By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The day we moved into our new house in Little Haiti, a thin white woman with sallow skin walked along the sidewalk past our gate, head bowed and shoulders hunched, coughing as she passed. A white man in an expensive car had dropped her off and then driven out of sight. She was almost pretty, her features drawn, her expression worn. Her wispy hair was tied in a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck. "Sorry," she said after she coughed, without looking up, in a voice that was barely audible.
We were making the move in our compact cars, driving back and forth across the 79th Street Causeway with futons and chairs poking out of the windows. On one of the last runs, my partner arrived before I did. When I pulled up, he rushed to the curb. "Call 911," he yelled. "There are two prostitutes smoking crack on our back porch."
As I dialed the police on my cell phone, the coughing woman emerged from behind our house. She was upright now, her face lit by a defiant smile. "What are you doing?" my partner demanded. "Nothing," she shot back, her mild manner transformed into superhero bravado. Behind her followed an African-American woman in her late thirties. Knots of short hair stood up on her head, and the Mickey Mouse T-shirt she wore hung down to her knees. As I tried to convince an officer to send a patrol car, my partner trailed the two women out of our yard, threatening them with the things that he would do if he ever found them on our property again. The coughing woman laughed and strutted down the street. The woman in the Mickey Mouse shirt stood in front of me on the sidewalk, calmly insisting that she had not been smoking crack. "It was the other two," she said, referring to her companion and some man we had not seen. "I had to follow them because they stole my bag."
She explained that thieves routinely leap the fence into our yard and then leap out again on the other side with stolen goods. "I had to follow them," she repeated in English and then in a Spanish that sounded neither Latin nor Anglo. "My parents came from Aruba," she offered, ignoring my partner's yelling as though we were chatting at a cocktail party. Her tale told, she walked away.
Overhearing this exchange, the officer on the phone asked if we still needed help. When I pleaded, she told me in a tone used to indulge spoiled children that she would send a cruiser over shortly. We carried furniture and boxes from the cars to the house while we waited, pausing now and then to talk to our new neighbor Anthony and his wife, Claire (not their real names; all names in this story have been changed to protect identities). "That woman is always back there," said Claire. "We've been telling her to stay out." Her husband added: "Drugs is not all they do back there. People have no respect for themselves. We're glad you're here."
A police car arrived as we carried the last load into the house. I told the officer about the two women, and he explained how I could file a report that would allow police to arrest anyone on our property, even when we were not there to file a complaint. "There has to be a victim for there to be a crime," he said. With a report on file, we would be prefab victims. "Every patrol car will pass by three times every shift," he said reassuringly. After filing our complaint at the Liberty City NET (Neighborhood Enhancement Team) office, we stopped at the local Walgreen's to buy the "No Trespassing" sign the officer suggested. Putting the sign into a brown paper bag, the cashier observed, "I don't think anyone pays any attention to these."
We did not want to believe her. We loved our new little house, and we wanted to stay there.
I first saw the house on the way home from my Haitian Kreyol class. I pulled over to take a better look at the "For Sale" sign strapped to the chainlink fence: two bedrooms, large bath, brand-new kitchen, all for only $800 down. I called the number on the sign and waited for the owner to show me the property. Bright pink with an almost perfectly square façade, the tiny structure looked like a confection. A single palm tree arched over the trim front yard. Tidy steps led to a sea-blue door. Leaning over the handrails on the front landing, I could peer through the windows into the narrow living room: white walls, white tile floor. The windows along the side of the house were too high for me to see inside, even as I jumped and tried to pull myself up by the iron security bars.
As I hung, feet dangling from the bars, an amiable African-American man in his late twenties approached. Introducing himself as Charles, he offered to give me a tour of the grounds while I waited. "I'm showing her the back yard," Charles said to an older African-American man who had just opened his screen door one house down. "Well, you oughta know," said the man warily. "You spend enough time back there."
Charles pointed out the small storage shed in the back yard and the space beneath the back porch for recycling. He gestured toward a citrus tree with a bright red "X" spray-painted on its trunk. "That's gotta come down," he said. "I don't know what kinda fruit it is." He led me across the strip of lawn along the other side of the house, distracting me with his chatter. I did not notice the overflowing shopping cart wedged against the high wooden fence at the end of one neighbor's lawn, or the sag in the chainlink fence between our house and the house to the north. I was too busy imagining where we would plant rose bushes and fruit trees. "I like being a tour guide," admitted Charles when we arrived at the sidewalk again. "It makes me feel important."
A late-model sedan pulled up beside my car, and a husky white man in his late forties stepped out. Forrest unlocked the front door of the house and showed me the living room. A long cramped corridor ran along the south side of the house, opening into the first bedroom before widening into the kitchen. At the end of the kitchen counter, another door opened into the second bedroom. There were no appliances and only empty space in the compartments built for the air-conditioning units. "We'll install those when you move in," Forrest explained. "It's the same no matter where you are. If a house is empty, people find out about it. Even my own house, which is a $400,000 house up in Broward. It was empty just before we moved in, and people came and stripped everything. Once you move in, everything will be fine."
"We're not in the business of renting," he continued as he touted the new paint, new wiring, and new appliances he would install. "We're in the business of fixing up houses and giving people a chance to own their own homes. We've really seen some neighborhoods turn around." We would rent the house at first, while his nonprofit organization would connect us with a credit counseling service to "clean" our credit reports and make it easier to secure a loan. A homeless person had been hired to stay in the house until a buyer could be found. "But," Forrest conceded, "that's not the same as someone actually living here."
Nothing he could have said would have prepared us for what it would be like to live there. The last tenant, he said, had fallen back into a drug habit while residing in the house on a rent-to-own basis. "I should have known something was going on when he started reporting the appliances stolen," he said. If a reference check showed that my partner and I had no prior problems with drugs or the law, all it would take was a cashier's check, and we would be in.
Back in the front yard, I met Anthony, the neighbor I had seen earlier. He spoke slowly and did not smile, but his tone was warm. "We'd like to have some good neighbors," he said. "I hope y'all stay awhile." We chatted about the neighborhood as the late-model car drove away. An ashy-skinned woman in a thin cotton housedress opened the screen door of Anthony's house. "I told you yesterday to stay away," she complained to me in a voice softened by a Kreyol accent.
"That's not her," said Anthony, rolling his eyes. "She's going to buy the house next door."
"Oh," said his wife, closing the door before I could introduce myself. I would meet her later, I told myself, eager to practice my Kreyol. If pregnancy and gainful employment meant that I needed to settle down, at least I'd live in a neighborhood where I could speak a new language and explore a new culture. I had lived in some of the most dangerous cities in the world, including Nairobi, Kenya, and Bogotá, Colombia; a few homeless guys wandering the street did not scare me. I had helped mobilize African-American women on welfare and Mexican migrant workers in some of the most impoverished communities in the United States. I had occupied government buildings, organized marches, and had my share of run-ins with the police. I could handle a few vagrants in my own back yard.
About 8:00 on the morning after we moved in, a chubby brown-skinned girl in her late teens wearing a pink strapless sundress came to the front door. She seemed surprised when I answered, but quickly recovered, asking, "Oh, did they sell this house already?" As she walked away, I saw Mickey Mouse heading up the street to the north, this time wearing a plain red T-shirt. I followed her to a vacant house in the middle of the next block, where she stood next to a shopping cart full of cans.
"I take drugs," she confessed matter-of-factly, her voice husky and her gaze fixed on the ground. "But if I ever get like her," she continued, referring to the coughing woman, "just call the police or put me in the loony bin. She's really bad. She'll get in the car with anyone and do anything for five dollars. That's the bad stuff. Heroin."
"Which house is selling the drugs?" I asked, already fantasizing about organizing the community and taking back the neighborhood. She shifted her gaze to look at me for the first time. "Keep your eyes open," she advised. "You'll figure it out."
Back at the house, I stood in the second bedroom, surveying boxes and piles of clothing. Suddenly a young man leapt into the neighbor's yard. A sly smile on his face, he pressed his body against the peeling white door at the back of their house and rapped on the wood. Nothing happened. He lunged from the door to the chainlink fence bordering our property and jumped over, his foot resting for a moment in the depression created by many feet fleeing before him. He rattled the steel door at the back of our house, ran through our yard, then leapt the opposite fence into Anthony and Claire's lot. From there he jumped over their back fence into the enormous dirt parking lot surrounding the abandoned apartment building behind us and ran down the street.
That was the first of 42 days we spent in the pink house, and the first of many days when we would see strangers making their way to the back door of the house next door. One morning we saw the chubby brown girl knock, wait, and then disappear around the other side of that house. On other mornings and evenings, the coughing woman would stand there knocking, before making her way to the other side. Sometimes we would see street celebrities, like the tall white woman with a crew cut, sinewy muscles, and a sunken chest who panhandles most afternoons on the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and 79th Street. She holds up a sign on the street corner, asking for money to feed her seven children, but we never saw any kids with her in our neighborhood. Then there was the old white man with long natty hair and a gray beard who rolls his shopping cart up and down the Boulevard, collecting cans. Some nights he would sleep behind the vacant house two doors down. Other nights he slept inside the broken-down car on the elderly couple's lot, catty-corner from us. Every once in a while, the old man would hobble along the chainlink fence and stand expectantly at the neighbor's back door. No matter who knocked, the door never opened.
Two dogs were tied up in front of the back-door house, but they only barked at taunting children. The guard dogs whimpered whenever we approached, begging for affection. Tied at opposite sides of the yard, they could not even reach each other for consolation, so they desperately offered their heads to be patted by the long line of characters that filed past. The dogs had long since scratched away the grass out front, and Dwayne, the man who lived in the house, could sometimes be seen scooping up the prodigious poop they left behind. He would dump the poop into a shallow ditch between his house and ours. Flies swirled around the shit pit, further nurtured by the discards of the homeless, hookers, dealers, and neighbor kids.
An unassuming man in his thirties, Dwayne otherwise was not much in the street. With droopy eyes and a low-slung paunch, he did not look particularly tough or prosperous. Whenever I approached him, to ask which day recycling came or how much water and sewage cost, he answered with a pained look. He lived with a woman five or so years younger, whose two little children who would waddle behind her in a line like ducklings. The entire family would weave past the vintage muscle cars parked on trailers in front of their house and climb into the oversize glossy pickup with racing stripes that Dwayne would wedge alongside the cars. None of the vehicles, not even the truck, had license plates.
The prostitutes who work Biscayne Boulevard would walk jerkily along 54th Street to our street from early morning through late night. Most were white women with straggly hair who wore threadbare Lycra workout wear. Overstimulated by crack cocaine or jonesing for it, they made for a bizarre circus parade. They walked shakily with their shoulders pinched together, their chests jutting out, arms flailing wildly above their heads. In high times the coughing woman would lead a gaggle of young black men, trailing braids, dreadlocks, and bandannas behind them.
The prettier young women would arrive in cars, dropped off by white, black, and Latino men. They would then file into the back yard of the house next door or head to the vacant house around the corner. When they finished there, they would sit on a low brick wall that runs along one corner, hanging with the young drug runners and homeless hangers-on, like my tour guide Charles, until the men in cars returned to pick them up. Sometimes they would pass the time buying sweets, gum, or cigarettes at the informal convenience store a Haitian woman had set up on a folding table on her front lawn on the next block.
Not many of the men and women who came to the street looking for drugs lived in the neighborhood. Apart from Dwayne, few of the neighbors sold drugs either. In spite of the bustling trade, the majority of our neighbors held legitimate jobs, took their kids to school during the week, and went to church Sunday morning. Anthony worked in a hospital, and Claire cooked part-time at a Haitian restaurant. Her ten-year-old son played under the tree in his front yard with two little boys from the duplex across the street. Their father was an evangelical minister, and every Sunday a van stopped at their house to pick up the family and returned to drop them off again. Sharing the duplex was a retired woman with a grown son. He often was visited by the most striking woman on the block. A cinnamon-skinned beauty from Haiti, she came to call wearing a long black linen dress cinched at the waist, with a puff at each shoulder. Making her way past the women in spandex with runny mascara, she held her head high and elbows bent, carrying her Bible aloft.
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.
Sitting on the fire escape of the abandoned apartment building behind us sat a shirtless young man, his dark hair close-cropped and his head bent in concentration. His tan arms and chest were cut like those of an underwear model, with tattoos inked from each shoulder to each forearm. He was tugging at the ends of a narrow band tied around one of his biceps, the point of a needle poking out from between his fingers. At the sound of the door opening, he looked up. Halfway up the wooden stairs, he sat opposite where I stood on our back porch. Our eyes locked and he turned his head again, carefully jabbing the needle into his arm.
Behind him, in the upstairs apartment, a boy about fifteen years old looked out the window. He had caramel-colored eyes and soft brown hair that fell in long curls around his face. He watched me watching him without moving. There was no hostility in his gaze, a street-smart refusal to back down suffused with longing. Coming out on to the porch, my partner saw what I was looking at and pushed me inside. "Stay in the house," he demanded sternly, shutting the door between us before walking down the stairs and pacing across the lawn. When he opened the door to come back in, the beefcake teen was gone. His gentle-looking friend was laughing and trying to pull a puppy from the roof through his window. When he saw me looking, he pursed his lips, pulled the puppy inside, and hugged it tightly to his chest. A light rain began to fall. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, whenever my partner was in the front room, I would open the back door and watch the boy holding the puppy and staring out the window. As long as I would look at him, he would look at me.
"We've seen some really heavy things," my partner told Forrest, the nonprofit director. "I don't want to keep a man from supporting his family," he said, "but we just can't live like this." He worried about bringing in the police. "What if someone comes after us?" Forrest assured us that he was talking to the people at NET and that a big sting was in the works. The police would be observing the area for two or three weeks. Then they would block off the neighborhood, swoop in, and clean the whole place out. I had visions of Armageddon: sirens blazing in the darkness, helicopters churning the air, drug dealers rushing out of houses with their hands over their heads. In the meantime Forrest promised to add height to the chainlink fence between our yard and Dwayne's to keep people from jumping it. "But if someone wants to get in," Forrest added ominously, "they're going to get in no matter what."
For the most part, people had stopped coming into our yard anyway. One morning I saw the beefcake boy, still shirtless, Rollerblading out front. From a distance his body was stunning; up close, the sculptured curves of his arms were covered with scabs and dark blotches. "You buy this house?" he asked. When I told him we were planning to, he whisked away, sighing, "No more shortcut." My tour guide Charles stood near the spot where Skates had been. "How's it going?" I asked him.
He gave his customary reply: "Doin' good; gettin' better." No matter what was happening, Charles was always "gettin' better."
Another morning I sat on our front stoop peeling two hard-boiled eggs. Charles sat with a bearded man on the curb across the street; both men watched me hungrily. "Would you like an egg?" I asked.
"Yes ma'am," shouted the bearded man, who sprang up and ran across the street. I handed him the spare egg.
"You hungry too?" I asked Charles. He nodded. I went back inside and got another egg for him.
"That was good," the bearded man smiled. "Got anything else in there?"
Many of the homeless men would stand at the fence and ask if we had any odd jobs for them to do. We never did. Charles let us know he was looking out for us anyway, keeping an eye on the house. "'Cuz sometimes," he said gravely, "Dwayne's not here, you know."
Alone in the house one night, I began reflecting on what Forrest had said. Thinking about the iron bars and the steel doors, I wondered, How could they get in? Would they, whoever they were, pick the locks? File away the iron? Spooked, I ran to the front window and lifted the curtain to see what was happening on the street. It was a Wednesday night, and there was no one out there but a lone black man I had never seen in the daytime. He was crouched in front of the minister's house in the circle of light shed by a lamppost. He swayed from side to side as though he was dancing. I watched him for half an hour as he pushed himself up until he was nearly standing and then sunk back down on his haunches. Still swaying, he would extend his right hand and pick at something in the gravel. Then he would raise his hand and put something into his mouth. He repeated this cycle: standing up, sinking down, picking at the ground, putting something into his mouth. In the darkness I could not see if he was picking at rocks, seeds, insects, or nothing at all.
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."
We found another house. "To tell you the truth," admitted Forrest, "when I first saw you, I wondered why you would be interested in living here." We moved out on a Saturday afternoon. The block was bustling, and many of the neighbors came out to watch us go. Claire and Anthony stood at the fence, their faces impassive. I had the sense that they had always known we couldn't take it. Claire told me once, while she was helping me with my Kreyol, that they paid $250 a month for the three of them to live in one room of that otherwise vacant house. There was nowhere else they could go and pay that price. We made enough money to pay double the rock-bottom mortgage on the pink house and live in a neighborhood where people satisfy their darkest needs behind closed doors with goods they buy on streets like this one. Maybe if we had stayed we could have turned things around, but then the cute little houses would attract other part-time bohemians like ourselves, and Anthony and Claire would have to find another unsavory street where they could afford to live.
As my partner carried a load of bedding to the truck, he saw a plump golden-curled white girl, no more than sixteen years old, burst out of Dwayne's yard into the street. She was so desperate for a fix that she lit her pipe right next to the shit pit. Seeing my partner stare at the girl in disbelief, one of the older prostitutes said wickedly: "You're too handsome not to smile." From a distance the scene held a certain charm.