reading and writing the poetry and stories of our people and places

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Home-House and Home-Heart

(I wrote this last weekend then got shy. Ready or not, here it is.)

Today, I pulled weeds and raked leaves. I counted 10 garbage bags from the Costco box underneath the sink. I told myself, Once I fill these ten, I’m done. I figured I’d be out there for one hour, maybe two. I almost left five bags back. How much was I really going to do? I brought out all ten and placed them on Geen’s Grandma’s kitchen table that we keep on the patio. The table is one of those yellow formica 1970s pieces that almost everybody had and you lucky ones still have. I think ours from 19th Street was grey. The “patio” is a small patch of concrete outside the back door with beams and aluminum with some shingles eight feet high.

Well into my second hour of raking leaves, a roadrunner passed me by on her (it coulda been a her) way from the front to the back yard. I’ve seen a few roadrunners in these yards. Mostly, I see them in don José’s. The roadrunners have better pickins across the road with his chickens, doves, pigeons, apple trees, and some crops that are beyond a garden. His yard looks like a yard that is worked on every day, evening, and weekend. He was working on something and blasting his truck’s radio so long yesterday that his battery ran out and he blocked in his guests parked ahead of him.

I’m lucky to have a house. I’ve had homes, but this is my first house I’m paying a mortgage on. I’m a renter from a family of renters. I’ve paid and my family has paid the mortgages, taxes, vacations, time-shares, college educations, dental jobs, fancy eyeglasses, new cars and boats of landlords and their children for generations.

My sister who visited last weekend told me that our great-aunt--Nana’s sister—moved out of her place in the City’s Dogpatch neighborhood. I don’t know how many years Tía Mary had been living there, but her flat had that kind of comfy feeling that takes at least 10 years to get. She’d lived in that neighborhood her whole life. Her and Nana (b. 1920) grew up there. Their father worked at the nearby shipyards after the railroad. My grandfather worked at the shipyards too. In the late 1960s Nana moved to Pacifica then came back to the City and settled in the Mission. Tía Mary stayed where she had been.

I’m sure the new owners of Tía Mary’s building think they’re making the neighborhood better. The only thing that will definitely be made better is their wallets.

In 1983, we were evicted from our flat—two bedrooms (rooms with doors that closed), two livingrooms (we used one as a bedroom), diningroom (we used it as a bedroom), toilet room, sink and tub/shower room, mantel like the kind over fireplaces (no fireplace), cool molding everywhere, hardwood floors, second story sunhsine for days! The place is on Dearborn, that street that intersects 18th right there where the Women’s Building is and Dovre Club used to be. (Okay, Dovre Club was on the corner, but I had to put it in here if I’m going to mention TWB.)

We weren’t evicted for non-payment of rent. (See the SF Rent Board for the 15 reasons for “just cause” evictions www.sfrb.org.) The sheriff woulda got us outta there a long time before if Mom and Nana hadn’t paid rent. We weren’t evicted for excessive late payments. Money wasn’t rolling around in the ladies’ purses, but they knew there were limits.

Nana, Mom, my sister, her 1 1/2-year old son, and I were evicted cuz this is America and if you buy property, you get to live in it, on it, around it. Or not.

There have been times when I thought, no one should be able to own anything. This was after growing up with a bunch of cousins when I wanted my own everything. Instead we were made to follow Lopez-style communism. I owned or Mom owned and let me use my (her) choines, socks, shoes, shirts, pants, that one Easter dress, and sweaters. Okay, I had access to more than many people in this world ever have. But some of my stuff, yes, including the choines, were my sister’s or cousin’s before or after me depending on if said item was too big or too small. Maybe I was lucky that I was chubby – “Barríl” Grandpa christened me with the r’s rolled, “Barrel,” my uncles, aunts, and Nana said, “husky” Mom soothed, “Fat” my sister clarified. If I wore a 4 or 5 like my cousin my same age did instead of 6X, I would had to share even more. (My cousins, Bucky, Bones, Stinky, Coch(ina), and Harpo never weighed in on my weight.) It didn’t seem that way at the time, but I guess all my extra pounds did me a favor.

The owners told us to leave so they could live in our home/their property. Mom said they were gay. Not a quality my 100% heterosexual and, yes, at least slightly homophobic mother valued. I was so closeted/in denial about my own rainbowness I hadn’t noticed theirs. Once she told me, I thought about the smaller one’s soft face. Mom took us to live with Tía Mary in her flat on 3rd and 20th.

A few months later, Mom and I moved into a converted garage an in-law. Mom died within six months. There are three likely causes listed on her death certificate. One’s missing: “Eviction.”

I filled bag #10 and told myself, Ya! Actually, I sounded more like Roberto Durán: “No más, no más.” There were still more leaves on the ground. I started to pick up the rake to put it in the shed. Then I came inside and got bag #11 and filled it. Truth is I could spend the rest of my life filling bags with leaves and pulling weeds, but I stopped. I’m not old, but I’m old enough to have sore back and legs.

Here in my home-house that I can afford 1,000 miles from my home-heart, I sometimes miss calling the landlord when the drain clogs or the faucet falls off. Truth is, I miss the idea of calling the landlord. None of us often called the landlord when something went wrong. We didn’t want to get blamed. Mostly, we didn’t want the landlord to think we broke something and were gonna break more. If that happened, then two things we didn’t want to happen were going to happen: he was going to raise the rent or evict us. Until we found out we didn’t have to break anything to make that happen. No matter if there were 5 or15 of us living together, we couldn’t afford to move. So having a relative we could stay with for a while sure helped.

I can’t get evicted anymore. I guess Geen could try, but she really likes not dealing with the leaves or weeds so I don’t think she will. I could lose this house. We’re both working and have been since we arrived—thanks Mom, Nana, diosas! and knock on wood--but something could happen and we could lose it. Lose it to a bankrupt-in-so-many-ways system.

I guess I’d go back to paying someone else’s mortgage or jet ski. Then I wouldn’t have to pull any more weeds or rake leaves.

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