Don’t get me wrong, I’m not prejudiced or nothing. I really don’t have anything against them. It’s just that we were here first and things were going fine.
We worked hard to make this place feel like home, but now they’re here and it’s all gone down the toilet.
I don’t know when they first showed up. Maybe it was a few months ago, after the economy fell apart. People everywhere were hurting, so I get it that they’d end up here where things looked like they were going good for us. But we had our own problems, you know. It’s not like we were living high and mighty. Day-to-day mostly, that’s what it was. Day-to-day.
Whenever people who’re different from you move into your neighborhood, you don’t always notice right away. The first ones keep to themselves. There are only a few of them so they don’t want to stir up trouble. It’s only after they start to see faces that look like their own that they get more bold. Let me tell you, if you wait until then to do anything, it’s too late.
I had two of them living in my apartment building for a whole month before I actually saw them. One day in summer, the vans were parked out front loaded with stuff and then the next day I started hearing the new people coming and going, usually early in the morning. But I never got a good look at them.
I thought about stopping by to welcome them, but sometimes you gotta let people have their space, time to settle in and all that. After a few days of them being there, I started to notice that things weren’t quite right. Nothing major. I still hadn’t seen them yet, but some things were definitely off.
The smell was the first clue. Not that you can ever judge a group of people by the way they smell, but in their case it was true. Walking into the apartment building, I could tell if they’d been there before me. The odor of their bodies hung in the air.
They smelled differently, clean like the smell in the bathroom at one of those sit-down restaurants or the doctor’s office. I always felt like I should take a shower after I got to my apartment, to wash off that stench.
Then there was the noise. They were real quiet. Barely a sound out of their apartments. Not even a radio playing. Occasionally the soft hum of a television or noises in the kitchen, but that’s about it.
There was a time when this building would be busting over with people playing their guitars, banging their girlfriends or just cutting loose with some video games. But the new people were so quiet, it was creepy.
The first time I saw the guy across the hallway, I thought he was a salesman who’d gotten past the front door. People were always leaving the door propped open so they could smoke outside without having to bring their keys. I thought he’d slipped in.
“You can’t sell stuff in this building,” I said, trying to be nice, but I guess maybe I sounded a bit peeved.
He was standing at the door to the apartment and when he turned around, I saw that he had a key in his hand. Man, when he looked at me with those clear, blue eyes, I almost shit myself.
He had no facial hair, not even day-old scruff. And he was wearing a blue suit, just like a Mormon or something like that, and as far as I could tell, he didn’t have any tattoos or piercings. Like I said, he had on a suit, but I could see his hands and neck, and they were both clean.
“I live here,” he said quietly, then turned back to the door and slipped into his apartment.
That was about a year ago. He and the other one around the corner, the one with the doormat with flowers on it, were the first. At the time, I wasn’t really concerned about it. I didn’t think they’d last. They were too different from us. Heck, I bet they didn’t even use drugs.
After that, things only got worse. Like I said, if you wait until they get comfortable, there’s no going back.
Every time an apartment emptied out, another one of them would move in. My friends left months ago, moving across the river to the southeast where things are still good.
Now, instead of the comforting sounds of punk and indie bands in the building, all you can hear is my guitar echoing in the hallways of the entire building. That’s what the salesman dude tells me every time I come home, but now he’s not so quiet.
I thought about staying, waiting for people like me to come back, for the neighborhood to turn around again. I’m not sure I can live here much longer, though, in a place where people look at you like you’re a freak.
Short story: Where have all the hipsters gone? © 2010 by Shawn Radcliffe / Branáin