A NOT SO GLAMOROUS LOOK AT THE UNDERBELLY OF CHICAGO'S HOUSING MARKET


All photos taken live from Chicago properties & environs

Friday, May 13, 2011

Crazy or Genius?

The silhouette was unmistakable. A child would recognize it. Well, a child of The City. Torn stained clothes, greasy hair flopping over to reveal the furthest corner of a confused smile, aimless pacing, slight muttering, and a posture to make a pilates instructor collapse with indignation.

We had seen him throughout our tour of the diminutive brick two flat, expertly rehabbed with flor de lis tiles throughout. Who wants aged oak hardwood floors when you can awaken to 1000 square feet of shiny decorative flor de lis tile every morning?

His appearance would welcome us to each window, an apparition we knew we couldn't escape. We would check out the ill fitting layout, and then take the inevitable 'out the window' scan, only to constantly see him, pacing and looking back toward the building. It was one of these rear lot homes you occasionally find in Chicago; No garage, hugging the alley, with a front yard guaranteed to wet dream the most fastidious suburban lawnmower man. And his presence loomed over the realtor's For Sale sign, itself an odd piece of neighborhood artifact, advertising the realtor's name as if she was Cher:

REALTY 'R Us
“Abigail
773-555-2100

Have you ever seen a sign for any professional omitting the surname, and putting the given name in parentheses? Perhaps it had something to do with the agent's barely understandable English. She was like a Bombay call center boy named Steve. That at least explained the tile job.

The imprisonment became unbearable. There was nothing redeemable about this fully rehabbed Bridgeport home. Just because somebody is Born Again doesn't exactly mean they were Born Again the right way. We had to get out of there. It was like some impending school yard fight. And the clock was stuck at 3:15p.m. He waited for us. Pacing and waiting.

We walked the yard's plank, our stalker closer with each dry swallow, assuring ourselves that we would unlock our bikes as swiftly as possible, refusing to make eye contact.

“So, uh, hey, yo, you guys looking at dis, uh, place?”

No response. The car wouldn't start. Key not fitting in bike lock. Fit. FIT. Get IN! “Abigail” taunts us from the chainlink. C'mon “Abigail”. Don't you have some mystical powers.

“Hey, hey, so, what's da deal, ya know, you guys like the place, you gonna moves in, whats gonna be?”

There was that small part of me, quite small, that macho part, that wanted to scream “Hey bro, we're not homos! This is my client,” and that other part, the guy who knowingly flirts with his gay waiter, who wanted to let this indigent believe his 21st century fantasy.

“Well, yo, use know, I make a deal with use guys. You have no alley, use know, cuz use got to brings da gahbaje to da street. But no problems, ha, cuz weeze can make a deal, and I sell use easement rights, and bam, use have easement and use can use da side of my house, and have da back for da gahbaje.”

My client unlocked the bikes, but before we could pedal to freedom, “Abigail's” military strength chain and lock was not fitting back around the fence. “Abigail” kept staring. I felt myself losing this contest. How could I not respond? Why were there bums in Bridgeport, on a street designated the new Arts District? Well, they could actually be a strategic plant to give artists the 'edge' they need to escape the guilt of their North Shore upbringing. But c'mon. Easement? That ain't typical vocabulary for the homeless. Maybe this was like those Florida land contracts that ensnared so many na├»ve midwesterners. We pay him with dreams of unfettered alley garbage access, only to take legal ownership of the home, as proud homosexual realtor and client, never to see our unimpeded garbage drop off access again. No way. I'm not that stupid.

Game over dude. Our eyes finally connected. Was he Mexican? Asian? Interesting features. I like the high cheekbones. Anyway, “How much? You know, for the easement?”

“Well, weeze can work someding out, ya know? I make use a good price. Dont worry. Me and use. Just have to promise me use keep the gate shut, cuz dem gangbangers be getting in.”

“There are gangbangers over here, in Bridgeport, of the gun toting variety, or the drunken Sox kind?”

“Ha. No, well, not any more, ya know, use got to go south of Pershing. But dey got em.”

South of Pershing. That was almost a mile away. A county in city terms. It was time to deliver his meds. The truth must be spoken.

“Well, I think you should probably talk with the owner of that building before you go around selling their easement. Maybe chat with Abigail too.”

“Ha. Yeah (and he laughs some more, but more than a simple 'ha'). This is my place. 5 units. I bought about ten years ago. I always trying to stay ahead, ya know. I wuz back in Lincoln Park in da seventy's. So when dey arrived, I said, I'm gonna go west, ya know, so I end up in Bucktown. Good ride, ya know, good people and good buildings deyse got, but dem others start comin, ya know, in da late eighty's, so I go west again, over dere in Humboldt Park. Renting nice places for like $300. Right on da Boulevard. But man, dem kids be looking to rent, and see da gangs, and run away. I like dat hood, but at da time, was difficult to rent my places, ya know. So I gots to move again, not cause dey be coming but becuz just not renting, ya know, so I find Bridgeport. It's alright down here. We got all types. Good peoples. Nice community. So, use want to look at my place. I get use a drink or someding?”

Didn't the politically correct types teach us Not to stereotype? I stood in disbelief. “How did you get into the multi-unit lifestyle, the whole landlord who lives in your building thing, a property OWNER?”

“Yeah, wells, ya know, I grew up helping my pops clean and fix properties in da Gold Coast where he owned some buildings. Now you can't touch nuttin' over dere, but back then my ole man had him a couples, and I be helping out when I don't have school. Always cleaning and fixing. Kind of like in my blood, ya know?”

As we started to leave, and the slight look of shame crossed our faces, I saw the Easement Man take something out of his pants pocket. Small and black...with an apple on the back. He put it underneath that shiny mat of hair, and began talking, ignoring his new Boystown buds, and started pacing, with the occasional glance back at “Abigail”'s place.

“So like I wuz saying before I hung up, use gonna pick up the chilayan sea bass or am I?”

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