the powers that be have started unhinging the apartment that's directly underneath mine and they usually get cracking around 8am when they think everyone is gone. their tobacco smoke comes to me through the floorboards, along with the talk radio they listen to in the morning and the bad pop music that happens in the afternoon. i can hear their conversations, their west indian accents, their bizarre african languages, the french they yell sometimes, occasionally polish or russian or even lithuanian and spanish, spanish, spanish. hardly anything is tossed out in english anymore.
most of all, the banging and ripping and drilling and loud, loud noise is non-stop. sometimes my floor shakes, like a baby elephant is trying to get at me through their ceiling. someone dropped something the other day and everyone yelled all at once. it sounded like a muffled stadium roar. it sounded like a thunderclap and then there was silence and then scrambling and more yelling. and more thunder. i remember thinking, someone doesn't know what they're doing.
one time, i didn't lock my door and this african guy came in, with all these tools around his waist and carrying something heavy on his shoulder. he was almost in my living room before he realized that he was one floor off. he almost fell backward when he saw me and started apologizing profusely in french. i was relieved that i wasn't naked or sitting at my piano in the next room, practicing scales in my underwear. that would have been really bad.
sometimes they're so loud that it sounds like they're in the next room. when i sleep in, it's almost as though i'm surrounded by them, like they're building something around me. and occasionally i have nightmares where that's exactly what's happened and i'm trapped in some wierd labyrinth that i can't find my way out of, with them banging and hammering away while i run towards a light that isn't there.
if i start cooking early in the afternoon, they can smell what's for dinner before they knock off for the day. they know which apartment it's coming from and as i skip in and out, they give me the dap and yell at me and say stuff like, what are you making -- it smells AMAZING, or i'd give anything to have a woman that can cook like you or my personal favorite i'll be home by six tonight -- keep it hot for me! this happens in the building and all the way up the block. none of them have tasted any of it but they know when it's lamb tagine or chicken and dumplings or smothered pork chops, so we have this really cool back and forth about whatever i'm making. it's fun.
that got me to thinking about a story my grandmother told me not too long ago.
when i wasn't even an afterthought in her imagination, she said that they were building train tracks about 150 yards away from the little pink house that i spent much of my infant/toddler years in, with her and my grandfather and a host of aunts and uncles and cousins and all. to supplement the household income, she fed the railway workers. they would line up at her kitchen window and get a plate of food for a set price. there were workers who came from far away, too far to commute back and forth. so my grandfather built a little house for them to stay in, and charged them for it.
the bottom line was that when it was time to make ends meet, everybody found a way to get their hustle on.
how easy would it be for me to open up my kitchen and turn it into a restaurant unofficially? well. not so easy. i'm sure the landlord would shut me down in a snap, especially when the people in charge get wise. but economic times are always hard in the ghetto. your kitchen as restaurant is what's done here all the time. you do what you have to do to make a buck and keep your lights on and then you keep it moving.
think about it. they do this in every ghetto. they do it in chinatown. everybody's on the street, selling food. there's an old lady that's infamous for putting all of her children through college by selling her dumplings on the street.
don't believe me? come on over to my neighborhood.
when you step off the subway at 137th street and broadway, there's at least two or three people yelling about what they're selling, from corn on a stick covered in oxchaca cheese to tamales. there's a guy and his mom up the street about 15 blocks apart that sell cold and hot soup -- a delicious seafood ceviche and a really outstanding sancocho (a latin friend calls this heavy stew dominican viagra), with lime and plastic spoons and napkins and hot sauce and everything that goes with it. by early evening, they're usually all out. the lady in the window was constantly cooking and selling what she made. frankly, her open window was all the advertisement that she needed. i never bought anything from her. i never had to, actually. she was always sticking her hand through the grill and giving me yummy dominican things that she was making, like dulce. (God, i miss her.)
do they do this in soho or the upper east side, or even gramercy park? of course not? do they do this all over harlem? you betcha. i'll believe that i'm not living in the ghetto anymore when they stop -- gentrification be damned.
so yeah, i guess i could make a huge pot of collards and get my hustle on. it wouldn't take much and it would probably be a lot of fun, mostly because i love to cook. but i'm hustling enough as it is with everything else in my life. and besides -- i don't want to get into any trouble...