Nineteen eighty-nine

Karl Martino – 12/1/97

Nine years ago, when I was 16 closin’ in on 17, I was living in a squat. A squat is a vacant house occupied by people who are homeless – electricity was stolen from neighboring houses, no phone, no heat (we couldn’t figure how to get that goin’). It was winter and it was cold, although I really didn’t pay attention to the weather, I had, in my mind, the entire world against me – so why worry about the weather?

This humble home was down by the Tioga EL (Elevated Line) train station. If you are not familiar with this section of Philly – be thankful. Every night – on my way home I would walk by prostitutes, pushers and homeless. People who grew up with no hope for a future. And a neighboorhood that likes to keep it that way.

One prostitue and I would talk every night. She would walk beside me as I walked, tryin’ to convince me I needed her. And everynight I asked the same thing to her – why? Her anwser was simple enough. Same answer. Every night. “It’s all I know”.

“It’s all I know” – man I used to hate that. Because I felt the same way. My line of sight was blocked by my surroundings. The American Dream to me was just that – a fuckin’ pipe dream. Conjured up to keep people in place. Two parents to a household? On Happy Days maybe. Around every corner was a threat, a broken promise, and an aliby. And you know what? it didn’t bother me. “It’s all I knew”. This was my
lot in life. You deal with the hand you are delt and get on with it.

One thing did hurt back then though. My brother Dante was separated from me. Up until this point in our lives we never really understood one another. We’d fight each other way harder then we’d ever fight anyone else. He had his way and I had mine. But this situation forced us to become close. We faced many wild situations together in such a brief span of time. These months brought us together like never before – and then – he was gone. We were betrayed. It’s been hard for me to trust someone else since. Now if I call someone a friend – that is the highest complement I can give them.

I listened to music. Constantly. Even if I was homeless, I clutched on to my boom box as if it were life itself – metal was my one and only drug. Music that dealt with overcoming obstacles. Fighting for what you believed. That even if this world sucked, we could make it through, if we stuck together. It might sound strange – but it saved me.

I took my lumps because of metal too – we all did. In Philly it was very unfashionable to listen to it. Rap was in. The New Kids On The Block was the look. It was the age of the P.M.R.C. – the Parents Music Resource Center. Can’t count how many times I was rushed – getting beaten up by more than one person when you weren’t looking – hearing words like long haired fagggot, druggie, satan worshipper. We were no one’s children. No one wanted to claim us. Yet we accepted everyone into our fold. There was no particular “look” you had to have. You could be any race, any religion. The only tying bond was that we didn’t fit in anyplace else.

I made a vow never to judge a book by it’s cover. No matter how attractive or hideous. You never know what’s inside.

Everyday was an adventure . Without goals and with almost unlimited time on my hands,
I explored Philly. Especially Center City. Here I would sit and watch people everyday. Overhearing their conversations. Seeing the vast differences in us all. Admiring the people who I saw – at that time – as beautiful and blessed. And seeing, surrounded around me, those who had it much worse. The American Dream at work. At least I was working in a restaurant in South Philly washing dishes. It didn’t provide me with the cash to get my own place – but at least provided enough to get around and eat alittle.

And now look – Here I Am. I have a family of friends who I love dearly. Worrying about my next bill instead of my next meal. I have so many people to thank and so much to be thankful for.