Notes From the Street Gentrification Forgot – Part IV

Talked to the foreman of the new building (pictured above) yesterday. He said the building would be ready in a month or two, that eventually they’d buy up all the warehouses on the street, tear them down and put up new condos or apartments “like they’re doing all the way from Fort Greene to Wiliamsburg.”

As I watched the Latin guys crawling in and out of the empty windowframes, on this building which had taken over the vacant lot where, years ago, Gavin found a dozen or more pit bulls all running wild inside the hoarding, I wondered what the street would look like in a year, two year’s time.

And what would happen to Black.

I’d seen Black just a couple of days before, hanging around, as he has been hanging around the street since I first came here five years. Despite the high 80’s heat, he was wearing a blue and green ski jacket, his white shift tails dirty and hanging out of his pants.

“Yo Tim – you got a dollar? I gotta get something to drink.”

Just the night before, I’d run into him one street up. He said he was walking home, or at least home to his girlfriend’s, somewhere up near Liberty Park. The same white shirt, but clean, tails tucked into his belted jeans, carrying a bag and looking about ten years younger than i’ve ever seen him.
“Hey man, you’re looking good!” I said as we touched fists.
“Well, man, I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’.”

I usually see Black hanging around the bodega on the corner. Sometimes, he asks for a dollar, sometimes he just waves and says hello. He is a short guy and, as his name would imply, very black, his eyes set deep in his compact fleshy face. He wears his beard close-cropped, and despite his very thin limbs, he has a wiry strength which I’m sure has stood him well in his years on the street.

When Gavin still lived here, he used to give Black a few bucks every week to ‘clean up’. Sometimes, Black would push a broom around, sometimes he wouldn’t. When I was house-sitting, he left me a bowl of dollar bills to give Black a few bucks whenever I saw him – and Gavin was one of residents and shopkeepers up and down the street who supported Black in one way or another – I’d always see Black washing someone’s car or coming out of one of the warehouses or factories with someone who worked inside.

I never found out anything about him – whether he grew up in the area, or how he ended up on the street. Charlotte said he’s good with the ladies, and always has one around. For a time, he seemed to be involved with one of the women in the Chapter V house across the way except when he and his woman got in a fight, he’d sleep on the street, either in one of the cars the auto body shop parked outside their building, or in one of the vacant lots. When I was house-sitting on the street, I’d hear him and his woman yelling back and forth, sometimes in the evening, more often at dawn after they’d been up all night. Once, stepping outside, I saw him sitting on some sort of cinder block a few doors down.

Hunched over, head in his arms. Looking up as I locked the door and at first I didn’t even recognize him and thought he was just some ghetto crackhead. Then I saw the familiar gentleness in his eyes, behind the crackhead sheen.
“Hey Tim. I’m dying.”
i stood over him, wondering what I should do. Wondering if there was anything I could do.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
He kept his head down, barely moving.
“No, no.”

I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks and I wondered if he’d finally reached his end or gone to jail. But then one night I saw him at the old Sweetpea grocery, hanging around outside with someone. “Hey Tim,” he came over, looking as spry as ever. “Good to see you, man.”

Who knows where he’ll go when the shops change hands, when this end of Bed-Stuy becomes more and more like Clinton Hill or even Fort Greene.
The street – daytime.

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