It’s not easy living in the Clifton Heights area. Landlords call all the time about the rent being in the mail on time but cease to exist the moment your dryer stops working.
You have to remember to lock your car because the one night you forget, your entire center console and every bit of change lying around the car will be gone. And on the weekends, a tsunami of testosterone tears through the streets, where an awkward glance at someone walking down the sidewalk could turn into a bloody fight.
Two years ago I was renting a shitty, overpriced, one-bedroom apartment with a hole in the ceiling in the Clifton Heights area. Ever since I had moved out of the dorms, I had been weary of the neighborhood. I heard about my friends getting in fights for no reason while walking home and people getting their cars broken into.
I never thought people could be so cruel to one another. I was na´ve.
I realized the seriousness of the Clifton Heights area after two events occurred. First, one of my friends was held up at gunpoint on Ohio Street in the middle of the afternoon. Cars were driving by as a person was pointing a gun at another person and no one stopped. The police did no more than write a report. The midday mugger is still at large.
My second realization about the area came as I was walking home from school. A large man was walking in my direction on the other side of the street. As I came to the corner that I lived on, I could see the man crossing the street, never looking to see if any cars where coming.
He was looking directly at me. As we crossed paths, the man’s shoulder checked me hard enough to push me into a parked car.
“Do something, motherfucker,” he said to me.
I was startled by the amount of crime and numerous acts of hate happening In Clifton Heights. I became suspicious of nearly every person I walked past. People walking too close behind me startled me. Whenever I walked home at night, I held my keys in my hand like a knife. I had become disillusioned about every person I crossed.
But finding someone — a random stranger — who treats you with kindness can change your entire outlook on the neighborhood. This fortunate event happened to me.
Sometime around June two years ago, on a rainy day, I was working on some homework on my computer. Through the window of my bottom-floor room, I saw a man come up on to the porch and sit in one of the chairs there. I was nervous to open the door to find out why he was there, so I watched suspiciously through my blinds.
After a few minutes, the man stood up and walked to the window I was peering out of. I quickly backed away from the window hoping he didn’t see me. He knocked on the window. I stood still not wanting him to know I was in the house.
He continued to knock on the window. Out of sheer annoyance from the knocking, I opened the blinds.
The man was tall and black with a scraggly, graying beard and short curly hair. Despite it being June, he was wearing at least three different jackets. His eyes were rolling back in his head as he smiled at me through the window.
“Can I sit on the porch,” he mouthed from the other side of the window. “It’s raining.”
I don’t know if I just wanted to find one stranger in Clifton to trust or if I just felt bad for him, but I nodded and told him no problem. He left as soon as the bus arrived at the stop in front of my house.
A week later, I returned home from school to find the man on my porch again. I noticed that all the trash on the side of my house had been taken to the curb and the man was cleaning all the remaining trash off my porch. I accidentally startled him as I walked up the front steps.
“I took your trash out,” he said as he emptied beer from an old beer can into another half-filled beer can. “Just working on the porch now.”
“Are you going to drink that?” I asked him, clearly knowing the answer. “I can grab you some beers.” I ran into my house to the fridge.
As I handed the man the beers, a huge smile came over his face. He thanked me a bunch of times and told me he would return the favor. He finished cleaning the trash off the porch and left.
For the next three weeks, the man came back every garbage day to take my garbage out. Every garbage day, I would find a Vitamin Water in my mailbox.
I recently saw him again, at the Richie’s on Vine Street. He didn’t recognize me from a couple years ago. I was now a stranger, but he asked me to buy him a large mac 'n' cheese.
“Anything to help you out,” I said.