By Rosalie Tirella
This year the holidays, here on Ward Street, the street I’ve lived on for almost four years, will be family-focused, spiritual, fun … and laced with used syringes and cum-filled condoms. Don’t forget the broken beer bottles and a brick or two, wrapped in silk scarves!
This Thanksgiving our sidewalks are teeming with the stuff of addiction and lust … and violence. Last year we had the drug house next door – Heroin Depot, manned by tight-lipped 22-year-old guys (all business) with guns and Mercedes and Lexus SUVs. When the stateys and the WPD Vice Squad, wearing their bullet proof vests and their guns, their German Shepherd dogs by their sides, finally made the bust, a machine gun was removed from the premises – along with the usual thousands of dollars in cash and (of course) bags of heroin. One of the guys, once annoyed at my neighbor’s son, cooly flashed his gun to show him who was boss – in front of the man’s three-year-old boy.
This holiday season things feel decidely tamer. These days, my downstairs neighbor, when entering our building at night, has had to walk past – more like navigate through – people sitting on our front steps enjoying the orgasmic heroin high. No big time killers running a lucrative drug biz – just your run of the mill junkies – floating high above Ward Street, as high as the giant moon, to get to a better, oblivious place, having shot up their smack minutes ago. They did this openly and they did not give a damn if they were on private property and my neighbor had to trip over them to get to her apartment. Every time this has happened my neighbor has said nothing. She puts her key into our front door lock, opens the front door to our building and heads upstairs.
The next day she finds the junkies’ used syringes by her car, in her parking space in our teeny parking lot by our building. Along with used condoms. Which makes me think someone prostituted her/himself to get the smack and shot up IMMEDIATELY afterwards. Because that’s addiction for ya. It decimates your self respect. People fucking on our sidewalk for heroin or in (ha!) the St. Mary’s (aka Our Lady of Czetchowa) precious parking lot (see my previous posts) or sadly, for me, in the entrance of the church’s separate, stand-alone shrine to the Virgin Mary – the same shrine that I, as a little girl, and my late mom, would visit what seems like centuries ago, to light a candle, say a Hail Mary, and admire the prettiness of Blessed Mother and all her accoutrements: the flowers around her, the rosaries laid at her feet, the votive candles all aglow, set in big metal, V-shaped candelabras, pointing to heaven. She still looks pretty …
… only now she’s behind bars, protected from the neighborhood, cut off from the people, the people who need her most. This was once a quiet, neat Polish immigrant enclave, now my neighborhood is a hot bed of drugs and guns with police driving through our neighborhood at all hours, sirens blaring or pulsating or silent – depending on the emergency – you get to learn the nature of your emergencies here on Ward Street without even having to read the newspaper or look outside your window!
But most important, my neighborhood is filled with so many beautiful kids and adults who do the right thing EVERY day. Who come out and greet the day and garden in their small front yards, try to play with their brothers and sisters in the church parking lot (fat chance!), walk their dogs (the quiet proud white pit bull and his owner come to mind), drive their grandkids to school, walk to the packie down the street not for booze but for chips and soda. The forgotten Americans that president-elect Trump is supposed to save. The man who’s gonna save America’s inner-city neighborhoods, singlehandedly it seems.
I epecially love the old Polish guy, the last stalwart from the old Ward Street, who lives next door in his neat trim little home with concrete cherubs in his front yard. Almost daily he solemnly sweeps his street corner – no matter how crazy the neighborhood gets. It’s a ritual for him. I love to drive home at the end of my day and see him outside, head down, work clothes on, sweeping up the flotsam and jetsam near his sidewalk curb with his antiquated, broom/dustpan combo. It’s metal and must be about 50 years old! What stories his dustpan could tell! It’s seen it all: from gum wrappers to bullet casings, from cigarette packs to syringes, from a beer can or two to unsheathed, translucent condoms, in all colors and textues!
The morning after the junkies use our front door steps as a shooting gallery my downstairs neighbor, using her shod foot carefully pushes the junkies’ syringes into plastic bags and disposes of them (I hope in the City’s yellow boxes ); we (cuz it’s my ‘hood, too) pick up paper scraps and beer bottles (I recycle them). One feisty gal pal even lectures the slobs who have the temerity to throw their garbage out their car windows onto Ward Street RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER. Out of her front yard she runs! DO YOU WANT ME TO THROW THAT FUCKIN’ BOTTLE OF WATER BACK IN YOUR FUCKIN’ FACE?! she yells, in her raspy, cigarette-scraped voice that barely conceals her heart of gold. When my gal pal told me the story she said the offending slobs looked dumbfounded when she pounced on them, a little afraid at this late middle aged woman on a mission … they quietly picked up their crap. Really, my friend, retired from a factory job, scolds folks who litter and dump – like an exasperated mom. Everyone in our neighborhood knows she keeps us all – our entire neck of Ward Street – looking good, sometimes even pristine!
But the next day – or hour! – comes, and someone decides to dump a mattress box spring in the back of the church parking lot – their old jersey barriers be damned. Or some sweet beautiful 17 year old kid doesn’t like Doherty High School and quits school and finds friends who get high and that seems to be the solution, for the moment. And we add him to our list of neighborhood problems even though he is young and beautiful…
No one here hates the offenders. They make us feel sad…about us, the neighborhood, about being poor and still trying to live in dignity … about the human condition. But the beat goes on. We know that we have to stay on top of things here – always – to keep the ‘hood fairly safe and clean, but that as soon as one problem is solved, one box spring mattress removed from our street, another problem/mattress will be thrust upon us. So we live our days, cherishing the little things …
… and hoping for a Christmas miracle.