The following story involves amphetamines, guns, white supremacists living in the hood, and chocolate cake.
One of the moms at my kid's birthday party was a property sleuth, the person developers like to hire in case that Craigslist deal turns out to be a superfund site, and as we swapped stories about The Worst Section 8 Houses Ever she mentioned an address I recognized. Well, not so much an address as a field filled with cars on blocks.
Ten years ago we'd found three people living in that field, in tents or vans, so we built some basic locking shelters for them and, over the past year, were able to connect them to permanent supportive housing. A host of amiable old black dudes hung out in the house beside it, a used car lot across the street, and the prevailing attitude was that anyone could live in the field so long as they machete the kudzu vines come summer to keep back rats.
It never occurred to me to ask who owned the land. Or why the same cars were still on blocks ten years in a row. Or why I never once saw someone working in the used car lot. It was a smack dealer part of town hit hard by the 2007 foreclosure storm, where code enforcement officers fear to tread, another piece of haunted real estate.
This is where Property Sleuth Mom comes in.
When the home owner died a few months ago, the city offered his kids a deal and the bulldozers couldn't come fast enough, offices for the public health department sprouting on the bones of old Chevys.
Did you know he was white? she asked. That he was 85, a card-carrying member of the Sons of the Confederacy, and had a run-in with the cops for firing a gun at someone?
In my mind, I tried to justify why such a cliche would live in the hood, and not just any hood but the #1 spot to be discovered missing your head and hands, and assumed he'd inherited everything from the pre-white flight generation, too poor to maintain the House of Usher but too proud to move into a nursing home.
Oh no, she said, he was crazy. And rich. And he tried hiding it as long as possible.
There's a saying: Want to keep your property value low? Dump all your trash on the lawn. And that's exactly what he did, all over town, in multiple cities, he would purchase land and cover it with abandoned cars so developers would overlook it while he waited for gentrifiers to come along.
But wait, I ask, Why was he shooting at folks? Why let the house fall apart if he had money? Why live somewhere so lousy with drug dealers?
She leaned in, He had Parkinsons.
Meds like pramipexole and ropinirole can have nasty side effects (gambling addiction, hyper-sexuality, OCD, etc.), but give Parkinsons patients that much needed wind-up. The FDA published some pretty dire warnings, and when doctors stopped writing prescriptions to our gun-slinging protagonist, he sought out the next best thing.
The meth didn't just make him paranoid, she said, He started to...well he had a baby. His wife, she's up in Pennsylvania, she wasn't too happy about that.
Is every house you find this nuts?
Oh yeah, she says, you wouldn't believe.
Kids crowded around asking for cake and watermelon, and I arranged plates while wondering which was worse, that rich crackers were purposely trashing black neighborhoods to keep the rent down, or that the man had unwittingly engineered his own downfall, sliding toward madness as surely as the hand-rail on a ski lift?