The New District

The New District

You’re drinking a $3.00
tea in a waterfront café,
the only one here
old enough to remember
the warehouse it used to be.

35 years ago, you
loaded and unloaded
trucks outside this same space.
A job that paid $3 more
than minimum wage.
You stunk of carbon monoxide.
The ache in your
elbows and lower back
kept you awake.

The foreman said he
stayed 20 years here
because he had kids to feed.
You swore you would
get the GED , graduate college.
Repurposed is the word
the papers used. Industrial buildings
repurposed into condos, restaurants, retail.
Construction worker employment,
then service jobs galore.
How much higher
than minimum wage
the repurposed jobs pay
the papers didn’t say.

Even before the factories
and warehouses closed, the neighborhood
and surrounding
neighborhoods were rough.
Things kept getting worse.
Windows broken then
boarded up. You still came
here when you
wanted to cop.

The adjacent slum underwent
another word: gentrification – a
decade before the repurposing.
But the sun and the river
it shines upon have always been
here for everyone,
even you.

Block by block, buildings condemned.
Remaining residents evicted. Developers received
investments, abatements, enticements. The police
made arrests, but now
judges gave out long sentences.
Weekly cleaning crews
reduced the litter. Rents increased.

The factories that
made the goods the warehouses
stored now made them
in other hemispheres. The working class
dwindled away. Artists, gays
rented first, soon followed by
the salesmen, cubicle occupiers,
the lawyers and stock brokers.
Rentals converted to condominiums.
Mortgages further enhanced civil interest.

The warehouse district revitalized next.
Already enough shopping malls
and office parks, so they repurposed
the fallow structures into multi-use destinations.
The old was new, the new, now
the now, trendy.
The trendy tarries so
now is life as we know it, just like the
river and the sun
once upon a time.

She blows a kiss
across the brim, cooling her $5.00 latte.
Sips, returns her
gaze to the paperback.
You first read the book
in college, before she was born.

The hazel eyes, the raven hair,
the literature. Stephanie.
She liked that book.

Everyone else in
the café is either texting
or tapping
on a laptop keypad.
Last week,
an article you read
on your mobile device said
millennials rebelling
against technology
keep used bookstores
in business.

Stephanie loved used
bookstores.

The dive bar had an Irish name,
most did back then. Located between
the slum and the warehouse
district. You and Stephanie
drank there, bohemian punks.
Elvis and Sinatra
on the juke box, vinyl 45s.
Ashtrays always close by.
Everyone smoked.

You worked in the office,
at the desk, a good job
as all college graduates got
back then, making
rich white men richer,
perpetuating a system whose prizes
were never intended
for you, but sometimes
seemed nearly in reach.

At least you were
no longer loading
and unloading trucks.
The windows in the
waterfront café seem
as tall and as wide as garage doors.
A sail boat glides
across the glistening water.

Indifference to weather or season
or natural light ruled the world
inside the dive.

You remember a dull baseball game
on the television suspended
in the corner, when Stephanie
said you go cop, then we’ll go
back to your place.

Five blocks away,
Rafael was always on
his street this time of day.
You palmed him $50 in folded bills.
He turned away,
made a peace sign, said walk
around the block then look
under the passenger side tire
of the Toyota parked at
the corner. He never lied.

Back in the dive, Stephanie
was reading a paperback, smoking
a cigarette, sipping a Vodka Tonic,
not talking to anybody.

You do not know
what happened in her
life after you. Always blaming
the other for what life lacked,
the arguments intensified.
She moved to Boston for a job.
She called you once
from rehab without saying why.

Your benders never lasted
more than a day, rarely two. You
were never hospitalized,
your ulcers never bled. Not so,
for other acquaintances
that you use to party with,
no longer here to drink $3.00 teas
or $5.00 lattes.
You wonder if Stephanie
still reads paperbacks.

After Stephanie, with the next one
you went to brunches instead of dives.
You drank with different friends
in a new bar
where microbrews were
on tap and ESPN played on
televisions the size of
movie screens.

Once, after months and months
you wanted to cop, but no one knew
where Rafael and his crew went.
Wrecking balls and bulldozers soon
transformed those buildings longest
abandoned into rubble.

The drugs, the booze, even cigarettes
are out of your life,
for many long years,
for no other reason than you’ve
been too busy paying bills to suffer
through the hangovers. You hated
watching your doctor shake his
head and grimace with
superiority.

A gleaming rectangle of
chrome and glass replaced
the building where that dive was.
A produce store with a
California name there sells
organic asparagus to die for.

Within any moment
everything can be clear.
Sometimes rational and linear.
Other times, random and trite. You
remember all this history, but
the only thing worth knowing
is that the way she
drinks her coffee while reading
her book delights you
with the same surprise as the river
and the sun.
.

Timothy Herrick – 2012

Copyright 2012, held by author
Contact: Timhrk@aol.com