AUGUST 1999: Diary of a Marked Woman

AUGUST 1999


1/2

On July 29, 1999: I am served with a notice of eviction. By e-mail through my brother in law Smith-Vaniz my mother lets me know that if I'm evicted I should get myself repatriated by the French embassy.

On August 10/99 the Marshall executes the warrant of eviction by having the super change the lock, then I'm locked out. I am evicted. Spend the night at my boyfriend Felix's. Belongings have no definite place for storage. As soon as I'm at his place Felix says that I'm not supposed to be there because this is a residence for the elderly, and that I have to hide from the doorman. He says that if any one of the staff asks me anything to give this or that excuse like he's spitting blood and needs a constant companion! There's not a piece of furniture in the apartment except a king size bed with dirty sheets. There is no radio, no TV, no phone, and NO LIGHT! And Felix says that I must not go out after 5PM because the doorman on that shift is not as friendly as the other one. So I'm a prisoner in this empty space and think I'm gonna loose my mind.

Thurs. the 12th: I hide my briefcase with the small padlock on it inside a closet and underneath some plastic bags.

Fri. the 13th: Felix puts one of his bags in the same closet. It's a huge bag full of shoes that was in the living room when I arrived here. Why is he doing this NOW? After he's left I check my briefcase and find that the padlock has been removed! I don't say anything. Felix urges me to call my mother, he's positive that this time she'll send me money. I tell Felix I need to buy a $10 phone card to call my mother. He says that if I have sex with him he'll give me the $10 so I can call my mother. I make a scene at the bodega where he works by repeating what he said to me in front of everybody. He gives me $10. I call my mother and tell her that I have no place to stay. She says that since I have not succeeded in the US I should return to France. I say that her suggestion that I have myself rapatriated by the French Embassy does not make me feel very welcome, and that this kind of arrangement is for tourists whose luggage and money has been stolen, not for people who have been residing in the US for years. I ask her to wire me FF20,000 by Western Union. She says she'll do it next morning and asks me what address she should give for me. Even with things as painful as being homeless, she likes to rub it in. She doesn't need to give an address for me to W. Union. I say I don't have an address. I ask her how she sees my return to France. She says that "my" apartment in the Paris building is occupied but by law a family member is entitled to have precedence over a tenant, therefore a notification with due advance notice would have to be given the tenant so that I could move in. "And in the meantime?" I ask. "In the meantime you could live up here." "What do you mean, 'up-here'?" "On the second floor of the house." she says. Which is the attic. As if, living a floor above her, I could be separate and independent of her! There is no water in the attic, besides I need her to give me money since she doesn't let me earn my own. How's that for being independent? "But I don't want to live in Normandy! You know that I don't have a driver's license and the countryside drives me nuts! Anyway, we'll see. First, send me the money." Ooops! Friday the 13th!

Saturday the 14th: Next day I have to call her again because at Western Union they find that the amount I give them is different to the actual amount sent. I call mom again and learn that she sent me only half of what we had agreed on the day before!!! I loose my cool and say "merde" to her. I ask if she doesn't think I have enough problems to deal with already. I say that you can't do anything with FF10,000 ($1,500) certainly not move, and ask why she's so afraid of giving me a little money so I'm not constantly feeling strangulated.

When I see him in the bodega I tell Felix that the money has arrived and he says that I cannot spend one more night at his place. It just happens to be a rainy day and shortly after he has pronounced my eviction a downpour surprises me and forces me to take refuge... somewhere. Predictably I am not keen on the company of this creep Mike who spends all evenings under the awning of the bodega where we used to play music not so long ago, and I end up across the street, eating my ham-and-swiss while a heavy shower makes me feel even more acutely my homelessness.

After futile attempts to find a hotel room in NYC at the height of the tourist season I find a vacancy at a Howard Johnson in Clifton, New Jersey. Since Felix evicted me when I was out of his apartment, all my stuff is still there, including toiletries so I buy a few necessaires at Duane Read. I take the subway to Port Authority, a bus, the wrong one it turns out, which leaves me in Clifton but far away from the hotel, then a cab and arrive there around 1:30AM with no other luggage but my Duane Reade shopping bag. Spend two sleepless nights there. As soon as I doze off I wake up in terror. I am tempted to run into the traffic on one of the highways and be done with it. The area is horrible It's only fields, highways and chain food joints. The only eating spot is IHOP (International House Of Pancakes) which sells industrial food at extortionate prices, but obviously people love it because both on Saturday and Sunday there is a line of people waiting for a table and they all look like they are anticipating a good time.

On Monday the 16th I return to New York at 8:30AM and from Port Authority go directly to Grand Central, and buy a ticket to Yonkers. There in a coffee shop I ask if there's a moderately priced hotel and the owner gives me an address. At the address, the woman at the reception desk tells me that first I have to see a social worker, and she sends me downstairs. There in a small office is a young black man who tells me that I have to register with the Department of Social Services as a homeless person and fill out an application. I go to DSS, fill the application and at the end of the day am given temporary shelter (3 weeks, renewable) in White Plains in a house (Samaritan House)with a dozen other women, about as many white as black, most of them victims of domestic violence.

Tues. the 17th: Go to Manhattan, call Mini Storage. A man with a very sexy voice tells me that there is no space available but then says that there is just one and I must take it right away or lose it. It's about the size of a large closet he says. I say I'll take it. He gives me an order number, 662 something, and tells me to go there immediately and give that number to the man at the office. I go there immediately.

The reception area is separated from the clerks by a glass partition like a bank, and all the papers are pushed back and forth through a hole. I give the clerk the order number, 662-something. "666?" he asks. I don't like this but tell myself not to be paranoid. The paperwork is taking an awfully long time and during all this there is a man in a suit walking back and forth in the reception area talking in a low voice on a cell phone, and the constant, nerve-wracking noise of a jack hammer piercing the sidewalk against the wall of the very building where I am, as I find out when I leave.

Towards the end of the transaction a man comes in and asks in a very loud voice what his room number is and continues speaking for a while. He seems to be hispanic. He's dressed in jeans and a parka, is disheveled in stark contrast with the crisp uniform of the clerks. He's so loud that I have to raise my voice to be heard by the clerk who attends me and twice look balefully at the noisy man, wishing a clerk would tell him to tone it down, but nobody does.

Finally the transaction is completed. All that's left to do is for the clerk to show me the spot but by this time I am so nervously exhausted that I want to leave. Still I follow him. He shows me how to operate the elevator by first swiping a magnetic card, and explains that a person cannot go to a floor other than the one where (s)he rents a space. "Oh!" I say, "then that's pretty safe!" At the sixth floor underground he shows me the timer to the left of the elevator, explaining that the light is on for thirty minutes, then we walk to the alley where my closet is. There's a clean smell of cedar, all the doors seem to be made of that wood. It all looks clean and aseptic. He opens "my" closet and immediately he apologizes for not having re-painted the floor. I'm wondering if he's joking but he looks dead serious. He shows me that the color of the closet floor is different to the color of the alley. I really don't see how it matters and say so. He apologizes again and it makes me vaguely angry, this kind of hypocritical sounding subservience. Then we go back upstairs. He tells me that it is not necessary to swipe the magnetic card to go to the ground floor. Now he tells me to go down by myself and put my padlock on the door so I go. When I arrive the loudmouth who had been at the reception earlier is there, just two doors away from my closet. He's with another man and as soon as I appear he gives the other man two dollars with ostentation just in case I should not pay attention. This transaction instantly reminds me of the money I gave a man back in 1989 when I moved my belongings from W96th to this same storage company but I'm not sure it's deliberate, except for the fact that the man is so loud. He says that his grandmother put his stuff in storage and he's never been here before. I put my padlock on the door and go back to the elevator. While I wait for it to appear the two men arrive with a dolly loaded with cartons. We go back upstairs and instead of letting me go out first loudmouth blocks the opening with his dolly, which infuriates me but I say nothing. Then he moves slowly to the office door, still blocking the way, at which point I ask him if he could not let me pass. He reacts with studied nonchalance and opens the door that leads outside, and he says "There you go" as if I was making a fuss out of nothing.

There are many rules to follow at the shelter, one must sign in and out, and the one rule that one cannot break under penalty of banishment is to miss the 6 o'clock dinner time. I arrived at the 125th station around 4:30PM and experienced the maddening traffic. I could hardly understand what was said on the loudspeaker and the time kept passing without any train to White Plains showing up. Some trains didn't stop, others were on the Harlem line, others didn't go all the way to White Plains, and it was already quarter after five and my anxiety level was rising. Finally at 5:25 a train to White Plains arrived. On the way I thought that was it for me and was already thinking of spending the night outdoors and wondering how I would manage if I was kicked out of the shelter. The train arrived at 5 minutes after 6 and I called the house immediately, saying that my train had just arrived and asked Ann "So, you're gonna kick me out tonight?" "No," she said, "but come as soon as you can."

The women were already eating dinner, this yucky grease laden food. I didn't feel like eating. Later in the evening I realize that what happened at the storage facility had all been set up. It was predictable that as soon as I got money I would rent storage space, and that I would rent it there because I already had back in 1989. And the man with the wonderful voice on the phone, urging me to take the only available space asap... I had had the expected knee-jerk reaction. The likelihood of the loudmouth renting a space just two doors from my space and being there at the same time as me was remote yet it had happened. Now it made the enterprise of bringing my belongings down there look like a dangerous expedition. If I was attacked six stories underground, it would be so easy to conceal my disappearance, and so easy to kill me in the first place. Maybe the whole point of my eviction was to bring me, forced by circumstances but apparently of my own free will, to an isolated spot like this. It would be so easy to re-program the timer so that the light would be turned off after less than thirty minutes, and to keep the elevator, the only means of escape, immobilized on another floor; keep my body for the necessary time in the storage space that I had rented, but not long enough for the smell of decomposition to overpower the clean smell of cedar.

Wed. the 18th:Go to luggage store in Manhattan because I forgot the combination on my padlock and cannot open the suitcase. I tell the man that I haven't used this piece of luggage for several years and forgot the combination and ask him if he could fix the padlock. The man acts as if he believes that I stole the piece of luggage and charges me $25 for repair. But it's ridiculous since the suitcase is locked AND empty. Why would I steal an empty suitcase? I don't know what makes him take me for a thief. I am dressed decently and spoke normally I think. Maybe I shouldn't have explained anything, because explaining too much is a dead give-away of guilt. But then cannot one make a little small talk, and whine about one's misadventures?

Fri. the 20th: Yesterday I bought a combination padlock for my briefcase for $5. Go pick-up luggage. A different man brings it; it has a new padlock on, the same kind as the one I bought yesterday so I say "Oh, this is a five-dollar padlock so please refund me the difference because yesterday I was charged $25." he man I dealt with the first time hears me and says "Yes, but we did some work on this suitcase!" So I am charged $7 total.

On my way to the station this morning I saw a woman from the shelter who seemed to be "loitering" for purposes of prostitution, and I asked her if she would be interested in making a little money helping me move some stuff to storage, the only purpose being not to go there alone. She says yes, she'd like to because she hasn't received SSI yet, then she asks if I need a lot of stuff to be moved or just a little. I say just a little.

Sun. the 22nd: The woman is not in the shelter anymore. The explanation is that she did not return from her Saturday night outing and has been kicked out. I have to call my former neighbor Gordon who is keeping the belongings I wanted to move to the storage space and cancel the appointment.

Mon. the 23rd:As soon as I get out of my room in the morning, one of the staff tells me, without looking me in the eye, that I'm scheduled to be interviewed by SHAC (Single Homeless Assessment Center) a week from now, on Mon. the 30th of August. This avoidance of eye contact makes me suspicious. I ask one of the women if she's been to the SHAC interview and she tells me that she has and that it's terrible. She says that one is interviewed by a succession of psychiatrists. I ask another one. She says that one is asked a lot of questions. I ask a third one who asks me why I'm asking all these people about SHAC. I say that I want a second opinion.

At the coffee-shop where I go every morning for breakfast I ask Shahab if he knows of any hotel. I'm thinking of moving to a hotel in order to avoid the ordeal of the SHAC interview. He gives me two addresses in Yonkers and I go there the same day. One is a hole-in-the-wall travel and money transfer agency to the Caribbean and I don't even go in. What would these people think of a white woman asking them for help? That she's a pigeon ready to be plucked. The second address is a variety store catering to the Caribbean population's tastes near Getty Square. Same thing, I don't even go in. When I return to White Plains I explain to Shahab that many non-whites hate white people and by asking them for help I am only making myself vulnerable to abuse. I say that I comne from a neighborhood where whites were a minority and have already experienced the total lack of empathy of the non-whites toward me because they probably assume that, since I'm white I have it easy. Shahab, who is a dark-skinned Pakistani himself, doesn't seem upset that I spurned both of his leads.

Fri. the 27th: All week Shahab has been acting seductively toward me, touching my hand while giving me change, planting the knife in the roll in a suggestive position and all week I've been trying in vain to find a place to go in order to avoid the SHAC interview. Shortly before 5PM, his quitting time, I return to the coffee-shop and when he leaves I follow him. We go sit by the fountain. Basically he does all the talking. I'm here in a state of panic because of the SHAC thing and desperate to find a room but he makes no mention of this. He speaks of his billiard playing for a good long time. He says that he has lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, then he asks whether Broadway is on the East or the West side. If he did live there how could he not know? He says that he has been homeless and that this period is one of his best memories. He says that he bought cheap suits on 14th street and sold them by going house to house, and every day he himself wore a new suit and threw it in the garbage at the end of the day, and a superintendant friend of his let him take showers at his place. He made homelessness look like great fun, at which point I said that for a woman it was different. He also said that he had given all his furniture to his father, he spoke of buying used cameras from a man, and of taping conversations with a micro-cassette recorder. I got the message that he had been contacted by my enemies and was letting me know in a devious manner, by mentioning subjects that concerned me closely of which I hadn't spoken to him, that he was friend with my enemies. But a part of me didn't want to believe it, was telling me that I was being paranoid and refused to take heed of the warning.

The setting sun was in my eyes and he spoke, he spoke, he spoke as if he was afraid of hearing what I would say if he gave me a chance to speak. At 5:30 I interrupted him to say that I had to go and still I was late at the shelter because on Friday one has to return by 5:30, not 6PM as the other days.

Sat. the 28th:I was terrified at the prospect of being taken to SHAC at the Westchester County airport. I feared that it was a plot to abduct and kill me. Since I didn't know how to get there, how would I be sure that the driver was actually taking me there and not to some secluded place to kill me? Since I have been abducted and raped by four men when I was eighteen I have a visceral aversion to some situations. All day I called some psychotherapists in White Plains but only the answering services picked up.

[Aug. 99 - 2/2]
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