Chapter Nine

It was three months before my dad showed up and took us out of the Riverside Detention Center.  We went to a different hotel than the Plaza where he worked and he introduced us to a young woman who met us in the three rented rooms where we were going to live.  I think her name was Lucille, same as my cousin's back in Texas, and she always smelled nice.   It was summer time and no school, and my dad had switched to the day shift at the Plaza, so he took me with him to work.   He told me I could be the bell boy and earn some money which was an idea I really liked.  The airmen from March Field used to bring women there, and I would ask if they had any bags, but they always said, "No," so I would get the room key from my dad and take them up in the elevator to their rooms.  I was usually tipped about a quarter which I thought was darned good.  I sure saw a lot of things I don't suppose I should have, though.

The four of us went to the park on weekends to watch the local baseball teams.  It was free, but they used to pass a hat around for donations and my dad usually dropped in the change from his pocket.   Once, a team was short of players so the extra fellows on the other side played for them.  Another time there was a team of young black men and they played three innings without a ball, going through all of the motions and causing a lot of laughing that day.  The last game I ever saw there was that same black team, but this time they were playing on the backs of donkeys!   They impressed me!

Dad took me home after work one day but stopped downstairs.   He gave me a lot of money, and said to give it to Lucille, and then sent me off upstairs by myself.   He never came back.  The next day Lucille didn't go to work but spent the day crying while Danny and I played games on the floor.   Two days went by like that, and then the same two ladies that had taken Danny and me to the detention center were there again.  Back we went.  The Riverside Juvenile Detention Center.  Danny was excited and said he liked the place.  Looking back, it seems that was another omen.  We didn't stay long though, because Lucille was able to tell the two ladies that my mom was living in Oakland.   She arrived about a week later and took Danny and me out of there.  We rode the bus from Riverside to Oakland.  I have no idea what happened to Lucille.  Gone like the tent, I guess.

Oakland - East 14th Street - 69th Avenue - Public Housing
A poor, dismal and rundown neighborhood with people who were barely surviving living in poorly kept public housing.   This was our new home and I was happy to be there.  My mom and Ray James Otero had gotten married and now they already had Danny and me to take care of.  Ray was an enlisted man in the Navy and applied for a family allotment to take care of his new family, but it was never enough to provide food at the end of the month.  We had lima beans for Thanksgiving dinner that first year.   Ray found a job in a bowling alley setting pins because my mom was pregnant with my soon-to-be-little-brother, Michael Ray.  The year was 1948.

I have no idea how they afforded it but I received a brand new 3-speed Schwinn Bicycle for my 13th birthday!   Talk about independence... Wow, I could go anywhere, so I did.   I rode from home to San Leandro one day and the next day I was pedaling around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland.  I got a paper route, too.  Every afternoon after school I went to a newspaper shack close by and got my load of papers to deliver.  It really didn't take much time to deliver them, and sometimes a friend or two would go with me, but what I didn't like was having to go to the people's homes once a month to collect the account.  Many times I had to go back, again and again, because the people would tell me they didn't have it and would I please come back.  Other times they would hide behind the window curtains and pretend not to be at home.  I got to keep anything in excess of what the Oakland Tribune wanted from me, but that turned out to be nowhere near the profit I was told I would be making.   Live and learn, right?  One time I had finished all of my collections and had more than one hundred dollars in a small canvas sack, ready to pay my bill to the Tribune, which my mom put away on a shelf in her closet.  When we went to get it the next day it was gone.   Talk about screaming, yelling and crying!   "Where is it?"       "What happened to Buddy's money?"       "How are we going to pay for those papers?"   Well, we found out what happened to the money.  Danny got to it and spent most of it on his friends, buying candy, hamburgers and kites for them.   One more omen, right?

The route didn't take long and I had a lot of time for after-school sports.   I was in Junior High School and thought I was the best damned basketball player they ever had.  Maybe I was, I don't know.   But I knew for sure that I was "cool" because I had a ducktail haircut and wore a leather jacket that my mom swiped from a department store.   Hey, I was 13 years old and I had discovered girls..  Yep, I was cool.   Girls liked me, too.


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