Steve McNally was the oldest of the East 4th Street boys I called my friends when I was about 7 years old. He was thin and lanky with jet-black hair parted tothe side, a little button nose, freckles and surprisingly thick Coke-bottle glasses. Steve always looked rather innocent,— a "Dennis the Menace" striped shirt suited him quite well,— but we learned at a very early age not to let the glasses and shirt fool you. For Stevie was our unofficial leader. Being two years older than the rest of us and knowing a bevy of cursewords certainly gave him the upper hand in our world of box ball and tricycles. If you never heard a curseword from your parents, you were sure to learn it from Stevie first.
One day found me playing in the dirt beneath the shrubs in front of my house on East 4th Street. The block was alive with children like it always was when I was 7 years old. Tricycles running down my driveway, metal roller skates clanking on the sidewalk, girls jumping rope. This was Brooklyn in the 60's, and our parents were nowhere to be found. "Hey Ronnie, come to the back of the driveway, I have a really good dirty word" Stevie said smiling. Stevie told the rest of the boys too; my brother Joseph, my cousin Pete and his own little brother Paul followed Stevie up the driveway to the garage. I left my little green army men in the mist of their battle and ran to the back of the house where everyone had gathered."OK, you guys got to promise that you didn't hear thisword from me." We all looked at Stevie and shook our heads in agreement.
The anticipation of a new "dirty word", there was nothing better. I tried to imagine what a dirty word looked like, grease and dirt all over it oozing with disgust. "OK, ready", said Stevie. We gathered in a small half circle around Stevie , looking at his mouth, waiting, waiting, waiting. Very slowly his two top teeth fell gently over his bottomlip. "F_ _ k" came out of Stevies mouth. He looked at all of us grinning. I looked at Stevie and said "what does it mean." Stevie and the guys looked at me and laughed. My brother Joey looked at me and shook his head in disgust. Being almost two years younger than my brother, I always felt pretty stupid about things I didn't know yet. "Ronnie, it means when a man and woman do it" said Stevie. "Do what, I said." My brother Joey and my cousin Pete looked at me and laughed. Feeling I had to leave before they startedmaking fun of me even more, I turned around and started heading back to my army men in the dirt.
The walk from the garage to the front of the house is about 75 feet. Because the houses are only 15 feet apart, the driveway is usually draped in the shadows of the massive behemeths we call our homes. But past the darkness of the driveway is always the light of the sun. As I walked from the shadows into the sun I started to feel better again. I looked under the shrubs, and my little army men were still there, a full-scale battle still raging amongst candy wrappers and red ants. The new word Stevie taught me couldn't leave my head. I kept repeating it over and over to myself. There was soon a shadow over me and my battlefield. I slowly looked up, it was my Mom."Ronnie, I need to speak to you." As I was led away holding my mothers hand, I turned around and looked atthe guys. Joey, Pete, Stevie and Paul all put their index fingers over their lips and mouthed "Shhhhh." I just looked at them and said "F _ _ k".