We pedaled through Eastern Market and felt a few precarious raindrops heading home. On the way, the remnants of the Brewster Projects rose before us. We looked up and questioned the sky, and decided we could explore briefly before the rain clouds split open.
We took pictures of the razor wire that had been balled up in a heap. And I took vertical shots of the places that once held windows. A plain building. Fourteen stories to tell a thousand stories. Blind MOLOCH with a thousand gaping sockets. We rode around dodging glass and rubble. I hid my camera, and we talked to some Canadians who came over from their ruin city to have a peek at ours.
They followed us for a bit and photographed us taking pictures. We biked on the main road to save our tires. And when we saw the vacant low-rise I turned into the parking lot and locked my bike. The Canadians thought we were crazy and left. I told them we were American.
We stood outside for a while and I said I just wanted to get to the roof. We took a dozen looks over our shoulders and went inside. Bold this time and careless. Experts at what we were doing. We opened doors that had been shut for decades. Tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate in our minds what these apartments looked like in the 1950’s just after they were erected.
A mother’s red towel hanging from the sink where she was last seen drying dishes. A record player, singing out that Motown Sound; entertainment in the parlor. We climbed up to the second floor and saw where some had kicked off their shoes. Saw a vacuum that sat embarrassed against the wall, looking across the floor at a task too great.
I had had enough and made my way up the stairs quickly. Looking for the service ladder that would baptize me onto the roof—where I’d come up choking and smiling—a new man on a building.
But the service ladder was a dream, and I only found a bed of blankets strewn at the end of the stairs. I looked around for a minute until my cousin was coming up the stairs on tip toes. “There’s someone sleeping in a room on the first floor. We should go.” I looked one last time through the hole in the roof that I’d never make it through and sped down the stairs as fast as I could. There was an overwhelming sense that we had overstayed our welcome.
Once my feet hit the first floor I heard footsteps coming from another room. I heard a door opening. I lurched out the front door and nearly collided with a man and nearly died. He was white and thin. Wearing a denim jacket and baseball cap. I realized the sounds I heard inside was him coming up the steps and collapsing the wheelchair he held in his hands. I apologized and continued toward my bike, and my cousin came out after me. We apologized for being in the building.
“You boys gotta be careful going in places like these. People live in here ya know, and they got pistols. ‘One mighta thought you’re rollers and laid ya out.”
“So, so sorry.”
“Yeah, no, you just gotta let us know if you’re gonna be pokin around so we know you’re in there.”
“Would you really be okay with us looking around even if you knew we were here.”
“Well… Yeah, I mean. It’d be good if you brought some food along with you. You know so that way we’re both gettin’ somethin’.”
“Absolutely. Well… Now that you know we’re here. Could you show us how to get on the roof?”
He looked around. “Okay, this way.”
We followed him back inside and he ditched his wheelchair in the first room on the right. Took us to the stairwell, “Moe lives down there, he’s sleeping.” he gestured down the hall. “I’m Collin by the way.” And I shook his hand. We ran up the stairs after him until we got back to the top. I thought he was looking around for a service ladder until he grabbed a chair from a room and placed it under the hole in the roof. He tested it and saw it wasn’t enough. We stood and watched. He went into another room and tore a door off of a closet. He wedged the door with the chair and the wall. It made a ramp to the roof that couldn’t have been more adequate.
We all stood back and admired his quick handiwork. “You boys just be careful going up and down now. And if you can ever just bring by a bag of chips or anything it’d be good.” My cousin had a bag of chips in his book bag, so we made the exchange and shook hands again. Collin made his way back down the stairs and we ascended to the roof, full and alive.
We ran across the tar roof, careful for soft spots. We saw our apartment and the skyline. We saw plants growing in the holes. We saw farther than we thought, and pictures became pointless. We traced the roof with our feet one more time and descended back through the hole like Marios.
I looked for Collin on our way out, but he must have been somewhere eating chips with Moe.
_ Kevin Kaminski 2012