"We have the right to lie, but not about the heart of the matter."
-- Antonin Artaud
Late winter Chicago, early 1991: The once-white snow which fell in December had turned into a dark scum, mixed with ice- melting salt, car oil and decay. Icicles hung from rooftops and windowsills like the whiskers of old men.
For months, the bone-chilling "hawk" swooped down and forced everyone in the family to squeeze into a one-and-a-half bedroom apartment in a gray-stone, three-flat building in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.
Inside tensions built up like fever as we crammed around the TV set or kitchen table, the crowding made more intolerable because of heaps of paper, opened file drawers and shelves packed with books that garnered every section of empty space (a sort of writer's torture chamber). The family included my third wife Trini; our child, Rubén Joaquín, born in 1988; and my 15-year-old son Ramiro (a 13-year-old daughter, Andrea, lived with her mother in East Los Angeles).
We hardly ventured outside. Few things were worth heaving on the layers of clothing and the coats, boots and gloves required to step out the door.
Ramiro had been placed on punishment, but not for an act of disobedience or the usual outburst of teenage anxiety. Ramiro had been on a rapidly declining roller coaster ride into the world of street-gang America, not unexpected for this neighborhood, once designated as one of the 10 poorest in the country and also known as one of the most gang-infested.
Humboldt Park is a predominantly Puerto Rican community with growing numbers of Mexican immigrants and uprooted blacks and sprinklings of Ukrainians and Poles from previous generations. But along with the greater West Town area it was considered a "changing neighborhood," dotted here and there