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Gary Blankenship






A prose poem

Dreadlocks Explains His Find


The reading to start at 3 p.m. South of the projects on the Lower East Side.


The reading room was a nearly empty chamber with white walls and lit by portable lamps overhead. Benches and old chairs lined the walls. The room was unheated. The outside temperature was about 24 above.


In the back was a long crate used as a table, lockers, stacked chairs and a toilet stall open to the room. Periodically, someone would come through a side door and pee.


On the side walls were several displays: Tools, lighters and other items found in buildings squatters used, clothes, old newspaper clippings, eviction and other city notices, and drawings reproaching City authorities.

Just as you would find in the Smithsonian, each was protected by Plexiglas and was explained by a neatly typed sign.


The display included sheared dreadlocks and a placenta stain on paper, celebrating a birth by a squatter.


In front was a small stage holding only a pile of bricks, a sign above them stating, "Screw it. Put another brick on the pile." and a two foot long spike.


In the middle of the room was another square crate table, festooned with graffiti as was most of the room.


Sam, who was caretaker, sat in the back. We were making light conversation about the reading, weather and where I was from when "Dreadlocks" came in carrying a bicycle. Dressed in a messenger's costume, he had reddish brown locks and no upper front teeth.


He was delivering a brass plaque he had found several years ago in a squatter's building along with the material to hang it.


The plaque read "This Animal is Dangerous." Same hung it high on wall where "It is less likely to be ripped off."


As Sam worked, "Dreadlocks" talked.


"When did I find it? Let's see. She was conceived in 84 or 85. No, she's 15, so it had to be 84."


"I found it in garbage I was cleaning out of the room. It was probably wall debris. You know, the stuff left when walls start to crumple."


"I had a room on the fourth floor, looking directly at the junkies who lived in the building next door. They never bothered us. They used to watch us having sex. My wife never knew that, but I did. I married her a couple of years after that."


"On the other side of our building was one we never went in unless we were together. You know the buddy system. A man and his son lived there. The place was locked, but they got in through a hole in the walls of our building. It burned down. The junkies' building fell down."


"Our place wasn't locked. A free building should be free to everyone. But just anybody couldn't get in. You had to turn the knob a special way and most people couldn't figure it out."


"Later after I moved out, they put on a lock, mostly to keep DOH from dumping their stuff. I had been there long enough to be considered the building leader. I wouldn't let them put on the lock while I was in charge."


"Don't stay anyplace too long, or they will put you in charge."


"I woke up one morning and there was six inches of snow spread across the room. I woke up frozen even though I slept under several

blankets. They had told me to winterize. You know, put Visquine on the windows and newspaper the walls; but I didn't listen."


"Back the, I drank all the time."


"No one had electricity. Well, there was a couple living on the top floor. He stole electricity, but he didn't share. He had a cast iron cauldron and used electricity to heat that."


"We light with candles, but you really have to be careful with candles. You know, fire hazard."


"The place was full of cats. We got some old vegetables from a market and the cats were so hungry, they ate the vegetables."


"Paying rent makes me crazy."


"Pay rent and do without some of the things I want. I would just as soon do without some things - showers, cooked food - as pay rent."


"Back then there were real absentee landlords. Most of them disappeared to keep from being hassled by the City. Now, real estate is so valuable, we can find out who the owner is."


"I'm a bicycle messenger. Friday, I took my gloves off for a few minutes and it took all day for them to get warm again."


"No, I'm not reading. I just came by to give the plaque to Sam."


He left. I never learned his name.


I helped Sam put out some more chairs. Four people came in for the reading and Sam left. At three, there were only six people attending. One said,

"You sued to be able to get 100 or more, now you're lucky to have twelve."


At 3:15, the hosts hadn't showed up. I also left. I walked several blocks to Lexington to catch a cab. The next night the temperature hit a low of 2 degrees.