Friday, August 7, 2009

Penultimate Day On My Block

I'm glad I had the stoop sale if only for the last hurrah feeling it gave me; I'm less enamored of the 54 dollars it netted me, but I should have remembered my neighbors aren't the greatest of book enthusiasts - the Playstation 2 games went immediately. I was in front of the building before 10:30 and was swiftly joined by two neighbors I have known essentially since moving in. R is a science geek who greedily will talk to my better half for ages, rather intelligently, about anything he recently read or heard or saw on TV pertaining to science. I give him my old copies of National Geographic and on our recent trip to Egypt, we brought him back his name in hieroglyphics on a piece of papyrus. R's only major deficiency is that he is an alcoholic, and not the functional kind. He is drunk all of the time and as a result obviously has no job and isn't able to keep his thoughts together. I would put him in his mid-40s. He recently suffered a severe fall, alcohol-induced no doubt, and was in the hospital and recovery for several months. He lives with his sister, his mother, his brother, and a bewildering assortment of other people most of whom, I think, are related. His sister, J, is also an alcoholic, but an avid amateur student of history. Their alcoholism is the only thing that makes them typical of our neighbors.

Harmless to us, we have always had a pleasant relationship and I was not dissatisfied that they elected to join me for my stoop sale. Sure, I didn't understand everything they said to me after a certain point had been reached, but for whatever it means, they're good people. I spent the very first part of the day chatting with their nephew, a newlywed who is ostensibly studying criminal justice, though he wasn't quite able to articulate in what capacity.

Sales were predictably not brisk, and R and J bought several items at my recession-friendly prices. Nothing was more than $5, most things were a buck. My one proud moment of the day was carrying on a comprehensible conversation with a customer in Spanish. I do not speak Spanish. I speak a decent amount of French and applied my normal romance language strategy to this scenario: speak the French word in a Spanish way (recently this strategy was woefully inadequate as I attempted a conversation in Fritalian with some Italians while waiting on line at the airport - it also does not, in any way work in Portuguese - so maybe this is a stupid strategy. All I know is that the woman asked how much things were, I told her, I asked her how far away her apartment was, and provided a bag when asked for one).

As the day progressed, more people stopped to chat. Soon, neighbors were returning to their apartments with chairs, and my stoop sale became a small-scale block party. This was kind of fun. But my fellow stoopers were drinking the morning and early afternoon away which led, predictably, to fights as the day wore on. The nephew fought with the aunt; the uncle, incapacitated by a bum leg, kept trying to get up to defend his sister; people unrelated to the parties attempted to break things up. A book was thrown. A cane was brandished as a weapon. The n-word was used so many times I am surprised it still holds meaning. See also both f-words, the a-word, the s-word, the mf-word, and some local patois words I am certain are not kind. Then there were tears and recriminations and parties heading to opposite sides of the street. The girl next to me, unrelated but a neighborhood fixture, and the boy who lives in the building that we have christened "the evil kid" couldn't stop laughing which made it difficult for me not to laugh because this was funny - funny in the way drunks fighting is funny. So not really funny, but embarrassing enough you giggle. Following the fight more alcohol was drunk from paper bags (and this was alcohol, not beer), some pills were taken, and explanations were made about how no one's going to talk to me like that and he thinks he's so special but he's nothing without his welfare check.

The saddest part of the day was when R started talking to me about how he and family could come visit us at our new house for backyard barbecues. I had already determined that I would continue sending him my old National Geographics, but that was the extent of the keeping in touch I was going to do. I don't have fond memories of living here and, as disgusting as this sounds, the act of sending a disabled person with a love of science copies of magazines he wouldn't otherwise buy seemed a good deed. Spending social time with the same neighbor and his extended family when not required to by proximity? I couldn't imagine anything I'm less likely to do. This isn't a place I'll come back and visit for old time's sake.

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