Those Dirty People


On a warm, windy March afternoon, Keisha is wrestling an overstuffed laundry bag almost as big as she is down to the bus stop on Chicago Avenue. It’s Sunday. Reduced bus service. So she has a 15-20 minute wait. And Sunday is the only day free to make the ¾ mile trip west across the Chicago River, the giant printing plant and on to the nearest laundromat. So this is a regular trip for her. She’s smiling. She’s got music. Two babies at home, being looked after by a neighbor. Reason she can find someone to watch her kids is that there is still a little bit of the Cabrini Green community left. The row houses. They were the original Cabrini Green. Even before they started stacking people up in towers in the sky, they built the row houses. And Keisha knows she’s lucky to have one to call home. Waiting list for her was only three years. That’s nothing.

In fact, when the towers of Cabrini Green started to buckle under the tsunami like wave of money rolling in from the east and north to gobble up what could be very valuable land; and when that land grab met the realization that stacking human beings in cinderblock cages on top of each other might not be such a great idea; there was no real plan for answering the question, “Where will the people from the community go, when there is no more community?”

There was a “10 Year Transformation” plan—a maze of good intentions, developer plans, details capable of discussion long into the night, with a sprinkle of community input, all wrapped in the fog of bureaucratic indifference But if you were to say, “What’s the exact address of where this person from the 17th floor of Cabrini’s Red Zone will live?” You’d be hard pressed to get an answer.

Which is why Keisha considers herself lucky. She has a place.

Of course when the developers came in to rehab the original row houses, there were cost considerations. After all, this was public housing. So the developers had to set priorities. And one of the things they eliminated was hook-ups for laundry in the individual units. So the only reliable place to do laundry was a laundromat a bus ride away.

Seems that the sewer system couldn’t handle letting people have their own washers and dryers. That was the story.

But Keisha considered herself lucky. She was taking a full load of courses to be a medical tech downtown. She worked 30 hours a week at Potbelly sandwiches. She had her babies. And deep into the night she did schoolwork. So it wasn’t so bad. Weekly trip to the laundromat never hurt anyone. Gave her some exercise.

The Chicago Avenue bus pulls over. Keisha and her human sized laundry bag get on and take a seat near the front. The bus is crowded.

One stop later, the bus pulls over next to the giant 600 West Chicago building. Home of the internet sensation Groupon. Megan Pauly and Kristi Pierce, briefly glance up from their texting to stick their fare cards in the slot and take the only available seat, right behind Keisha.

Looking up again from their texting, the two young, almost interchangeable, blonde women slowly take in the fact that there is a giant laundry bag, containing a weeks worth of dirty clothes, on the seat in front of them. They look at the bag. One of them giggles. They both roll their eyes. And the other one says, “What. Ever.”

Keisha hears the giggle. Feels some sort of disturbance right behind her. Doesn’t know what it is. And she is too polite to turn around and stare. Much less say anything to the interchangeable women. So she starts to get that warm, tired feeling she gets sometimes. When her manager is yelling at the sandwich shop, then brushing way too close behind her on the line, or when it’s 1:00 am and she’s still got another hour of homework. Or when one of her babies starts coughing and there is nothing, nothing, nothing she can do except to hold her tight and pray. That feeling.

And she remembers an old song. Her own Mama used to sing it to her. There was a part where the song said;

“I had a feeling

I could be someone

Be someone

Be someone.”

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One Response to “Those Dirty People”

  1. Paulhaider74 Says:

    I still remember when “Fast Car” was a hit single on FM radio in 1988; the following year featured “Jackie Brown” by John Mellencamp, and this was another socially conscious song about someone who slipped through the cracks of the Reagan administration. I walked down Chicago Avenue yesterday only to be disappointed that the street shares the honorary name of the band Chicago, but I should have thought about Keisha instead.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

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