Excerpts from The Rooming House Gallery – Connecting the Dots
Josh Sawicki, Age 29
Andres Rodriguez, Age 28
4822 South Justine, Chicago, IL – Back of the Yards Neighborhood
Meet the neighbors…
As they climbed down from the van, a slender black man with a head of bushy white hair and thick eye-glasses hustled across the street. He carried two extra-large green plastic glasses rattling with ice cubes. “Welcome! I’m Mr. Thompson, except most call me Mr. T. Mrs. T figured you should have some sweet tea. Said the ice will cool ya off and sugar’ll give ya some energy.” He handed them each a glass and smiled as they took a long drink. Hooking his thumb at two teenage boys standing on the curb in front of his house, he said, “These two are here to help ya unload. Don’t be afraid to work them, they’re strong young man-boys.”
The man-boys did not look excited to be volunteered or at being called man-boys. They slowly sauntered over. One appeared Hispanic. Skinny, wearing a Bulls shirt and black jeans, his dark hair was cut short on the sides, almost shaved, but long on top with the back pulled into a pony-tail. The other wore a tight Afro, stood well over six-feet tall, wore red basketball shorts and a Laker’s wife beater. Both looked at the ground.
“This one is Fernando, he goes by Nando, and this taller one is Jeramiah, and he goes by Fly,” Mr. T said. “Now boys, straighten up, stand tall, look em in their eyes and shake their hands. Ya gotta meet people the right way in this life.” He waited until Nando finally looked up and slowly extended his hand to Josh.
“Hola,” said Josh. “Benvenido.”
Nando looked surprised and grasped Josh’s hand tighter, then extended it to Andres, who said, “Buenos días. Cómo estás?”
Fly straightened up and eagerly shook their hands. “Hola, buenos dias. I speak Spanish, too. I’m part Puerto Rican.”
The boys followed Andres as he moved onto the grass and opened the side van doors. A soccer ball rolled out. He footed it toward Fly who gave it a quick pass to Nando.
“Looks like you two know what to do with that,” Andres said. “Let’s get this stuff moved in and maybe we’ll have time for a game when we’re done.”
“Let’s get started,” said Fly. “You got a basketball, too? I’m good at that. That’s why they call me Fly.”
“Ya, ya, ya,” said Nando. “You think they can’t figure that out? They ain’t stupid, you know. Now shut your fly trap and grab this end table and don’t talk their ears off.” He looked at Andres and motioned with his thumb. “This one talks a good game, so you gotta keep on him.”
Fly laughed and shrugged. “I’d say something in Spanish, but Andres and Josh will know what I’m saying. That’s how we talk behind the T’s back, they don’t dig Spanish.”
“That’s right,” Mr. T said. “But I understand face language and body language and you two ain’t pulled much over on us, have ya?” He took the empty glasses from Josh and Andres. “I’ll get ya some more in a bit, plus some for these hooligans. Why is it teenagers thinks they always know everything? Now, keep them busy and you best plan on Mrs. T sending something over for your lunch. We might even send some for those two as well. Notice I said might.”
The boys were eager helpers and enthralled with all the rooms upstairs when Josh gave them a quick tour after unloading the van. “What you gonna do with all these rooms? Start a group home for foster teens like us?” Nando seemed to be half-joking, half-serious.
“You think that’s a good idea?” Josh replied.
“Nah, it’s too many rooms. This place would be a fricking zoo if you had all them teens. Besides, foster homes are better, especially when you got good people like Mr. and Mrs. T. Fly and me are going to a group home in a few months when we turn seventeen. Hopefully, we can stay together.”
What will they do with the old rooming house? Stay tuned…