Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Neighborhood Watch

Part 3 of the story of my time at the Jensonia in Seattle. (Part1 & Part 2)

Things were chugging along at the Jensonia. I was working in an office building a short walk away, doing some theatre work in the evening with a theatre company run by some friends and myself, partying a lot with those same friends (we were pretty good at theatre, we were great at drinking together), and hanging out at the apartment with my motley crew of neighbors. It was baseball season, and the handy-man from down the hall and the lesbian girls would come over to my place a lot to watch games on cable. They usually brought beer, dinner and other tasty treats.

It was a great slacker life in the slacker capitol in the slacker decade. Even my day job was one of those office gigs where I mainly just showed up, drank coffee and surfed the Internet.

Now the Jensonia was somewhat of a rundown ghetto building, but it was a livable place despite the lack of upkeep and its location next to the 8th Avenue viaduct. But one day a notice got slipped under the door announcing the sale of the building. Overnight we went from having family ownership that resided on site to being owned by a faceless company. The couple that sold the place moved out pretty much right after we got the notices and the downward spiral of the soul of the place began exceptionally fast. Word started to spread that long-term tenants (some for over 20 years) were getting huge rent increase notices. In Seattle you couldn't actually be evicted without cause, but landlords had no limit to how much they could increase your rent. So that was often used to get people with expired leases or on month-to-month to move out. So the new owners started sending out rent increases that were doubling the price of the units. They then turned around and rented places out with weekly rates. Seriously, weekly rates.

They even put a sign on the outside that said Jensonia Hotel.

One of my neighbors, when we saw the sign, "If this is a hotel then where is the fucking concierge desk?"

They were turning the place into a "resident hotel." So instead of being a place where a bunch of lower income people lived, it was becoming a place where a bunch of seedy people stayed. It started to look that way pretty quickly. When I came home at night there might be some residents sitting on the front steps drinking beer and socializing. You know, just having a good time and joking around. But that turned into walking up to the building late at night and there being people who didn't live there waiting outside for someone to come along and open the door. It became kind of scary. A lot of these guys who might be waiting on any given night weren't the types you wanted challenge. So they would come in when I unlocked the door. I started to dread having to go home after dark, wondering who would be waiting by the front door. It was always a great relief when there was no one there. But that was rare after a while.

A dark cloud had cast its shadow on the Jensonia. I didn't realize how dark until one night in October.

I was home alone on this night, watching the baseball playoffs. I don't really remember what night of the week it was but I think it was the night that the Yankees finished off the Rangers in the first round of the '98 post-season. The game ended and I decided to do some laundry. I grabbed my dirty clothes and headed towards the stairs.

Oh yeah, during all of this the elevator stopped working altogether and the new owners appeared uninterested in fixing it.

When I got to the second floor landing there was yellow police tape stretched across the staircase.

"What the fuck is this?"

I heard voices at the bottom of the stairs in the lobby and was trying to hear what was going on. I thought that it could have been a joke. That would be the first thought of a milquetoast kid who grew up in the suburbs. I waited listening for a while, contemplating crossing the tape and just heading down to the lobby, and then I heard someone coming up the stairs. It was a female uniform cop and what I assumed was a detective. I asked them if I could get down to the lobby and they told me no. I asked how I was supposed to get out of the building and I was informed that the emergency exit in the back of the building on the second floor was open for people to get out. Like a lot of places in Seattle our building abutted a hill, that's why the back exit would be on a higher floor.

I threw my laundry back into my apartment and headed to the back door. The backside of the building was pretty dark and I had to make my way down the hill through the trees. When I came around the corner to the front I couldn't believe my eyes.

There must have been a dozen or so police cars with their lights flashing clustered in front of the building.

"Holy shit."

I kept walking and went up the hill to the Shoprite. I didn't need anything from the store but I didn't want to look like I came out just to see what was going on. Up by the store I ran into the now former handy man, the new owners let him go and he was now just a tenant.

"Dude, what the fuck is going on down there?"
"Didn't you hear? Somebody killed Bob."
"You know Bob, the kind of surly guy with the scraggly beard that hung out front drinking beer. He has that shitty blue car with all the tools in the back seat."
"Oh right. He's dead?"
"Holy shit. What happened?"
"Looks like somebody smashed his face in."
"In the lobby?"

Well, I knew what I was going to get at the store now. I bought a half rack of Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve. I was going to need some beer this night.

To be continued...

Next - The Aftermath

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