of the night.

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