People say you can never go home again, but I decided to visit my old apartment since I’m already in Kansas City for ConQuest.
I lived here in the dark and distant past – a time when all phones were tethered to walls, Russian cosmonauts still chain smoked on the Mir space station, and Jerry Garcia was better known for being in the Grateful Dead than being a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor. In this dark time known as “The 1990′s” I lived in a slum.
I don’t mean, “My neighbors don’t even recycle! This place is a slum!” No. My upstairs neighbor and I had a deal. I’d scare wild animals away from her car and she’d warn me when to expect serious shooting on the streets.
She was terrified the skinny brown bunnies that gnawed on grass growing through our gravel parking spaces would give her babies rabies, but she wasn’t afraid of being shot. After all, she rented the top floor apartment and knew how to keep her head down. Up the block, three houses had been torn down to make space for a hideous industrial grey brick 1960′s strip style cluster of tiny two room apartments rented out by a local pimp for his girls. Across the street from the hookers a historic building had been turned into a group home for the mentally ill.
I loved taking long walks.
My neighbors fascinated me. Two blocks from my apartment were a moderately well maintained city park with a good sized kid’s splash zone and a literal corner store where the hookers shopped. The nameless corner store accepted food stamps, sold international lottery tickets, and had the world’s most fascinating selection of off brand imported home cleaning products, cheap cologne, things you can eat with crackers, and an entire case full of one gallon jugs of whole milk. I can’t drink milk, plus the hookers didn’t like it when I shopped in there, so I’d walk another three blocks to the neighborhood grocery store.
I always wished the hookers would let me shop with them because the neighborhood grocery store scared the piss out of me. The scarce vegetables were brown, the meat was green, and they too sold nearly industrial sized quantities of whole milk. Every product in the store was generic, and sometimes you had to compare the color of a tattered scrap of label on an otherwise blank can to what was in other people’s carts if you wanted to be sure what you were holding. Since the only people who shopped there were the carless poor who couldn’t get anywhere better, everything was double orÂ more the cost of a brand name product.
If you tried speaking to anyone who worked there they’d literally scream you were a theif.
“Hi, do you have any aluminum foil this week? My window was shot out and my landlord won’t replace it.”
“Shut your whore mouth you fucking thief!”
“Right. I’ll check isle three.”
I can’t really blame them. The store kids were scarier than the adults. It was entirely their right to take your purse, plus anything in your pocket. The easiest way to trigger a hair pulling fight was for one mom to tell another one’s kid to keep their hands to themselves. I really wished the hookers would let me shop at their corner store. The ladies may have survived entirely on breakfast cereal and cracker spreads, but at least they were quiet people who mostly kept to themselves.
Today, the ghetto grocery is a Whole Foods. My mind boggles. The hooker’s corner store is now a graphic design studio. Based on the landscaping and quality of cars outside, the group home for the mentally ill looks like it’s been turned into condos.
It isn’t a total Cinderella story. Gentrification has been good to my old stomping grounds, but the neighborhood still has a way to go. All the stopsigns are still tagged with graffiti. There were half a dozen boarded up houses in a three block radius of my old place, plus at least that many For Rent signs. However, the cars all looked to be under 15 years old, and none of them had bullet holes. Neither the cars nor the houses had aluminum foil covering broken windows.Â The old meth house next to my apartment now has a porch swing, a satellite dish, and a willow tree in the yard. I’m kinda proud of the old place. We’ve both grown up.