Thursday, February 24, 2011

[Lifestyles] They live among us

A couple of years ago, after I retrieved the mail from the mailboxes from the lobby of my apartment building, I waited by the elevator which seemed to take forever to come. As I waited there, my neighbors, a mother and daughter, who I rode down with were chatting about something that I wasn’t paying any attention too. When the elevator door finally opened I held the door for them. They said “thank you” and smiled. The truth of the matter is I didn’t like this pair at all. They’re both glorified baby sitters, making their general incomes by watching children from around the neighborhood, which I have no idea why anyone would leave there child with them. The daughter has 3 children of her own with the youngest by this crip gang member I used to be friends as a child. Now, we barely speak except for greetings, but I could care less for that. Every now and then, I would watch as the dysfunctions of their family would play out for the whole building to see. The mother screaming at her grandchildren, throwing them out of the house and locking them out for hours in their underwear so they would have to sit on the cold stairs and use the incinerator as a bathroom, hitting them with belt or whatever she could get her hands on. The daughter, the children’s mother, was no better as she was always in the hallway with her “boyfriend” the crip, smoking blunts (which I caught her kids doing as well) or getting into fights with her daughter that were sometimes physical. When I called the cops on them once after seeing the mother hit her grandson with a 2 by 4, my grandmother scolded me harshly about minding my own business. She didn’t want any problems especially from “those people” as she so loving put it. So just like everyone else in the building, I pretended to not see what was going on.

As the second door to the elevator was about to close, it suddenly stops and retreats back as the first door opened and a man, who only moved into the building a short while before, steps in. He greets everyone with a hello along with a smile and pressed his floor number. The condense space was suddenly became extremely quiet. No one seems to move or even breathe as we rumbling passed each floor. When we reached his floor, which was before ours, he turned to us and said “Have a good day”. After the man exited the elevator, the mother turned to her daughter and asked: “Who dat?” in a heavy island accent. “I don’t know” the daughter replied. “All that’s left in this building are strangers… Strangers and faggots” They both started laughing over there stupidity, with the daughter looking in my direction to join them. I said nothing, waited for the door to open and left them. As I was unlocking my door, I could still hear them laughing and I thought to myself that it was strange how they would condemn others or make fun of people with a family they have.

However, they were right about one thing. The apartment building had become a place full of strangers. After the new landlord took over my building, a lot of things changed. People who had lived there for decades like my family were moving out, the rents were being raised to dramatic amounts and different kinds of people were moving in. I underlined and bolded the word “kinds for a reason. Since the previous years I had worked in real estate, I could spot people who were a part of a certain program to get their apartments. Either you were receiving section 8, part of homeless shelter program or a member of a HIV/AIDS housing program. Since rent payments come straight from agencies, many landlords would take applicants because those were guaranteed payments. Suddenly there were crack heads and overtly gay men running around the building, much to the dismay of some of the residents. When my mother and I, had to clear up a mistake on their part concerning the rent (They said we were missing payments, but we had the receipts that proved that the money order was not only given to them, but cashed as well), one of the men in the office told us they were going to the building so much better. So what happen next? They fired the superintendent who ran the building like a tight ship. He would not allow people to smoke in the hallways, made sure that repairs were taken care of and confronted people who he knew did not live in the building. He was like this evil Puerto Rican watchdog that never let up. Within a year after he was dismissed, a disable elderly man was robbed, shot and killed in his apartment. Gang graffiti started to be placed on the walls though out the floors followed by all night parties in the hallways. The mailboxes in the lobby were broken into several times especially around the first of the month. A veteran was jumped and robbed, then had his apartment broken into several times. The “new” super, wasn’t new but actually managed the building the next door, another property acquired by the landlord, refuse to deal with the problems going on in my building. Heat was a rare during the winter months with complaints falling on deaf ears. The last time my grandmother had left the house by herself, a man she didn’t know tried to touch her. I don’t know what would’ve happen if it was for a neighbor who knew her and helped her in the building. When I asked her who this guy was she refused to tell me, but never went outside without my mother or me next to her. A drug dealer moved in next door which brought police pounding on our door by mistake one Sunday morning. Finally in 2008, someone shot and dumped a man’s body behind my building. The news story about his death contained only 88 words and gave incorrect info, but that was it. Nothing was ever resolved. As this urban renewal around my block started bring in new stores like Raidoshack, Dollar Deals, Family Dollar, Pay Half, etc. the people in this neighborhood are not embracing the changes but wallowing in self misery.

Awhile back I wrote a blog called {Welcome to the Neighborhood... NOW GET OUT!}, I talked about the drug dealers that moved next door to me and the sexual predators around the neighborhood, but I have another little story to share about this guy… since I do not remember his name; I am going to call him Frank. Frank moved into the building shortly after the new landlords took over, with his pregnant daughter and son-in-law. There were quiet, kept to themselves and made movements only at night. When I was around them, I always got this feeling that something was not quite right with them. I thought his daughter had the deadest eyes, like she was walking around but no one was home. I would see Frank every now and then over the years, but shared no words with him. Last year, when I would come home at crazy hours of the night from work, I would stop at the “L” (The shopping district around the elevated train station) to get dinner before I headed home to crash. Walking home, I would see Frank panhandling in front of the McDonalds. The first time I saw that, I didn’t pay it any attention, but after seeing it a dozen or so times where he even asked ME for change, I knew something was fishy. I would wonder how can he afford to live in the apartment building if he is out here panhandling when new apartments go for a thousand dollars a month.

Towards the end of last year around late summer/early fall, I was walking into my building, tired from work. Like second nature, I went to check the mailbox the moment I went pass the foyer and there was Frank standing there in the lobby with 2 other men I had never seen before. One guy was tall and lanky with a beer bottle in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. The other guy was short wearing basketball shorts, a wife beater and had a number of tattoos, one being a Puerto Rican flag on his neck. The 3 men stood around, nervously pacing when another guy came into the lobby. Frank took him to the side and the two other men just stood there talking to one another. I had my headphones on blaring music and wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. As I waited for the elevator, another tenant approached and as I opened the elevator door for everyone, when Frank and the short guy refused to go in. The tall guy looked at them and shook his head in disgust. In the elevator, the tall guy went off about Frank. “Fucking crackheads” he started. “Talking shit, how they trying to be dealers when they smoke up everything.”


The red flags were going off like crazy. Frank was crackhead. Even though I didn’t care about it, everything started to make sense. As the taller guy started to really go in about Frank and his life, I kept thinking to myself that this was more information that I wanted to know. Everything done in the dark comes to light. Behind every door in this apartment building holds secrets that no one want other to know. Over the last two months, 5 people moved from the apartments on my floor. The landlord sent crews to pretty them up, but I have a feeling that they is just going to move more and more people like Frank into the building. Shuffling more and more of the destructive bottom 10 percent of our society from place to place who brings nothing good to the lives of others.

Oh and by the way, I don’t know if it matters or not, but Frank is white.

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