Mister Frank's Neighborhood

Pimps, whores, druggies, maybe even a commissioner. It's not the house he owns, it's the people he knows.

About six months ago, Decker rented the cottage to a man from Indonesia. "A nice guy," he says, but adds that he had begun eviction proceedings against the man for failing to pay his rent. "Then one night Immigration came and picked him up."

Within a day of the Indonesian's departure, there was a knock at Decker's apartment door. A man and a woman stood outside, saying they were friends of the deported man and that they were going to stay at his place while he was away. "They had the nerve to ask me for the keys," Decker says.

Over the years, Decker had become familiar with the neighborhood's drug dealers, pimps, and whores. They called him "Mister Frank," just like everyone else did, he says, and he was able to get along with them by adhering to a simple rule: if he didn't bother them, they probably wouldn't bother him. But after Decker refused to hand over the keys to the people standing in his doorway, they simply pried off the bungalow's security bars and moved in. That was about six weeks ago.

Decker called the police, hoping they would arrest the squatters for trespassing. "But anytime the cops came in," says the unwilling landlord, "they ran out the back and waited until they left." And as word spread of the cottage's availability, more and more people came. "There were so many people coming in here, 24 hours a day, one face uglier than the next," Decker says.

The authorities, of course, have focused on one face: Joe Gersten's. Decker, however, says he's never seen Gersten and doesn't recall seeing a Mercedes parked in front of his house. "I don't know Gershwin," he says, apparently confusing the commissioner with the composer. In Decker's estimation, Gersten is probably being set up. Why, Decker asks, would a politician bring a hooker to a crack house? "I don't think he's that stupid. Who could be that dumb?"

Even after the Gersten debacle, hookers and crackheads continued to flock to the cottage, and police recently arrested about half a dozen people there. "The police are watching now," says Decker. "I've never seen so many police before."

Although he keeps a "For Sale" sign up in his front yard, Decker realizes he is unlikely to find a buyer. He has also given up trying to rent out his vacant apartments, although a neighbor recently helped him clean up the cottage. "I don't want to bother any more," Decker says. "It's too much. I'm too old.

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