“ Doggie College “ by Brandy Fitzgerald
The first apt. I rented when I moved to D.C. was at Rhode Island
Avenue Plaza, on Rhode Avenue, N.E. It was affordable and one
of the worse building in the Capitol in 1980.
In the day, the Plaza was elite, beautiful and only housed upper
class people with thriving careers. They had a doorman, cafe inside,
cab service any hour of the day or night and a special bus service
for those who worked downtown at government offices.
By the time I moved in, it was a rat infested, low rent horror.
The efficiency I got was $100 a month and not worth a dime of it.
I knew I wouldn’t be there long, so I took it just to have a place to
lay my head after work.
Two women from Tennessee lived in the 2 bedroom apt. across the
hall from me. These ladies had come to D.C. for better jobs and
education. They got caught up in drugs instead. Even though
they were only a couple years older than me, the drugs had
aged them considerably. Their skin looked like dried up leather and
their hands shook like they had Parkinson’s Disease. I was still
glad to have women as my neighbors, but because of the drugs,
I couldn't hang out with them.
I didn’t have any furniture so my mattress was on the floor. One
morning, just as I was waking up and still groggy, I felt small
hands on my back. I jumped up, scared that someone was in my apt,
trying to attack me. It turned out to be 2 rats who scurried across the
floor and slide under the front door like they didn’t have any bones
in their body. Scrubbing my apt down in bleach had little affect on
the rats, roaches and other vermin that had lived in that building
longer than I’d been on earth.
The Plaza was a huge building and it did have 2 elevators.
Unfortunately, only one of them was working. The other one had
been gas bombed by a disgruntled tenant who got kicked out.
It looked like a bombed out building in Beirut.
Now let me explain something to you; in order to be kicked out of
the Plaza, you had to be the worse person on earth! That place
had everybody and everything living there. Whether you paid your
rent or not, the management was so corrupt that as long as you gave
them some side money, you could stay there. As long as you shared
your drugs with them, you could deal there. As long as you gave them
some koochie, you could turn tricks in the stairway.
I lived on the second floor and always walked up the stairs rather
than wait for the only elevator. The stairway was clogged with trash
and smelled like piss. I had to step over used condoms and other unknowns,
making sure nothing stuck to my shoes and ended up in my apt.
Every weekend there was a fight in the courtyard, 2 floors below,
right under my big windows. You could tell that the courtyard use
to be lovely and serene a long time ago. You could imagine how
wonderful it was to sit on the cement benches at night, surrounded
by pretty flowers and soft grass. Snuggled in the arms of your lover,
gazing at the beautiful water fountain, as the light from the wrought iron
lanterns danced on the water......
Fast forward; the water fountain no longer worked, the cement
benches were cracked up, and only one tree remained. It was
pretty beat up, but it hung in there.
The wrought iron lanterns barely clung to their poles. The bulbs
were missing, so the only light came from ground floor apts or the
moon. The ground gave up producing grass years ago and the bald
dirt was littered with cigarette butts, broken whiskey bottles and
dried blood from the drama that unfolded there every weekend.
The trouble would start every Saturday night as soon as day light
gave up the ghost. By midnight, it would escalate into terrible
fighting, resulting in the police and ambulance being called.
I could never see the faces, but I could clearly hear the voices
of the man and woman who were the main players. They fought
and cursed like they despised each other. The cursing, egged
on by excessive drinking, was followed with the inevitable fist fight,
screaming, cutting, sometimes a gun shot or two could be heard.
The police/ambulance would arrive and anyone who wasn't wounded
would run, including the children.
Closing the windows did little to drown out the violence below me.
These were professionals and they meant to be heard. This was
the live show everyone waited for and the couple never disappointed
their audience. I hated it, but changing the channel was not an option.
As I said, I couldn’t see the faces, but the voices were too clear.
One day, I was in the lobby, with several other people, waiting for
the elevator. The stairway was filled with ladies doing their thing.
The moment the elevator door opened, I heard a scratchy voice
and knew it was the woman from the courtyard brawl. Then I heard
a man’s voice and knew he was the other half of the nightmare.
When they finally came into view, I was horrified!
The man was about 6’5, thin as a rail and he walked lopsided, like
he would teeter over any second. The woman was short, about 5 ft..
She weighed about 300 lbs and had a protruding butt. She walked
stiff, and one hand was curled up like she couldn’t straighten it out
Both of their faces were riddled with scars and stitches that
gave them that distinct Frankenstein look.
The woman was cradling a beautiful white Poodle in her other
arm. Someone asked her how her Poodle was doing.
Apparently they had a hard time training the dog.