Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ring My Bell

...but please, not at 3 a.m., like you did last night, whoever you are.

Dinga-dingadingadinga-ding-dong. Really loud and really fast. It took two or three of those before the doorbell called me into full consciousness. Who is it? Dawn? A prank? No, probably Priscilla, I thought, fumbling for my glasses, checking the clock, pulling on jeans and a baseball shirt.

Priscilla stopped by night before last in search of five dollars. She met me earlier this summer, when she cut through my yard and Mr. Worrisome worried on my behalf that she was trying to steal something. I invited her to set on the stoop with me and have a drink of water and some cherries.

The other night she rang the bell at a decent hour, maybe 8:30. "I remember you. You were nice to me. I need five dollars for my baby's Pampers," she told me. From the number of times I've had women addicts tell me they needed money for Pampers, it must be official code for a nickel bag. "I'll come wash your windows, whatever you want. I don't want to go whoring for it," she added so matter of factly I thought I felt some truth in there. [But damn, addicts are such good actors she might have been playing me with that line, too.]

"No, that's not necessary," I said, in a tone just as matter-of-fact, though surprised inside to hear someone speak so casually of "whoring." The words that really caught me were "wash your windows." They're filthy and I've been thinking about washing them for two months, but haven't gotten to it. An extra pair of hands would help. "I could use some help washing windows. Why don't you come by Saturday morning? I think I've got five dollars in here."

I went to dig up what I had in my wallet. Frankly, I was broke til payday (today) and knew five dollars was going to wipe me out. Priscilla started pushing for seven.
"You're getting what I've got," I said with just enough truth and just enough edge that it stopped her. "Here's four. I think I've got a dollar in change...." I had to go down to dimes and nickels but I got it and gave it to her.

She seemed pretty enthusiastic about Saturday. She's squatting in the same house down the street where Jesse is. She informed me that Yup-yup (named for his call on the street) just got out of prison. A while ago, little Junior asked me, as casually as Priscilla spoke of whoring, if Yup-yup was the guy whose brains got shot all over the pavement back in July. I knew Yup-yup was alive, didn't know he'd been in prison, but we hadn't heard his call on the block for a while. Priscilla suggested Yup-yup could help me find her Saturday if I didn't spot her right away.

I didn't think more about it until the doorbell rang. There was a lot of noise early last night--I couldn't tell whether it was in the alley, on the corner, or down the block. There could have been some of all three. It was also hard to tell whether it was loud talking or the kind of arguing that warrants a 9-1-1 call. Frankly, I was too tired to investigate and didn't even feel like picking up the phone. So I didn't. Maybe I should have. I'm superstitious enough to see one way of looking at the 3 a.m. doorbell as karmic revenge.

No, I wasn't planning to answer the door, by the way. I promise I'm not that stupid. But I did go to the front top floor windows and look out to see who was there. By the time I was looking, no one was on the front step. I went down and looked out the back first-floor windows and no one was there, either. It felt like it took an hour to get back to sleep. In that time, Priscilla got a few Hail Marys out of me on top of the five bucks.


Clayton said...

Your stories are really nice to read. I love the characters you describe.

I haven't gotten the doorbell ring at 3am, but I have had a couple of people in my neighborhood come by who want to work for some money. I'm doing some rehabbing, and last night a desperate-looking woman offered to help for some money to feed her kids. We were covered in plaster and drywall dust, wearing breathing masks and safety goggles with heavy workboots to keep out the nails. She was in flip flops. So I just handed her 5 bucks. Another time a guy helped me carry some furniture up to the second floor, and he stopped by again and again for a handout. I yelled at him once and he hasn't been back.

I end up with a strange combination of guilt, altruism, and suspicion that I haven't figured out yet. it can be very strange.

My neighbor on the corner told me yesterday that the loud noisy teenagers who hang out across the street from me have been replaced by a drug dealing crew. He pointed them all out and told me he was going home to call the police. It might be a little quieter in that vacant lot now but maybe a little too quiet.

Maritza said...

Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences in your part of town. It's good to hear from other people who are facing similar situations.

Keep us posted on your corner--hope it's not too quiet.

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