Thursday, October 13, 2016

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 himself, 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 them in his world) unaware that it is their future walking by them trailing a faint odor of urine.

A block away, plywood fills the spaces where windows were 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 evanescent 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 need full attention later. Minor details are willfully ignored 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 concerning 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 the payroll 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, 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 might have taken up permanent 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. 


Jackie said...

You are one of the best writers....ever.
I pray that we can be better to each other and for each other.
Thank you for these words. They are painfully eye-opening. My heart breaks....

Barbara said...

You did such a great job putting each of us right there with your words, seeing, hearing, and smelling. We need that reminder, to be grateful and to care. Thank you!

joeh said...

Depressing and sad, but well done.

Shammickite said...

You are definitely one of the lucky ones. There are far too many neighbourhoods like this.

The Broad said...

It is impressive how you are able to capture so vividly the anguish and the plight of poverty and hopelessness -- not just from personal experience, but from talented writing. This is a reminder that we are never so far away from those in need and that indeed, 'there but for the grace of God...

Char said...

What a beautifully written window on today's world. How sad to know that it is brutally the truth. <3

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

With the possible exception of that third floor, this could be any town in the country.
The image is vivid and the people are real.
Thanks Jim, for sharing.

messymimi said...

Life, as we wish no one lived it.

Juli G said...

Oh no... THIS is the good stuff. :)

And as picturesque as the State reps here would like you to think our down town is, there's that other section, just north of the town center, that is just as you described.

It's not just in the city my friend.

Daryl said...

beautifully written ..

Absolut Ruiness said...

You took my breath away with this one Jim! The heart ache was so evident as well as the relief of having escaped an alternate life. Beautifully written.

Absolut Ruiness said...

You took my breath away with this one Jim! The heart ache was so evident as well as the relief of having escaped an alternate life. Beautifully written.