Charlotte Morgan

Day of the Living Dead

Northeast · Glenville · Essay

After the Hough riots, the Glenville shootout, and the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Disco Era, the post-soul movement begins. Lifeless bodies now roam the streets of Glenville. While politicians in D.C. debate the war on drugs, the number of victims grows. They walk in the street towards the killing field that lies south of my house.

I never watched George Romero zombie movies because I feared that shit would happen one day in my neighborhood. These zombies look at the rest of us as game in the struggle to keep drugs flowing in their blood. Crack cocaine addicts do what they can to recreate feeling that first orgasmic high and, as with all tricks, this is impossible. My little brother Chip said, “Big Tony tried crack on a Monday and by that Friday, he had sold all his stuff for drugs.”

Do you understand their need to stand out on desolate street corners illuminated by the darkness that is drug addiction and with lost shame, stare down cars as they drive past hoping to earn five dollars by giving a blow job? How do you feel about “strawberries,” a term given to women who turned tricks for a rock?

Can you imagine standing outside the Arab store on Parkwood Drive with your head smashed in and a marshmallow ring around your fried lips, begging?

“Hey, I know that voice anywhere. Charlotte, you look the same. Hey, uh, you got some spare change. I want to go to Abbott’s to get a couple of wings.” She laughs like we are still friends in Mrs. Clouden’s fifth grade music class. I realize it’s Jackie Hall; well, it used to be. “Oh, I got jumped behind Scotts, that’s what happened to my face.” I am ashamed to be in this store. We both know people on crack don’t eat.

Businesses before owned by blacks became the Arab store. There are usually drug dealers and users perched outside amidst the trash and broken glass. Often, there is a former alcoholic turned crack addict, a black man, who sweeps and does menial tasks for money. The stores are grimy, the produce spoiled, but you can get a cold Pepsi or forty-ounce Old English Malt Liquor, some loose cigarettes or Black & Mild cigars—even an oversize white t-shirt.

I observe the day of the living dead begins with the migration of crack addicts before sunrise. One day I watched Randy, the middle-aged mechanic-turned-crack-addict from down the street make his pilgrimage. When he comes back, he walks in the street; his gait quickened because he has his buzz, his beer, his cigarettes. For now, he all happy and shit. Instinctively, he turns and sees me.

Like many of the dead in Glenville, Randy’s clothes are filthy and tell the story of a lost life. His worn green pants are from days gone by when after getting fired from Ford, he worked as a jack leg mechanic who fixes cars in driveways.

“I ain’t got no money, Randy.”

“Uh, your father’s Chrysler sounds like it needs some back brakes. Let me get that for you. Mr. Morgan never buy no Ford.”

“No thanks, Randy, he goes to the dealer to get his car repaired.”

He walks away defeated. He will ask me again the next time I see him.

A homely white man once approached me early Sunday morning, his body pencil thin. He asked me if I wanted to buy a weed whacker, and when I commented that I already had one he asked: “Where do you keep it? I want you to get it and plug it up so I can show you this one’s better.”

“Not interested.”

His bug-eyed gaze remained fixed on my garage where he perceived there was a treasure. Was he imagining that glass pipe in his mouth? My ladder and lawn mower were later stolen. Now I watch who walks the street because I realize not only are they walking to score their next hit; they are also casing houses.

Ours is no longer a street with beautiful homes and lawns. Many older owners are dead. We have new neighbors. Barbara and her daughter live down the street towards the East 105th end. She dressed modestly. Her hair was always done. One day she asked my next-door neighbor for five dollars to get her bus pass saying she had lots of appointments at Metro. “I got Lupus Miss Jean. Would you please pray for me? Can I go to church with you next week?” Since bus fare was only seventy-five cents, for her story she got three dollars.

Barbara never paid the money back. For a time, she would walk around the block rather than run into Miss Jean who was in her yard early some spring mornings.

One day, I see an unkempt Barbara marching up the street with the zeal of a zombie. The weight of the atmosphere seems almost too much for her emaciated body, yet she regularly walks up to Lakeview where she exchanges money or favors for drugs. I was traveling to the bus stop. Everyone knew it was dangerous up there. An elderly cleaning woman, who also rode the #40 bus to Cedar Road, openly carried a .357 Magnum to protect us as we waited on the corner of Lakeview and Tuscora Avenue.

“Girl, get your happy ass out that bus shelter. You easy prey for these gang banging suckers,” she said. “Now on, you wait for me. Don’t come up here by yourself.”

Barbara not only pan handled outside corner stores; she conned money out of senior citizens for drugs and even kidnapped her elderly neighbor.

Miss Williams, like many of the aged in my neighborhood, has been abandoned by her children, themselves crack addicts. She suffers from Alzheimer’s or bouts of dementia. She lives down the street in a two-family house that begs for attention.

Barbara’s family owned the run-down house next door. She would call Miss Williams and ask her for money. Barbara is pretending to be Michelle Sanders, the neighbor who helped care for the eighty-year-old woman. I saw Michelle at McDonald’s. She told me the story.

“I found out Barbara put Miss Williams in one of her friends’ car and took her to Society Bank.” Michelle leaned on a cane. She looked old enough to be my mother. I wondered if she was a user.

Michelle called the Society branch on St. Clair. Apparently, the teller was suspicious when she saw the old woman was disoriented and nervous about taking $500 out of her account. Miss Williams, alone and afraid, refused to press charges against her neighbor.

Years into the phenomenon, one random day, the sister of a classmate of mine came walking down the middle of my street. “You want to buy these steaks? I got fresh thick Porterhouse steaks here,” she said to passing cars. As she got closer, I remembered how beautiful she used to be.

“Charlotte?” Her voice was the same. “You remember me, Charlotte?” As she came closer, my heart raced.

“Hey Patricia.”

“You still talk to my little sister? You all used to be so corny,” she laughed. Some blood dripped down her leg.

I took a step closer. “I haven’t talked to Danielle since we went to the last reunion.”

She came close enough for me to smell the thawed meat and for me to remember the day that she bullied me into snorting heroin.

Danielle lived in a two-family house up the street on Tuscora. I used to come over to watch Soul Train on Saturdays. I heard the Superfly soundtrack in her living room. Danielle’s family lived that life. I was Danielle’s friend since elementary school. In high school, we shared a locker. I was short and scrawny with thick glasses, an obvious target.

Patricia sat on the couch and chopped coke and heroin with a razor blade on a chessboard. When done, she snorted the line. She loved to pick on me as she got high. Then, she would disappear and reappear dressed and ready for the street. Hot pants, halter top, and stacked heels. She dared me to snort a line, and so I did. I remember walking home and sleeping for three days. I was desperate to fit in, so I snorted downers, smoked weed, and hashish; I dropped mescaline, windowpane, and microdots. Seeing Patricia reminded me of my near brush with death.

“You want one of these steaks? I’ll let you have one for five dollars,” she said.

“No thanks, I’m not eating meat these days.”

“Well, you got a couple of dollars for an old friend?”

“I ain’t got no money on me, Juanita.”

“I’ll see your old corny ass later,” she said. She turned and walked away.

As the dealer by selling, as the addict by using, so the plague spreads. Removed were the landmarks of paradise, and in the field of the fatherless known as Glenville, the dead were found living in run down houses, and apartment buildings. Gang presence and gun violence increased and the soundtrack—that post-soul music—normalized street life. We the poor, ignored, unloved and unprotected were imprisoned.


Charlotte Morgan

Charlotte Morgan is a journalist and writer based in the historic Glenville neighborhood. She teaches at Cleveland State University and sometimes leads workshops for Literary Cleveland.


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