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The Projects


May 3, 2011 by marcus


The Projects

I call the area we live in Beirut because there’s broken glass on the sidewalks and smashed crack vials and dog shit everywhere because people walk their dogs down our street and they needn’t bother cleaning up after their canines because there’s no one to say anything to them, and if there were, what the hell are you going to say when there’s dog shit next to broken wine bottles, and the street sparkles with broken crack vials? No one cares about anything anyway except getting home without getting cold-jacked by some eleven-year-old hoods who ride around on those little bikes that are silver and pimped out, and they’re eleven but all hard and cold and saying shit to you when you’re just walking down the street minding your own business, and they got those face masks on and bandanas and everything, and have like ten dudes in their posse and they live in the worst projects in Brooklyn, which are like a block away from my flat. You can hear gunshots all through the night, and someone told me it’s dudes on the rooftops practicing their aim, and that’s just what I need to hear because you always see those breaking stories on the five o’clock news about some kid who was sleeping in his bed and then felt something warm and wet in the covers and it turns out a stray bullet busted through the wall and now he’s got a hole in his torso or whatever.

Anyway, when you exit our train stop you have two choices: you can make a hard right and walk straight past the projects where there are usually people out on the corner carrying on and whatnot, or you can head straight down towards the water and it’s dark as sin and the street lights barely work, and no one goes down there because if you wanted to jack somebody up or shoot illicit drugs into your veins it’d be like a no brainer because there’s an abandoned parking lot on one side of the street and another one on the other side of the street, so if you yelled or whatever it’d be worthless. I go this way sometimes because dudes will usually say shit to you if you go the other way, and this way you have a pretty good chance of seeing no one, and if you do see someone, you walk out in the middle of the street and act like you’re not well because this one man told me that that’s what you do if you think you’re about to get jacked up. He said you walk out in the middle of the street like you got mental difficulties and if it’s looking like you’re about to get jacked you stick your finger down your throat and let your bowels spill out because this man told me that’ll scare them off. This one time this dude was following me and I was carrying my cymbal bag and he’s trying to talk to me all normal but there’s nothing normal about following someone to their flat at three in the morning and I just want him to leave me be, but he’s not doing that, and he’s all sweaty and beady-eyed like a starving crack head, and he tells me he used to play drums, which could very well be the case, but it’s not what I want to talk about on a dark street at three in the morning with an abandoned parking lot on either side of the street and a blinking street light, and some dude following me, glaring at my cymbal bag like it’s a big greasy crack vial. And then he asks me if I play in that band down the street and I’m like, yeah, and I’m thinking that sucks that he knows about the band because the last thing I need is some crack head hanging outside my apartment looking for some music gear to pawn. He starts telling me that he can get guitars and I’m like, great, and he tells me something about a Gibson Les Paul and I don’t play guitar but I don’t tell him that and then he goes on about how hungry he is and I give him a five-dollar bill because I need to be left alone, immediately. Then he tells me he’s gonna pay me back, and I tell him I don’t want him to pay me back, and I realize I’m fucked because now this dude’s gonna be outside my place all the time fucking with me and trying to sell me shit and looking for shit to sell and whatnot, and I think of him again when I come home this one time on a Sunday morning and it’s cold as fuck and there’s this dog tied to the railing outside my flat and I’m like, who the fuck has tied their dog up outside my flat? And the fucker is carrying on and barking and snarling, and as I get closer I see that the damn thing is all mangy and its skin is ripped up and all raw and it’s a pit bull and there’s foam and shit in its jowls, and spittle flying every which way, and it’s lunging at me and inadvertently choking itself cause it’s tied to my railing and I’m like, for fuck’s sake, and I’m thinking maybe that man Gideon knows something about this, like maybe one of his friends is upstairs and left his mangy pit bull outside, and it’s fucked up because I can’t get to the door without getting ripped apart by this mutt, and that pisses me off worse, so I call Gideon and he’s like, yeah, there’s a dog outside, and he tells me he doesn’t know who put it there so I’m like, fuck, call the cops, and he says he already did, like, three hours ago and they still haven’t come and it’s a pretty good chance they won’t because they got other shit to deal with like stabbings and rape and murder and whatnot, and it’s just some poor dog that has probably been in one of them dog fights where assholes bet, and some jerk put it in front of my house and I’m thinking it’s the crack head dude who followed me home that one night.

Anyway, this one time I’m deciding which way to go and it’s like, six in the evening, so working folks are exiting the train and everyone is keeping to themselves and hurrying home from work, and I’m deciding which way to go, and this one lady looks over at me and she sort of smiles and turns away and she’s heading up the way where most folks are going so I go the same way, up by the projects, and she turns again, and I’m trying to act like I’m not following her but it’s pretty clear I’m trying to get in her business, and I feel all stupid because what are you supposed to say to someone who walks ahead of you and kind of smiles without sounding stupid or have her be like, back the fuck off, ‘cause it’s pretty rough in this neighborhood and I’ve seen ladies come out the train and be like, fuck off, to guys who try and get with them. So I move closer to her and she looks at me again, so I’m like, hi, and she says, hi, and it’s like what do I say now? But she’s like, you live over here? And I’m like, is she talking about the projects? So I say, yeah, but I live just down the street, and she’s says, really? I tell her really, and then she allows me to walk with her a bit and she’s studying me and trying to catch my vibe and it’s pretty dark out and the dim street light doesn’t help much but I can see enough to tell that this lady is fine and she’s got a real nice face, and I’m thinking I’d like to see her sometime. Then she asks me, what’s down the street? And I tell her, there is this one apartment building in the middle of the block next to this one Spanish place called Los Papi’s, and she’s like, really? Like she had no idea there was anyone living back there, which isn’t really that difficult to imagine. Anyway, we get to the corner and I need to make a left and she needs to make a right so I say something stupid like, see you later, and she says she wants to come see where I live sometime, and I’m getting that burning feeling on my face because it’s only half a block since I’ve known this lady but she’s cool, and I give her my card, which is totally stupid and lame because my card says I’m a drummer, which is probably the stupidest thing you could put on a card because people are always saying shit about drummers being stupid and whatnot, but she says, you play drums? And she acts like she’s all interested. Then she says she thought she heard music coming from down my street, and I’m like, yeah, probably it was my band, so she’s looking at the card and says my name and then introduces herself and says her name, and we shake hands, and I say her name like I didn’t hear it right ‘cause it sounds funny and she’s like, no, it’s like Vanilla with a D, so I say what? And she tells me that that’s how you say her name. So I say Donella like she tells me to say it. Then I say, see you later, and then she calls me that night.

That lady named Donella’s apartment is really loud and there’s people carrying on and screaming, and every couple of minutes someone gets on the other end of the line and Donella yells at them, and they go back and forth like that, and you can hear a television blaring and someone cooking and running the sink and whatnot, and she’s all miffed and hollering and covering the phone with her hand or something, and this goes on every so often until she’s like, I’ll call you back, and she never does, until this one night my brother tells me this lady named Donella called and he says it wrong like Don-ella and he tells me she wants that I should call her back, so I call her and some guy answers the phone and says, who dis? And I’m like, what? And he’s like, who dis? So I hang up and I’m feeling all stupid, so I call back again, and this time I ask for that lady who called and he yells her name all loud and the way he says it is how you’re supposed to say it, so now I understand what she means when she says vanilla with a d. Donella picks up the other end of the phone and she’s hollering with that man who picked up the phone, and she’s covering the phone and it’s all muffled until I hear a door slam and all kinds of fussing because she’s got the phone pressed into her hand or something, and then she gets back on the phone and she’s like, I want to come see your apartment, meet me on the corner. So I’m like, tonight? And she’s tells me she’s stressed and needs to get out of her apartment, and I’m like, when? And she’s like, now, so I spray some bleach on the toilet and brush my teeth and make my bed.

I go to meet her on the corner near the projects and dudes are out acting wild, and this dude is clocking me and then walks over to where I’m standing and walks right by me and says some shit to me that I ignore and then keeps on saying shit and I’m all tense and like, I hate people starting shit with me, and then I turn and look at the dude and it’s that lady I’m supposed to meet and she’s all dressed differently like she’s got all her hair up under a baseball cap, and she’s got these big-ass glasses on and a big-ass trench coat and I hardly recognize her, and she tells me she’s gotta dress like a boy so motherfuckers don’t start shit with her, and I’m all thrown off but we go inside my apartment and she tells me she needs a hug, so I hug her, and she pulls out a twelve-inch steak knife from the front of her trousers and I’m thinking she’s gonna stab me, but she tosses it on top of her trench coat and says something like, protection, so I know why she’s carrying a big-ass steak knife.

She tells me her family is driving her nuts and I let her go on and tell me about her mom who she adores but wishes would stop smoking Newport cigarettes, and her out-of-control brother, and younger sister, who is fourteen and has a baby, and some other girl named Layshawn or La Wanda or something who is on drugs and is related to them, and stole stuff from their apartment like a television set and jewelry and whatnot, and how she had to get a lock put on her bedroom door, and her dad who is fucked up and in and out of jail, who tries to call her collect and she’s tired of him and she’s sick of her siblings and that lady who steals shit from her house, and she just wants to not get pregnant and finish college so she can get out of the projects and move somewhere nice, like Pennsylvania. I ask her if she’s ever been to Pennsylvania and she’s like, no. Then she asks if she can use the bathroom and I’m like okay, and I walk her back there and my brother is in his room and hears us but he doesn’t bother coming out to say anything and I know he’s too embarrassed to let people know that he lives in that closet in the back, and he’s probably thinking who is this lady in his house and whatever?, and she goes into the narrow bathroom and I’m hoping a water bug doesn’t come out and freak her out. Then I hear a loud crash and she tells me she stomped on a big-ass water bug like it’s no big deal.

I have this little television in my bedroom and we watch that stupid movie called When Harry Met Sally and it’s this romantic comedy and I feel all stupid watching it because it’s a movie about couples that have been together a long time and relationships that are rocky, and it’s a movie you shouldn’t really be watching on a first date, especially with someone who has got mad problems, and Harry and Sally and their friends are moaning about being in love and out of love and whining about their relationships, and it’s got nothing to do with the projects and it’s a completely different world than what Donella knows, and then I steal a glance at her glazed eyes and I wonder if she’s completely bored or thinking about smacking Meg Ryan in her whiny face, but she looks kind of into it and I wonder if this is what she thinks about when she thinks about Pennsylvania and just having regular everyday problems. Ten minutes into it I wish I could shut it off so I’m like, do you want a massage? And she looks at me all sideways and says sure, and just like that she pulls up her shirt and I’m like, cool, and she unhinges her bra and her tits are perfect and I wish I could turn the lights on and see them for real because the television light is all dim but I can see enough to know that they are round and just look perfect. Anyway, she lays down on her stomach and I rub oil on her back and try to be all good at it like I know what I’m doing when I don’t, but she digs it anyway and next thing I know she’s like asleep and I’m like, whatever, and I lay down next to her and pull the blanket over us and after a while she wakes up in a panic and tells me she’s gotta go, and I tell her she should stay over because I don’t want her to leave, and more importantly I am strongly opposed to walking her back down the street because it’s midnight and dudes are for sure out on the corner looking to start shit and I know this because that man Gideon went down the street to get Chinese food late at night and got cold cocked in his eye and robbed by this kid who Gideon said looked like he was twelve. I can tell she’s real apprehensive about staying over and whatnot, so I tell her I’ll sleep in the other room on the couch and she’s like no, and starts gathering her crap and I try and be all convincing and hold her hand and everything and I’m terrified to walk outside, especially with her, because if some dude gets to starting shit I’m gonna look like a chump because I’ll cower like the wimp I am and the dude will be like ten years old, and that’s just embarrassing. I get her to lie back down in the bed but she’s uncomfortable and restless and keeps mumbling about how she can’t stay over. She lets me kiss her and we carry on like this for a bit until I let my hand drop down and take hold of one of her ass cheeks in my palm and pull her closer, and she blurts out that she’s not trying to get pregnant and I’m like what? And she’s like you heard me and then she says it again, and I ask her why she’s so obsessed with getting pregnant. I mean, we were fully clothed, and she tells me that her sister is fourteen and has a baby and her mom had her when she was sixteen and her cousin has two kids and is nineteen and none of them are ever gonna leave the projects because they got these kids, and something about state checks and welfare, and they can’t have no man around and that’s why she’s paranoid about getting pregnant, and I assure her that we aren’t going to get pregnant and she asks me how do I know? and I’m starting to think that maybe this isn’t such a good idea, but that flesh between my legs has other plans so I roll her onto her back and start dry humping her and it’s fine by me, and she seems to dig it as well. I don’t know how long this went on for but at some point I had sufficient zipper burn on the under side of my penis and stopped this business and fell off to sleep.

In my dreams I was at the Community Park Pool of my youth, in Princeton, New Jersey. It was me, my sister, my brother, and our babysitter James, and I was on the high dive and everyone was like, jump! And I’m all scared and I want to go back down but there’s someone climbing up the ladder behind me and they’re like, jump! And I look down at my Speedo and I have a boner and everyone starts laughing and pointing so I jump and hit the water with a splash and go down, down, down and I’m swimming up and up and up and I’m not getting to the top and I’m holding my breath and it’s running out, and wham! I wake up in the hovel with my heart beating like a tom-tom. My breath halts because I reach my hand down under my ass and it’s warm and wet and the bed is soaked and I’m like fuck, and that lady is like asleep right next to me and I’m all embarrassed and I’m in a pool of urine and I’m trying not to move around too much because I don’t want to wake her up and everything, and how do you explain peeing yourself when you’re like old and shit?, and this doesn’t happen often or anything but it has happened, but it’s usually when I’m passed out drunk or something, like that time I was at my friend’s parent’s beach house and we got lit the fuck up over Fourth of July weekend and I woke up in the guest bed with soaked sheets, and the mattress was soaked with piss, and it was a mess, so I bundled up the lot of it and went out in the woods and buried the bundle of pissy sheets, then rifled through his mom’s linen closet at four in the a.m. looking for bedding, and his mom comes out in the hallway and is like, what the heck is going on? And I’m like trying to play like I’m looking for the bathroom when I’m on the opposite side of the house from where my room is, and she’s all suspicious and like, go back to bed, and then I have to give it a go later in the night and dig into the linen closet and find some bedding, but I get it back to the guest room and it’s linens for a king-size bed and I’m in this little cot and I’m like fuck this, and I just pull a blanket over the bed and sort it out in the morning. Then the rest of the weekend I’m paranoid that his mom or someone will find the pissy sheets in the woods, so I dig in the woods myself and bury them better, and it’s just stupid sometimes the things I get myself into.

Anyway, that lady named Donella who lives in the projects stirs awake and I pretend to be asleep and I’m like fuck’s sake, this sucks, and there’s no way she doesn’t feel the piss-soaked bed because the both of us are sitting in a pool of urine and it’s a futon so it’s like this big pissy sponge and she starts fussing and gets out of the bed and is all moaning and carrying on but hush-like because she’s trying to be quiet and not wake me up and then I get to thinking because of the way she’s carrying on and fussing and being quiet that it was her who peed my bed, and then I feel embarrassed for her because she’s all grown and I made her stay over because I didn’t want to walk her down the street because I didn’t want to get jacked up by an eleven-year-old thug on the corner, and now she’s peed my bed and is all embarrassed and I’m trying to be still in the bed but my face is facing her and she can probably see my twitching eyelids that won’t sit still, and my mouth is like moving and I have to swallow and I try and make like I’m asleep, and she leaves the room and I’m like, did she split? I finally swallow and I’m piss-soaked and I confirm that it was her when I reach over to where she was sleeping and I thought my side of the bed was pissy but her side is like a goddamn lake bed, and then she comes back in the room all fussy and I close my eyes and lay back in the pissy bed and I can hear her ripping paper towels and it’s sad and I feel bad for her and I’m lying in a pool of warm piss and it’s absurd, and she shakes me awake and is all moaning and embarrassed and I’m like, it’s all right, and she’s like, I knew I shouldn’t have stayed over, and I’m like, don’t worry about it, and I’m trying to play like it’s no big deal but my futon is going to smell like a cat box and that’s that.

She promises me she’s gonna buy me a new futon but I tell her no and she insists, and I’m like don’t worry about it, and she’s trying to soak up the piss with paper towels and we have them cheap-ass bodega paper towels that are good for nothing, and she is moaning, and I’m like in my skivvies and I look ridiculous because they are grey and my ass is a darker shade of grey because it’s soaked with urine and she tells me that she needs to go get a hair dryer to dry out the pissy futon and she tells me she has to go home and get it, and I’m thinking that this type of shit must happen to her a lot because I would’ve never thought to use a hair dryer, and it sounds like she’s done this before and then she leaves and I don’t blame her when she never comes back.

That lady Donella never calls me again and I’m like whatever, and I’m not sure what to do about this pissy bed but I know it’s gonna reek like hell and the mice would probably love a good pissy futon to burrow in, so I put it out on the street and the crack head dude is out there and he’s like, you getting rid of it? And I’m like, it’s no good, and he’s like why? And I’m like, it’s got piss all over it, and he looks at me like I did it, with his face all twisted up, and I don’t care.

I go back inside the apartment and I tell my brother that maybe we should get cracking and go look at apartments, and he just looks at me like he’s trying to figure out why I’m saying this and he rubs his nose and sniffles and asks me, when?
We walk down the street to get on the F train and we see that crack head dude lying down on my pissy futon and my brother recognizes my batik futon cover and is like, isn’t that your bed? And I’m like, yeah, and my brother twists up his face and shakes his head and I can tell that now he’s got some idea why I told him we should get cracking and go look at apartments.


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    I really enjoyed this story along with another one you wrote called “Gnome”. Have you published anything else? If so, I’d be interested in reading more!

    • marcus says:

      Thank you very much… putting the finishing touches on the book. Will be available soon. In the meantime, enjoy the other stories posted and thanks for the support.

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