My fatherís business


My chauffeur thinks Iím crazy when I tell him to leave.

A man like† me has no business being in a place like this

It is raining and gray, and Iím standing at the heart of the least developed section of Newark, and he thinks Iím trying to kill myself by coming here.

Even he wonít get out of the limbo, except to let me in or out, and heís a black man.

When I insist, he pleads with me to get back in the car, and when I wonít and tell him to leave, he takes off so fast I know heís going off to find the police or perhaps my mother to come save me.

I watch the car fade into the mists as if into a dream, and then I seek the protection of the bus shelter, the rattle of empty bottles alerting me to the pools of vomit I find within. The stench of urine stops me at the edge where the leaking roof drips down into my neck and blouse.

Outside, I see the rubble of broken buildings, part of a shattered neighborhood, with the only sign of life a half block away where broken people gather under the neon liquor store sign, desperately scrubbing the silver from lottery tickets or the tax stamp off their bottles of booze.

Workmen huddle in doorways or sit on stoops, feet flat on the ground, their grim faces illuminated by the glow of each puff of cigarette.

They belong here, I think.

I donít.

And they know I donít, too, and eye me with vague stares and through half closed eye lids, as if I seem as hazy to them as they do to me.

Then I look at one of the string of buildings along the block, one that looks exactly like all the others, with the same ragged face and the same sagging expression, and wonder how on earth my father could have owned it, and the dozens of other buildings scatted through this city just like it.

I pat my jacket pockets for my own cigarette case. Its click sounds out with the voice of wealth and excess, and the flick of my lighter advertises me in their eyes.

The gray shapes take notice.

Iím blinded momentarily by my own flame.

When I can see again, I see a passing patrol car, the blurred faces of bored cops staring out at me without seeing me or landscape, and as quickly as they come they're gone, leaving only the passing impression in the puddles to suggest that they came at all.

I study my fatherís -- now my building, trying to find some distinction as to why he might own it, dead straw littering its steps along with the drunken bodies.

I ache to cross the street and go in, to ask the tenants if they knew my father or could guess why my father did business here. But Iím scared to find out, to remember him finally as nothing more than a slum lord, living the high life off the backs of people he routinely called low lifes, and me, worse, living my life without knowing how much I owed to this place.

The police car returns.

So does my limo.

I see my driverís concerned fact, then my motherís.

I sigh, throw my cigarette into a puddle and cross to the car door now thrust open to receive me.

I guess maybe I do know want to know too much about where I am, been or going.

I donít even look back at the building or the gray people as we drive away, knowing in my heart of hearts that I will never see any of them again.



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