How to Live Near Section Eight Housing

Last Friday’s pool-party fracas in the Craig Ranch section of McKinney, Texas ended with Corporal David Eric Casebolt’s resigning from the McKinney police force after making an ogre of himself on video. But it is said to have begun with a volley of insults. Piqued at seeing her community pool swarming with unruly black teens, who apparently exceeded the two-guests-per-resident ratio by a wide margin, Tracey Carver-Allbritton allegedly told 19-year-old Tatiana Rhodes: “Go back to your Section Eight home!”

In point of fact, Rhodes doesn’t live in a Section Eight home. As a Craig Ranch resident, she is Carver-Allbritton’s neighbor and social equal. Rhodes’ race could well form the greater part of the reason Carver-Albritton jumped to the wrong conclusion and flipped out — in Rhodes’ account, she insulted that race explicitly. But to really understand Carver-Allbritton’s explosion, we have to take into account her own precarious place in the pecking order.

On her Facebook profile, Carver-Allbritton had described herself as a Bank of America loan officer. Researchers have since identified her as an employee of Core Logic, Inc., a financial data and analytics firm that subcontracts to Bank of America. Her job title is still unknown, but if it’s “loan officer,” or anything to do with loan processing, then she’s one of the clerical workers or sales people who make up the lower end of the middle class. That is to say, she’s one of those in constant danger of being knocked into the socioeconomic abyss by inflation, outsourcing or other trends far outside her control. To Carter-Allbritton, Tatiana Rhodes must have looked like that abyss coming up to snatch her.

I’m speculating, of course. But I don’t see that Carver-Allbritton has any cause to resent it. Now that Core Logic has placed her on administrative leave, explaining her actions – which included screeching and brawling like a fishwife – can only help her. Anyway, I’m speaking as someone who long ago ended up where she fears to go. The apartment complex where I live is bounded on the north by government-subsidized housing. Nearly all of the residents are black – many are African refugees. Through various devices, they breach our safe space on a regular basis.

Occasionally, they do bring along a whiff of the underclass anarchy I’d been raised to fear, but which — Calvinistically — I half-believe is my just deserts for allowing myself to slide down the social ladder. Given a little patience and imagination, though, it’s possible to cope without coming off like a mean-minded racist nitwit.

Learn to tell the difference between a normal bratty teen and a menace. Granted, the older you get, the harder this can be, but clues do present themselves. Only a week or so after moving in, I stepped onto my landing to smell marijuana smoke close by. Looking around the corner, I found a pair of 16-year-olds sharing the end of a blunt. Glancing up, they looked embarrassed and a little guilty, which is how people look when they’re caught doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing. I took it as evidence they’d been properly raised.

Learn to distinguish an annoyance from a threat. There is a group of about four or five teenagers who mistake our rec room for FAO Schwartz. The plates of the Universal machine tend to clang when handled carelessly, and clanging tends to distract me when I’m composing on my laptop. Rather than confront the infiltrators, I report them to the front office. Not only do I avoid scenes that way, I can rest assured that I’m getting some service in exchange for the latest rent hike.

Pick your battles. My unit faces the eight-foot spiked fence raised to separate us from them. For several days running, whenever I stepped out to smoke a cigarette, I’d hear, “HEY, STINKY!” or “HEY, WHITE MAN!” coming from one of the windows on the second story of a cinder-block apartment building behind it. Looking up, I saw smirking faces peeking back at me from under a Venetian blind. They belonged to a trio of kids whose ages I guessed to be between eight and 10.

Maybe if I’d had kids of my own (or if I hadn’t managed to miss my nieces’ entire childhoods), I’d have known how to befriend them. As it was, I took offense at the heckling but knew better than to get into a serious war of words with a bunch of grade-schoolers. Instead, I stood my ground, keeping my eyes fixed above the horizon like a tomb sentinel until I smoked each cigarette down to the filter. Within a few days, I succeeded in boring the sprogs till they left me alone.

Pause to marvel over cultural differences. Yes, our pool has been stormed and occupied. One Fourth of July weekend, a group of Somalis showed up. Before testing the water, one young woman stripped down to her bra and panties, leaving on her hijab. It was all I could do not to write Bernard Lewis, demanding an explanation.

Acknowledge your own part in unfortunate events. In the summer of 2006, a group of Sudanese stole my wallet and keys, found their way to my apartment, and made off with my bike and computer. That’s the truth. The whole truth is that a group of Sudanese plucked my wallet and keys from one of my shoes, where I’d stuck them after bolting down four shots of Sky vodka, six Mickey’s Big Mouths, going for a midnight swim, and passing out on a chaise longue.

Even if you go off, don’t go there. For a long time, a pan-African group gathered every night to play basketball on our court. On their way, the players passed my unit. One night, seeing me smoking on the landing, one of them asked for a cigarette. I obliged him – and the next time, and the time after that. When the jonesing player stopped for the fourth time, however, I told him curtly that I was all out.

Maybe I should have concealed the pack, which was lying on the staircase that led to the upper units. When the man saw it, he said something sarcastic. His rudeness pushed me to a place where I was just about ready to throw our status difference right back in his teeth. The words “Take your six-foot, eight-inch, 140-lb ass back to Darfur, you Dinka dink!” formed in my brain.

What came out of my mouth instead was a simple, egalitarian oath, a phrasal verb beginning with “f” and ending with “off.” As the man’s friends dragged him away, I felt relieved knowing I’d chosen the better part.

Granted, as a renter, I don’t have the same proprietorial stake in my living space that the folks in Craig Ranch have in theirs. Maybe it’s not for someone like me, who’s fallen out of the middle class, to preach at people who are still hanging in there. Still, I maintain that by being patient and showing the odd touch of noblesse oblige, you can just about pretend you’ve vaulted all the way into the upper class, where a half-mile driveway stands between you and all world’s madness.

"Saint Joseph of Cupertino.'Nuff said."

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