There was a Thursday-morning kind of glow to the sky that could be explained in only one way – it was a Thursday morning. The air was different than it was on the other days of the week and the slight sense of expectation was at once tangible and reassuring. You could say with a certainty that the week was almost over and today would have to be conducted seriously. Whatever things you had slacked on during the week had to be made up for today, because you knew, you just knew that you weren’t going to put any kind of conviction-based effort into whatever you might encounter tomorrow, Friday. The reason for that being, of course, that so many supervisors take Friday off as part of their flex-schedule, combining to give them a three-day weekend, every other weekend. And, again – of course, every other Friday is payday, and although the stipend is small, it is enough to throw many into fiesta-type frenzies, causing them to splurge on donuts for everyone in the office, or to spend a few dollars more on lunch than they did earlier in the week. So, again, the Thursday morning sun was making its way across the eastern sky, providing any onlooker with what I knew was a special hue and a certain something else that meant I should conduct myself diligently in the task that I had before me.
You could enter the neighborhood through any one of the many side roads or thoroughfares and eventually find yourself heading toward Pierce Street. There was nothing remarkable about it from my perspective and if you would sample the people who might pass along your same path, you would probably find that it wasn’t too inspiring to them either. Yes, you might encounter the one or two souls who have lived there for most or all of their lives, and sometimes run across another person or two whose family was born and raised in the neighborhood, but all in all, it was just another one of the central city streets named after a former president and has come to represent a poorer, or more disadvantaged part of town. Without much effort, you can find prostitutes and drug abusers, transients, drunks, and incorrigible juveniles running, or walking, or pacing, or stumbling along the street. Come back in the darker hours and you might encounter the drug dealers, gang-bangers, auto thieves, murderers, suicides, and prostitutes who were too busy sleeping or working their day jobs to have been running around earlier.
Two streets west of Willow Park, another haven of the un-blessed and a favorite spot of the Public Health Clinic’s disease investigators and Terros out-reach workers trying to stop the spread of some of society’s plagues, the passerby will encounter two sets of white, almost ramshackle apartments that run lengthwise from the street back. There are two or more buildings, actually as many as several buildings spreading almost diaspora-like from the small curb-front property-line. The individual property seems to just keep going farther and farther back as you walk north from the curb. And, of course, the farther back you go, the more hovels you will encounter in the various stages of disrepair and decrepitude that are not uncommon for the area. And yes, you will encounter the little bungalow-like homestead amidst the ruin where flowers have been planted or in some other way adorned in life-like representations of multicolored plastic leaves and nearly natural-looking flowers, stuffed or placed gently, gingerly into dust inviting, brown or whitewashed baskets that cannot help but be remindful of Easter Sundays gone by. There are sometimes little, freshly-scrubbed children peering out from behind Windex-streaked panes or standing in open doorways whose breeze-enhancing currents are touched with the healthy aromas of Pine-Sol or Mr. Clean. The dens are often dirty as hell, but the occupants have tried to transform them into clean, sweet smelling Home Sweet Homes, something that is admirable and honorable from any perspective.
On this particular Thursday morning, I was looking for a guy named Carlos Bur… something or other. Earlier in the week, I had spoken to one of his lady-friends who told me that I might find him here. The girl was, at the time, wearing black and white striped, baggy clothes that resembled operating-room scrubs or jail attire. The latter was correct in this case. Michelle, a Hispanic-looking Native American mix with Black type of young lady was in jail for criminal trespass, prostitution, and possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Her medical record said that she was twenty-three, but the little waif in front of me appeared to be just pushing sixteen or seventeen – possibly even fourteen. She sounded like she was eleven or twelve, and excepting the basketball-sized belly that she was sporting, someone might be tempted to say that she was one of the more innocent inmates that they’d seen in the jail. I don’t know. There was an immediate sense of pity, confusion, paternalistic hopefulness, and then from somewhere else – there was that something that reminded me of the reason I was there – the rash on her face and arms, which was also on her chest and back. I had to interview her and determine, or at least begin the investigation and hopefully, later determine where she had acquired her syphilis infection. The innocent, soft-spoken, little girl slowly told me about her boyfriend, Carlos, whom she had been hanging-out with for the last several months. No, he wasn’t the alleged father of her very soon to be delivered baby, but he was already “in love with him” and promised to take care of the child like it was his own. I have heard these words before, from not so dissimilar looking and sounding young girls or women in the same jail.
Michelle told me that I could locate Carlos at any of several of the apartments that I found this morning on West Pierce Street. I immediately went to the specific apartment where they had been staying before she was locked-up and found that it was occupied by three Hispanic males who spoke only Spanish – even when I tried to converse with them in their own language, they held fast to the ‘no speak English’ phrase of their hiding. Usually they put up a front, denying even the possibility that they could speak English when someone looking almost professional, and white, approaches them and asks questions about certain somebodies’ whereabouts. Yes, that statement is probably tinged with a bit of stereotype, but it occurs often enough to give me reason to mention it – and besides, stereotypes can be true. Anyway, the guys told me, in Spanish, that they did know Carlos, a young, heavily tattooed, Black male, not Hispanic, though he was light-skinned enough to pass as such from a distance. He was recently taken to jail and might still be there if I would hurry up and leave their apartment and go look for him – there – in the jail. One of the guys nodded to another apartment, the one in which Carlos had actually been arrested, and told me to look for the manager/owner of the property, an older woman named Linda Kalinowski, or Calaminski, or some other name that began with ‘Cal’ and ended in ‘ski.’ The man said she was very old and drove an equally old and beat-up white pick-up truck.
I did find Linda, in that other apartment, cleaning up what looked like the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado. Actually, I heard her before I saw her, yelling and swearing at near the top of her lungs at the destruction that she was wading through as she walked about the apartment.
“Goddamned filthy pigs! What the hell’s the matter with people nowadays? Can’t they clean up their own shit when they leave – look at this mess! What? Who are you?”
She looked more used than old, the poor lady did; dark-golden, leathered, wrinkled, and veined skin covered her face and arms. Linda was 73 years-old, by her own report, and was getting “goddamned sick and tired of cleaning up other people’s shit.” She stood about 5’9” and might have weighed 125 pounds if her jeans were wet. Her shoulder-length, white hair was thin and I could see the rosy pink of her scalp when she removed her San Francisco Giant’s baseball-cap. Her glasses weren’t too far out of style, but the lenses were so scratched that I couldn’t see her eyes clearly. As the fiery oaths spilled from her quickly moving jaw, I could see that the years of smoking and drinking coffee had left their mark in the yellow hue of her teeth and fleeing gum-line.
“Good morning! Linda?” – I greeted her. “My name is Scott and I work with the County Health Department.” In my hand, at the end of my outstretched arm, was an official looking badge, with a picture that resembled me in my just-out-of-the-Air-Force street innocence of nine years ago, that would have confirmed what I just said…if she had cared to look at it.
“Well, it’s about time you guys got out here! Do you see this mess? Can you believe people actually live in this shit? And you think it’s bad right now? You should have seen it when I first got here this morning. I’ve already loaded-up my truck two times and hauled some of the crap to the dump. Who called you anyway?”
“Actually, nobody called me,” I said, “I’m not here because of the mess in the apartments. I was hoping you could help me find someone. I was told that you know Carlos and might be able to tell me where to locate him.”
“Well you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the bastard! That son-of-a-bitch tried to rape me last week. That’s right! Called the cops on him, I did, and they got here right quick and hauled his ass away! Talk about a piece of shit! He punched me in the face, slammed my head into the doorjamb, dragged me down to the floor, and then was ripping my pants off. Look at my neck and the side of my head!” I had already noticed the stitched laceration near her right temple and the finger-mark bruising around her throat. “Look at me! I’m 73 years old! What’s he doing trying to rape me? I’ve seen the girls he goes around with, and besides them, all he has to do is go out to the street and they’re giving the stuff away – so why mess with me?”
“I’m…not sure Linda. Maybe it has to do with power…like he’s trying to show you who’s in charge around here. You said you’d already 86’d him from the property…so maybe he was trying to get back at you…I…I don’t know.” Who the hell knows? And, goddamn!
Before I left the apartments, I learned that Linda has two sons in California. One is a doctor of some type and the other is a consultant with a computer software company. They have begged her repeatedly to sell her properties in Phoenix and move out to California to be with them. She said they were concerned with her getting so old and having to put up with the constant problems from her tenants. Linda confessed that she never tells them what’s happening in her little corner of the world…doesn’t want to add to their worries. “I don’t do this for the money…I’ve got plenty of that. I just do it to keep me going. My other old-lady friends have all died off, just sitting around the house or going to the country club, playing cards, and going to art shows. No thanks.”
No, instead you get to deal with the likes of Carlos.
To be continued….