Señorcito

What you should know about Ambato is this: It’s like Quito, but without any nice hotels. And we hated everything about Quito except the hotel. Dang. And I suppose the hotels are decent by someone’s standards. Just not ours. And we may be whiney Americanos, but even our resident guide was put off by the rotting flesh smell. She also said that it wasn’t typical for two rooms to be connected by a wall that didn’t go quite to the ceiling. Especially when they are bathrooms in two adjacent rooms. I know the used condom on top of that wall wasn’t standard.

All of these perks came in our second hotel. We checked out of the first one after a couple of hours. It was worse. Stinky and sleazy with a door out onto a precarious ledge that was just behind the buzzing neon sign, overlooking one of the busiest, noisiest, stinkiest corners we had seen. The door to that little balcony wouldn’t close all the way. The sheets had hairs on them that weren’t ours. It was bad. We checked back out, giving them 10 bucks for the trouble. They were gracious about it. I suspect it may have been the kind of place people rented by the hour anyway.

Probably the lowest moment of our trip was in the restaurant El Gran Alamo on one of the main drags in Ambato. Built to look like a log cabin, but with giant, pastel flower cut-outs stuck on to the front of it. It had giant open air windows with shutters flung open to the sidewalk. So a person could sit in a table that had an open window right alongside it. We chose a table by a window to do some people watching, but not in the middle of it all.

We were hungry, tired and overwhelmed. And depressed about our hotel choices. But the restaurant was nice enough, even if it was empty. We stopped taking this as a bad sign because our schedules were way off of the rest of Ecuador. When we were hungry for dinner at 6pm, the Ecuadorians had already had their main meal around 3pm and wouldn’t be hungry for anything other than a little soup around 8.

Cloth table cloths, candles and a window onto the street. We tried to relax. The food was forgettable. The mood wasn’t. Hunger brings into my family a kind of brittle fragility, just this side of panic. Jasper was whiney and wilted, Zach was resentful and superior, Andy was distant and slow and I was nervous and agitated. We were all shaking our feet under the table, looking around from our new, secure viewing station and fighting over the pre-dinner rolls.

After our jugos (pureed fruit and juice served with every meal) arrived I looked out across the 4 lanes of traffic and realized we had made a terrible mistake in choosing our table. I made eye contact with an indigena woman who had a baby on her back and a small girl in tow. She was short, like all the indigenas, with dark skin and bulging eyes. She wore the traditional fedorah and wool skirt and shawl. I saw her across the street, she saw me. Then I saw her cross through the traffic looking right in our window at us as she did. Unaccustomed to carrying change for beggars, we brought just a 20 dollar bill to pay for our dinner. Nothing else.

Jasper was across the table from me, close to the window. He had cried the night before after seeing a toddler sleeping in a doorway with his little arm over his eyes to block out the sun. Seeing beggars and poverty really took a toll on Jasper, more than anyone else.

She went for his side of the window and leaned in, “Señorcito, una monedita, Señorcito, por favor. Ayúdanos un poquito, Señorcito.” She was talking to him, staring at each of us in turn. Staring. Her lower lip out in an exaggerated pout, which was the tone of her voice, like a pouty whine. Jasper had been resting his chin in his hand. He lifted his head and looked at her then at me, shrugging, palm up, desperate.

Andy and I had been saying in muttered English to the boys, to just tell her no and look away. I looked at her and told her no, we didn’t have anything. But we did, we had dinner coming, and our bread in the middle of the table, a life, a home, cash in a hotel room (even if it was a skaggy hotel room), and money enough to pay for dinner. But no dollars or coins. I set my jaw, told her no and waved her on.

She leaned further into Jasper’s window, “Por favor, Señorcito…” The windows had panes that could be swung shut. We closed our side and I told Jasper to close his. He reached for it and started to close it. But her fingers were hanging over the ledge and there was no way for Jasper to close the window without smashing her fingers. He looked back at me with a “mom, make this go away, I don’t know what to do” look.

She never looked down at her hands, just kept staring into our eyes, as did her daughter, although the girl sometimes looked at her feet. I got up finally and walked over to the manager. I asked him if there was a way to get the woman to leave. He apologized profusely and marched out the door towards the woman, who had already begun to cross the street again.

I feel sort of like the ugly American incarnate when I say that beggar woman ruined our day, our whole trip to Ambato. We all wanted to put our heads on the table and teleport back to St. Paul, where a window-side seat allows us to wave to people we know and watch the rest of the world go by.

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Garry the Pervert Part 2

I stayed long enough to not seem rude. And knowing what I know now about kids and poker faces, I’m sure I showed enough in my face to titillate him. By the time I ran home (skipping, so as not to give my self away), I was shaken. Why I felt like I needed to pretend I didn’t see anything, I don’t really understand. I think it has something to do with a sense of guilt at having seen, having been there at all.

After all, what if it was an accident? But also, playing it cool seemed like the only good option in case it wasn’t an accident. On some level I knew if it was on purpose, he was looking for a reaction; and by reacting, I would be letting him win.

I felt bad. Sick to my stomach. Hot in my face. Isn’t it strange how just seeing a part of this adult’s anatomy set off this whole adrenaline response cascade? He never, ever laid a hand on me. I don’t think I said anything to my mom or dad. I never would have told my dad. It didn’t seem like an option. That was definitely the feeling that I had done something wrong. That I had been contaminated by what I saw.

The second time it happened, he actually made an excuse to go and change (read that as remove his underwear and put on his short-shorts). I think my sister was there with me. This time when his one eyed wonder worm made an appearance, I knew it wasn’t an accident. I again played it cool, felt sick, and left the scene. This time I told my mom. I don’t remember what she said, but I’m pretty sure she told me not to hang around over there anymore. I know she told me not to go into his house under any circumstances. I never did.

He did invite me in a couple of times. The only thing I ever did was go with a group to watch the brick smashing. All of this happened over the course of years, I was probably 12 the last time I went over there. I must have been a really stupid 12 year old. I still can’t figure out how or why I ever went over there again. He did have a lonely, whiney quality about him that made it hard to say no to him. Other than that, I don’t know why I went.

But I did. And the last time he really got me good. We chatted a little bit, his mom was in the house yelling at him from time to time. He told me he needed to change his clothes and he had a problem with his screens. He talked to me through the window.

“I got these screens, see. They’re the kind that you put on so you can see out, but people can’t look in, right? But the stupid thing is, I put them on backwards, I think. So people can look right in here, and I can’t see them. Isn’t that dumb? I want to fix them today, but first I gotta get changed. So I can talk to you, but I can’t see if you look in here, understand?”

What an idiot I am. I peeked. Of course I peeked. And he wasn’t just changing. He was standing naked in front of the window talking to me. Telling me not to look “So you’re not looking in here are you? Because I couldn’t see if you were.” He was looking right at me. What a mind-fuck to do to a kid. I guess maybe I still have a little anger when I think about it.

I don’t remember if he had an erection or any details other than an impression of something wrinkly, ugly, red and wrong. And a feeling of being caught in headlights.

I think most girls have had experiences like this. I wasn’t an unusual child, I don’t think. But how would I know? Maybe I tell myself that so I don’t feel weird about it.

Can someone tell me why this is fun for these guys? And why I ever felt guilty about it? And what would be a really clever reaction, sure to deflate the flashers? I’m at a place where I think of them as common losers, not deeply evil, not even all that rare. I don’t feel permanently traumatized.

There was the old man rubbing himself at the library while he watched me do my homework. He was sitting far enough away that he could see under the desk to my crotch. It took me a while to figure out what was going on,I thought he was just nuts. But eventually I made the connection between crossing and uncrossing my legs and his urgent whispering. Yuck.

There was the guy in the hot-rod who regularly happened to be driving by when I got off the bus in high school. He had probably gone around the block 3 times before I looked in the window of his car. He had one hand on the wheel and the other wrapped around his cock, and man! Was he ever glad I finally looked over. He actually turned up a few times over the course of a couple weeks. My mom told me if I saw him again I should ignore him or point and laugh. I think I started getting rides home. But not from him.

Or Mister S. at Elliot Elementary. I never had him for a teacher, but he always told me how cute I was as I was leaving at the end of the day. “Such pretty blue eyes.” It always made me feel nervous. He started to just say, “See you tomorrow, Blue Eyes.” I blushed and looked away. Eventually a teacher pulled me aside and said, “When someone tells you that you have pretty eyes, you should say thank-you.” But I felt like he was really creepy leaning up against his classroom door, and I didn’t say thank you.

Years later, I saw on the news that he was arrested for molesting a student. I bet she had pretty eyes.

So, an informal survey. Anyone else get visually molested in their childhood or adulthood? I hope I don’t seem to be wallowing and whining about my childhood molestations. Although at the time it was really icky and terrible, I don’t feel permanently scarred by it. I’m just curious about if it’s just me. Believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time I realized, “Honey, it’s just you.”

Garry the Pervert Part 1

Garry was the neighborhood pervert. Or the most obvious neighborhood pervert. He rode around on his 10 speed bike, circling the neighborhood aimlessly. Kids liked him at first, for no other reason than that he was an adult who seemed to have nothing to do. Adults who have time and inclination to just hang around kids are hot properties as far as the kids are concerned. At first.

He had another thing going for him. He knew Karate. He didn’t just say he knew Karate. He knew it. He was a black belt. He had the white suit and the, black belt to prove it (we saw the belt,we were no dummies). On top of that, he could do stuff that looked cool. Once or twice he’d invite a group of kids to his garage to watch him break patio blocks. He did a whole stack of them, with quarters in between each one. It impressed the boys, anyway.

Other than being a grown up who could smash patio blocks and had lots of spare time on his hands, I’m not sure why the girls talked to him at all. If I think back, it was flattering to have an adult (he was my patents’ age) who wanted to talk to me, just to chat. And to a 9 year old, the fact that he was still living with his mother didn’t seem weird. I lived with mine.

So we’d tease him, calling him “Mr. French fry” and pretending to try to catch him on his bike. He always made it point to say hi to us if we were up at the park and he happened to be riding by. Lucky for us, he rode by a lot when we were out. He lived kitty corner behind us, so sometimes he’d say hi to us over the fence. He’d ask us to come and visit and have a pop and chat.

I did a couple times. I remember three times. There must have been times in between that weren’t memorable. How I had the lack of judgment to return the second time, I do not know. And the third time… What the hell? At least partly, it was about not being able to lie convincingly and say I was busy. I don’t know. I was kid. I was dumb and easily lead astray. He was a grown up. He seemed to be so interested in talking to me. He asked if I had a boyfriend, because I was so pretty. He grew up in the neighborhood, so he could tell me about my mom when she was a kid.

He sat on the lounge chair in the back yard, offered me a pop. I sat and chatted with him about god knows what. Eventually as we were chatting Gary put one leg on the ground instead of out in front of him. This allowed his genitals to hang lazily out the side of his shorts. Maybe they were special Karate shorts that gave one’s penis the opportunity to breath deeply of the fresh air. Maybe it was an accident and he didn’t know.

All I know is that the sight of a man’s penis makes me, made me feel afraid. It’s getting different, not so jarring of a fear now that I’m a married woman, but it feels primal. I remember recently reading with great relief and recognition about the typical reaction of men and women to naked people. When men see a naked woman they generally have a feeling something akin to hope or lust. When women see a naked man, she tends to have a reaction of fear, or danger.

Evolutionarily it makes a lot of sense. A naked woman is just one more field to plant your seed in if you’re a man. If you’re a woman, a naked man is possibly about to totally limit your options as far as which crop you’ll be tending for the next 9 months (or 4 years, even) . You have only so many seasons. But I digress.

What Followed Me Home Part 2

When I go through the things I didn’t like about Mary, you will see I am only good about 6 inches deep. The rest of me is shallow and mean. If you are not shallow and mean, you’ll appreciate the following as a dissertation on a how close a retarded person is to God. If you’re like me, you’ll be disgusted. Are you ready? Buckle up and don’t whine. I lived this. You’re just reading about it.

Mary wasn’t pretty. She was heavyset, immense breasts, held in check by one of those sears-catalog-wide-strapped-old-lady-seamed-cup-broad-backed atrocities of a bra. Her skin was very pale, but her hair was dark, almost black. It was hard to tell where the hairline stopped and the eyebrows began. She had facial hair, it seemed like a lot to me.

She drooled. And for me, this was a big thing. Especially when I made her laugh, she drooled. You might as well know right now, that no matter how much I love you, if you drool, I will love you a little less. It isn’t pretty. But it’s true. I have a lot of love to give, so if you have drooled in front of, or god forbid, on me, it’s possible that I’ll still love you quite a bit. But I never loved Mary.

So she drooled. And she had a lot of hair. All over. She was usually wearing shorts. Short shorts, with the contrasting piping around the trim and up the sides. Her pubic hair would peek out occasionally and flash me or my siblings. I was prepubescent and the sight of those daddylong-leggish curls filled me with a combination of fear and disgust. I will never recover from the day she sat, cross legged on my bed, pubic nest hanging out, and farted.

My brother, when reminiscing about our childhood, still covers his face and shakes his head when he remembers looking up to see why I was telling Mary to “Sit like a lady.”

If that wasn’t enough, to put me off, she also insisted on telling me way too many details about her relationship with her boyfriend. I don’t know how or why, but her boyfriend wasn’t the only guy interested in Mary. She sought my advice about whether to “do it” with her boyfriend, with a neighborhood teenager and with the resident pervert, Gary. My advice (as a 10 year old) was as follows:

With the teenager and her boyfriend, she should do it if she wanted to. The teenager wanted her to just go behind the school and do it right then and there. I can’t remember what she did. Same deal with the boyfriend. I know she and her boyfriend were eventually sexually active, whether I pushed her over the edge with my sage advice, I don’t know. But I do know that I told her not to do anything with Gary. I knew he was creepy, plus he was in his thirties. Between his age and the fact that he had already exposed himself to me multiple times, I figured he was not a good bet.

At least I was a teenager when she told me about her abortion. She had a way of saying, but not saying things. Leading people to conclude things without saying them outright. Which is a thing people do when you are not interested in what they have to tell you- and they don’t care. I didn’t care about Mary’s sex life. I didn’t want be lead down this path of clues. It went something like this:

“Well I had to go to the doctor’s office. At the clinic, you know? You know why, don’t you? My mom made me go. Because of my boyfriend? You know what happens, don’t you? If you don’t get your thing? You know what an abortion is don’t you?” Long pauses and knowing looks at the end of every question. I knew all of it. But I SO didn’t want to discuss it with her. Because the next part was the interview with me. Did I have a boyfriend? Were we doing it?

I still find myself in relationships like the one I had with Mary. No more retarded people, but people who are mental in one way or another. Where I make a move either towards someone or on their behalf and I end up tied to them in a way I never intended. Where do I go wrong? I have come to believe I won’t figure it out. Nothing goes wrong, really. It’s just that I’m not in charge, and life is ugly and messy as much as it’s beautiful and delightful. If it wasn’t, what would we write about?

I grew to dread the sound of her ten-speed ticking up the driveway. I literally ran and hid when I heard her coming, but she thought of me as one of her best friends. I hated spending time with her. I hated it. But I couldn’t avoid her all the time, and I couldn’t just tell her I didn’t like her. I felt totally stuck. In fact, I was stuck. Until I moved out of my mom’s house, she would stop by to hang out. It got less and less frequent as she got older and we both got jobs, but she kept coming by. And I kept hating it.

Even after I got pregnant, moved out and was just visiting my mom’s house she kept visiting. She must have been in her twenties, but she still came tic-tic-ticking up the driveway on her red ten-speed.

Someone mentioned to her that I was pregnant (I was rotund by this point). She came to me and said, “I don’t believe it. You’re not that kind of person.” She left not believing I was pregnant. I never got out of my chair, not wanting to cause her to have a stroke.

Is it in not being a good enough person to enjoy the cling-ons for just exactly who they are? Not being able to swallow my disgust or distaste and accept them where they are? I have friends who can and do just that. But I don’t know, I guess I’m mean inside. Because, other than the initial feeling that I’ve done the right thing by defending or being kind to them, the only joy I get from them is in reveling in how much they perturb and drain me.

I don’t know where Mary is now. I pray that she is doing well and does not find my address.

What Followed Me Home Part 1

It’s an issue. A weakness of mine. I can’t ask you to forgive me for it, because I enjoy my annoyance way too much to let it go. I can’t ask forgiveness until I’m ready to try to change. But I can confess and admit my shortcomings. And you can read about it and be amused or disappointed in me or just grateful it wasn’t you. Better yet, you can sympathize, because I can’t be the only one who gets herself in these situations.

At the end of my block when I was a kid was a school, with the accompanying baseball field, soccer field and playground. This was the era where the parking lot did double duty as the playground. With the rainbow arch and climbing bars planted right into the asphalt. That didn’t stop us from doing our cherry-drops and hoping like hell we landed on our feet.

The day I met Mary, they were doing some sort of excavation, so that there was a huge pile of dirt on the grass near the parking lot. I was near the mountain of dirt, but not actually playing in or on it. The noises I heard from the kids over there were too mean sounding for me. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but I could tell it was ugly. I was little for my age, and weird. I had no desire to hand myself over to them.

In my kid way, I started to figure out what was going on. There was one girl, heavy and sweaty, straddling her bike. She was the target. And she was crying. Not too much my business, you know? It wasn’t. But more things sorted themselves out pretty quick. Kids can be eloquent, and these were no exception, “Mentaaal Maaareey. Mentaaaal Maaareey”

I looked, and by god, she WAS mental. I guess we didn’t say mental, we said “retarded” or “mentally retarded”. So this was sort of an innovative epithet they had come up with, in a way. But my injustice meter (a consistent bane of my existence) went off. You can’t make a retarded girl cry for fun, it just isn’t right.

I got one of those righteous indignation adrenaline rushes. If you get them, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The wave carried me over to the bottom of the hill, between Mary and those nasty kids (one of whom would later give me the only real beating I ever got from a girl). I hollered up at them “You stop it! Leave her alone. Leave her ALONE” I had my tantrum voice out, and my whole body was shaking. My throat hurt for the rest of the day.

I put my hand on Mary’s bike and told her she could come with me, I’d take her home. To my home. (Big mistake, by the way. If you must be nice to people who need you, do it on neutral ground and go home alone.) The kids on the hill did what they do to losers who walk away, even the righteously indignant ones. They threw dirt and hurled insults at us.

I don’t remember what happened exactly at home, but her mom came and got her, and thanked me. Mary was grateful and asked if I’d be her friend. What can you say to a retarded girl who asks you to be her friend? Can you tell her that no, you have enough friends? Can you tell her that you’re not really decent enough to be friends with her? Can you tell her that, unfortunately for both of you, being her friend will make you the target of mean kids for years to come, and it’s best if you just act like this day didn’t happen? No you cannot. At least not in front of both of your mothers.

I guess as much as she had friends, I was one of them. But I wasn’t a good one. I didn’t like Mary. Not one bit. I just felt sorry for her and thought it was the right thing to do to help her out. It wasn’t even really about her, maybe. It was that what those kids were doing was wrong, and I wanted them to stop. I didn’t want to adopt her, I just wanted her to not be abused.

I wasn’t at all as good a person as she thought I was, or her mom thought I was. Although I could tell my parents were proud of me for sticking up for her, they knew what kind of person I really was. And that was, good hearted, but not saintly. I am not the kind of person who is drawn to the disabled because of their simple goodness, childlike personalities and closeness to God. Not at all. I know these people exist and, like vegetarians, they are morally superior to me. No question.

And if all she was was mentally retarded, developmentally delayed, slow, but otherwise clean-cut and decent? I think I would have been able to hang out with her and not felt traumatized. But maybe not. As it turns out, her intellect was not what gave me trouble.

Jon and Nancy Part 3

This is the first time I am going to write directly to the blog. I need to just quickly document the more I saw today as we walked through Jon and Nancy’s house (again) tonight. There was just so much to see the last time I walked through, and so many other people distracting me. This time the house was empty except for Andy and Bob (other neighbor interested in old houses) and the realtor and I. And the ghosts of Jon and Nancy.

I can only tell you what the house told us. I don’t know these people, I really don’t.

But someone was a model train afficionado. In the basement room with the wood floors and the stained glass window, there was a track (or part of the original track) suspended from the cieling. There was a little platform that ran most of the way around the room. A person could sit on the leather couch with the wood floors and the stained glass windows. When that person tired of looking at the astronomical chart (front and center in the room), after he or she or they had had their cognac or brandy from the little liquor cabinet in the high or low ball glasses, they could turn on the train set and watch it go around the room above their heads.

And the fish tanks? I counted this time. Keeping in mind that I watched one of them walk out the door during the estate sale, I counted 5 aquariums in the house. The hanging bird cages? They didn’t have live birds, but many of them had live plants at one time. I know because the crunchy leaves are still there hanging in cages.

Lest we think that these people were holed up in their house all the time, The back deck had been built with a tile floor in one corner so the grill would be safely operated. Some handy homeowner had installed a running sink off the back of the house, too. This is something exceptionally unusual in this part of the country.

The realtor (who waxed altogether too sympathetically about having to be selling this house) told us that Jon and Nancy had gone on a cruise every year. They had photos taken on the cruises. He said that in 2001, the pictures looked like a normal happy couple, but by 2003 or 04 Jon was in a wheelchair. Bob says he remembers the last cruise as the one where he and his brother and the cabbie had to help carry Jon into the cab to go to the airport.

If you can climb the stairs on your own today, count it among your blessings. At the top of the stairs to the 3rd floor is a grab-bar. The kind you put in the shower when you’re worried about your balance. Think about that. You will climb up two flights of stairs to get to your little love-nest. You will do it when you know you won’t be able to make the last two steps without help from a grab-bar. You will have it installed for you after whatever catastrophic event takes away your ability to visit the haven you built for you and your lover. But you have the bar installed, and you use it. That’s how much you want to get back up there.

I wish I knew these people. It never ceases to amaze me how interesting people can be. Not all of them, to be sure. Some really are just as uninteresting as they seem to be. But some of them…Wow.

Darnell

Darnell is interesting. He happens almost every day. Darnell has been waiting to be our neighbor in a substantial way. I think now that his home is about to go up for sale he’s feeling like he needs to reach out.

Here’s Darnell and my impressions of him. Darnell is a regular sized guy, in good shape, not heavy, but not lean either. He’s a dark complected black man with a trim haircut, he is usually wearing shades and either a baseball cap or a fedora. He’s always dressed sharp, but not flashy. He’s 53, he told me. He has more swagger than a white guy, but nothing outrageous.

He is a boarder in the house down the street. The house down the street was owned by an older guy who rented out rooms. This older guy (Andy) died last year. His relatives are planning to sell the house and I think it’s a safe bet that Darnell will not be in their target market. I base this on a few things. First, Darnell seems to be unemployed. Second, he’s been renting a room for the whole time I’ve been here. A room. Third, most people who’ve been living here for more than a few years couldn’t afford to buy into this neighborhood today.

When Darnell first introduced himself officially to us, after walking by and tipping his hat for more than a year, he didn’t mince words. “My name’s Darnell and I’m an alcoholic.” He was on his way to the liquor store. You gotta make room in your heart for someone so friendly with his own demons.

So we greeted him by name and shook his hands when we were in the yard or the park and he walked by. We know his route and we know what’s in the bag that looks suspiciously like a bottle that he’s carrying back home. He doesn’t drink in public, isn’t a belligerent drunk or a sad-sack drunk. He’s just a well-lubricated Darnell.

Darnell has some things on his mind, though. Some of them strike more of a chord with me than others. First, he’s thinking about the Bird Flu and what advantages a neighborhood like ours has, what with all the churches and schools (infirmary and check-points). We’ve talked about it more than once. He gets pretty worked up, nostrils flaring and sweat starting to drip down the side of his face (usually he’s got a kerchief ready). I’m not so worried about the Bird Flu, so I just try to let him know I’m glad he’s making plans. And I am.

Second, Darnell is thinking a lot about race. And I’m so relieved to have a black guy around who is up front with that issue. It took him many years, but now that he’s started, he needs to let off some steam. The last three times we’ve stopped to chat, he’s brought it up. We greeted him on our way down the street one day, and asked how he was.

He stumbled, swayed just a bit and said, “Well, I wasn’t expectin t’see no white folks today.”

Another day, we saw him on his way back from Grand Avenue, just before the annual Grand Old Day parade was about to start. We asked why he was heading away from the parade. “They let black folks up there on Grand? With all those white folks?” I told him I was pretty sure they did, but if he wanted he could go with me, I’d pull some white-people strings and get him in. “Me up there with a white woman? Y’all sure they ain’t gonna be non lynchin’ up there? I don’t know… Nah, I’m just playin’.”

Lastly, I suspect Darnell cannot really read or write. He’s brought it up a couple of times and then slapped his thigh and said, “Nah, I’m just playin’ witcha.” But I don’t think he is, any more than he’s playin wit’ me about race. Today he asked me to please lend him a paper and pen. I went to get them and invited him in. When I did, he put his hand on my arm and said, “Another favor, I’m gonna ask you to write it fuh me.” And I did, and he signed it.

Darnell can’t last long here, not after that big old Victorian we’ve all been drooling over since forever goes on the market and is sold to yet another literate white family with money. Do you want to invite him in to rent an extra bedroom? I do. But then again, I want to adopt every stray human and animal, and a person just can’t. And maybe what I see of him walking down the street every day is about as much as I can really take. I’m starting to miss him already.