LLR 4 (continued)
Trying to avoid the crack epidemic along with the rest of public housing's
craziness by staying home as much as I could and going out only when I had to (mostly to the store for my mother and later on to school) was like sticking your head up from a foxhole during a war and trying to see if the enemy was advancing.
Apartments in the projects were just that:a foxhole, a small, cramped space for you to live in and labor beneath the delusion that you were housed. Inside, the apartment we had moved into was as nondescript as the building was on the outside, flat,even walls painted the standard off white color that would always fade into an unpleasant shade of gray you, matching the color on a corpse that had turned ,and the fixtures like cupboards and sinks were the most basic models, no frills, just bare necessities.
In 100th st street,despite being worn and antiquated, the apartments were spacious, even after having been lived in by one generation to the next since the nineteen twenties. There were still small fragments that radiated with its former glory: large walk in linen closets hung with shelves, crown molding along the ceiling. Apartments in the projects were just space condensed into even less space with the living room being the biggest area, and every room after that getting smaller and smaller until all you could do if you were in your bedroom was sleep, not dream, or get away from the outside world, just sleep, everything kept down to the bare minimum: eat, shit and sleep with a sprinkling of television thrown in every now and then to break up the monotony, and help us swallow the bitter pill we had taken by moving here.
Ours was a two bedroom apartment, one bedroom for my mother (who hardly ever slept) and my father who spent most of his time nodding in and out of a stupor with a lit cigarette between his fingers,which was why my mother hardly ever slept. On the left was an adjoining bedroom for my kid sister and I. Going from a three bedroom apartment when we lived at 100th street that gave us each our own room for almost two full years after our four older sisters had moved out, to sharing a bedroom with a pre-pubescent bitch who was blossoming into a full blown, class A bitch was a stretch.
Sharing, for my kid sister then and now, whether it was a room, candy, or my thoughts on anything, once we were adults, was always done on her terms, none of which were negotiable. This put me in the living room by choice.
Along with a sofa, a love seat, a recliner, and a coffee table, there was also a huge stereo system in the living room that my mother had purchased from Fineman Furniture on 122nd Street, one of those one piece components with everything attached including the speakers which had built in strobe lights, a holdover from the disco era when my mother had first purchased it.
With no fire escape to perch myself on and stare out at the world from a safe distance, I had to take refuge in music, another diversion I had taken up while in 100th street to block out all the noises of a household filled with women. Armed with a pair of those huge heavily padded headphones that disc jockeys and air traffic controllers wore that my mother had brought for me with the money she was given to help relocate to the projects, I blocked out the day to day craziness of life in the projects with the sounds of WABC radio, and Casey Kassum's Top 40 countdown, a play list of popular songs that were mostly rock and roll that I loved.
Coming from the ghetto, rock music put me on the other side of the tracks, the white side,where I longed to be, free from all the niggers and the spics, where the buildings spiraled in to the sky with towering shapely figures designed by architects with imagination who hung their visions with balconies that held its residents like dozens of cupped hands, raising them towards the sky for a better view of the sun or moon, instead of the red brick cinder blocks where I now lived.
In the living room with the coupling of music blaring through those headphones, and an assortment of comics that would later go on to become a huge selection of novels when I got to high school that allowed me to immerse myself in the imagination of others to avoid the reality of my life, I created a mirage, an amalgam of illusions that I could conjure up in my mind with rock music as the sound track and reading material as a blueprint. I created an escape by withdrawing more and more from the outside world, and tunneling through all the daydreams in my mind.
The living room became my territory, one that others had to pass through in order to come and go, a necessary evil that brought me untold joy whenever my father left, the possibility of him never returning burning bright inside of me every time he closed the door behind him. Visits from other family members, aunts, cousins, and uncles, were few when we were living in 100th Street, and once we settled in to the projects it was almost null and void unless someone died and the news of that death had to be delivered. Otherwise the notoriety of where we lived painted a skull and crossbones on even the thought of visiting us. So disturbances were few in the living room, everyone sticking to their own space with my mother being the only one who could inhabit any room whenever she wanted to, a privilege attributed to her being the head of the household.
A couple of years later when my kid sister became a teenager and started hanging around with a posse of other teenage girls who had also been afflicted with the early stages of tits and ass, the whole group of them would occupy the living room whenever I wasn't home. No big deal. By that time I was nineteen and at the end of my tenure as a teenager,and closing in quick on adulthood. My interests lay elsewhere, none of which could have been found in the projects or in any ghetto of New York. Since high school, the borough of Queens would go on to be my stomping grounds, putting more than enough distance between me and the projects. But whenever I did come home, I felt like a Jew returning to Aushwitz, everything about me deflated and sunken as all joy left my body.
At night though things were scary, truly scary. Small as the apartment was (giving credo to the sardine can concept) the apartments in the projects never made you feel like you were actually apart, or detached from anything going on your in your neighbors place, with arguments and fights coming at all hours of the night, traveling through the walls in a steady rumble of vibrations that were like tremors. A brief and small decline in all the night time activities from the neighborhood statistics during the wee hours just seemed to amplify the sound of all those arguments, the emptiness of it giving even the slightest sound room to grow and bounce around.
From outside the raucous behavior of all the homies would come wafting up to the eleventh floor where we lived, rising like a bad smell and reaching us in jarring shards of sound that told us all the gunshots, killing, and drug induced carousing were always nearby somewhere close, sometimes right outside our door with drug deals always taking place in the stairwell, rooftop, or hallway of our building and every other building in the complex.
Crack not only brought an epidemic to the projects but an infestation of scumbags that thrived in dark, dank places like mold. A whole assortment of smells would seep in from under our apartment door:crack, pot, piss and shit as some crumpled up junkie piece of shit enjoyed their goodies before relieving themselves of all the candy they had eaten during the day, that being the only meal they could afford, the only one crack would make any concession for. During the night I would check the lock on our apartment door, gripping the door knob and twisting it to make sure it was secure around ten times a night. For me to fall asleep, I had to know there was no chance of some drug crazed junkie or ruthless dealer breaking in before I gave in to sheer exhaustion, my tank running on empty for most of the night until I would collapse on the sofa, done with my own security detail,and dead to the world and all the dangers that were lurking, looming, and circling us now that we were truly in the heart of darkness.
And on the rare occasion when things were silent in the projects it came across as more of an abomination, some twisted, mutated offspring of poverty and depravity, warped beyond its normal use until it can only provide a disservice. It was almost as maddening as all the craziness that went on there. Silence came on like an interlude, the proverbial calm before the storm, a brief moment when the victim is granted an allotment of time not to run, and maybe get a head start on any possible danger, but to feel fear and dread gnaw away at them.
At night when everything would die down to an implied menace it meant all the statistics were plotting, scheming, and lurking. Drug dealers used that time to reload, to plan some kind of defense against those who would inevitably come to take what belonged to no one, never realizing that the only easy thing about easy money is the lure of it. Early mornings, silence in the projects came as an aftermath, another allotment of time granted by some destructive force so that any survivors can stare in awe at the havoc it created.
By the time I started eighth grade at St. Anns, I was worse off than I was before, my small crushing existence was now being ground into powder by circumstance and misery. The thought of seeing Lisa again after summer vacation never entered my mind, not with so much fear and loathing occupying it.