THE INFORMATION #1105
JULY 10, 2020
Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.– Voltaire
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK FOUR: AND IF THE DEVIL COME SHOOT HIM WITH A GUN
14. TRUE BLIGHT
So then it was back to our circuit of squalor. I was starting to get depressed and remember thinking that this wasn’t what I had signed up for when I went to the academy.
Haag, who never said much even at the best of times, said nothing. Who knows what he was thinking. Who knows if he even thought. But if he did, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t something along the same lines.
Him and me weren’t exactly what you’d call close, but he could live with me and I had no beef with him.
So we crawled the grid in silence. Back down Elm, where we passed the old Grange Hall. And a bunch of bars. The Three Cups. The Three Tons. The Lion. The Man in the Moon. The Knock-Out Place. Big Al’s. All the way to Sergeant. Then east one block and back up Chestnut. Here was the printing presses for The Daily Chronicker. There were also some dive bars, an apartment complex, and some flophouse hotels. The Colonial Inn. The Den at the Hotel Astor. The Eight Ball Café. The Commodore Nutt Lounge. The General Tom Thumb Hotel. And at the Corner of Route 14, The Bisons Lodge. The Elite Motel, which was anything but. A swish bar called The Cherub’s Rest. A bohemian beer joint called The Cheap Loaf.
A block north of these was the most notorious high school in the whole area. A place called the W.E.B. DuBois High School. A real dungeon, built in 1915. Not a good or even a healthy place to spend four years, and it seems that few kids actually did. Either they dropped out or were kicked out. Full-fledged high school graduates from that establishment were as rare as hen’s teeth.
Then we swung down Maple. On the four corners of Maple and Route 14 were the Public Library, The Men’s Club, The Mercantile Building, and a place that stank to high heaven of sweet-smelling hair spray and sticky insecticide, called Champagne Eyes Beauty Products. The insecticide was because the ladies were afraid of all the ants and roaches and spiders that infested the place. And still more bars. Bigtown must have more drinking joints per capita than any town outside of the Old Wild West, or a Yukon logging village. You had The Moose Hall, where the soft-hatted lodge boys went to play penny poker and lush the night away. If you got kicked out of the Moose, within staggering distance there was The Crown. The Cracker’s Club. The Pick Rick. The Juke Joint. The Lobby Bar. The Soho Club. The Roxy. The Shuttle. And the Glove, a rickety shack hanging off the side of a man-made hill and overlooking the gigantically proud squat liquid gas storage facility.
Then east along Sargeant one block to High Street. At the intersection with Sergeant Street, running north along High Street was another big stretch of deserted paper mills and warehouses, about two blocks west of the railroad tracks and three blocks west of the canal. The Fireworks factory. Umberto’s Coney Island. Cheapwine Import Co. The Anschluss Corporation. As you proceeded north, there were also two fraternal halls in fancy buildings; The Elks, and The Oddfellows. Right next to those, a Trailways bus station and the YMCA. At the four corners of High Street and Route 14, you had The Aardvark Body Rub Studio. Triple XXX Books, The Terminal Café, and some godawful hippie breakfast nook called The Hip Bagel. Then, just North of Route 14, more bars. These catered to the winos and drunks from the projects nearby. The Planter’s Café, The Old Log Inn, The Jumping-Off Place and The Golden Horn. Notorious dumps. No white man with any sense would be caught dead in any of those spots, or else he might be carried out that way. North and east of those were the four Sojourner Truth Homes housing complexes, also known as the Projects. Number Four was near the hospital. Number Three was just north of that, near the park. Number One was next to the canal. But the worst one of all, Number Two, was off of High Street, just five blocks north of Route 14.
But Jesus, all the Projects were awful. It was like some robot designed them. I guess if you wanted to take a snapshot of how far we’d fallen in only ten years, you’d first show a picture of the moon landing, and side-by-side of that a picture of the projects covered in gray snow by moonlight.
Patrolling this moonscape, it felt like we were hunting caged beasts let loose from their pens by some laughing devil. The people who lived there had reverted back to savagery not so far removed from where they likely came. I didn’t feel sorry for them. Choosing to live there at all was their first bad choice, and they kept right on making bad choices. They lived for the moment and never saved even a dime. They bought flashy clothes on lay-away even though the rent was overdue. They didn’t seem to know what a bar of soap looked like but they could always find a way to splash themselves with cheap perfume and cologne. Garbage piled up along the street because the garbage men were afraid to come and pick it up. There were dead rats festering in the alleyways, and junk food wrappers everywhere. Shards of broken wine bottles littered the streets, the sidewalks, and the parks. They were always hollering about dignity and their rights, yet they never picked up their litter and they lived like animals, with no thought for tomorrow. If I had gotten stuck in one of those projects I would have done anything to get away. But these people seemed to be comfortable in their so-called misery. As long as the food stamps and the welfare check came, they were perfectly content. What they couldn’t afford to buy, they would steal, and some of them were quite good at it, but nearly all of them got caught. I guess for them, one jail was just as good as another.
The thing that really struck me about those people was how self-obsessed they were. They would holler at each other across the street as though they were the only two people on earth. Their women would shriek the vilest curses at each other no matter whose kids were in earshot. They spent their food stamp money on liquor and cigarettes and never cared if the baby went without milk. At least once a week we called social services to come and take away some sickly baby trapped alone in a house overrun with rats and roaches.
And let’s say you actually had a job. You’d probably have a hard time even sleeping, since, most nights, the residents were up until 0200 and sometimes 0400, staggering down the street, puking, crying, screaming, and carrying on. Furthermore, your good neighbors, like as not, would react to your good fortune by mugging you on your way home from work come payday.
My real regret about these projects was that they weren’t on some island somewhere where the strongest would win out and the bridges to the mainland could be blasted away. Instead, they were right on the fringes of the center of town, and they spoiled every street for miles around. They were more than an eyesore.
They were a contagion.
Once upon a time, when I was not so wise as I am today, I thought that if you could be a cop you could put up with just about anything. But I hated the projects. Black faces in cheap clothes and every one of them looked liked they’d be just as happy as not to chuck a brick or bottle at your head from the top of one of those spooky high rise towers.
It was a bad place to be; a gothic nightmare, particularly on Halloween.
We were keeping a sharp eye out for activity along that particular street because exactly four years ago, back in ’75, some Black Nationalist types took it into their heads to start a bunch of Halloween arson fires as a way to stick it to the man. Mostly in those warehouses and the like, and maybe they were paid by the Mob to do it, who knows? But for the past year or so the arson stuff had quieted down to maybe some shed or parking lot guard station being torched, but with no major structures going up in flames.
So our main job was to look for rowdy teens on a smash and grab expedition. Not much action there, either. We drove all the way up High Street to the projects hinging on the outskirts of the center of town. At that late hour we didn’t expect to see much, and for awhile we didn’t.
A thought occurred to me then. Why would black people want to have anything to do with Halloween? They wore a mask every day. Servile robots festering with hate.
There were some older kids in costume, seven of them, but they weren’t doing much. Just walking in the middle of the street, but because there wasn’t any traffic at 12:40 am, they weren’t causing much of a scene. And, anyway, when a kid wearing a blue windbreaker walking point in the rear guard spotted our bubbletop crawling up behind him, all seven of them veered like a flock of geese, or maybe I should say crows, right back onto the sidewalk.
What really gets me about these people who live in the innermost part of the inner city is how loud and trashy they are. Most ordinary folks might think things to themselves but never say them, or only discuss them in private among themselves, but the code of the streets and the law of the jungle specialized in upside-down thinking. You do everything you’re not supposed to and you say whatever is on your mind whether you ought to or not. It’s like they were all on speed; all they did was jabber out what they were thinking about whether anybody was listening or not. And these weren’t elevated thoughts by any means. “I can do what I want” seemed to be at the root of all they said and did. And so they were also hot-headed; worse than squirrels that flinch when you so much as come near them; bump into them by accident and out comes the Ubangi toothpick and you had to be ready for a skewering.
So these kids got back up on the sidewalk all right, but like most of those people there, each on of them had to give us a little lip.
“Chumps!” (They way they said it, it sounded like “chomps”.)
“Faggots!” (Again, they said it more like “faggits”)
“Fuckers! (But it sounded more like “Fokahs”.)
“Assholes!” (But it came out sounding like “azzhoes”. And the first part was a long and drawn out razz, a buzzing sound, like “AZZZZZ.” )
The usual guff. Mostly, we paid it no mind. We were used to it. And as for me, I figured that they were saying these things more to impress each other than to make an impression on us. You could almost say that what they were really doing was calling themselves those names.
But the kid in the rear guard overstepped himself. He pulled out the topper. “Cocksuckin’ motherfuckers.”
He didn’t say it as loud as the others.
But he said it loud enough.
Maybe he knew he would really be pressing our buttons with that one.
Because that was the worst thing he could have said.
Haag was pissed. He wasn’t a kid anymore; he was in his 40s. But he was still a hothead. He took it personal. Nobody talked about his mother. He slowed down and made to stop the car, but first he turned to me and said, “Should we roust ‘em?”
I said “Naah.”
Because I saw in advance just how it would all go down. And it was like a bad motion picture unspooling in my head. We’d stop the squad car and before we even got out they’d go tearing off in seven directions back to the projects, which they knew all the nooks and crannies of like their own hands, and if we were lucky we might catch one apiece, and if we were unlucky we might be heading into an ambush and have bricks thrown down on our heads from the roof or even get shot in the back by a sniper.
I didn’t bother explaining all this to Haag, and, the way I figure it now, that was probably a mistake. But at the time I guess I thought he would figure out the very same thing for himself, and know why I didn’t want to take the chance.
Because if I were killed then who would solve the Corbett case?
So we continued driving in the ten-block circuit for an hour or so, occasionally crossing over the Canal to Main Street, or heading north to the fringes of Heritage Park, but the night was quiet and all but dead. We had an eye out for trouble, but other than those seven kids, trouble was in hiding, or maybe it was asleep.
Maybe because it was Wednesday-going-on-Thursday morning.
When Halloween falls on a weekend, like it did back in ’75, that’s when you have to watch out.
At about 1:30am we drove up and down Rose Street, and the streets running parallel to it to the north (English Street) and south (Stuart Street). We would park on Rose every once in a while and get out of the squad car to crack our backs and stretch our legs.
Even in the daytime Rose Street is depressing as all hell. Boarded up warehouses right next to the big old sandy granite castle of the Public Library, which used to be the Armory. It’s a wide grimy littered street, and as you crawl down it you can see it for what it mostly is: a slum district. Boarded up storefronts, and the ones still open for business were barred and gated liquor stores. Bodegas, fortune-telling clip joints, once-fancy theatres flashing triple-X movies on their marquees, grimy drugstores, flyspecked grocery stores, dingy barber shops, second-story churches, and here and there a piss-poor travel agency, or car repair shop, or carpet warehouse, or prosthetic supply store.
I only mention the last because, back of it, there was this place where the cops would go to get their non-regulation gear. Cops only; they had a file and took your name at the door.
By non-regulation, I mean there were all these gloves with lead shot in the fingers, and saps, and pepper sprays and gas canisters, and also, if you knew the password, with a wink or two you could also get confiscated behind-the-counter stuff like leapers and ‘ludes and Tylenol with codeine, which might strike you as kind of odd, but apparently the department knew all about it and turned a blind eye.
It was also pretty sneaky, though, because the old ex-cop who ran the place could also put a word in the captain’s ear maybe about who was gulping down leapers like candy or stocking up on baggies full of the old dope.
Anyway, Haag spent a lot of money in that place on all the latest under-the counter gear, and he was keen to try out some of his new toys, so he suggested we drive up to the projects and see what was what. I said sure, and at about 0225 we were back at the intersection of High Street and Dwight Street. I knew that what Haag was doing was looking for those seven kids, but of course, they were long gone. So he suggested we go up to Heritage Park and do our usual foot patrol. We separately covered the perimeter and that took about twenty minutes.
At 0250 Haag suggested we swing by the projects one last time. I wasn’t especially keen on the idea, so I just grunted. Haag took that as an affirmative, or at least a non-veto, and so off we went.
SAMBA WORLD PERCUSSION, AUSTRALIA
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15 STRANGE FOODS PEOPLE REALLY ATE IN 18TH CENTURY AMERICA
‘You’re Still Here?’: A Brief History of the Movie Post-Credits Sequence
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
Language is a telling clue to unacknowledged racial attitudes
6* DAILY UTILITY
LITERARY DEVICES & TERMS
BEATNIKS IN COMICS
THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF BANNOCKBURN
9* RUMOR PATROL
FACE MASK EXEMPTION CARDS ARE FAKE
WHAT I HEARD ON THE POP RADIO
THE ROAD AHEAD
11*DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
MALCOLM X ON FRONT PAGE CHALLENGE (CBC)
12* CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE
COVID HOT SPOT MAP
MISTAKES MADE BY BUSINESSES AS THEY RE-OPEN