Protecting the Pit
My brothers and I were at the top of the yard when we heard the sound of gravel and dirt crunching beneath the tires of some old, rusted-out pickup as it barreled down our driveway. It was mid-summer, mid-afternoon, and early enough that we knew it wasn’t Dad, who worked late those summer evenings welding at the shop. Mom was inside sleeping, and since she never had visitors, we grabbed our spears—the tall, hand-carved sticks we’d sharpened with kitchen knives by the shed out back—and stampeded down the hill toward the strangers in the truck. We were naked, as always. And we were dirty, screaming “get the fuck off our property,” as we charged, raising our spears above our heads and growling and flipping the finger. It was 1990, and I was four. Chris and Jonny were five and three. We beat on the side of the truck. “Leave, motherfuckers!” The men peered through the windshield as if they’d accidentally driven to some strange corner of the earth where children became warriors and fought naked with sticks. The driver rolled his window down a little. He had a thick, dark mustache like our dad, a mullet that disappeared into the back of his brown-and-yellow flannel. He smiled under his giant aviator sunglasses. “Where’s your old man, little dudes?” But we didn’t answer; we assaulted his truck. We kicked and punched the doors. We wound our spears back like bats and smacked the hood. The men only laughed. They didn’t stop, either. Not even when the engine sputtered and clunked into reverse, and the truck roared backward down the drive. Or as we chased naked through a cloud of dust screaming “run, pussies” until they disappeared around the bend and reemerged a moment later across the Duquesne Bridge.
We were living on the southeast side of Pittsburgh, in Mckeesport. The city was a panoramic sprawl down the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers, past the steel-mill sheds, the trolley tracks, and the open-faced boiler of the hospital. There were burned-out houses and abandoned mansions from the forties, when steel was king in the city. Empty shells of buildings, which were once the mighty National Tube, sat quietly along the riverbanks, as if waiting, always, to be great