My hub is beautiful: From my windows I spy potted flowers, new street lights and landscaping that give our stretch of Woodburn Avenue a village feel without the economic exclusivity of, say, Glendale. Though still turning the corner to complete gentrification, shops and galleries are popping up and their newer aesthetic seem to be mixing OK with the old-school dry cleaners and black hair and nail shops that have been mainstays since before I moved to my corner perch 10 summers ago.
It’s still loud at times.
The latest bombastic ghetto anthems ebb and flow from passing car windows; one-sided cell phone conversations about cheating boyfriends, bitches and child support scream in and out of my summertime dreams; and any manner of beeping construction or sanitation trucks indiscriminately jolt me awake.
I am a shallow sleeper.
But I am awake enough to know the difference a few blocks can make.
The spot where 26-year-old Kendall Hampton was shot to death Saturday night is right in the middle of the ghetto, working-class path my everyday life has traversed with regularity throughout the 23 years I’ve lived within a one-mile radius of myself in one house or apartment building or another in Walnut Hills.
Driving east on McMillan from Peebles Corner, the decay and neglect is noticeable but not foreboding if you’re used to it. Seems the same hustlers, bootleg cab drivers, corner boys and sex workers have owned the increasingly isolated and darkening stretch of McMillan from Gilbert Avenue to Victory Parkway for years now.
They’re invisible to me because I do not require their services; yet, I see them because I am annoyed by them. I want them to join us and to not be so peripheral, so ... shadowy. I am always annoyed when the elephant in the room is allowed to roam freely without so much as a mumbling word.
When late-night news of Hampton’s shooting death first broke he was initially described as “a transvestite prostitute,” but that description was quickly dropped.
Google his name, however, and his photograph might bear witness to that cold description. A handsome young man, he is pictured wearing a clownish, multi-colored wig with the word “Love” tattooed beneath his right eye.
He was found dead in the well-traveled, wide-open lot between a Dairy Mart on East McMillan and the McDonald’s on East McMillan and Victory Parkway.
That lot is like a superhighway of pedestrians from the neighborhood taking shortcuts, some with their children in tow, back and forth between the mundane errands of their lives. From what I’ve seen, that Dairy Mart is the flashpoint of some nefarious traffic and the preferred in-and-out spot of corner boys.
In the hierarchy of neighborhood bodegas, it goes like this: United Dairy Farmers is the preference of workers on lunch breaks looking for ice cream and snacks and for mid-day drunks copping beer; the Chevron station across from the McDonald’s is the choice for lottery junkies, weedheads needing rolling papers and blunts (UDF sells neither lottery tickets nor rolling supplies) and sugar addicts (they have the best selection of sugary drinks); and the Dairy Mart is simply for the Dark Forces and the ghetto girls who love them. It’s more like a joint you’d find in Detroit.
Outside it is where Hampton’s body was found at around 10:30 p.m. Saturday night.
That is not a late hour in this neighborhood.
In fact, it’s prime time.
Folks are doing what I call the ghetto scurry.
On their way to the club or to house parties, niggas are getting their drinks of choice and buying junk food and condoms in preparation for a night of hard partying.
It is loud.
It is electric.
It pulses with anticipation and agitation.
It very nearly looks like the middle of the day except it’s nighttime. Add to that the unseasonably spring-like weather for August and the block was hot around here.
People were out.
If Hampton was indeed turning tricks, my sanctified imagination tells me some ’hood nigga paid for it and became enraged once he discovered Hampton was, in fact, a man and not a woman.
That customer then had to kill that part of himself he allowed to become attracted to a man like Hampton. It’s not such a secret anymore that some black men — indeed, many men — secretly pay for homosexual sex on the street.
However, because black homophobic roots run deeper since they were often planted and watered in the black church and because black male sexual virility gets played out — no, acted out — in professional sports and rap videos unlike any other group in America, a black man’s sexual identity is so much more at risk if it’s a secret that can be literally and figuratively blown by a transvestite prostitute.
All psychosexual conjecture aside, my heart is broken for Hampton.
Whatever we think about what he looks like or what he my have been doing because of his appearance, Hampton came from somebody. He had family, he was loved, he had a childhood, he had interests and he certainly had friends.
Something astounding and stupefying has happened within the black family of man. When one of us is publicly murdered, no one comes forward to help police in the investigation.
If I am found dead in a field between a grimy bodega and a fast-food restaurant, my last prayer would be that someone will tell the cops what they saw or heard so my family can get some peace, some closure and some rest.
More importantly, I’d hope that another black person would care enough about where they live that they’d want to rid it of a murderous vermin.
Poor and black do not have to equal ignorant.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org