Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some "Artistic Boarding" On the North Side photo by John Hoff

There is already at least one example of "artistic boarding" in North Minneapolis, and I came upon it on Broadway.

Bring on the paint, bring on the artists. The North Side is one huge canvas.

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Origins Of The Greenest Thumb On The Block (How The Polish Lady's Father Survived) illustration, Polish prisoners of war, 1939

The Polish lady's green thumb is legendary on the block and beyond...

...and all the more amazing considering her garden thrives despite the beer cans hurled into it from the house next door, along with shoes, footballs. The "problem tenant" gangsters take over the whole block, intimidating the neighborhood, but the Polish lady will not so much as retreat into her house.

She will remain behind her fence, tending to her flowers with a hoe, while the other kinds of "hoes" flag down johns for car dates, while crack is smoked in the buildings nearby before I boarded them up myself, and called in to get official boards. Gee, I should mention a condemnation notice was posted a few days ago right over one of my "unofficial" boards, the one on the "House Of The Mournful Teddy Bears." I couldn't help but see that as a tiny, accidental endorsement...though it was one of my better boarding jobs.

I remembered to tell the Polish lady I had been responsible for dropping off the pot of flowers from lovely Constance, the real estate agent. The Polish lady exclaimed she had asked "everybody" but had "no idea" where they were from. She LOVED them!!!

"They'd never survive in my hands," I explained. "So I figured it was better to pass them on to you."

The Polish lady said she'd taken the flowers inside. They would have frozen from the cold snap. We began chatting, and I asked if she had inherited the house from her father. It turned out she had purchased it with her husband back in about 1964. The house was quite old even at that time.

She talked about how troublesome neighbors had shouted at her, "Why don't you leave? Why don't you just sell your house?" When she got mad, she said, she would say things in Polish. She couldn't help it.

I had remembered, however, about her mentioning gardening in the soil at the house with her father, and finding horseshoes from the old stables.

"You learned gardening from your father, right?" I asked.

Oh, yes. Her father had been in the Polish army, you see, and had been captured by the Germans, held prisoner for all of World War II. Her father wasn't treated too badly, all things considered. He had a job tending vegetable gardens growing food for the German Army. So there were often opportunities to avoid malnutrition and get enough food, because of the vegetables.

She dropped this little nugget of information casually. I thought, is it any wonder this woman is capable of tending to a garden under the very worst conditions? She must consider it nothing compared to the conditions her father endured, while "gardening for the Nazis."

I thought how I would like the whole block to be beautiful, like the Polish woman's garden.

Phil Kleindl Announces His Mayoral Bid On "The Block" And Much More!

Photo by John Hoff, a house on Emerson Ave. N.

My mechanic said the police were looking for me, yesterday. They had spotted my car and wondered when I would be coming by. Obviously this made my mechanic rather curious...

...but I just said, "I write a lot of things on my blog. I guess some of the things I've said are a bit critical, like the slow 911 response times on the North Side. They wanted to talk to me. But don't worry, one of them got in touch with me yesterday. We had a nice talk."

He said Highland Auto Tire didn't share any information about me, their valued customer, with the police. This was the young mechanic, not the one who served during the Vietnam War, whose picture adorned the wall.

"It's not a problem," I said. "If the police ask you for information about me, go ahead and give it to them. I'm not a criminal."

The dog's name is "lunch" and the mechanic worked for the CIA

A little pit bull was yapping at me in the waiting room. I asked what it's name was.

"Lunch!" the mechanic said, laughing.

"That's a pit bull, isn't it?" I said. "You shouldn't eat a pit bull. Too expensive. Better to go with something like a black lab. Those things are cheap as dirt."

My joke seemed to play well. I told him I once ate dog in Mexico, while I was young and religious and doing missionary work.

"They cooked it with some green olives," I explained. "Tasted like pork."

Contrary to popular myth, not all strange meat "tastes like chicken." Crocodile, for example, tastes a lot like fish.

"So," I asked the older mechanic, who had come into the room, "What was your job in the military?"

"I was a medic," he answered. "I was also an assistant to a captain. Not like a secretary, but his actual assistant."

"Wow," I said, suitably impressed. "Yeah, I was in the army. I did most of my time in Fort Bliss, Texas."

This did not impress him even a little. He leaned back in his chair, folded his hands behind his head, looked at me intently and said, "I did work for the CIA. The CIA located my whole family here to the United States. I didn't have to pay anything."

"Wow," I said. What else can you say?

A mayoral announcement from the seat of a pickup truck

I saw Pat Kleindl in front of 400 31st Ave. N., the one which will have to fend off the bulldozer. He told me he got that house for $6,500. I asked what he would take for it. I pressed, I cajoled, but he wasn't naming his price. He sat in his pick-up, smoking a cigarette. I asked if he was "packing" today. He said he'd left his pistol in his other vehicle.

"I heard an interesting quote yesterday at the neighborhood meeting," I said. "Some guy was buying up old houses in Detroit. He said 'I feel like I'm driving around in my car, shoveling diamonds into my trunk.' Now is the time to buy, huh?"

Kleindl smiled his cagey smile. At some point he told me he was running for Mayor.

"Really?" I said. "As what? Constitutional Party? Libertarian? Maybe a Republican?"

Somehow I just knew Kleindl wasn't a Democrat or a Green. Call it a hunch.

"Whatever it was Jessee Ventura ran as," he explained. "What do you call that?"

"Independent?" I offered.

"Yeah, I'll run as an independent," he said.

You heard it here first on

Maintain order, and perhaps things will go better

I spoke to a short, thin black lady out in front of 3119 4th Ave., the other apartment complex once owned by Shirley Guevara. Rumor fresh as of an hour ago says the mysterious "Castlerock" entity has gone around trying to collect rents AGAIN. Previous rumor said some folks had paid their rents to "Greg from Castle Rock."

I'm sure reality is a complicated mess, however. Maybe somebody paid. Maybe others made promises. Maybe checks bounced. Who knows? Rumors of the shake down continue. If I see "Castle Rock," I will make gentle inquiries.

No, really. You catch more flies with honey. Jeff Skrenes reminded me of this, recently.

The lady by 3119 had a small dog (a black lab, actually, which was eerie) and was reluctant to say anything to me at first. "Don't know," she said a couple of times, but she seemed more at ease when I said, "Ma'am, you understand Shirley Guevara can't be collecting rents from you? I was at a neighborhood meeting, and there was a lot of discussion there about Shirley's two apartment complexes. Maybe you'd like to know some of what was said?"

The dog jumped into my open car door. She hauled it out by the scruff of the neck, apologizing. I think it was sniffing at the dried banana snack food I purchased at Bangkok Market. Yes, she said, please...what could I tell her?

I explained city officials were not happy about the situation at these apartments, and wanted to help the people here, but "the way it was headed" it would be best to look hard at finding another place as soon as possible.

"I know that's hard to hear," I said, as her shoulders sagged. "But you can't be in denial or refuse to face reality. That seems to be the way this is headed."

Pointing out I didn't have any authority, but had merely heard what was said at the meeting, I urged her to maintain order and cleanliness at her apartment complex, and to urge others to do the same, and perhaps the city might be "more merciful" if they saw people were "cleaning up and trying to maintain order."

She eagerly told me she'd hauled bags of trash out of the back yard at 3119 4th all on her own initiative. I nodded. The front yard, what I could see of it, looked pretty decent. I told her the situation over at 3101 was a real problem, though. The back yard was simply full of garbage. It wouldn't hurt to say something to the people over there, if she knew some of them. Really, it wouldn't hurt one bit to tell those folks to clean up and maintain order, and to not allow young men to congregate in the stairwell at 3 in the morning.

All the same, I said, none of these things might make any difference. Best to prepare for the worst.

She asked if I had any more information, anything at all. I didn't. Her face looked no more and no less worried than when she had first seen me. I noticed how much gold was in her mouth when she tried to smile. One can't help but think of stories of skulls, pirates, graves.

I went over to 3101 to see if I could find somebody hanging around who looked responsible (or less irresponsible) to transmit my message of common sense:

A meeting happened. I was there, I witnessed it. For god's sake, maintain cleanliness and order in this building, even if it seems like nobody is in charge. The city is watching and making its judgments. Figure out where to go if it comes down to it, which it probably will.

On the one hand, I really want "the block" cleaned up and the apartment complex at 3101 has been a hotbed of prostitution and drug dealing for years, according to numerous individuals. On the other hand, these are all human beings who only seek to survive and keep the rain off their heads.

The law should be tempered with mercy. I can't help but think of the folks at 416 30th, who did indeed steal electricity from my building in the moments before my finalized ownership, but who were routed in a period of a few hours, the bikes of the children thrown in a heap to become scrap metal.

I'd heard a name at the meeting. The name of the tenant who stood up to Shirley, who rallied the other tenants into a united front, who was rewarded with a brick through the window. I didn't even know if it was a real name. I wasn't sure if it was THIS apartment complex or the other one.

But I parked in front of 3101 6th Street, and a tall young black man walked up.

My electricity thief confesses

"I'm looking for (name withheld)," I explained. "I heard (withheld) is the person sort of in charge at this apartment, sort of."

"Hey, ain't you the guy who wanted to buy my van?" he answered.

Oh my word. It was the "purple van guy" who lived at 416 30th Ave. N. before the "booting and boarding." I'd helped to cause that whole episode because of the outrageous electricity theft from my property. I had also been willing to buy his van for $750, figuring he desperately needed the money for a new place to live, and I needed the van. It's documented in the all-too-amusing videos from Minn Post Dot Com.

But a week or two ago, he'd jacked the price to $1,500 after some repairs, or so he claimed to have made repairs. I'd called to see about buying the van, but also to feel things out and see if he was gunning for me over the "loose juice controversy."

He was firm on the price and concerned about no other issues. He actually hung up on me when I said the repairs he'd put into the vehicle were good, but hardly worth an increase from $750 to $1,500.

There it had ended, except I figured he was crawling into the second story window of 416 30th with great frequency, using the garbage can to get on the porch roof, sleeping inside.

"Well," I answered, carefully. "You wanted $1,500. That's too much."

"I've cut the price," he said. "I'll take $600. I put the wrong kind of gas in it, and there's a problem with the fuel filter."

"So it won't run?" I asked. "Have you replaced the filter?"

"I took it out," he explained. "But I haven't replaced it."

I had been spectacularly unimpressed with his mechanical knowledge when I talked to him before, and this is coming from somebody who is the subject of open mockery from my all-too-mechanical little brother. For one thing, when I checked the oil on his purple van, it was overfilled. I had tried to explain overfilling oil on a vehicle may not be as bad as neglecting to fill it at all, but it's still bad. (All credit to my little brother, who explained this to me more than once while angrily waving a dipstick in my face)

It's not like the vehicle will just excrete it out, I explained, like when you and I drink too much Coca-Cola. This was news to him. What else had he screwed up on the vehicle, I wondered?

He said the van was parked nearby. We could go look at it. I thought of being murdered, of course.

"I'll have to wait on that," I said. "Maybe when my brother is up here. Maybe we could have it towed to the mechanic and figure out what is wrong with it. Hey, didn't you used to live over there at 416 30th Ave. N? That place is all boarded up, now."

"The bank foreclosed on it," he explained. He proceeded to say his landlord was scum, that nothing was ever fixed at the house and, furthermore, he had been cheated on his lease. I could name his landlords, at least by their first names, and I agreed they were scum and had a bunch of buildings in foreclosure. He spoke of the woman landlord as though she was not in a coma at all, contrary to some reports I'd heard, as though she was up and about and was known to drive a blue van. (Which, he said, had been in the area today)

His demeanor was friendly, respectful. He looked at me and said, "I had to live in that place. Only-est thing I ever did that I shouldn't was wire up to another house to get electricity, because she [the landlord] let the power go out."

I thought to myself he knows more than he is letting on. He is trying to get across the point that I'm alright with him, there are no hard feelings, even if I was involved in calling in about the electricity theft from, well, MY HOUSE THAT HE BROKE INTO THROUGH THE BACK WINDOW.

Or he wants to make me trust him, lure me somewhere and murder me.

One or the other, I figured. I had it pretty well narrowed down.

"That's terrible you had to do that," I said. "But you gotta do what you gotta do to live."

He said he didn't know the folks in 3101 6th Street North. It was a bad place, he said. All the time people were dealing drugs in there. I looked into the building and saw somebody standing just inside the doorway, a young woman, peering out fearfully at our conversation.

I figured "word gets around" and it was best to transmit my message of "social responsibility in the void of needful authority." I told him the way things were headed, the city might boot everybody out of the apartment complex...but if folks tried to keep it clean and maintain order, they'd probably be dealt with better. Not that I was anybody with authority, but I'd been at the neighborhood meeting and I knew what I heard.

Oh, and nobody should give money to Shirley, who no longer owned the building, and furthermore it was past the period of foreclosure redemption. People should call the police if Shirley or somebody acting on her behalf came around like that. Don't take matters into your own hands. Call the police.

He again denied knowing anybody in the building. As I drove away, I saw him walking toward the apartment complex in my rear view mirror.

Open To Trespass By Children--Post No. 100 In The Month Of April

Photo by John Hoff

Here is a house I called in to 311 while I walked around, killing some time before that meeting at the Hawthorne Neighborhood Association Headquarters.

Judging by the bike and some stuff I saw inside--including what appeared to be a dumpster dived artificial Christmas tree and Santa Claus cap--this seemed to be more of a "dangerous playhouse" than a crack house.

I used this image to further support my case that citizens need to be able to take action and board up structures open to trespass, before children die. It's not all about crack heads. The legal doctrine of "attractive nuisance" is also an issue.

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Can You Spot The Flying Donkey?

Photo by John Hoff

I took this picture not very far from the headquarters of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Association. Can you spot the flying donkey?

I should point out there are actually a lot of nice houses in that neighborhood, as there are in every North Side neighborhood. It is the way the neighborhood needs to be improved which makes those houses real bargains.

The way I see it, Minneapolis is getting bigger all the time. And people want to live near the urban core, with its jobs and cultural offerings. The real estate in North Minneapolis is too valuable to remain a "ghetto." Now is the time to dream big and buy in during these amazing market conditions.

Amazing stuff can happen. LOOK, A FLYING DONKEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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"Gang House" In The Corridor Of Safety

Photo by John Hoff

Every summer this house on the corner of 6th Street N. and 31st Ave. N., across from the Apartment Complex of Anarchy gets taken over by "gang bangers." At the moment it is secured, but for how long?

The neighborhood lives in fear of these packs of feral young men, who openly deal their drugs, taking over the house and especially the yard, which is a fine place to sit on a warm summer day.
"Little Jane" is afraid to walk past them to catch her bus, to get to her job as a personal care assistant.

Rumor has it the house is full of dry rot and can't be saved. I can smell dry rot from the porch, though the door, which is padlocked but opens about two inches. The house sits, condemned, with a sign from an auction that happened a long time ago.

Folks in the neighborhood call it "the green house."

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Official Johnny Northside Rumor, Scuttlebutt And Dark Innuendo: USA TODAY was on "the block" TODAY

Illustration from

This from a source who shall remain anonymous. A reporter from USA TODAY was on "the block" to do a story about the eco-village, hope versus challenges in my "area of operations." She talked to several people, including the dear sweet old Polish lady who is always growing flowers.

Exciting news, indeed. I'll be watching for the story.

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While My Hammer Sits Silent This Crack House Is Across From Little Hmong Children And (Pictured) A Mentally Handicapped Man Who Can't Speak English

Photo by John Hoff

As a dog returns to its vomit, I returned to The House That (Almost) Made Me Barf to see if my 311 call had resulted in the door being secured. I brought my hammer. I had boards and nails in my vehicle.

But as I explained, I am waiting. Waiting for some kind of official response about giving citizens authority under the legal doctrine of "necessity" to do what must be done, openly without any need to skulk, to secure houses with doors kicked in by crack heads and wide open to trespass.

In the yard next door, a man who appeared to be Hmong was...

...preparing to haul off an old broken chair, making things tidy on that property where I had seen all the small children a few days before.

I walked up to the crack house (the one with the word "Death" written on the Sheetrock just inside the doorway) and confirmed it was still open to trespass despite my 311 call of a few days ago. I took a moment to photograph the pile of phone books. I walked back to the Hmong man and waved. He smiled broadly and came over.

He stood there behind the fence, smiling and nodding. He said nothing.

"Sir, do you speak English?" I asked. "The house next door...have you seen anybody going inside of it?"

He opened his mouth and began speaking in Hmong. He spoke at length, pointing and gesturing, looking me in the face as though I could understand him. I realized he was mentally handicapped. I asked, again, if he spoke English. He walked away, but then came out through the fence gate...he walked funny, as though his hips weren't quite right or he couldn't make big steps...and crossed the street, ambling toward the crack house.

Standing in front of the crack house, he pointed. He gestured and spoke passionately. I tried listening to his tone of voice for clues. I heard moral outrage, anger, helplessness. At one point he pointed toward the pile of phone books.

"Ah, yes," I thought. "They bug him, too."

He acted like he was going to WALK INTO THE CRACK HOUSE, perhaps to say in perfect Hmong, "Look, they wrote a word on the wall. But what does it say?"

I stuck out my arm like I was a railroad crossing signal. I shook my head, and poured concern into my voice.

"No," I said. "Don't go in there."

I held up my camera.

"May I take your picture?" I asked. He smiled. He posed. I snapped the picture. He went back to the menial labor in his yard.

I was frustrated. I wanted to board this one badly. But I knew it was bigger than one unsecured crack house, or even two. I needed to document my case, and make my point. I hoped nothing would happen to that man or the little children while my hammer sat silent, and I blogged to make my case.

While My Hammer Sits Silent This House Is Unsecured And Used By Crack Heads Nightly (Photo Two)

Photo by John Hoff

Here is another image of the house. Both those second story windows are broken, though the photo doesn't show it very well. The house is made of brick painted white.

Note the little "are you addicted to drugs?" sign in the front yard of this unsecured crack house. I can't help but be reminded of the "respect the ride" signs on notoriously-rowdy metro bus routes such as the No. 16.

But, on the bright side, check out that new deck. The roof doesn't look bad, either! (I speak from experience when I say it doesn't smell moldy inside)

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While My Hammer Sits Silent This House Is Unsecured And Used By Crackheads Nightly (Photo One)

The door to the left is unsecured. There are shoes on the stairwell. But not the same shoes as the first time I looked a few days ago.

This is directly across from a Minneapolis "water works" building, near Lyndale Ave. N. and 4th Street North. I have called 311 about it. Days have gone by. Nothing has happened yet. I stand in front of it with a board, a hammer, and nails. I can secure it easily, but I do not.

I wait. I wait for somebody official to address my very public critique of the flaws in the system (primarily slowness and lack of resources, both understandable) and to delegate conscientious citizens the necessary authority and permission to do what must be done, not "on the sly while we in authority look away" but openly and proudly, as good citizens.

I ask that citizens be allowed under the legal theory of "necessity" to secure (without owner permission) vacant houses left wide open to trespass, therefore to prevent multiple likely criminal acts included but not limited to unlawful occupancy, theft of copper pipes, prostitution, sale and use of controlled substances, theft of property such as antique cabinets, vandalism, and (my personal favorite) ripping the tag off urine-stained mattresses.

Such securing of property by highly-motived volunteers will also prevent numerous unintended but unsafe conditions, including but not limited to accidental fire by squatters, (who may perish themselves and/or endanger neighboring persons and property) dangerous gas leaks as an unintended result of copper theft, and injury by minors who will undoubtedly find the houses an "attractive nuisance."

All these things are likely to happen if a house is wide open to trespass in North Minneapolis. These issues are more pressing than minor damage which may occur to a door frame, or that a crack-addicted squatter could be unintentionally boarded inside. (They broke in, god knows they will break out)

I have tried to catch somebody going inside this one. I have sat in my car and watched for activity in the busted second story windows open to barn swallows, so I can do my duty and call 911. But I can't babysit crack houses for days at a time while hundreds of properties are open to trespass and results from 311 take days, even weeks.

Somebody in power needs to listen and respond. I am not one who skulks like a crack head looking for a score on scrap metal. What I do I do openly, and under a validly-constructed legal theory of "necessity," to be helpful to my neighborhood which is in a state of distress, indeed, a state of emergency.

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The Legendary Graveyard Of Phone Books (Photo Two)

Photo by John Hoff

Here is another example from 4th Street North. In this instance, the phone books were actually helpful. They were the only thing which told me the house had probably been vacant for a long time.

I will have to make more inquiries and perhaps call 311 about the address. It appeared secure, except for the "bonfire starter kit" on the front porch.

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The Legendary Graveyard Of Phone Books (Photo One)

Photo by John Hoff

This is in front of "The House That (Almost) Made Me Barf." I shall be rich and famous, for I have discovered the legendary Graveyard of Phone Books.

Or not. If only it were something unique to see a pile of 6 or 7 old phone books, rotting away, but this solid waste problem is all over the North Side.

My friend Dave heard their radio commercial. "Hey, want a great part time job to make some money? Deliver PHONE BOOKS!!!" Dave started laughing hysterically, remembering the videos from Minn Post.

"We're not laughing AT you, John," he said. "We're laughing WITH you."

"(Expletive) if you're weren't laughing AT me when I fell on my (expletive)," I answered. "But that's OK. I'll be a clown. I'm getting the message across."

I say we need a new city ordinance to prevent the delivery of phone books to obviously vacant houses. Clearly, that's not ALL we need. But it's a pretty cost-effective little Band-Aid, I say, and addresses an actual problem.

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A State Of Anarchy At 3101 6th St. N. (Photo Three)

Photo by John Hoff

This one is my personal favorite. It was a tough job, figuring out how to really capture the pungent essence of the subject, yet also place it in the context of the apartment complex without adding a lot of unnecessary elements. Then I spotted the area of "clean green" right in front of the spilled container.

Oh, I thought. Nice contrast!

Somehow, though, I think the composition cries out for black and white, don't you?

Also, the large dark object to the right could easily be mistaken for some kind of refuse container lid...but it's actually a face-down television. I could have moved the television around to show that better, but I'd consider this "artistic cheating."

Sigh. Good work, but not my very best. Maybe I can capture some stirring martial portraits when the "Sanitation Special Forces A-Team" is inserted?

The owner of Bangkok Market said he tries to pick up the stuff which blows over to his property, but because of all the loose trash behind "3101 6th" it becomes a never-ending-job.

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A State of Anarchy At 3101 6th St. N (Photo Two)

Photo by John Hoff

Massive amounts of broken glass in the foreground. Each of those little white clumps in the background is a bag of garbage. Like the occupants of 416 30th Ave. N, these folks are using the "toss everything in the back yard" method of refuse disposal.

I'm a little disappointed in this photo, truthfully. Through my lens, I was trying to capture the way the sunlight glistened off the jagged glass, incredibly, in every color of the rainbow. This was so much prettier in real life. Sigh.

I called this one in to 311 while I sat here blogging. Reference No. 172908.

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A State of Anarchy At 3101 6th Street N. (Photo One)

Photo by John Hoff

Here is a photo I took this morning of 3101. Don't worry, as you can see, if there are any children inside Mary Poppins is taking care of them. (Click here for a YouTube parody video about the movie Mary Poppins which I think is funny as all-get-out and really makes you think about how video can be, well, edited!)

I picked up the trashed umbrella and disposed of it. Yeah, an apartment complex full of people and not one of them thought to pick up a trashed umbrella laying out front for, like, three days. I wouldn't bother with this photo except to make my little remark about Mary Poppins and share that funny video. Wait until you see THE BACK!!!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Gallows Humor" In Hawthorne

Photo by John Hoff

Above, 400 31st. Ave. N, boarded and neglected.
Jeff Skrenes told me a funny story about the "gallows humor" at the neighborhood association. Their office actually sits on the border between the Hawthorne and Jordan neighborhoods, which is Emerson Ave. N.

One day, a horrible crime happened right across the street.

"Well," folks in the Hawthorne office said. "Thank god it didn't happen in OUR neighborhood."

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Fed-Up Hawthorne Citizens Band Together And Fight Back Against "Problem Properties"

Photo by John Hoff

ABOVE, 400 31st Ave. North, on my "northern perimeter."

This one now has A BULLDOZER with its name on it, and contrary to some of the actions of my youth, I sure won't be sitting in front of it.

In fact, I'll get behind it and PUSH!!!!

This morning, the decent and fed-up citizens in my "area of operations" huddled together with city officials--police, building inspectors, and more--all for the sake of one longtime home owner whose sense of safety was severely violated due to a burglary last week.

She is seriously thinking of moving. The folks who are trying to make the neighborhood a better place are determined to prevent it, to prove to this ONE DECENT LONG-TIME HOME OWNER that the slow positive transformation of the area is real, it has powerful momentum, and now is not the time to leave, but to dig in and fight.

The crime itself, though minor in terms of all the many crimes in North Minneapolis, was infuriating and mattered greatly to this homeowner. Deeply personal antique stuff which has sentimental value and simply can't be replaced was stolen to buy, one assumes, CRACK COCAINE or TWENTY MINUTES WITH A PROSTITUTE.

Worse yet, the problem tenants who are widely suspected of committing this act are known and notorious, and have been ruining people's lives in the area for about two years, running around like a pack of wild dogs. They live at 416 31st Ave. N., a property owned by a landlord whose name and number I possess, and I had a lovely little chat with her this morning.

No, actually, it really was lovely. Respectful. Businesslike. It appears she is cooperating and willing to be of assistance. She is also fed up to be getting calls all the time about these particular tenants.

I won't say precisely where the burglary was, except it was north of me. Despite how negative and scary this incident was, it seems like the crime may be a kind of positive rallying point to organize decisive, environment-altering actions against the rampant social disorder which has taken root. I can't help but think the fact these stories are being told in a very public way could be contributing to this trend, just a little. I sure hope so.

Oh, my word, the facts which came spilling out this morning, and I was scribbling this stuff down as quickly as I could...

I found out about the meeting at the last minute from Jeff Skrenes, so now it's "even-steven" for the way I sprang Brian the Minn Post reporter on Jeff, et al. I didn't know the location and my car had been left at the efficient and affordable Hmong mechanic who fixed the other problem, so my only choice to avoid missing the important meeting first thing in the morning was to sack out YET AGAIN at my house and meet Jeff for a ride.

I figured I could make myself useful by watching drug and prostitution activity from the window, and calling it in if it was warranted.

Why Metro isn't always an option

I (renowned for my frugality) took a taxi there, not because it was too late for the bus but because I was seriously worried about getting jumped. This is why people like to drive cars instead of ride the bus. Because of who rides the bus. More precisely, because we don't feel PROTECTED from who rides the bus, certainly not at the dark intersection of Lyndale Ave. N. and 31st.

Actually, not even on the bus itself, at least not in the back seats. The response of Metro is to put up signs with images of teddy bears urging customers to "respect the ride" because of the little ears which might be listening. I guess when you don't have money for real security, a slogan will have to fill the dark, gaping void all by its paper-thin self.

While waiting for a taxi in Dinkytown, a green sports car pulled up in the intersection with four black youth, who proceeded to ignore the signal light and ask college students crossing the intersection if they could use a cell phone. Drunken students, truly too dumb to be breathing, proceeded to interact with the aforementioned occupants of the vehicle. (Need I mention, once again, my opinion column which discusses the lack of responsible behavior by students partying in Dinkytown?)

I called in the license plate and description, jotting it down on a sticker affixed to a trash can. The occupants saw me doing this and left right in the middle of their conversation with some intoxicated Gopher. Police arrived momentarily. The response time was extraordinarily quick. I saw multiple squads combing the area.

North Side is too dangerous compared to...Somalia

The taxi driver was from Somalia, and as I usually do with Somali taxi drivers and Hmong bus drivers, I tried to convince him to buy a home on the North Side. Unlike the last Somali taxi driver I spoke to, this one wasn't interested. It was too dangerous, he said.

He would do it if he were all by himself, he stated. Oh, yes, in a heartbeat. But because he had children, he needed to think of their safety.

We talked about his former country. He was concerned because individuals who would soon be 20 years old had never seen peace or political stability in their lifetime. How could such a feral generation run Somalia?

I told him to go in the driveway, as close to my door as he could. He was not willing to go very far into the driveway because it was dark and he couldn't see. I told him I understood.

"But do me a favor?" I asked. "Just stay here until I can get my key in the door and get inside?"

I got inside. I locked the door. And I made my little tactical arrangements, minor as they may be, they gave me psychological comfort.

Faithful old house at the end of its life

I realized I was inside without my car in the driveway, which was bad, because that was like saying, "Nobody is here, break inside." So I turned on the light in the kitchen. I went upstairs. My word, the place was starting to feel as familiar as my bedroom in St. Paul. I was able to reach in the dark and find the cord to recharge my cell phone, out of habit.

For about an hour, every time I heard a car pull up, I watched through the thinly woven blanket covering my "bedroom" window.

A black car parked near my driveway. The passenger got out, and went to stand on the corner. The driver of the car remained inside, sometimes turning on an interior light. After 20 minutes of this, I decided the drug dealing had reached a level of obviousness, and it was time to call the police.

The minute I called, the lights of the car came on and the car pulled away. I wondered if I had been speaking too loudly? Had the pale blue light of my cell phone been visible through the mesh of the blanket? I didn't have a plate number or anything. This one got away. The 911 operator was very nice and said, "If it comes back, just call again."

But I was tired, and couldn't stay awake anymore. "Stationary telephonic patrol" was over. I had done as much as I could do with my limited resources. I laid down, and found I had become familiar with the creaks and groans of the house.

My fondest hope and wish for 3016 6th Street N. is that it be sold to "the good guys" in the neighborhood and bulldozed to create a "rainwater garden." But as I listened to the floorboards croak like bullfrogs, I thought how this 100-year-old house in such rough condition was still protecting me, still sheltering me, still doing its duty.

I will write an ode to it, I thought, right before the wrecking ball. I will get a bundle of sage and burn it in a final smoky send off. Even in the twilight phase of its life, that faithful house was still doing its duty, like a wounded soldier who can, at the very least, call in coordinates.

Banding together for the common good

I was elated at the reasonable price quoted by the mechanic. I noticed a picture he had on the wall of a younger version of himself, serving in the South Vietnamese army. He had the same scowl in that photo as he wore now, calling an auto parts dealer to find out if the exhaust system for my 1988 Celebrity was easily available.

"Is this you, sir?" I asked him, pointing at the photo, though I knew the answer.

I asked how many blocks it was to Emerson Ave. North, and in what direction. I figured out the meeting was within easy walking distance. Though Jeff had promised me a ride, I decided to strike out on my own. I stopped by Star Foods and was delighted to experience, for the first time, pomegranate-flavored 7-Up. Really, all you can taste is the fruit. There's no 7-Up flavor left to experience, so histrionic and effusive is the pomegranate flavor.

Killing time before the meeting, I made a 311 call about a property on Emerson Ave. N. with an open basement window accessible to trespass, and another property in which the word "graffiti" had been painted in red letters, a foot high.

I couldn't help but think the person who tagged the building was at least a little bit clever.

"Operator, there's graffiti on this building!"

"Yes, sir, what does it say?"


"I understand, sir, but what does it SAY?"

The Hawthorne folks have a house owned by a church landlord. I noticed the bathroom had a bathtub, and I thought how often a chronic workaholic like myself could have used a feature such as that at the office. About a dozen of us arrived for the meeting, and Jeff announced we officially had enough people for the conference room. There was even a little agenda. All of this because our neighbor had been robbed, and people were fed up.

3101 31st Ave. N.--A State of Anarchy

In regard to 3101 31st Ave. N., the apartment complex fallen into a state of "nobody is in charge," we were assured "regulatory management" would soon enough take the place of the building's management. The anarchic state of "nobody is in charge" was intolerable and could not last for long.

Jeff pointed out if things really degenerated, the HNA could file a lawsuit. HNA had been known to do things like that.

It turned out the former owner of the apartment, Shirley Guevara, had come around a while ago and tried to collect rent, though she no longer owned the place and it was well past the period of redemption. A tenant who knew the deal (whose name will not be mentioned) urged his fellow tenants not to pay Shirley.

Somebody later threw a brick through his window. Folks figured one of Shirley Guevara's henchmen did it on her orders.

After that, a man named Greg from an entity called "Castle Rock" showed up and demanded rent, and successfully collected it. There are rumors about where Shirley stays, but it is said she "moves around." She has another building in this same state of affairs, at 3119 4th Street. The tenants are, of course, frustrated.

I told the police officer about the social disorder I had witnessed. If the tenants wanted folks to be sympathetic, I said, they needed to be policing themselves more effectively and not allowing the place to fall into a state of social disorder evident even from the outside.

All things considered--and not putting everything on the ol' blog--it sounded like the powers-that-be were on top of the situation. There was intense interest in the question of "by what authority" did Shirley Guevara attempt to collect rents past the period of redemption on the foreclosure?

"By the law of the jungle,"I suggested, helpfully.

One of the legal types at that meeting had the coolest bow tie. He looked like the dude from the popcorn box.

Another "Problem Child Of the Block"

I learned the name of Kathy's Pimp is "Cameron Lake," and as I could observe for myself they reportedly had no home but habitually slept in vacant houses. No wonder my replacement of city boards had caused CAMERON such agitation.

One person at the meeting had witnessed Kathy with a black eye before, beaten by Cameron, and stated this with a tone of sympathy. I would love to have mug shots of Kathy and Cameron to put up on this blog, to show the unsavory characters who habitually occupy the street corners in my area of operations as though they possessed a license to sell sexual services.

They habitually hung out at 416 31st Avenue North, not to be confused with 416 30th Ave. N., the "problem child of the block," but it's interesting how "416" is the "problem child" on both blocks.

I have an emotional attachment to the number "416." It is my old Boy Scout troop from Alexandria, Minnesota. I didn't advance very far in scouting, mostly because my rural family didn't have the money for all those "jamborees" and stuff. But, wow, I sure picked up plenty from close readings of scouting manuals in my youth.


The problem tenants from "416 31st" had driven out the Latino family from 420 31st through constant harassment, leaving the small house to become a crack den and a haven for Kathy and Cameron. Young children of school age were often seen at "416 31st" during times school was in session. I could bear testimony to THAT.

As for the older youth from that house, they had virtually taken over the block with their intimidation.

One solution seemed to involve tearing down the garage at 3112 6th Ave. N., directly behind this problem property at "416 31st," the "scary little garage" where stolen items were sorted and the undesirable stuff was tossed into a pile of refuse, items like the television and aquarium I observed. The city inspector's office was on it. One person at the meeting with valuable historical memory stated the garage fire took place approximately 6 years ago.

Keeping the bulldozer busy

The "fruitful destruction" wouldn't end with the scary little gang garage. The structure at 400 31st Ave. N. needed to come down, too. The city officials were on top of this one, as well.

There was talk of a landlord owning it. I turned over some helpful contact info I had, if that was the case. The structure would get fixed or it would get torn down, even if that meant fighting in court.

She's heard it all before

I had a list of issues I'd observed with properties in the past week, and I was able to turn that information over and get it into the system. This made me happy. Even happier was the way one of the meeting participants whispered to me that he or she had some plywood, and perhaps that stuff might find its way to my porch.

The property owner who had been the victim of the burglary which brought about this meeting--what author John W. Kingdon would call a "focusing event"--sounded a cynical note, saying she had "heard all this before, how something was going to happen, but then nothing really happens."

"Give us a week," one city official said. "Give us a chance to show you. Let's see if you'll be saying the same thing the next time we meet. Give us a chance."

She nodded, arms across her chest. She'd hold out hope for just a little while longer. As for the stolen stuff with sentimental value, there was a $100 reward, no questions asked.

Coincidence or Minn Post Dot Com conspiracy?

Me and Jeff walked a few blocks to have a beverage, checking the security of several buildings along the way. Jeff told me about some amazing work he did in Honduras, documenting the abuses of a corporation which makes glue used by street children to get high, refusing to take rather minor steps to alleviate the problem with its product.

The guy RADIATES cool. But he can't hold a candle to Constance the Real Estate agent, who (by some crazy coincidence) ended up meeting the camera crew in the exact same coffee shop at the exact same moment. She will find a way to show the most positive and safe aspects of the North Side, and creating some good publicity.

I set this up. I want to offset any stereotypical impressions my activities may be creating. My block is not your average block. All the more reason to turn it around and document it in a very public way. If my block can be dramatically turned around, then there is hope for every block in Minneapolis.

But I think citizens must either be given more authority, more discretion to do what is necessary in these truly extraordinary conditions, or just quietly take it on themselves.

Tracking down "Johnny Northside"

A police officer pulled up to talk with me as I walked with Jeff. It was a productive conversation. I learned there was once a program where police could obtain houses from the city for an amount like $10,000. Apparently, the program no longer exists.

Well, I say, bring that program back. Give as many vacant North Side houses to police officers as possible. Let a police officer have my very own lot at 3016 6th Street North. Pop a modular home in there, I say, and paint it blue as a robin's egg.

It was a different police officer who previously pointed out to me how people remember "what sticks" in a conversation, and not everything sticks.

I heard what I needed to hear from the officer about how one is duty bound to obey "the letter of the law" as concerns securing or wishing to secure property wide open to trespass because crack heads have kicked open the front door and it takes, oh gee, 5 or 8 long days for the city to board the place, by which time copper and plumbing fixtures and "built-ins" and anything of value will be gone, windows smashed for fun, nasty tricks turned and crack smoked and the smoldering glass pipe left in a pile of refuse to burn the whole place down.

One must obey the law. One must not trespass. The officer said what his duty required him to say like a good and honorable civic soldier. I aired my legal theory about how, for example, one does not stop and ask for permission before entering a house which is on fire.

"These houses," I said, pointing. "They are on fire. Common sense measures must be taken to save the property from destruction."

I also heard something quite notable about how a lack of "criminal intent" was important when deeds were judged. His overriding concern was for my personal safety. They didn't want anything harmful to happen to me at the hands of some crack head in a vacant building.

I assured the officer he couldn't believe a lot of "media hype." Also, I did have a little bit of military and security training. Nothing like his own extensive police training, of course, but I had been taught a few valuable tricks. I would be careful. I assured the officer I only hoped to find a situation where 911 or 311 could be utilized. I was not eagerly seeking situations to take on by myself.

Also, I inquired what was the average 911 response time in this particular neighborhood? He did not know.

He was a very nice officer. And though I don't know his age, I suppose it is possible he could have been a rookie officer in about 1980, when the Minneapolis Police Department saved my father from dying in the trunk of his taxi cab, beaten by 3 or 4 robbers. For all I know, he could have helped pull my father from that trunk.

Decent people are getting desperate

I have put forward my suggestions about the need for citizens to be given more authority to act in a common sense way as concerns vacant houses left unsecured. It might be good to give the system an opportunity to digest and reflect and see if any response is forthcoming.

Like I told that officer, "I am simply a kind of political response. The decent people are getting fed up and desperate. We can't afford to wait five or eight days when the front door of a house has been kicked in, and the crack heads can just get inside and do whatever. And we can't sit there and babysit the house and wait until we see somebody to call 911."

We just can't.

35 Windows And $25,000

I had almost forgotten about this interaction, but finding a business card in my pants pocket reminded me.

About a week ago I ran into David C. Samuelson, "architecture and construction management." Here is his website, though nothing is there but a "coming soon" notice.

He was near one of the houses on Fourth Street, looking quite responsible and official, and so I thought I'd pull up in my crappy car and find out what was up...

He was waiting for his insurance adjuster. I guess he trusted me from our conversation, because he showed me around inside the house, which was wonderful inside...though some things needed to be finished. One little piece of information David gave me really stuck in my head.

Thirty-five broken windows. Repaired at the cost of $25,000.

I asked him why the house still had one broken window on the second story. The poor guy. It was obviously a source of annoyance. It turned out one of the windows got broken during installation. Isn't that a pain in the posterior?

Like I wrote elsewhere...modern civilization is made of glass.

And to erect glass is an act of faith. Especially in my neighborhood.

I know I came off as a bit suspicious and security-oriented when I spoke to him. Dave is such a cool character, he almost comes off as slick. But he's alright in my book. I found out the "For Rent" signs had the number of Dave's cell phone, which he held up in his hand in response to my question. I thanked him for that, saying "exterior contact information is SO HELPFUL when you want to get in touch with somebody about a situation at one of these houses."

I told David if I saw something going wrong at his building, I'd call him. I pointed out the garage across the street, which I'd secured with my last nail...but now it was boarded up with an "official board." It was actually during this interaction with David that I noticed it.

As I was leaving, I heard David tell the insurance agent he was meeting a neighbor, and that he had "a good neighbor."

Monday, April 28, 2008

T.J. Waconia: Let The Punishment Fit The Crime (Like That Movie "The Super")

First of all, "Johnny Northside" was conceived in partial response to T.J. Waconia. Yes, I first began using that moniker in the chat threads at Behind The Mortgage Dot Com, in discussion and information digging (not all of it successful or smooth) about Thomas Balko, Jon Helgason, your whole "T.J. Wack" cast of characters.

Initially, I was just looking for a deal on a house, and I thought houses involved in mortgage fraud might be a good buy as "damaged goods" because title might be messy. So I thought. Things didn't quite work out that way, though, because...

...I discovered T.J. Waconia and other fraudsters were the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, and mortgage fraud is as common to North Side culture as, well, discarded 40 oz. beer bottles on the lawns of vacant houses. Also, once the banks get the houses back, title isn't THAT much of an issue. Problems like that have not, it appears, manifested. I hope they never do.

But I did make some useful contacts, even sorta friends, as a result of those initial forays, and I became incredibly interested in the phenomenon of mortgage fraud...but more so in its impact upon communities.

So! Consider, if you will, Thomas Balko and Jon Helgason. They've taken a plea bargain and simply await sentencing for what happened to all those North Side homes, like about 160 properties, though more like 140 falling into the hands of Minneapolis.

(I have yet to figure out how that could work if all the properties are in foreclosure and beyond redemption periods)

Sheesh! So they're probably going to the federal prison in Yankton, South Dakota.

Unless, that is to say, there might be an opportunity to get creative.

Consider the movie "The Super." Based on a real incident that happened in New York (or was it New Jersey or somewhere else? Hmmm) a slumlord is sentenced to live in one of the properties where his tenants were forced to endure his neglect. Naturally, through the magic of Hollywood, he becomes a decent person and grows a heart.

Here is what I suggest. Don't send the T.J. Waconia fraudsters to prison in South Dakota. I've lived in North Dakota, and first off let me say forcing somebody to live in the Dakotas against their will is automatically cruel and unusual punishment and therefore contrary to the United States Constitution.

Instead--if lawyers and defendants are open to such "creative sentencing"--I say have them live in one of their own properties and pour their considerable skill and energy into fixing up the North Side which they helped to mess up with all their fraudulent flipping.

Naturally, it might be fun to put them in the worst and most awful of their houses, in the most dangerous neighborhood. However, the safety of prisoners in accordance with modern western standards of civilization and simple human decency should trump such an urge.

No, there are a lot of houses to choose from, some of the houses decent and habitable. The particular house could be negotiated with the prosecution, I would hope.

"Tom and Jon" should stay in and near the house...maybe an ankle monitor could restrict them to an area of a certain number of square blocks, including an adequate grocery store within that perimeter...and they can have certain agreed upon tasks, like putting up boards which have been ripped down, planting flowers, calling 911 on prostitutes and drug dealers...

Yeah, basically all that stuff I've been doing. Get in there and do some good, you flippers and fraudsters.

I can't call myself their harshest critic, though. Oh, believe me, there are people who are fighting to stake THAT particular claim, and I don't want to get in the middle of the brawl. In fact, I've often tried to be a voice of moderation in the chat threads about this subject, saying, "Really, don't say mean stuff about their kids" and so forth.

Click here for the T.J. Waconia victims blog.

I think such "creative sentencing" would be a classic case of "let the punishment fit the crime" but, more so, "Tom and John" would be doing useful labor HERE IN MINNESOTA instead of out in the wretched, godforsaken Dakotas, a place so desperate for human inhabitants prisons are probably part of their settlement strategy, like was once the case in AUSTRALIA.

Out in the Dakotas, their crimes would be forgotten and fade from the public mind. But by keeping them here in Minneapolis, they would be a constant reminder of what happens to mortgage fraudsters. And isn't deterrence of others a big part of why they should be punished, anyway? Given how much politics plays into the prosecution--and I don't say that in a bad way, it's just they're Public Enemy No. 1, which is automatically political--wouldn't a rather "political punishment" make sense?

Internal exile, as it were?

Of course, such creative sentencing would require the willingness of the defendants. So, you might ask, what do "Tom and Jon" have to gain?


Tom would be able to see his children more often. Maybe they could even spend some "quality time" planting flowers. Furthermore, there is an outside possibility their sentence, if tackled with cheerful willingness, might help them to regain a piece of their public reputation, so they wouldn't be pariahs or (as one online pundit dubbed them) "the number one civic villains of the Twin Cities."

Try putting THAT on your resume.

As the mortgage fraud victims love to say on the T.J. Waconia victims blog, "Taco Bell."

All things considered, including the fact there is some legal precedent for this kind of thing as concerns bad property management (albeit, not in this judicial district and purely as a "precedent of public knowledge," probably not actual binding LEGAL precedent at all) I think this kind of punishment would be more socially useful than sending them away to Yankton, South Dakota.

It would also give certain politicians another feather in their cap as concerns this case, to not only get a conviction but A CREATIVE AND HIGHLY SYMBOLIC SENTENCING. The Mayor could drop by and pose with "Tom and Jon" like trophy fish as they grub at the soil and plant pansies.

But it's not all punishment and spectacle. "Tom and Jon" could be socially useful in this role. They could even have more than a snowball's chance of redeeming their public rep, just a bit.

The victims might show up in lawn chairs and chant "Taco Bell," but I'm sure that wouldn't last for more than a few days. There are so many other fun outdoor activities!

All in all...let the punishment fit the crime, and let North Minneapolis be their prison.

Official Johnny Northside Rumor, Scuttlebutt, And Dark Innuendo: Shirley "The Shirker" Guevara

The following just came over my email from (shall we say?) an unnamed source. It concerns the property owner with lots of foreclosures whose little apartment complex on 31st Ave. N. is falling into disorder and (according to the former caretaker) "nobody is in charge."

Here is the info, and I emphasize it is unconfirmed.
"I just learned a few moments ago [where Shirley Guevara lives, generally], illegally occupying a foreclosed house, no less.

The world keeps getting smaller and smaller still, wouldn't you agree?

But of course I shall make it a personal mission to see her out on her ass tuite de suite."

Oh, anonymous source, I love it when you speak French!
Update. Here is more specific info from my anonymous source.

(Do not click "Read More")

The "Adopt- A-House" Manifesto (Part One) photo, "kitty helps with paperwork"

This photo looks like "Scott 'n' Scott's" cat, the one who became a star in the videos on Minn Post. Their cat (or its twin) seems to get out sometimes and hunt mice in the garbage at the "problem child of the block" house, 416 30th Ave. N.

This photo is called "Kitty helps with paperwork."

I thought it was a nice image to use in this post which summarizes my public policy suggestions scattered throughout the entries of this blog...

...which I recently sent by email to a public official who contacted me through this blog, referring to the block as my "jurisdiction." [Two later addendums: clearly, the word "jurisdiction" was meant to be sarcastic. Well, except I actually do think of it as my jurisdiction in that "the block" is so often left to fend for itself under "law of the jungle" conditions. During those times when nobody official is there to render aid, it is indeed my "jurisdiction" under the official "adopt a house" request/mandate, which clearly delegated "common sense action" to conscientious citizens where the city can't move quickly enough, or lacks resources.

Oh, secondly, "city official" is not as accurate as "an organization which deals with metropolitan issues, working CLOSELY with city officials.

There. I have clarified and corrected according to recent feedback. Johnny Northside strives for accuracy.

Now, to continue....]

I thought that was funny. And also an acknowledgment of the "Wild West" mentality taking root in certain devastated areas of the North Side.

Anyway, here is what I said to the public official who shall remain anonymous and could be, well, anybody. But I thought the "gathering of ideas" in that particular email was useful, so it's going right on the blog, baby.

Dear (Public Official Who Cares)

Thanks so much for contacting me through my blog. It is good to know some city officials find the blog interesting. There are certainly some serious public policy ideas and suggestions mixed in with telling the raw, colorful stories of "the block" in a way that captures the interest of readers.

I am cc'ing this to Kevin Gulden of [Project Pride In Living] as well as Peter and Jeff of [the] Hawthorne Neighborhood Association. They are the folks who have been working so long in this area. I am, quite literally, "Johnny come lately."

Or is it "Johnny blog lately?"



My main concerns seem to center on the disparity between the "adopt houses" message and the mean reality of the houses themselves. The city seems to imagine "adoption" as a lovely process of conscientious citizens picking up litter (careful to separate the recyclables) and planting flowers such as, for example, pansies.

HARD REALITY OF THE STREET is so many houses are wide open to trespass through the kicked-in front doors or smashed first story windows. Litter is the least of our problems. Physical security is the big issue.

Calling 311 helps but it takes a long time, and it's an expensive process for our city. [To board up houses]

Citizens need to be told it is GOOD CITIZENSHIP to put city boards back up which have been torn down, or (in other circumstances) to secure a house lacking any exterior contact information. This should be part of "adoption."

It should, further, be GOOD CITIZENSHIP to board second story windows open to birds and weather, which are usually not boarded due to budgetary priorities. (Understandable) This should be part of "adoption."

Exterior contact information of responsible parties should be MANDATORY for any and all vacant houses.

Phone books have become a distressing litter problem. It should be LITTERING to dump phone books on the doorsteps of houses with common sense indications of abandonment. [And vacancy]

Furthermore, the people who dropped this stuff off should be required to GO BACK AND CLEAN UP THEIR MESS.

The 911 response times are abysmal except, I must say, at three in the morning, when they are (in my experience) superb.

We need drug and prostitution sting operations. I see the worst problem on the North Side as the groups of unproductive young men who gather on the street corners, intimidating any and all who may come through the area to, for example, think about buying a house.

Police must stop telling us "do gooder types" not to move into the North Side, because it is "too dangerous." They sit in their squads with Colt AR-15s and act like they're in IRAQ. They should be physically walking around...or riding bikes...and checking the security of houses. If I can spot a wide open front door from the street, so can police.

I am, however, very sympathetic to the police. They may act as they do because they wear a target on their chest, while my chest says merely "University of Minnesota."

Frankly, I think Minneapolis should take the houses it owns on the North Side and GIVE THEM AWAY TO POLICE OFFICERS in some kind of lottery. If we don't have security, things will continue to decline.

Security, security, security must be the first priority or the influx of new residents will never come. [Slum lords will take over]

[I have suggested moving police resources from "party patrols" near U of M to cracking down on crime on the North Side in a column in the Minnesota Daily]

I am trying to build security.

"If I build security, they will come."

All Hail The Coming Of "Artistic Boarding"

"Artistic Boards," click for article.

Brian, the reporter from Minn Post, directed me to this article about "artistic boards" coming soon to North Minneapolis, courtesy of an artist who somehow made Gary, Indiana look good. (I've been there as a driver on behalf of Bio Corporation and I say "no small feat.")

Click here to get really "board."

I'm excited about this and hoping it hits blocks with the most boards first, instead of blocks with the most "political pull." My "virtual friend" Constance The Real Estate Agent told me she is worried about Minneapolis becoming too comfortable with the boarded up buildings if something like this "artistic boarding" happens.

Good point. Duly noted.

I also think the artists among us should say, "Putting my art on the boards is part of adopting the buildings so here I go, woooooooooooo."

But when I say "art," clearly I don't mean "tagging." This guy makes abandoned movie theaters look like they still sell tickets. THAT is what we need, not more of this juvenile tagger crap making shrill and desperate claims to being "street art."

OK, yeah. Some of it is "art," but most of it surely ain't. And if I see that kind of crap, I'll be making my own "board art" called "Return Gray Sky."

(Do not click "Read More")

Send The "Party Patrol" To North Minneapolis photo

Here is my public policy proposal to shift scarce police resources from where they aren't needed (drunk, silly college students partying in Dinkytown) to where they are desperately needed (6th Street North, for example).

Click here to read "Send the 'party patrol' to North Minneapolis."

(Do not click "Read More")

The Caretaker Is Gone And Chaos Is Taking Over Shirley Guevera's (Former) Apartment Complex

"Chaos theory"photo,

There is a little apartment complex at 3101 6th Ave. N. "under court supervision" according to a sign posted on the property. About a month ago, I met the caretaker...

...who wanted to know what I was out and about doing as I walked up to his building with a clip board. Good man. His name is "Tom." We spoke and exchanged contact info. I had him on my speed dial, and I said if I saw any problems at his property I'd let him know. I would appreciate if he'd do the same thing for my property at 3016, I said.

So that was in early April.

A few nights ago, I saw door mats hung on the porch railing to dry, a "big wheel" children's trike which is perpetually left on the sidewalk near where drug dealers habitually do business, and five young men sitting on the interior stairwell at 3 in the (expletive) morning, "smoking and joking" as we say in the army. It seemed like nobody was keeping the order which had been evident there previously, thanks to Tom the Caretaker.

Despite the fact it was three in the morning, I called Tom to tell him to wake up and get the ne'er-do-wells out of the stairwell and ask what the hecky darn happened with the safety and social order which seemed evident a few weeks ago?

Tom told me he was no longer the caretaker. This had happened quite recently. The owner, Shirley Guevera, (I got her LAST name from another source) had lost the building to foreclosure, and now (in Tom's words) "nobody was in charge."

Great, I thought. Clearly, people are living inside. But "nobody is in charge." Are they paying rent, I wondered? If there is cash to be collected, I'm sure somebody has found a way to be in charge, even if their authority is based on the law of the jungle.

Tom was groggy. Who can blame him? He said he was at a "residential treatment facility." I assumed he meant he was doing more care taking, though I didn't actually ask for clarification.

Now the place is going to pot, literally. Rough characters make the short, easy journey from the street corner to the inside of the building. Cars pull up in front, the drivers are inside the apartment complex briefly, and leave.

Nobody is in charge. And this right inside the so-called "Corridor of Safety." Rumor has it thugs will take over the abandoned "green house" as soon as warm weather comes, as they always do, and then there will be no safe corridor to the bus stop at all.

I have little to fight this with except for my blog. Shirley Guevera reportedly owns several buildings, which are falling into foreclosure. Shirley Guevera is an irresponsible property owner whose business dealings have made the neighborhood worse. Whoever loaned money to Shirley Guevera to bring about her ownership of the little apartment complex is an accessory to the situation.

Somebody should sue Shirley Guevera and her lender(s). If anybody has information about Shirley (many thanks to the friend who kicked her last name my way) then please forward that info.

A nice picture of Shirley would be great, too.

P.S. Obviously I called the real estate company about 3000 Lyndale this morning. The lady who deals with this stuff--her name is Joy--sounded exasperated. Well, who can blame her? I told her about the new boards at 4th Street and made clear those weren't my boards, and better boards were needed.

I saw the green van now parked across the street and figured, "Well, perhaps that van belongs around here, after all." I now assume the van is associated with the property right next door to 3000 Lyndale, a place which appears full of perpetual comings-and-goings.

That house at 3000 is incredible. Whoever buys it in this depressed market will be getting the deal of a lifetime. Well, unless somebody rips out all the "built ins" before that happens. Thanks to lovely Constance the real estate agent for teaching me this term.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Voluntary Boards" Appear On My "Eastern Perimeter" And Much More!

"Unofficial boards" which were NOT MINE appeared overnight, sealing off a newly-broken window on my "eastern perimeter." Either I am not the only grassroots volunteer who comes through my area of operations (could it be Jeff Skrenes?) or my blogging efforts are having some kind of social impact, as I've hoped.

Last night...

...I stayed up until 3 a.m. working on my Minnesota Daily opinion piece "Send the 'party patrol' to the North Side." It was tough writing in a somewhat sleep-deprived state after "Jane" pounded on my door at 8:30 to tell me about the crack heads in the garage, finding me holed up at my North Side property because of that problem with the gas gauge. But I can write asleep, upside down, on a candy bar I banged out the column because it's not only great ink, but it's 40 dollars cash money.

When I finally got it done and emailed to my editor, I really wanted to just skip a night patrol, go to St. Paul, and go straight to bed. But I had serious worries about 3000 Lyndale Ave. N. or (more honestly) I was hoping to catch some fixture thieves in the act. I thought, "Well, heck, why don't I just sleep at my house another night? The city doesn't seem to mind me keeping an eye on my condemned property, after all."

ANOTHER quiet night? Amazing

I checked the area very well, but there were no prostitutes or dealers to be seen, at least nobody doing anything which could justify a 911 call. Boards were exactly where they belonged, though I spotted something odd on the eastern looked like fence boards newly erected over one of the front windows at "The House of The Scattered Latex Gloves." (See discussion of that house in the videos associated with the Minn Post story)

"If it's boards, that's good," I thought, and I figured I'd check it in the morning. Maybe a window had been broken and the real estate company had fixed it really quickly, for a change.

It must have been 4 a.m. when I got to sleep, and I slept until noon. Before falling asleep in rough places, I consciously remind myself which noises would be alarming, which noises I must wake up for even if I am in a deep slumber. I placed a big rubberized bag of tightly-packed laundry between my head and the wall, to absorb any random or not-so-random bullets. (My sister once had a bunch of high-caliber rounds fired into her house when she was married to a rather--shall we say?--annoyingly by-the-book Wisconsin State Patrol Officer)

And I slept. Until noon. And not a minute more, eight hours exactly. First thing in the morning, I checked 3000 Lyndale Ave. N.

The chirp-chirp-chirp sound of abandonment

A green van was pulled up next door, on the other side of the fence. Four black males ranging from teens to late 20s saw me watching them, holding my cell phone. I caught just one little snippet of their conversation before they noticed me, the words "this house."

The four black males got in a green newer-model van, license plate XVW 842, and left the area. For all I know, they were merely parked in that yard to attend the church on the other side of Lyndale Ave. N.

I decided to explore the interior of "3000 Lyndale" to get an idea what was going on in there. I'd already called the real estate company but, of course, people are gone all weekend. You can't reach real estate agents, you can't reach 311...meanwhile, the copper and fixture thieves aren't knocking off for the weekend. They're working their butts off. With such a "weekend work ethic" you'd think they could find honest labor.

Here 3000 Lyndale is wide open to trespass, and I can't even secure the door for at least two different reasons, one being there is SUPPOSEDLY somebody in charge of the place whose name and number is on the exterior. The other being the nature of the door itself, and the house being new, shockingly nice from the outside even if the Virgin Mary statue decided to get the heck out of Dodge.

The smoke alarms chirped about their low batteries as I went inside. This is the sound of vacant houses on the North Side. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

Sinks were ripped out, upstairs and downstairs. The wood inside that place was spectacular, however. My word, it's a castle. It's both huge and really nice. You could live in such a place and entertain like royalty. I have my doubts how much longer those fixtures will remain unless the place can get secured.

Systemic issues weekends and late at night

We need 311 on the weekend. We need it late at night. That house is 48 hours behind in the system because of the weekend lag. Real estate agents need something on their voice mail which says, "If this is an emergency involving the security of one of our properties, press 7 to leave a message for Security Officer Big Billy Winchell."

(Oh, I sense an imitation coming on)

Beeeeeep. This is Big Billah. These messages get checked most ever' hour. If there's a problem wit' a house, be sure you say the address slooooowly, and repeat it. I'd like your number, too, if you don't mind givin' it, so I can call you. But just be sure to tell me what's up with the house, ya here?

Thanks, and I won't mind at all if you meet me out there with some donuts.

Really, any kind of pastry will do, but especially donuts. Not the kind with powdered sugar, though! You ever inhale one of those? Had me a bad experience, once where---


In any's a real pain in the posterior trying to deal with a property security situation after hours or on the weekend. Copper thieves are busting in left and right, and this requires a more vigorous response which might--oh, gee, quite possibly--involve being able to get in touch with the system after hours and over the weekend.

I'm just sayin'.

After making sure nobody was inside 3000 Lyndale, I called and left a message for the real estate agent, emphasizing how I'd been able to confirm fixtures were missing and the place was WIDE OPEN TO TRESPASS.

Bangkok Market never does me wrong

I was hoping for a wonderful meal of talapia fish for a mere $5, but I had to settle for some delicious roast pork ribs.

I couldn't understand what the lady behind the counter was saying. I tried to answer the question based on context and said, " go."

A man standing nearby laughed. He said, "She was asking if you want them CUT UP."

"No," I answered. "I'll take care of that with my TEETH."

I love this place. I took my meal and drove back to 3000 Lyndale Ave, eating in my car. I thought, "I will just sit here near this house. As long as they see me, nobody will go inside and it will look like a lot of attention is being paid to the house."

If all else fails, maybe I can just fake 'em out. Clearly, I was going to eat my meal somewhere, so I tried to make use of what I had...ten or fifteen minutes to wolf down some pork ribs with sweet-and-sour sauce in the front seat of my car.

Coming soon! SHIRLEY'S BLOCK

I remembered about those mysterious boards, and went to check my eastern perimeter before heading to school. Upon closer examination, the boarding was a really rough job, like something I would do. (Had I been "sleep boarding?")

The boards appeared to be useful debri which had been just laying around, now pressed into service, exactly the way I do MY boards.

But the window was indeed secure. I figured I'd call it in to 311 on Monday, though, and also to the real estate company...the same one in charge of 3000 Lyndale Ave. N.

I was so excited to see those boards, precisely because they weren't my boards. But they were clearly not "official boards," not even "professional boards" like something a real estate company had done. Maybe somebody did indeed say to themselves, "If Johnny Northside can do it, there's no reason I can't. I'm not going to let the crack heads move in on my street."

Yeah, and besides...maybe everybody will think Johnny Northside was the one who did it.

I pulled out my Sharpie and wrote "It's being watched!" on the boards.

While I was assessing that situation, a lady came to look at the house next door, the one I managed to get padlocked a few weeks ago. I think her name is Shirley, judging from the email address she wrote down.

Shirley had a great phrase. "So you're The Blogger Of The Block," she said.

"I'm stealing that," I said.

She has lots of great thoughts and turns of phrase. She talks rapidly and enthusiastically, like an espresso-making machine which has miraculously acquired the power of speech.

In any case, I found out she's a one-woman tornado of neighborhood revitalizin' energy and enthusiasm. She has a bid on a house, quite some distance from me on 4th Street, the other side of Fairview Park. We actually went there, so quickly did we hit it off. I tried to give her as much useful information as possible about the neighborhood, including some neighborhood association email addresses. I showed her a brochure about the eco-village, the one Kevin gave me.

The block she has picked is really nice, one of those pockets of wonderful living NOT absent from the North Side, just not publicized well enough. (And this blog is guilty of that, though I am writing about the reality of my experience and trying to turn my block around. Please, feel free to leave comments about the wonderfulness and security of YOUR North Side block!)

Not one boarded house is visible from the doorsteps of the house Shirley wants to own. The houses have clean, orderly yards and decent fences.

She said there was one vacant house the block, however, facing Lyndale. We went up there to look. It turned out to be a house I had called in to "REO" a while back, and it was secured. I showed her where I had painted out some graffiti on a back window board. While there, I spotted some graffiti on the empty Wafana's store, so I said I'd come back and get it.

"Shirley" wants to pick up all the litter, meet her neighbors, fix her house, keep the vacant properties secure, and generally be exactly what neighbors would want in their wildest dreams, at least the "decent people." (As we talked, a "gang banger" walked by wearing his "Spider Man" jacket. All was not perfect on Shirley's block)

Shirley is very opposed to animal cruelty and involved in some of those issues. Her dear husband passed away from cancer not too long ago. Their cat is still alive and has traveled all the way from Jacksonville, Florida. Down in Jacksonville, Shirley says, the homeless are incredibly numerous.

"Well," I laughed. "It's because you can live outside all year." Shirley is very sympathetic to the homeless, but didn't want them breaking into houses. She was particularly opposed to "interior urination." I informed Shirley that "around here, on the North Side, people don't say 'the homeless' when they talk about folks squatting in vacant houses. We say 'the crack heads' this and 'the crack heads' that."

"It's implying there's no sympathy," Shirley noted.

"Darn right," I agreed. "But it's also because so many of these folks are--truly and literally--addicted to crack cocaine. There's a difference between 'crack head' homelessness and your more traditional under-the-bridge, riding trains, singing hobo songs kind of homelessness. What we have around here are crack heads."

But I made a point of saying, "This is a really nice block, though. You're not going to have as many problems, here."

If this hedge could talk

Shirley described what she wanted to do with the house. Raspberry trim. But, of course, so much to do on the interior, first.

I suggested she should do something with the exterior first.

"Send a visible message," I suggested. "Make it say, 'Somebody is here and taking care of this house' so the crack heads avoid it."

Shirley didn't like one of the hedges in the yard of a neighboring, vacant house. The hedge, she said, was saying, "Skulk behind me." I couldn't have agreed more.

"That's fine for my cat," Shirley said. "But I don't want anybody else skulking behind it."

I crossed my fingers she would get her dream house. But, oh, such energy and enthusiasm could go to good use on a much rougher block, I thought!

It sounds like Shirley is "coming home" to Minneapolis after quite a life journey. I was so glad to meet her, hopeful she'd get the house at her offered price, and looking forward to "one block I won't have to worry about."

Returning To My (Almost) Vomit

I went back to The House That (Almost) Made Me Barf, to see if it had been quickly boarded. Nothing yet, however. Wide open to trespass. I pulled some soggy official letters out of the mailbox and tossed this stuff in the nice dry porch. Maybe, down the road, some solid citizen might find those documents useful or, at a minimum, interesting and informative.

One craves the story of the house. The tale. The legend. How it came to be this way. I know my house was once owned by a Kathleen Osby, and a few years ago she took that ridiculously tiny structure and jacked the price up to $195,000 on a mortgage. These are things I can tell my son, the way I can say, "The farm where Grandma Vernie lives was owned by her father, your great-grandfather, Joe Brezina. He bought it after he was divorced and needed somewhere to live."

Across the street from The House Of Hurl, I noticed a dwelling with so many little children playing in the yard I suspected it might be a day care center. Great. A crack house across from a day care center. I walked over to speak to a lady gardening in the yard. She was Hmong, rather old, and grubbing at the soil like what she planted was going to feed her whole family.

She did not respond when I tried to speak to her over the fence, nervously pretending like she didn't hear. A little boy came up on his bike. He spoke perfect English. I told him the house across the street is empty, and dangerous people go in there. Had he ever seen people going in that house?

He had not, he said. I could tell he hadn't been conscious of the house, though, because I myself had just walked out of the house a moment ago. He seemed like such a solid and responsible little man, like my own son, the way he came over on his bike to see what somebody wanted with his (grandmother?) who didn't speak English.

I told this solid little citizen that if he saw people going in that house, he should tell a grown-up, and somebody should call the police, right away.

"The people who go in that house are dangerous," I said. "They will hurt you. If you see somebody going in there, the police should be called. Nobody is supposed to be inside that house. Those are BAD PEOPLE who go in there."

It was the best I could do. As I walked away, I heard the conversation taking place behind me in Hmong. This is what it comes down to on the North Side, I thought. Crack houses across from places where children live.

Painting over graffiti in two counties

I stopped at "Squat-O-Rama" behind the Merwyn's liquor store, and painted over some gang graffiti. It had the word "gang" in it. I'd say that's a clue.

I went to St. Paul to see about getting my muffler fixed, and went through some alleys where I like to paint over graffiti, (in one area, I even have permission!) and I had a good time expressed in four or five different colors.

Utility box. Dumpster. Walls. Rain gutter.

Citizens can't be waiting around for "abatement orders" and "clean teams" and so forth. Honestly, if folks are trying hard to match the colors, that should be good enough. And the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul should be saying so, and giving citizens this authority, instead of having folks think, "They'll prosecute me just like a tagger if I get some matching paint and paint over the words (EXPLETIVE) YOU on a wall."

No, they won't. But I think the authorities need to make it clear. We can't be waiting around for expensive "clean teams" and "abatement orders" going to mailboxes where mail probably isn't picked up anyway. Just drive around with paint. It's more fun than, well...tagging, I suppose.

(OK, one notable incident when I was 16. That's it. And when I paint over graffiti, I paint over more in a single hour than I ever slapped up in my whole life)

One piece of graffiti I saw on a utility box was a white hand making a peace sign, skillfully done. I left it alone. If the graffiti is aesthetically pleasing and has a comprehensible message, I'll leave it. Hey, it's my paint. I'll do what I want.

On a bridge over I-35, in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, I recently painted over the following words.

I'll exfoliate your face with the acid in my stomach.

I couldn't help but think those words were clever and visceral, but it wasn't aesthetically pleasing, so I painted over it.

But I couldn't get the words out of my head.