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Miss Ree-Ree ran 351 Howard Avenue, which was the kind of building that needed a good power washing a decade ago and just never got it. And I’m talking about the inside. Germaphobes never made it past the front door. The glass didn’t need to be clean for you to see how filthy the lobby was. The grout between the floor tiles was supposed to be white. The walls weren’t supposed to be coal black in spots, either. Miss Ree-Ree didn’t care. This was her spot. Even a shitty kingdom is still a kingdom. She knew who was coming and going at all times. She knew if the mail carrier was early or late. She knew when white trust fund kids were rolling up to buy their drug of choice. She knew if a party or a fight was about to go down. Miss Ree-Ree saw all—but don’t go thinking she was a snitch. Miss Ree-Ree had her own vices and didn’t need anyone calling 311. What, and spoil all the fun?
When you don’t have a job, everyday is Saturday. You wake up when you want. You go to sleep when you want. If you want to sleep all day, that’s your business. In fact, it’s your only business. You’re not clocking in or out anywhere. Miss Ree-Ree enjoyed this sole luxury of the unemployed. She hadn’t been in the legal job market for 15 years. She’d put in her time at Family Dollar, McDonald’s, and Bam Bam’s Playhouse (a daycare, not a strip club) before she unceremoniously retired. She filed for disability and got it. Nobody threw a retirement bash for her. But Miss Ree-Ree wasn’t going to live off of disability alone, not in Brooklyn. So she did what dozens on her block had done before: She pledged allegiance to Beef Patty.
A beef patty is a Jamaican pastry. It’s spicy, or at least savory, and greasy and good. (If you’ve never had one, go ahead and try one. This is less of a recommendation and more of a mandate.) Obviously, Miss Ree-Ree didn’t work for a pastry; she worked for Beef Patty, who was human, if only barely. He was greasy, but he was not good. A kingpin in East and Central Brooklyn, Beef Patty dealt heroin. Of course, he didn’t deal directly. His minions did all the dirty work. You’d never find smack at his crib. He knew better than that. How else did he get to be a 53-year-old black man in East New York without even a whiff of a prison sentence? No, Beef Patty saw to it that he’d never catch a record. He made all his business decisions from afar. Holed up in the only million-dollar penthouse in East New York, just a block off from Pennsylvania Avenue, Beef Patty watched old Hollywood movies and curated a fine Harlem Renaissance collection. Rumor had it he owned a first edition James Baldwin--signed—and an original Romare Bearden. Motherfucker.
Miss Ree-Ree never met Beef Patty. She didn’t expect to meet him, either. She just expected to stay in her Section 8 apartment until she died. That was good enough for her. She was tired of moving from spot to spot because she couldn’t make rent. And on top of it, she came home smelling like McDoubles? No, thank you. Miss Ree-Ree had her man of the week push her down the stairs after her last-ever McD’s shift. She downed plenty of José Cuervo as a preventative measure, but it still hurt like hell. Then she had a sweet librarian help her with the disability paperwork. She hadn’t been to the library in years, not even to set up an email address to check on a public computer every once in a while. Yet her interest was piqued when she heard librarians now did more than shush you or hold storytime for toddlers.
“I hauled ass,” she told anyone who asked for pointers. “Maybe the librarian judged me, I dunno. I don’t care. I got on disability, whether that bitch liked it or not.”
Miss Ree-Ree stayed on at Bam Bam’s Playhouse during the 90-day approval process. She parked herself in a rocking chair like the old lady she convinced herself she was. She mostly stayed quiet, except to yell at kids about throwing blocks at each other. She got up to feed the children with the rest of the day care workers. She waited at the door at the end of the day as parents came to pick up their little ones. And then the minute the government approved her disability request, she bounced. She just didn’t show up to Bam Bam’s the next day. Her supervisor, Mrs. K., a Russian crone, called her two hours into her shift.
“I ain’t never coming back,” cackled Miss Ree-Ree.
“You’re a stereotype,” scoffed Mrs. K., before hanging up the phone.
“And you don’t know nothing about my life,” said Miss Ree-Ree to nobody but herself.
Miss Ree-Ree knew disability wasn’t going to give her what she needed for playtime and emergencies. She’d spent more than 40 years counting change and scraping by. From the time she was a bitty girl, she picking up pennies from the sidewalk to put in her mama’s coin jar. It’s not like her estranged husband—the man-ho who ran off with a Dollar Tree ho—ever attempted to ease her financial suffering. He put in about ten hours a week at Dollar Tree and spent the rest of his waking hours boozing and kvetching. Miss Ree-Ree was the working fool, the worrying fool, the bitter, bitter fool. And yet it was still never enough. The bills always piled up like mice behind a radiator. Miss Ree-Ree knew that doing a few odd jobs a month for Beef Patty could put all that behind her.
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