marbles and paper clips and keychains between my fingers as if I’d been
out till dark only working, earning, the way my father was always earning. I’d take my time, examining all the lights of all the houses across
I could see McClure Middle School, where ten years later, Dave and I
would climb that three-story cafeteria in the middle of the night just to
see our city from that high in the sky, and we’d talk about dreams and
what we wanted and who we imagined we’d become.
From the street, I could hear cars rattling up Lincoln Way. I could
smell the aromas of Feig’s Bakery and Veltre’s Pizza only lightly in the
warm, summer air. Eventually, I’d see my house bounce slowly into view,
and I’d look for my brothers in the windows. Maybe they were home.
Maybe Mom had ordered Schwan’s and set dinner on the table, and my
brothers were waiting for me so we could pray and eat, the way I’d done
at Dave’s. Or maybe no one waited. Maybe my mother was sleeping and
Jonny was doing homework alone in the living room and Chris was in
the basement soldering wires in the back of some old radio, unsmiling,
the way he was always unsmiling.
This was the year my brothers and I, along with our friends from the
neighborhood, became enchanted by the mesmerizing power of chromies.
All of us believed that with shiny things came big rewards. Like
Vinny G’s thick silver rope chain slapping off his chest as he boxed with
his brother in their front yard, or the twenty-four-inch rims on Henry
P’s eighteen-wheeler that he used to let us buff at five dollars apiece, paying always, when we finished, from this thick, unfolding wad of cash.
We all wanted wads like that. We wanted chains and bracelets. So we
scratched and scrambled for anything with value.
That summer, we were after “chromies”—chrome-plated valve-stem
caps for tires.
We didn’t buy them; we “jacked” them; we wore them on our bikes.
Some kids wore classic ones—shiny hexagons. Some had polished black
aluminum ones. Some had dice or eight-balls or skulls with red-pin
eyes. One kid glued nine-millimeter bullet shells over plastic stems and
rode around as if untouchable as they flashed and glimmered between
Like any collectibles, the more diverse and unique they were, the
more valuable. There were brand-name chromies, for instance—Mer-