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

The next day I called the police myself. I was transferred from department to department until I was talking to a detective with the City of Miami vice squad. I told him about the house next door, the flophouse behind us, the drug runners, and the hookers. He said the department would look into it and get back to me the following week. Until that time he asked that I keep a lookout and call the department immediately if I saw any "large trucks" in the neighborhood.

Intrigued by the idea of "large trucks" barreling in to unload their wares, I began to listen more carefully to the ice-cream trucks that made their way through the neighborhood all night long. One evening I heard the hurdy-gurdy lilting just out front. I rushed to the street to see what the truck was really selling. "Chicken wings," the driver said. "And fries." When I asked him how much, he responded, "Depends on how much money you give me; that's how much food you get." I ran back to the house and rustled up four dollars. He handed me an enormous plate of chicken buried under a mountain of French fries. "You want hot sauce?" he asked and then wrapped some Haitian pickle sauce in a ball of aluminum foil.

Squad cars finally did begin to drive slowly down the street, keeping pace with the drug runners and prostitutes who would make like they just happened to be strolling along the block. No one ever seemed to be up to anything when the police came along. A van marked U.S. Post Office would park on the block for hours at a time, the driver just sitting and watching. I began to look for signs of infiltrators. That new drug runner with a bike making circles at the opposite corner looked just a little too ghetto fabulous, a little too fresh to fit in with the rest. Could he be undercover? Or could he be someone else?

Others were asking the same question. One morning, from where I sat on the stoop, I could see Skates sitting on the curb, but I couldn't see his feet. "Aren't you wearing your skates today?" I asked him.

"I can't believe you would ask such an unprofessional question," he replied. Then he stood up and executed a few figure eights.

During those days of talk of a raid, Dwayne left town. His blue racing-striped pickup truck no longer crowded the curb. No love-starved dogs whined in the front yard. "Dwayne on vacation," Anthony informed me. The runners still worked out in the street, but no one opened Dwayne's front gate to walk along the fence to the back door.

One morning during Dwayne's vacation, Skates was agitated. He made furious circles in the street, flopped down on the curb and then popped up to circle around again. When he spotted a teenage girl with layered dirty-blond hair walking up the block, he let out a whoop and skated over to her. She shook her head and walked away from him. He kept skating behind her, putting his arm on her shoulder. Each time she shook it off. Finally the girl resigned herself to his company, and the two sat on the curb, their faces downcast, waiting.

Suddenly an immaculate white Mazda sped around the corner, the stereo booming bass that shook the entire neighborhood. Screeching to a stop in front of Skates and Blondie, a man in dreds tossed out the window a small plastic bag filled with an earth-colored substance and sped off. Skates caught the bag in one hand, thrusting it triumphantly in the air. He rocked back and forth on his Rollerblades in a little dance and sang the chorus from a DMX anthem: "Ya'll gon' make me lose my mind, up in heya, up in heya!" This time when he put his arm around Blondie as they rounded the corner, she let it rest. "Nigga come all the way down from Fort Lauderdale for you," Skates declared as they rounded the corner, his outlook brightened just by holding his next fix in his hand. "That's love!"


Armageddon never came. After two weeks away, Dwayne returned with his girlfriend, her kids, and the dogs. I saw the girlfriend out in the yard one Saturday afternoon as I walked home from Kreyol class. "Hey, where ya been?" I asked her.

"Up in Georgia," she said in a sweet, high-pitched voice. "It's real nice up there. We bought a house too, up in Florida, where we might live sometime. Out in the country. It scares me, livin' up there. Ain't nobody around." When I saw Dwayne out shoveling shit again, I asked him about the house up north. He froze, shovel in hand. "Who told you that?" he asked.

"Your girlfriend," I answered. He took a deep breath and dug the shovel into the ground.

At work my boss set up an intervention. During a staff meeting, my co-workers stressed how dangerous it was to live there. A photographer stopped me in the hallway afterward. "Don't get into the romance out there," he warned. "I knew lots of people like you who got into a lot of trouble up in Harlem, thinking they could change something." My partner did not see anything romantic about the neighborhood at all. He would prowl the perimeter and go berserk when the women would whistle and wink at him. "Look," one woman purred at him lasciviously. "They've put out a security guard."

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