taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I smoke on the fire escape of my building, forty feet above the beautiful vista of downtown Hampden. It's fascinating to watch the homely 'hos talking to their pimps and the cops lackadaisically driving along the Avenue, never busting anyone. The other day I was standing out there, watching the corner in front of the convenience store where one particular pimp runs his stable of beauties (mostly addlepated women who appear to be in their forties but who are probably much younger). Two 'hos, two guys, and a cop. One ho--in a tube top with fat rolls over the top of her jeans--didn't seem to know what to do, and wandered in and out of the parking lot, while her skinnier friend negotiated something with the cop, who drove away with a laugh and a wave, not caring at all that the whole time, guys kept coming up and handing the women money or taking money from them. It was like watching a game of Go--cells just moving from here to there, apparently at random but with some underlying structure.

Two weeks ago I was trying to cross the road in Hampden and almost got run over by some maniac who was driving on the wrong side of the street at eighty miles an hour. A week later, I was crossing the same street and some redneck kid rolled down his window and spat on me. Luckily it was more of a fine spray than a loogie, but a biological hazard nonetheless. At that point I'd had enough--I chased their red Pontiac and thought about throwing my San Pellegrino bottle at them, but I wanted my San Pellegrino. So I put my cig out on their car instead.

Walking by the Cafe Hon, with its ironic tribute to redneckery, makes me sick every time I have to go to the bank. Right across the street, the real "hons" ply their trade--ten dollar blowjobs, teeth and stroller optional. There's two schools of thought on this. On the one hand, it's the bourgeouisie exploiting the working class for their own amusement. On the other, it's glorifying the worst kind of stupid meanness possible. There's a definite Amos and Andy quality about the whole thing, only it's okay because everyone involved is white. At the same time, a lot of these Hampden rednecks are truly awful and mean.

I'll never forget the time I went into Zissimo's in the late nineties and this woman in a powder-blue sweatsuit got a hardon for me and tried to whack me over the head with her pool cue. I hadn't done anything but enter her bar, and it pissed her off. But she would have beaten me to within an inch of my life, if she hadn't been hammered and her friends hadn't held her back. I honestly don't see what's so ironic or amusing about any of it. It's desperation and fear and the constantly encroaching outside world, it's $300K rowhouses and the people who live on dirty porches next door, it's whores with a chip on their shoulder and pimps with upside-down cross tattoos beneath their eyes.

Walk down the street and meet the empty stares, hand a cigarette to a fifteen-year-old prostitute, watch the shopkeepers watching everything--Guitar Man who says "Where's your boyfriend?" or the Cigarette Smoking Lady at the Sev, who's taken a shine to me for some reason, or the lady at the consignment store who knew my name the first time I walked in the door. The entire neighborhood lives in uneasy tension, waiting for the other shoe to drop, only it never does. The pimps hang warily on the corner and the hookers don't bother to make eyes at anyone. The weather gets so hot that everyone goes to Roosevelt Pool and hangs out at the shallow end. They knock things down and they build new things and everyone has great hopes except, you know, not everyone does have great hopes. Some people just hope to die.


At 6:51 AM, Blogger sweetney said...


At 3:45 AM, Blogger dogfaceboy said...

Good piece. I also love seeing the Emperor of Ice Cream on the side. Love that poem.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Stagolee said...

Claire, this is a beautiful piece of writing. And saying that doesn't really do it justice, because I believe it also comes from the heart of someone who loves Baldymore--this dirty old town that reveals a peek of glory one moment and gobs on you the next. Thanks for voicing that so perfectly.


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