Thursday, January 08, 2009

heavy construction

my former landlord sold all of the buildings on my side of the street to a particular company that's hell-bent on evicting tenants and renovating their cavernous apartments and filling them with pricey touches until they look like something out of home and garden magazine. and yes, that's exactly what they look like. i know because i've wandered through them while they were being deconstructed, and i've passed by the first floor windows and peered in like every other pedestrian on the sidewalk to see exactly what progress looks like. all year long, the workers kept at it like well organized trained ants -- dumping refuse, using massive cranes to swing in lumber and dry wall and whatever else they couldn't drag up the stairs or fit into the elevator, replacing all the windows in all the buildings, and on and on it went. it was crazy.

it's still crazy, actually. the evictions are still happening and they're still renovating vacant apartments -- like my little old lady mercedes place on the first floor. they worked all the way through the christmas holidays with no overtime or bonuses or anything. then again, i suppose that's typical. the question lingers: when are they going to be finished? or are they playing "flip this building" and making everything pretty enough for someone else to make that point of purchase? or are we going condo eventually?

it's not just the apartments that are getting a massive overhaul. they've fixed the elevator and put in a deluxe model, put up well-lit awnings at each entryway, scrubbed out the building's marble floors, slapped up plaster on the walls and painted the hallways and lobbies in soothing neutral colors.

this is the kind of change that frightens me.

the construction workers -- all of them, africans from all over the entire diaspora, from mali to brooklyn -- would gather up the block and sip coffee and congregate. when i would tromp off to start my day in the wee hours of the morning, they'd be there, like some outdoor secretarial pool, chatting and whatnot. they would always stop talking when i would walk by and resume when i was out of earshot. one day, i said good morning, black men. i said it brightly, like i'd known all of them all my life. and each of them waved at me and said, good morning black woman in the exact same way. after that, whenever i hit my block, i got a million greetings and compliments and salutations. the west indians. the west africans. the southerners up north, like me. the yankees. solidarity is a beautiful thing.

i don't know any of their names. we call each other brother and sister and that's more than enough.

the next thing you know, they were in my apartment -- plastering these cracks that are forever running through my walls, fixing and replacing plumbing pipes and all kinds of stuff. anytime any of them came over, i let them eat cake. when they were down the hall, they let me wander through an apartment they were fixing that had the exact same layout as mine and they told me how much the landlord was going to charge. naturally, i balked. basically, it was a four-figure downtown price for an uptown set-up. no one in the ghetto would pay it. no one in the ghetto could afford it. so who is all of this for, anyway?

with the economy in peril, i'm starting to wonder.

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