New York City, 1950. I was 5 years old. I watched a group of boys my age kick another 5-year-old almost into unconsciousness. Searching my memories, I realize now that this was my first conscious experience of soul.
The victim of the attack was called The Giant, because he was unnaturally large: twice the size of most of us, he looked like a 10-year-old. The instigator and prime attacker was called Big Archie. He was a heavy, vicious bully. In those days, children were still supposed to be "seen, but not heard," which in practical terms meant that between dismissal from school and sunset kids ran in parks around our working-class neighborhoods, unsupervised and largely unnoticed by adults. At dusk, we'd reluctantly trudge back to our apartments to take on whatever identity we assumed with our families; otherwise, we were feral creatures, left to ourselves.
The Giant, however, wasn't feral. There was something quiet, reserved, and frightened about him. He was excluded by the others and sulked about on his own, in his own world. This was no doubt why I felt an affinity with him, though I can't remember ever speaking with him. I was skinny, sickly, dreamy, and solitary, and like The Giant, usually excluded by the pack--though unlike him, I trailed after it and would sometimes be allowed in a game or a romp (like the time we kicked in an alley's worth of cellar windows and demolished a glass phone booth with sticks and garbage-can covers).
I'll leave it…