Moving Day

He promised to continue his fight from his new apartment, but when Johnson left under his own power, APV really became history.

The others residents departed with varying degrees of acquiescence, perhaps in recognition that one of the drawbacks of living in a government subsidized apartment is that you have to go where the government wants you to go. That certainly would not have been a fashionable idea among the protesters at the closing of APV, an occasion that seemed to attract everyone with any sort of free-floating grievance in need of an audience.

Courthouse camper Phrogge Simons leaned over the fence on the West Dallas side of the project to hector the cops, who, she hollered, might be better employed finding out who shot Alan Mabry in the head. Next to her, a black man with a booming voice loudly opined that Bob Lanier had run Bud Adams out of town and now he was doing the same to Lenwood Johnson, an equation I don't think I would have made if I'd stood in the direct sun for the remainder of the day. James Partsch Galvan, the perennial mayoral candidate and frequent haranguer of City Council, made the obligatory appearance after cussing councilmembers for their subservience to "white trash Lanier." Galvan moved a few of Johnson's files, then exercised his First Amendment rights by painting a Lanier-related obscenity on the back of his "Italia '94 World Cup" T-Shirt. It was rumored that a local citizens militia leader had come to the scene, perhaps in anticipation of another Waco or Ruby Ridge.

Then there were the punkish and body-pierced squatters, who must have been hard at work in the previous days painting the project with various crypto-revolutionary slogans. Yes, there was revolution in the air, and colorful nose-ringed characters with seriously considered opinions they were eager to share. One white woman who accompanied Johnson early in the morning sported a "Mao More Than Ever" T-shirt. (Now there was a mass murderer who would've known how to clear out a public housing project.) Even Johnson, whom you would assume knows better, indulged in some sloganeering early in the day, before easing on down the road. "They're treating us the same way they treated people in Iraq, in Grenada, in Panama," he declared.

Nah, sorry, that's not the way it went down. Of all the crimes, large and small, that were perpetrated on Allen Parkway Village in the years since it was informally and then officially decreed that the perfectly solid structures should be razed to make way for private development, the day the place was finally closed was not among them.

It struck me how empty the cant and the paint-by-numbers sentimentality of much of the media coverage was as I watched the Housing Authority, in the person of Fitzgerald, bend over backward to accommodate the wishes of one of the last APV tenants to leave. The authority had arranged for Mary Pruitt and her brood to move into a four-bedroom unit at Clayton Homes, but, as Pruitt explained, "I don't like Clayton Homes," a disinclination that had something to do with the alleged presence of a variety of pests and the railroad tracks that run behind that project.

So, with the clock approaching 12, Fitzgerald first bummed a cigarette from Pruitt, found a light, then retired with her cellular phone to a nearby stoop and began ringing up her office to see whether another four bedroom apartment could be found for Pruitt. There seemed to be some difficulty to that end, but Fitzgerald kept dialing and talking. For the first time, I sensed the faintest bit of tension. Boney had a smoke, too. The noon deadline passed, but it was obvious by then that the marshals weren't going to come charging up the courtyard. I watched Fitzgerald work her phone a little longer, then wandered off, not wanting to be arrested for standing under a tree and watching one side of a phone conversation.

On the way out, I inventoried some of what was left behind at APV: a brush with a large clump of hair in its bristles, several old copies of National Geographic, enough redeemable aluminum cans to fund an appetizer at Tony's for at least one of the squatters, a poster of the Sex Pistols in their safety-pin-through-the-cheek heyday incongruously taped to a boarded-up doorway across from Johnson's apartment; the rusty carcass of a 1950-something Ford Crown Victoria propped on makeshift blocks. And wherever life had remained at the project, there were gardens, thriving with cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and squash, and vegetables from Vietnam whose names don't readily translate.

Earlier, I had watched as an elderly Vietnamese woman took a butcher knife and began cutting away leafy green vegetables that she methodically stuffed into a white garbage bag. Around the corner, Tuan Bui was helping his parents load their furniture. They had tended an especially intricate garden that stretched over the fronts of five or six units and was terraced for irrigation. The bounty would be left to wither in this summer's especially fierce sun.

"Obviously, you can't move land," Tuan said.
But somebody did get away with a bit of earth from APV. It was clinging to the roots of a nice-sized Chinese Plum tree that the tenants in No. 858 had dug up and which reclined near the van that would soon be hauling their possessions to Clayton Homes. "My sister planted that three years ago, the same year my little nephew was born," explained one of the women. She was a niece of Ola Mae House, the mother of Freedmen's Town Association's Gladys and ten others, who had positioned herself atop a plastic milk crate on the tiny front porch while the movers loaded up.

"We are going to eat Chinese plums next year," said Mrs. House.
She was kidding, of course. But the tree was gone by day's end.

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