SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 3, 2019

Chinaman’s Chance

 

About six or seven years ago, when Morgan and I were foolhardy enough to seriously consider buying a house somewhere in this neighborhood, the real estate agent we were dealing with sold a house across the street from us to a Chinese family. It turned out in the end to actually be eight Chinese families, but even before anyone realized that, the real estate agent started receiving death threats.

            It’s that kind of block. I’ve mentioned before I live on a very insular, Old World block in southern Brooklyn, with many of my Greek, Italian, Russian and German neighbors representing the third or fourth generation of the same family to be living in the same house. Even when the kids grow up and move out, sometimes they only move a door or two away. You have an environment like that, you can pretty well guess they aren’t much the type who care for outsiders. If the influx of middle Easterners ten or fifteen years ago had them flummoxed with outrage, the arrival of the Chinese proved an even more insidious—or make that inscrutable—threat.

            Well, in the six or seven years since the arrival of that first Chinese family, virtually every house on the block that’s been put up for sale has been bought by new Chinese neighbors. In fact most of the realtors who handle this area now are Chinese themselves, which I guess diminishes the impact of death threats. In the mind of the locals, it’s those former neighbors who agreed to sell to Chinese families who are the race traitors. As I understand it, it’s made many an enemy of former close friends.

            I don’t much care myself, though I am kind of sad to see so many old timers picking up and moving, simply to take advantage of insane real estate prices. Prices, it seems, only the Chinese are willing to pay. The recent Chinese arrivals I’ve encountered have all been perfectly friendly and pleasant. Most of them anyway.

            When you’re blind, you stop dividing the population into whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners and whatever stragglers are left over, simply because if you can’t see them, you can’t tell for sure, so race stops being an issue. I dealt with a very friendly and funny Asian pharmacist for years before being informed he was actually black, so you see? Our assumptions get all screwy, so better to discard them. When you can’t see, the diaspora instead gets divided into assholes, cretins, stinkers, the mentally unbalanced, and good joes, which seems to make a lot more sense.

            Case in point, my annoying next-door neighbor—one of the few of the block’s old-timers I was happy to see go—sold his house to two perfectly charming Chinese women in their forties. I was told a number of different stories before they arrived, that they were sisters or cousins or lesbians. I’m still not certain how they’re connected, I don’t intend to ask, and it doesn’t matter. They were very friendly. The first time we met, they handed me a bottle of expensive red wine and a package of chocolates, apparently to make a good impression on some presumably jingoistic neighbors. We chatted for a while in perfectly pleasant, neighborly terms about perfectly pleasant, neighborly things. They told me they planned to make no major renovations, except on the top floor, where our friend Beverly used to live. They promised the work would only take place during regular business hours and that it wouldn’t be that loud. I assured them it would all be fine, whatever it was, and in turn offered my assistance if they had any questions about the neighborhood. I went away thinking Morgan and I had lucked into a couple of very good new neighbors. Helluva lot better than that jerkoff who was congenitally incapable of minding his own goddamn business, that’s for sure. He never gave us fancy wine and chocolate.

            The renovations they’d mentioned got underway about a week later, and were exactly as the new neighbors had described them, not too obtrusive and they never ground on late into the night. That the new neighbors were straight and honest with me about what they were doing was another good sign.

            Then about a month after I met the new neighbors, my convicted felon of a landlord, apparently being even more foolhardy than Morgan and I had been six or seven years earlier, decided to put our building on the market in order to pay off his legal bills. He was, I’m told, under the grossly misguided impression he’d be able to ask the same price for our place that asshole neighbor had asked for his, simply because we were next door. This sort of thinking didn’t take into account the asshole had actually kept his place up, made repairs when necessary, and took a certain amount of pride in caring for his building. But my convicted felon landlord would learn all that soon enough.

            Nevertheless, Morgan and I were faced with the dire prospect of possibly having to pack up and move in the near future. But then we had an idea.

            Hey, right? The two Chinese women next door, we’d been told anyway, were planning to rent out the newly-renovated top floor of their new house. How easy would that be, right? Just carry things downstairs, take a quick left, and carry them back upstairs again. Most all of the houses on this block were built from the same designs, so it wouldn’t take that much thinking at all to rearrange all our crap, and I’d already know my way around. How cool and easy would that be? We were great tenants, never refused to pay rent, never screamed obscenities at the landlord’s mother or nothing. We dragged out the trash cans, kept the common areas clean, and were willing to pay for small repairs out of our own pocket. We were a fucking landlord’s dream. Plus having the landlord right there on the premises would make things that much simpler—if the heat went out, they’d know it too.

            All I needed to do was run into them again, which hadn’t happened since that first meeting. But they’d be around soon enough, and we had a little time yet. Yeah, this was a good and simple plan. How could they refuse?

            Two weeks later, I happened to be downstairs having a smoke when they stepped out of their front door. They hadn’t moved in yet, but stopped by briefly once a week or so to inspect the progress of the renovations. We exchanged cheerful hellos, and I asked how things were coming along. Then I asked what their plans might be for the building when they were finished. Although we’d heard they were going to be renting that top floor, we weren’t absolutely certain.

            “Oh, we’ll be renting the upstairs apartment,” one of them told me.

            “You don’t say?” I replied. I explained that our house had just quite unexpectedly been put on the market, and so my wife and I might well be looking for a new place in the near future. I gave them the old song and dance about how long we’d been there and how much we loved our apartment and the block and hated the idea of having to leave. I finished up with the perfectly reasonable proposal that we rent the top floor from them. It would, after all, save them all that tiresome “looking for a new tenant” rigamarole. Trying to sift through the riff-raff could drag on for months. Why, with us, the minute the renovations were finished, they’d be collecting rent. I didn’t even bother asking how much they planned to charge—the idea was to get our foot in the door and worry about that niggling little issue later.

            There was no hesitation in their response. “Oh, we plan to use the same broker who sold us the house to find a new tenant.”

            That was that, and the message was clear. They were Chinese, the broker they referred to was Chinese, and any new tenant they brought in was going to be equally Chinese, so we could go fuck ourselves, stupid roundeyes.

            I admit to being a little taken aback by the bluntness of their dismissal, which was only accentuated when they immediately changed the subject and began talking about the recent block party, and how much they’re looking forward to next year’s (when in all likelihood we won’t be around).

            As mentioned above, the blindo diaspora not only effectively does away with the question of race, it offers something boring old racism can’t.

            See, in the racist formulation, the categories are fixed. If you’re Hispanic, you’ll always be Hispanic, if you’re black you’ll always be black in a racist’s eyes. But in the blindo formulation, which is based on character, not color, the categories remain perpetually fluid. Take this interaction, for instance, where in a blink a couple of Good Joes became loathsome assholes. It doesn’t matter if they’re Chinese or Turkish or Russian or Anglo-Saxons born and raised in Topeka. They’re still assholes.

 

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