Once a week this summer, Bobby Santovasco and his best pal Zeke head down by the Belt Parkway to throw things at the cars getting off at the Bay Parkway exit near Ceasar’s Bay shopping center.
Bobby’s just turned fourteen. Zeke is thirteen. They like stealing CDs from Sam Goody and cigarettes from Augie’s Deli and playing video games in Zeke’s basement. They both have a crush on Carissa Caruso from Stillwell Avenue. They’re both headed into eighth grade at St. Mary Mother of Jesus on Eighty-Fourth Street. Bobby was left back in third grade, so he’s a little older than everyone else in his class. Their teacher is going to be Mrs. Santillo, who Bobby heard fart during the Pledge of Allegiance one day. Bobby lives in a little apartment on Eighty-Third Street, a block from St. Mary’s, with his father, his stepmother Grace, and his sixteen-year-old stepsister Lily. He and Lily don’t talk. Grace is just kind of there. His mother moved to California when he was six. He never heard from her again. Zeke lives in a big house on Twenty-Third Avenue. His real name is Flavio, but Bobby started calling him Zeke in fourth grade and it stuck. Zeke’s dad owns a pork store. He has four sisters and two dogs. One of his sisters, Giovanna, looks like the Virgin Mary mixed with Marisa Tomei. Bobby thinks about her at night.
They come down here because there’s always action. The cars funneling off the parkway, pausing at the traffic light. Ceasar’s Bay, with Toys “R” Us and Kmart and other chain shops, the bazaar with its stalls having closed down the year before. Shore Parkway Park. The tennis complex. Gravesend Bay itself, stretching from Coney Island Creek to the Narrows. The bike path. The Verrazano Bridge looming. Nellie Bly amusement park, where they used to go as kids, right nearby.
They started small, with little cups of ketchup and mustard they filled at the Wendy’s on the opposite corner.
The first day had been the best day, which is why it quickly became a ritual. That day, they had clomped a couple of cups against the windshield of an Olds simultaneously, the ketchup and mustard flinging itself across the glass. The driver had slammed on his brakes, gotten out of his car, abandoning it in traffic, and chased them behind the tennis courts and onto the bike path by the bay. The guy caught them. Mustache. An L&B Spumoni Gardens T-shirt. The body of someone who played softball as an excuse to drink beer. He grabbed them by their shoulders and screamed at them for a solid two or three minutes, an eternity given the situation, spit flying from his mouth like birdshit. He said he was a cop and they were lucky he didn’t bring them down to the station. They nodded, stifling laughs. Eventually, they coughed up apologies and he let them go and told them to smarten up. They turned, ran, and yelled for him to go fuck himself and all the guy could do was blow angry breaths through the bristles of his mustache and storm back to his stupid little condiment-splattered car.
After that, they tried water balloons, filling them beforehand and hauling them in a bucket, but that was too much work and the balloons didn’t last long. Some even broke in their hands as they released them.
It was Zeke’s idea to try tennis balls next. They could always find a dozen or so scattered in the grass on the other side of the fence by the courts. The nice thing about tennis balls was how fast and hard they could be thrown. Bobby had a better arm than Zeke, but they didn’t have to worry as much about falling short. The downside was the overall effect. Tennis balls just dinged against the cars and no one really thought twice about them. Could’ve been raining tennis balls for all anybody cared.
That was how they settled on rocks.
Before heading over to their spot now, they stop at Wendy’s for orange sodas. They stand outside and drink them, paper cups beaded with condensation. It’s a hot day. July-in-the-city hot. The heat’s rising up off the sidewalk. Bobby can smell himself. Sweat and the neighborhood. He’s wearing a Knicks tank top and his gym shorts, the high tops he’d inherited from his cousin Jonny Boy. No socks. A Mets cap turned backwards on his head. Zeke has no shirt on. Jams. His expensive new Air Jordans.
“With a rock,” Bobby says, “we could really bust a windshield.”
“That’d be sweet,” Zeke says.
“We gotta be ready to bolt, though. This ain’t ketchup.”
“I tell you what I told Carissa?”
“That I was gonna throw a rock up at her window one night. Break the glass, climb up the drainpipe, and come into her room.”
“What’d she say?”
“She said, ‘You try that, my dad’ll chop you to pieces in the garage.”
“Chop you up? Oh, shit. He chops you up, you’re out of the way and I got a clear path for Carissa.”
“Dream your dreams. She’s mine.”
“Okay, you take Carissa. I’ll take Giovanna.”
“Giovanna wouldn’t put you out if you were on fire. You’re shit on the sidewalk to her, kid. She’s seventeen. You should see the guy she’s dating now. Serge Rossetti. Muscles up the ass. He goes to Bishop Ford. Plays baseball. Pretty sure he’s on steroids.”
They suck down the rest of their sodas. The ice has mostly melted away, so Bobby’s last sip is watery. Zeke’s must be too—he spits it out. They drop their cups to the sidewalk. An old lady who has just come out of Wendy’s curses them.
They charge across Bay Parkway, dodging cars and then walk past the tennis courts, hunting in the brown grass for good rocks. Bobby finds one. He’s only been to a lake once with Jonny Boy in Jersey, but it’s the kind of rock that’s good for skipping. Flat and sharp. Fits right in his palm. Kind of pinkish. Zeke collects a couple of smaller ones. Glorified pebbles. Then Bobby finds an almost perfect rock, shaped like a ball, smooth and heavy but not too heavy to throw. Zeke laughs. What a score. He finds a few others that’ll work, including a rock that’s not a rock at all but a broken hunk of brick.
Zeke throws first and misses. He was aiming for a church van but the rock sailed over the roof, skittering up against the orange cone propped in front of the divider between the parkway and the off-ramp.
Bobby tries and wings the first rock he found against the passenger door of a rusty red Chevy Lumina. It lands with a thud. The driver slams on the brakes and leans on his horn. They can see him. A man with a beard, looking all around, trying to figure out what hit his car. They can see how sweaty he is from where they are. He doesn’t notice them. Finally, he takes off, making a left at the light onto Bay Parkway.
Bobby and Zeke laugh their asses off.
“That dude was like, ‘What the fuck?’” Zeke says, miming the driver’s reaction.
They throw a couple more each, hitting tires and hoods and trunks, eliciting no panicked responses from drivers, which remains their ultimate goal. If someone gets out and chases them again, they have their getaway route all set. Last time, when the guy with the mustache popped out after them, they took the long way around the fenced-in baseball field in Shore Parkway Park. It gave the guy time to catch them as they hit the bike path. Now they know where there’s a hole in the fence, and—since no one’s playing on the field—it’ll be easy to cut through and come out one of the dugouts. A shortcut that will make for a smooth escape up the bike path. Right around Seventeenth Avenue, Bobby knows, a pedestrian bridge crosses the Belt and goes to Bath Beach Park. From there, they can scurry home via the streets, lost in the maze of blocks, of cars and buses and people with shopping carts and boomboxes, kids on stoops, of trees and cracked sidewalks and telephone wires.
“You know what’d be hilarious?” Bobby says. “Get one in an open window. Hit a driver. Thousand points for that.”
“First one who hits a driver gets to be king for a day.”
“Fuck you mean?”
“I mean I hit a driver, I get to tell you what to for the day. ‘Bobby, steal me a tall boy from Augie’s.’ Or: ‘Steal me three porno mags.’”
“You’re on. When I win, what I’m gonna make you do is go into that new Chinese restaurant over by Bay Thirty-Fourth and eat an egg roll or something off somebody’s plate. Just walk up to their table, snag some food, and eat it right in front of them.”
“You’re king for a day, all powerful, that’s what you’re gonna make me do?”
“Hell yeah. That and then I’m gonna make you bring me a pillowcase full of Giovanna’s bras and underwear. I’m gonna sniff those shits until Mrs. Santillo farts again.”
Zeke holds up a rock. “Next one’s coming right between your eyes.”
Bobby takes a defensive position, grinning wide. “What? I love Giovanna. Sue me. You know what I picture? When she pops a squat on the toilet, instead of normal everyday logs, I bet she squeezes out perfect, cold Italian ices. Chocolate, lemon, watermelon, whatever you want. Do me a favor. Look in the bowl one day. Bet I’m right.”
Zeke takes a playful swing at Bobby. “You wish. I been in the can after her. She lights it up, son. A three match operation. I’m like, ‘G, what’d you eat?’ She’s pretty, but she makes a good stink.”
“Not my Giovanna.”
“You’re a dumb motherfucker. Ain’t a single gorgeous girl who don’t drop treacherous deuces.”
More wild laughter. They ready their next round of ammunition. Bobby has his almost perfect rock. Zeke has a good one too, not quite as round and smooth but it has some nice heft to it. Both rocks could probably do the work of a hardball or worse. Bobby’s thinking about some guy behind the wheel taking his perfect pitch right in the arm or chest and getting surprise-winded. Like a batter crowding the plate clobbered by a fastball. Goofy look on the dummy’s face. The pain of a fool who couldn’t get out of the way. Bobby could’ve been a starting pitcher on his little league team if he still played. He’d given it up in sixth grade. He didn’t like practice. Girls and afterschool fights and scoring beer and cigarettes were way more important. Anyhow, the St. Mary’s team sucked donkey dicks. Stupid powder blue uniforms. Like the goddamn Kansas City Royals. Who wants a uniform like the Royals? Bobby had enjoyed playing from second grade to fifth grade, had been a good second baseman and hitter, but he really wanted to pitch. The coach, Gene Grady, who gave out communion on Saturdays at church, had two sons, Jeff and Matt, who he let pitch all the time. They were okay. Nothing special. Bobby’s dream was to get on the mound, a little Vaseline on the brim of his cap, and really start mowing down batters with his good greasy junk. Fuck baseball, Bobby thinks now. Throwing rocks at cars is more fun.
A shambolic little cherry red Toyota Corolla gets off at the exit. It’s going slow, like the engine’s struggling, coughing and burping along. Bobby notices it first and nudges Zeke. The windows on the car are open. The driver’s a woman. A girl really. Probably a high school senior or something. She has a cigarette in her mouth, and she’s singing along to whatever’s on the radio, stealing glances of herself in the rearview mirror.
As the Corolla rattles toward the changing light at the corner, Bobby and Zeke work in perfect synchronization, taking aim at the open passenger window and throwing the rocks as hard as they can.
What happens next is a blur. One of their throws is perfect. The other sails wide. But the rock that goes into the car doesn’t hit the girl on the arm or chest. It smashes into the side of her head. Her body jolts, the cigarette knocked from her lips, and she loses control of the wheel as she barrels toward the yellow light.
Bobby and Zeke don’t hesitate. They drop the other rocks, turn around, and run toward the bike path, cutting through the baseball field.
They don’t look back. Bobby’s not worried that someone’s chasing them so much as he’s worried that something beyond terrible has happened.
It was a joke, that’s it.
They’re running at full speed up the path, weaving in and out of the few distracted pedestrians in their way, being passed on the left by asshole bikers once or twice. It’s hotter than ever. Sweat stings Bobby’s eyes. The bay smells pungent. Salt. Seaweed. Deep darkness.
When they get to the overpass, they cut across into Bath Beach Park and stop to catch their breath and hit up a water fountain.
“Did you see what happened after it hit her?” Zeke asks.
“No, I just bolted immediately,” Bobby says.
“Me too. Anyone see us?”
“I don’t know.”
“Fuck,” Zeke says. “Was it the one I threw or the one you threw?”
Bobby puts his head in his hands. The girl’s maybe three or four years older than them, tops.
Nobody they had it out for. Not someone who was cruel or unkind even. A stranger. Smoking. Singing in her car. A normal afternoon for her. Nothing special. Getting off at her exit and probably going home, wherever home was. Then they came along with their big fucking stupid game. That’s all it was. A game. He swears.
“I don’t know,” Bobby says to Zeke, unable to stop seeing the girl. “I don’t know anything.”