Housing Authority

from Bill Brown

It's February in Chicago, and getting ready for a bike ride is like suiting up for a space walk: 2 layers of gloves and 4 layers of socks and every coat in my closet. It'll be months before I can strip off all these layers and take off my shirt, and the sun will turn the skin of my back red. Then I'll spend the month of July peeling, sloughing off that one last layer that hangs on my skeleton and that feels like one layer too many when its July and you live in an apartment without an air conditioner.

For now it's February and I've got milky white sheets of plastic taped over my windows. I can't see through the plastic, so my neighborhood is reduced to off-screen sounds: the prostitute with the bad leg screaming at her weasely pimp, and the rattle of the chain link fence as the guy who lives in the vacant lot next door heads out on one of his secret missions at three in the morning.

I probably wouldn't leave my apartment at all except that they've started to knock down the projects on Lake street, and that's worth bundling up for. The housing Authority emptied out the biggest buildings a few years ago and they've been standing empty ever since. Then the other day, I saw a city worker climbing down a manhole on Lake Street. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was disconnecting the water and sewer lines that run to the projects. Even though the buildings were abandoned, they were still hooked into the city and its services; abandoned but not quite forsaken. But now he was pulling the plug.

A few days later, a big machine with a huge steel claw pulls up and starts chewing away at the buildings. The machine leaves the insides of the projects exposed: 10-stories of stacked-up cement cubicles that are identical except for the paint jobs. Every apartment is painted a crazy color - jasmine or jade or neon yellow - and it's sort of obscene to see them like this, all those private spaces, these bedrooms and bathrooms, laid open to every snoop riding his bike down Lake Street. Who'd have guessed that they'd rip open these scary old projects and this is what they'd find inside? Who'd have guessed that these buildings would bloom just before they fell?



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