I heard a gunshot yesterday afternoon from within the bowels of the projects to the east of Webster at East 169th St. A short time later a squad car pulled up along with an ambulance and a fire emergency vehicle, and a man was let away in cuffs. Just another day on the site.
Later I saw a young woman wandering into the Associated – she was barefoot and in her underwear, a dazed look on her face. A few days back there was a beat down, two men and a woman on another woman.
We are working under graceful English elms that are at least 50 years old, pre-dating the apartment complexes here.
The work of installing water mains is continually stopped by Con Ed electrical lines (one exploded, nearly electrocuting workers when it was struck), house sewer lines that leak (what do you think the dirt smells like?), crisscrossing Verizon phone and other lines. Under the ground you can see a crazy maze of pipes, some of the ones carrying water a century old. The crew cracks them apart to put in a new valve to regulate the flow as they work. Inside the pipes are encrusted, calcified.
This is our water supply. The safety inspector here tells me that this is why he and his family only drink bottled. I don’t know, I go with the adage that New York City water is among the purest in the country.
Dogs run unfettered here in the South Bronx and they leave their waste on the sidewalks. I saw a pair of boots left out in the trash and they were gone 10 minutes later. The backhoe brushes and bruises the low hanging branches of the Elms. The work: slow. The inspectors stand at the edge of the pit and stare in moodily, no one is happy with the pace.
Why do I like it here?
Because reality can’t be sugarcoated, as it was among the brick mini mansions of Queens, or the hipster enclave of Greenpoint. Here old men hang out on folding chairs at Wellie Transmission Specialist .
Philip is the plumber employed by the contractor. He assembles valves and is a crack technician.
On the streets and sidewalks people show themselves to be cruel. Metal pipes and piles of sand and gravel and asphalt litter the street. Old ladies come out of the rec center on their walkers and wait to take the bus. They chat. Shabby chic isn’t a choice with them, it’s just the way it is.
I wear my kryptonite vest. I smile at the residents that smile at me. I walk fast.
Nothing here is sugarcoated. Except, maybe, Philip.