Eucalyptus trees with silver-dollar leaves shaded the chocolate-hued men, those with the ancients’ lines around they eyes and steel and yellow-gray crowns upon they brows, slow and stony and tumbling-down voices, and gnarled fingers like busted-up tree limbs that moved the ivory tabs of black-dotted things this way and that along the scarred and pigeon-shitted table top.
“Don’ be lookin’ over here, you ol’ cheat, don’ be looking over here; git you ol’ yella eye-balls onto you own side a thisyer table.”
“They’s only echoes now,” like the cars and trucks on the overpass, like the train that rumbles slow down on the city track, ‘neath the palm trees on the other side. “They’s only echoes now, them memories that still live and rattle yon in you brain.”
Images alive in the past and yesterday with a scorched-grass and dusty smell that rides in the nose-hairs for a long day; they’re like swollen and knobby coffee-milk fingers reaching into those lost recesses of tainted dreams, scooting those domino pieces to the side again, sliding them face-down and around, picking-up five or two again, and lining them up sideways at a slant.
“Pass me that bag, Mistah Scott…’f you don’ mine.” If it were my can in the brown bag I’d have offered me some sitting there, just to see what I’d have done, to see how colored the skin of my soul was on that yellow-brown afternoon.
I fingered the blue card in the manila coin envelope and slid it back and forth, took it out and brought it in again, watching lazy mouths work their chew, work their salted seeds and spitting shells; I thought about the places they’d been, the lies they’d heard, and the promises failed, as the lines wore deep into their chocolate and honey-colored skin.
“You don’ know how to play this, do you, Mistah Scott?”
I used to play it some as a kid with my sisters, said I.
“Yah…maybe so, but not like we doin’, though, ain’t that right? Not like we doin’ out here ‘long-side the overpass with pigeon shit all over the goddamned place, not like that, didn’ you?”
No, we played inside on the kitchen table…sometimes in the living room…but that was a long time ago.
“Couldn’ be too long ago, Mistah Scott, you just a young man. You couldn’ tell me ’bout no long time ago, not yet no-how.”
No…not yet, no-how….
In those many orbits around the sun, and the moon around ourselves, in that figment of time and space that we call months and years, and in those days of our passing, in that time that I’ve been gone from that place where I had worked and worked and wondered for other years and gone, things changed and progressed and grew and became other things that someone else had imagined. Technology and practice and practice became new and better and more precise and less invasive in a personal sense, for some, for those in the practice of this medicine and art and then. Time has changed some of the occupants, too, of the circles in which and around which the plagues are passed and given and shared and transmitted in knowing and unknowing senses all. While some advances have been made in several of the related realms, some of the old and tried and true remain and serve as beacons and exemplars of what works and what lives still in our humanity and theirs. A handshake and an eye-to-eye look of greeting and acceptance or a touch on the arm or shoulder or a shared smiling frown still connects their lives and ours as we mix and meld in our humanity and striving so. There is the unknown and the fear and the real pain of their physical pain and non-understanding and guilt and shame and glistening eyes and downcast, as they ask questions and await answers as they stare at the lines in the tile on the floor. No quivering today in that unshaven and rugged chin on that young man, little boy, who described his estrangement from his parents, their disapproval of his life and his mom’s fears for his future and health and physical living. He spoke of church bonds that are harsh and unforgiving and uncompromising and are tied harder and faster and sharper than a love for a child. He said, too, that there is a sister of mom or dad who still loves and accepts him and will always be there. He wonders at what a test result might mean, in that it changes the way even friends look at you. They don’t joke the same, can’t tease the same way…maybe like stepping on an un-dug grave, so he couldn’t share it with them either. “You are so young,” I said, “and that is both good and bad. You believe in your invincibility, still, and in your right to conquer the obstacles in front of you, but you’re not old enough to remember your friends wasting away and dying from what they contracted during the fun and love of an earlier time. Your brain tells you that the others’ memories are true, but you live in your actions as if they aren’t.” We think it can’t happen to us, he said, unconsciously squirming at the sensation of what was leaking out of his front and back-sides as he has waited so long to come in for a simpler malady. He was quick to respond to my call that he’d been exposed and needed treatment. Whatever he had scheduled was suddenly less important because he now knew and understood that what he had been feeling for weeks and weeks was real and could be ignored no longer. And so he was there…and so was I.
No radio was in the background and I had no concern for a status-list. I couldn’t feel a headset cord at my side and there were no black-banded badges or shields on posters on the wall reminding me that it wasn’t how they died that made them heroes, it was how they lived. My heart wasn’t beating with an anxious pulse waiting and waiting for someone to clear that it was Code-4, it was beating in sympathy and empathy for the distraught young man who sat in front of me who was wondering at test results and the fact that his father hadn’t spoken to him in over three years because of who he loved, yes, both the father and the son, the “he” in their each and solitary selves…and the men they loved.
Many things have remained the same…since I’ve been gone.
More memories from the STD Clinic Journal….
November 8, 1996 – I spent a couple more hours in Estrella Jail this morning. I conducted two interviews on patients for whom we had been looking since July of this year.
Crystal B. was finally in jail long enough to receive her twice-daily doses of Doxycycline. The last time I had spoken with her, she was released the next day and never made it to the clinic. She had sworn that she would make it to the clinic so she could be “cured.” It never happened. Since August 7th, her blood had risen from 1:128 to 1:256, bringing forth new symptoms of the infection. This time, she had vaginal and perineal lesions. The chart said that she may also have herpes.
I mildly admonished Crystal, telling her how I had driven for hours, several times, trying to find her on the street. I also told her that one of my partners had driven around looking for her, as well. Even “ex” prostitutes have feelings – Crystal’s blue-green eyes filled with tears as she told me that she had made a mistake. I wasn’t looking directly at her, and not seeing the tears, continued with my scolding. I told her that I wasn’t concerned with all the aspects of her life, I was just interested in how this disease had come to play. When I looked up and saw her tears, I felt that I should back-up and go more slowly. “Can’t a person make a mistake, huh? We all make mistakes, don’t we?” Crystal asked. Yes, I said; we all make mistakes. I was just concerned that she was going to become sicker and possibly spread the disease further. She assured me, kind of, that she hadn’t had contact with anyone since both of her sex partners were locked-up. She denied any contact with dates. Crystal could have been acting, but she seemed sincere.
Crystal had been on twice-daily Doxycycline for about a week now, halfway to her cure. The sores were healing nicely and she said she’s feeling better about herself. She said that she is tired of this life, here in Phoenix. Crystal said that she never had a record till she moved here. Now, at 24yo, she is ready to move back to California where her family and children are. Crystal told me that she will be released on November 21st and hopes to leave right away. My proof of this move and restart on a new life will happen when the health department from her California town calls to let me know that she has had her blood tested again. We’ll see what happens.
After leaving the jail, I went to the field to try to locate a person with 1:128 dilution blood that had just been released from another jail. The person didn’t even know the results yet. I had spoken with Stephanie at the jail this morning and she had given me the address and phone number, supposedly belonging to the patient’s uncle. I had already called the number and left a message, so now, in the field, I hoped to be able to speak with the patient face to face.
Approaching the door, I wondered if this was really where the patient lived. I am almost ashamed to say it, but the house did not fit the stereotypical house of a young, black male who was recently released from jail. As it turned-out, the house was that of his girlfriend. She, Nicole, answered the door, and to my question about whether or not Sammy lived there, she replied that he did. After I learned that she was his girlfriend, I told her that both she and Sammy needed to come to the clinic. Suddenly, Nicole’s face changed from a look of curiosity to one of fear. Then, just as suddenly, she recognized me. She said, “You came to my school and did a talk on STDs. You’re from Maricopa….”
Nicole recognized me from the presentation I conducted at her school, The Center for Xxxxx, where my wife was serving her internship for the BSW program as ASU. Nicole remembered the pictures of syphilis and gonorrhea. The realization of who I was and what I represented slowly spread across her face. She assured me that she and Sammy would be to the clinic that day, and they were. Nicole ended-up having the infection and was treated the same day. Sammy ended-up being the dog, having at least two other sex partners, completely unbeknownst to Nicole.
It’s now March 28, 1997, and I’m just now finishing this entry. Nicole didn’t return to The Center for Xxxxx until just last week. Five months have passed since she was there, working on her GED so she could become independent of her family’s support and get a job on her own. Nicole never mentioned anything to my wife about that afternoon in November, she did, however, ask her to tell me “thank you.” For several weeks after Nicole failed to return to The Center, my wife and I occasionally discussed the situation. I had resolved to go past the house and check-in on her under the guise of follow-up for the syphilis. I never made it to the house, and further, don’t know if that would have been a good thing to do or not. Maybe things would have been too difficult for her in the face to face encounter that would have occurred in her doorway or in the front yard of her house. At any rate, she is back in school and it’s almost time for me to get back to The Center for another STD presentation. “Thank you” is a small reward, but in this job, it is often everything that we can hope for. A few times in my almost eight years here with the county, a patient has ended-up dead, sliced to bits and tossed into a garbage dumpster after finding-out she had something and subsequently telling someone else of her situation. I will take the “thank you” any day. It means more to both Nicole and me than words can really describe. Not that I thrive on the appreciation of my clients, it just doesn’t come often, and is, therefore, a real reward. Thank you, Nicole.
Here we go again….
April 4, 1997 – I went to Estrella Jail this morning to talk with two syphilis cases. I found there, two very different, yet similar, individuals. Mary Lou, who my partner, Sylvia, knows as “Lulu,” is 40yo and has been prostituting for 27 years. She started this mess when she was 13yo. Mary Lou was either kicked-out of the house or simply left at that age and started dancing at one of the clubs in town. She said that she carried herself like a woman and convinced the manager that she was really 22yo. He never asked for her ID. Mary Lou said that as she was dancing, some of the guys would talk about how they wanted to do things with her. She said, “That’s fine, but if you want to fuck me, you’re going to pay for it.” That began her 28 year career as a prostitute in Phoenix. She said that she is ready to retire, though. She is just waiting for that golden watch so she can quit in style. Mary Lou is very straight-forward, a characteristic which Sylvia says has always been hers. They know each other from childhood. Sylvia said that Lulu had always been the black-sheep of the family, her sisters would have relations with several people on the side, but Lulu would at least charge for it. This lady said that it is too dangerous to be on the street anymore. When she first started, a girl could go out on the street and within just a few hours, make about two hundred dollars and there was nothing to worry about. There were no beatings and no worry that one of the dates would turn bad and kill you. Now, she says, the money isn’t very good because there are so many girls on crack who will get fucked or suck someone’s dick for five or ten dollars, sometimes even less. And now, too, you have to worry about AIDS. In the old days, the worst thing around was herpes. Syphilis and gonorrhea could always be cured, but not herpes, and now, not AIDS. So, Mary Lou wants to retire and move up to Globe and get a job, something she’s never had, maybe working at “Jack in the Crack,” she says. Mary Lou is about five-five or six, weighs probably 155 or 165, big-breasted and flat-bottomed. Her mouth is foul and full of the street. She and I are both surprised that she has lived so long. When I asked if she had any children, she said no, “He (looking upward) has taken care of that.” She has had two miscarriages and one tubal pregnancy. Mary Lou said that He knew what her life was like and took care not to allow her to have any kids. That throws a twist into my picture of what God does and doesn’t allow. I know another lady of the street, Von, AKA: Lepizia, who is my age and has eight children; had nine, she said. Being only thirty-five with her oldest child turning 21 this year means that Von had her first baby when she was 14yo. What does God allow and disallow? Who can tell?
Anyway, Lulu is looking to change her life, and that is good, we agreed. She has been smoking cocaine, pot, crack, and all other types of things for these many years. Her mind seems to be all there. The whole time we were talking, Lulu was hitting on me, asking if I was married, telling me that I looked fine. She is a character who, in herself, is a whole book. She said she is going to look me up when she gets out of jail in June. I told her that she, Sylvia, and I could sit and talk for a while.
The next person I talked with at the jail today was a 20yo Hispanic girl named Martha. After talking with Lulu and having a pleasant time, it appeared that things would be different with Martha. She seemed sullen and removed, almost business-like when I began telling her why I was there, explaining her test results, etc. She appeared to be the “typical” hard-nosed Chicana from the street. Her eyes had the dark underlining that is common with some of the Hispanic girls. Martha’s eyes were also beautiful, very dark, almost black. She was missing her top front four teeth, which, I later learned, were lost in a car accident that she had when she was high on crack. Only a steel cable had prevented her car from falling from the overpass at Van Buren Street and the freeway. As it was, Martha lost those teeth and cut a big gash in her right eyebrow. The doctors told her that she was in a coma for seven hours following the accident. When I asked Martha how long she had been prostituting, she told me that she started when she was 14yo, so that has been six years. I also asked Martha why she started selling herself and she explained that an aunt had given her a hit from a crack pipe when she was 13yo and she had to have it from then on. So the prostitution was a way of “earning” the money to buy the crack. Where was Mom at this point, or Dad, or anyone else who could have made a difference? Mom left her when she was six years old and she was sent to live with her grandparents in Payson. Martha explained that she had two different sides of her family. One, she described as living off of food-stamps and welfare, the others were very well-off. Her grandfather or uncle, I forget which, is a judge and is living very well. These are the grandparents with whom she lived after her mom dumped her and ran off with a boyfriend and Martha’s older sister. What does that tell a child, Mom ran off with sister and not you? Well, her mom came back when she was 11yo, and deciding that she was old enough to “wipe her own ass,” as a friend put it to me, she took her with her, back into whatever life she had carved for herself. This became the introduction into the life which she herself now lived, but being of her own mind, having a brain of her own, she said, she is responsible for everything that happens in her own life. Nothing that has happened to her is anyone’s fault but her own, she said. I countered that with the responsibility that her parents, mom or whomever had to her when she was only 13 and 14yo, should have prevented half of the shit that happened to her. Well, she responded, she was witness to her mother’s boyfriend killing her mother’s brother when she was only 11yo. She was the only witness and ended-up testifying against the boyfriend. The mother then hated her, accusing her of trying to ruin her life by taking away her man, rather, having him put away. If this isn’t enough for one person to endure, two years later, Martha watched yet another boyfriend of Mom stab a man and woman to death who were tied into their chairs. Where is God, I wondered? I like angels and have thought that they truly exist, but in situations like this, I begin to wonder if I am not mistaken and there really are no celestial beings whose jobs it is to protect the innocent lives. I am beginning to feel strongly that my wife is correct when she says that there is no God. What loving God could allow this shit to happen? Tell me, Child of God, where is He? Martha spent five months in the state hospital for “crazy” people. “Those people were really fuckin’ weird, talking to themselves all day.” She said that she uses the crack so she doesn’t have to think. I can’t blame her. I asked her what she was going to do when she gets out in August, the day after my birthday, and she said that she doesn’t know. I said that she had been here for two months already and she hadn’t yet figured it out? She said that her mind is just now beginning to get straight. Martha said she was so sick from the drugs that she was down to 112 pounds. She is five-feet eight-inches tall…and she was down to 112lbs. She said that she has gained about 40 pounds since being locked-up and eating three times a day. She wants to go back to the street because she is more comfortable there. “People baby me,” she said. Everything she needs is there and it is exciting. She would go stay with her grandparents, but it is too boring up there. Her grandfather did promise her, though, that if she stayed there for a little while, he would pay to get her teeth replaced, so she is considering that heavily. As I sat there listening to Martha tell me things that had nothing to do with my syphilis investigation, I couldn’t help but just stare into her eyes, realizing how absolutely beautiful she is. It is such a fucking shame that her life has come to this. I know it isn’t over, by far, but where is it going? She graduated from eighth-grade in Adobe Mountain, the state facility for juveniles. She has never had a job and she has a two year old daughter who lives with the biological father. When I was questioning Martha about the one steady contact that she has, a somewhat, but not really, boyfriend, she said that she knows he loves her, and she even admits to herself that she loves him, but she refuses to tell him. She said that if she did let him know in words that she loves him, that is when things would fall apart. I suggested that this might be something that she really needs, to be loved and to love somebody back. Martha agreed, hesitantly, but confessed that it is something that she doesn’t want to do. She added that her boyfriend is probably the best thing for her, but he is too nice to her and she wants someone to keep her in her place. Not someone who is going to be mean to her, mind you, but someone who is more assertive than she is. She says that he’s always kissin’ her ass, trying to make her happy. When I asked if something was wrong with that, she said that she didn’t know, but she probably should try to be with him. The interview ended with her thanking me for making sure she doesn’t get any more shots in the ass, as the nurses had planned, and me wondering what was going to befall this beautiful young girl. Life sure is fucked-up sometimes.
The patients were unremarkable on that particular day, July 17, 1996; however, there was one older man who we treated for secondary syphilis that might be worth mentioning. He was roughly fifty years old and lived around 15th Avenue and Tonto. When describing the situation of his meetings with the unknown people with whom he had sex, he said that it is similar to being thirsty in the middle of the night and going to the refrigerator for a glass of milk. It was that simple. He just goes out to the street, finds some female walking past and asks if she’s interested in having sex. Of course, there are a few dollars that must change hands, and given that this wasn’t one of the more posh districts of town, there were literally only a “few” dollars that must be exchanged. The prostitutes in this part of Phoenix did not require much in exchange for their wares, five to ten dollars, sometimes as much as twenty dollars, was all that one must have to find a willing sex partner on or near West Buckeye Road. Any amount would help them get what they needed in the way of rock cocaine. With the fee paid, they got down to business. They cleared a spot on the alley floor, consummated the act, redressed, and went about their respective ways; the woman continued down the sidewalk and the older man turned the corner and walked back to his house. Free enterprise, supply and demand, capitalism at its finest. Thirsty for a glass of milk in the middle of the night….
After leaving the apartments, I drove to the jail to have a chat with the guy. My job required that I interview him and try to get more contact-information…disease intervention stuff. While that was my reason for going to the jail, officially, I also wanted to see what kind of person this Carlos was. I wanted to see, for myself, what the textbooks and psychologists have been talking about all these years when they discussed ‘anti-social personality-disorder,’ or ‘psychopath,’ or ‘sociopath.’ It was just my opinion, of course, but what else could he be to conduct himself the way he had during these recent events?
The buildings and other vehicles passed thru my periphery in something of a blur as I drove from the neighborhood of West Pierce and into downtown Phoenix where I would find the Madison jail, and inside – this guy, or man, or Black man, or 20-some-year-old male, or person, or living-breathing human organism, or creature, or thing, or whatever he was, who would try to rape a 73 year-old woman. What type of being would do that? What type of person could do that and then go home, kiss and hug his mother, and then ask her about her day, or if her knees have been bothering her, or if she went to the doctor like she said she was going to do last week? How could he pick-up his three year-old niece and nephew, toss them into the air, catch them, and then smother them with whiskery kisses and tell them that he loves them? Is that possible? Is it possible, too, that this type of person could have, earlier in the day, lain down with his girlfriend and made tender, passionate love, gently caressing her skin, body, and soul, tenderly moving the long strands of black hair out of her face so he could look into her eyes at that one, terminating moment? Would he be capable of something as gentle, or tender, or as humanly passionate as that? I doubt it.
It’s more likely that he went home and asked his mom for money, opened the fridge and pulled several, deep swigs of milk directly out of the jug, asked his mom for money again, and then pushed the nephew out of his way and picked up the niece and set her on the table – getting her out of his way, too, as he went to the cabinet and rummaged through whatever dry goods he hadn’t pilfered the week before. “You know my check don’t go very far, Carlos.” No, it doesn’t, not with the twins (his niece and nephew), their mother (his 19 year-old sister), and her own nine and ten year-old boys (his half-brothers) – all living off of her one income and the little that AFDC gives her. “Well don’ you have nothin’ left from it? I need some money.” His mom’s face twists about as she tries to keep herself from starting-in on him again. “He hates it when I do that,” she thinks to herself. “Then why don’t you get a job, boy? Quit smokin’ that rock ever’ day n’ night, n’ get a damn job!” – words that echoed in her mind alone.
And making love with his girlfriend – no, there was no love made that afternoon. One person got satisfied, that’s all. There was no tenderness to speak of – unless ‘tenderness’ means that he didn’t’ rip her clothes this time. They were removed without passion, and after a few quick squeezes of her breasts, he pushed her onto the bed and mounted her. She wasn’t ready, of course, so it hurt while he was moving on top of her, and then it burned when he was done. “So quick,” she thought, and was glad when he rolled off of her and went into the bathroom. “Gotta take a quick piss so no female burns me,” he said with an almost benign chuckle, standing there at the bowl, waiting for the muscles to relax enough for the stream to flow, “can’t trust anyone, know what I’m sayin?” “Yeah,” she thought, “I know what you’re sayin’. I noticed a rash last week, Bastard – bumps and spots starting to grow on my shit down there. What’s that mean, Mother Fucker?”
The blood had already been drawn when I got to the jail, so I didn’t have the opportunity to jab the needle into his arm myself.
“Been looking for you, Carlos.”
“Why’s that, man?”
“You been messin’ with someone and caught syphilis.”
“Who told you that?”
“I spoke to someone who’s being treated for syphilis and they said they mess with you. So, we don’t know if she gave it to you, or if you were doin’ someone else and caught it, and then gave it to the person I talked with.”
“Okay, so who’d you talk to? Some female?”
“You mess with guys?”
“Alright then, it was ‘some female.’”
“Yeah, but which one?”
“I can’t tell you who it was. I’m not allowed to. We got rules, you know. Like you and your lawyer, your public defender. You guys can talk and he can’t tell anyone what you said, right? Well it’s the same with us. Medical confidentiality. It’s the law and I can’t say anything that’s gonna make you know who it is. But, that person asked me to get in touch with you to make sure you get treated. That way, they won’t catch it back from you when you get out of here. You know what I’m sayin’?”
“Yeah, but that’s fucked-up, man. People be sayin’ shit about me and I can’t know who it is.”
“Nobody’s talkin’ shit about you, Carlos. The person had syphilis. I read the chart and saw the blood-test results. They just wanna make sure you get cured.”
“Whatever, man. I still say it’s fucked-up.”
“Okay, so it’s fucked-up. What else is fucked-up, Carlos? Why are you in here?”
“Had some problems with some dudes, you know what I’m sayin’? They said I stole some of their shit and then the cops were lookin’ for me. This shit happened a long time ago. I don’ know why they’re still after me. So then I was at these apartments last week and BAM!, there they were. And now I’m here. I told you man, it’s fucked-up, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“That’s why you’re here?”
“Yeah, it’s fucked-up.”
I already knew the truth, so when my anger and disgust for him overwhelmed my sense of responsibility for the job, I didn’t care anymore. I went ahead and took a chance at fucking-up the rest of the interview. I had already decided that he wasn’t going to give me shit anyway, so to hell with it. It was unlikely that he had, or was going to have sex with anyone I knew, so I thought, “What the hell. This wouldn’t be my first bust-interview and it wouldn’t be my last.” Sometimes the job just didn’t get done the way it was supposed to, and usually it wasn’t my fault. Today, I didn’t care that it was, or would be.
“Well, that’s not what I heard. When I was out on the street looking for you, someone told me you beat-up some old lady, really kicked her ass. What’s that about? They said you really beat on her, punched her in the face, ripped her pants off, tried to fuck her, and then stole a bunch of her shit. Is that what it’s about? Is that why you’re here, ‘cause you tried to rape some old lady and then stole her cell phone an’ shit?”
He didn’t care – didn’t give a flyin’ fuck what I thought he’d done. He stopped shuffling about the room in his flip-flopped feet and fixed his dead, empty eyes on mine and said, “Fuck that, man. You got it all wrong.”
Unimpressed, and still operating outside of my normal realm, I stared back with contemptuous, angry eyes. “Really?”
After a moment, he broke away, and turned to shuffle back and forth, again, on his side of the exam table. And now, with less conviction, “It’s not like that at all, man. I was over to the apartments and this old lady starts throwin’ my shit at me, you know what I’m sayin’, gittin’ in my face an’ shit. So I hit her, BAM! Told her to get the fuck out of my face, you know what I’m sayin’, an’ then I hit her, once. An’ the rest of that shit, like tryin’ to rape her an’ shit, that’s fucked. I got all the pussy I want, man. Wouldn’t try gittin’ it from some old lady. Someone’s lyin’ to your ass.”
“Is that right? Old lady’s got her head busted open, choke marks on her neck, bruises all up and down her thighs – someone seen you doin’ it, they called the cops who came and arrested you, an’ now your ass is sitting here in jail saying it’s not you. Okay. Right. Whatever. Anyway, had to get that shit squared away in my own mind before we went any further.”
“Naw, it ain’t me, man. Not all that shit. I got my own female to mess with. I don’ need to fuck that ol’ bitch.”
“Right. Like I said, I just needed to get that shit squared away in my own head before I do the rest of my job here. So…who else you mess with? You’re usually around 21st Avenue and Van Buren, or Adams, right? Who’d you mess with around there? I already have you named by three or four females, so I need you to tell me your side of the story.” And then, for effect, I added, “So I can make sure people aren’t just talkin’ shit about you.” He responded with a quick, sideways glance. I couldn’t help smiling as I said, “You know what I’m sayin’?”
And it went from there. I didn’t screw things up too badly. He still talked to me. Before the interview, I only had his one contact, the young pregnant girl who was the original patient. By the time the investigation was closed, there were three other cases related to Carlos. Unfortunately, there were too many unknown contacts from the five cases, and we couldn’t take the investigation any further. This is not uncommon, considering the area and the traffic it gets – transients, prostitutes, drug dealers, child-stealers, passers-by…anyone who comes to West Pierce Street.
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….