A teenage gang comes of age in the 1960s Bronx. Written when the author was twenty-four, this story was the basis for a major feature film.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.63(d)|
About the Author
RICHARD PRICE is the author of several other novels, including Ladies' Man and The Breaks. Among his credits as a screenwriter are The Color of Money, Sea of Love, New York Stories, Mad Dog and Glory, and Night and the City.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:October 12, 1949
Place of Birth:Bronx, New York
Education:B.A., Cornell University, 1971; M.F.A., Columbia University
Read an Excerpt
There he was in Big Playground. Richie Gennaro. Seventeen. High Warlord of the Wanderers. Surrounded by the Warlords of the Rays, Pharaohs, and the Executioners. Touchy allies. Tense convention. Issue at hand —
"We gotta stop them niggers."
"Do you think the Fordham Baldies would fight wit' us?"
"Man, if we get them Baldies it's all over."
"Yeah, but don't forget them Wongs. Them Chinks know judo."
"No Chink judo chop can stop this!"
"Hey, put that back! Jeez, you wanna get us busted!"
"Hey — how about them Lester Avenue guys?"
"Nah, they're fuckin' killers."
"They jus' as soon kill one a us as a nigger."
"I heard the Del-Bombers is comin' in wit' the Pips 'cause Clinton Stitch got a cousin in the Bombers."
"Ever notice how spades got two million cousins all over the country?"
"Del-Bombers ... shit ... that's bad."
"Now we gotta get the Baldies."
"Antone — you know Joey DiMassi, doncha?"
"Whyncha go over to Fordham tonight with Gennaro an' see if you can get to talk wit' the Baldies."
Richie felt uneasy with Antone. The Wanderers and the Pharaohs often rumbled, and this emergency peace was only temporary. What if Antone, tonight, while they were waiting for the train pushed Richie on the el tracks? The Pharaohs knew that Richie was the vital spark, the cold logical mind behind the Wanderer war machine. Richie knew that if he was a Pharaoh and he had the chance he would surely push the Wanderer Warlord into the path of an oncoming train. Maybe they should take a cab.
The meeting was adjourned.
"So you wanna go wit' me to see DiMassi tonight?"
"I'll meet you here about ten, O.K.?"
"Sure, you wanna hop a cab?"
Antone shrugged, he eyed Richie suspiciously. "Ah look ... I dunno if I got the dough for a cab."
"Awright, we'll see."
After everyone had gone back to their candy stores, deserted lots, or playgrounds, Richie sat down on a bench and scribbled out a score sheet.
Except for the Lester Avenue boys it was pretty even. Richie had to figure out how to get them involved without having them turn on the allies. They hated the niggers but they also hated everybody else. The Lester Avenue gang was older. Maybe twenty-one on the average. Comparing the other North Bronx gangs to the Lester Avenue boys was like comparing the Coast Guard to the marines. The other gangs had a few rumbles; every once in a while some guy would have his jaw busted or need a couple of stitches, but the guys on Lester Avenue were all ex-cons or Mob punks. Last year the heads of their gang, Louie and Jackie Palaya, were up on murder raps but had Mob lawyers fix a deal.
The only other gang worth being scared of was the Fordham Baldies, who were so fucking insane that they shaved their heads so their hair wouldn't get in their eyes in a fight. They were older too. About eighteen on the average. The toughest guy in the Baldies was Terror, a huge cross-eyed monster who even beat up on his own gang when they weren't fighting anyone else. But even he knew better than to fuck with the puniest guy on Lester Avenue. They'd come down like vigilantes and tear up the whole Fordham area, and they'd go down like that night after night until Terror gave himself up. Then a kangaroo court in some basement and even money Terror would be found in the trunk of a deserted car out in Hunt's Point the next week.
Richie thought about the opposition. Most of the time he couldn't figure niggers out. He once took a prejudice quiz in a comic book, and he had all the right answers except for the question, "Do Negroes smell different?" He checked yes, and the upside-down answer key said the answer was no. But that was bullshit because he knew they did. As long as he could remember his mother had warned him about coons and razors and knives and going into empty elevators with niggers because niggers would just as soon cut your balls off and pawn them for dope or booze as look at you. One fact that he knew was true was that if you go into a building where most of the tenants are niggers, either the hallway or the elevator is going to smell of piss. One time he went uptown to the Gun Hill Projects to get the homework from a kid in his class and the piss-stink in the elevator made him throw up before he got to the kid's floor.
He could understand them getting all the gangs together because essentially niggers were cowards unless there was a big gang of them. What he couldn't figure out was why the Wongs would team up with them. They were people from two different worlds. They never fought in school, but they never were chummy either. The Wongs were the insanest people of all Not only were they all Chinese but they were all related. Twenty-seven guys with the last name Wong. Each guy had a dragon tattoo and rumor had it they all knew jujitsu and could kill someone with a judo chop.
Except for the Reds, Richie thought most Chinks were pretty harmless, and he liked Chinese food, but these characters were something else. He'd heard that their great-grandfather was a real Warlord — of the Tongs down in Chinatown around World War I — and who'd brought up his family to keep the Tong terror alive. From what Richie understood, the Tong still existed down there, although they were nowhere near as powerful as the Mob — but who really knew what the hell was going on down there, or who was coming off those boats from the Orient every day and slithering into Mott Street. In school, the Wong gang was inseparable. Silent, even among themselves, they walked through the halls like the Imperial Guard, giving off a glow of royalty, a unity that raised them above all other gangs.
"Hey." Richie looked up. C was peering over his shoulder at his notes. C was Richie's girl friend, fifteen, with hair teased into a beehive. She covered her pimples with what appeared to be flesh-colored mud. The C stood for comb — she always carried around a large pink comb and a crumpled Kleenex in her hand.
"If it's nothin' how come you're coverin' it up?"
"Because it ain't none of your business."
"You gonna rumble wit' the Pharaohs?"
C sat down next to him. Richie folded the score sheet and slipped it into his back pocket. He tensed his chest muscles under his sky blue muscle shirt to catch C's eye. C's jaws worked furiously, popping her Bazooka, which gave her sugar breath. She wore a hot pink rayon blouse, revealing the tiny puckers in her oversized bra. Richie knew she stuffed Kleenex, but always looked the other way when she sneaked the wads out before he felt her up.
Richie's garrison belt had RG & C in a heart followed by TRUE LOVE WILL NEVER DIE. C carved it in with a nail the night she gave him his first hand job in Big Playground. Richie had really wanted a blowjob because he'd heard some guys say that getting a blowjob was better than getting laid, but C had steadfastly refused. Finally after a few weeks of fighting and head pushing, C agreed to give him one the next night. The following day he took two showers, inspected every inch of his prick, and bathed it in some strong cologne. That night when the big moment came, C tentatively gave it a preliminary lick and almost gagged on the cologne. They dropped the subject after that.
C put her leg over Richie's leg and winked. She had on black imitation leather pointy ankle boots. Richie wore roach killers — pointy as a dangerous weapon, curving high over his ankle and low over his heel.
"Whatcha doin' tonight?"
"I gotta go to Fordham."
"I gotta see somebody."
"Can I come?"
"You seein' a girl?" Her eyes promised violence.
"No, I ain't seein' a girl," he mimicked. "I gotta see this guy"
"About a job."
"Bullshit yourself, I ain't kiddin'."
"I need help wit' my homework."
"Math and social."
"I'll come over about eight."
"Seeya then." She ruffled his hair and walked off.
The sunlight turned to a neutral gray. Six-thirty. Dinnertime. Big Playground was deserted except for the parky in his olive uniform collecting basketballs and spongy red kickballs. Richie Gennaro walked through the housing project to his own building.
His father was already home — which meant Richie was late. He washed quickly and sat down. His mother sliced a cantaloupe in fours and sat down with them.
The dinner table — one bowl mashed potatoes, one bowl broccoli, one plate with four steaks, garlic bread wrapped in silver foil, one bottle Hammer lem'n'lime soda, one bottle Hammer mellow-cream soda, one salad bowl, one jar Seven Seas French Dressing, one unlit candle, one Richie Gennaro — seventeen, one Randy Gennaro — twelve, one Louis Gennaro — forty-one, one Millie Gennaro — forty-one. In the comer, one television, on channel nine — one Dick Van Dyke.
Richie's father produced a paperback — one Lady Chatterley's Lover. "Is this yours?"
"I don't want this filth in my house."
"It's a great book."
"It's filth. Don't talk back."
"Did you read it?"
"I don't read filth."
"Then how do you know it's filth?"
"I worked my way up from nothing. There were times when your mother and I had to go through all the clothes in the closet just to find a quarter to buy milk."
"Hey look, Pop, it's a classic."
"Oh yeah? Read page two-sixty-seven, that's classic filth."
"I thought you didn't read it."
"Goddamn smartass. You break your back to send them onwards and upwards, so they could be and do and have things you never dreamed of, and they reward you like this." He slammed the book down on the table.
"Louis! Get that book off the table! We're eating!"
"You see? Now you've got your mother upset!"
The family ate in silence. No one laughed at Dick Van Dyke. Richie finished and excused himself, heading for the door.
"Sit down and have dessert."
"I don't want dessert."
"Just have some cooked fruit."
"Hey, Professor Filth, where you going?"
"Over to C's."
"You coming back this week?"
Richie slammed the door behind him and headed across the projects.
"You lazy sonovabitch I refuse to clean this shithouse anymore if you keep trackin' mud and godknowswhat on my new carpet every time you come in this house. THE NIGGER MAID AIN'T WORKIN' HERE ANYMORE, YOU UNNERSTAN'?"
"Stop your bitchin'. You don't get off your ass all day anyhow, an' don't call me a sonovabitch in front of my children. I GOTTA GET RESPEC' IN MY HOUSE. I AM ... THE ... BREADWINNER HERE."
Richie rang the doorbell. Utter silence.
From the living room. "Yeah? ... whozzat?"
"It's me." He hated yelling through a closed door.
C's old man opened the door. He was fat and bald and mean and short. He was indifferent to Richie. C's parents resumed their argument.
Richie walked through the foyer to C's room. Her little brother Dougie was hiding in the kitchen eavesdropping on the fight. Richie kicked him in the ass, and he stumbled into the dining room. "Hey, you stupid fuck," Dougie hissed. He scampered back to the kitchen before he was noticed. Richie continued down the hall. "The Wanderers are faggots, the Wanderers are faggots."
"Dougie, I'm gonna wash your mouth out wit' soap," warned his father.
"He kicked me ... he kicked ... oh, man ... I'm leavin' home."
"Don't forget your toothbrush."
Richie walked into C's room. She was hunched over a blue loose-leaf notebook: "C & RG" and "True Love Will Never Die" on the cover in her fanciest handwriting.
He peered over her shoulder and saw
The Warlord 9
Denise Rizzo Algebra 323
She hadn't heard Richie come in because her record player was blasting the Shirelles off the walls. He poked her in the ribs. She screamed, wheeled around, and crumpled the paper into a ball. They plodded through her homework for an hour. Richie finally wrote out the whole assignment himself. She was probably the only student in the city who didn't know what office Mayor Wagner held in city government.
He left at nine-thirty and waited outside Big Playground for Antone. He showed up at ten.
"You wanna hop a cab?"
"Nah, I ain't got no dough."
"Well, I don't wanna take a train."
They wound up taking two buses over to Fordham.
Even though most of the stores were closed, thousands of shoppers were still walking through the massive shopping area. In the middle of the busiest intersection, on a large traffic island with both navy and army recruiting centers and a row of twenty public phones, lounged the Fordham Baldies, heads shaved and gleaming in the fluorescent overheads, black jackets showered with silver buckles, chains, and studs. They draped themselves over the phones, leaning back lazily, chewing gum or smoking cigarettes in slow motion, their studied poses out of pace with the hustle of the night shoppers.
Both Antone and Richie felt intimidated by the Baldies' sullen presence. Terror spotted them and sauntered over. Richie's stomach grew knuckles. He expected anything, was prepared for nothing. Antone's face was defiant but bloodless. Terror weighed three hundred pounds and stood six-four. His bald head revealed a thick roll of fat at the base of his neck. An asthmatic condition made every breath sound like it came from a steam Dress He was a high school dropout or kickout because he'd creased a shop teacher's head with a file when he was fifteen. "Whada, you want here?" "We wanna see Joey ... it's important."
Terror's cross-eyes were black pearls. He never blinked. Tommy Tatti once said that Terror's mother was Mexican. No one would ever dare ask Terror about his mother. No one ever seriously talked about anyone else's mother. Even 'How's your mother?' was no good because the guy would think "What should be wrong wit' my mother?" "Joey ain't here ... beat it."
"You know where we can find him?"
"He's screwin' your mother."
Richie and Antone walked away. Terror laughed and walked back to the Baldies.
"Stupid fuckhead," Antone muttered.
Richie was silent. He was scared of Terror — he couldn't even bring himself to talk behind his back. They walked down Fordham Road past the blacked-out stores.
"Hey, there's Joey!" Richie spotted Joey's bald head bobbing up the hill toward his gang.
Antone stopped Joey. "Hey, Antone, what's shakin'? I haven't seen you guys aroun'." Joey DiMassi was tall and skinny. A scar slanting across his eyebrow gave his face a permanently dazed expression. He was the leader of the Baldies. He wasn't the toughest, and he wasn't the smartest in his gang, but he had a good logical head and a great sense of fairness and decency. He had respect.
Antone told Joey about the coming war. Joey smiled, asked some names of the opposition, and told Antone to relax, he'd take care of it. Everyone had implicit faith in Joey DiMassi. When he said he'd take care of it, it was as good as done. Tommy Tatti once said that Joey should run for mayor on the Fordham Baldie ticket.
The next day at lunch, word was out that the niggers had decided not to rumble. No one knew why, but Antone and Richie knew that Joey had a hand in it. The main reaction was a lot of curses and grumbling, palm-pounding and shadow-boxing.
"Ah, I woulda beat their fuckin' skulls in."
"Ah, I had it all planned. They wouldna knowed what hit 'em."
"Ah, them fuckin' coons is cowards."
That night Richie ate two steaks and had two portions of cooked fruit for dessert. After dinner he decided to drop in on the Wanderers' camp — a deserted lot down the block from his house bordered by trees and the backs of commercial garages. The Wanderers had cleared an area about twenty-five feet in circumference where they built campfires and sniffed glue. The surrounding garages were spray-painted with the gang's name and then individual names under that.
A block away Richie sensed something was wrong. He saw too many people standing around the camp. At first he thought they were cops who were always coming around when there was a good fire going, but it was too light yet for a fire. They weren't cops. He raced up to the clearing.
It was the Wongs.
The Wanderers were standing around not knowing what to do or say. Perry ran up to Richie whispering hysterically. "It's the fuckin' Wongs!"
"What's goin' on?"
"I don't know! They ain't sayin' anything!"
The Wongs stood there as if posing for a group photograph, faces expressionless, eyes slits. They didn't move a muscle. If one of them gave out with a judo shout the Wanderers would have cleared the place in ten seconds flat. Richie looked around. His troops were standing in little clusters, staring and nervously rubbing their arms. Finally Teddy Wong, the leader of the clan, decided that enough of the Wanderers had shown up and very softly said "We came up here to warn you guys about me niggers."'
"We thought the fight was off!" Perry's voice cracked. Entranced, Richie stared at the dragon tattoo on Teddy's forearm.
"It is. They're just after one guy. Who's Gennaro?"
Richie swallowed his jaw. He ran up to Teddy. "How come? Whad I do? Whad I do?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Wanderers"
Copyright © 1974 Richard Price.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Love Song of Buddy Borsalino,
The Death of Hang On Sloopy,
Perry — Days of Rage,
Buddy Borsalino's Wedding Day,
Coda: The Rape,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Inspired by Hubert Selby's Last Exit To Brooklyn, The Wanderers stands on its own as another example of a painful and limited class struggle. Great dialogue and memories for us who had to be tougher than we really were as we grew up in the Cold War. It could be read in one sitting. But don't.
The book was written as though you were a part of The Wanderers. I would recommend this book highly.
This book describes how gangs were back then. Shows the struggle of people in the ghetto. Overall this book has an excellent story from beggining to end. Recomend to all.
Started the book this morning and finished it this afternoon. It is about a gang in 1960s Brooklyn. After reading this and the Chocolate War books, it makes me realize that "real" characters such as Archie Costello and Dougie Rizzo scare the hell out of me way more than Pennywise and other horror characters ever could.