Old Days Are Far Away

1 03 2010

“Mami!  Chula!  Baby!”  Women walking about Bushwick, Brooklyn constantly hear the cat calls hissed their way.  They do what they can to dodge the constant remarks from the guys on the block.

But it’s different at the C-Town supermarket on the corner of Wyckoff Ave. and Hart St.  You won’t find women rolling their eyes, flicking a finger, or ignoring the tattooed, pierced-eared, Timberland-boot-wearing Reyn Kevin, 33, who from behind the deli counter responds to orders with, “You got it honey,” “Whatever I can do you for beautiful,” or “I am at your service sweetie.”

Women young and old almost always leave the deli counter with something more than just Boards Head Ham, American cheese, or macaroni salad.

“I watched my mother kill herself working.” Kevin expresses about his mannerism with the customers, “She deserved the help and so I say it takes 60 muscles to frown but only 16 to smile.”

Luis Almonte, 56, who has worked with Kevin for two years states, “If you come with troubles, Kevin makes you feel better.  He even tells me, ‘Old man calm down.  Take it easy.’”

“Problems come and go,” Kevin says drinking a coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts after eight straight hours of taking meat orders, wiping down glass counters, and translating for Almonte who doesn’t speak English, “but if you stress yourself, that problem will still be there.  Me, I work hard to live for tomorrow.”

Although recently moving to East New York, Kevin survived some of the toughest times in Bushwick.  During the late 80’s and 90’s, gangs ruled the streets; stray dogs attacked residents; and drug dealing was an epidemic.  For a while, residents called the Knickerbocker Ave. shopping area, “The Well” for it endless supply of drugs.

As a teenager, Kevin succumbed to the street life.  He thought he wouldn’t live to see 30.  But in 1997 after spending two years in jail, a 20 year old Kevin moved to Massachusetts.  It was his escape “out the hood,” he said.

Upon returning in 2001, Kevin, who asked that his real name not be published, wanted to cut all connections with his old self.  It’s his “defense mechanism” against old enemies and street tales told about his days as “Killer Kal.”

“I made a deal with God.  If he made me look younger, I would be a better person.” Kevin says laughing, “I think that’s why I look like I’m 18.”

Although Kevin has since moved on from the old days, he believes some Bushwick residents don’t want to do the same.  Gentrification has caused many to resent new neighbors, renovated apartment buildings, and the police that patrol the neighborhood.  To Kevin, residents are not fighting to help themselves or each other. “Everyone wants but no one speaks up or does anything,” Kevin says, “for me, my two hands are going to make me a millionaire.”

Almonte agrees, “It is the guy who works hard that you must fear.”  Almonte states, “He is the one who gets it all.”


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