Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Throwing Stones at Cracked Houses

I know. I know. I promised the first two pages of Miss Prothero's Writing Circle story a long, long time ago. I've had the stomach flu. Patrick's home computer has had the PC flu. I'm better. It's better. The first two pages are pasted below. Try not to edit. Just add. 2 more pages is all you need. Get Mindy or Marta or Matilda or Matthew inside the house. Have her or him find a person and an artifact. Remember, the next Writing Circle meeting is May 23 at 6:30. We're having a potluck dinner. Call Miss Prothero's Books at 303-572-2260 if you want to know what to bring or just surprise us or just bring yourself and your two pages.

Mindy loved these cracked houses. Her Auntie lived in a big one on the parkway. Her Mother always drew it out to say T-H-E-E-E-E parkway to be sure everyone knew that her Auntie had some wealth. And she remembered her Mother would smile a laugh when she called them cracked houses. When she was three or so she had become aware of the stucco in the eaves of these houses and so she called them cracked. Only as a teenager did she see that they had cracked from settling and weathering in the extremes of the arid Front Range weather. Mindy’s memory was that her Mother always corrected her and said “These are Tudors dear”, and for years Mindy looked for two doors and usually only found the front door.

Standing here today Mindy still loved the cracks and now the doors were in fact her primary interest and love in these cracked houses. Doors on Tudor style houses have strong features. The rounded curved tops, panels, vertical battens, iron forged hardware and other unique details characterize these doors. Mindy’s friend Alexis had once rented a Tudor style house that had an off center window in the front door that was 7 inches by 10 inches. Mindy had measured out of curiosity. The window was hinged at the side and opened to an ornate hand forged grille that was mounted on the exterior of the door. The glass in the window was green bottle glass and each of the six panels was a slightly different shade of faded green.

And now that Mindy recollected her friend from more than 20 years past, she winced at the memory that she really wasn't much of a friend of Alexis. She had a schoolgirl fixation and lust for Alexis’ live in boyfriend Ralph. Once Alexis threw him out for reasons long forgotten, she lost contact with Alexis. And now that she thought about Ralph she could not recall much about him except his chewed to the nub fingernails.

The wind and the dust stirred by the traffic returned her reality to this sidewalk on South Santa Fe Drive and the reason she was standing here at 2:37 on a Thursday afternoon in April. She was here to do an inspection of this building based on a complaint from neighbors in this gentrifying part of town.

The architecture firm three doors away, Mabry and Associates, had registered two official complaints on the unsafe condition of the fence. To use your name when you could remain anonymous meant you were a very serious complainant and that you had nothing to fear and also it usually meant that you knew a member of the City Council. Ms. Allison Mabry had a bit of a Kansas City slur in her diction and when Mindy had returned her phone call, just to make small talk she had asked her if she was from the Midwest, and this had led to a too long drawn out story from Ms. Mabry of her life and how she had struggled for years, etc. to finally open her own firm and then to watch this grand building go to pieces in just a “short time”. Mindy did not like Ms. Mabry’s dramatics and knew just standing on the sidewalk that it had taken at least 50 years of neglect for this building to deteriorate to this point. Not so short a time!

The manager of the just occupied townhouse redevelopment on the next block was also on the list of complainants and her complaint was always expected from these gentrifiers. “I can’t rent these to my kind of tenants if that place is allowed to present itself as a place for transients” she had said in her message. She had left her name as Sarajane (all one word she had barked) Golowski. Mindy wondered why she thought her transients as high cost renters deserved more than the transients she perceived to inhabit this neglected building. Mindy knew, too, that Sarajane Golowski had most likely been required to make the call and complaint official as part of her management contract with the developer. And Mindy was aware that the developer of those new apartments was tied in with Arturro Valenzuella, the Council person from this district for the past 5 years. Arturro’s family had been active politically in this neighborhood since they arrived from Central America at the turn of the century. There is the Manuel Valenzuella plaza at St. Thomas Catholic Church, the Angela Valenzuella memorial garden in the Dante Valenzuella Park, the Bartolo Valenzuella Alley and other public spaces that honor Valenzuella family members. The alley is named for Bartolo Valenzuella who ran a garage on the alley for many years starting in the 1920’s and became the first elected Hispanic State Representative, State Senator and finally Lieutenant Governor before dying tragically in a plane crash while testing an airplane engine that he had designed in his garage. The irony is that that airplane engine patent in 1954 was the beginning of the succeeding financial empire of the Valenzuellas. The patent was sold to Boeing in 1959 and since then the Valenzuellas have branched out, even internationally.

Yesterday two more complaints had come in with concern for the safety of pedestrians near this building. One was a nasty quick call with no name. There was a goofy bass tone to the voice, but the words were clear. “Worthless, puissant code enforcement you need to get rid of that building at 823 Santa Fe. It stinks like hell”. It sounded like it was from a cellphone and maybe it was actually made as this person was walking by. Mindy found it odd that the caller had the Code Enforcement phone number handy. The other complaint was actually a letter. It was an odd letter, brief, but sort of menacing, and it wasn’t signed. The author knew enough to address it to Mr. Samuel Barnes, Manager of Code Enforcement, City and County of Denver, and Mindy’s boss. Sam had passed these two new complaints on to Mindy and she rearranged her calendar so she could do a site visit today rather than wait until next Monday when she had scheduled a time to check it out with Ms. Mabry and with one word Sarajane, if Ms. One word could actually leave her post at the rental office to get a personal tour of 823 Santa Fe from the caretaker of the property, a Mr. Ellis Jansen who was this week vacationing in CanCun, Mexico, for his health he said.

As Mindy stood on the sidewalk she pulled her digital camera from her bag and began to take photos of the building. Mostly she was focused on the main door. A grand lintel she noted and then admired the Corinthian columns that flanked both sides of the covered portico. The transom over the front door looked to be of stained glass and maybe if cleaned the numbers 823 would be visible from the street. The door knob was missing, but the original brass plate was intact as was the brass kick plate at the bottom of the door.

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