A Story by Paul Beckman
On my weekly train rides from New Haven to New York, I always look at the projects in Bridgeport that I grew up in. There are fifteen to twenty two-story, flat-roofed buildings – each building housing eight families. Last month I saw a half dozen of the apartments with windows and doors boarded over and each subsequent week there were more and more until yesterday when Marina Village was a ghost town of asphalt and brick with large bulldozers, a wrecking ball on a crane and a line of dump trucks lined up, sentinel like, to take my childhood away.
I picked up my car at the New Haven railroad station and drove back to Bridgeport and parked in a tight space in the parking lot, something I wouldn’t have done before. I walked through the asphalt jungle, as John Huston so aptly named his movie.
It was dusk, the cloud cover thick and low as I passed a couple of buildings headed towards my old one. I saw a blur of orange and walked closer and there was a group of twenty or so men in orange jump suits with the word “Prisoner” stenciled across their backs. They were a mixture of black, Puerto Rican, and white. Some were exercising, some playing cards a few talking in small groups and most were smoking. I grew up with them all and I walked closer and they turned and stood as a barrier to keep me from entering.
"Hey Joey, Leroy, Juan, Mickey," I called. No one answered and I walked closer and their faces were young faces on old bodies and when the light struck a different way their faces became old—older and harder looking than our age should have fostered. They resumed their game playing ritual without responding to me and I walked around the building planning on going to mine the back way. I heard the train go by and the din of the cars on the adjacent interstate and I wondered how I lived with all the noise.
I stopped to watch a group of teens in the corner of the parking lot shooting craps against the curb. I knew them all and one was me, looking back at me, as he blew on the dice and rolled them, then picked up the bills in the center and rolled again.
I moved on and had no problem finding my apartment, my mother sitting on the stoop with the next door neighbor drinking coffee, their wash in baskets ready to hang on the line. The bricks in the building moved in ripples. My bedroom window was not boarded, nor was the door. In order to get in and look around, my mother or our neighbor would have to move aside but neither did. I saw my brother looking out the bedroom window at me and I waved, but he didn’t respond.
I headed back to my car and there were now all the people from the Village out and about and I felt as if I were walking a gauntlet getting back to my car which had a couple of hoods from my youth sitting on the hood. “Move,” I said and they did but towards me and their faces were no more the young faces but drinkers faces with veined red noses, rheumy eyes, and their walk was more of a jailhouse shuffle,
I drove home to my comfortable life in the New Haven burbs. In the morning I went out to the garage to get my car and saw that it had graffiti all over it, but we didn’t call it graffiti back then. Jew boy, faggot, loser, creep, punk and other reminders written in crayon and chalk that I hadn’t noticed last night when I walked to my car. The following week, I saw from the train, the wrecking crew had done their job and only the dozers remained and it seem like such a small piece of property to hold so many people and memories.