| July 14, 2012 | Comments (1)

Dresden Fama (2005).jpg

(Several months ago, when we last visited my young friend and neighbor, Poncho, he was living with his Baby Mama, their two year-old son, Poncho Jr., and a newborn second son, Angel. Poncho, at that point, was still following the “chill” life, not working, mostly staying in his room smoking weed, glued to the computer screen where he plays video games night and day. I ran into Poncho recently and he updated me on what was happening.)

Poncho visited me the other day. The news was he had been thrown out of the house by his Baby Mama for reasons that were unclear. When I asked why he had left her, Poncho mumbles, “She’s always puttin’ me down and just wants money”, a statement I couldn’t really comment on. My reaction, which I kept to myself, was: is it that unusual for the mother of two infants to expect their father to function in some way as a bread-winner, to “bring home the bacon”, as they used to say back where I come from ? I let his self-pitying tale continue and he informs me that he has moved back home with his Mom and his 16 year-old “Sis” who has just had a baby.

Both households – Baby Mama’s and Poncho’s Mom’s place – are located in  what is known as Section 8 housing, apartments provided free or almost without charge by New York City to low income families whose monthly resources are below what is labeled the poverty line. In addition to free lodging – and these accomodations are, from what I have seen, spacious and up to date with all the “mod cons” including air-conditioning, central heating, nice kitchens with marble countertops and state-of-the art microwave ovens – Poncho and his extended family are provided with food stamps in the form of a white plastic card, in appearance not unlike a credit card, allowing them to purchase consumables at the supermarket. Poncho complains that the food stamp allowance is not enough and that before the month is over and the food dole account is replenished, he and his family have no money to buy provisions. When I mention to him the advisability of budgeting the food stamp allowance and buying healthy staples like beans, brown rice and vegetables as I do, Poncho scoffs at me saying he prefers take-out Chinese food, roast chicken from the Dominican deli, pizza to go and MacDonald’s burgers because it’s what he likes and it’s easy – you don’t have to cook. I shake my head and wonder what kind of nutritional base his two infant children are getting on this kind of diet.

When he is not playing video games, Poncho  spends most of his time “chillin’ “, hangin’ out with friends listening to Wiz Khalifa, Lil Wayne and other angry rappers. To me, when I can manage to understand what the lyrics they are mouthing are all about, I hear messages of self-pity, hate and envy at the middle-class  working world and a general dis-interest in doing anything normal and mainstream with their lives. Their”songs” are full of blame and ghetto navel-gazing about being deprived;  the words are racist and anti-female;  women are just “stuff”; “bitches” and “ho’s” to be used and shown off,  like bling jewelry, Courvoisier Brandy and BMWs.

I still persist in trying to mentor Poncho, He has so much to offer if he would only get out of his attitude rut. He is one of the brightest, most charming people I’ve met. His movie star good looks turn heads when he enters a room, his technical aptitude is astounding; he can make the angriest computer or copy machine purr and cooperate like a tamed pet; he is a star basketball player whenever he chooses to get off his backside and join a pick-up game on the playground courts.

Failing to involve Poncho in the preparation of a resume for job search purposes, I undertake the task unilaterally and come up with a one-page CV that projects a positive image of smart, motivated 23 year-old who is computer savvy and eager to work. (The truth has to be embellished upon sometime, I tell myself.)  I give the resume to several possible employers. One of them is BRO UNITED, a South Bronx not-for-profit that gets contracts from the City for construction projects on public works. I am told by one of the BRO UNITED honchos that they have been selected for a job in the neighborhood, the building of a welcome pavilion  by the entrance to the local library.  Plaza Gratissima, as the space is being called, will be create an area for lounging and reading, beckoning passers-by to come into the library and improve their minds.

My honcho friend agrees to hire Poncho for the three-day project promising to pay him $15 an hour. More important, Poncho agrees to ACCEPT the job. I heave a sigh of relief when he agrees to work in the hot sun leaving the cool comfort of his a/c room and his video games. Maybe there IS hope yet for Poncho, I tell myself ! I pass by the project and discretely watch from a distance as Poncho and his co-workers saw, hammer and paint. He seems involved, animated and proud of what he is doing. Aaah ! the uplifting effect of honest effort and hard work!

Poncho posts a picture on Facebook of him and his friends working on the Plaza Gratissima project. He also tells his Facebook fans that there will be a plaque at the entrance of the Plaza and that HIS name will be included !

I hear no more from my young friend for some weeks. In the meantime I pass by the library. Indeed, a plaque has been installed at the entrance; a handsome rectangular  memorial stating that Plaza Gratissima has been made possible by the generous support of friends, benefactors and neighbors who have  contributed their time, resources and efforts to making this project come true. In the upper part of the plaque I see Poncho’s name in BIG letters, elegantly printed for all to see, as one of the people who made the dream a reality ! Nice recognition, I say to myself, for three days’ work. Usually high-profile mention on a plaque is reserved for big bucks donors, the Rockefellers and such, and assorted VIPs  and politicos who claim to have made such things possible. So much the better – Poncho’s being recognized will hopefully serve as a boost to his entry into the real world of work, effort and reward for a job well done. His fifteen minutes of fame in the sunlight of the working world has been carved in stone for all to see. He seems proud of the recognition he has been given.

Yesterday afternoon I see Poncho on the corner and invite him over for a coffee. He looks cadavaresque and pasty-faced. He tells me how much he liked working on the library project and how he regrets it was only for three days. He says he has another job now working as “security” at a club on West 39th Street in Manhattan. His hours are 8 PM to 4 AM. A vampire’s schedule ! He says the job is “fun” and meets lots of cool people. Like drug dealers and other low-lifes, I say to myself.

I hope I am being a nagging Cassandra whose dark predictions are unfounded and that Poncho will not descend into a drug-filled disco demi-monde of the un-dead. But his death warmed-over appearance was not re-asssuring.  I doubt that his fifteen minutes of fame at Plaza Gratissima will turn him around, but I could be wrong. Let’s hope that what’s carved in stone is forever.

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  1. Roger Cranse says:

    Sam, I’m glad to get an update on this story. Your generosity may well pay off, but not perhaps in expected ways. The security job on 39th Street, although it leaves Poncho cadaverish, is, apparently, a job. All to the better! Bravo on your efforts. Most of us would simply look the other way. Please keep everyone updated! RC

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