The Other Side 206: Tales From the Frontline of Gentrification

I am sitting on my porch, trying not be distracted from my marvelous view of the Cascade Mountains. They sit in the distance and meet the sky directly in my line of sight, framed by two large pine trees across the street. My families house on the corner is elevated with a flight of stairs that leads to the porch, a little over 20 feet above the sidewalk. Being near the top of the hill, I can see beyond my neighbors rooftop from this porch. I can see the mostly green canopy of the Madison valley, much the same as it was twenty years ago from this same perspective. It triggers an image of a forest on hills sprinkled with houses seemingly built right out of the forest. I know this is an illusion of this metropolis. If I took that walk down the hill, into the area that raised me, and searched for that forest I know I would never find it. I am very familiar with this trick of the Emerald City….
madrona view
Just beyond the canopy of Madison valley, from this vantage, you can catch a glimpse of the lake in between and above the trees. I am intimately familiar with this lake. When I was a kid, this lake was a source of peace for me. In the summer I would walk/run my dog to a secret beach between two mansions. I would sit there and fantasize about being raised in one these lake front mansions, while my dog ran and played fetch in the water. Other times me and my cousin and other neighborhood kids would climb up the hill and out of Madison valley towards Madison Park and its public beach. We would spend the day there. This was what we did for summer break. By the time I entered high school signs began appearing on different beaches telling us the water was too polluted to swim in. The secret beach became hidden behind a fence mounted with surveillance cameras. But from where I am at now all I can make out is the sparkling reflection of the sun on the surface. No fences, No polluted water, No surveillance cameras or rent-a-cops. Only from this distance does the illusion manifest and make the lake seem untainted. It’s Picture Perfect.
eastside
Beyond this lake, on the Eastside, hills rise up. Luckily for me, the patches of the Eastside I can see from this distance are covered with a pine canopy. I am lucky because I know the other land on the Eastside of the lake has been ravaged by development. The land that I cannot see from my porch has been scalped and implanted with pop up towns, corporate campuses and urban infrastructure. The parcel of the Eastside that I can make out has been preserved for the dwellings of the super rich, those of the elite global capitalist class. The land these uber capitalist place their dwellings upon are closed behind fences, cameras and have their own police forces to control who comes and goes. You would never know you were looking at one of the most wealthiest neighborhoods in the world.
 highlands
Further east and from out of these preserved hills, seemingly covered in forest, are the Cascade Mountains. They seem so beautiful, so grounding, so pure. From this distance and perspective I am unable to perceive the stripped flesh of the earth, and the bare open veins left from the search of ore and colonization. I cannot make out the destroyed habitats of a multitude of life for the sake of a dead ski resort that only operates seasonally. I can however, make out the snowcapped peaks as they pierce the clouds. In the morning I could sit here and get lost in awesomeness of the mountains silhouette against the rising sun. I guess I needed that distraction. As a kid I was lost in these illusions. It created a loyalty in me, a belief in the metropolis. I felt safe in the Emerald City, the capital of the Land of Oz. It’s was a place I could call home. I belonged to a tribe, a family, a culture, a story. I am no longer a kid. I am no longer lost for I can see beyond the illusions now. I am no longer a kid and these illusions are only contradictions. But they still make good distractions. And that’s what I needed. It helped me place what just happened to me.
 madrona ranier
I am on the porch of my family’s house that is over 100 years old. This house is in a neighborhood originally settled by free blacks. It was a niche in northwest that they were able to carve out from themselves. Every single house surrounding us has been built in my lifetime, most within the last 5 years. On our block, two doors down, they have put up 8 DINK (double income no kids) residential units. These eight newly built residential units sit upon two lots that previously each held 1 houses with good sized front and back yards and with at least three fruit trees between the two of them. These new residential units look like a hybrid between town-homes and apodments. Watching them go up was mind blowing. They were put together more so than
constructed. Things just kinda snapped together. It was like watching someone put together an Ikea entertainment center.
 madrona condos
I was appalled that they were being built. Then they put up the sign that showed they were on the market. I chuckled every time I passed it. Some times I would go outta my way to walk by them for a good laugh…then they sold…in a month. I almost cried that day. A few moments ago I was on my way home and passed by these sorry excuses of homes. I realized there was a pathway that went down the middle of these properties and led to the alleyway behind them. While observing this newfound geography my eyes stumbled upon a sign that told me “Upon use of this pathway I agree to hold the homeowner harmless”….
While stunned by this absurd sign, a gentrifier snuck up on me. I admit it. That yuppie caught me slippin. And he sucked me into a polite conversation.
“Hey,” he said.
“Yo, how’s it going?”
“Great, its supposed to get up 91 degrees today. Summer is here.”
“Yeah…I heard. But I kinda miss the rain, ya know?”
“Ah you must be a native? Summer is here. You could just tell by how the air smells. Trust me.”
I looked at him a moment after he said this. He was wearing this weird condescending smirk on his face.
“Yeah, born and raised, right down the hill actually,” I said, maybe even puffing out my chest.
“So you must like the area then?”
I couldn’t miss a weird sense of pride in his voice. He was still wearing that annoying smirk. I was getting annoyed at this point and it started to show.
“Well, I used to like it,” I said. “But its changed hella. Its not really even the same place anymore.”
While saying this I decided to match his condescending smirk and nodded towards those weird Ikea homes.
“ T h a t ’ s what I been told. I just came here from Denver. I’m one the owners of these fine homes. Isn’t it great example of quality craftmanship?”
He did some weird gesture imitating Vanna White, while wearing the same ear to ear grin. He was so proud of his Ikea homes, I started to kinda feel sad for him. In utter confusion, I could only respond with “Uh…” He was so wrapped up in himself he just continued on.
“Unlike that house down on the corner. Its old and wild looking. It needs paint and the yard is untamed. Housing is a hot commodity in this city. And you know what? I heard it’s a gang house and I think they sell drugs there. When ever I see cops patrolling I point the house out to them. You know, now that I think about it, they could tear down that house and build at least half a dozen homes like mine on that lot.”
At this point I was seething with anger. All I could do, without choking this yuppie, was nod my head towards the sign and growl, “Whats that about?”
“What, the sign?”
I am not sure if it was my demeanor or just a symptom of his colonial mindset, but his pride vanished and he seemed nervous for the first time. He also might of just realized I was black. So I decided the polite conversation had ended and it was time to fuck with this cracker.
“Yeah, is that some weird trespass bullshit? Or what? Cuz as it reads now, it’s hella vague and I could interpet that in a lot of ways. For example I could read it as ‘I could harm the owners if I wanted to’ or ‘the owners could harm me if they wanted to.’
At this point social conflict was obvious. I could no longer hold to civil pretense, but I had to be subtle. I knew this yuppie was just a symbol of gentrification but with an array of apparatuses of counterinsurgency behind him and against me. A little confused and seemingly bothered by the questions, the Yuppie responded
“Umm…well, our lawyers told us it would be a good idea. Why do you ask?”
He was showing his cards and I could tell I was losing my cool. My self control was slipping so I made my exit.
“Well I am gonna assume the sign means that we can harm the owners as long as it happens on the pathway. Thanks for clearing that up. I gotta jet.”
I turned and walked away before he could respond. And here I am on the porch of the wild looking house surrounded by an untamed yard. I can even see wild life on it. There’s a cat I’m watching stroll out of the yard of dandelions. It saunters down the stairs as a little kid beckons it. This kid is with a group of yuppies. I can hear them complaining about parking and how there used to be plenty of parking here, but in the last few years things have changed and yada yada. As these yuppies yap and yap the kid and the cat hit off. While I
watch the kid playing with the cat I hear the yuppies move their conversation to a more positive conversation about all the new housing going up and how the its making the neighborhood a better place. The kid is still playing with the cat. The kid is gleefully waving a piece of grass as the cat bats at it with its paw. Then yuppies start piling into their car and the kid waves and smiles at me and asks if the cat is mine. I say “Nah, it belongs to the land.”
The kid grins from ear to ear and yells a long drawn out “Cool!” The kid looks at the cat and hugs it. “Your a free cat with no owners,” the kid tells the cat while petting it one last time. “That’s cool”
This whole exchange is lost on the yuppies. As they put the kid in the car they cover his hands in hand sanitizer, seemingly as punishment for touching the wild life. I look at the cat and the cat looks at me. We shake our heads in unison.
I am now back on the porch. The yuppie from earlier just walked up and we made eye contact. This time the element of surprise was on my side. The porch is partially hidden from the view of sidewalk by trees and wild bushes. The yuppie was walking from behind the bushes, so he could make a quick getaway back home if he needed to. The social conflict is real between the two of us. Allowing him access to the
sidewalk in front of my house would feel like a loss, but physical confrontation would only land me in the custody of the state sanctioned fascist police force, the SPD. I had to use the surprise to my advantage. I could see in his facial expression (or series of them) that he could not comprehend that I was there. I stared down at him from the porch of the wild house twenty feet above the untamed yard. I could see the knowledge of social conflict between in his eyes. I decided it was time to reveal my own awareness of the social conflict. I interrupted his thoughts before he could gather his own.
“I know where you live.”
I said this very calmly and with smile on my face. This got under his skin. He could tell I held the psychological upper hand. Also, the look on his face was hysterical, distorted with fear anger and confusion.
“Hey! Whats that supposed to mean?”
The blood rushed to his face. His hands were clenching and unclenching. He was losing his shit. I gave a little chuckle.
“Just letting you know we’re thinking the same thing, cracker.”
When I said cracker this yuppie stomped his foot like a toddler. I was afraid for a second and thought he was gonna flip and do some wiley shit, instead he goes “Is that a threat? I will call the cops!”
At this point I stood up from my chair, walked to the edge of the porch, and paused. I hesitated and then decided to descend the stairs while calmly explaining “Of course you will. Thats your func tion. Just be sure to tell em which house is yours. Ya know, so they can protect you better.”
Now I am three steps from the sidewalk and I stop to pet the cat. Being closer made it so the Yuppie had to crane his neck even further to look me in the face. I look down at him and finish with “Now fuck off !”
We were so close now I could see him sweating.
“I will not be terrorized out of my neighborhood.”
That caught me off guard.
“Are you fucking serious?” I slowly descended the stairs in complete control of my rage. I square up to him. “You must have lost your goddamn mind. Your neighborhood? You dumb motha fucker musta lost your goddamn mind. I was born and raised in this neighborhood, muthafucka.”
At this point this yuppie had lost his shit. His eyes showed fear. He was shaking. He stammered repetitively, while making a significant effort to get away, “This isnt your neighborhood any more. Things change. Now leave me alone or I will call the cops.”
He pulled out his phone to emphasis his point.
“Well, I’m not keeping you from any thing… But remember I know where you live.”
I began ascending the stairs back to the porch and I hear, “Fuck you, asshole!”
I turned, smiled at the yuppie and responded.
“Sorry. Yuppie crackers aren’t my type.”
By this time he was out of sight back the way he came. I could just make out him repeating “fucking asshole” to himself which told me he heard me.
I am now on the porch with my uncle, having a tea in celebration of this small victory against the yuppies. I just told my uncle the story of the Yuppie. The tea was his idea
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