Tales of the Hood

When our intrepid reporter moved into a house on the wrong side of the tracks, the ghetto came knocking, night after night

As police stings made it more and more difficult for prostitutes to ply their trade on Biscayne, women began to come to our street not just for drugs and relaxation but for business. The runners, who during the first few weeks that we lived in the neighborhood confined themselves to offering a smorgasbord of drugs, began to offer "girls" as well. During our fourth week there, as my partner left for work, he saw a prostitute standing in the middle of the street with a young black man. A gleaming BMW drove slowly down the street and then stopped to pick up the girl. Before getting into the car, she looked gleefully at her companion and cheered. The mood was contagious. The young man turned toward my partner with a smile on his face, his gold-capped teeth catching the light. "Did you see that?" he asked. "Nice car, huh?"

The week after, a shiny black pickup slowed down and dropped off two young women. The more attractive of the two, a woman in her early twenties with luxuriant auburn hair and a natural gait, paused on our sidewalk. "You buy this house?" she asked.

"We're planning to," I told her.

She looked wistful for a moment and then smiled sarcastically: "Congratulations."

As she and her friend rounded the corner, I headed out on an errand. When I returned, the two young women were sitting on the wall, laughing with a couple of homeless guys. By the time I was ready to leave for work, the women were gone. The only person remaining on the street was a nattily dressed Latino man whom I had never seen before and who spoke to me in perfect English. He stopped to help me open my gate. "You that woman who moved in and fixed up this house?" he asked. I began telling him about the affordable housing program. "Yeah," he broke in. "Dwayne told me about you."

I pulled the car into the street, parked, and locked the gate. He followed me back to my car. "Did you see a black pickup truck around here?" he asked. I gave him the bad news: The truck was long gone. "Damn," he swore, "that's my truck. I lent it to my cousin. You can really lose things around here." He paused and then brightened: "Do you have 35 cents for the phone?" Not wanting to root for change, I held out my cell phone. He considered the offer but then shook his head. "That will tell you what number I dialed, won't it?" he frowned. "I'm not that naive."


Whenever I went for a walk -- to the grocery store, the sandwich shop, or just for a look around -- lone men in cars would slow down beside me. I would stare straight ahead until these would-be clients pulled away. But one Sunday morning I could not shake one man in a utility jeep. He followed me for several blocks, undeterred by my refusal to acknowledge him. "I'm not black," shouted my jet-skinned suitor, as though I were rejecting his business on racial grounds. "I'm Haitian," he clarified. Unable to resist I turned to him and shouted back, in Kreyol: "Ou pa neg -- ak mwen pa bousin" ("You're not black -- and I'm not a prostitute"). A look of shock on his face, he asked in English: "You speak Kreyol? How did you learn?" He followed me all the way to the grocery store, calling to me from the parking lot. No longer interested in my services, he chuckled at my pronunciation and told me to congratulate my Kreyol teacher.

Loaded with shopping bags on the way home, I attracted less attention. My partner was still asleep when I piled the groceries on the porch and set about opening the two locks on the iron outer door and the two locks on the steel door beyond. We had ended the night before with a big fight, making us even more tense than usual as we took turns locking and unlocking the $50 lock we hoped would keep anyone from stealing our cars. Although the house was a fortress, we felt vulnerable during the trip from the car to the front door. Last night the street had been bustling with Saturday-night traffic. A tall man approached us, his muscles bulging out of a pair of denim overalls. "What do you want?" he called, lumbering toward my partner. "You want this?" We worked the locks as fast as we could. "I don't think he would have hurt us," my partner mused inside. "I think he was just a prostitute." A heated debate ensued about how we ended up here and what we should do about it.

The following morning, as I sorted groceries in the kitchen, the sun glanced off the white walls and tile, and the dangers of the street seemed far away. Hoping to bring an end to our feud, I made brunch. My partner woke up in a better mood and smiled at the fresh shrimp and strawberries laid out on the table. From the kitchen window we could see nothing but the laundry lines strung across Anthony and Claire's yard and the stray kittens nestled in the dirt below. We watched the leaves rustle gently on the treetops. I opened the back door to catch the breeze.

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