Still in the Hood

I’m still sitting in a cafe in the neighborhood where I grew up and my parents grew up, and my grandparents too, and where my great-grandfather built a house in 1910 that still stands – a small crooked house with tiny rooms and odd additions.  When my mother was a girl her uncle’s family lived there along with her grandfather.  My grandfather still peddled fruit when mom was very young and kept his horse, Buck, in the yard, along with the fruit cart.  An illiterate immigrant, my great-grandfather went into business with a Jewish guy who could do sums; apparently they did well by each other as the partnership for lasted many years.

I grew up around the corner from that house.  My cousins Sean and Devin lived in the house – their mother had gotten the house in the divorce from my mother’s cousin Brian – and we would all take the bus to elementary school together.  Sean and Devin were rough kids, in particular Devin.  Most of my memories are of him hitting somebody or instigating fights between us younger kids.

Hope Street = Memory Lane

In a cafe on Hope Street in my old neighborhood (right across from the library) I’m getting coffee when I recognize a woman next to me in line.
She’s middle-aged and bloated, with bright lipstick smeared across her small mouth.  Her hands shake as she creams her coffee; a side-effect, I know, of anti-psychotic drugs.

C was the local Avon lady when I was a kid.  My mother bought products from her regularly, mostly out of sympathy.  ‘It’s so sad,’ my mother would say. ‘That woman has been taken advantage of by men her whole life.’  My mother’s sympathy meant that C visited us often, and my mother would hide from her calls at times, or have us tell Cheryl she wasn’t home.  Cheryl is a paranoid schizophrenic and I remember overhearing her raving and weeping in the kitchen about people plotting against her, about vast shadowy conspiracies, while my mother tried to soothe her and insisted that she take her meds.

 C didn’t like taking the meds because she was very pretty and they made her gain weight.  She would totter around the neighborhood in high heels and designer jeans – Sassoon and Cheryl Tiegs – holding a strappy purse and her Avon bag.  As I was just going into my teens, I tended to pay close attention to pretty blondes in tight jeans.

In an earlier memory, I remember C at Skipper’s Diner, also on Hope Street.  My grandmother would take me there for lunch sometimes.  It was very working class.  The cook had tattoos on his brawny forearms and would lean over the grill with a cigarette in his mouth, telling dirty jokes.  I found him terrifying. I think I generally ate tuna melts on white toast and burgers there.

C would be there with her mother, a friend of my nana.  Even as a small child, I could sense the air of hysteria about C  In later years, I’d go into Skipper’s on lunch breaks with my uncle when I worked in his landscaping business.  The foul-mouthed cook was still there, and C.  My uncle would flirt and joke with her.  I hope they never had sex, but from what I’ve heard about my uncle…

C’s physical appearance deteriorated rapidly by the time I was in college, she was a wreck.  Whenever I saw her, she’d always tell me about how beautiful she used to be.

In the cafe, C starts yelling at some aquaintances at another table.  Sure enough, in moments she’s talking about how beautiful she used to be.

‘Do you want to see a picture of me when I was in my 20s?  I was very pretty.’ 

She takes a worn photo out of her pocket and starts waving it in the air.

At the Library

I’m sitting in a branch library in my old hometown.  From an early age, I was their best customer, walking home with stacks of books that reached over my head and were always sliding to the ground.

Across from my seat is a bank of computers.  A man with thinning curly blond hair is looking at craigslist postings for male hustlers.  Photographs of nude muscular torsos and smiling young men flash across the screen.  Times have changed at the public library.

Hmm…He’s moved on to penises.  I’m about to take on the role of (reluctant) defender of public morality for the first time in my life.