Meet the New Hell, same as the old Hell!
This piece will be something of a reprisal of ``The Road to Hell
``; I visited another lost place, a hell-hole of filth and decay in the midst of plenty, and I thought I should share it with you, my loyal readers. It would be wise for you to wait at least two hours after eating before plunging into this.
For new readers of Birdblog, my day job is with a ``scattered site`` property management company. It is called scattered site because we manage small buildings-even single family homes-in all areas and price ranges, and that includes some of the worst neighborhoods in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. I often visit the seemiest of seamy underbellies, and get to see up close and personal those forsaken places which ordinary Americans know are there but have never seen. In a way, I am a modern Marco Polo, or a Coronado seeking the Lost Cities of Cibolo (except my lost cities are most definitely not paved with gold.) I`ve seen some of the worst places in America.
Dan Quayle said poverty is a matter of a poverty of values, and he is correct in this; the place I visited yesterday bears this out! We had just picked up management on a four-family flat in what had been a tolerably decent part of South St. Louis (St. Louis is like a collection of small towns, or used to be, with very well defined areas.) A year or two ago someone had completely gut-rehabbed this building, and everything that was left was new. The second floor north was in tolerable shape-just some debris, filth, and holes in the walls, but the first floor...
The first floor was a crackhouse. We saw probably 100 pieces of cellophane on the kitchen counter, clearly used to hold crack rocks. There was rotting food on the floors, numerous used condoms (I am always fearful of that), trash, and debris. Someone had dragged tree limbs inside, and was using a cooking pot to burn it in. There were cuts made in the carpet; little squares which could be replaced, the purpose being to hide drugs in case the police made a night bust. The screens in all the windows were cut, offering our ``tenants`` a quick escape hatch. Since the water was off, the crackheads first filled the toilet, then began defecating in the bathtub, filling it halfway full with their excrement. Oh, and they had dismantled the air conditioner units outside to sell for parts.
The south side of the building had tenants, and this was, if anything, even worse! The upstairs tenant`s apartment was filthy and disgusting with holes in the walls and debris strewn throughout, but was not completely uninhabitable. They had probably 15 people crammed into a three bedroom apartment, and hadn`t paid rent since last July, but they represented our ``good tenant``. The first floor was equally overcrowded, but it was far more foul; they left spilled food lay where it fell, one had to find a trail through the buildup of trash and debris in every room, bugs and mice were everywhere-including at least four of them frolicking among the children`s toys in plain site. The sewer had backed up (because someone had filled the sewer clean out in the yard with trash) and they had taken no steps to have this addressed, so there was a sewage backup in the basement at least a foot deep and the outhouse smell inside the apartment was overpowering. The tenants admitted it had been like that for a while...
(One of the things I fear is bringing home a `souvenir` from one of these places-roaches or other bugs, or some horrible disease on the soles of my shoes. I fear poking myself with a needle. I fear catching malaria, or lames Disease...)
Mind you, this building had been rehabbed less than two years ago. The investors, fooled by late night informercials and a booming rental market, thought they could sink large amounts of money into a neighborhoods that did not justify the investment, and they probably tried to manage it themselves. You have to know what you are doing; even professionals have trouble when a neighborhood changes for the worse. These owner probably could not find qualifiable tenants, and they became desperate to put bodies into their building, so took in the first people who brought the cash. That is the fastest route to bankruptcy in the rental market!
My associate is from a family of police officers, and his brother was involved in a fatal shooting of a 17 year old gang member not two blocks from this building. The youths had been congregating at a vacant building, obviously dealing drugs. The officers approached them and they ran. They were able to cut one of the scoundrels off, and he pulled a gun out and fired at them, so they drew their revolvers and, unfortunately, killed him. Of course, there was a major inquest, but the evidence was clear that the boy had shot at them first and they were completely justified in using lethal force.
This neighborhood had been rough, but had not been like THAT! The closing of McCree Town by the City to proceed with redevelopment scattered the criminals in that worst-of-neighborhoods to the four winds (thank you, Mayor Slay!) and a good many settled in this area called ``Dutchtown`` (since it had been a German neighborhood years before-my own grandmother had lived there.) It has become a hellhole on the par with the neighborhoods on the north side of St. Louis of which I have spoken in the past.
At least the children in this building attended school. Also, there were clearly good people on this block, people who simply could not afford to move away yet. I imagine that will change in the near future.
I had to stand guard while our maintenance department boarded up the vacant apartments and the basement. Fortunately, the copper pipes in the basement had been replaced with plastic, so we didn`t have to replumb the property. Maintenance had to secure every conceivable opening, because the crackheads would, like rats or cockroaches, find a way in if you left so much as a crack. (I`ve seen them tunnel through brick walls!) People kept walking by our vehicles and looking to see what would be worth stealing all the while; if I hadn`t been on guard we would have had our trucks broken into.
It will take at least 6 months to straighten this building out, and it will cost the owners a fortune to accomplish it. We will have to evict these barbarians from the landlord`s little fiefdom, and keep them away until we can make the necessary repairs and find new occupants. It will be a long, hard slog, and it may not be possible at all!
It really is hard to believe that such places exist, and not but a couple of miles from my own home. We had a tenant who represented a sizable portion of our people who actually had a fairly popular cable television show ``The Low Life`` in which he explored the seamy underbelly of St. Louis-including the lives of prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, transvestite etc. He was a cockroach of a man, a guy who enjoyed dwelling among the filth and decay of modern society. I suspect people didn`t believe his tales of disgust and rot, yet I see it on a regular basis. (Oh, the man died shortly after moving out of our property.)
Once again, I blame the kind-hearted, soft-headed approach of Liberalism; their belief in the inherent goodness of Man means that they think you can take people who are unable or unwilling to care for themselves and their families and throw them into the general public, expecting them to succeed. They believe that giving them a clean home and helping them pay bills will turn them around, but it is not the case. The lowest drag down, not the other way around; a neighborhood collapses when you put drug dealers, prostitutes, and asundry criminals in with decent people. Welfare has created enormous families such as the ones overoccupying our property, and the kids join gangs as a matter of course. A small problem becomes a huge one thanks to Liberal do-gooder meddling.
At any rate, I hope you all kept your breakfast down after reading this. I can give a mental picture to you, but the reality is much, uh, graphic-especially the smells of these places. I can`t begin to describe it! It`s important for everyone to know about these places, about the existence of such despair and squalor here in the land of plenty. The children crammed in among the mice and roaches didn`t ask to be born, didn`t ask to suffer from ignorance, criminality, and hopelessness as they have been sentenced to do. Something must be done for them, but that something cannot be the same failed policies which created these hell-holes in the first place. We have to find a new way.