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Adversity Knows No Bounds

Short story By: Ann Dromedus
Literary fiction



When the government awfuls won't answer questions about spying on a young waitress in Chicago, Yolanda turns to Dear Addy for advice.


Submitted:Sep 26, 2010    Reads: 23    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


Adversity Knows No Bounds
"There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained." W.E. DuBois
"Oboyo, Oboyo...-- they've ransacked the place."
Yolanda stood in the doorway of the teeny apartment on the second floor staring at the mess inside. Coats from the hall closet were dumped in a huge pile, the hangars were strewn across the hardwood floor. The vacuum cleaner had been dragged out and its cardboard bag ripped apart, sending dust all over the place. There was broken glassware from the kitchen everywhere, and the lampshade from the card table where she ate lay smashed by the window.
She was dumb-struck.
A faint odor of burning garlic seeped through the hallways of the crumbling, red brick apartment building off Ellis. She shut the door half-way and stepped carefully over the cracked glass on the floor to get to the only window in the apartment. But when she tried to push it up off the window sill - it stuck. Layers of old paint had melted in the afternoon sun and glued the window to the frame.
She turned back to look over the square living room where the cushions from the second-hand couch with the faded roses on ivory chintz had been thrown around the room. As usual, she noticed the water stains on the paper-thin walls which dripped from the ceiling upstairs. Blinking her eyes, she could feel tears streaking her long, black, fake eyelashes.
"O boy, O boy. Now they've sent thugs to search my home," she moaned.
She stepped her way over the mess and plunked herself down on the stripped couch. "First it's the phone tapping, then the stalking…and now THIS! What do they want from me?" she asked the silent walls with the blank patches where pictures had once hung.
She leaned over to pick up a shiny, black vase with red-and-gold flowers she had bought for forty-five cents at an outdoor flea market on the South Side last summer. It was still intact - despite rolling off the rickety card table which was now lying on its side with a broken leg under the stuck window.
"Yaooow," she cried out. "They've wrecked everything."
She sat disconsolately staring at the vandalized room. It would take hours to straighten up the mess, put things back where they belonged, sweep up the broken bric-a-brac, dust bunnies, and light bulb fragments. She would be at it half the night just to be able to crawl into bed before dawn. It was so unfair.
But what had the thugs who broke in been looking for? A quick glance showed that the eight-inch, portable, black-and-white TV in the kitchenette was still there. Nothing seemed to have been stolen. Not that she had very much in her first apartment - which she had barely been able to rent with her wages from Cheese-It's where she waited tables six days a week.
Usually it was druggies or petty criminal who broke into a place to steal things they could pawn. But as far as she could see, they had taken nothing out of her few paltry things which could be sold for cash, Probably it was Oboyo's thugs who had vandalized the place looking for something else. But what? Didn't they have enough to do following her on the street - even to Cheese-It's sometimes?
"What a mess," she sighed, pulling her shoulder-length brown hair back into a ponytail to keep her hair off her face. She would have to roll up her sleeves and get to work if she wanted to get any sleep overnight. Or heat leftovers in the oven for a bit of supper. She'd already worked twelve hours today, if you counted the commute downtown and back. And there was only more work waiting for her on the hardwood floor.
She started to stand up, thought better of it, and sat back on the couch. "What about the police?" she asked the battered cushions covered in ivory-and-roses in the middle of the room. If she reported they break-in, they would have to come over, stomp around, and poke through her personal belongings. Then they would make a token report, and tell her there was so much crime around here nothing could be done about it.
She had already made numerous complaints about the goons who seemed to be trailing her on the street which the police told her was all in your mind. When she'd reported the strange clicks on her telephone and the heavy breathing on the other end, they refused to file a report so the phone company could trace the calls.
If she did report the break-in, she would have to listen to their excuses for doing nothing again. But if she didn't report it, she wouldn't have a record of the vandalism which she might need in the future.
Of course, she could report it to the superintendent in the basement apartment where the florescent lights glared like spotlights on the tiled hallway. He would grunt, tell her to "lock up better," and slam the door in her face. People were unfriendly in the big city she had found. And the scrawny man with the red-rimmed eyes who kept an eye on things in the building was no exception.
She leaned over to rub her sore ankles, weary from hours of carrying the huge, round metal trays of cheese fries from table to table. Her feet hurt, the odor from the hallway was making her nose twitch, and the tiny apartment looked like a natural disaster zone. She stared at the chaos, blinking her thick, heavy eyelashes until the right one caught on her lower eyelid. It took her a minute to pry it off with a plastic, rosy-red fingernail from the dime store.
But what were they looking for? she asked herself. Is there anything missing?
She knew the police would ask if she called the station to report the break-in. It was hard to tell looking at the pile of coats and broken glass on the floor. She would have to make a systematic check of the apartment to see if she could identify anything that might have been stolen.
She stood up and tip-toed into the kitchenette with its row of cabinets on the far wall over a counter. The black-and-white TV was sitting at the far end untouched. But the dishware had been pulled out and dumped on the counter. A drawer had been yanked open and silverware dumped on the floor but the kitchen knives were lined up neatly on top of the stove.
What do they think - I'm gonna stab somebody or what? she asked the brown, vinyl-handled, steak knives.
She wandered back into the living room on her way to the tiny, square bedroom where the bedding had been stripped off and flung into a corner. The clothes from the narrow closet had been dumped on the floor, and her one picture of a young girl in a pink dress smiling on a black velvet background was hanging lopsided on the wall.
Boy…like they think I've got a vault hidden behind it, the way they show in TV programs, she muttered to herself.
She peered into the dank, dark, empty closet and ran her hand along the shelf over the pole. The brown box where she kept her old stuffed animals was lying on top of the dresser, with a soft, furry, gray rabbit's head sticking out of it. They, at least, were safe. Half-dazed, she picked up the bedding from the corner and put it on the bed. Slowly, she walked back into the living room and flopped on the couch.
Only one thing seemed to be missing: the gray, cardboard letter file she kept on the top shelf of the closet where she stored the cards she received on special occasions. She had hunted for it through the black uniforms thrown on the floor, under the bed where she could see a zillion dust bunnies, everyplace in the bedroom she could think of - but it was nowhere to be found.
"They took my letters," she sighed.
She felt as if someone had ripped her chest open and pulled her heart out. Maybe they didn't seem important to someone else, but they were her personal letters, neatly stacked in alphabetical files inside the expensive, gray cardboard box stamped LETTERS she had purchased specially at a stationery store downtown. Real burglars took things like TV's, clocks, watches, and radios. But Oboyo's goons had taken her private letters - and there was something creeepy about people who took things like that.
She felt violated…thinking that some thug was right now pawing through her birthday cards with the cute greetings from her school friends. There were Christmas cards, congratulations from her teacher when she got her GED, a recommendation from her former employer. Ad now they were gone, probably forever, and she didn't know why. Why would anyone want to take her private letters and leave everything else behind?
Heaving a gigantic sigh, she pushed herself off the couch and stepped over the scattered debris on the floor on her way to the phone. She didn't want to report the break-in to the police, but she knew she had to. Once they had come and gone she could clean the place up. And then she could try to decide what to do about Oboyo.
*
"Off to the EL," Yolanda told the kitchen sink, putting her plastic coffee cup down on the tarnished, steel bottom. Every day she walked through the seedy streets, past shuttered brownstones with "U-First Bank Foreclosure "signs on the windows to catch the train downtown. Usually the walk took her ten minutes - if the vagrants lying on the front stoops didn't roll down to the sidewalk and make her have to crisscross the street several times. That was during the warm season. If it was winter, she had to wrap her face in a double-knit scarf and fight the fierce wind blowing off the lake just to make it to the tracks in thirty minutes.
The half hour of discomfort she had endured when the police came to the apartment flashed through her mind. Det. Brutkis had walked around the living room in big leather boots kicking things out of his way. Sgt. Belasco had scribbled in a little notebook he took out of his back pocket, flipped the lid to close it, surveyed the chaos in the room, and announced brightly, "Opportunity knocks!"
When they asked if she knew who might have broken in, she tried to tell them about the government awfuls who followed her around all the time. Det. Brutkis smirked before motioning to his companion that it was time to depart. Then he tipped his visor at her and stomped toward the door without another word. Case closed. They would never bother to fingerprint the place or look for the letter thieves at all.
She hurried toward the EL in the gray light of morning. Once she got to the decrepit platform with its one, varnished wooden bench nailed to the floor, she had to join the queue waiting for the 7:37 express which stopped only four times on the way to Mish Ave. If she missed that, she had to wait fifteen minutes for the local that stopped eighteen times for garbage collection, ticket inspection, conductor conversations, or students jumping across the tracks. After two years of riding it day-in-and-day-out she knew why the authorities had named it the EL. But it was the only way she could get to work downtown where the streets were paved with concrete.
When the train disgorged its passengers, stiff from overcrowding in the narrow aisles, she was shoved to the rear of the platform by a group of men in sharp suits. It was so jammed she had to grab the top of a vending machine to hold herself upright as they rushed past her. When the mass evacuation had ended she let go of the vending machine and glanced at the front-page headline on the Slum Times. . "Litter Thieves Get Clean Away!!" the huge, black letters on the front page screamed. It was a dark day in Chicago where her co-workers liked to say the C stood for crime.
Cheese-It's was bustling when she peered through the kitchen door into the restaurant. Quickly, she tore off her thin coat in the break room and tied on the frilly white apron over her black uniform with the short, bow sleeves, slipped a hair net over her head, and straightened her regulation, cotton-sepia stockings above her black, crepe-sole shoes. Brushing off a bit of powder from her makeup on the left pocket to keep it clean ("you buy it, you clean it, you replace it" was the boss' s motto), she pushed open the heavy, swinging door to the restaurant to see customers lined up by the take-out counter waiting to order coffee.
"Crack-a-dawn!" a gruff voice hollered at her from behind the cash register. His bald head shone under the overhead light as a muscular arm in a long, white shirt sleeve waved to her to go behind the counter and fill take-out orders. "Caw-fee here," he yelled loudly, rolling his right arm around and around in a circle like a pitcher warming up for a ball game. "Caw-fee, fresh-baked rolls to go, get your copy of the Slum Times here," he shouted like an umpire telling the team how to shape up and play BALLLL!
It wasn't until late morning that she got a chance for a break. She parked herself on a creaky chair in the backroom where employees could rest for twelve minutes after a five hour shift and rubbed her aching ankles. It was bring-your-own food or swallow a ten-day old doughnut which the management finally found the courage to remove from the display case in the front window after the sun melted the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and jelly filling into layers of iced glue.
She looked over the plate of stale doughnuts set on top of the sooty microwave and picked out the plainest one she saw, breaking off a quarter of it to put in her mouth. Ensconced on the chair again, chewing on the dry, sticky dough, she began to leaf through the tabloid lying half-open on the break table.
A bold-faced headline on the upper right hand side of the page said, "Throw the Bum Out." She leaned over the table to skim the column below it, reminding herself that she had received a ten dollar Culligan Man coupon when she completed her reading test for her GED in night school.
If the traveling salesman keeps giving you false promises and telling you he's going to change, but there's no sign that he means it - throw the bum out. The man who lies to his nearest and dearest -whether his employer, his mate, or his poker pals- isn't trustworthy. Give him an ultimatum: thirty days and you're out. Then go stay with a family member. If he doesn't come back with flowers in his hand and penance in his heart, shut the door behind you forever."
Yolanda smiled and shoved the rest of the stale, chewy doughnut in her mouth. They were good words of advice, she told herself. Dear Addy gave no nonsense advice - she never let excuses or phony explanations get in the way of telling people exactly what to do about a problem. It made her feel better after her rushed morning, knowing that someone out there in one of the tall skyscrapers which towered over the city had common sense. In a world as confused as this, someone who could size up a situation and provide a realistic solution was just what people needed.
The break-room door was flung back on its flimsy hinges and the barrel-shaped man in the long-sleeved, white shirt with a shiny, black bow-tie under his neck stood on the doorsill. "CUSS-TOMERS! Get back to your station NOW!" he shouted. The door shut behind him with a bang.
Rubbing her ankles one last time, Yolanda pushed herself off the battered chair, and muttering a mild cuss word, headed off toward the restaurant floor.
*
Rush hour had just begun when she stepped onto the sidewalk at the corner of Mish and Wabash, two minutes after she squeezed through the narrow alleyway from the rear entrance to Cheese-It's.
The first thing she saw was a skinny teen in a gray twill cap hawking the evening paper to passersby. He was holding up a stack of papers in front of him showing a full-page, grainy picture of Oboyo, who looked like he was posing for a cover of Mad magazine which always had a picture of Alfred E Newman asking, "What, Me Worry?"
His big ears stuck out from the side of his face and his milky white teeth shone like a row of pearly dentures in the middle of his black face. He had posed with the mayor once, joking that he was as tall as the Sears tower but he got better reception with his Blackberry.
Usually he looked as if he was draped against a telephone poll when he appeared languidly outside the white-columned house in Washington to give speeches on TV. Now he looked like one of those posters where they put the same picture on fifteen times to make it look like you had double-vision.
She walked rapidly toward the EL, keeping her eyes on the grimy sidewalk to avoid cracks. All around her, there were teeming hordes of men in business suits carrying briefcases under their arms, rushing toward the central rail station in the city. They had it made, taking the train out to the suburbs every night to a big house where the wife and kiddies were waiting for them. She was just a lowly waitress, barely able to make ends meet, fast-walking to the overcrowded EL where the soot on the windows was at least fifty years old.
Oboyo's face was almost everywhere all the time since he had taken the top job out in DC two years ago. He had hardly spent any time here since he had arrived from some place out East where he'd gone to school She had read an article about him once which said he had come here to "help folks out" when he got his first job with some kind of law firm. But he didn't stay in it very long before he bopped off to the state ledger. A couple of years there and he bopped off to DC in some grand job and then - BAMMO - he was running for the top job with his picture plastered all over the papers and TV.
It was a pretty swift climb to the top, she thought, standing at a traffic light, watching a white van with a ladder tied down across the roof pass through the intersection. He probably had a lot of connections. Or maybe it was on account of his race that he was promoted to be the first black elephant in the country. There was a lot of stuff about race that went on almost everywhere. They were said to be deprived of civic rights and deserving of extra help because they'd been separated for a hundred years.
She had walked past his house one Sunday when she was off work from Cheese-It's. It was only about fifteen blocks from where she lived in the five- storey apartment building off Ellis. They said he had bought it with money from a book he sold while he was in the state ledger. It was on a long street with a lot of mansions set back on scrubby lawns which looked like mausoleums to her. There was a brown, brick porch out front with squat white columns and the windows were all covered with beige paper like one of the foreclosed places with plywood nailed over the windows.
She pushed her way into the crowd waiting at the bottom of the stairs leading to the EL platform. The smell of sweat from the tired and restless crowd made her think of the zoo. She was squeezed between two men wearing tan uniform shirts with black emblems on the pocket complaining about "these eternal delays."
It was her second year taking the EL. She could remember how she'd gotten her GED and set off to look for work in the city - far from her widowed mother in Joliet. She had become an invalid after years of cleaning houses, but she could manage on her own in the tiny, lime-green house on her little bit of social security. The only jobs in Joliet were at the prison where the wire mesh loomed over the huge, brick walls with spotlights on them at night. It was her chance to "get situated" her mother had told her.
One June day she had taken the train up through the corn fields of Illinois to the big city of Chicago. For a month, she'd stayed in a boarding house while she looked for work. Everyday she read through the classified ads, penciling everything she thought she could apply for. Then she would go down to the bank to get change to plunk down in the pay phone to call about jobs. The rest of the time she walked for miles to some office where she filled out endless forms and then went home to wait for a response. It had taken her three months - and most of her precious savings - to get this job as a waitress and she didn't dare leave it until she found something better.
It had been another half year before she had enough money for a deposit on the tiny apartment she lived in now. At first, she slept on a second-hand mattress wrested from a thrift shop until she could buy the bits of furnishings she had now.She had gone home to Joliet once for a brief visit and brought back a package filled with glasses to put in the kitchen cabinets. But mostly she had spent her free-time going to second hand stores in the neighborhood trying to find things she needed with the meager amount of money she got in tips.
The line began to shove forward as the sound of the EL rumbling down the tracks could be heard. "FORWARD!" a hoarse man's voice yelled out from somewhere behind her. The train came into view, the front window streaked with dirt blown, a silver wire poking out from the roof like a TV antenna. There was a loud squealing noise as it began to brake and a sudden lurch as it stopped suddenly, leaving three cars far from the platform.
Shoving and pushing, the crowd began to force their way through the open doors into the already full aisles. She barely squeezed into the last space in the second car when the doors whirred and slowly closed. With a jerk, the EL began to move, gravel spitting out from under the wheels as it picked up speed.
She stood hanging onto the metal rail on the top of a cracked, wicker seat, thinking about the state the apartment had been in when she got home to find it ransacked. She had just moved in about the time of Oboyo's altercation to the top job. And it was only a short time after that she had discovered the creeepy things going on.
First there had been the trouble with the phone. The clicks…the heavy breathing….the open line which was never hung up. She'd listened for five minutes once, watching the clock, but the line remained open. That was before she'd read somewhere that phone clicks meant someone was tapping into your private line.
What was worse was how the strange men followed her on the streets a couple of weeks later when she went to shop at the We Accept Food Stamps store near her apartment. They trailed her often. For awhile, she carried a knife in the pocket of her coat - until it slashed the lining and made hole in the wool fabric. So she had replaced it with a switchblade from a grungy pawnshop on the edge of Hide Park to be on the safe side. She never got a good look at the faces of the men who followed her because they wore dark sunglasses, caps with visors, or swiftly dodged behind buildings when she turned to look at them. But they looked like feds.
But that was only the beginning. About a month after the phone clicking and stalking started, she started seeing these weird things pop up on the streets. Like a movie poster for a film called CHINTZ PALACE which showed a couch with the same ivory fabric and faded roses that covered her own couch in the apartment. A stocky woman with thick, waist-length brown hair tied in a pony tail stood next to it staring into space. Below her was printed the invitation to:" Step into a brand-new world where a modest sum will get you the home of your dreams - if THEY don't get you first!"
She had seen other movie posters plastered on store windows, telephone polls, and bus windows during her commute downtown and back. One showed a gold-plated cash register with numbers gloating out of the drawer past the open mouth of a big man wearing a white shirt onto a street where a young woman was staring yearningly through the window. It was called JOB FOR SALE. When she walked past the Bijoux Cinema, there were a whole bunch of posters with titles like WANDA'S DREAM, A TIP IS FOREVER, TOIL FOR TOMORROW. They all sounded like they were based on her life - a young heroine facing life in the big city, working in a greasy spoon restaurant, hoping she could move up in the world.
The train jolted as it hit the brakes, squealing to a stop at the next, gray wooden platform. Only two more stops and she would be on her way home - a long day with customers wailing "extra order of fries OVER HERE" most of the time.
It was only after she'd managed to purchase the tiny, portable, black-and-white TV for twenty-five bucks from a street vendor displaying it on the back of a beat-up van that she got her first hint of what was going on with the movie posters.
Turning it on one evening, she had seen a news reporter interviewing one of Oboyo's staff members. Abramowitz told her about his move to DC after Oboyo's altercation and described the eight brothers who had gone to Hollywood to get into the movie business while he stayed behind in Chicago as an accountant for a big corporation which had offices on the 39th floor of the Wheeler building. "They used to call me the Whiz Kid," he told the wide-eyed interviewer with a smug smile.
"But you've met the rich and famous, haven't you?" she asked, as the TV screen filled with video clips of Abramowitz dressed in a black tuxedo chatting with Hollywood stars on a red carpet during a gala event.
"I do photo-ops with the stars when I can," he replied.
It had made her wonder. Was there some connection between the movie posters about her life and the Right House with all those connections in Hollywood? After all, there were all those scandals about illegal activities during during the Nixon era. Maybe they were making stuff out of things they had stolen from her. They might not have envelopes stuffed with cash handed to them under a table by the potted palms of a hotel lobby, but they could get things by other means.
It made her feel creepy, that was for sure. Sometimes she felt like she was in a bizarre version of Candid Camera where someone had set up a hidden TV camera to catch her when she walked by a store. But no one every jumped out to yell "SURPRISE!" and tell her how a movie company had pretended to be a moving company when she had the ivory-with-roses chintz couch taken to the apartment and stolen pictures of it.
Everyday she looked into the faces of new customers wondering if one of them might have had it in for her and turned her over to the CREEPY agencies. Then one evening she had turned on the TV and heard Oboyo making a speech where he said his goal was to "spread mighty spam through the land" and something clicked in her mind. For reasons she couldn't fathom, she realized he must be the one who was having her spied on right here in his home neighborhood on the South Side.
A whistle screamed somewhere over her head as the train braked approaching 59th St. The Lackawanna Express had arrived. At long last she was almost home and could put her feet up on the couch.
*
She had a fitful night but the rush at Cheese-It's didn't stop till half-past eleven the next day. She had been worrying herself sick over the break-in, fearful that SOMETHING TERRIBLE was going to happen because her home had been broken into. Before, there had only been the heavy breathing, the strange men peering around the edges of buildings with dark sun glasses, and the eerie sensation of leaking.
But now they had physically invaded her apartment, possibly carrying concealed weapons in bulging pockets, and taken away something they had no right to. What if the next thing they did was kidnap her? Grab her one evening when she left work, force a cloth with vapor drugs over her mouth to keep her from screaming, and haul her away in the back of a big car to some unknown place where they could do anything they wanted to her?
She couldn't decide what to do. After all, she wasn't sitting at a soda fountain all day waiting for some Hollywood director to see her and make her a movie star, was she? But if Oboyo and his pals in the Hippo-crat party were in the Right House they could do a lot of bad things without anybody knowing about it. She could be in real danger, with no one to help her because all the agencies which were supposed to protect the public only protected.
Her feet felt like they had been squeezed by a metal clamp from a Buster Brown shoe store when she rubbed them in the break room. Vague memories of kidnappings filled her mind. Sometimes they cut out letters from magazines and pasted them onto a piece of paper to demand a ransom from the victim's family. But she didn't have a rich family and there was no way the police would help her if someone wanted to dispose of her in a dumpster somewhere at the edge of the city.
Standing up to get a week-old doughnut from the plastic plate by the microwave she noticed a newspaper rolled up beside it. She took it back to the rickety table and plunked it down on top. Reaching into her purse she dug out a cracked, yellow pencil and a small notebook with a big, yellow happy face on the cover. Maybe…,she thought to herself,…maybe there is some way to get help.
She flipped open the notebook and sat looking at the lined paper with the pencil point propped in her mouth. Slowly she began to write in small letters on the first page. Dear Addy - My apartment was vandalized two days ago. They broke half the stuff in it and stole a bunch of letters I was saving. The police won't do anything to find out who did it. But I'm scared. There have been men following me in the streets for months, my phone clicks when I make a call, and I keep seeing references to my person pop up in movie posters. Do you think someone in government is doing this to me? Yours, Klipped in Kenwood
She closed the tiny notebook and put it back in her purse, locking it carefully in the metal cabinet where employees kept their things. She would print the letter out on a piece of stationery when she got home and send it to the address listed below the column in the morning. Maybe Addy could help. By now she knew that the police wouldn't.
*
She read the paper every day for the rest of the week during her break. It was too early for a reply to be published but she had her heart set on one anyway. Where could she turn if it was true that Bonanza Boy was having her spied on except to a sympathetic advisor in the press? Nowhere else, she knew. Her fellow workers shrugged her off if she even mentioned the creepy, weird things that were happening to her.
She became familiar with the advice that Addy gave to the lonely, confused, or angry. She told Divorced in Daytona to get a job if the cheating mate refused to pay alimony when he remarried. Harassed in Hannibal got a snappy reply on how to fend off unwanted admirers at the office - dress down and stick to the work at hand. She also praised the letter from a homiletics professor in Waukesau who complained about the deterioration of speech among school children whose vocabulary consisted of yeah, gimmee, and chilling out.
She also read the disclaimer printed in italics below the column informing readers that while Addy read every letter she received, she could not publish a reply to every one. It was disappointing to know that, but Yolanda still had her fingers crossed that somehow Addy would offer her advice on what to do about her situation.
In the break room on Friday, there was a photo of Blogo on the front-page of the Slum Times. He was the mayor of Chicago whose square face and squat body had become familiar over the past two years. He was accused of selling adrenaline for cash from a chain drug store seeking a permit to expand in high-traffic areas. He denied the charges, saying that an "energetic defense was the best medicine." She had seen him on the news running down Lake Drive with a TV crew in a car following him while he told them about his big plans for the city. "New high-rise hotels off the lake, a downtown as big as Wrigley Field, commercial enterprises which answer the dreams of ordinary citizens."
He was pounding the pavement as he talked, his rubber running shoes squeaking while he talked about his goals. "This ain't gonna be no SECOND CLASS CITY while I'm in office," he yelled, waving a hand at the TV crew as he huffed and puffed his way around a curve and out of view behind a grove of trees.
*
The days wore on as she fought her way daily through the EL crowds and spent restless nights without sleep. On her day off on Sunday she had scoured the floor of her apartment, taped cheap packing paper to the cracked, wooden window frame to keep prying eyes out, and called her mother in Joliet to say, "Everything's fine mom (click…click), I pay the rent," promising to take a train down to visit when she got a few days off from her six day a week job.
She had spent a miserable hour on the couch remembering how upset she had been when she listened to all the hoopla about Oboyo after his elevation. She had written him a letter asking about the spying and requesting him to look into it. She had concluded it with a description of herself as a lowly waitress who was "a member of the human - not black - race," who deserved civic rights too.
But there was no reply to her letter to Oboyo, mailed in a security envelope from a box she had purchased especially from the five-and-dime. Six weeks later, a square, white envelope with the return address of The Right House on it had appeared in her mailbox. She could hardly pick it up because her fingers were shaking so much. A reply at last, she had murmured, hugging the square envelope to her chest as she climbed the stairs to the odor-filled hallway leading to her apartment.
Inside she slit the envelope open with the switchblade and pulled out the square post card printed in black, italic ink and read the message.
"Dear ___: Thank you for your recent correspondence. We are always glad to hear from our supporters and proud that our administration is the most open in our nation's history."
That was it. A pre-printed card from the Oboyo administration. Telling people it was the most "open" administration ever. Open to what? The skies? How easy it must be to send out a form letter notice to the public and pay no attention to anything anyone said.
It wasn't often she wrote a letter, let alone one to the head honcho in the Right House. And she had written not one, but two, three….five letters to Oboyo asking him for help to end spying by the government awfuls. They had been answered by the same printed postcard with the same message. All told, she had received six printed postcards with the same message on it from the Right House.
At first she thought they might be trying to find time to answer the mail after the hoopla of the elevation was over. But there were only the six cards in the mailbox and that was it. They were among the letters she had stored in the gray, cardboard LETTERS box in her apartment - the box which had been stolen by the goons who had broken in to her apartment.
It made her think about Blogo, accused of selling adrenaline to the drug store chain and waiting for trial with all those possibly nasty consequences. Maybe Oboyo had sent goons to steal the evidence, hoping to hide the fact that she had mentioned the strange clicks on her phone and the flat-foots following her around in her last letter. Without evidence, how could she prove that the Oboyo administration was doing something to her no one oughtta?
It reminded her of the times when people protested against the government for civic rights. They had demonstrated in the streets carrying seedy-looking signs which said: "Justice delayed is justice denied." They didn't like the government pretending there weren't problems so they could just go on abusing people.
But by the time the six postcards arrived she already knew that it was Oboyo and his crowd who were spying on her. That was because she often saw government awfuls making strange remarks in public about her situation. Like the show called Face the Nashion she had watched one Sunday when Eppelgard, another of Oboyo's staff from Chicago, said he was all in favor of the "static cling" policy in which government "did not interfere unduly with the needs of average citizens." That was the day after she had pulled too hard on the big saran wrap roll in the kitchen putting away the bowls of cole slaw and wound up on the floor with the plastic film all over her face barely able to breathe.
*
The following Wednesday she could wait no longer. At 10:45 on the dot she took her break, telling her boss with the slug-fest mouth taking orders from late-to-work men screaming "Move it - NOW!" she had something important to do, she sat down at the creaky table in the break-room. Pulling out a pad of shorthand paper and a BIC ballpoint pen from her purse, she scrawled another letter to Dear Addy.
They Don't Give a Dime
I'm a working class girl who moved to the big city two years ago. I don't know why but I have been followed by strange men in suits everywhere I go. They drive these big, black sedan cars about 5 MPH when I'm on the sidewalk walking home. Some of them look like they're taking pictures with something in their hands. I called the police but they won't do nothing. All they say is "Go-awn away. We got real things to deal with here." What if they want to kidnap me? What if they want to hurt me? What should I do? Scared in Sheboygan.
She ripped off the sheet of paper from the shorthand pad and signed it. Pulling out a short envelope she had stuffed under the pad she printed her return address and put the letter inside. There was a blue post office box on the corner of Mish Ave on the way to the EL. She could drop it off on her way home from work. Affixing a stamp dug out from her tiny change purse, she locked her purse back in the cabinet and hurried back to the floor.
The boss was staring at her from behind the cash register where he was shuffling green-and-white receipts as she rushed to take up her station. "You ate. You're late. Three times and you're dead meat," he hollered from his post near the front door.
* *
The next morning she drafted a second letter on the kitchen counter, standing over the shorthand pad with the black BIC pen. She put a title on the top just like the ones over Addy's columns in the Slum Times.
Can TV Shows Interrogate Citizens?
Can you tell me if the government can make a citizen's arrest without telling the citizen? I heard somewhere that they can investigate a citizen before an arrest but they have to have papers to do it. But can they tell TV people to do it for them? This week I turned on the TV to see a fat politician yelling at the TV camera, "CONFESS NOW!" as if he was talking to me. When the TV ads came on, they invited viewers to "Pick up a tip today" and "Get it easy from us." It was as if they were telling people to join them in some kind of secret interrogation of an innocent citizen. Can they really do that? Livid in the Land of Lincoln
She folded the letter in half and slipped it into an envelope. All she could hope was that Addy would recognize the desperation she felt at hearing the fat man scream that he supported interrogations of innocent citizens by TV people. Why, it was like Communalism where the government monitored citizens by TV and told people only what they wanted them to know.
*
She was busy at the back of the restaurant where the boss had reassigned her. He was keeping close tabs on her, checking her morning time card and strutting past her station every hour whipping a towel against his leg. She had to be on her guard every minute lest he find something else she might have done wrong. She couldn't afford to lose her job.
At Table 14 she stood waiting to take an order with a pencil poised over the carbon paper pad she carried in her apron pocket. The gent on the right side of the booth pushed his hair back from his forehead and leaned forward toward the pin-stripe suit opposite him. "Just look at the economy today…going to hell in a hand basket. You know what they said when he got in…President Obit…dead on arrival." The second man laughed so hard he had to wipe tears from his eyes. "You know…they say the road to hell is paved with caucuses."
It was some kind of bi-racial joke she didn't understand. There were a lot of them around. Maybe he was right that Oboy didn't have enough experience to run all those agencies in Washington correctally. Maybe that was why he hadn't done anything about her situation? She thought it was a pretty lazy way to do things herself. But everyone was some kind of race, so what was the big deal about Oboy?
*
It was past eight when she climbed the dark stairs to the second floor. She was woozy from fatigue, her heart raced from fear, and her mind was jumbled with images from the day. The boss telling her to stay on through the dinner seating or he'd demote her to bus boy - meaning no tips. The swarthy black woman with the T-shirt stamped, "RAP IT OR WRAP IT UP" who wanted onions grilled black. The waitress at Station 3 who sneeringly told her, "Step on a crack, break your sacroiliac," when her leg caught in the kitchen door and ripped her stockings.
And the two men stalking her on the way back from the EL.
She had had many days trying to exorcise the day's events from her mind. At least, she had since she had become a person-of-interest to the government awfuls. It wasn't just that people were rude, in a hurry, couldn't wait, wanted it THEIR way like the burger commercial said - it was that they harangued her or cut her dead when she tried to speak. Especially if she mentioned SOMETHING BAD had happened to her. It was like being a second-class citizen who could be ignored.
She kicked off her shoes, padded into the kitchenette, pulled open the pint-sized fridge under the counter and took out a bowl of day-old soup, pouring it slowly down her throat from the plastic pitcher. The floor lamp in the living area shed a sickening yellow glow over the room. She lay down on the chintz couch for awhile, hoping it would stop the headache which had begun to make her forehead throb. It didn't help. She got up, grabbed her purse, pulled out the shorthand pad with the green-striped cover and started to scrawl.
Jumped By Godzillas
Dear Addy:-- Tonight I walked home from the rail station when a man in a suit who looked like a wrestler jumped in front of me on the sidewalk. He yelled "Shut up or I'll beat you to a pulp." A second man in a suit jumped out of a black sedan across the street and came running over. He pulled out a switchblade and yelled, "You tell anyone about your place being ripped off and I'll slit your throat." The wrestler man squeezed my chest so tight I thought I'd explode. "You got the message now?" he asked me. When he leaned forward I could see an ID hung around his neck with the letters ALPHA on it. The skinny man screamed, "You didn't see nothing tonight, you hear that?" I'm scared. What if these thugs were sent by the Oboyo administration to threaten me? They could kidnap me - even kill me. When I tell the police about something like this they don't do nothing. What should I do? Shaking in Springfield.
She put the letter in an envelope, dashed off the address, and stared at the water stains on the thin walls. She was beginning to wonder if Addy would ever reply to her letters. But if the government was abusing her nativity rights and they could use all those government agencies for anything they wanted, then what option did she have?
*
On her way to the EL the next morning, she had her own switchblade in the pocket of her raincoat and a black baseball cap pulled down over her face. Five blocks down the main drag from her apartment building she passed the Clay Gregson Clinic on the corner of 54th and Divine. He was the black leader who had led marches all over the nashion demanding civic rights. He had a cherubic face, an oratorical mouth, and a lot of money from being famous.
He and Malcom X had been big leaders out here during the revolting years when there were riots and mass demonstrations about civic rights. She thought he was the reason Oboyo had moved to Chicago after his fancy education in the east - cause he wanted to join in the fun. During his campaign he always described himself as a "blank activist" who wanted change - although public dollars were usually donated in bigger sums. Maybe he thought he could get faster advancement if he started out in the Windy City with a few black friends.
It put her in mind of Alhambro Lincoln - a man of a different color than Oboyo. Oboyo and his staff only talked about freeing up investment capital for foreign trade. Alhambro had talked about freeing the nashion from slavery. That was when people were forced to work for no wages. You'd think the government would've known how important work was to ordinary citizen, but this government seemed more interested in its own benefits than jobs for regular people.
It made her wonder if she was getting a fair shake from the gawky-eyed basketball player in the Right House who seemed to be suppressing her civic rights for reasons which she found difficult to grasp. What was she - some kind of slave to TV right here in good old America? Someone whose apartment could be burglarized by government awfuls trying to steal evidence about their spying? *
The line for the EL was jammed as always. She pulled the baseball cap down over her face and looked at the shoes of the people waiting on the sidewalk to go up the wooden stairs to the platform. They looked like zombies going back and forth to work every day in a city where the sun only shone once or twice a month. For ten minutes they waited for the train to churn down the tracks to the platform and stop until they could all pile in like sardines.
She had spent the night tossing and turning, thinking about the two men who had jumped her and whether it was safe to go out on the street. But it was in the middle of the bad night that she had suddenly sat bolt upright in bed and stared at the travel alarm on the dresser reading 3:10 AM.
"THE SURVEY!" she had yelled..
All that fear and worry must have triggered a whole bunch of questions about why all this was happening to her. And suddenly she had remembered the survey at the employment agency when she was looking for work during her first days in Chicago.
She closed her eyes. She could see the office like it was yesterday. There were four dark metal desks with pencil caddies on top. Three women, wearing suits with r




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