I wanted to live east of the Ashley river

Posted: September 15, 2010 in Uncategorized
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President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act...

Image via Wikipedia

We were now ready to make the move: we would get an apartment in town. The beauty of it, was that it was exactly one building away from the front door of my office. The river house with all its enchanted hours, visions, wild life, was exactly one hour: from my back steps to my office door. The four-color-process aluminum sign read “excellent apartments 1 and 2 bedrooms for immediate occupancy”. The building looked good, the heave glass front door locked away the noisy street. A few days after the decision and the fruitless phone calls we got tough and walked right up to the front door. A smiling lady was inside, I opened the door and asked her if she worked there. She seemed amused by my question and told me that she Lived there. My hopeless cheerful self immediately wants to play: Great! Do you want a couple of nice old people to join your building? She points to another woman seated with her side towards us and the door and the happy tenant, with a small cell phone stuck to her face. We walked in and stopped somewhere around her field of vision but didn’t manage to catch her eyes.  She talks for quite a while and after hanging up, she looks not at us, but at the tenant with a chin up questioning look: the tenant says we want to see her. Now she looks at us, slowly, from our shoes, golf pants, polo shirts, grey hairs, and then she goes down again, from our grey heads to our lose shirts, to our pants, wrinkled from driving and the Summer humid heat and to our shoes, my  MBT sandals, his buffalo caramel colored moccasins. I couldn’t believe it, but she managed to never make eye contact with us.  So I retrieve my cheerfulness partly spent ont he tenant at the door and tell her too, that we want to live with them, because we live in the jungle and work right next door to them. The light skin, the corpulent built, the house dress draped over her portly legs – no eyes to look at us, she says into the air and more towards the happy tenant “No we don’t have any room, not here. No.” I insist and she says, I have to call a Ms. Gloria to inquire about the building they have West of the Ashley and I insist that I don’t want to live West of the Ashley, I want to live east of the Ashley, where the roads go places and I can ride my bike all the way to Harris Teeter and the square and sit by the waterfall, and watch the horse-drawn carriages full of tourists who look so overheated and eager to hear something about our quaint town, and the sidewalks, oh the sidewalks, there is nothing like a walk – step down onto the street, cross it, step up onto the sidewalk, step down onto the street, cross it, step up onto the sidewalk. step down onto the street, cross it, step up onto the sidewalk, step down onto the street, cross it, step up onto the sidewalk, step down onto the street, cross it, step up onto the sidewalk and bam, here I am at an art gallery, the main library where they actually have a shitload of great books and not just the latest mistery-shit-murder-hard-fucking-cover.. Oh yeah, the sidewalks of the town, I miss these guys!   Although they are not the sidewalks of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Porto Alegre which cover the entire cities where they were made much like the building blocks cities I built when I was small and played on the floor of the apartment in Curitiba, starting with symmetry permitted by the abundance of form to end with semi imaginary rooms, roofs, parks, people and even animals, made up with whatever random piece came into my grasp, accepting even dried up discarded popsicle sticks, match boxes, empty medicine bottles, jar caps… all in the name of progress. So were those wide sidewalks, each following the mind, the vision, and the materials list of quite different humans to make up the grid of safer walking.  The day-manager, the happy tenant called her, dismisses us with her silence and we leave quietly. If we were not so full of confidence we might have felt humiliated. I am not sure that we understood what had just happened to us, but we felt it enough to remain quiet until we were properly seated and seat-belted in our fully paid two-year old automobile. He then says “Well, that went well” which was nothing but an invitation for me to bring the experience into comprehensible discourse. I didn’t know how, so I looked busy with the traffic and told him I had to get back to work.
Well, this morning my good friend Nancy stops by to see me. She is already walking a few steps without her cane but the therapist wants her to bend the bionic knee something like 120 degrees. What if she had never done that like in ten years? Maybe her tendons and other similar parts have atrophied or mutated into straight leg, right? It could happen. So I told her I wanted to live on the corner building but the fat lady int he house dress had glanced at me and my shoes and clothes without ever looking into my eyes and had told me there were no vacancies. Oh, Nancy, saint adorable Nancy, she boiled over, I tell you that. On the spot, she said what? I saw their sign! I’m going there right now and see if they don’t have an opening. Just like that. So I asked her why and she looks at me for a while longer than usual and she says “You’re white”. I said “I’m Brazilian”. “She can’t see past your skin” She mumbles a bunch of stuff about getting me into the building despite the day-manager, about talking to Rev. Dungee who is the President of the North Area, east of the Ashley where I want to live because it is oh so city, so right around the corner of my office, and the Reverend is going to get in that building and have a word with the day-manager whoever she is. That’s when I began to grock the sixties, the marches, the murders, the lies, the deceits, the rapes, the humiliating speech, the abuse, the loneliness, the despair, the ignorance, the violence, the hatred, the desire to kill and to never, ever forgive those that made it necessary to President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.  I understood the sideways looks, the indifference to my foreign smile and to my foreign touch, to the suspicion with which my words are received. I understood why some of the people I work with, blatantly vouch for me, “she is a good woman” with a look of understanding. When that happens I get a look of cautious acceptance. So I tell him, now you know what it is like to be discriminated. He looks confused, humbled, and almost innocent of any past crimes.


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