In my early teens I had this bright idea to sell Grit in the ghetto. You ever heard of Grit? It's a magazine of farm products that pretty much extols the life of rural America. They used to advertise in comic books. That's how I heard about 'em. I thought, well, why not? At 25 cents a copy I should be able to sell enough to move out in a month. When I received my first shipment I was as happy as an addict at the 12th step. Placing about 25 Grits in a bag, I immediately proceed to the first building in my cross hairs, The Projects.
Do you know how to tell you're in The Projects? The pervasive smell of boiled cabbage streams out from every wall. You can't get away from it. You combine that smell with the urine sprayed around the bases of the buildings and you have Eau d'Ghetto. Hang around there long enough and the smell stays in your clothes. Nothing to exactly be proud of but it gives you street cred if that's what you're after.
As I approached the building, I noticed there was supposed to be a lock in the front metal door but somebody broke it off. How convenient. Some thoughtful citizen must've been thinking about me. Quietly, I entered the building. As it was my first time in there, my heart leaped to my throat. Even though it was broad daylight, the lobby looked as dark as a cave in Afghanistan. Shh! What was that sound?! Hmm...the pitter-patter of little feet. Probably rats chasing roaches. I exhale. Nothing to be alarmed about. I don't think they're interested in Grit anyway.
Walking to the first unit, I pressed the little square bell in the door. Ding! Twiddling my thumbs, I waited till someone answered. After the second ring, I decided to move on. Just as I picked up my Grit bag, an old woman opened the door.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"Sorry to disturb you, ma'am," I began. "Can I interest you in Grit?"
I reach into my bag and brought out the latest issue.
"That ain't grits," she claimed. "Can't eat that."
"Not grits, ma'am," I corrected her. "Grit. It's a magazine."
"Why do I need a magazine?"
"It's full of useful information."
"You dummy!" she exploded. "All the information I need is in the Bible."
"But this has..."
Slam! For an older woman, she sure was quick in shutting her door. Undeterred, I went to the next apartment. Ding! No one answered. After trying a few more but getting no bites, I took the elevator to the second floor. While standing in that vomit-green car, I tried my best to decipher the graffiti on the walls and ceiling. The only words I could make out were "Boo" and "Shorty." Whatever.
When I got to the 2nd floor, I tried a few more doors. Some folks answered but you'd swear I was trying to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge. I wouldn't say they were hostile, but I'd probably be better off trying to sell snow to an Eskimo.
After slipping once on some spilled beer, I decided to try one more door. If I didn't get a good response then I wouldn't waste my time trying the upper floors. My theory at that time was, the more distant you were away from taking an interest in your fellow neighbor, the higher your floor placement would be.
I rang the final bell and waited for a few moments. After about a minute I rang it again. Like before, there was no answer. As I turned to leave, the door opened up. A woman in her 40's, attired only in a pink see-through negligee and matching furry slippers, was standing there. Though her face was slightly greasy and well painted, her knees looked as ashy and dry as the sands of the Sahara.
"Can I help you, sugar?" she asked.
"Y-yes," I stammered, trying my best not to look at her protruding chest. I wouldn't say it was large, but you could stand on them to change a light bulb if you wanted.
"What d'you got there?" she queried.
"Um," I almost forgot, "it's Grit. Grit magazine."
"Let me see one, honey," she said in her inebriated but enchanting way.
I promptly gave her one and she perused it briefly.
"Ain't nothin' in here I can relate to, pumpkin," she explained. "As a matter of fact, I think you're in the wrong neighborhood."
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"I wouldn't lie to you, baby," she promised. "Whoever told you to try and sell these in this place is playing a trick on you. These folks around here are savages. You know what I mean? Rawrr!"
Yeah, she even clawed the air when she made her Eartha Kitt soundbite.
"Where should I go?"
"Up there where them white folks live," she answered. "This ain't got nothin' for nobody 'round here."
As I reached for the magazine she pulled it back a little.
"Hold on there, buttercup," she said. "I hate to see you young people so crest fallen. Hold on."
I waited as she left to go back inside. A few seconds later she returned with a quarter.
"Here, boo," she said handing me the coin. "It's our secret."
"Thanks again," I said and took off.
From the way I look at it later, she did me a favor. Worse things could've happened to me in that building. At least I was leaving by my own two feet. Over the next few weeks I tried selling Grit in the "right" neighborhood. Granted, I sold a handful, but because I was still light years away from making enough money to get my own place, I gave it up. I tried. I pat myself on the back. Another life lesson given by a stranger. Thanks, sister, wherever you are. Next time I buy a drink, I'll consider the quarter spent as being yours.
Author Notes: Like most stories, this one has some uncomfortable truths to it. Eh? What's life if you can't laugh at it, right?