Life on the West Side

Soon, however, the intensity escalated. All kinds of rubblestarted flying back and forth. An eerie dust cloud began
to rise. The stormy scene turned into a fierce, small-scale battle.

Suddenly, the kid next to me got smacked in the side of the head with a small chunk of concrete. Blood dripped from a dirty gash above his cheek bone and he started to yell bloody murder. The rest of us were scared. That ended the battle, right there. Two of his best buddies walked him home, where they found out the damage was minor. But it could have been lethal, and I think we all knew that.

When I got home, I felt a sense of some vague humiliation and shame I couldn’t get a fix on.


The inflated prosperity of “The Roaring Twenties” came to a crashing end in late October 1929, when the stock market tumbled into a disastrous free fall. Many companies that had been built on enormous debt simply collapsed like a house of cards. Many thousands of Americans who had speculated in the market found themselves totally wiped out. Losing everything. Many thousands of others who trusted their savings to banks found there was little or no money left. Many banks failed. Brokerage houses went under. Great financial companies went down in ruin.

Blind fear ruled the day. Panic spread. And the worst was yet to come.

I knew or understood nothing of this at the time. I did hear the stories about stock brokers jumping out of high windows and speculators shooting themselves. But the crash meant nothing to me personally, until that day when the company Neff worked for went belly-up. They closed their doors. Clarence Neff, in his $20 silk shirt, was out of a job.


It was no great surprise when my mother and Neff called it quits. Their relationship had been fraying badly for months.

In a noisy quarrel just before Christmas, Neff told my mother that he and Gladys were heading for Denver, where he was going to work with his brother. He said we could stay in the apartment until the end of the month. Then, we had to get out.

When Neff and Gladys pulled out, they packed everything they owned in three heavy suit cases. She smiled her crooked little smile, waved a plaintive good­bye, and that was it. They were gone. I never saw or heard from Gladys Neff again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *