Thursday, September 21, 2006

My walk around the Garfield Park Lagoon

My neighbor down the street: “How you doin’ sweetie?” (I like being called that)

“I’m blessed and you?”

“Blest too. Did you make it to Curtis’ funeral?” she asks.

“No, I had planned to go but I got that bad cold that’s going around and didn’t want to spread it. Did you?”

“Yea, it was nice. They showed him and he looked real good.”

“Sorry I missed it.”

“That’s ok. You were sick.”

I poke my head in the corner store without actually going in because I have my dog Charlie on a leash. “You got any of those sticky mouse traps?”

He looks back over his shoulder at the wall. “No, not the sticky kind.”

I need the sticky kind because it’s the only thing that will catch the one inch babies that have invaded my apartment again.

I cross Lake Street and enter the park. A group of men have set up a card table to play cards and drink beer. I nod. They nod back. “What kinda dog is that?” One of them asks. I’ll get asked that three more times before I make it around the lagoon.

“He’s a Papillion”, I say.

The park drive is always lined with cars, usually with people sitting in them talking or listening to music. One of them is selling bags of peanuts out of his car. Another has lined the hood, roof and trunk of his car with nice looking sneakers still new in their boxes. He is strategically parked next to the basketball courts that are always busy with men in hot hoop competition.

Charlie does his thing and I pick it up with a baggie even though his little poops are smaller than the geese poop I have to dodge constantly. Speaking of geese I decide to count them and get to 100 when I give up. One of them has a lame leg and limps slowly behind the others. He can still fly though. I decide I’m a lot like that goose. I may limp, but I can still fly.

I wonder how the geese butts stay so white even though the lagoon is covered with a green sludge. I guess God put some kind of thing on their butts that repels dirt and grime. I dunno.

I round the back end of the lagoon near Hamlin and notice a man standing in a concrete bunker. I wonder what he’s doing in there. As I clear the trees I get near him and say, “How you doin’”?

“I’ve had a really bad day”, he says.

“Why, what happened?”

“My fiancé broke up with me and we have a little girl. I’m just really upset about it. I need a job real bad too, but I have a record. People don’t realize how hard it is to get a job if you have a felony”.

“Yea, I know”, I say, “no one will hire you or rent to you and you can’t even get into public housing.

“Yea, that’s right. It’s terrible. You can’t do nothin’”.

I proceed to tell him about Breaking Ground, a ministry in the neighborhood that provides job training and work opportunities. I explain how to get there and he seems confused, can’t seem to get my directions. Then I notice two hypodermic needles in a pipe in the bunker and it all makes sense. He’s still talking about how hard it is and I say, “You really have to lay off the needle, that'll really mess you up.”

He seems shocked. “How did you know? Did you see me?”

“I can see the needles right there.” I point to them.

He looks ashamed. “I know. I just do it once a week. I know its bad”.

“It will kill you”, I say, “a friend of mine died last week from bad dope he got in this park”.

“Yea, I heard”, he says, “a friend of mine died too. I know, I gotta quit”.

I walk on and notice a young white girl sitting by the lagoon. She seems to be drawing on an art pad. Yup, I think, the artists come first. Gentrification is on the way. I round the bend and try to keep Charlie out of the cocklebur bushes. I see two men fishing who I have talked with before. One of them is leafing through a stack of bills. They say hi. I smile and say, “Hey, you’d better be careful flashing that cash in this park!”

“What you gonna do, rob me”? He jokes.

“Me and my killer dog,” I say. They laugh. Charlie weighs about 10 pounds.

I walk on and notice two people sitting on a bench. One of them is a woman from our shelter. I stop to talk. “How you doin’”?

“Great!” she says and gives me a big exaggerated grin.

“Oh wow”, I say, “you got your teeth today”. I remember seeing the dental van at the Breakthrough Joshua Center. “Just the uppers?” I ask.

“No, both uppers and lowers”.

“They look great,” I say.

She smiles broadly, “I know,” she says. Then she goes on to tell me a story about how she’s been going to court because she was stabbed in the neck by someone who had been in for murder and was released on a technicality. The police are grateful that she is pressing charges cuz this guy is dangerous and needs to be behind bars.

I’m not sure whether or not to believe her because I know she makes things up, but it’s an interesting story. I express my amazement and affirm that she is doing the right thing, say hi to her guy friend, whom I had met before, tell them to have a great night and walk on.

I cross Lake Street again and head back up St. Louis Avenue. Two little boys ask if Charlie bites. I say no.

“Can I rub him?” One of them asks.

I nod a yes and turn my attention to an elderly man hoeing his garden. “Since I see you and we say ‘hi’ everyday I really should learn your name,” I say.

“It’s Al,” he says, “but everyone calls me Melvin”.

“What should I call you?”

“I guess Melvin cuz that’s what everybody calls me”.

“I’m Arloa,” I say and explain that it is the feminine form of Arlo, like Arlo Guthrie, the folk singer who recorded “City of New Orleans”. He gets it right away.

“I’ve lived here 40 years,” he says.

Oh, so you were here after King was assassinated and the neighborhood burned,” I say.

“Oh, yea. It was bad. I stayed to watch over my aunt. She’s passed now”. He says the owner of his building is thinking about selling. He needs to find a place to go. I remember Yolanda, our Women’s Services Director, questioning where her people are going to go as the whites start to move in. I tell him about the seniors building on Drake, that it’s been renovated and is pretty nice. He says he’ll check it out.

I turn onto Fulton and head for home. Punkin and I discuss the mice situation outside my front door. She says she hears them in the walls. So my mission now is to find those sticky mouse traps. I’ve been to Walgreens and Dominicks… guess I’ll try Home Depot.


Anonymous said...

Good Post!

Anonymous said...

great post. You are so salty.

Arloa Sutter said...


Westy said...

Indeed, a good post, Arloa. I like your stories.

But here's what I was thinking as I read through it. I just thought I'd share and see what your thoughts are. I don't mean anything negative, but I'm inquiring.

So you mentioned that you saw a white girl painting in GP. Your first thought was that gentrification is coming. The tone makes it seem like that's a negative. Is that the normal reaction upon seeing a white person in a black neighborhood? I know I've encountered it some myself, but I really have to think it's a negative. The consequence of being viewed as a force of gentrification is that the white feels like a target because they're perceived as well-off by having a job and dressing a certain way. (Unfortunately, we come to discover that we may then actually be a real target of crime.)

Is this different than the negative view many hold of students getting good grades? Are members of the neighborhood who do well scorned?

Just as any neighborhood should be open to blacks (i.e. white flight was not good in the least), shouldn't black neighborhoods be open to white people moving in? And if the image of a white person moving in is going to be one of 'this person is taking over our neighborhood', should we be moving in as part of our efforts to reach out?

Isn't it a negative to assume whites are wealthy and the driving forces behind the negative aspects of gentrification just because they're white? Or am I totally misunderstanding the dynamics of the neighborhood?

Arloa Sutter said...

Thanks Ryan for those insightful thoughts. I responded right away and just noticed tonight that my response didn't publish.

I don't think gentrification is a negative thing at all if it is what Bob Lupton calls, "gentrification with justice". I think that means advocacy for maintaining affordable housing in the community which takes organizing and advocacy. Unfortunately I hear residents in the East Garfield Park community express a great deal of fear when they see whites moving in, fear that rents and property taxes will rise and they will no longer be able to afford to live here. Change is always scary and they have seen whole communities razed for new developments that they can not ever afford to live in. Cabrini Green is a good example. It was desirable land, near the city center and the lake and close to public transportation. Many residents there have been forced to leave.

With one out of every three lots vacant in East Garfield Park it is reasonable to assume that we should be able to welcome new people to the community without forcing the current residents out. As whites we are viewed as wealthy, because comparitively, we are. We have the privileges of family wealth that was built on the backs of slaves, an educational system that has propered us while disadvantaging minorities, networks of support and connections to power that African Americans do not. We have a history of imperialism and dominance, we tend to take over and think our ways are the right and best ways.

We all want good schools, safe parks, good grocery stores and restaurants. As Christians I think God is pleased when we come together to promote the well being of the community, but I think we need to be aware of what we symbolize and go the extra mile to be good neighbors. These are complicated issues.

Thanks again for your comments. Please keep them comming!

Westy said...

Thanks for the comment, Arloa. I guess sometimes it's easy to get frustrated when we're grouped in as just another wealthy white who's there for their own self-interest when we're there to help. I guess that's how a black might feel when they're stereotyped as dangerous walking through a white neighborhood.

But hopefully both sides can learn that the other is not homogeneous. All whites do not come from the same background any moreso than blacks do.