As I write these words, a plainclothes policeman is staking out some local undesirables. He’s parked in the driveway just outside my door, peering down an alleyway into a backyard on an adjoining street. The detective clued me in as to what he was up to and flashed his credentials for good measure. He wanted me to know that he was the good guy looking to ensnare some bad guys. After all, seeing a fellow sitting in a car for hours—and occasionally pacing back and forth on foot—engenders suspicion in a suspicious part of the world (the Bronx).
As to what the bad guys are involved in, the detective left that to my imagination. He did, however, whet my appetite with the foreboding words: “You would be surprised to know what kind of lowlifes are living beside you.” Considering that a year-and-a-half ago, a house exploded on my block—the tragic result of a marijuana farm illegally taping into a gas line—I don’t think I would be. A firefighter on the street was killed by falling debris that day.
I would hazard a guess that the stakeout has something to do with illicit drugs. The odds favor that over a prostitution ring or counterfeiting operation. A certain landlord—a lowlife in his own right—owns the property under surveillance. His sole life purpose is—apparently—the accumulation of money. He actually brands himself a financial “whiz kid.” Trust me: The man’s no kid and carries around an unsightly spare tire to boot. The only exercise he gets is during his monthly rounds in collecting rent checks. Every square inch of his multiple properties is a cash cow. Cars are parked bumper-to-bumper in his backyards. His garages are ever-revolving—but always occupied—doors of mystery. What’s behind door number one? Door number two? I suspect what’s been behind them through the years hasn’t always been on the up-and-up. I remember when a garage was rented to a food street vendor who could be seen slicing and dicing meats in it. Now that wasn’t kosher!
Fifty years ago, an old woman named Lizzy, who waddled like a penguin, owned the three-family home under surveillance today. Lizzy and geriatric contemporaries from the block would meet and kibitz in that very backyard, which is now a parking lot and the sight of mystifying but nefarious goings-on.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)