As you all know, I live in a small one bedroom apartment in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in south Tulsa. It’s been 4 months now, and I am kind of proud to say my kids and I have not only adjusted to the unwritten, (yet unflinchingly rigid), rules of living in a malignant, desperately poverty-stricken atmosphere, but, frankly, we’re kind of rocking it!
Dj lives with a friend in the very apartment complex those 4 girls were murdered in last month, and Bekkie and I live on the ground floor of a building that faces the parking lot. This is the same parking lot that saw a gang drive-by shooting about a month ago 15 feet away from my car. However, in true Hood etiquette, my Saturn didn’t see nothin’, didn’t hear nothin’, and was in fact, at his cousin’s when this all took place.
My little car has blended exquisitely with the other slum cars. There must be 20 Saturn’s out there in the front parking lot alone, and a rather high percentage of them are the same color green as mine, and not a single one of them was made after the artist formerly known as Prince sang Let’s Party Like It’s 1999.
In a spectacularly dangerous move today, I actually tried to unlock one of the other Saturn’s I had mistaken as my own. In the blaring light of the noon day sun. With every Hood neighbor I have all sitting outside enjoying the beautiful weather. With nothing to do but watch the skinny white girl in a skirt and heels try to jack Cousin Joe‘s car.
I thought I’d have a heart-attack when I realized that there just wasn’t enough junk and trash on the floors and backseat of the car I was trying to get into. I felt a cold chill run up my spine, wondering if the owner of the car I was trying to get into was going to cap one in my a$$. But, I have some Street Smarts these days, so I recovered pretty quickly.
I played the mick, not looking directly at anyone but not looking away either, and strolled casually to my own car, like I didn’t care what everybody thought, and I wasn’t embarrassed. Yeah. I did care what everybody thought, and the blazing red cheeks pretty much told the whole story.
They say we have nothing to fear but fear itself, right?
Wrong!! Who came up with that stupid saying anyways? I’ll bet he didn’t live in the Ghetto.
I’d rather be fearful than get beaten by the four angry cousins of the owner whose car they were “borrowing” while he served out his sentence for beating the last girl who tried to jack his ride!!
I’m just saying!
Luckily, car theft is a way of life out here, so no one bothered to even raise an eyebrow as they sat on their balcony’s smoking their weed and chillin’ on the exceptionally awesome spring-like weather we’ve been having. They did sneer at my obvious lack of talent in the Grand Theft Auto Area of my life, though. I could almost hear them all whisper “Amateur” when I scuttled past them. It’s definitely a different culture around here. I don’t think I will ever truly be “one of them” unless I can pull off a felony. Not picking up Jake’s poop and disposing of it properly doesn’t inspire much respect among my fellow Hood Rats.
I just don’t think I have a felony in me. I’m blessedly paranoid about getting in trouble. Maybe if I get a fake prison tattoo….
Even the pets around here are different. For instance, a stray dog or cat that gets lost in Utica Square will probably be given a nice ride to the pound in a very, very expensive car. A stray caught in the lower and lower-middle class neighborhoods will probably continue to live out their lives on the streets, but there will always be someone putting out food for them each day.
And then there are the Ghetto Strays. There have been no sightings of any stray dogs, and that alone makes me feel a little suspicious. I try not to think about it.
But we do have some world-weary stray cats, and frankly, I’m intrigued by their sheer resilience and bravado. I initially put food out for this one long-haired calico cat that had obviously been nursing kittens. For some unknown reason, she zeroed in on me a few months ago. I like to think it’s because she could sense I was a mother, too, and would take pity on a fellow mammal; however, because she’s Hood, I think it’s more likely she could tell I was the weakest one in the group, and was cutting me away from my herd like a mother lion. If I had been one minute longer to feed her the cat food, she would have broken my neck in her powerful jaws, dragged my lifeless body under the shed, and fed me to her young. I named her Gypsy because I’ve let her come in my apartment a few times. Actually, she invited herself in the first time.
Around Christmas time, I adopted a little, delicate-looking white kitten. I named her Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Mary Jane for short, and fell immediately in love with her. Two days later, I noticed Mary Jane was not a girl, and I changed the name to Maxwell Silverhammer. Max for short. I don’t know if he was just super insulted by my mistake, or what, but he turned into a terrorist overnight. Poor Milo, with his still-healing hip, suddenly became Max’s target. When I shooed him away from Milo, he went after me! Ole Max has been ruling this apartment with fear and intimidation. Bek, Milo, and I have gotten all our butts kicked by this one tiny, white, fragile looking kitten. And then came Gypsy.
The minute I let myself, and Gypsy, into the apartment, Max strutted over to “school” the new guest, and promptly got a very disrespectful brush-off. She didn’t even bother to hiss at him. Her tiny, dignified walk oozed with disdain for Max. Domesticated, weak, soft, worthless. She waddled her way over to Max’s bowl of cat food, Max hot on her heels. He’d been dissed, but at this point, he was in the denial phase. Max hissed and batted at her, repeatedly, gaining some of his old cavalier attitude back when she didn’t react. Talk about misreading your opponent!!
Without warning, Gypsy gave one tired sigh…...and then bapped him so hard in the face, he ran under my bed and pouted for the duration of her visit! She moved like a Ninja!! She totally psyched Max out! What am I saying? She totally psyched me out!! She then proceeded to eat all of Max’s food with dignity and pride, gave herself a little bath, and then indicated to me that she was ready to leave. You have got to love a woman who is confident in herself and doesn’t take any crap from anyone, even if she’s just a stray calico eating their food in their home. I admire her self-assurance.
The new ritual these days is for Gypsy to come in for a few minutes to have a bite to eat, discipline the uppity Max, and to gaze at the cat’s in-door plumbing (what we call the litter box) with contempt for these soft, weak domesticated losers. When her contempt and disguise are truly felt by Milo and Max, she sits by the front door and meows to me to let her out. She’s got places to go and kitties to see. I have mad respect for this cat.
The Hood is shaping my kid a little differently than I had imagined too. Lately, I’m learning some of the words to some very popular rap songs. I guess I’m kind of coming to understand the need to belt your music so loud in your car that you blow out an ear-drum. It drowns out all the other regular noises over here like car alarms, home alert systems,
police sirens, ambulances, and the any number of people sitting in their own cars trying to listen to the music that they want to hear. Country music hasn’t made it here to the Ghetto. It just doesn’t have the raw base beat that is necessary to maintain sanity in this insane environment. We all march through our days to that steady, hypnotizing beat. I purposely refuse to listen to the lyrics, though. Luckily, I can’t understand 90% of what is being said/sang, and because of the 10% I can actually make-out, I’m happy to remain clueless.
For instance, the artist known as T-Pain can be thanked for these lyrical gifts from heaven:
“Nappy Boy, ooh, wee Ooh wee Everybody say yeah Oh, oh, oh Hey, eh, eh, eh, eh
We been messin’ ’round for a long (Long time) A while now (While now, uh)
And you already know what’s on my mind (Mind) It’s goin’ down now (It’s goin’ down now)” — T-Pain, Rap Song Lyrics (That is the actual name of this song)
It doesn’t help that Rebekkah, who has always insisted since she was little that she was supposed to have been African-American, has now come to realize that the Real, Buried Rebekkah trapped in that vanilla ice-cream skinned Caucasian body is, indeed, a rapper. Who could have guessed?! She’s actually rapping at Karaoke these days. I kid you not.
My blinds broke a few days ago. They simply fell out of my window. At first, it startled me, and then I just couldn’t stop laughing. They hadn’t been installed correctly originally back in 1916, and this one, valiant, rusty little nail had been holding the whole contraption up. Finally, the nail lost it’s will to go on, and the blinds came tumbling down, bringing my curtains and curtain rods with it.
I wasn’t naked or anything, but somehow, as people walked up the sidewalk, I felt a little like a dancer at those old-timey peep show houses, or even a goldfish in a bowl. It was creepy and a bit unnerving. I got the curtains back up pretty quickly, but the blinds had literally broken in half, and I was told by property management blinds were not considered an emergency, so I’d be blind-less all weekend. Come Monday, I was told that they had to order new blinds for me, so it would take a few more days. Ok. We’re approximately a mile from Home Depot and about two miles from Lowe’s. Really? But, I didn’t argue or complain. Thank God for curtains!
My patience paid off today. I got a knock on my door, and standing on my doorstep was a black man, a Hispanic man, and a white man. They had come to install my new blinds. All three of them. I know that doesn’t seem funny now, but I couldn’t stop giggling. I kept hearing the beginning of that joke in my head, “So a black guy, a Hispanic guy, and a white guy walk into a bar….”.
All three of them were pleasant and courteous, and they got straight to work on my blinds. Well, the Hispanic did. The other two handed him tools, and after the black guy, F, was called away to handle a toilet emergency, H dispatched TWB (The white boy) to secure him better screws. Those are his words, not mine. The blinds were brand new, and as far as I could tell, the screws were, too. He didn’t say longer screws, or shorter ones, but “better” ones…Odd. As soon as TWB left, H struck up light conversation with me. We discussed everything from Napoleon’s problem with his height to the fact that my new blinds required three…3!.. maintenance guys to install. Then, chuckling a little, he told me that they…THEY….liked my hair, which is why all three of them showed up to hang the blinds. Now, really, I know that isn’t true. It was both off-topic and wildly inappropriate, and somewhere deep inside my soul, I’m embarrassed to admit I liked hearing it. So, that’s my confession for today. I felt like I had a tiny, multi-cultural fan club install my blinds today because they liked my hair. Win/win/win.
Don’t judge me. :-)
It did, however, strengthen my resolve to keep stonewalling the apartment management about giving them a key to my apartment.
But the actual moment I truly understood that while I joke about it a lot, I do indeed live in the Ghetto was when I ordered a pizza from Mazzios, and they called me an hour later to tell me that they don’t deliver to my neighborhood after 5pm. Five O’Clock in the afternoon! I told them to reimburse the money back into my account, and they did it within seconds. Seconds!!
Lesson: Living in the Ghetto sucks if you want a pizza delivered after 5pm, but people are so afraid of your address, they’ll give you your money back without a whisper of argument.
They didn’t even invite me to come pick up my order myself. Do you think Mazzio’s Upper Management only puts the managers they hate at the Mazzio’s Ghetto location? If they can’t deliver to any of these apartment complexes around here in the late afternoon, much less the evening, why bother to even keep that store open at all? I think it is Mazzio’s version of water-boarding employees they want out. It’s a theory.
So, I tell you all of this stuff to say this one thing. My life looks very different these days, and I have a sense of optimism that some kind of balance has been restored, at least for the moment. I have this tiny bit of confidence that this isn’t one of those sneaky peaceful moods that will turn on a dime if the wrong song plays on the radio, or a stray, unwelcome memory should pop into my head. I told you about my day and my home and my kid because it occurred to me today that my life looks nothing like it did a year ago. I’ve begun to build new relationships, and have relegated past powerful figures in my life to places of less importance, and in some cases, I’ve purged out many of them altogether. My cat Max never belonged to both Chef and me, and the 3 Maintenance Guys have never seen me as someone’s wife. Even Gypsy only knows me as the Cafeteria Lady of Building C. The empty parts of my heart that Chef broke are now filling up with other people, other hobbies, other “things that happened”, and I’m truly coming to understand that I’m the author of the next chapter of my life. And I want to spend more time laughing than crying.
I’m just feeling content right now with how things are. I think God put me right here in the middle of this Tulsa Ghetto on purpose. It is never, ever boring. Something is always happening here. I find something to laugh about here almost every day. The atmosphere reeks of survival, strength, and durability around here, and I get the feeling that these people truly understand the meaning behind the words,
Life Goes On.
It simply just does.