First there is Brandon, who everyone calls Squeaky B because of his big body and small voice. Also his sixteen-year-old cousin, Duncan, who opts out of high school and instead sits on the front porch of their house with a laptop while someone cornrows his hair. When their power gets shut off, Duncan charges his laptop at our house. One night he wakes me up asking for a charge at one-thirty and I tell him enough is enough and close the door.
Brandon’s getting his degree in sports management and I edit his papers on Kobe Bryant and Mike Tomlin. He volunteers as an assistant football coach at the high school. He wants to do anything for the NFL. His teachers ask questions when his grades improve and I tell him to tell them he has a tutor or, if he wants to fuck with them, to play the race card.
Some afternoons after teaching I sit with them and their other cousin, John, and we drink an anti-energy drink called Drank (which tells us to “Slow our roll”) and Steel Reserve (which tells us it is “High Gravity”). I tell them that I think the Ramones once wrote a jingle for Steel Reserve but they’ve never heard of the Ramones.
In the spring, they agree with their landlord to paint the entire peeling and collapsing Victorian they call home for a one-time rebate of two hundred dollars off their rent. They choose charcoal-gray with forest-green trim. They borrow my ladders and drop cloths. Half of the house is painted when someone shows up with an orange notice that says the house is being condemned.
Strings are pulled.
A new family comes in a convoy of pick-up trucks and Chevy Cavaliers.
The goateed father in the trucker’s cap and the toothless mother won’t make eye-contact with me over our shared chain-link fence. But the kids—a little boy and a littler girl—love our dog with their shrill voices and sticky hands.
Ten-year-old Jeremiah is the envoy. He asks for the cans and bottles in our recycling bin once a week and then steers them down to the corner store slung over his shoulder in great black sacks, the front tire on his BMX wobbling over every crack in the sidewalk. When our recycling bin is empty he asks us for money.
Eight o’clock Tuesday morning and Jeremiah, red-headed and gap-toothed, stands on our back porch with an econo-sized can of SpaghettiOs and a dinner plate. He wants to know if we have a can opener. Then he wants to know if we could heat this up for him.
Two weeks after Christmas, Jeremiah arrives again with a gift for my wife: a clear plastic bird on a string. If you unscrew the bird’s head it becomes a wand through which you can blow small bubbles. He asks if he can shovel our driveway. I tell him I have no cash on me, but when I get out of the shower I see that he’s shoveled it anyway.
They are evicted after seven months and the following tenants find the oven door missing, used crack pipes in every room, and small orange mushrooms growing out of the bathtub.