Don Louis Robishaw

Whatever Happened to the American Dream

Camouflaged Cities by Konrad Winter


Under a city streetlight on the corner of Purgatory and Vengeance I say to my career advisor, “Mac, I’m getting outta here, if it’s the last thing I do.”

Our neighborhood’s on the wrong side of the tracks, where mangy cats and mutts run loose making snow yellow and tearing up garbage bags, attracting hungry gulls, sparrows, and pigeons.

Mac whips out a pack of coffin-nails, snaps it on a telephone pole rung. A cigarette pops high. I catch and flip it off my thumb into my mouth. “Got a future together, Rocky.”

He removes a Zippo from his dungarees. “This trick’s our ticket outta heah.”

“Sure Mac. Maybe chicks ‘ill dig it, too.” I exhale three perfect rings, bend, and pick up two paint chips that fell off the corner triple-decker and pass ‘em one. “Why did we used to eat these?”

“Can’t remember.”

I slam my piece to the ground. “Eyesight’s stronger since I stopped.”

“I’m better at math.”

“You’re better cause you repeated the eighth grade, twice.”

“Rocky Rover, don’t bust my balls, man.”

“Time to blow this popsicle stand. I don’t know if chips had an effect on my brain, but boxing gonna be my ticket.”

Mac shrugs, turns over his palms, squeezes, and lets his chip fall. “Miss your mom yelling out the window, ‘Put those down, they’re not potato chips, ya little bastards.’ ”

Television characters: Ricky Nelson, Richie Cunningham, and The Beaver don’t eat ’em. Don’t live in our neighborhood, either. The day I stopped, said to myself, ‘Rocky, long-term damage or not, gotta get off these streets.’


The Neighborhood

No hills, few trees, dilapidated multi-floored houses line city blocks. After WWII, Ace Paint Shop had deals on shades of gray that rivaled depressing winter skies. Even the TV shows were in gray.

These tenement building surround forty-some, flat-roofed three story red brick buildings. At the heart of the neighborhood stands Roger Williams Housing Project. Danny ‘Mac’ McGuire and me roam the streets of South Providence, the underbelly of my hometown, searching for a way out the labyrinth that is ‘the projects.’

“This place supposed to be a step up.”

“Are you shittin’ me? To where, Mac? It’s the fuckin’ projects, man.”

Walking these mean streets can be hazardous to your health. Crossing neighborhoods we always declare we’re from Southside. I pride myself as a guy who doesn’t take shit and have scars to prove it. When harassed by a gang though, I always say, ‘You boys know my brother, The Rover?’

They’d say, ‘Meant no disrespect.’ One of the baddest dudes around. Don’t mess with him.


Racism on the Southside

Mac wears a Red Sox cap over his crew cut and dungarees. A baseball player with potential. I never wear a hat. Always wear a silk, steel blue and silver jacket with an angry tiger embroidered on the backside. Brother Billy brought it from the Far East after he joined the Marines.

Mac touches his chest. “Is there racism on the Southside?”

“Is your mom, ugly?”

Shaking his head, “Sorry, what can I say? Kid’s change. We did.”

“It wasn’t easy, though, ‘member the night we on the wrong side of The Projects and got our asses kicked by six colored kids?

“Yeah, they hopped out of an old short and yelled, ‘You call us mf’ers?”

We got colored friends too. Like Leroy Turner, ‘baddest’ dude on the Southside. Leroy’s free now, having served time. Mac and I help him with his paper route. He teaching boxing at the gym.

It pisses Leroy off when we tell him what happened. Went looking for ‘em himself. He increases our gym hours, helps stage fistfights on the project roofs, till a kid fell off and broke his leg, and organizes matches in abandoned warehouses.

In Golden Gloves I coulda been champ. I pride myself on my skills. Rocky Rover, future Middleweight Champion of the World! Leroy knows how to train. Continue boxing in the yard, basement, gym, and city park.



Pop’s no fan of mine. Don’t look nothing like me. In the morning, take palms and push my black hair into a perfect duck’s ass on the backside. Seven minutes and a pound of pomade to create a well-formed DA. Shit stinks too. Thin sideburns and a pompadour.

Supper’s taking too long for Pop. We’re eating dogs, beans, and canned brown bread again. He’s watching Ozzie and Harriet, belly protruding a foot out in front of his nose. “Bella! Get your lazy ass in the parlor and bring me a fuckin’ beer.”

He spots my tattoo. “Ah shit.”

“Come over here, boy. What’s on your arm?”

“A little ink.”

Pop’s wearing a wife-beaters undershirt that smells like cheap whiskey. He reaches out and brushes my cheeks, hand slides, and tightens around my throat.

Mom cries. The room darkens. His breath is overwhelming at close quarters. Who shut off the lights? Eyes water, I’m scared shitless.

He lets my neck go, grabs and twists my arm behind my back, and shoves me, “Don’t give me shit, boy.” I kiss the wall. Someday, man.

Pop removes his belt. Crack of flesh and leather echoes off the walls. Vibrations of pain spread from welts on my face.

Blood drips from my nose and mouth, “Be eighteen soon. Kick your ass then.”

“You need to toughen up, kid.”

Jut my jaw forward, “Maybe I’ll fuckin’ kill ya.”

“Be doing me a favor, boy.” Carried a rifle during the war for four years. I wanted to hate him. Mom shakes her head, “Never been the same since he got back.”


Drunk again, Pop knocks Mom to the floor. Two more months before they’ll remove the wires from his grill and he can throw away the straw.

Mac joins the Navy. Judge advises me to do likewise. Case dismissed. Three ways out: jail, military, boxing. Eighteen today. First pro fight tonight. Rocky, gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing you ever do.


About the writer:
Don L. Robishaw’s five tales found in Bad Road Ahead was the Winner in Defenestrationism, 2020 FF Contest. His work has appeared in O:JA&L, Literary Orphans, Crack-the-Spine, Literary Heist, O’ Dark Thirty, among other venues. He ran educational programs for homeless shelters. He’s well-traveled: sailor, PCV, hitchhiker, college professor, and circus roustabout.

Image: Camouflaged Cities by Konrad Winter (1963- ). Fine art photograph. Autolack on aluminum. 66 x 93 cm. 2011. By free license.