Once upon a time… lol. Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I know it’s cliché to begin with that sentence, but it’s the appropriate way to start this true tale about a couple of cats who grew up together, one a realist with street cred, the other who dreamed of a different existence. They’re both memorable and intriguing, almost like characters in a fictional story. The funny thing about these two brothers is that they have always shared the same space… within me.
In the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago during the eighties, a child growing up there was inundated with every type of influence one could imagine, both good and bad. There was the underbelly of human existence exposed on a daily basis, as well as the possibilities of hope. I used to wonder what it would have felt like to grow up affluent, or in the country, or even White. The place where a person grows up is imprinted on them forever, and no matter where I go in this life, vestiges of 63rd Street are with me. It’s a gift and a curse, but I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without the dual influences of my neighborhood.
Marlon was the good side of me, the boy who loved poetry, reading, daydreaming, romantic movies, the boy with good manners, well-spoken, who always found the silver lining in every situation. Duck (my nickname, still is!), looked for adventure, for temporary escapes, fast rewards, was fearless when it came to anything, always willing to fight because people tended to underestimate boys who wear glasses.
There was a library on 62nd and Kimbark, an old Chicago Public Library which was never crowded, never a hotspot, and the two halves of me relished my weekly sojourns. There’d be maybe two or three librarians present, maybe a handful of other people milling around, but it was mostly deserted. Marlon was in heaven, all of those books, and he could choose whichever he wanted. He came up with a system which he still uses to this day when at a library or bookstore; select one book by a favorite author, one so-called classic, and pick a current release. Simple. In this way, Marlon read Dumas, Dickens, Austen (boo!), Baldwin, Wright, and any other classic novelist. Twain was a favorite, along with Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, Betty Smith, the list goes on and on. A boy in love with books and words is a beautiful thing.
Duck, on the other hand, felt that if only seven books could be taken out at a time, why not “liberate” more? For every seven books that were taken out, there were at least three more which left the library on that day. This was a weekly occurrence, and the home collection grew tremendously. I was well-read, then and now. Years later when the library closed, I was glad I had “liberated” those books, because they probably would have just been thrown in the garbage.
Walking home from the library, I’d walk past hustlers, thugs, prostitutes, the church, stores, and it all blended together within me, the good stuff and the bad.
In sixth grade, I transferred from St. James Catholic school to Andrew Carnegie, a public school. Penny loafers and Argyl did not go over so well . That damned Marlon didn’t realize how different he was from most of his classmates intellectually, priding himself on answering every question, baffled at how hard reading was for some of them. In turn, I was resented, and a couple of guys attempted to bully me, unaware that Duck lay beneath the outer veneer. They learned quickly. I was never bullied again, and most of those same bullies are now lifelong brothers.
Another funny thing happened in sixth grade, which became a side occupation which lasted until about 2003. A classmate wanted to date one of my neighbors and asked me to put in a good word for him. Being opportunistic, I asked what was in it for me? He promised to bring me some weed if I could do him the favor. He also said to bring whatever money I had, so he wouldn’t feel as if he were getting cheated. The next day, I took $2.80 to school for this deal. In return, he gave me two freezer bags full of marijuana buds. And just like that, Duck became the “weed man.” Those freezer bags contained about five pounds, and I hid them in my speakers, my toy box, inside of toys, etc. I learned how to bag, etc. Interesting, right? Even looking back, it’s hard for me to believe the things I once did.
Shooting craps was another interesting skill which I acquired. I learned how to “lock” the dice, how to palm them, and how to make bets which seemed like sucker bets to my opponents. To this day, if you ask anybody who knew Duck back then, I’m the only person who would bet that I hit a straight four, all craps. For real.
The dreamer and the hustler, the angel and the crook, the optimist and the pessimist, Marlon and Duck. Over the years, with all of the things which I’ve witnessed, I learned how to balance the ying and yang of myself. I had to reign Duck in, because he would have had us in some extremely bad situations. Yet, there are times when that side of my nature must prevail in order to survive and achieve. I don’t trust people very easily, nor do I let them inside of me to see what I keep hidden. When I’m betrayed nowadays, I laugh at them, but I blame Marlon. Lol. Duck is too cynical to believe in anyone’s good intentions.
I wouldn’t have made it to this point in my life without the two halves of myself. Every time I experience something new or wondrous, it’s because Marlon dreamt it, and Duck made it happen. Just as I fought people who underestimated me then, I use their doubts now as motivation. My resume, both personal and professional, is the result of my duality. Father, husband, son, nephew, friend, mentor, writer, author, blogger, poet, truck driver, chef, grillmaster, traveljunkee, and the creative force behind things not yet unveiled to the multitudes. At the end of the day, I thank God for who I am collectively, Marlon the Dreamer, and Duck from Sixty-Third…
Marlon S. Hayes is a poet, writer, blogger, and author from 63rd Street in Chicago, Illinois. Follow him at Marlon’s Writings on Facebook, Voices from the Bleachers on Facebook, marlonhayes.wixsite.com/author, and at amazon.com/author/marlonhayes.