“Abandonment Issues” by Rachel Wagner

Pic by Rokarazzi

The following is an excerpt from the book Abandonment Issues, which is available for purchase here:

The first night I moved to my apartment on Mount Prospect, I walked around with my friend looking for weed, as one does.

He’s a guy from the Bronx who I’ve known forever—since I was like thirteen. This was about ten years later. Middle of the summer. He was allegedly staying with me for a couple weeks after not talking for a while. He must have been running from the police or something, but I didn’t ask for details, and, in exchange, he paid my rent, took me shopping, and helped me move from a rented room in Elizabeth to that one-bedroom apartment.

Neither of us really knew the area of North Newark that I moved to earlier that day. I’d driven down there for food with an ex-boyfriend, but back then I wouldn’t have been scouting for weed because that dude would always just get it for me.

Still, it only took a minute to find what we were looking for. I saw a dude sitting on a step and turned to my dude to ask him. He quickly directed us to a certain house a couple streets down.

When we hit the right block, my friend was like, “Yo, it look like The Wire out here with all these abandoned buildings.” We were laughing, but he was right. Every other one was boarded up or battered up. Looking for the house number we wanted only required us to look for the most inhabited house on the block (that was about midway down).

The abundance of abandoned houses is strange because Newark is underpopulated. And yet it’s undergoing redevelopment with a bend towards “luxury” apartments even though there’s so much space already. Thinking of the all the houses—like big, real houses—sitting empty, I truly believe that every family who lives out here right now could have a spot with a yard if they branded it differently.

Pic by Rokarazzi

Right now, long after the mayor election, a number of abandoned houses have Ras Baraka’s face on them. They’re reminders to re-elect him as if he didn’t have that shit in the bag already. It’s kind of poetic to claim that house with those posters—to inhabit politically. 

My favorite one is the big blue house next to McDonalds on Clinton Ave. The house is so stoic, sitting there all boarded up. It’s surrounded by active apartments, stores, and bus stops. And though it’s breaking down as I write, the house still functions as a billboard. It houses a one-dimensional portrait of small government.

The politicization of abandoned houses isn’t always so ironic, but they’re always saying something. There was one other big blue abandoned house right by Beth Israel, where I had my son a few years ago. The house was done up by the dudes who do the Poor Kingz stuff. Across the front door, before it was knocked down, said: “NAT KING TURNER.”


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