I live in a dilapidated housing project called HIV Estates. It’s right across the street from the Corona Suites, a motel that once had a swimming pool which is now a black pit half-full of stagnant water. Our building is overly hot both in summer and winter. In summer the building bakes because the air-conditioning is faulty, in winter because the furnace runs bull blast 24/7. The shag carpets smell of strawberry incense and Lysol. If it weren’t for the fact that the windows are wide open on even the coldest of days, I’m afraid I would suffocate.
I consider myself lucky to have a place to live. In fact, I have developed a strange affection for my home. Those who occupy the economic level below mine sleep in cardboard boxes they accumulate during the day and tuck into anyplace they can find at night.
At night you can hear the homeless humming themselves to sleep. Some hum so loudly they sound like electric motors that are stuck and unable to rotate. I guess it gives them comfort to do so because almost all of them do it. By dawn there is only one person still humming. His hums blend with the crowing of roosters and birds waking up in their nests.
Many of the residents of HIV Estates have taken a vow to speak only Esperanto. It’s their “thing.” Speaking this once-popular but now-forgotten language gives them a sense of belonging and unifies the residents in a common culture. Esperanto was invented over a hundred years ago as a universal tongue, but never really caught on. In the lobby of their building there is a large portrait of Freddy Mercury, the singer who died of AIDS many years ago.
Those who live in HIV Estates do not necessarily have any connection to the disease of the same name. They are simply people whose rent is subsidized by the city, and who like the location. Apparently the owner is a Chinese businessman who doesn’t speak English, and just like the look of the letters in the sign over the front entrance. His nephew majored in graphic design at a West Virginia community college, and may have proposed the name as a joke on his Uncle. He later made a fortune for himself importing silicone life-sized sex dolls from China, which became a big hit in Middle Eastern countries.
None of these histories impact us, the residents, who enjoy free WI-fi and instant coffee in the lobby. We are unanimous in thinking that things could be worse. Like Thoreau wrote in Walden, we are determined to enjoy the “bliss of the present moment.”
Some nights I am awakened by the sound of heavy machinery moving about on the street and in the parking lot of the Corona Suites. Once I saw a crew of men in hazmat suits emptying what looked like bodies wrapped in plastic into what used to be the swimming pool. It only took them a few minutes to do so and then they hurriedly drove off in a rental truck.
Sometimes the black oval that constitutes the former swimming pool can be seen to bubble furiously. Later there is a pungent odor that lingers for hours. The only thing I can compare this odor to is a fast food restaurant dumpster on a hot day.
But all in all, I still enjoy my neighborhood, with its convenient access to downtown and our city park, which is rumored to contain the mass graves of the victims of a massacre of a rebellious local Indian tribe by the United States Calvary. There’s supposed to be a painting of this event in the basement of our local museum, but ever since everyone became so sensitive about “political correctness” they haven’t been able to display it. I remember seeing it as a child. There were men clubbing children to death. I remember that clearly.
There’s a woman who seems to have taken an interest in me. She eats breakfast at the same time I do and stares at me from across the lobby. At first I assumed she simply followed the same schedule as I and so it was simply a coincidence that we were there at the same time each day, but now I think she is following me. What she wants is still a mystery, though yesterday I caught her licking a muffin while she looked up to see if I was watching. She licked it pretty thoroughly, lapping the butter and jelly off the circle of toasted bread. When she saw me watching she stopped licking and smiled.
Last night I heard knocking at my front door. When I answered, there was no one there. I went back to what I was doing and there was knocking again, and again no one there. After a few more times I decided to remain near the door so I could catch whoever was knocking in the act. When I quickly opened the door after he last knock, I saw her from the rear, rounding the corner at the bend in the hallway. At least I’m pretty sure it was her, wearing the same clothes she had on earlier in the day, in the lobby, licking the muffin.
The next morning she was not in the lobby at breakfast and I assumed the problem had been solved. But then when I got back to my room I left the door slightly ajar, and when I finished using the toilet, I found her sitting on my bed. She had obviously let herself in. Now, she had painted every other tooth in her mouth black, and was wearing a rubber swim cap with knitting needles puncturing the cap and sticking out of her head like porcupine quills. She seemed relaxed and glad to see me.
“Some people are just too attractive to be left alone,” she said.
“Are you referring to yourself or to me?” I asked.
“Either of us. Both of us.”
“What’s the deal with your teeth?” I asked
“I’m a piano. An abbreviated keyboard. Not 88 keys. More like forty.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” I asked as diplomatically as possible.
“Kindred spirits belong together. You can run but you can’t hide.”
“So I’m being pursued.”
“You’ve already been caught. You had been pursued, past perfect. Now you’re caught. Present tense.”
“Are you in the habit of pursing and catching men?”
“No. But there’s a first time for everything.”
“I value my freedom.”
“So do I,” she replied. “That’s why I haven’t done this until now. I’ve got a plan for us. Look around. These people are crying out for help, for direction, for guidance. We can offer it to them. Even though no one who lives down here has money, they can spread the word to others who do. We can prosper. We can thrive by helping others blossom.”
“Sounds like in your plan we would become gardeners. And these customers of ours would be plants.”
“You could look at it like that,” she said, smiling wryly.
From that moment on, the two of us were inseparable. Eventually she brushed her teeth, removing the black paint, and took off the knitting needle shower cap. Over time we began to realize that we had much more in common than we could have imagined. We would independently come up with the same crazy ideas at the same time. When I told her that I would like to make a zombie TV series using plots copied from Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best, she said she had had the same idea. Everyone in the show would be a zombie, but the situations, dialogue and developments would be as saccharine as in the original TV shows. At the closing of every episode, the family would gather around the dining room table, say grace, and then feast on brains. As George Romero found out when he asked his neighbors to play the role of zombies in Night of the Living Dead, any and everyone can convincingly play a zombie. Casting would be easy.
Last time I checked, Netflix had ten zombie series running at the same time, and an equal number of movies in the can. The world is as hungry for zombie shows as zombies are for brains.