deeneythumbnail1.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY

TODAY I SAW a one-eyed cat with no tail, blocking the entrance to a unit in Bartram Village, a low-rise housing project in the Southwest. When he saw me coming he looked back at me defiantly until I started up the steps; he was slow to jump into the garbage-strewn grass, walking off with a limp. As the cat walked away, I could see that the tail wasn’t missing so much as it was torn off. A shred of it remained, stuck up in the air at an odd angle.

Bartram Village is a sprawling complex of two- and three-story apartment buildings first built as war housing back in the ’40s. The buildings haven’t worn well. The interior walls are cinderblock and the stairs are concrete stained with so many different kinds of grime that it’s hard to tell which color is the original. The front doors to the individual buildings don’t really close right, so most of them either hang half shut or are propped open by residents who gave up on closing them. This doesn’t lend a sense of safety and security, and the village feels like a confusing maze with 100 different access points. I’m sure the dealers who set up shop in the hallways and empty units use this to their advantage.

As if on cue, a black Ford F-150 laden with ladders and tool boxes comes barreling off the main entrance road, abruptly stopping at the adjacent building. An older white man in wearing construction boots and blue jeans with a long-sleeved black shirt tucked into them hustled up the path to the unit, looking over his shoulders as he did. Two minutes later he reappeared, hopped back into his truck and sped off, tires squealing as he jammed on the gas pedal.

I’ve the same guy in the same truck twice before. Each time it’s the same thing; speed in, skid to a stop, up the steps, down the steps, peel out.

When I walked back to my car, I passed an older man with deeply matted hair that jutted in clumps in different directions. He had on a mismatched set of pants and a sport coat. He had glasses with thick, opaque lenses that I couldn’t see his eyes through. One of the arms was missing from the glasses so they sat on his face a little funny. He had a Hefty sack over his shoulder I thought he was taking to the garbage Dumpster, but when he got to it he started adding things to the bag instead.

As I drove off I could see shuffling truants meandering along the paths between buildings, small groups of 11- and 12-year-olds who skipped school to wander around looking bored, their hands shoved in their sweat jacket pockets, hoods drawn up to block the morning chill.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer who has contributed to the City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture.

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