Monday, November 25, 2013

You're in the Army Now

That's what Bitchy kept saying to me as he passed by me in the kitchen yesterday, ribbing me while I was reluctantly washing up some dishes left over from an early Thanksgiving shindig put on by The Giving Tree on Thursday. I volunteered to make some pot pies for the building, and had probably spent a total of around ten hours working on them.

It was almost a fiasco, and there were times when I felt like throwing my hands up in the air and calling the office to have the building manager let Mr. Giving Tree know that there's a turkey in the oven and a mess in the kitchen and he can do whatever he wants to with both because the liquor store is calling to me. The prep I did the evening before went smoothly, even leisurely as I puttered out into the kitchen to regularly stir the filling ingredients (minus the turkey) in between increments of forty-ounce camaraderie with some of the brighter and more colorful characters I'm acquainted with here. It wasn't until the next morning, the morning I was going to knead out pie crust while roasting the turkey in the oven, that I ran into both faltering enthusiasm and a cascading series of "Oh, shit!" moments. Waking up an hour late wasn't a big deal, but it set an anxious tone and in retrospect almost stands out as a bleary-eyed ill omen. First the pie dough chose to be uncooperative, refusing to stay together long enough for me to get rounds rolled out placed and in the pie tins an on the wax paper I'd set aside for the purpose. As if that wasn't enough, I discovered the hard way that the second floor oven doesn't work properly: even though the turkey weighed less than fourteen pounds and was in a pre-heated oven for three hours I ended up tearing the thing apart (really) and nuking a third of it. Okay, big deal: it went into pot pies with butternut squash, yellow and green onion, and portobella mushrooms in a thick rosemary and thyme filling sauce, so it didn't matter how it was cooked — just it was less pleasant a day on the clock, so to speak, than I'd have preferred.

I didn't eat any of it. Cooking sometimes kills my appetite for food, especially when the work involved is hectic or tedious. A handful of neighbors thanked me for having soldiered through the ordeal, and along with the building manager praised the pies, which is exactly how many I figured would be so courteous and is a decent number; less than five pies were eaten out of the six I baked, so apparently there wasn't a huge turn-out — which kind of surprises me. Will I do it again next year? Probably; I made inferior prototypes last year (or was it the year before?). Will I eat any of it then? No telling.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Danse Macabre

The consensus here is that this is a sick building, or at least it is among those whom I've spoken with. A building people crawl into to die, save for those who get thrown out and the occasional person who moves on to grander things.

I've been here for four years and three months, and in that span of time I know of seven people who have died. That's 1.61 cadavers per annum: four from the fourth floor, two the third, and one the second floor I currently live on. None of the Faifield fatalities is female; each of them was a male, ranging in age from the late-forties to the mid-seventies, the median age probably being somewhere in the mid- to late-fifties. All of them were Caucasian, one of them a Latino; being that I live in White City most of the people who move into this place are white, with only a handful of black people thrown in to put some color into the local demographics — ratios that are reflected in the mortality statistics, naturally. The guy who just recently died was from the fourth floor and lived in this building with two brothers, each of them at first living on a different floor, until Pablo moved down here from the third floor (like I did!) ... now there's some statistics for you! What are the odds of that occurring? Sleazy C (I called him) died of liver failure in an ambulance en route from the hospital to some kind of care facility, the poor bastard. His brothers are sure to follow suit withing the next ten years, I figure; a lady who works at the corner store called the three of them the Booze Brothers. I used to chuckle every day I heard the ol' Sleazeball staggering past my door, usually yelling at his brother whose room he left behind him or the elevator he was having problems operating. All but one of the seven people who have passed on while I've been living here died either from alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose or from a condition directly caused by lifelong substance abuse.

No, I wasn't dwelling on this somber bit of business all Veterans Day. I just figured it would be more interesting than hearing about the meatloaf and mashed potatoes I ate at a nearby church and how I didn't know the public library was open until shortly before it closed. One thing that does spring to mind when I reflect on the Reaper's nigh-tangible presence here is that I desperately need to eke more out of my days, lest they become a blur that eventually resolves itself into a gurney ride down the brightly lit hallway ... and, suddenly I'm wondering where all the time went. Of course, this is one of the last places I want to die in, but whether I do or not really isn't as important as the quality of life I have to gaze wistfully on as I slip, lurch, or am yanked into oblivion. "Youth is wasted on the young," indeed.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thug Life Halloween

How was your Halloween? Mine was great, until I got pepper-sprayed by one of my neighbors.

It was Hillbilly Wingnut who sent me staggering to the bathroom to run cold water over my face with the shower head for three-quarters of an hour. I'd been partying with Techno Destructo, The Contender, Thug Life, and Jabberwocky for a few hours up in Techno's room, drinking Potter's whiskey (Portland's well drink of choice!) and smoking weed ... and, everything was looking pretty good: no one was maudlin, being a belligerent jerk, or falling all over themselves. It was going to be a pleasant evening, or so I thought. I don't remember what I was doing downstairs on my floor, but around 4:00 PM Hillbilly Wingnut accosts me out of the blue in the hallway demanding I give him his money back; of course I didn't have any of his money, but he'd been drinking heavily for six days straight and was completely out of his mind. There was a few of us down there and all of us were wearing our WTF faces until the big bastard started pushing me around and then finally blasted me point-blank in the face with pepper spray just before he took the elevator up to his floor.

Needless to say, with all the witnesses standing around at the time — not to mention the cameras in the hallways — my assailant was taken away to jail by the police, and as soon as he returns (he did Friday night, hollering a threat up at my window) eviction proceedings will be filed against him. That's the second time someone in this place has been drunk and gotten sufficiently violent with me to get thrown out onto the streets. The first time occurred just a month after I moved in here; I was drinking Olde English and watching a Cheech and Chong movie with my neighbor at the time, King Kamehameha, when I made the mistake of remarking that I felt that Cheech and Chong's comedy was sophomoric. Before I knew it the guy fell into a berserker rage, followed me to my room, and started strangling me right in my doorway! The cops came then, too, and another tenant ended up huddled in a doorway at nights.

This is one of the reasons I was reluctant to move here, alongside hygiene and pest concerns. It's a sad reality that you're going to be around more sketchy people when you live in subsidized housing, or pretty much if you live anywhere with people who are poor and have lousy credit ratings and/or criminal backgrounds. A couple years ago Thug Life gave me a black eye when I was harassing a neighbor he "did business with", and another time I fell during a tussle with Chipper and caught myself such that I dislocated a bone in my right hand and had to have reconstructive surgery done on it. Why violence and criminality are hallmarks of the lumpenproletariat is beyond the scope of this blog. It's not too hard to reason out, though: for many people this is the last stop before the frightful prospect of dying on the streets, so you have a lot of people who have serious personal and social problems; people ranging from the veteran Burnside Cadillac chauffeur¹ who talks to the voices in her head to the ex-con whose fisticuffs diplomacy carried him through a decades-long battle through the projects. In short, we're the people who learned that we're surrounded by cons and bullies and that no one in authority will be there to protect us or to serve justice on our behalf when we're wronged.

Anyway, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for that guy. He seems like a potentially dangerous person, and very much the retaliating type.

¹ A Burnside Cadillac is an old local name for a shopping cart pushed by a street person, named after Burnside Street, which used to have street people sprawled all over its sidewalks in and near downtown. It used to be the name of our local street newspaper.