Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Scene Of The Crime



Old factory buildings, their cracked and dirty windows the ancient eyes of progress dormant; rail spurs grown over with weeds where steel wheels once carried precious cargo; a sun-beaten loading dock, hangout now for indolent juvenile delinquent pigeons, but formerly where fathers and grandfathers dripped sweat while dreaming of something better for their children.

Across the potholed street, a shopping center, the latest thing - two generations past - in 1960's space-age architecture (triangularly-shaped logos with sharp, motion-suggestive typeface.) Now an ancient ironic relic, it borders a self-serve gas station/convenience store doing a brisk business in instant lottery tickets (which litter the ground in mute testimony to the futility of the advertised hope.) No one under the age of 50 enters the forlorn supermarket (and, it seems, even fewer exit.)

Two nail salons vie for business with three bars and a Chinese take-away. Where once a bakery filled the neighborhood with delicious aromas of fresh-baked breads, Mickey D serves tasty grease and heart attacks.

An old man with four-day gray stubble shuffles down the street carrying a shopping bag full of broken dreams, destination unknown even to him, his too-long corduroy trousers, with baggy and worn seat, sweeping the sidewalk. He moves past a gang of boys whose parents have deluded themselves into thinking they are attending school. They laugh at the old man (who doesn't hear their insults in his world) unaware that it is their future walking by them trailing a faint odor of piss.

A block away, plywood fills the spaces where there used to be windows in the first floor of an apartment building. Inside, on the third floor, a woman watches Days Of Our Lives and drinks instant coffee laced with Old Granddad. She desperately tries to avoid calculating if the bottle will run dry before her next government check arrives. The second floor is empty except for a few cockroaches too stupid to move someplace better. Behind the first floor plywood, two emaciated junkies doze on linoleum littered with cigarette butts and small empty packets of powdered temporary happiness.

A bus rumbles by on the main street, delivering diesel exhaust to complement the overwhelming smells of defeat, despair, desperation, and denial. The riders pass through poverty on their way from lower-middle-class dwellings to jobs with upper-middle-class dreams. They hope the bus makes no stops in this neighborhood. No one they wish to associate with ever gets on here. The driver, who once lived in the second floor apartment (but escaped via virtue of hard work, long hours, and luck) keeps his eyes on the road and his foot on the accelerator. He also hopes to make no stops here. He has no desire to strike up old acquaintances.

A police cruiser makes a desultory tour of side streets. The two officers inside know, from years of duty in the area, that randomly stopping at any three or four residences will likely result in their uncovering some small crime or another, but they save their energies for the inevitable something bigger which will cry out for their full attentions later. Drug usage and petty theft pale in comparison to rape and murder. They willfully ignore minor details in favor of keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

The local politicians - none of them quite this local - make a grand show of hand wringing about the neighborhood, but do nothing more than make sure it doesn't entirely burn to the ground before the next election. When someone with brains enough to challenge them shows up on these streets, they gladhand him and put him on-staff before he becomes too dangerous.

And there is always a baby crying, a dog barking, and the faint sound of tires squealing in the background.

*****************************************************************

Question worth asking: Is this my old neighborhood? Did I live there?

Yes and no. My old neighborhood came close, sometimes, in the year or two before I left, but I only encountered the totality of it while I was on drugs and associating with folks who lived in these sorts of surroundings full-time. A couple of bad breaks and I would have taken up residence.

The neighborhood exists in every big city in America. The routinely lucky never live there. The truly blessed live there once and get out. If they understand what they escaped, they remain eternally aware of their good fortune.

Point? None other than what you take from it. Or give to it, as the case may be.

Soon, with more better stuff.


37 comments:

Hilary said...

This was so beautifully written. It's everyone's neighbourhood I suppose. You bring it to life in a way that most of us never see.

Bruce Coltin said...

I've been through THAT neighborhood in more cities than I can even remember. I'm always hearing about cities that are making a comeback. That's usually just wishful thinking. Our own state has its Lawrence, New Bedford, Fall River, North Adams, Springfield, and many more. Long ago, I believed I would live to see them prosper. I no longer do.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

This was lovely Jim! I came over rather hoping for some bawdy,blue and blasphemous vitriol to cheer my miserable self up....and l am treated to some very lovely prose! You are a dear!

Brian Miller said...

wow, wonderfully written...i think i have walked those streets before...very nice.

Moannie said...

You are a poet, Jim m'boy, and you cannot deny it. A poet with a beating, bleeding heart.

I love you bawdy and I even love you sporty but I love you even more when you expose your heart.

Daryl said...

I read this and I was there ... you paint amazing pictures with your words Sul...

Jazz said...

Thought provoking post Suldog. Reminds me of a Will Eisner graphic novel, Dropsie Avenue - the third volume of the Contract With God trilogy.

Char said...

How sad was that hometown. Suldog, you captured the ugliness with beautifully written words.

(the description reminded me of Gary, IN.)

Glad you are outta there!

Michelle H. said...

Ahhh... so this is what you meant by ghetto poetry/prose(from an email). Wonderfully done and poignant!

Ananda girl said...

How well I know that place. Count me as a lucky escapee wise enough to know it.

Well done Suldog. You keep giving me so much for reflection. I cannot help but think today... of all days for you to post this... how many of those old guys in the overlong corduroys are vets who gave so much to wander lost in the country they served so well.

Sandi McBride said...

You made that neighborhood come alive for me. And I hated you for it. There are far to many neighborhoods like that all over the world...all the politicians claim to have the answer, but they're not telling...even after we elect them so we can learn the secret, they claim they never said they had the answer...catch22
Sandi
(Jim, I don't really hate you...just what you pointed out!)

Buck said...

The neighborhood exists in every big city in America.

I might could be wrong but I believe there are more of these neighborhoods in Detroit than anywhere else. I haven't been back there since 1998, but it was terrible at that time... and given the 30% unemployment rate in my former Fair City I can only imagine the current state of things... I was always profoundly shocked at the desolation when driving through those neighborhoods you painted so well, Jim.

Is there hope?

lime said...

what an incredibly vivid picture you paint, one that so many eyes are willfully blind to.

GreenJello said...

Most excellent prose. Very well written.

Knucklehead said...

Well put, Sully. Love the term "habitually lucky".

Jeni said...

Yep -it sure is everyone's neighborhood -bits and pieces of your words even apply to the little village here where I live. In the 50s when I grew up here, we had two general stores -kind of a cracker-box type K-mart, ya know. Today, neither of the buildings that housed those stores are still standing. We had five churches here then too. One was torn down years ago after merging with a sister church atop the hill in town. The old Slovak Lutheran still stands but hasn't been used in probably 30-40 years, at least. The other Lutheran church was struck by lightning 42 years ago and burned to the ground in less than an hour. That leaves the Catholic Church and the United Brethran and of those, only the Catholic Church still has services. We also had two private clubs (the Moose and the Jednota, aka The Slovak Club) and one bar in town, one on the outskirts. Today, we still have the two bars and The Moose -the Jednota having met the same fate as the Lutheran Church.
Back when I was a kid, the big deal of the day was walking to the post office, chatting with the post master or whoever might have been hanging around there at the time and today, we no longer even have a post office in town! We now have three sets of "Cluster boxes" strategically placed around the village where we can pick up mail and you can get stamps by leaving an envelope in your mail box with the money for the postage you wish to purchase enclosed and the stamps will be there for you the next day. Lovely, huh?
Sad to see those changes but for me, the loss of the post office really put a huge nail in the coffin as with that, the residents had no place where they could go to just gab a bit, gossip, b.s. one another except -to the local pub!
I know -I did it again -ran my own blog post at your place but it's your own damned fault for opening up that can of worms inside me with all those memories, ya know.
Great post, Jim. Sad and disparaging, yes, but truthful and by that token, great -indeed it was that!

Shrinky said...

You are a powerful writer with the gift for detail which most of us are blind to, Jim. A very moving commentary my friend, if so utterly and terribly depressing!

I don't believe in "the good old day's", life was pretty hard and unrelenting even back then. But today I fear there has been a shift for the worse, and I am afraid to project too far ahead as to where it will lead in the future. Here in the UK we have a widening gap between the "Have's" and "Have-not's", there are housing estate's here which would make living in the third world look appealing. A second and third generation has sprung up with no hope of legitimate employment, and where self-medication is sadly the norm.

I had hoped I had escaped these streets, but no one does, not really. Sure, for now, my kids are thriving and well educated, and our luck is on a roll - but what happens when the dispossesed and alienated outnumber us comfortably lucky ones? Ignoring the problem is only storing up a powder keg of trouble for each and every one of us. I wish I had some answers.

sandy said...

character moved away

Uncle Skip said...

Whoa!!! I was into the prose and the picture it painted. But that was yesterday. Now I'm seeing this developing where I live and hoping it's only transitory.

Thumbelina said...

Excellently written.
I thought you'd been in a neighbourhood I once frequented... Maybe you were.
Brilliant work. You paint such vivid pictures with your words.

Kathryn Magendie said...

lovely, dark, and deep . . .

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Okay, Jim...so when are you going to write your novel...this is brilliant! Steinbeckian, in fact!! I have crossed my arms; I am tapping my foot...waiting for your response... WHEN is the book debuting!?!? Hugs, Janine

Thimbelle said...

I wish that neighborhood existed only here - in your words, and not in reality.

I wish that those people who are trapped there in their own despair could find a lifeline, a way out.

I wish that the policemen didn't have to look away from the "little" crimes in order to see the bigger ones.

I wish that neighborhood didn't really exist anywhere but here.

♥ Braja said...

"Soon more, with better stuff."?? I don't think it gets better than "teenage delinquent pigeons." Friends of yours, Jim? :))

Carol said...

Poignant. The older I get, the more I drive back to my old neighborhood, turn off the motor to the car, and play, "What if....". We can learn lots from not only the roads taken....but those abandoned. I've missed stopping by. Five more shows and I'm 'free' to stop by my favorite blog haunts once again~

Suldog said...

Janine (and anyone else awaiting a novel) - Ah, I don't get into this mood unless I've been doing strong drugs. This piece was left over from a particularly somber night with my dental meds. You wouldn't want to see me doing hard drugs all the time, would you? So, the novel will not be forthcoming soon (unless you want to supply me with a bottomless pit of the drugs, which are expensive and hard to come by and... well, I'd write about two chapters and then be dead, so you wouldn't want to do that, either, right?)

Suldog said...

Braja - Funny you should mention that...

When MY WIFE and I first started dating, we used to like to walk around Boston Common. If you're not familiar with it - or even if you are - it's a place similar to Central Park in New York or other green spaces within the downtown area of a city. Anyway, ever since I was a little child, I loved to feed the pigeons there. They are less scared of humans than most pigeons. They will come right up to you and eat out of your hand if you're patient.

MY WIFE, despite some city upbringing, hadn't been one to feed the pigeons. She saw them coming up to me, perhaps a couple of them actually landing on my shoulders, and she dubbed me "Lord Of The Pigeons".

I took great pride in having that title bestowed, and I hope the pigeons don't mind.

Chuck said...

Very nice post, Suldog...it really evoked the image of that neighborhood well.

Eva Gallant said...

Some vivid imagery there! I could see the man with the baggy corduroy pants carrying his bag of broken dreams.

gaelikaa said...

Its amazing to just look around your neighbourhood and see things going on - there's a whole world within a neighbourhood...

Gaston Studio said...

Have definitely walked this neighborhood; so beautifully written Suldog1

Congrats on POTW!

Sandi McBride said...

Wow, POTW...congrats!
Sandi

Dianne said...

I know this neighborhood and felt that I was walking there again - still?

thank you for a beautiful piece of writing

J said...

I felt like I was reading a prose background to the wire (which I hope you take as a compliment). I'm thankful never to have had to live anywhere that grim.

blunoz said...

That was magnificently written. You created such powerful mental images with strikingly simple analogies. Wow. Congrats on the POTW - well-deserved recognition.

Kathleen said...

Hello, Suldog,
I've seen your name pop up all around, but this is my first visit. And I'm delighted to discover you. Brilliant post, described as if you were a camera's lens. So full of clarity and truth.

Wishing you well--

Kahtleen

Frank Baron said...

I lived in a much worse neighbourhood but thankfully, only for a few weeks. They were weeks that had a lasting effect on my perspective on life though, and accelerated my transition from boy to man.

Good stuff.