BY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW a collarless gray brindled pit bull giving lazy chase to another stray on 72nd Street, across from the Paschall Homes. The shaggy dog leading the pit bull jogged past the crumbling houses on Yocum Street, looking back over its shoulder, causing the pit to playfully hop up on his hind legs for a step or two when it did. The proliferation of feral dogs around the Paschall Homes lends irony to the statement spray painted on the facing low-rise brick wall dotted by plywood-covered windows on Greenway Avenue that reads, “Welcome 2 the Zoo.”
Two teen girls stroll past, one with a long weave that sways in the wind and the other in a snug hoodie that hides her face. The girl with the weave has black fringe framing the back pockets of her tight designer denim that moves in counterpoint to her hair. They walk past a barrel-shaped black iron grill that’s chained to a porch railing, waiting through the winter for barbecue weather. On the next porch over there are two little boys, easily four or five years younger than the girls, wearing unzipped, puffy down jackets; when the girls get close enough one of the boys hops onto the sidewalk and runs headlong into the girl with the hoodie, causing her to scream as they start to play wrestle.
In the space between two sets of facing low-rise apartment buildings, you can see the older boys in new black leather jackets worn layered over hoodies. They circle around a tree pocked with carved initials. They shuffle their feet, exhaling steam plumes and occasionally kicking at dirt-darkened clods of melting snow. They looked like they were outside for a while and the chill was sinking in. When an older man in construction boots and a frayed blue canvas jacket detoured off Greenway and approached the boys, one of them walked with the man until they were out of view from the street.
When the older man reappeared, he crossed Greenway and started walking with determination up 72nd Street toward where I was parked. When he passed by, he leaned in real close, practically putting his nose against the window, trying to make eye contact. I kept my eyes on the kids in the project and ignored him. He continued on but walked backwards, still looking at my car. I saw him in the rear view holding his arms out wide, silently questioning. Did I need him to get something from the kids across the street? He gave me one last chance to roll the window down and wave him back before he was gone.
The older man’s gesture caught the attention of the project boys, who gathered around now and pointed in my direction. Another group of older teens wearing bulky black knit caps and matching baggy black jeans and oversized T-shirts emerged from an apartment by the playing children and started to eye me. One of the project boys in the crowd gathered by the tree pulled a slim silver Razor-style cell phone from his pocket and started dialing without ever taking his eyes off me. I decided that it was time to leave, and pulled out, making the left and heading west to where Greenway Avenue dumps out onto Cobbs Creek Parkway at the end of the block.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PW, City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture.