By Rosalie Tirella
It began like any other InCity Times work day: me running late. Me literally running downstairs to my car from my apartment, my pocketbook on my shoulders, heavy with crap, my left hand grasping a Trader Joe’s grocery tote bag filled to its brim with ICT stuff and to-do lists, CDs and library books, water bottles, an extra sweater, a bag of doggie treats, my BIG gold sun-glass case that I love, now holding my regular glasses, as I’m now sporting my BIG SUNGLASSES that I love and that make me feel like a harried, slightly put upon movie star starring in my own private, no-budget, black and white, silent, stark and slightly tawdry little flick: ROSES ARE BLUE. And with me, always with me, my little, spoiled co-star, my Siberian husky-mix, Jett.
I’ve got Jett, his lead, with my right hand, and he is pulling me down the flights of stairs in my apartment building, straining to get to our building’s front door. Jett is running helter skelter, jerking me this way and that, yanking my arm outa my rotor cuff, causing my Traders Joes bag to slam into my boobs, sending my feet sliding all over the stairwell. Even though I am scolding him, I am secretly delighted by Jett’s strength: it means he’s happy, healthy and strong. “SLOWLY, JETT! SLOWLY, JETT!” I admonish, in that deep voice you’re supposed to use when you want your dog to know you mean business. But Jett doesn’t give a fig what I say! Or that I mean business! He knows I never really mean business! Besides, it’s A BRAND NEW DAY for Jett!!!!! HOORAY!!!!! And Jett is off speeding to greet it, as if he’s never experienced the world! As if he’s never felt the wind on his snout or the warmth of the sun on his little brown back! Yipee! As if he’s never taken a whiz on the side of our building (I scold him for this everyday! back yard, back yard, I say to him) or surprisingly, on command, no less!, taken a shit in our little backyard. To see bliss is to see Jett take a shit! This is why Jesus and Saint Francis loved animals so!: animals are the true innocents. My mundane little work day is always the Garden of Eden to Jett’s Adam! Always brand new! Every day! Always a gas!
In two minutes, just a few streets down, now driving in my my car with Jett, I ran out of gas!
FUCK! I said to no one in particular, as I pumped the gas pedal for the last remaining drops of precious fuel that would let me roll off the main street and onto the corner of a side street, where my car ker-lunked to a stop. Jett paced in the back seat.
FUCK! I said again, all of a sudden feeling the cold rawness of the day, and looking back nervously at Jett. This glitch would set our day back an hour or more!
Of course, my car is always low on gas, this being InCity Times. And, of course, I usually drive into my favorite gas station and tell my fave gas station attendant: I’M ON FUMES! Some days I HAVE literally rolled into my fave gas station, my car literally running on fumes. Running on empty! And, of course, I didn’t renew my triple A membership last month – last year’s early Christmas gift from my kid sister ( she knows me well) – after triple A sent me a bazillion annoying renewal forms. It’s a rip off!, I remember telling myself. Who needs triple A when you’ve got friends?!
It was so grey out this cold, late autumn day. It was a work day, too. People would be busy. I took out my cell and hit “contacts,” looking to find a few friends to help me. As I reread the contact list on my phone, I looked up and took a quick mental snap shot of the neighborhood street I had landed myself and my little dog onto: broken down three decker porches, curtain- less windows in many of the three deckers’ flats, some garbage in the gutter, no trees, people hurrying down the street as the wind whipped their thin jackets, looking … unhappy.
Then the thought popped into my head: This was one of the blue-collar neighborhoods in Worcester I had aspired to live in when I was a little girl growing up in Green Island. My sisters and I had some school chums on this street when we were in junior high. I loved visiting one family here, right on this street! Their three decker, which they owned, was way nicer than the one my family lived in on Lafayette Street. Here, on this street, our friend’s three decker was wild with flowers in their little front yard. A pretty welcome mat was at their front door, once you opened the front gate and let yourself in, and, in their little back yard, a trellis where vines of roses bloomed like mad. Most of these three deckers I now found myself looking at were once owner occupied and very pretty. There were lots of kids running around on this street during my childhood and fun galore!
Now it all seemed dead, abandoned…a ghost town, even though there were probably more people living here than there was when I was a kid, what with the real estate developers now, to make even more $$, chopping up the three decker flats like my family used to live in into two, sometimes three, mini-apartments. Thus obliterating the old apartments’ Old World character and charm. History destroyed right before our eyes. Families cramped and dehumanized, all for the almighty buck!!!
In short: My Jett and I now found ourselves sitting in front of a three decker in what most folks today would consider one of Worcester’s diciest inner-city neighborhoods.
I drive through some of Worcester’s dicier inner-city neighborhoods all the time. I don’t sit in my car in the middle of one for 35 minutes like I was about to do now.
This neighborhood’s diciness became very apparent to me when I observed a car with three or four young guys in it. It stopped in front of the three decker right across the street from where I was parked. One of the guys got out and said something to the other guys and then went into the three decker. The guys in the car drove off. I thought to myself: These guys may go to community college, and these guys just dropped their friend off at his house. I didn’t see any books, but everything is smart phones and internet these days. ..
It struck me as a little “off” when (I had already called one friend and asked him to come down with some gas – he said he was busy) the same car drove up to the three decker again about five minutes later and the young guy they had just dropped off minutes ago came downstairs and standing in front of their car said (I could hear cuz I had my car window down an inch) to the guys: NO. … JUST CRACK.
I immediately hit the contact list on my cell and scrolled down to friend number two. Friend #2 answered, and I said very quickly: I RAN OUTA GAS. COME HELP ME.
She said yes. That she would send one of her workers with a can of gas.
I said: THANK YOU.
Then, hoping these guys didn’t think I was some under cover cop part of some sort of police under cover drug sting, I very carefully put my cell phone down on my passenger car seat and started my car. A few times. Rrrrrrrrr. The engine just wouldn’t turn over! Now they would know that is why I was parked a few feet in front of them and had just heard all their drug sales talk.
I guess the guys in the car weren’t looking for crack because they drove off.
I began to feel a little self conscious. I glanced back at Jett. He was sitting in the corner of the back seat. Just a few minutes earlier he had whimpered.
I got on my phone again. I called my gal pal and said: HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT’LL TAKE HIM TO GET HERE? Does he know how to get here?!! I sounded a little … on edge.
I didn’t tell her what I had just witnessed. I didn’t want to upset myself … or anyone who may have been watching me.
She could hear the panic in my whispers, though, and yelled: ROSALIE, NOW DON’T START WITH ME! Your problem is you’re too IMPATIENT! He’ll get there! Then she hung up on me, miffed.
I breathed fast in my broken down car, alone with my little dog. Damn it! I said to no one in particular. It’s so cold in here without a gun! I took my extra sweater out of my Trader Joes bag and put it on fast.
Then in back, to my left, another car let another young man out. This one looked at me – brazenly. I, stupidly, stared back at him. Then he smiled and made like a pointy gesture with his finger and waved it about in the air. In one of his hands I saw a DVD case and then under it something shiny and black. Compact, hard edged, so shiny.I was now officially scared shitless.
Who do you call when you think you may be killed?
Gordon Hargrove, executive director of The Friendly House on Wall Street, of course!
If there’s a busier guy in Worcester than Gordon, I’d like to meet him. He’s in charge of half the city’s human service agencies, has staff all over the city, homeless shelters all over town. The mayor or city manager is always meeting with him to work on city issues.
I called Gordon. In a whisper I said:
Hi, Gordy. It’s Rosie. I ran out of gas on …. street. I think I saw a drug deal almost go down . Someone may have a gun. –
Gordon to Rose: I’ll be there in 10 minutes. Click.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God for Gordon Hargrove, a true friend, one brave dude! … How many people do you know would volunteer to drive to rescue YOU if they knew guns were in the mix? And they were as unarmed as you?!
What I would do was I would not call my gal pal and have her cancel her worker coming with the gasoline. I would take the gas from the first person who came and call the second person to say: Don’t bother. Im all set.
Now, with two people heading down with gasoline I should have felt relieved. But I was nervous as hell. I started the car up again to tell the guy with the gun that THIS MIDDLE AGED BROAD RAN OUT OF GAS in your neighborhood! That’s all! I didn’t see what we both know I saw! Promise!
Jett was getting antsy for being stuck in one place for so long. He began to whimper.
SHUT UP! I hissed at him.
I immediately thought: What if, from one of those naked three decker windows, someone decides to use their gun and shoot Jett? Or me? We are such easy targets sitting here in the cold looking stupid. And everyone else in this hood knows it too. I surreptitiously glanced up at one of those un- adorned windows. It would be so easy for someone to shoot us now! And my heart panicked for my little dog and me. All of a sudden I remembered how two or three years ago, a young woman, a former girlfriend of some thug had been sitting in her car just three streets from where I was sitting now. How someone just went up to her, sitting in her car while she was waiting for a friend, and took his gun out and shot her in the head and killed her. Just like that.
It all happened in minutes, maybe even seconds …
Thats when my pal’s worker drove up to me. A sweet toothless skinny old man who jumped out of their little pick up truck and walked with a hitch and grinned a big toothless grin at me. I leapt outa my car, ecstatic to see him! Guns be damned! I had friends with me! People who loved me! People bearing a gallon of gas! I would jump out of my car and walk up to him, beaming!
Hi! I shouted at him, smiling. I decided to call this man, maybe in his late 60s/early 7Os, my savior, POPS (to myself).
Pops said, in a thick, maybe Polish or Russian accent, trying to explain his tardiness: You said “right.” There no right. Why you say right? He was grinning and happy! I was taxi driver! he told me.
I had to get us both outa there ASAP. Pops was just too sweet and clueless. Plus he had left his truck running in the middle of the street.
I opened the gas tank for him, and Pops poured and blathered away, acting oblivious to the fact that we were adrift in a sea of inner-city shit.
Pops was as sunny as a July afternoon as he struggled with the gas can and struggled to pour the gas into my car!
He chatted away like a magpie while he poured and stopped poured and stopped. I looked nervously at the street corner we were at and Pops back was facing because cars were whipping around that corner with a vengeance and we all know that these days in Worcester to be old and in the streets is to be ROAD KILL. I did not want to see Pops get hit as he talked about air pockets in the gas can and how I didn’t know street directions from Adam!
Then, something cool happened inside me. Maybe because I was buoyed by Gordon’s generosity and courage, my gal pal’s gruff but true friend ways, Pop’s blissful innocence ….but I moved in back of Pop’s back and started gently rubbing his back! Because it was cold out and his jacket was thin. Because he was sweet and a good person. Because he was poor. Because that is what I used to do to my late Mom, when she struggled with her dementia and I wanted to comfort her. Because I wanted to protect Pops! From being shot at! From having a car take that corner fast and plow right into his scrawny old back! ROSE HAD POP’S BACK! AND I WASN’T GOING BACK INTO MY CAR even when Pops said go back and wait in your car!
No! I said.I’m staying with you!
When Pops had finished giving me gas and I had started the car I watched as he walked fast ( for his age) back to his vehicle. There was a school bus behind him, beeping like hell. I got outa my car and shouted WAIT! He’s an old man!
The driver got off the horn and Pops leapt into his little truck and drove off, waving to me.
I immediately hit the gas and drove off too, feeling free again and noticing two Worcester police cruisers driving to the same spot I had just left. They were driving slowly, scoping things out. Maybe some sainted neighborhood crime watch member had seen what I had seen and dialed 911.
When I got home, at the end of my day, I felt low. I felt as if the buildings I lived next to and across the way from were filled with crack cocaine and heroin and dirty syringes and guns and angry, brazen young men who would kill with impunity, maybe even joy. Coming home usually makes me happy. My apartment, filled with my music, books, writing soothes me. My pad is my sanctuary. My lilly pad of happiness. Not tonight. I flopped down on my bed and thought to myself: who have I been kidding? Who would want to live in this dump? Here – in the middle of all this suffering and killing and self-destruction. Half of Worcester is like this now. There’s no escape unless you live on the West Side, but even then you still have to make your way through the city, downtown …
I washed three loads of laundry that night! And put up half my Christmas decorations! Just to begin to feel normal, ok, again. Just to dull the epiphany! But I was despairing that night and didn’t even listen to my music as I turned my bedside lamp off and buried myself under the bed covers in the dark.