Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections on Swann Street

The other night I took a walk.  The air was cool and crisp, causing me to button my Artful Dodger jacket all the way to the neck, and the city was as quiet as it gets around here.  Down by the train yard,  boxcars boomed like thunder as they were coupled together and somewhere off in the distance sirens wailed.  I was on my way to the corner store for a pack of smokes and, since we are moving this weekend, was looking around the neighborhood with a critical eye.  I passed the alley where a drunk guy came at me one night, brandishing a 40 ounce malt liquor above his head like a club;  I passed within a block of the apartment buildings that had been shot up not too long ago, victims of a drive-by shooting that luckily ended without bloodshed or loss of life.  It seemed like every other house had a pit bull chained in the yard and the dogs’ barking echoed off the surrounding buildings, making it sound as though I were surrounded by a vicious pack.

As I got closer to the corner store, muffled strains of Southern rock drifted through the air, but this was to be expected. The music came from the LST Club.  The windowless building leans to the left so badly I was actually surprised it remained standing after last year’s dericho turned our town into a post-apocalyptic wasteland;  a faded sign informs passersby that it was established in 1945 under the name Granny’s and that its current acronym is an abbreviation for Lynn Street Tavern.   The LST is a private club with a reputation for violence and I always cross the street before passing it because you can never tell when a scuffle will spill out of the front door and onto the street.  It’s always seemed a bit ironic to me that people who've spent their entire lives paying their dues now pay monetary dues so they can obliterate that past entirely.  But I digress….

The store I was heading to is catercorner to the LST Club and just across the street.  It sits at a four-way intersection, a block or two from an abandoned house that was riddled with bullets, and a stop sign is posted just outside the front door.  Between the beer and sweet wine sold at the store and the LST Club, many a drunk has held onto that stop sign for balance as their bodies purged alcohol saturated stomachs.  So many, in fact, that the sidewalk surrounding the sign has been stained with a Rorschach pattern of old vomit.  The store’s employees have a way of dealing with the mess, however;  they take bags of potato chips and cheese curls that have gone stale and crunch them up, covering the puke entirely.  The chips absorb what they can overnight and in the morning birds flock around the stop sign, carrying away the evidence to waiting nests and keeping the sidewalk clean.

The store itself is deeply integrated into this neighborhood.  It seems as if there are always people hanging around inside, swapping stories about who has recently been arrested, who’s been paroled, and whose ass deserves to be kicked.  The first week we lived in this neighborhood, I walked into that store to discover a young guy with a busted nose and split lip.  He was bleeding all over the counter and floor, despite the wad of paper towels the clerk had given him, but this was no big deal… just another night on Lynn Street.  At the this store, you can buy what I've always thought of as a meth-kit;  it’s a brown paper bag which contains everything you need to smoke meth, bundled together for one convenient price.  You can also place some bets in under the counter gambling and, despite the Health Department ban, someone is always smoking cigarettes. When you get there a few minutes before closing, the lines are always longer.  People sway and stagger, their arms loaded with six packs, malt liquor, and little bottles of Bootlegger Jack, desperate to get what they need before it’s too late.

Walking back home, I chose to cut down the alley, which is what I usually do. In a neighborhood infested with drunks and tweakers, this may not seem like the smartest plan in the world, but I have my reasons. For one, the alley butts up against a state cop’s backyard on the far end;  but there is also always enough litter and garbage lying around that I could easily find a makeshift weapon if needed.  Thankfully, it’s never come to that but I like to be prepared, just in case.

When I was almost home, I remembered the young girl I’d seen one evening.  It was about 3:30 AM and she was standing on the corner, directly across from our building.  She couldn't have been older than fifteen or sixteen, but she was draped in a flowing, white wedding dress and was dancing in circles in the heart of a redneck ghetto.  Another time, we were sitting on our second-story porch when a guy we’d never seen before decided to give us an impromptu stand-up comedy routine from street level.  I remember one of his bits involved Wilford Brimley doing a commercial for crack and the guy had us near tears by the time he moved on.  But moments like that are few and far between around here.

We’re moving this weekend and I can’t imagine that I will ever miss this place. In all honesty, we should’ve been out of this neighborhood long, long ago.  It was only meant to be temporary, somewhere with cheap rent where we could get our finances back into order before moving on with our lives.  The first month we lived here, our car was broken into twice and when my wife called the police, the dispatcher responded with, “Well, that’s what you get when you live on Swann Street.”;  that should have told us something then and there.  I’ve got this sarcastic suspicion that Swann is spelled with two Ns to ensure the street isn't mistakenly associated with a thing of grace and beauty…  but that’s just me.  

I’m ready to say goodbye to the condemned buildings (and the ones which, by all rights, should be condemned) .  I’m ready to walk through a neighborhood without constantly being on guard, making eye contact with other pedestrians long enough to nod an acknowledgment, but not long enough to be considered a challenge.  I am ready to leave this all behind.  And not a moment too soon.

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