A man and I stood together watching a deconstruction. A toppling of homes. “That’s what I used to do,” he told me. “Tearing down or building up?” I asked. “Building,” he said.
“You’ll have something to watch all day,” I said. “I saw it go up, and I’m watching it come down,” he answered. “What year?” I quizzed. “I don’t remember,” he admitted. “Sad.”
“Yes, sad.” Inadequate. Enough.
I took a photo before the space is an empty lot that belies the displacement of people. Displace as if you can just pick someone up and set them down in another place without changing the world. Displaced people everywhere. Under bridges. In doorways. In homeless shelters. In churches. In refugee camps. On the road.
I stood first at the playground with swings and a climbing dome and a blue whale spouting water to entice sweaty kids to its mouth. The play space separated from the tumbling building by a chain-link fence. On the other side of the playground courts closer to Penn Circle—another vacant lot. In days or a day an entire vacant city block. And then, old land topped by something all shiny and new. Like the person covering wrinkles with a few surgeries that might be tastefully noninvasive or harshly transform the person into someone unrecognizable. To the point of caricature. Suddenly people can only talk behind the back of surgeries.
My builder stood beside a fence dragging his oxygen tank. Another man saw us talking and hit me up for 75 cents. Normally, I would give it. But I didn’t have money on me. I asked if he needed money here where he was living. “Pop machine,” he said. Later I wondered if he was allowed to have pop. But then again I figure that anyone I give money to may very well be buying something very unhealthy. Do I have a responsibility not to help someone partake in unhealthy habits? If it were me, I would say, “Mind your own business!” I do unhealthy things all the time. Then a woman yelled, “Cigarette?” holding her empty fingers to her mouth.
“Sorry,” I quit. The builder said, “That’s what got me this (pointing to his oxygen tank).” “And you can’t ever tell anyone,” I responded. “That’s right, ” he agreed.