Ira, Arnie, Nicky, Dennis, and Red were waiting for me as I walked up the block. With them was Cliff Spinner.
The Berriman Street Boys often came over to Shepherd Avenue to hang out with us. Even Cliff Spinner. Months earlier, he had attacked us with urine guns, and then had stood on a roof shooting BBs at Ira and me.
My friends were on the bench in front of Red's house. Spinner was standing before them, bragging about how tough he was. Since he was one of the biggest guys in the neighborhood, his stories were true.
We planned to play ball later at P.S. 202, so I had my baseball bat with me.
"Hey, Joe, how many brothers do you have anyway?" he asked.
"Wow. That means your mother and father did it at least four times."
My friends laughed. He was over a foot taller than me, older, and outweighed me by at least seventy pounds.
He looked at me expectantly. In a street fight, as both of us knew, he'd rip me in two.
I thought quickly. Since he was so much bigger, stronger and tougher than I was, if I fought him one-on-one in a street fight, I'd be risking what I feared most: a head injury. I decided that because it was too dangerous for me to fight him, I had to murder him instead.
Charging him to build up momentum, I threw the bat as hard as I could at his head.
He ducked, then looked at me in shock. I hadn't thrown the bat wildly or just to miss him. I'd thrown it directly at his skull, hoping to split it open.
"You could have killed me!" he said.
"You don't fight fair."
That was his point of view. From my perspective, it wasn't a fair fight if both parties knew that the guy starting up with you can kick your ass.
I laughed again, then moved towards him, slipping my hands around his throat.
Seeing the fear in his eyes was exhilarating. I was also thrilled that my adrenaline had come through for me. In East New York, plenty of men murdered with impunity. Why not me?
Spinner was much stronger than I was. His hands were around my neck too.
He squeezed hard. So did I. As hard as I could.
"Get your hands down," he managed to gasp.
"You put your hands down," I grunted.
We rocked from side to side, as if we were dancing with each other.
"Put your hands down."
I moved my hands away from his throat, then dropped them. A second later he released his grip.
I grinned at him as he looked at me. He was only trying to beat me up, and for a little thing like that I'd just tried to kill him.