Thursday, April 2, 2009

An Imaginary Trip To Skidrow

[The events and descriptions in this article about Skidrow are imaginary. None of my morals was violated in its writing.]

There is a place I never want to go, where I should never go. That is Skidrow, that section of our town, a block, mostly one side of the block, that is given over to derelicts, bars, and fly by night carpet stores.

I used to drive by the jail and look at the prisoners holding on to the barred window. That's another place I never want to go, except to look at prisoners in their misery. When it comes to Skidrow, even though I never want to go there, I still like to drive by and peek down that street to see if anyone's in the gutter.

In this particular trip [which did not really happen], I came toward it from the south and drove down that block. I might describe it like this: It is as though a film was slowed down and my pace became very slow, languid to the point of all noise and happenings in the vicinity being, respectively, like a low growl and only incrementally occurring. The only thing moving at normal speed was me personally, not in progress in my car, but in my mind and my eyes. I could look about rapidly, taking in each detail. I could process the information thus received with blazing speed.

First, I look at the buildings. It occurs to me that they must have been built by actual optimistic builders. Carpenters, bricklayers. Was it their dream to build what would later become such a scuzzy part of town? I doubt it. They would have been contracted to do the work based on the investments of one or more entrepreneurs at the time, who had their individual hopes for what the district would be.

The entrepreneurs' primary goal would surely have been to make money, either with their own businesses in the area or by renting and possibly selling the buildings to other merchants. Whether it would make a difference to them what the businesses were and what sort of place it became in time, of course I can't say entirely. But just as there are scumbags in our present generation, it's reasonable to assume that some of these entrepreneurs (and merchants) of that earlier time were also scumbags.

Let's just say it up front. Any man who wishes to open a brothel, just to mention one business, is a scuzzy guy. The same goes for plenty of these lowlife businesses that polite society wishes would go away and not exist. Bail bondsmen, bars, fly by night carpet stores, tattoo parlors, brothels, pool halls, very rundown pizza parlors, fences, drug runners -- it's enough to make my skin crawl. Vermin businesses. The buildings are shabby. There's a tipped over garbage can in the alley.

In this imaginary drive, I see some of the denizens of this district, coming out of bars, patting each other on the back. One guy has his right leg behind him, his foot on the building. He smokes.

I direct my eyes on this one bar and imagine myself going in. There's a cigarette setting on the side of a pool table. Smoke drifts up and confuses the light. Two lowlifes are busy smacking the balls. The bartender wipes glasses. He stands in front of many bottles of liquor. A loose woman with a low, husky voice sits at the other end. She looks up at the TV, sometimes paying attention to a professional wrestling show. Usually she's worrying that glass, almost drunk down to the ice cubes, and alternately puffing at a "ciggie." It's like she's waiting for someone, like she probably does several times a day. I notice the dress is rumpled and not clean. There are other patrons working through their paychecks, receiving liquor by the drink.

Down the block I see the scuzzy pizza parlor. A cook smacks the dough like he's mad at someone. He probably is. I'd guess he hates himself, at some level. This was my big chance at life, and I ended up on Skidrow, making pizzas for lowlifes, which I also happen to be. There are some very sad thoughts taking place down that block.

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