One inventive inner-city guy battles hangers-on, hustlers and come-ons to earn an honest living
Published: July 13, 2011
A thin, sweaty little man rides up on a bicycle and begins tinkering with his bike, using Mills' tools without asking. Mills knows him; the man volunteers to do cleanup for him sometimes. It's either ironic or nervy. "He's the same joker — I wanted this building, and he stripped it," Mills says. In this rough area, a dead building is up for grabs. So is everything else.
"Oh, my goodness," he says. "You name it, brother; you'll see it through here. This is the most action that any one man should be able to see unless he's going to Vietnam or somewhere."
Last year he watched a man running past on Gratiot get shot in the back and collapse in the middle of the road in front of him. Just the other day he saw a band of kids chasing someone, shooting wildly. "The newer dudes, the younger kids nowadays, man, they can be bananas coming through here, running through here. Just as long as they stay away from me."
Compared to that, a scrapper is benign. And this one sits right next to the man whose dream he's dismantling, pipe by pipe.
A few days pass, and Mills sits in his spot under the high sunshine, but no customers pull into the lot. The pests are intimidating to people, and today the pests are swarming.
There's little Mills can do about them. This abandoned lot isn't his. It's everyone's by default. He could move to another spot, but this is the neighborhood where he grew up, and this is where he wants to be. And he wants to keep watch on that building.
"It's crazy. The little peace that I want I just can't get to," he says, defeat in his voice. "I'm just tired."
As the hot day wears on, four raggedy guys amble up and sit behind him, talking among themselves, while Mills just sits silently with his head in his hands and his eyes looking down.
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