I am sad to report that our local Alcoholics Anonymous group is about dead. I sat out last night in the late evening heat awaiting on people to show up for the Friday night meeting. A passel of black kids were playing basketball and dealing crack down the street -- the characteristic throng of passing and stopping cars a clue to this nefarious activity as the kids would run to a car to make a transaction and then shoot the hoops nonchalantly. I watched on interested as I smoked my cigarillos and listened to Dr. Laura on the radio.
The court ordered AA members showed -- their rides bringing them due to the numerous driving under the influence charges. A raggedy group of hard looking men formed outside the clubhouse. One walked over to me to ask me a question...
"Got a cigarette?"
I handed him a cherry hinted cigarillo which he declined when he saw it.
"You waiting on these meetings?" he then asked.
"Yeah," I said. "It doesn't look like they are going to show, though."
"Man!" the guy protested. "I don't know what I am going to tell my parole officer."
He looked genuinely disheartened. I noticed his eyes were red and you could smell alcohol on his breath. I have often thought of these hardened court ordered men and wondered if these meetings are punishment or actually a deterrent to future crimes. I notice they never return after fulfilling their obligations to a judge or parole officer.
7 p.m. arrived and my hopes for an AA meeting were dashed. The group of men outside the clubhouse dispersed. I sat for a few more moments as I noticed an older black man in a powered wheel chair approaching being flanked by a very pretty and young white girl. She had flowingly straight brown hair that cascaded down her shoulders and a nubile face -- she was dressed in the latest hip-hop fashion.
"Shit," the girl said loudly and coarsely in ghetto speak. "I ain't got shit."
"You be havin' enough to drink on," the disabled black man said from his wheelchair wanting money.
"I've got to have my beer money, dawg," she replied as they disappeared past the throng of black boys playing basketball.
I watched on as more drama played out in this very poor and once very nice mill village. The ravages of crime, poverty, and substance abuse had taken their toll on the populace. I felt out of place and as if I was an interloper in another world or microcosm. I cranked up my car and drove home leaving that forlorn neighborhood behind -- back to my safe and white neighborhood just ten minutes away. Maggie -- my cherub pup -- greeted me as if I had been gone for hours.
"No show?" Rosa asked as I walked through the door.
"Yeah, no one showed except the court ordered guys," I replied.
"What 'cha thinking?" Rosa then asked at the consternated look upon my face.
"About how much that neighborhood has gone down," I replied. "That was my mother's childhood neighborhood and used to be so nice. Crime, poverty, drug dealing -- they were all playing out for me as I sat waiting for that meeting."
"You should have seen my old neighborhood when I lived in Atlanta," Rosa said. "It would really make you feel out of place."
I thought of how many people don't have safe and healthy living environments. You are a product of your environment and neighborhoods such as I visited last night just breed trouble and are like a festering blight. "Economics," I thought. "Simple economics." The poor can't afford anything better -- forever caught in a vicious cycle that can be poverty and crime.