On Living in a Crack House in New York City


Opening the gate that leads from our front yard to the street, we were met by a short, scrawny man with veiny arms that seemed to swell grotesquely at the elbow. He wore jeans and a dingy t-shirt on which the faded outlines of a corporate logo could be seen. His eyes were gaunt, but there was a resigned, if not quite contemplative, quality to his expression that contained no trace of the agitated desperation we have noted in other addicts who roam the streets of upper Manhattan. He nevertheless addressed us with a certain swagger: “How long have you lived here?” he asked, the words slightly slurred as they passed over his rotted teeth.

“Ten years,” we answered truthfully. “An eternity.”

“I was here ten years before that,” he replied, and then raised an eyebrow. “Did you know this used to be the biggest crack house in New York City?”

“It’s good to be known for something,” we said, and then offered to show him the garden, where even now–in certain spots, if you dig deep enough–it is possible to unearth the lighters, bent spoons, syringes, dime bags (empty, of course) and other detritus of the period to which he had referred. We did not, however, mention the broken teacups, porcelain saucers and glass perfume bottles of an era even further removed from his own.

“Any bones?” he asked.

“A few,” we admitted. “They stay under the path.”

He bent down to rub his hands over the mossy green surface of the bricks. “Each of these represents one of the forgotten dead,” he ruminated. “I once knew them all.”

The wind blew and the bamboo scratched against the wall. Although we were not inclined to disagree with him at the time, as we led him back to the street, we remembered making the path — brick by brick — and it seemed that they were chosen not to honor the dead, but rather those with the even greater misfortune to remain alive.

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