Islamic Da’wah Center, 478 University Ave

islamicdawahcenterJust as the sun is loosening up, sliding toward the golden hour, I find myself walking past the Islamic Da’wah center on University. A man dressed in a white linen shirt and pants, wearing a kufi, emerges from a car with two boys, presumably his sons. They look to be eight and twelve and are dressed in jeans and t-shirts, backpacks slung over their shoulders. From across the street I hear “Fuck all muslims. Fuck you assholes.” It’s a young boy, no more than ten, strolling with five to six other kids his age. The youngest of the two boys from the car hustles into the center with his father but the older one stands atop the snow bank along the curb, laughing.
“How about you go fuck yourself instead,” he quips. All of the boys on the other side of the street immediately assume the stance, shoulders squared off, chests thrust out.
“The fuck you say boy?”
“You heard me,” the boy laughs and strolls casually into the center, his arms swinging happily. Maybe he is confident that they won’t do anything with adults around, or maybe he has already spent the day, if not most of his years growing up, dealing with such ugliness and has already learned that ignorance is best fought off with a laugh rather than anger. The boys on the other side again start shouting about killing all muslims and then tear across the road, some leaping over the chains set up to divide the east/west greenline tracks, two slipping under them.
“You’re fucking dead muslim!” one shouts. I am awestruck, ashamed. They are so little but already full of the angry swagger I have dealt with for years working behind bars around town, a tough guy sham that ninety percent of the time is bluster, a game of intimidation they have learned to play growing up. They reach the front door but ease back when greeted by the father, who is gesturing at them to disperse. I am half way back myself now, a little unsure of what I will do, when they relent, issuing middle fingers and idle threats, walking backwards across the street, oblivious to traffic, one texting driver away from being flattened. All this ugliness from the mouths of babes, children, that if they had been born before 9/11 and the jingoistic masturbation that followed it, could not have been more than newborns at the time. Children that, in eight to ten years time will be men, in a statutory sense anyway, carrying an intense hatred, centered around issues whose complexity I fear they will never bother to probe.
In a funk I walk up to the Uni-Dale mall, distractedly framing pictures, never firing the shutter. The huge snow drifts left from plowing are nearly melted now, revealing the usual junk of discarded food wrappers and drinking cups. The light has softened, become inviting even, and I want to be able to make something nice out of the shit of this place but can’t find it in me. I decide to bag it for the day and cross over to the other side of University. The bus stop on the corner is a cacophony of people on their phones, swearing loudly, forcing their one sided conversations onto everyone around. A man is letting his dog defecate on the side walk in front of the Subway, behind which the cops are putting a teenager into the back of their squad.
Two blocks up I see the same pack of boys, collecting rocks. I have a pretty good idea what for but before I can think of what to say one of them asks me, “Excuse me mister, can you go into the store and buy a Swisher, for my momma?”
“Not a chance,” I say.
“Then give me a cigarette.”
“Not a chance,” I repeat, clearing the group.
“Bitch,” he says, and two rocks sail past me, skittering into the gutter. I turn around and he is working his cock-of-the-roost stance, daring me.
“You missed,” I say. The other boys are rapidly backing away but the one stands firm. I feel ridiculous and enraged at once, hoping he isn’t stupid enough to throw another rock, hoping I have enough reserve to not harm a child.
“Clarence, let’s go man,” one of the other boys yells to him.
“Yeah Clare, let’s go,” another adds. Clarence deflates, tossing his last rock sideways into the gutter.
“Bitch,” he says, then turns and runs to catch up with his friends who are now half way down the block. Just kids I mutter to myself, trying to convince myself I would not have slapped him. I don’t make it more than half a block when I encounter two women walking with small girls.
fuckingtakethatdisrespectingshit,” one of them fires off.
“Yeah, fuck that fucking ho,” the other adds.
“Mommy, I’m, done,” one of the two young girls offers, holding an empty Pepsi can up.
“The fuck you want me to do about it girl? Throw that shit down.” The girl complies, dropping the empty can to the sidewalk, then kicking it into the street.
Two blocks later I am still reeling. The light is dancing along the copper trim of the Western avenue station, clean and promising. All I can think as I look at it is good luck with that train but I am out of words for University Avenue today.