Life and Death in the Potawatomi Valley Apartment Complex

by Kurt Nimmo

When the developers built the Potawatomi Valley Apartment Complex they left standing a three-hundred-yard stretch of maples, weeping willows, and oaks along the banks of Little Wigwam River. Early morning sunlight glints off discarded beer and wine bottles that are strewn beneath the trees. The Potawatomi Valley Apartment Complex manager, Rex Millard, has erected signs warning of fines levied for littering. Gangs of raucous teenagers party and dispose of their bottles near the banks of the Little Wigwam regardless of threat.

I live in Unit Ten, Building H, which doesn't face the trees left undisturbed by the developers near the banks of the Little Wigwam River. I earn a limited income, and rent on the riverside is expensive. Instead of trees, I see the rush of traffic moving on the eight-lane freeway.

Potawatomi translated from the Algonkian means People of the Place of the Fire. I'm not certain what the Algonkian-speaking tribes would call the place of the 7-Eleven and video rental franchise that the white man has erected on the sacred ground of the Potawatomi's ancestors, but whatever the translation might be, I'm sure the developers wouldn't name an apart-ment or condominium complex after it.

Glenn in Unit Eighteen is a homosexual. On Saturday I see him come out of his apartment accompanied by a man. The man is wearing an ostentatious, floral pattern shirt which is unbuttoned three buttons down. Around his neck are several gold chains and an astrological medallion. His pants are a pale fulvous color and made of the sort of polyester material that never wrinkles. The man resembles John Travolta's character in the film, Saturday Night Fever. This is customarily known as the "disco style" and has been unfashionable in America for well over five years. The man, however, doesn't seem concerned. He smokes a 100 millimeter cigarette as Glenn locks the apartment door. Then, engaged in animated conversation, the pair walk away. They reach Glenn's Caravan, parked beneath the auto shelter, and climb inside. The Caravan moves east on Tomahawk Drive. Resplendent sun beats down on the traffic passing on Tomahawk Drive.

I'm suddenly reminded of the doctor's warning broadcast on TV the night before: promiscuous adults and teenagers alike, he sagaciously advised, should use condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.

The men from Chemical Lawn and Spray arrive late Saturday afternoon. They drive a white truck which has a large white plastic tank secured to a flatbed. Yellow sunlight shines through the semi-opaque white plastic tank, and the lethal fluid within glows mysteriously. The men climb out of the truck and affix white plastic hoses to an electrical pump situated beneath the semi-opaque white tank. Then the men begin spraying the angular ribbon of lawn which runs along Peace Pipe Lane. The lethal liquid, used for the extermination of lawn parasites and the tenaciously decumbent stems of crabgrass, sprays from the pressurized hoses in vaporous arcs that ensnare sunlight and produce a dazzling variety of rainbow hues. The men advance methodically, applying their noxious liquid to every square inch of lawn. They are bored and easily distracted.

Ellen, who lives alone in Unit Nineteen, Building C, is poised upon her second-story balcony. Ellen is wearing a very provocative, red, string bikini, and the curvaceous quality of her well-proportioned body is unquestionably visible. A man from Chemical Lawn Spray observes Ellen up in her perch. He is suddenly entranced, as if struck by the supernatural powers of a voodoo incantation, and does not watch the lethal spray of his pressurized hose. One of his co-workers, also entranced by Ellen's flirtatious exhibition, and therefore heedless of danger, is doused with the baneful solution.

"You goddamn asshole!" the drenched man curses.

The pair engage in a wrestling match on the chemically inundated lawn. A supervisor runs over to break them up, but he is drawn into the conflict. Soon there are five men from Chemical Lawn Spray fighting on the lawn, much to the chagrin of Rex, the apartment complex manager. He stands nearby and admonishes the men from Chemical. They ignore him and grapple with each other. Rex is afraid of the men from Chemical and does not intervene.

Ellen, having lost her audience, saunters back inside her apartment.

Ali is from Syria and lives in Unit Sixteen. Not long ago Ali's wife divorced him. In Arab countries of the Moslem faith, I understand, all a man need do is repeat "I divorce you" three times and a marriage is legally annulled. Ali's wife moved out and, this not being a Moslem country, the furniture went with her. Now a blond, American woman of ponderous pelvic girdle visits the domicile of Ali from Syria. The woman is near six feet in height while Ali is not over five and a half.

A knowledgeable friend, familiar with the predilections of the Saudi Arabian sheiks, once told me that the princes of the Arabian peninsula prefer small-mouthed American and European women. A Carly Simon, Sally Kellerman, or Suzanne Somers wouldn't fare well in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Ali is from Damascus, Syria, and his blond, American girlfriend's mouth is very large. She invariably wears black skirts, which she believes minimize the voluminosity of her pelvic girdle. When, by chance, I pass her on the boardwalk on my way to the Potawatomi Valley Apartment Complex sauna, she steadfastly ignores me. She is forever carrying an overnight bag. When I pass her on the boardwalk, which meanders serpentinely across the complex toward the sauna, I detect the strap of something seductive dangling from her overnight bag. I allow myself to imagine this woman clad in a frilly, semi-translucent, red, nylon nightie, her hips portentous in the dim illumination of Ali's unfurnished bedroom. I visualize a female missionary from Kristianstad, Sweden, being sold into the Arab slave trade. Then I see Muhammad driving sacrificial animals across the sand-drifted wilderness on his annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

On Thursday, at approximately seven o'clock in the evening, an Emergency Medical Unit vehicle pulls around the cul-de-sac near Building J. Two men, dressed in crisp white paramedic uniforms and clutching the indispensable tools of their trade, rush into the building. A few moments later they emerge with a middle-aged and bewildered woman strapped to a gurney.

Within a few seconds there is a crowd of Potawatomi Valley Apartment Complex residents encircling the emergency vehicle. Murmured speculations arise: heart attack, stroke, wife beating, domestic cruelty, epileptic seizure, mental illness. The paramedics hustle the stricken woman within the hold of the emergency vehicle, close the doors, climb inside, and pull away from the cul-de-sac with the boisterous and dolefully sustained wail of sirens. The crowd dissipates, and the murmured speculations drop off.

On the following Monday, at the Potawatomi Community Center, there is a printed card announcing the funeral of Bertha Calkins, who passed away at the age of 68. Services will be held, it is noted, at Malokowski Funeral Home, 197 Copper Kettle Drive, Lower Potawatomi Valley.

Not three days later, a young family moves into Mrs. Calkins' apartment. The young family has but one child, a girl of broad, flat face, up-slanted eyes that dart around feeble-mindedly beneath an epicanthal fold, low-set ears, small nose, enlarged tongue and lips, and sloping underchin. The girl pirouettes about clumsily in the sun, her pretty blue dress mucky with slobber and mucus, as the family supervises the movement of furniture from a Red Ball moving van.

Down's syndrome, the neighbors murmur.

My car is a 1977 Oldsmobile, the second oldest car at the Potawatomi Valley Apartment Complex. The oldest car is a 1969 Shelby Mustang which appears to have rolled off the factory assembly line the day before yesterday. The Mustang is covered with a green, all-weather tarp nine months out of the year and stored beneath an auto shelter. My 1977 Oldsmobile is rusted at the fenders and doors. The windshield is cracked in several places. People avoid parking near my car like the healthy avoided those unfortunates infected with the Black Death in the 14th century.

Three weeks ago a nameless somebody applied a hastily scrawled note under the pendulous armature of my windshield wiper. The note read:

Dear Lowlife Asshole,

If you ever park this piece of shit near my car again, I will have it smashed to tiny pieces. You must be a derelict to drive such a car. I bet you have incurable diseases and have sex with farm animals. One day they will pass a law against you and have you locked up somewhere. I can hardly wait for that day. Remember that if I ever see this excuse for a car parked near my car again, I will slash the tires and put sugar in the gas tank.

The note was unsigned and written in angry handwriting which slanted to the left. I'm not sure who put the threatening note under my windshield wiper, but I think it might have been a lawyer. There are many lawyers living at the Potawatomi Valley Apartment Complex. They drive Mercedes and BMWs, that, not unlike mothers with newborn babes, they handle with tenderness and care.

Last week there was a letter slipped in my mailbox at the Community Center. It read as follows:

Dear Mr. Halfax,

Please do not park your car on the lot, since it leaks transmission fluid on our new asphalt. The fluid causes extensive damage to the asphalt and, if you do not wish to be assessed for repair, I must ask you to park elsewhere or fix the problem with your car.

Sincerely, Rex Millard, PVAC Manager

P.S. There is a dirt lot behind the Community Center where you may park.

Mort Wilson, of Unit Thirteen, Building K, made the newspaper recently.

He was arrested for soliciting prostitutes. The local paper, published by a senator who lost the election on a morality platform, printed Mort's name and address. Mort is about forty years old, balding, and overweight. He lives alone, having moved in PVAC after his mother died several years ago. I'm sure that, being single, Mort is probably aware of the "Howdy Neighbor" parties held at the PVAC Community Center. Mort doesn't seem like the sort to attend lonely hearts meetings.

Somebody scrawled a message on the windshield of Mort's Cavalier in defiant, white paint: WHOREMONGER!

It was suggested Mort call the police and report vandalism. Mort isn't interested in seeing the police again. They have him pegged as a pervert, part of the prostitution problem of Lower Potawatomi Valley. Indignant residents, on more than one occasion, have protested the issue at City Hall. There are many puritans in Lower Potawatomi Valley, possibly descendants of those who long ago opposed ceremonial worship and the prelacy of the Church of England, who keep the prostitution issue alive.

Mort wants nothing more than to live his life out in comfortable anonymity. The newspaper-reading vandals, however, are making this difficult.

When I see Mort, shopping for groceries at Potawatomi Food Giant on Arrowhead Avenue, he skulks down the Household Items aisle like a Nazi war criminal.

Len Mitchum is a biological environmentalist. He lives in Unit Twenty, Building G, with his girlfriend.

Len tells me about Little Wigwam River. "There has been an increase of carp, sludge worms, and various other organisms tolerant of pollution. Wigwam feeds off Indian Lake, to the north. Indian Lake has advanced eutrophication--that is, the pollution has increased the rate of aging and clogging. When you go to Indian Lake, you see signs all over the park warning against swimming and fishing. Motorized boats are no longer allowed on the water."

We are standing under the trees left by the developers, looking at the river. It seems clean enough. Looks, however, can be deceiving. Wigwam appears as it might have two hundred years ago when the Potawatomi fished its seemingly placid waters. That is, of course, if one ignores the ominous stacks of Omni Manufacturing that loom in the distance.

"Cadmium, mercury, and lead," Len continues, squinting toward the ugly stacks of Omni, "are nondegradable wastes that end up in the water. The effect of these substances on life isn't completely understood, and permissible levels have yet to be established. We know, however, that permanent neurological damage results when people eat fish tainted with mercury."

As we walk back to his apartment where his girlfriend, Maxie, is cooking up a dinner of brown rice and vegetables, I think about the riverside residents. In the morning, as they drink their pesticide-laced coffee and enjoy the beauty of nature just beyond their windows, they are actually admiring a dying river.

It's an expensive illusion.

Friday evening. The motif for the "Howdy Neighbor" gathering at the PVAC Community Center is "Wild West."

When I go to collect my mail, I discover fifty or more adults, dressed as cowboys and cowgirls, partying on the lawn near the pool. There is a bar, Chinese lanterns, and a hired disc jockey spinning popular records. Walking toward the mail vestibule, I think of bronco and Brahma bull riding, calf roping, and steer wrestling. I imagine John Wayne or Clint Eastwood locked in deadly combat with intractable foes out on the great American frontier. I envision the cavalry transporting blankets contaminated with febrile disease capable of decimating thousands of unwitting natives.

Tacked on the bulletin board inside the mail vestibule I find the poster: INTERFACING--The Sensual Home Computer.

This informative course of study is organized by the "Howdy Neighbor Committee--Lorianne Huston, Director (535-1763)." For a meager fifty dollars I can learn how to communicate with available singles via modem, where I may purchase bachelor and bachelorette-oriented software, and learn the indispensable art of getting the most for my money from computer dating services. As an extra-added bonus, there will be a vegetarian luncheonette and a cash bar.

When I walk out with my mail, I see a cowboy helping a moderately drunk cowgirl along the boardwalk. The heel of her ornately stitched cowgirl boot has snapped off and she limps along precariously.

Mounting the boardwalk I overhear the cowgirl tell the cowboy, "We can go back to my apartment and you can show me a few lariat tricks, pard-ner."

"Lasso," the cowboy corrects. "Lasso tricks."

Potawatomi, People of the Place of the Fire. Early writers said of the Potawatomi religion, "The dream is the God of the country." Dream visions influenced the decisions of Potawatomi councils and often guided the future of the people.

In my dream, the Potawatomi guardian spirit arrives fifteen minutes after the crazy white man has exploited his knowledge of the natural elements and has maliciously destroyed all the hideous lodges he erected on the sacred Potawatomi ancestral ground. The guardian spirit wears the wooden mask of the False Face Society and dances for purification within a choking malfeasance of radioactive clouds. After gathering up those crazy white people who miraculously survived the fires, the guardian spirit kills them and takes pieces of their scorched hair and clothing as a trophy of the final event.

When I awake, I discover that the world of the crazy white man is intact. I go to the window and stare out at an immutable stream of traffic moving like a persistent cancer on the eight-lane freeway.

Even in death the Potawatomi are defeated.

(Kurt Nimmo lives in Dearborn, Michigan. In a previous life he was editor of Planet Detroit magazine.)

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