Saturday morning, early at the Birchwood, I’m startled out of sleep by the window-muted shouting, right outside my apartment, of a female voice: “Ron! Where you at, Ron! I know you in there! If somebody don’t go and get Ron for me, I am gonna fuh-reeeak!”
I stayed in bed for another maybe ten minutes, and in that time the voice went away, so I got up and, after having a pee, headed outside for a smoke.
I’m sitting on the patio, in a chair underneath the stairs across from the covered bike rack, when Betty steps out to have smoke, too. Betty is a 60 year old African-American lady with the general appearance of an upside-down dust broom.
And about as much of a magnet for cobwebs.
“Betty, how are you?” I asked her.
“All right,” she sang back.
After a moment I said, “Betty, did you hear that woman shouting outside this morning?”
“Yeah that girl crazy,” Betty said, without any punctuation.
“Oh?” I ask. “Tell me more.”
“She ain’t allowed to come around here no more. She banned from the complex.”
And from there, she proceeded to tell me the backstory. So, it’s mainly about Ron. Ron’s a handsome guy about fifty, longish, darkish, dirtyish, dirty-blondish hair, scruff, rides a motorized bicycle around town which he does not at all pedal, has a gambling addiction, five kids with as many women and, normally, a thing for the older ladies. And suddenly, into Ron’s whitebread life, this young, shouty, African-American girl appears—we’ll call her Donna. And she was all, ‘Oh mister please! I’m twenty five years younger than you. Can I crash on your floor?”
And Ron was all like, “Black girl? WHACK, girl!”
So she stayed with him for a couple days, and after that Ron tells her she has to go. To which she replies, “I’m not goin’ anywhere. We boyfriend-girlfriend now!”
To which Ron replies, “No, really, you have to go, man. You are not living here.”
To which she replies, “Damned if I ain’t!” And as he attempts to get her to leave forcefully, she calls the police on him. Which could’ve turned out bad, except Norm, the resident manager, who’s got an eye for almost everything that goes on around here and has 911 on speed dial, calls the cops on her for trespassing, and from there it became a game of ‘I Detective Deputy Dare You’ between them, and after she put out a ‘I Double Detective Deputy Dare You’, Norm countered with a ‘I Triple District Deteputy Dog Dare You’, and they both called it a draw and everybody went their separate ways.
Except Donna wasn’t allowed on the premises anymore. So now she comes by periodically because she’s still sweet on Ron, asking him for favors. Betty said she had her bike with her today, standing outside the metal gates, so she was probably going to ask him for some help with fixing it.
So, Betty finishes telling me the story and suddenly there she is, at the fence again. Donna is. But this time she’s all: “Ronnnn! Ronnnn! I’m here! Come outside and let me in!”
And Ron appears, walking through the parking lot to meet her. And I see he’s holding a cellphone in his hand. Now, maybe Ron stole this phone, who knows? It wasn’t my phone, it wasn’t anyone I know’s phone. All I know, it was a cellphone that was bright lime green. Bright lime green like a child would own. Like a child clumsy enough—or unable to defend themselves enough—to allow it to be slapped from their hand and to skitter across the street where an accomplice could pick it up and dart into the shadows.
He talked with Donna for a while and then I see him coming back toward us with a wad of money. And the great thing about Ron is, he’s old school pimpin’—he could’ve had four dollars there, but he arrayed it perfectly so it was a wad of cash. Turned out it was a hundred: like three twenties, some fives, a ten, a two, a silver certificate and I swear to God a Susan B. Anthony that he somehow made look like a piece of paper. And he starts to unlock his motorized bike from the rack and Betty says to him, “Ron, you better gimme some of that.”
To which I stood and said to them both, “Well, time for me to skedaddle!” and walked inside. Two minutes later, out of my window I see Ron on a motorized bike which he does not at all pedal, standing bolt upright like he had a butt plug in, whizzing down the street on his way to gamble it all away.
You can hear that mechanized monster coming a mile away.
The peasants are always put off by the sound it makes.
Ho, there, equine straw-haired page boy!
My liege! I saw the man again, standing upright, flying like the wind on a bike which he does not at all pedal!
Was there a DRAGON pulling it?
Sir, all I know is that it produced the sound of a thousand horses coughing!
Bring me this interloper into our kingdom…!
So, the next morning I step out for a smoke, and Betty’s already out there.
“Betty,” I say, “how are you?”
And right away she starts sort of muttering, “I told Ron to gimme some of that money, and he never did.”
“He don’t owe me no money, but you know he got a problem with the slots. He love to gamble.”
“And that crazy one.”
“He don’t know to stay clear of that yet. She pulls the crazy card, and she pulls the black card.”
“Uhp, there she go right now.”
“Who?” And I see Donna again, suddenly standing over by the gate and the mailboxes, about seventy yards away, muttering to herself: “This phone cracked! Ron owes me a hundred dollars. That ain’t right! That ain’t right!”
“Look like the crazy card today,” Betty said.
“I’ll get my cousins, come back here, black these cameras out and straight up bust that white motherfucker’s windows out!”
“Uhp. Now it’s the black card.” I see Donna take her now-cracked, bright lime green phone out and begin to dial. And I’m watching her. And suddenly Betty’s cellphone begins to vibrate in her pocket. And I’m watching Donna hold the phone to her ear, and Betty pulls hers out, cancels the call, and I hear Donna mutter, “That bitch! That fucking bitch! She probably spendin’ my money, too!”
“Homie don’t play that hand,” Betty said, putting the phone back in her pocket.
And suddenly here comes Ron again, through the parking lot. And he walks over to Donna, and in not ten minutes diffuses the entire situation, and has her laughing.
And I’m thinking, it’s no wonder he’s got five kids with five different women.
“Betty,” I say after Ron has walked back inside, “this I exactly why I don’t get close to women unless I’ve known them for so long I might as well be related.”
“Yeah that’s a myth,” she said, without any punctuation.
“Thing is, you hang out with a lady, and she seems nice, until she’s not nice. Either she’s nice forever, or she turns not nice sometime between now and forever, and if she turns not nice between now and forever you’ll wish you waited forever to find out. I’m talking banging on your windows. Got a propane tank and a fucking ball peen hammer. And the whole, ‘Maybe it’s empty, maybe it isn’t! You all want me to find out?!’”
And Betty paused, taking a drag of her cigarette, before saying at last: “Yeah that’s a myth.”