The powers that be are doing away with the formalities of the front desk situated across from the elevators in the lobby of my apartment building. And though the mere presence of the front desk, ah, dudes – for the lack of a better title, doesn’t really impede the flow of the undesirable element that invades my building on a twenty four hour basis, it must however keep some of the really unsocial trespassers from gaining access – like the ones that crawl or at least the really awkwardly slow ones pushing themselves backwards in wheelchairs with their feet.
Many a night I have come home to find an over-abundance of wayward crackheads wandering my building’s hallways or just loitering nonchalant in packs on the stairwells. Usually on full moons the premises are teeming with nocturnal wild life banging on doors and mumbling incoherently to themselves. Elevator rides are always exciting when accompanied by smelly people demanding things, anything, it doesn’t matter, just give me something, I deserve it, I’m a dope fiend and the world owes me! This of course puts a whole new meaning to the term ‘aggressive panhandling’ – and like hey, fuck off, I live here! Go outside and do that!
But it isn’t just the local transgressors trying to get out of the cold that I’m taking about here. It’s people like Tim who have lived in this building longer than I have and still have never been a tenant proper with their name on the lease or even on a mailbox for that matter. Tim, a genuinely nice guy, heavily addicted to crack cocaine, but still a somewhat nice guy, is an expert at finding and then living with women that are at about the same financially irresponsible level that he is only they gotta be one step up from Tim when he meets them, or what’s the point? They obviously have to have their own apartment and some viable steady income or Tim wouldn’t even waste his time hitting on them let alone moving in.
So like what’s the real deal here? “Hey baby, I ain’t got a damn thing going for me in life ‘cept this here crackpipe – can I come in and live with you?”
“You bet Timmy, and please abuse what’s left of my bank account while you’re here. Ok hun!”
I for one just don’t get it and it ain’t like it’s a fluke or a one time phenomenon where my man gotta little lucky and won the co-dependent lottery. Over the years Tim has introduced me to no less than eight different women as his ‘girl’ and he does it without laughing or at the very least cracking a smile! Hell two of them have lived on the same floor as me and even knew each other while he was jumping ship midstream, so to speak! And it ain’t like he misrepresents himself or nothing because if you lived in this building it would be pretty hard to not notice Tim hustling crack all day long outside on Third Street. All you’d have to do is take a walk over to Jack’s Liquors and you’d run into him posted up on the corner and even if he didn’t know you he’d ask you if you wanted to buy some rock, some crack, you know, as he puts it – some a that good shit.
Him and the deranged dude in the wheelchair that hasn’t moved from the same spot from under the freeway for the whole two years that I’ve lived here run the petty nickel and dime dope deals in the dank alleyways that I park my car in. They short change every crack addicted desperado in a four block radius and even some miscellaneous ignorant club goers that willingly fall prey into their grasp. And it’s not that Tim should be able to afford his own palatial crib in my building or anything. He’s a dope fiend for Christ shake. But for some reason he prefers to be at the whim of circumstance’s fickle embrace and bed down with the next up and coming soon to be on the evicted list love child! Of course given the choice of sleeping under the freeway on cold cement or sleeping with the next available crack ho in a warm apartment – well, you get the picture and in the end what the hell do I really know?
But enough about Tim and his amorous pursuits. The real problem at hand is the security question left dangling unanswered at my humble abode. What’s life to be like when the front doors are flung open and left unguarded for every lowlife in the neighborhood to come traipsing in whenever they feel the whim to invade the corridors and desecrate the dimly lit stairways? Of course obviously the front door guys didn’t do a whole lot to stop anyone in the first place. Which is undoubtedly the reason for their demise, and rightly so, but the alternative plan “Big Tony” the landlord laid out to me this morning wasn’t the best and it didn’t inspire an immediately overwhelming sense of security in me either.
“We’re gonna get cameras all over the freak’in place! Cameras so sharp ya can see the hairs on a flea’s ass!” He says while waving his arms about like the mad man he truly is. “An the front door’s gonna have a buzzer hooked up to your unit’s telephone, so’s they just call yer room and ya buzz ‘em in – presto like!”
I can not tell you how that begins to instill in me a sense of safety like you wouldn’t believe! So, let me get this right. Instead of a useless unobservant idiot that can at least make a phone call to the police while cowering behind the safety of the front desk as the blood shed ensues, I am now at the whim of a forensic team discovering the order of my demise via video playback in high definition digital feed? I will sleep oh so much better tonight Tony, thanks!
Apparently the newly being built security booth where the front desk was formerly located will now be a walled in cubicle which will hold banks of television monitors projecting views of all the hallways simultaneously as the same guys that couldn’t even stop the crazy bag lady from living up on the roof for the last year and a half are now expected to man the cameras and be in charge of the safe keeping of our lives and our property. Yep! Technology triumphs over all as the urbane crack house hits the 21st Century and unfortunately it appears that the inmates are very much still in control of the asylum!
What I’m really starting to suspect here is that Tony and his cohorts will no doubt be recording all the misadventures of the local dissidents and then pandering it as some horrid low budget reality TV show on cable or worse a demented rent-a-cop training film for some other slum lord’s benefit. Honestly, nothing he does would surprise me anymore. But just as strange a concept as Tony wanting to see the hairs on a flea’s ass in the first place, what in the long run is this warped idea of protection really going to accomplish? That they’ll be able to clearly see all the local vagrants in startling clarity right before they steal the cameras off the walls and then set fire to the place? Because as we’ve all now gathered there’s not even going to be a sleeping underpaid, overworked and much abused human being manning the front desk to stop anything anybody will try and do and I haven’t even begun to think about what will happen to delivered packages or the regular mail!
Just how did he come to this decision anyway? The front desk guys are useless, so let’s just trash that old outmoded plan and recreate a mini version of the fall of Rome – but hey, I know, let’s film it too! And just how much is this camera/monitor system costing anyway? Wouldn’t hiring real security guards, as in bonded not as in momentarily sober former drug addicts, cost less and actually address the woes of the old régime’s way of doing things? You see it really doesn’t make sense and if it was in any other city where living space isn’t at such a premium as it is in San Francisco than Big Tony would probably be employing lil’ Tony to come down and torch the place for the insurance money and then just wash his gasoline scented hands of the whole freak’in mess! But maybe that is the plan, but he’s gonna jack up the bounty by adding a few hundred grand of surveillance equipment to the establishment before they strike the match and we all go up in flames!
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Saturday, December 4th, 2004 at
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I’d see Dre out there in front of my apartment building hanging out in the sun with his homeboys and I’d say “Man, what ya doing out here?” and he be all cool like and slow and laugh real low and shrug his shoulders. For some reason Dre was always putting up a front and acting like he wasn’t really involved or wasn’t for sure getting high like all the rest of the cats hanging around him were. And even the time when Mikey and me were coming down in the elevator late one night and Dre got on drunk as hell breathing a brewery worth of fumes my way he still acted all aloof like it was somebody else in front of me that could barely stand up. Only it was just us three in the elevator at the time and in the end why’d he have to fake it? What the fuck did he care what I thought?
I knew he had some two bit security job at a drop in clinic over on Fell Street and though he’d been out at least a year, which for Dre was already some kinda record, he was showing all the signs that one does when they’re slowly slipping back into that old life. Late one afternoon sometime around the end of August when the summer sun begins to wane I ran into him down at the UN Plaza. He was just sitting in his rent-a-cop uniform amongst all the weathered derelicts while they drank forty ouncers and yelled their scattered conversations. He looked up at me with this expression of defeat plastered across his face as he slowly shook his head.
“Got a cigarette?”
“Don’t smoke no more.”
“Buy me a pack a smokes then!”
“Dream on holmes! You know where I come from. Same place as you!”
Today there were a few short paragraphs at the very bottom of the lefthand column on page three in the ‘B’ section of the newspaper that said:
Man choked on bag of drugs, police say
A San Francisco man who died in police custody
had swallowed and apparently choked on a bag
of crack cocaine and heroin as he struggled with
officers, police said.
The man was arrested after 6 p.m. Thursday
died about 15 minutes later on the way to the
Two Tenderloin beat officers suspected he was
selling drugs on Leavenworth Street near Turk
Street. As the officers approached, the man put
a baggie in his mouth, police said.
The man resisted and struggled as officers arrested
him. After he was handcuffed, he appeared to have
difficulty breathing. Paramedics removed a bag
that apparently obstructed his air passage, causing
asphyxiation, police said.
It went on to identify him by name and the address where he resided – one floor below me on the same side of the building above the parking lot. Of course it didn’t say that. I just happen to know that. Happen to know Dre. Happen to have seen him struggling with life. Happen to have been powerless to do a damn thing but witness his inevitable demise.
Today, the day after Thanksgiving, the nation’s out spending that hard earned dollar on all the consumer products that we as a populace are led to believe we need. Heralded as the biggest shopping day of the year it’s a consumer culture orgasmic climax to a long ago forgotten holiday concept. And yesterday, maybe even while Dre was being choked to death, I was sitting down to dinner across town at me mum’s house with a bunch a folks doing that hypocritical thankful thing. With an abundance of food in a warm atmosphere where nobody seemed too undernourished or worried or scared.
Afterwards I just happened to drive through the Tenderloin on my way home and saw a few people wandering around out in the cold doing what they normally do. Just another ordinary day hustling dope and keeping out a sight in the cuts. All pretty much strangers to me but here and there were some that I knew. Like Sasquatch with his duffle bag now almost the only person out there on Market Street as I crossed on Fifth and a bus’s headlights framed the wall that he was leaning against loitering in the cold with nowhere to go.
All the usual suspects were huddled on Stillman and Third underneath the glow of the liquor store’s sign as I parked my car and I wondered if they knew about Dre? Probably did. Not much goes down that ain’t known out on the streets a lot faster than it takes to get in the paper. Hell, most of the bullshit that goes on around here doesn’t even get reported in the news. Seems like it takes a death or two to make it worth mentioning. Seems like it only takes but a minute to forget about it too.
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Saturday, November 27th, 2004 at
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Since I stopped smoking over a year and a half ago, my sense of smell has reluctantly returned and sometimes it seems with a vengeance. Where I had gladly tread before unaware and unaffected I am now assailed with undue odorous intent. Like the urine drenched alleyways that bisect my neighborhood or the culinary indiscretions that my neighbors partake in on a daily basis. I seem plagued with sensory overload and tend to yearn for the days when I was unaware and unburdened with having to notice all these un-fragrant assaults on my inebriated nostrils.
Of course outside in the streets it is only too obvious why it reeks the way it does. The lack of adequate sidewalk toilet facilities for the populace that lives there combined with the nocturnal nightclub goers’ need to piss equals a veritable urinary onslaught on the surrounding building’s walls and crevices. And I’ve got to honestly admit that there have been times that I’ve had to go really badly, like after hours of trying to park the car, and I thought about whipping it out and having a quick splash against a stationary cop car or errant fire hydrant, but thankfully those thoughts tend to run their course and go away. Or I might a been left with another uncured insatiable vice or worse. Especially if the local police officers were to have finished pursuing the newest big butt porn magazines and came out of Jack’s liquors while I was in mid consecration on their irreverent vehicle. Then I’d be looking at more than just a slight case of indiscretion and more than likely it would be a little down time with another charge pending over at the Hall of Justice.
Lately the city, for whatever it’s worth, has started using some sort of disinfectant in the water that’s sprayed when they attempt to clean the streets that you can still smell lingering for a few hours after the street sweeping trucks have sped by – eliciting somewhat tangible memories of a gas station restroom’s disinfectant odor. Which in itself may possibly be adding to the general state of sanitary perplexity by triggering the urge to urinate in some people by confusing the issue in their minds of where it is they actually are. Like some smell association test gone foul resulting in an inadvertent release of bodily fluid as a knee jerk reaction. But I hardly think this is actually the case when I am susceptible to the vaguest of inducements with the will power of a gnat and for some reason I can keep it in my pants until I get inside. However the point still being that if the city is actually taking steps to combat this overpowering health hazard then it must really be bad. Because as a rule City Hall doesn’t do a thing unless it gets to catastrophic proportions all the while citing monetary deficits or the need to preserve the Old World charm of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.
However unfortunately in the end urine is the least of the local contamination problems that plague my embittered community: Although in most other parts of the city there is a strictly enforced “pooper scooper” law for the removal of all bowel movements disgorged from household pets, South of Market seems to have been designated a communal litter box free for all for whatever species needs to relieve themselves.
Insert: Personal sworn statement of a true first hand experience: Sunny day off from work, time for errands and I run down to the car with my mind full of places to be and things to get done. The car: Parked on Stillman alley; a quaint yet cesspoolish type environment of a side street but always a readily free parking space for one to exploit, and floating on the breeze that day was the unmistakable scent of fresh shit. “God damn its getting bad down here!” I thought and proceeded to get in my car and roll down the windows and with a mighty three and a half cylinders of raw power I peeled out into traffic on my way north to downtown. Yet even more shit smell is on the air and I’m thinking. “Maybe the sewer system is backing up again?” As I’m turning onto the green expanse of the Civic Center there’s another unmistakably strong whiff of excrement and a naïve idea materializes in my brain. “Are the city gardeners throwing manure about today making the whole city reek?” So I drop my library books into the return slot at the main library and continue on my merry way stopping for the traffic light at Van Ness and Market where the stench seems to be at its peak like an overpowering essence of phew and I have to admit. “Either I’m going insane or the entire city smells like one giant pile of turds today!” However the gas tank is on ‘E’ and I pull into the station on Market and Debouce and get out and go to the rear of my car by the gas cap and its then that I see a huge crusty diarrhea load piled onto the bumper of my car! I am totally floored! I am thunderstruck speechless! What’s more, I am thoroughly disgusted! Some miscreant has shit on my car and for the last twenty minutes or so I have paraded around town with this exposed reeking load of crap on my bumper for all to see and smell!
Ok, so first inclination is who hates me that much to defecate on my car? Not the most productive of deductions I’ll admit but it is hard not to take a pile of shit on your car somewhat personally thereby enabling the detachment of yourself enough to be objective. However on a somewhat reluctant closer examination of my neighborhood, especially Stillman Alley where I tend to always park, it is duly apparent that this is indeed the destination of choice for most of the local street people to relieve themselves. A dark quiet secluded place it is indeed and from the looks of it well used with another odd phenomenon of what appear to be blasts of bowel movements three and four feet vertically off the ground onto the walls and pilings of the overhead elevated freeway. What this is indicative of I have no idea but I think that the current subject has run its course and we need to move on in another direction like at least back inside of my apartment building while desperately urging that something be done in order to alleviate the unquestionable risk of people’s health as they are forced to either navigate or live on our city’s streets.
End of shit story – gag reflex stifled. Continue with: Smells I’d rather not indulge in/Part Two.
So of course I’ve already chronicled the noise factor in my apartment building and so it should be no surprise when I say that there is not much that impedes the odors from one apartment to another either. Not a lot of care or consideration was taken in the planning or the design of my building and when I can easily hear the phones ringing, the TV’s blaring and the tenants screaming on several floors all the time any time around me, you can only imagine what it is like when these same people go into their kitchens to feed themselves. Fortunately no one heats up dog food in the microwave like my deranged downstairs neighbor use to do directly below my former apartment’s window. But the incessant burning of swine bits and the constant use of George Foreman Grills on questionable ground lumps of mad cow sends wafting clouds of grease infused exhaust through the vents and under my door to become one with my apartment and my being! Toast, it seems, must be burnt or at least scorched, frying, especially of fish, must take place in the same rancid oil for months at a time and who knows what the woman in 495 is doing but her smoke detector is on a constant screech with her door ajar as a smoldering light blue haze hovers two feet off the ground in the hallway.
Many a night I’ll be asleep only to wake up to some sort of beef stew/hash/frying grease medley making its way up my nose as if someone is preparing dinner in my kitchen not two feet away. This mixed with the cooking of Methamphetamine in two of the apartments on the fifth floor, the constant discharge of the exhaled smoke from a million crack pipes throughout the building as well as outside on the sidewalk and the untold number of cigarette and blunt smokers in every apartment around me leaves me thinking that maybe this not smoking deal was a bad idea in the first place. For one I am not able to provide my fellow dope fiends with ‘smokes’ whenever I venture out and am asked this request about ten times in a one block radius worth of walking. Or two that it is indeed indicative of the divide I am experiencing with my neighbors as just another thing that we are no longer able to bond over. And of course finally three where ignorance is bliss and do I really want to be able to smell all these malodorous instigates rubbing up against my reawakened olfactory nerves?
Its not like I’m yearning to live in the overly expensive and better off rich people neighborhoods where its rumored that they wash the streets down with slightly deluded Channel No. 5 as a nightly routine or actually sweep the gutters once in a while. And I haven’t even touched on the new-found pleasures of noticing that once again I am inhaling diesel exhaust fumes while driving or stifling a wretch when passing the seedy come hither smell of old spilt drinks on barroom floors at seven am in the morning. Or slimy overused public restrooms in government buildings. Or sweaty folks on the back of the bus during rush hour. Or crusty overflowing dumpsters behind restaurants. Or sewer drains and steam spewing open manholes. Or…
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Sunday, November 21st, 2004 at
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