top of page


A Novel by A. D. Metcalfe

times square.jpg
Terry Williams.png

Terry Williams 

Author and Professor of Sociology, The New School for Social Research

The book sheds light on the backgrounds, motivations and aspirations of a segment of the American population that we all think we know about but yet are hidden in plain sight


It is life on the streets writ large; an excellent structure that works both as a book and film.

Maxine Gordon.jpg

Maxine Gordon 

Author, Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

Within moments, I was totally enthralled by the characters, the setting in 1970s New York City, the tone, and the way the author pulls the reader into the story. I became very attached to Johnny and worried about him and hoped he would find a way out of the situation he was in.


 It is cinematic in the way she weaves the stories together. I look forward to its publication and to the author’s other work.


Dale T Phillips

Author, Scary Books and Murderous Crooks

Street is a tough, gritty, honest look at the tumultuous life of a young boy who's run away from an abusive home, and who adopts a new identity to survive on the mean streets of NYC in the 1970's.


Sharp detail keeps this book moving at a good pace, mixing action with pathos.

1970s New York City is borderline bankrupt, rampant with crime, drugs, and municipal neglect, but for a twelve-year-old runaway from Miami, it provides camouflage and opportunity.


Johnny Alvarez holes up in a Washington Heights tenement and amasses a diverse gang of misfits and latchkey kids who help him navigate the city and shield him from authorities. They support themselves by committing petty crimes, but as the gang grows, so do their illicit predilections. Johnny earns the trust of the Brick, a mid-level dealer, and soon he and the boys are making regular drug runs.


Time and distance from Miami are not enough to keep Johnny from struggling with his past. Fragmented memories and physical scarring suggest things were bad. His inability to remember makes him feel worse. The gang helps keep Johnny’s head straight, providing levity and support, but sometimes the violence they face on the street triggers the repressed memories to surface.


Johnny recalls times when his parents ignored the torture he endured by his sadistic older brother. During these episodes, he is prone to explosive rage, which ultimately helps his reputation as a venerable force amid the city’s seedy underbelly.



Fuck, he can’t be dead. There’s no way I hit him that hard.


Johnny Álvarez jogged along Miami’s dark streets. His school backpack, stuffed with as many clothes as it could fit, bounced with every stride. Headlights approached and he ducked his wiry frame behind a palm tree. Our parents will find him in the morning and he’ll be awake. After the car passed, Johnny wiped his face with the collar of his T-shirt, then checked to make sure the area was clear. But there was so much blood.


“And it was a chain. I hit him in the head with a chain.”


Once Johnny was far enough from home, he slowed to a walk to get his bearings. There was a Greyhound Bus station near the airport, so he snaked toward it using side streets. I will not go back to that fucking house.


Johnny scoped out the terminal from across the street. Swarms of moths ricocheted off the big picture windows, drawn to the fluorescent lights within. It looked desolate. A few people paced, while others lay on benches. Blue-shirted employees slumped over counters, smoking cigarettes and chatting.


Too conspicuous. I gotta wait.


One block away was a parking area surrounded by hedges and a flimsy chain-link fence. He ducked inside an opening and found a secluded corner to shake off his pack. Sitting against a tree, Johnny looked into the darkness. Please let me be gone before my parents wake up. He rubbed the raw skin on his wrists, where the rope had irritated the older scars. And so what if my brother is dead? He fucking deserves it.


Johnny tried to piece together what had happened, but it was hard. I could’ve at least checked to see if he was breathing. He closed his eyes and released a sigh. “But if he woke up, I sure as shit wouldn’t be here right now.”


By dawn there was more activity in the terminal, so Johnny went inside. He moved slower than he wanted, keeping his head down while looking for anyone who might be looking back. He stood under the list of departures. From what he could tell, the next bus leaving was going to New York City. That should be far enough. He went to a counter.


“How can I help you?” asked the gray-haired clerk.


“One way to New York, please.”


“Where are your parents?”


Johnny’s eyes swept the room until he found a suitable couple near the convenience store and pointed to them. “Over there, but I’ve got the money. I go to New York every summer to visit my grandmother. She meets me at the other end.”


“You don’t need a round trip?”


“No. She’s driving me back.”


The man yawned into his fist. “That’ll be thirty-six dollars.”


Johnny reached into his pocket, sorting through the bills he had swiped from his sleeping mother’s purse and handed over two twenties. The rest of his savings, money earned by mowing lawns and helping neighbors clean out garages, was stashed in the side pocket of his backpack.


The clerk gave him change and a ticket. “Your bus is boarding in ten minutes from gate seventeen.”


“Thank you.” Johnny headed toward his pretend parents to polish off the ruse.


Near the magazines and books, he saw The Traveler’s Guide to New York City. It was outdated—printed in 1969—but he figured things wouldn’t have changed that much in three years. He brought it to the register, with some snacks and a drink, before drifting to the gate where the empty coach was parked.


When the driver opened the doors, Johnny walked straight to the back and slouched by the window. The heels of both feet bounced as other passengers filed on. Come on, people, let’s get this rig moving. It wasn’t until the bus was coasting on the highway that Johnny’s brain quieted enough to sleep. Between naps, he read the guide book, learning about New York City’s historic sites and different neighborhoods. It gave him confidence that the city was on a grid system, like Miami. That should make it easy to find my way around.


The next afternoon, the coach descended into the bowels of the Port Authority Bus Terminal to park beside a dozen others. Johnny slipped on his backpack to follow the line of slow-moving passengers into the exhaust-filled garage, side-stepping the people waiting by the luggage compartment. The station was bigger and dirtier than Miami’s, with people hurrying in all directions, and there were a lot more vagrants. Johnny rode up an escalator, following the exit signs through the colossal terminal. He scanned passing faces, checking if anyone seemed concerned that a twelve-year-old boy was wandering alone. Nobody even looks at me. They don’t even look at each other.


After another flight of stairs, Johnny stepped onto 8th Avenue. The blistering heat hit him hard. Florida was hot in late July, too, but the air was different here. It was thicker and fouler, a combination of diesel, simmering asphalt, trash and dog shit. But he welcomed the change. The crowds were chaotic, with tourists trying to zigzag their luggage through beelining commuters. Johnny followed a random flow of pedestrians until it spit him onto the curb at 42nd Street.


Since he had read about Times Square, he walked east to Broadway to check it out. At the corner, his eyes widened. Whoa. Just like in the movies. Johnny wandered around, taking it all in. The energy was exhilarating. Different aromas from food vender carts steamed into the street, momentarily overpowering the exhaust. But what’s with all the honking? Cars in Miami don’t honk that much.


Folding tables tempted passers-by to play their games of Three-card Monte, while others sold cassettes and 8-track tapes. Made-up ladies in high heels, short shorts, and tube tops tried to lure men into peep shows and XXX-rated movies. Mixed with the hustlers, people in three-piece suits and fancy dresses weaved through the streets. Despite being alone in a city so huge, Johnny felt safer than he had in a long time.


He bought juice and a hotdog from a cart before walking to 59th Street and into Central Park. From what he had read, he thought he might find some good places to hide overnight. But I better scope shit out before it gets too dark. He meandered through a lush, winding footpath until he came to a large field with several baseball diamonds. The exuberant cheers of the players echoed as bats hit balls, filling Johnny with excitement. He could have stopped to watch any one of the games but knew there would be time for that another day.


Continuing on, the faint sound of a rolling, off-key organ enticed Johnny, so he headed toward it until the path opened up to an octagonal brick building. Inside was a big carousel with colorful wooden horses bobbing up and down. Kids clung to poles, laughing, while their mounts circled to the blaring, disjointed music. Johnny stepped through the barricade, sharing in the excitement of the ride until he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a man in a uniform and froze. Shit.


“You got a ticket?” the man asked.


Johnny relaxed when he realized it was just the carousel attendant. “No, I don’t.”


“Then you’re gonna have to step aside. In here is for ticket holders. You gotta get one over there.” He pointed to a booth several yards away.


“Okay.” Johnny scrambled back to the footpath, determined to stay focused on his mission.


By dusk, he saw a small bridge near a wall of rocks. He climbed up and discovered a gap hidden from the path. There were food wrappers, a booze bottle, and cigarette butts scattered around. Guess I’m not the first person to use this place. He brushed out the litter with his foot, shook off his pack, and wedged it in the back of the tiny cave. He lay against it and closed his eyes.


Johnny was startled awake by men yelling. He sat up. It was much darker now, and the moon was high in the sky. He tipped an ear toward the voices. Drunks. After a while, the incoherent exchange wound down, with one man shuffling away, but another sounded like he was crawling up the rocks. What the fuck. Johnny pushed up and stood in a shadow, watching the man’s silhouette weave and grunt with every step. Looks old, fat and hammered as a motherfucker.


“Hey! Is someone in there?” the drunk said. “This is my spot!”   


Johnny groped around until his hand found a rock. It wasn’t big, but it was better than nothing. He lowered the register of his voice. “Move along, old man.”


You move along.”


“Don’t make me hurt you, ’cause I’ll fuck you up!”


The bum swayed near the entrance. “Fine, you don’t gotta get all assed up about it. There’re other places to crash.” He picked his way back down the rocks, mumbling obscenities into the night.


The next time Johnny woke, it was just before dawn. He stretched, inhaling the moist air. It was earthy, with a touch of spice, cloves maybe, and a hint of horse manure. I did it. First night down. He collected his things and set off into the park. He found a water fountain, took a long drink, and rinsed his face and hands. The public restrooms were closed overnight, so he picked a sheltered spot to drain his bladder and change into cleaner clothes. I gotta find a place to stash this pack. I can’t be humping this thing all over the city.


As the sun rose, Johnny entered a wooded area where the trees were tall and leafy. He stopped and looked up. “If I can climb a palm tree, I should make it up one of these things no problem.” He found the fullest one and clambered up its hearty limbs. He got pretty high before sitting on a branch to make a note of the landmarks. He could see that on the perimeter of the park there was a playground and a yellow high-rise across the street. I’ll remember that. Johnny removed his backpack, took out the cash, divided the bills between his pockets and socks, then wedged the pack between two limbs. Satisfied, he climbed down.


He exited the park at 68th Street and walked south. After a few blocks, he saw a sign for the YMCA. He had been going to a branch in Miami, where he lifted weights and took karate classes to better defend himself against his crazy brother. If it’s like the other one, they should have lockers and showers.


At the counter, a stodgy-looking woman peered at Johnny over her bifocals. “Can I help you?”


“How much for a membership?”


“Twelve dollars a month, but you need a parent to sign.”


“They’re both at work today, but I’ve got the money.” He pulled the cash from his pocket and showed it to her, then brushed an errant curl from his forehead and batted his brown eyes.


She squinted and bit her lower lip before pulling a form from a drawer. “Okay, I’ll let you in today.  Just make sure this is signed the next time you come, or you won’t be let in.” She took his money and grabbed a pen. “What’s your name?”


Johnny looked at her blankly. His real name, the one the police might already be looking for, was Javier Alejandro Álvarez, but he’d been called Johnny for years. His kindergarten teacher used to struggle with the name Javier, so she called him Javi, which, over time, had morphed into Johnny. By first grade, everyone outside his household called him that, and when things started to get really bad at home, he preferred it. John was common enough to be safe, and what popped into his head for a last name was that kindergarten teacher’s. “Avalon, Johnny Avalon.”


“Date of birth?”


Pick something easy to remember. “April first, 1959.”


She smirked. “You’re born on April Fools’?”


“I know, crazy, right?” He grinned, shaking his head. “My parents never let me live it down.”


Shrugging it off, she went back to completing the form. Johnny’s actual birthday was July twenty-fifth, the day he had run away. By subtracting a year, he would make himself a teenager.


The woman handed him the form and a temporary membership card. “Here you go.”


“Thank you.” He stuffed the card into his back pocket and smiled. First official document with my new identity.


Johnny toured around the building, checking out the pool and weight room before heading to the lockers. He undressed, wrapped a discarded towel around himself, and went to the showers. There was a stall with a small cake of soap left behind, which he used to wash and lather up his hair. After, he dressed and went outside, pausing on the steps to feel the sun on his clean face.


The Y would be a good place to meet people and shower, but he had to get the form filled out. Forging a signature was easy, but they also wanted an address. If I make something up, an employee might know it’s fake and get suspicious. He needed a believable location, and he wanted to find some other places to sleep anyway, so he decided to start at the top of Manhattan and work his way down.


At Columbus Circle, he ventured into the subway station. He had never ridden a train before, much less one underground. Be cool. Just watch what everyone else does, and do that. After observing other commuters, he purchased a token for thirty-five cents and pushed through the turnstile.


On the way to the platform, he stopped at a subway map. It looked like a veiny mess, but after some review, Johnny opted for the A train. It was crowded, but he squeezed inside and grabbed onto a pole with a handful of other folks. As he glanced at the surrounding faces, he noticed everyone was either looking down or staring vacantly at the ads posted on the walls. Others read books or strategically folded newspapers. A few even dared to nap. It seemed to Johnny that the subway must have some generally accepted no-eye-contact rule. Works for me. He smiled, dipping his head to the floor.


The train’s last stop was 207th Street. Johnny walked out of the station and headed downtown on Broadway. The neighborhood was different from what he had seen so far, less crowded, smaller buildings and the stores didn’t look as fancy. People were hanging out on stoops or tinkering with cars. Many spoke Spanish, and Salsa music played in the distance.


I should be able to blend in around here. Johnny had his Colombian father’s good looks, with dark eyes and jet-black hair that hung in a mop of loose curls. His mother’s Turkish heritage was represented in his smooth olive skin.  


He walked south, past row after row of six-story brick apartment buildings over varying storefronts, looking for a place he could call home. It was such a contrast from the bungalows and ranches he had grown up around.


Though he was young, he was not naïve. To avoid his family, he had spent a lot of time wandering around Miami. He could tell this was a neglected part of town. Some buildings he passed had been gutted by fire. Others were in general disrepair. He could recognize a drug hand-off and knew the guy slumped in a doorway wasn’t just resting. But none of it felt threatening.


At 180th Street, Johnny turned east to get off the busy avenue. Parked cars lining the gutter were flanked by piles of trash and broken furniture. After a few blocks, he stopped at a six-story building that seemed more desolate than others. It was bisected by a courtyard with broken cement stairs that led to the entrance. He peeked through the dirty smoked glass to make sure it was clear before pulling on the door. Locked. Damn.


Johnny backtracked to look for another way in. A few people sat on stoops down the block, but weren’t paying attention, so he sidled up to a trapdoor in the sidewalk. He lifted one of the twin hatches to look inside. A flight of diamond-plated steps led to an unlit concrete hallway. Johnny climbed in and shut the cover, which made it pitch black. He put out his hands, feeling the narrow walls as he moved forward, sometimes stepping in puddles of what he hoped was just water. Focusing on a distant strip of light, he tried to ignore the squeaking and shadows darting in front of his feet. Goddamn basements. Why are these things always so fucking creepy?


Eventually, Johnny came to a half-opened steel door. Behind it were some dimly lit stairs leading to the rear part of the lobby. It had probably been attractive once, with its sand-pattern tiled floors and decorative moldings, but everything was soiled from age and neglect. An alcove with battered mailboxes sat opposite the main door, surrounded by cracked walls marked with amateurish graffiti.


Johnny ventured around the ground floor’s hallways. Half the apartments appeared lived in, based on the faint sound of televisions and voices, but others had holes where the locks had been removed. A few of the doors could not close at all, so Johnny looked inside. Those units were bare and had been stripped of all appliances. Some had litter, liquor bottles and candle remnants. One had an old mattress, but as a whole, the building wasn’t terrible, and one of the saving graces was that the water was still on, which probably kept the trespassers from urinating indiscriminately.


Johnny went back through the lobby and up the main staircase. It had a molded handrail and marble steps that were worn and scuffed. Each floor had evidence of tenancy, but it seemed that illicit use diminished the higher he climbed. On the sixth floor, all but two of the units looked vacant. Not too many neighbors on this floor. Johnny selected an apartment at the end of the hall, farthest from the legit renters.


The door opened to a short hallway leading to an L-shaped kitchen with paisley linoleum tiles. Several sections had peeled off, exposing dried glue underneath. Further in was a living room and a single bedroom with a walk-in closet. Most of the apartment had wall-to-wall carpeting, but the original color, whatever it was, had long ago been trampled into an unsightly gray. The plaster walls were cracked and thick with layers of paint.


Johnny checked the bathroom. Its white hexagonal tiles were yellowed and chipped, the toilet seat remained attached by only one hinge, and the clawfoot bathtub was blackened from decades of hard-water stains. He pursed his bottom lip. “This ain’t too bad.” When he turned on the faucets, the water came out brownish and lukewarm. “It’ll do. Definitely. At least for now.” Johnny walked around, flicking light switches, but nothing happened. “That’s okay. I can live without electricity. As long as I got a place to crash and clean up.”

A.D. Metcalfe won publication in Embark Literary Journal's first chapter contest for STREET on October 13, 2020.

bottom of page