Around this time of year is when they’d usually start appearing along the side streets of Kensington and Windsor Terrace. Big brown paper bags being clutched and carried by the tiny hands of young children. Or maybe even a heavy worn A&P paper shopping bag with twisted twine handles burning the fingers of some teenage kid with its heavy weight.
Yes, with precious cargo inside their warm brown bellies, we’d just make sure never to carry them along Church Avenue. Because you never know if you would be caught by the local “beat cop” or even worse your mother walking out of Walbaums on East 3rd street.
Just like little soldiers they’d march by my house too. Unfamiliar faces never stopping to talk and always looking straight ahead. Because when you “bought”, you always made sure to walk down someone else’s block besides your own. For you never knew who might see you, or catch you with the “stuff”.
Sometimes “mistakes” were made too, the heavy brown paper bags were dropped or just ripped in two. Succumbing to the weight of their massive load they spilled their contents along the sidewalks like candy. And frantic attempts were made to pick up the “stuff” before anyone else could see. Pockets were hastily filled and shirts were stuffed. And kids just walked away looking like paper dummies on Halloween night.
Yes, these were tough times in Kensington and Windsor Terrace, especially if they didn’t double bag it.
With many bags being filled up to the top, it was hard not to notice what was inside, because their cargo was always red. Yeah, a bright red no matter what the year. And I guess we were always environmentally conscious, and “green” before our time, because we never used plastic, no just brown paper please.
When it came to buying the “stuff”, it was always someone that knew someone else that did your dirty work. And they usually had to go somewhere pretty far to buy it too, either way down on East 2nd near Ditmas Avenue or up on Greenwood in Windsor Terrace. No one ever “sold” on your own block you know, and even if they did, you never found out.
One time I was actually allowed to enter a cold damp dungeon of “selling”. An anonymous side entrance of a house on East 2rd street, and the password “Frankie sent me” still lead to some hesitation of the part of the "seller". Because you never knew who you could trust nor who may be a rat in Kensington Brooklyn.
I remember it was a large room in the finished basement of a red brick house. The air was still cool, even on a hot June night. Everything was just the brightest red, and the smell, oh, the smell was nothing like you have ever known before. A strange sweet smell that was almost floral. And the "stuff" had beautiful names like, Fountains, Mats and M-80’s. Block-busters, Helicopters and Bottle Rockets. Things were usually sold by the "gross" or the dozen, because once you were allowed in, you never bought just "one".
Oh, and the brown bags? yes, enough brown bags to last a lifetime, along with enough gunpowder to blow up half a city block.
Yes it was "Fireworks" season in Kensington Brooklyn, and I'm sure glad that I never smoked.