Gangsters in the back room at the Blue Hill bowling alley. Counting money, playing poker, eating as much as they wanted, smoking cigars. Brave men they took no shit from anyone, guns violence intimidation all part of earning a living. They all seemed big to me large men tweed overcoats. Brand new cars they never drove alone.
Pool sharks, a name earned by gambling money on your skills to win at eight ball, nine ball or straight pool. Some had their own pool cues, leather case with a strap unzipped could be anything in there. Pool stick could be a weapon if you were smart, two weapons if you were clever. They dressed well had a mental library of verbal insults they carried around. Hundred dollar bills changing hands, they had status.
Pimps always had women surrounding them. They stayed warm in the winter with fur coats, drove expensive cars and seemed overly talkative. They commanded respect and were known to have skills with knives. Knife fighting in the 1950s was the way you resolved problems. I wondered why the women did what these men told them sometimes they all seemed like life was a big party. High profile men.
Street Fighters had little words. They were few. They drew a crowd during a fight, entertainment in the hood. Dying in a street fight was considered an honorable death it came with respect. They were loners sullen yet quick to explode. This was a learn by doing punishing skill, people bet on the outcome. Most of the girls wanted to be seen with them neighborhood celebrities. I seemed to be headed in that direction, but wanted to keep my options opened as there seemed to be a short life span and no money.
Summer League basketball players. The best players form the inner cities played competitive games at my court. I was the only white kid on our team, a point guard. Everyone showed up for these games. Pimps with their women, gangsters, street fighters, pool sharks, drunks, and junkies. This was my life I loved basketball. My best friend, had he lived, could have been a professional, I stopped growing at 5ft. 11 inches I could touch the rim but my friends could all get a hand over the rim, so that dream got smashed.
School, teachers, books did not feed me or my friends, they were of no use. We looked up to our local role models, the survivors. The only logical direction to go if you were strong enough was to one of these internships hoping to graduate with your body still intact and your heart turned off.