My father had a heart attack when he was 50. After that, he sat in a chair near the front door and kissed the women as they came in, and gave out samples of rugelach. That's a pastry with cream cheese, nuts and raisins, rolled into twists. Everyone loved him—he was like the mayor. My mother took over running the business, but she died of walking pneumonia when she was 57. So my brothers, who were supposed to get an education, ended up staying in the bakery too. We were always there for each other. Never thought I'd end up in a bakery all those years. But who ever thought Milton....
What happened was this: Milton got a new job, a promotion, traveling all over Pennsylvania as a sales representative for his furniture company. Used to worry me sick, him driving hundreds of miles back to Brooklyn every Friday night to be with me and the boys for the weekend. How those boys loved him. He'd take them to games, play ball with them. I'd sit on the stoop and tie a rope around Larry's waist while he'd play around with a ball.
I couldn't stand Milton having to drive that far, so we moved to Pittsburgh when Larry was six. Milton insisted on buying our first house. We were just about to move into it when Milton came home on a Friday from work. He said he didn't feel well....
Allen woke up feeling like hell. The shootaround was scheduled for 11 a.m. late last season in Miami. Sure, he'd been out till 1:30 at the All-Star Cafe in South Beach, but that wasn't a late night for him. His body ached from slamming into men a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier every game, and his ankles and feet hurt so much he had to wear slippers around the hotel. If only they would do away with practice. If only he could just hole up all day and recover, he'd be ready to go to war again by game time that night. He picked up the phone, but he didn't call Larry. He called the trainer and said he had a headache.
At the shootaround Larry looked at his watch. To ensure that he was never late, Larry set his clocks at home so far ahead that he often arrived at places 20 minutes early. He looked at the trainer. Wasn't aspirin invented for headaches? What was this, the 40th or 45th time this season Allen had been late or hadn't shown up? Not to mention all the times he had hidden in the bathroom and gorged on tacos while the rest of the team lifted weights.
That night Allen sat slumped in the locker room. He couldn't believe that he'd been suspended and that his coach had criticized him in front of the media. "I've been here four years," he said. "They know who I am as a competitor. So don't question my heart."
When Bubba Chuck was three, I told him, "You're the man of the house. You gotta do whatever you gotta do to become a man." I'd just moved out of Grandma's and moved in with Michael Freeman. He was a welder at the shipyard. I moved out two months later to be on my own, but he'd come over and visit after work most days, stay a few hours. He's the father of Allen's two sisters and he's a good man—the drugs he sold and went to prison for weren't for buyin' fancy cars and jewelry; they were for puttin' food in our refrigerator. But Bubba Chuck was the man of the house.
We moved to the ghetto, and five kids jumped Allen. Lie ran to get his fishin' rod to fight with. I took him back and told him he had to fight one-on-one with fists. He beat two of 'em. Rest backed off. Bubba Chuck was—what?—seven? He played football in my grandmother's backyard with my brothers and the kids next door. They were all much older. They'd pick him up and throw him against the house, and he'd come in ciyin'. I'd send him right back out. I wanted him to play basketball, but he said basketball was too soft. Michael Freeman took him to the court to let his ass get hammered. He was 10. Look how he gets beat down today and keeps gettin' back up.
I worked for Amway, and they taught me to set goals so I could realize my dreams. Can you believe that—bunch of white people tellin' me to set goals—but that was the best thing I could've had. 'Cause all I had in the 'hood was people tellin' me how to sell drugs. I'll be honest, it was white people who lifted me up. Not black people.