I loved our neighborhood. It was a breeding ground for dysfunction and abuse but it was also home. The only home I knew. Our apartment building was massive. It was low income housing but at that time we were all too young and naive to realize we were poor. The building resembled a huge stone castle and living in such a place seemed like a grand adventure. There were six apartments total, 3 on each side. And is it turns out, two abusive perverts on each side as well. My dad was one of course and as we later found out the nice, older brother of my friend next door was the other. There were a lot of children. Every apartment housed a minimum of four kids and most had more. There were Kids everywhere and little to no adult supervision. We were starved for attention and they knew it. They always know.
There wasn’t much of a backyard to play in, just a large square of dirt with lots of litter strewn about. The front steps led directly out to a busy roadway with constant traffic driving by. As a child, your options as to where to go when you were headed out to play were pretty limited. There was a small convenience store a 10 minute walk away. I loved that damn store. We used to do anything we could to come up with money so that we could buy a lollipop or some other cheap, sugar filled distraction. It was often the highlight of our days.
It was a tiny place. The floorboards were uneven and created an orchestra of pops and squeaks as you walked in. It was perpetually dark, the majority of light filtering in through dirty windows and any sunlight that happened to find its way in when the door was pushed open. There were probably only 5 shelves in the entire place. One shelf had a variety of canned and dried goods with a thick layer of dust on them probably long past their expiration date. Another held an odd assortment of every day possible necessities. Matches, fishing tackle, batteries, toilet paper. The rest of the building was crammed full of coolers filled with a variety of beer and the long counter behind which the owner sat. He didn’t seem to care much for children and wasn’t a big talker. He had a perfectly round scar on his throat and the rumor was that he was shot in a fight and spent time in prison. We made that rumor up ourselves of course. He probably overheard us telling stories about him, hence his disdain for local misfits scrounging up change for candy.
It was a liquor store more than a general store but of course none of us knew any different. The fact that you had to actually walk past three bars just to get there never seemed like a big deal. Local drunkards would wave or scowl as we scurried past, depending on their current state of inebriation. Some of them knew us from the neighborhood or knew our parents and would give us money to grab them a pack of cigarettes. Perfectly acceptable to do back then. It was especially helpful when the grown up in question would give you the change from the smokes as a reward, further enabling the overall mission of collecting cash for candy.
Nobody thought it was weird then. Drunken adults hanging out with little kids. Nobody vocalized it anyways. I wish somebody had but I’m sure it wouldn’t have made a difference. My friend’s brother hung out at the store and the bars frequently. So did my dad. More so the bars for him and more so the store for the other guy but it all blends together anyways.
I thought I was going somewhere with this but maybe I’m not. I just miss the feeling of excitement that stupid store used to give us. The feeling of escape or adventure or happiness. I was happy when I thought about going there. A feeling I am still trying to recapture. Maybe I never will. Maybe the happiest times I will ever experience was when I was a little kid, looking for change to get candy at a local package store.