gall and gumption

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting to Know the Neighborhood

The Week of No Parking

Last night, the third night of Not Parking, was not my fault. Coming home yesterday evening from my cousin F’s house, where I had left the car during the second day of Not Parking, I realized that buses were being diverted off 14th Street, all traffic in fact, and there I was driving into whatever they were all driving out of. There were cops everywhere. It was a bigger police presence than when the crazy guy invaded the house. It was a small army. In addition to the cars up and down the streets and blocking the alleys there was a helicopter circling, low and tight, right over my block.

There were crowds of people on the corners and along 14th St.

My lovely neighbors, Terry and Sherry and their Dad, Mr. B., and another brother whose name I didn’t catch, and Mrs. P. from across the street, were all on the porch and in the driveway, as usual all in an advanced state of angelic philosophy, watching it all with amusement and not missing a single thing. “What is it this time?”

“After the police kicked down the door of the prostitution house,” said Sherry, “that’s when they heard the shots in the alley.”

That’s how I learned that I live four doors away from a whorehouse. I had wondered about the prodigious quantities of takeout that seemed to get eaten there; by the end of the weekend sometimes there are three enormous garbage bags spilling Styrofoam containers, beer cans, and chicken bones out onto the sidewalk. You could miss it because it has even less of a front than James’s house. There’s a basement where most of the activity takes place (at any rate that’s where I see most of the men who hang out or live there, that was never quite clear), and then there’s a front door without the enhancement of a set of bleacher steps like James has. I think you just plunge two feet to the sidewalk if you step out that door. The clientele and the people who live and work there are all Latino.

The raid, it seems, was all that had been originally planned, but then someone was firing guns in the alley—not my alley but the one across the street. My neighbors were inside when they heard the police kick down the door of the prostitution house; then they, too, heard shots and took up their stations on the porch; they all agreed that it was stupid to have gone firing bullets during a raid.

I stood with them for a while, watching drivers come up our very narrow one-way street, reach the police tape and have to back all the way back out again. This was entertaining. I observed that the raid took place almost on top of James. “Oh, he was sitting on his porch for some of it,” said Terry or Sherry. “It was like watching Cops on TV. Then I think he had a nap.”

The cops were still all over the place when Terry and Sherry's other brother the one who doesn't like being called a baby, went across the street with a bucket of paint and some paintbrushes and very soon was busy putting a new coat of red paint on the steps. "Is that where he lives?" I asked Sherry and Terry.

"No, he lives in Northeast. He's just painting Mrs. P.'s steps for her."

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