The Canyon

Scenes from the Scott Homes -- the mamas, the kids, the babies, the fight for dignity, the pall of despair

"Bitch, I kill your fuckin' ass!" shouted a young man in a Chicago Bulls jersey. He was rambling after one of the neighborhood mamas, who was hurrying toward Ruby's place. Through the door she scurried, and the man, though drunk, stepped down at the doorway, his eyes slitted.

"I'm gonna bring the po-lice," cried the woman, clutching Ruby's phone.
"Go head," the man said. "I kill they asses, too."
Ruby hobbled outside, landing heavily on a porch chair. She rubbed at her left foot, which was bloated and dirt-caked. "Ain't goin' to no doctor," she declared. "Got a job now, workin' at the summer camp. Not gonna have no doctor messin' with that."

Tammy, who was now feuding with Ruby, had bought ribs, too (eight slabs for $40 from the meat market), which she now tended on her porch, dousing the coals with water and shrieking orders variously at her children and a quiet young man who looked to be the age of her eldest son but was in fact her boyfriend.

Around the corner the Jamaicans were beating on instruments, as they did at the least provocation, and down the row someone had set up a green-and-white striped tent, under which a crowd gathered to watch a quartet playing spades. Moses, having spent the morning throwing firecrackers at other children's feet, disappeared to a cousin's house.

After a day of incarceration upstairs, Tammy's three youngest -- Chuck the dim, Charles the talker, and Chedrick, the youngest -- were freed. As a treat, Tammy moved the grill and blasted the porch with a hose, letting her children run and jump and slide on the wet concrete. "They'd just break a slip-and-slide," she explained. She lashed out at her boys without pause -- at Chuck for sliding too gleefully on his gelatinous belly, at Charles for tripping Ched -- and beckoned them close enough to whack with one of her slippers. The guilty party would invariably start chanting, "Awight, Mama" (they all had lisps), and Tammy would hit them anyhow, then exile them to the corner to cry, so that the casual observer might mistake the infliction of pain and humiliation to be an aspect of the game.

Amid all this, Tammy missed the scene unfolding behind her, the appearance of the fire-rescue truck, the hurried movements of paramedics around Doris, heaped on a chair in a green housedress, breathing unsteadily, her holiday wig gone, sweat trickling from her tufts of hair and feeding the rivulets on her cheeks.

"No way she can stay with that pressure," one of the men said, dispatching a colleague to fetch the gurney.

Robbed of her bluster, Doris sat with her head inclined, as if listening to a frequency inaudible to the others. She was strangely inert, ginger to the touch, half gone. All around, her neighbors were flirting with the paramedics, pushing their young breasts forward, asking about the "Heimlick manure." The black paramedic asked his partners if they were scared, this being Scott, and laughed unconvincingly.

Along the row, beyond Tammy and her bouncing boys, children jabbed the air with sparklers, waiting for night. A few gathered to watch as Doris disappeared into the cool darkness of the lime-green truck. The rescue vehicle crawled off, its siren a puppy yelp through the sulfuric haze of fireworks.

Democracy, Part 3
There was singing nearby, the soft sound of teenage altos. Dorothy Perry sat at her kitchen table waving at flies. Leftover barbecue sat congealing on the counter. The girls in the next room, Perry's charges, were rehearsing for an upcoming fundraiser, sitting four to a couch, learning a song from a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. Perry was eager to discuss the upcoming fundraiser. She was somewhat less inclined to discuss her presidency of the Tenant Council.

After her election, Perry had promised a resident-driven regime, one that would plan activities and programs by and for the people. "We're taking our message from the outhouse to the White House," she had said.

The words sounded good, sloganlike, because Perry knew the art of rhetoric. A high school dropout and teenage mother, she had long promoted herself as Scott's designated inspiration. Out of her apartment a few blocks from Ruby's row, Perry ran a loosely organized antidrug ministry and took in stray children. The walls of her living room were crowded with plaques. Her scrapbook spoke of famous visitors and free trips to far-off places. George Bush had named her one of his 1000 Points of Light.

But Perry seemed flummoxed by her presidency, unable or unwilling to attach herself to the role. The promised meeting of residents never materialized. Her officers, Ruby and Tammy, ceaselessly feuded. Within a few months, Perry's hopeful sound bites had curdled into complaints.

"You know what these residents tell me? They say, 'Ms. Perry, they oughta hang a sign out front of Scott saying Dade County Jail, cuz that's just what they think this place is. A jail.'"

Two small children came toddling into the kitchen hoping for something to drink. "This one," Perry said, grabbing the boy. "He was born hemorrhaging from his brain. I take in these children and try to give them a good home." She looked pleased, mostly with herself. "We could sure use some publicity for our fundraiser."

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