The International Writers Magazine: The crack on your street
Theres a crackhouse down the
street. I didnt think it was true when Tony first told me
that, I try not to think badly of people and places right off
the bat, but its true. Theres a crackhouse down the
streetor at least a house where people do drugs, I guess
not exclusively crack. Ive never personally seen anyone
smoking crack there, but I have seen people shooting heroin.
sounds pretty drama-queen, but really, I have. See, one evening toward
the end of November when the weather had just turned cold, I decided
to take a walk, wearing the big olive-green Navy issue coat of my fathers.
With the collar popped up against the chill, I headed down the street,
drawing almost even with the big brick building Tony had said was a
crackhouse, I saw three men sitting on the front step, and I could see,
even from the sidewalk, even in the falling dusk, the dull gleam of
The buzzing porchlight at the front of the house flashed on long hypodermic
needles, in and out and in and out of the mens arms. I wasnt
close enough at the time to watch their eyes glaze and their heads begin
to nod, but I have a good imagination and in any case, Id get
I walked more quickly. You never know whats going to happen, right?
I didnt tell my sister I went, she has enough to worry about as
it is, and I definitely didnt tell my mother; some thingsmost
thingsyou just dont tell your mother. I guess Im making
it sound like my sister and I live in Needle Park or something, but
really its not that bad. There are much worse areas of our city,
and our neighbors are mostly very nice. The kid who lives next door
cuts our grass sometimes, when were home to pay him. The people
across the street yell a lot, but only at each other, and anyway they
yell in Spanish, so its easy to ignore them. Occasionally, if
youre driving at the right hour of the night, you see a few hookers
out on Nebraska, but really theres not much to worry about, as
long as you mind your own business. That,
at least, is what I tell myself, and others. I try not to be racist
or paranoid or anything. Openmindedness is what everyone should strive
My sister says I probably shouldnt take walks at night, but thats
usually the only time I have to walk. College gives a lot more homework
than high school, and we have bills to pay, so I work a lot too. I work
at this place called The Pita Pit, which makes good pitas but is always
very hot inside. In any case, when Im not in class, Im usually
at work whipping up extreme veggie pitas for students and yuppies, so
if I want to take a walk, its going to have to be at night.
Besides, its undeniably more interesting to walk at night than
in the daytime. You see things that you just dont see in daylight.
Like men shooting smack on the steps of an old faded brick house, and
prostitutes lurking on corners, groups of kids holding freestyle jamfests
in the middle of the road, and gangs having quiet talks on one of the
neighborhoods back streets; maybe a precursor to violence, who
My sister says taking walks in our neighborhood at night is just asking
for it, especially since Im skinny and white and I dont
own a gun or know kung fu, but I like to walk and I like walking at
night, and its not my fault that we live where we do, I was still
in high school when my mother, grandmother and sister went house-shopping
here, looking for a real home instead of a dorm or apartment.
"Kid." I looked up from the pavement. One of the men on the
steps of the brick house was addressing me. Automatically I jammed my
hands deeper into my pockets and burrowed, turtle-like, into the collar
of my fathers coat. "Kid." The man squinted at me, his
voice was molasses-slow and deep; a cigar stuck out of the corner of
his mouth. I thought it a strange contrast to the needle in his hand.
"You live around here, kid?" I stuttered out, "Yeah."
For some reason one of the other men sitting there began to laugh, a
hoarse continuous giggle. I shivered. "You wanna buy me a bottle
of soda, kid?" I stared at the man. He stared back. In the flicker
of the porchlight I could see the pinprick pupils, shrunk to dots by
the drug. His head wavered oddly, dipping forward and jerking back,
as though he was trying to keep from falling asleep. In the cold night
air his left sleeve was rolled all the way up to his shoulder, a belt
still knotted around his stringy bicep as a tourniquet. I could see
open sores on the underside of his arm, veins like worms beneath his
"Kid. You hear me?" The mans rambling voice was becoming
slower, but he appeared completely awake and lucid. "You wanna
buy me a bottle of Coke? You wanna go down to the 7-11 and buy me a
"Uh," I said. "Coke?" He smiled around the unlit
cigar. He had a very nice smile. "I need somethin sweet.
Id get it myself, but you know, I cant walk just now, you
know, Im pretty sleepy just now. And I cant see so well
in the dark." He winked conspiratorially. "Besides, you know,
theres always cops at the 7-11."
I stood there like an idiot. How the heck do you respond to that? Maybe
my sister was right; maybe I just shouldnt take walks. Ever. "Look."
The man rummaged in his pocket and came up with a handful of change.
"You dont even gotta pay for it yourself, kid, here, take
the change and buy me a soda, huh?"
Suddenly my hand was heavy with quarters. I dont know how that
happened. Slowly, feeling like my own brain was drugged, I said, "A
Coke, right?", "Yeah, thats right, kid. Coke. I like
some Coca-Cola, you know, after I get off." The other two men nodded
agreement. They all smiled at me like some kind of warped barbershop
trio, avuncular addicts indulging the young naïve boy instead of
the other way around.
Hardly believing my own movements, I continued down the street. Theres
a convenience store at the mouth of our street, maybe three blocks up.
I could see the lights of the sign already. Once I looked back, and
the three men were still sitting there. I dont know if I expected
them to disappear, as if Id imagined them, some strange apparition
to teach me a deep spiritual lesson about life and how doing drugs is
a no-no. But they were still there, three hunched figures like skinny
trees rooted in the concrete step. I thought I could see the eyes of
the man who had given me the change gleaming in the streetlight.
The convenience store was thronged with kids in Scarface t-shirts and
Phat Farm gear, and, sure enough, a cop car in the corner of the parking
lot. The kids eyed me as I walked to the door and yanked it open. A
blare of hiphop music spilled out with the neon lights inside. I went
in, back rigid, expecting the worst. Somehow I was more afraid of the
kids, my own age or a little older, than the proven junkies with whom
I had just exchanged improbable conversation.
I went to the back of the store, passed the rows of beer and wine, and
pulled a bottle of Coke out of the cooler. The girl at the counter took
the quarters the old man had given me, then handed me a receipt. She
managed all this without taking her eyes off the TV attached to the
ceiling. It was tuned to BET106 & Parkand I could hear
Janet Jackson playing guest VJ. I couldnt help but feel twitchy.
It seemed strange to me that I could buy this bottle of soda like anyone
else, and who would dream I was buying it for a sixty-year-old drug
Back outside the kids watched me walk back down 26th Avenue. As I went
away I could hear them start up freestyling again; one of them was very
good, his voice popping like melodious gunfire in the night.
Despite the complete weirdness of the current situation, I enjoyed my
walk back up the street. The night was beautiful, chilly and still,
and I could see the stars through the network of trees overshadowing
the street. The houses were quiet, windows glowing in the light of television
The three men were waiting when I came back to the brick house. The
man with the cigar beckoned.
"You got it, kid, thats great. Great. Thanks." His bony
hands reached for the soda. I handed it to him, along with the rest
of the change. "Thanks, kid. Thank you a lot." He swigged
from the Coke. I stood there awkwardly, watching him savor the soda.
A car swept by on the street, headlights blinding us for a minute. Finally
I shifted on the pavement and said, "Well, good night." As
I went back onto the sidewalk the old man called, "Night,
kid. See you around. Thanks for the soda, kid. Youre a good kid."
His voice faded into the wind as I walked away.
When I reached our house my girlfriends car was sitting in the
backyard, and the chain-link gate was closed. Id forgotten she
was going to come over; we were going to a concert in Ybor that night.
I came up the front walk and saw her sitting on the porch. "Whereve
you been?" she called. I smiled at her, kissed her quickly, digging
my keys out of my pocket. "Have you been here long?" I asked,
barely realizing I was avoiding her question. "Nah, not even five
minutes." She flipped her long ponytail over one shoulder and looked
around. "Do you think its safe to walk around here at night?"
I laughed, opening the front door for her. "You sound like my sister."
We went inside. She persisted, "Im not trying to be racist,
but seriouslywhen I drove up here I saw this bunch of people sitting
at that big brick house down the street, you know the one, right? The
one Tony says is a crackhouse?", "Well, Tony ought to know,"
I muttered. I went to the coffee table and hunted for the concert tickets
among the jumble of bills and magazines.
She slipped her arms around my waist and kissed the back of my neck.
"Just want you to be safe."
I turned in her arms. "Im safe. Really, Im careful."
I winked at her. "You know I carry my Mace with me at all times."
She let out her laugh; my girlfriend has this beautiful, fabulous big
laugh. "Come on, were going to be late."
We took my car down to Yborhers is really too obtrusive to drive
around there. She has a candy-apple red convertible, as red as her lips,
which her dad gave her for graduation. My cars just an old Intrepid,
less likely to get keyed or slashed than a flashy Mustang. To get to
Ybor City from my neighborhood its shorter to go west and take
Republica de Cuba instead of Nebraska Avenue, so we didnt drive
past the old brick crackhouse and its elderly junkie denizens. But I
could see them in the rearview mirror; one of them flickered a lighter
and the flame lit the world-famous Coca-Cola label of the soda bottle.
© Diana Hurlbut
Order to Forget
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