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deeneythumbnail.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW a woman wearing an ankle-length denim coat over her pajamas. She had on a backward baseball cap and bedroom slippers. She was holding two quarters between her thumb and forefinger, waving them at the middle-aged Chinese couple sitting on stools at the take out joint counter on Lindbergh Boulevard across from the Bartram Village projects in the Southwest. The couple was protected by two offset Plexiglas panes that overlapped, creating a bulletproof shield that stretched the entire length of the counter. There was an open lane between the two panes where food and money could be exchanged. Overhead was the back-lit menu with pictures of plates and prices that you find in a lot of takeouts.

The woman in the baseball cap yelled at the couple behind the glass, “Gimme a loosey. Newport 100, come on, I ain’t got all day!”

The woman was clearly agitated, bursting with anxious energy that caused her to bounce, bending her knees a little while she waited for the Chinese man to hand over a smoke. She waved the two quarters vigorously, banging her balled fist against the stainless steel countertop.

“Come on, man, gimme that loosey and let me get on out of here, GODDAMN.”

The man faintly smiled like the agitated woman was a regular customer from the projects who routinely gave him this kind of grief. He looked over her should at me and shook his head a bit, indicating to her that no loose cigarettes would be sold while a white man he didn’t know was waiting in line. He must have figured I was from the Health Department, L & I, or a cop.

The woman turned around a looked me up and down. She was missing one of her front teeth. She came up to me and yelled, “Motherfucker!” before storming out the door.

The Chinese man and his wife both held their hands up, palm out, when I looked back at them, as if to say, “We do not sell loose cigarettes here.”

I followed the woman out of the takeout joint but she was already storming into traffic on Lindbergh Blvd., causing cars to veer out of her path. She swatted at invisible floating objects that swarmed around her head and cried out, “I ain’t fuckin’ with these people out here, I ain’t fuckin’ with them,” as she charged down the main path leading into the project and towards the brown brick low-rise buildings in the distance.

The peanut gallery gathered in front of the take out joint chimed in with some editorial commentary.

“That bitch is fuckin’ crazy.”

“She throws trash cans into traffic.”

“She throws bottles at little kids.”

There was a crowd of little kids just off school gathered in the project’s front yard by the mailboxes. The group scattered as the woman came down the lawn, still swinging her arms erratically.

“Here she comes!” they yelled to each other, “Run, here she comes!” and took off in every direction, laughing as they went like the mad woman was the scary monster in their playground games.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PW, City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture.

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