Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Progress Report In Celebration Of National Night Out (Hooker Leaves 3020 6th St. N.)

Photo by John Hoff

Contessa The Hooker has lived at 3020 6th St. N. for a long time, and has been observed apparently picking up johns (lots of them) and (apparently) arranging drug deals...

She was arrested some weeks ago and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, and some others at 3020 6th St. N. were charged with keeping a disorderly house, according to Inspector Mike Martin of the Fourth Precinct. I keep waiting to see the court cases appear on the City Attorney's website, so I can submit a community impact statement, but no luck yet.

(Note to self: send an email inquiry to City Attorney's Office)

I feel pretty safe calling Contessa a hooker since her landlord called her one while I was having lunch with him, though I didn't blog about it at the time. The landlord said another woman who lives at the house is a hooker, too, but what can he do about it? People need a place to live. This is the line always used by slumlords who fill our neighborhoods with pimps, hookers and drug dealers.

"People need a place to live." It's not so different from industries who fill the air with stink, and then say, "Well, that's the smell of money."

Contessa's pink pants are legendary. She wears them all the time. She wears them almost every day. If those pants could talk, you'd have to censor their sordid tale. You'd have to put those pants in the witness protection program. If you heard the tale those pants could tell, you'd jam your fingers into your ears and say, "Stop! No more! I am losing my faith in humanity."

Preparing Peter's back yard for a National Night Out cook out, we saw Contessa The Hooker moving lots of stuff to a van with help from the man in shades. I told Peter--well, not just Peter--he looks like somebody you'd find on a beach in Thailand, supporting the sex trade. Right then Peter's wife pulled up in the minivan with her three small children, the back of the vehicle packed with groceries for the National Night Out festivities.

I urged Peter not to speak to the guy. Peter did anyway. The conversation didn't go too badly, though. The guy in the shades said he was "an old friend" of Contessa and had known her for a long time. He had a bit of a Southern drawl, it seemed.

"I'm sure he means 'know' in the Biblical sense," I told Peter.

Later, I heard the landlord was mad because I'd been taking pictures.

Progress at 3119 4th St. N.

While me, Peter, Jake, Gabe and Peter, Jr. were walking around the neighborhood with a reporter from National Public Radio, we ran into the guy who takes care of all the vacant buildings in the area. (I think his name is Willie?)

I told him about the gushing water issues at 3119 4th Street, which was news to him. He'd been off for several days.

I asked him about shutting the windows to keep the mold spores inside, since I expected the place to get very moldy due to being soaked inside, and "Patty Cake" who lives next door is quite sensitive to mold. The city worker said he'd look into it. He mentioned there were only a few windows open in the back.

"Well, now there's some open in the front, too, from where they got in," I informed him.

Progress at 2955 Lyndale Ave. N.

I find it unbelievable this place got boarded up THE VERY NEXT DAY after I called 311 and the real estate agent. And, honestly, I don't know who got to it first, though it was a gray-looking city board. In any case, it has been secured.

Now I just need to watch it every day for squatters.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

"Official Paper" At 430 31st Ave. N.

Photo by John Hoff

Here is some "official paper" which hit the door of 430 31st Ave. N., which Little Jane still calls "The Mexican House" because of the family which once lived there. Recently, the City of Minneapolis had to clear squatters out of the building, plus rescue a cat.

I was kind of surprised to see the paperwork was an order to raze the building. Wow. The City of Minneapolis is not fooling around.

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"Official Paper" At 2955 Lyndale Ave. N.

Photo by John Hoff

This notice was on the door of 2955 Lyndale Ave. N. when I was eyeballing the property, thinking of making an offer. Something about turning over the premises...taking back the premises...yeah, something like that.

Why the people who post this stuff don't LAMINATE their official paperwork is beyond me.

Some of them are smart and slide it into a clear plastic folder. Not this one, though.

Today I went by the property and noticed lights were on in the basement. No wonder the place attracts squatters. I intend to swing by there again tonight, to see if I can spot the squatters which I am sure are getting in nightly.

New "Official Paper" At 415 31st Ave. N.

Photo by John Hoff

Some paper hit the boarded up door of 415 31st Ave. N, the property caught up in the lawsuit against CitiMortgage by the Hawthorne Area Community Council. It's an order to raze the building. A bunch of interesting names are on the order. I should go back and get those names some time, for this blog.

I wish I were authorized to carry out the raze order. Give me a crowbar, a very large dumpster, and a big jug of tea. I'll get the demolition started, baby.

When this building comes down, everybody in the neighborhood will feel like we've really, finally turned the tide. The apartment complexes were huge victories, but there is something very symbolic--and maddeningly stubborn--about this particular building.

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Keeping The Juvenile Deliquents In Line

Photo by John Hoff

So a couple weeks ago I was house-sitting for Patty Cake and, while doing that, I saw a large group of youth in yellow shirts come by, picking up litter.

Silly me, I thought they were a church group. A number of them seemed pretty surly, but I figured it was just because their mothers had made them go to church and learn Bible stories instead of hanging out on the corner, getting into trouble.

So when I saw one of the young men with the group try the door on 400 31st Ave. N., a vacant house owned by Phil Kleindl's people, I didn't think much of it. Sure, the young man in question had no good reason to try the door, but his mama was making him do right, making him go to church and pick up litter with the youth group, so I figured he'd stay on the straight and narrow. Why make a big deal out of him merely trying the door on a vacant building?

When Patty Cake got home, I found out the group wasn't a church group at all, but juvenile offenders working off their sentences. I kicked myself and wished I'd been videotaping, so I could get that particular juvenile delinquent in some hot water, like he deserved.

A week or two later, I saw one of the yellow-shirted work crews picking up litter, and after snapping this picture out of my van window, I spoke to their supervisor and said what I'd seen at 400 30th Ave. N. I informed him we watch our block all the time and if I so much as saw one of his minors taking a forbidden smoke break, I'd be taking pictures and making calls.

He didn't say a lot. He got the message.

Oh, another thing: mystery solved in regard to why there is so much litter on the North Side and why the young people can be seen--almost always--tossing their food and beverage packaging on the ground.

Think about it. Submit something in the comments section if you don't understand what I'm saying without saying it.

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Taking The Grand Tour At Johnny A's Sports Bar And Grill (Photo 3)

Photo by John Hoff

Here, the owner of Johnny A's shows me where police kicked in a door during a search for drugs on the premises. The damage was subsequently repaired, and is now only apparent because of the two different kinds of wood visible near the lock.

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Taking The Grand Tour At Johnny A's Sports Bar And Grill (Photo 2)

Photo by John Hoff

The owner of Johnny A's showed me the spacious walk-in coolers he installed before the city shut down his business. He kept saying that he'd put half a million dollars into this business. That it was his whole life and it was just GONE.

"I take care of my mom," he said. "And my brother, who is a disabled vet."

He said this to me more than once, like he didn't remember saying it, like he says it all the time; a depressing mantra. Because I've been a military psych tech, I could recognize this man is (most likely) seriously depressed.

I tried to urge him to come to the human chess tournament, walk in the sunshine and eat a grilled hot dog with us. He didn't want to leave the bar. He was worried he would see some city official and feel angry.

All was not lost, however. He has arranged a sale of the property and was talking about filing a lawsuit.

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Taking The Grand Tour At Johnny A's Sports Bar And Grill (Photo 1)

Photo by John Hoff

During the "human chess tournament," participants were able to use the bathrooms inside Johnny A's Bar, which the authorities closed down. I had a chance to meet the owner, John Alexander, who told me the whole tale of why his business got shut down.

I didn't urge him to tell me the story. He just started telling it. This always happens to me.

I can't do the complex story justice and I'd be happy to put it on my blog if he'd write it all down, but this much I can say in summary:

1.) He believes the bar being shut down was basically a plot to get hold of his real estate for the purpose of West Broadway development.

2.) He threw drug dealers out of the bar with his own bare hands.

3.) He admits doing one thing wrong: buying liquor from a store instead of from a bar supplier when supplies ran low. But why shut him down for THAT? For crying out loud, people get MURDERED at the Fourth Street Saloon. (Actually, a guy was killed in the parking lot of the Fourth Street Bar the very next day, which certainly underscored the point the owner of Johnny A's was making)

I withhold judgment on what's going on here, but this much occurred to me: who would have this many cameras and then allow illegal activity? Here, in the basement, you see the numerous security cameras for the bar.

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Drug Dealers Evicted At 3033 4th St. N. (Also Known As Scribner's House)

Photo by John Hoff

Low-income housing landlord Phil Kleindl didn't like hearing about the drug-dealing taking place at 3033 6th St. N. and threw out all the tenants who were dealing at the intersection of 4th St. N. and 31st Ave. N., usually right from the porch pictured above.

When Phil told me this, I said, "What about the woman in the pink outfit with the white cap? I saw her there a few days ago." Phil said, "She was just getting the very last of the (expletive)." Now the place does indeed appear empty, and it's quite an improvement.

I told my neighbor, Patty Cake, "You see? Phil isn't all bad." Patty can't remember his name and so insists on calling him "Clydesdale." I tell her, "No, don't call him that. It's like the spirit of the horse stables haunting this place all over again."

Need I remind people about Evil Pink Pony?

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Squatter Activity at 422 30th Ave. N.?

Photo by John Hoff

422 30th Ave. N. has been breached, and I called it in to 311. This is the old brick house where I found Pookie's Purse. The inside of this place is devastated, and you'd have to be really desperate even by squatter standards to want to get inside.

What's up with the white cord? Yeah, I'm wanting to find that out myself. I'll get on it after the weekend when I don't have my kid with me. This house is next to 430 30th Ave. N., where there was recently a lot of squatter activity, so maybe some of the folks kicked out of 430 just migrated next door.

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2955 Lyndale Ave. N (Open To Trespass 3 Different Ways)

Photos by John Hoff

How is 2955 Lyndale Ave. N. open to trespass? Let me count the ways.

One: Basement window board pried off.

Two: Back door kicked open.

Three: Front windows lacking screens and cranked open.

I called it in to 311. The funny thing is I'm considering making this my next home purchase. I'll probably make my offer and the buyer will be insulted by it...yet they don't care enough about their property to get it secured despite the fact I called and left a message.

Oh, also...evidence of squatter activity inside, including pink flip flops. This place may very well be the new lair of Khameron Lake and Kathy the Prostitute, who knows?

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Rumors Of "Emergency Boarding Powers"

Photo by John Hoff

Part of the garage door at 400 30th Ave. N. was kicked out, but it didn't take long for boards to appear. The "official paper" on the boards looks quite different than the usual stuff from Castrejon, Inc.

In a discussion about another house, 430 30th Ave. N.--where a cat was trapped inside, but a bunch of phone calls and emails brought animal rescue--I heard from Jeff Skrenes that city inspectors now have "emergency boarding powers." This was how 430 30th Ave. N. got boarded up so quickly when squatters were found there. (But nobody noticed the cat until "Little Jane" saw the animal, threw some food in a window, and raised heck about it until somebody came to remove the animal)

In any case, the rumors of "emergency boarding power" are interesting, and I hope all my pushing and public acts of "volunteer boarding" had an impact.

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"Thanks For The Upgrade, Guys" (Photo 2)

Photo by John Hoff

Peter Teachout's minivan may have been slightly more comfortable, yet this weekend Peter INSISTED on taking his "insurance settlement truck" all the way to his parents' home in Wisconsin with his family packed inside.

Hey, when arsonist crack heads get you a vehicular upgrade like THIS, you want to show it off to your friends and relatives in The Peaceful Land of Cheese.

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"Thanks For The Upgrade, Guys" (Photo 1)

Photo by John Hoff

HACC Chair Peter Teachout poses with the new truck he received from an insurance settlement, after his other truck got torched on the Fourth of July.

Peter's thoughts on the matter are in the title of this post.

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Peter Teachout Is Very, Very Green

Photo by John Hoff

HACC Chair Peter Teachout gave me this old bike in his garage, which his wife used when she was a young girl in Wisconsin...but she doesn't want it anymore.

I am taking it to Varsity Bike Shop in Dinkytown, which receives donated bikes and fixes them up to sell. I once wrote a column about Varsity Bike, and all the old bikes I've donated.

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Prostitution on Lowry Avenue N.

Photo by John Hoff

This spot at the intersection of Lowry Ave. N. and 6th Street N., on the north side of Lowry Ave. N., is where a prostitute will often sit. I call this one "Little Kathy" because she looks like Kathy the Prostitute, but when you look closer you see she's smaller.

On this particular day, she fortified herself with a jug of water or juice, part of it just barely visible behind the fire hydrant. When she sees my vehicle, she goes away for a little while, but always comes back.

It's like stirring pond scum.

Lately I've noticed prostitution is the most intense during the last few days of the month.

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Leaving The Light On At 420 31st Ave. N.

Photo by John Hoff

Something positive seems to be happening at 420 30th Ave. N., which used to be full of crack-addicted squatters. A work crew arrived recently and took out all the junk which had been boarded up inside.

Also, the porch light has been fixed and left on, making the area marginally safer. A notice on the door says who can be called for questions or concerns about the property.

When I was telling my real estate agent, Juley Viger, why I wanted to buy another home in the neighborhood, I actually cited this house as a reason. I told her I know my neighborhood so well that I notice something as minor as a newly-activated porch light. So I don't want to go somewhere else and learn the neighborhood all over again. I've moved enough--from one end of the country to another--and now this place will be my home. I will stop moving and dig in to make a difference.

Here, I know the territory. I have a colorful personal history with virtually every building and I know the crack dealers and prostitutes by name when I call 911. In the midst of a major metropolitan city, I can look and say, "Hey...I see a porch light on which wasn't on before. I better find out what is happening."

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10-Year-Old Arson Suspect, Photo 7

Video capture courtesy of 612 Authentic, from video shot by John Hoff

This photo taken from the back does not reveal the identity of the suspect, a minor.

Based on the body language I see here, I'm guessing he is proclaiming his innocence. In this photo I can see there is some kind of object in his left hand, which seems to be a key dangling off a strap.

(Remember, the suspect reportedly set the fire because he was angry his mother didn't come home from work when she said. So it makes sense he might be a "latchkey kid" and be carrying the key to his house...apparently the very house which burned up)

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10-Year-Old Arson Suspect, Photo 6

Video capture courtesy of 612 Authentic, from video shot by John Hoff

This photo taken from the back does not reveal the identity of the suspect, a minor.

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10-Year-Old Arson Suspect, Photo 5

Video capture courtesy of 612 Authentic, from video shot by John Hoff

As this photo makes obvious, the house appeared a total loss. In fact, bystanders were expecting it to collapse in a blazing heap, but firemen managed to get the flames out...producing a charred, gutted shell which will almost certainly need to be demolished.

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10-Year-Old Arson Suspect, Photo 4

Video capture courtesy of 612 Authentic, from video shot by John Hoff

Though firemen were fighting the blaze, it kept spreading. The house appeared about 100 years old, and seemed to have the original wood siding. It was a pile of bone-dry kindling, painted white.

The large crowd watching was horrified. Why couldn't firemen stop the blaze? As one crew of firemen tried to put out the intensely burning truck--where the fire reportedly started and spread to the house--this corner was blazing right above their heads.

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10-Year-Old Arson Suspect, Photo 3

Video capture courtesy of 612 Authentic, from video shot by John Hoff

Pouring water on the flames produced so much steam bystanders often lost sight of the firemen.

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10-Year-Old Arson Suspect, Photo 2

Video capture courtesy of 612 Authentic, from video shot by John Hoff

I saw this fireman beat down the door and calmly enter the house. When civilians do this stuff, they get a medal and a plaque.

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10-Year-Old Arson Suspect, Photo 1

Video capture courtesy of 612 Authentic, from video shot by John Hoff

The blaze was on the 2100 block of Emerson, next to Juxtaposition Arts, according to feedback from one of my blog readers.

The fire started in an old truck in the back yard. Here, you see firemen putting out the truck.

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Good Neighbor Basket (Water Shut Off at 3119 4th Street)

Photo by John Hoff

The neighbor I call "Patty Cake" gave me this lovely gift basket with a card that said the following:

John, I just wanted to give you this small gift of gratitude. Thank you for helping make my neighborhood a safer place to live. Your enthusiasm is infectious and I appreciate your ability to use your gift to make others aware of what this neighborhood used to be, what it is now, and for helping make our future dreams a reality.

Here, my son holds the basket in front of Peter's house, which we were house sitting. I hardly had time to admire the basket before me and Patty Cake were dealing with the geyser at 3119 4th Street N.

But the good news is I checked this morning, and the water has been shut off. Thanks, Minneapolis Police Department, for getting in touch with the right people in the city and making that happen.

I'm sure it will be a soggy, moldy, horrific mess inside 3119 4th St. N--the cockroaches will love it!-- but at least the taxpayers have been saved the cost of the running water.

(My son found the large bag of plain M&Ms in the basket and announced, "These are MINE.")

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Eco-Village Tree Farm, Photo 2

Photo by John Hoff

Here is how the tree farm looks with trees. I remember there was some concern suspects fleeing from the police might be able to hide in the trees, but the foliage doesn't look thick enough for concealment. So that's good.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Eco-Village Tree Farm, Photo 1

Photo by John Hoff

Workmen came a few days ago, and prepared the vacant lot next to the Polish woman's house for a tree farm in the Eco-Village. People from all over the North Side will be able to obtain trees to beautify, oxygenate, and hold back rainwater runoff.

Both "Patty Cake" and the Polish woman are making sure the trees stay watered.

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The Polish Woman's Garden, Photo 5

Photo by John Hoff

More lovely blooms in the Polish woman's garden. To let in enough sunshine, she uses light and humble materials for fencing, such as simple chicken wire. When I visited today, her son had just taken her on a trip to Menard's to buy material for fence repairs.

When people lived at 3119 4th St. N., they would back vehicles into her fence, damaging it. She talked about times bullets had hit her house and once witnessed a drive-by shooting right next door, at 416 31st Ave. N.

Yet she and her husband would never think of moving away. Even if all our neighborhood revitalization efforts failed, and this place turned worse than before, the Polish woman and her garden would endure.

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The Polish Woman's Garden, Photo 4

Photo by John Hoff

The Polish woman packs so much variety into her garden that many interesting contrasts are created between various blooms. Here is one.

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The Polish Woman's Garden, Photo 3

Photo by John Hoff

Here are some of the Polish woman's red roses. She has a variety of roses. My favorite are the yellow roses, because they remind me of the good times I had in Fort Bliss, Texas.

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The Polish Woman's Garden, Photo 2

Photo by John Hoff

I've never seen a yellow tiger lily before, but then again there are a LOT of flowers in the Polish woman's garden I've never seen before.

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The Polish Woman's Garden, Photo 1

Photo by John Hoff

It's impossible to capture the Polish woman's garden, which contains an amazing, tightly compacted variety of fruits, flowers, vegetables and herbs. Rather than trying to capture the whole garden I decided to focus on a few close-ups.

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The Results of 96 Proof Plum-Flavored Polish Rocket Fuel

Video capture by 612 Authentic

I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old--I mean new--friends.

Seriously, I went to the Polish woman's house with Jake and Gabe, so we could videotape her spectacular flower garden, and her husband the professional Polish sausage maker *insisted* on sharing some Polish liquor with us...

For the record, Gabe didn't drink anything and I gave Gabe my vehicle keys so he could drive my crappy old car two, three blocks back to Peter's house, where I am still house sitting but trying to stay away from loaded weapons. I told myself I wouldn't drink and blog but I don't FEEL drunk.

Yet here is the photographic proof. Ninety-six proof, to be exact. That was some REALLY GOOD Polish liquor, served up with hand crafted Polish meats, made by this man right here, in the photo.

The Polish woman and her husband showed us photos from their life, including images of the Polish woman when she was a ravishing beauty queen, and her husband said all the time he had to be fighting men, because of her. One of the photos showed their snowy yard with three dogs, but it also showed 3119 4th Street N. in the background, and buildings which are no longer there.

It was a wonderful time, drinking and hearing Eastern European languages. I confessed I was half Bohemian on my mother's side, and the Polish guy insisted on calling me "Slovak." This is how the neighborhood once was--neighbors socializing amid flowers--and for a moment at the patio table in the garden, this is how it was again. And each day we work to make it this way again.

Of course, drinking plum-flavored Polish rocket fuel can hardly be considered "work." But somebody's got to do it.

Copper Theft Creates "Water World" Situation at 3119 4th St. N.

Photo by John Hoff

When I house sit at Peter Teachout's home, things at their residence are uneventful but it's the rest of the neighborhoood which ends up needing attention...like the last time I was house sitting and spotted the sex offender moving back into 3024 6th St. N.

We're still dealing with THAT mess.

Well, today was no different...

The neighbor I call "Patty Cake" knew I was house sitting, and she called me about a situation with 3119 4th Street N., now owned by the city and scheduled for demolition but, apparently, no time in the really near future. This morning she noticed a trash can had been pulled up to the front of the house, and a second story window above the trash can was pried open. Since there had been a manhunt in the neighborhood last night with a helicopter and everything, she was afraid somebody was still inside.

The situation was too urgent for 311 but (in this neighborhood) not urgent enough for 911. Oh, sure, the city says to call 911 about this stuff, but that word hasn't filtered down to the dispatchers or the cops on the street. It's NOT urgent and it won't be treated like it is urgent.


Yeah, so I told Patty I'd be right over, but first I had to pop some frozen corn and butter in the microwave, for my 11-year-old. But when I got THAT done I came right over.

Patty Cake was more courageous about going up to the building when another person was there, plus we had Jake and Gabe's video camera. Once we were close to the building we could hear water running inside--a lot of water. Somebody had apparently ripped out pipes. The Polish lady scared us by coming around the corner, so then there were three of us.

Patty called 911 and two police officers came. They said something to the effect REALITY was it's Saturday, and this isn't the only building in Minneapolis with water running inside of it. They offered the opinion the water must be DRAINING, since it wasn't flooding outside the building. I said the water was more likely slowly filling the basement. If nobody was going to go inside, there was no way to prove who was right.

One of them--I probably couldn't remember which one even under hypnosis, and the camera was off, I think, maybe--may have said or hinted something to the effect they wouldn't stop me if I wanted to go inside. The purpose of going inside, of course, would be to find a valve and turn off the water. Well, I was up for that mission, but it would have required a ladder. Patty thought she had a ladder. The Polish woman said her ladder was longer than Patty's.

The officers must have feared it could get ugly, this discussion about whose ladder was bigger and which ladder I would use. They wanted to know why we were so concerned about a building we didn't own, which was going to be knocked down anyway. It's a fair question.

I said something like, "This is our neighborhood. If we don't give a (expletive) about our own neighborhood, who will?" I may have also said, "You don't live here. We do. If nobody will do things for our neighborhood, we're kind of willing to do those things for ourselves."

The Polish woman said, "I have lived here 40 years. I give...a care...about my neighborhood." (She was rephrasing what I said, more delicately, like flowers growing in manure)

The two officers said maybe a police supervisor could advise them about what to do. They made some calls. In the meantime, I called Jeff Skrenes at HACC, who left a message with his regular city contact.

When the police came back, they said somebody had been contacted with the city, who would come out and shut off the water.

They wanted to know if that made us happy. I said it made us very happy, and I would make a point of saying nice things on my blog.

There were a lot of reasons to be concerned. First of all, it's a big waste of water. Second, the building is already apparently full of vermin. Flooding it won't help, at least as far as roaches are concerned. Third, if the entire basement is allowed to fill with water, pumping out all the basement before demolition will be more effort and cost, versus the relatively little effort and cost to simply shut off the water. Fifth, Patty Cake's basement floods even in a minor rainstorm, so a flooded basement next door could create a real mess.

Before leaving, one officer said the Polish woman's house was "the prettiest house on the block."

BREAKING NEWS: 10-year-old arson suspect in North Minneapolis house fire

Friday, August 1, at about 5:25 PM, a fire in an apparently inoperable truck parked near an old wood duplex left at least one family homeless as flames spread from the truck to the residence. 

The blaze was allegedly set by a 10-year-old who may have lived in the duplex, and was apprehended by bystanders and handed over to police. No deaths or injuries reported. Witnesses at the scene said a family lived at the duplex but were not certain whether both units were occupied. 

I witnessed the fire yesterday on my way to the south suburbs to pick up my 10-year-old son, and dashed over with a video camera. The footage is in the hands of Jake and Gabe from 612 authentic, and some of it was used last night on KSTP, but no story currently appears on their website. I hope to get images and video up eventually. (Though I will not be showing the face of the suspect, a minor)

Because it was a severe fire witnessed by many people, and folks might be seeking information, I will post what I know. The house is about a block off West Broadway. I do not have the exact address. I didn't know there would be so little media coverage or I would have made a point of obtaining the address.

Large black clouds of smoke were visible, drawing many onlookers. One witness at the scene said he noticed the smoke all the way from the Broadway Bridge over the Mississippi. The most intense part of the fire was in an over-sized truck in the back yard, which was completely destroyed, but fire had spread from the truck and gotten into the duplex.

The duplex was white, seemed about 100 years old, and was severely in need of a paint job due to areas of exposed wood. It would be fair to say the house looked like a firetrap. Some witnesses at the scene were excitedly saying the first name of a suspect, J., and saying "J---- did it. J---- set the fire!"

Two black males in their 20s, one wearing a sleeveless "wife beater" shirt and with his hair in cornrows, appeared on the sidewalk in front of the fire, forcibly escorting a young black male of approximately age 10, though quite tall and overweight for his age, wearing a plain white T-shirt. The male wearing his hair in cornrows grasped the boy by the right arm, forcing him forward. Bystanders were shouting, "He did it. This is him. Here he is."

The young male was turned over to a Minneapolis police officer on the scene, who appeared to take him into custody.

As fire ripped through the duplex and bystanders watched the Minneapolis fire department calmly, methodically fighting the blaze, various eyewitnesses pieced together the following account.

The suspect, J---- lives at or near the duplex. He is 10 years old and attends a church right near by, practically behind the duplex, which one bystander said was called "Faith Church."

J's mother did not return from work today at the time she said she would, making J angry, and causing him to set a fire in the old truck parked behind the duplex. At one point, J was throwing rocks at the fire. The fire got big and the size of the blaze scared J, so he ran away. J apparently lived at the duplex with his mother. 

A woman at the scene was crying loudly, and saying somebody ran into her house to alert her of the fire. It was unknown whether the woman lived in the duplex or next door, but since she was scene being questioned by a police officer, I assumed she lived in the house.

The house appeared to be a total loss. Two hours later, firemen were still at the scene of the blaze and the house appeared to be a gutted shell, but still standing.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Blue Tarp House (Photo 3)

Photo by John Hoff

The most visible portion of the tarp is relatively secure, but the house is in a high-profile location and the roof is a highly-visible eyesore.

One can't help but be reminded of the opening paragraphs of Stephen Crane's story, "The Blue Hotel."
THE Palace Hotel at Fort Romper was painted a light blue, a shade that is on the legs of a kind of heron, causing the bird to declare its position against any background. The Palace Hotel, then, was always screaming and howling in a way that made the dazzling winter landscape of Nebraska seem only a gray swampish hush. It stood alone on the prairie, and when the snow was falling the town two hundred yards away was not visible.

But when the traveler alighted at the railway station he was obliged to pass the Palace Hotel before he could come upon the company of low clap-board houses which composed Fort Romper, and it was not to be thought that any traveler could pass the Palace Hotel without looking at it.

Pat Scully, the proprietor, had proved himself a master of strategy when he chose his paints. It is true that on clear days, when the great trans-continental expresses, long lines of swaying Pullmans, swept through Fort Romper, passengers were overcome at the sight, and the cult that knows the brown-reds and the subdivisions of the dark greens of the East expressed shame, pity, horror, in a laugh. But to the citizens of this prairie town, and to the people who would naturally stop there, Pat Scully had performed a feat.

With this opulence and splendor, these creeds, classes, egotisms, that streamed through Romper on the rails day after day, they had no color in common.

As if the displayed delights of such a blue hotel were not sufficiently enticing, it was Scully's habit to go every morning and evening to meet the leisurely trains that stopped at Romper and work his seductions upon any man that he might see wavering, gripsack in hand.


(Opening paragraphs of this master work of American literature shortened for blog purposes)

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The Blue Tarp House (Photo 2)

Photo by John Hoff

This is the part of the tarp where the wind has really had its way, and tattered remnants continually flap in the breeze.

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"The Blue Tarp House" (Photo 1)

Photo by John Hoff

The house at the corner of Lyndale Ave. N. and 30st Ave. N--on the west side of Lyndale, kind of across from Bangkok Market--is simply called the "Blue Tarp House" by folks in the neighborhood.

Long ago, somebody used blue tarps to cover a bad roof, but the tarps have become severely weathered, and portions of them flap like the eerie, tattered sails of a ghost ship. While calling 311 about the open, unsecured doors and windows at 2955 Lyndale Ave. N., a house or two over, I snapped a few pictures for posterity.

Well, not that posterity will need the pictures any time soon. There's no indication the Blue Tarp House will be changing in the near future.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

BLOGGING BY SPECIAL REQUEST: ("My neighbor found another bullet hole in her house today")

Photo By A Good Citizen

I'm happy to "blog by request" and use the power of steady, pointed blogging to raise the profile of neighborhood issues...the interesting ones, anyway. (I am not a bulletin board)

One of those requests came today from a citizen who will remain anonymous, but he/she puts a lot of time and effort into the Hawthorne Area Community Council...

Here is his/her report on 2200 6th Street North, verbatim:

2200 6th Street North

This is another one of our "properties from hell" and has been for the past two years. According to City Property Records, this one was purchased by Bijan Bader in 12/05. He lists that address as his address, although he does not live there nor has he ever lived there. Interesting? What's up with that?

When we first started having problems here, I did some research and discovered he didn't have a rental license. I reported that in 10/06. Just to verify I had my dates right, I checked with 311 today. Yes, they had my complaint of no rental license on record. Guess what? There still isn't a rental license. This owner has gone without a rental license since 12/05 and still continues to rent the property. All this time, it has been one drug dealing tenant after another. The police scooped up a whole mess of them last night from the front porch and yard.

So, is this whole rental licensing thing just a joke? Why haven't these folks been kicked out of here if the owner can't legally rent it? Back in June, I found another property: 2127 North 6th with no rental license. This is another one of our gang-banging pieces of crap and has been for the past year. Let's see how that one plays out with the city. I bet you anything the owner gets her license if she fills out the form and pays the $61 fee.

(In an earlier communication, the same good citizen told me some of the following)

We're kind of running out of options here on 22nd and 6th. Up until early this summer, we thought we were getting a handle on the dealing around here. The police response has been fantastic, so we have absolutely no complaints with them. They're doing everything they can do to the best of our knowledge.

There are numerous addresses involved in this crap--some rental, 3 owner-occupied, but the one that has been escalating for the past three years is 2207 6th Street N.

This is an owner-occupied property; grandma taking care of a whole mess of her kids and their kids and now all the gang-banging friends and their associates. It started out 3 years ago with a couple of the teenage boys selling out of the front yard. Now it appears to be the main meeting ground for all the other gang members who work the neighborhood.

Over the weekend, my 70 plus year old neighbor had another bullet come through her house; the result of these people and their associates. She heard the shot fired, called it in and discovered the bullet hole and bullet in her house the next day. Needless to say, she's beside herself.

Her granddaughter found the bullet and is scared to death. This is the second time this has happened to her. There was also a drive-by shooting at 2207 some time in June and a few others I can't recall the details of right now.

We were calling 911 when we see something we can report. Here's the big problem we're encountering: the dealers are getting smarter. Long gone are the days when drug deals took place from the front door of a property. These people sell in the street in front of the house, they sell on the street corner, they sell at a boarded property next door.

Sure, the cops arrest when they can, but it's always small amounts. It doesn't stop anything. more importantly, none of these arrests or whatever count as a strike against a particular property, in this case 2207 6th Street North.

There's a Nuisance Property Ordinance used to shut down both rental and even owner-occupied properties, but all the documented illegal activities have to take place on the property. If the dealers can't be arrested on the property you're (expletive) as far as being able to use this ordinance.

I simply don't know what other tools we can use to make this crime go away. It's been at least three years we've been dealing with this one. We're angry, frustrated and tired. We want grandma and her family gone. That's the only solution. They will never change.

Keep in mind, I didn't even mention another owner-occupied property we've been dealing with for over 10 years. Same situation.

(In a follow-up message, he/she citizen reported the following)

My neighbor found another bullet hole in her house today. Most likely one she missed from the incident over the weekend, but there was more gunfire last night.

(Readers, if you have stories like this then email me the details and, preferably, a picture. I have a picture with all of my posts, but I prefer to use actual images and not something generic from a photo sharing website)

Monday, July 28, 2008

422 33rd Ave. N. (This House Is A Crispy Critter, Photo 4)

Photo by John Hoff

This photo shows the interesting contrast between the burned and relatively unburned portions of the exterior. What happened to the vinyl siding on the burned part? Well, I assume it's now in the air we all breathe.

Note the dedicated boarding work. But those blank boards just cry out for some beautification. Maybe some butterflies, sandy beaches...something warm and summery, I think, to make the very best use of the mood created by the charred boards!

No, don't even think I'm being sarcastic. If I'm being sarcastic, I will let you know, since my sarcasm font is broken and I always give manual notification. I am, if anything, an optimist and an artist.

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422 33rd Ave. N. (This House Is A Crispy Critter, Photo 3)

Photo by John Hoff

Parts of the house are so burned, it appears to be built out of charcoal. Each time it rains, black charcoal-laden run-off will end up in the storm drain and the house will weaken further.

All the same, I'm sure Khameron Lake would be quite willing to live inside with his prostitute, Kathy.

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422 33rd Ave. N. (This House Is A Crispy Critter, Photo 2)

Photo by John Hoff

Wow, somebody actually went inside to nail those boards up over the windows. I'll bet they were worried every moment about falling through the floor. The guys who did this sure didn't get paid enough.

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422 33rd Ave. N. (This House Is A Crispy Critter, Photo 1)

Photo by John Hoff

I stumbled upon this house at 422 33rd Ave. N. when I was going around the block to take a picture of a hooker on Lowry Avenue North. I've seen a lot of burned out houses on the North Side which need to be demolished, but for some reason--maybe because it's so close to my block--I found this one interesting.

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Mortgage Crisis Means "Golden Age Of Dumpster Diving"

Photo by Anthony Souffle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, fair comment and criticism

I was blogging on my other blog, www.towingutopia.com, about a towing scandal in St. Louis, and while perusing the St. Louis Post-Dispatch I came across this (excellent) picture, above, attached to a great story about the mortgage crisis. The guy in the picture is cleaning out possessions in a foreclosed house.

And, thinking back to what I saw at 3101 6th Street North and 3119 4th Street North, it occurred to me...the mortgage crisis has created a new, golden age of dumpster diving!

1.) Directly and indirectly because of the mortgage crisis, people are broke and needing to save money. (Solution: go dumpster diving!)

2.) Because of the mortgage crisis, numerous households are getting uprooted, producing a drastic influx of possessions to hit the curb. (Solution: go dumpster diving!)

No doubt about it. We are living in the best of all possible times. We need to enjoy this. We need to hang on to these moments.

To buy my two books on the subject of dumpster diving, check out this link right here and search under my pen name, "John Hoffman." But like I always say: Be frugal. Get your books from a library.

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City Buys Roach Motel (3119 4th Street North)

Photo by John Hoff

Word has reached me the City of Minneapolis now owns 3119 4th Street North, which is slated for demolition. (The trash in this picture was removed a few days ago)

I've been trying to publicize the issue of the vermin infestation, urging a quicker demolition before 3119 4th Street fills the neighborhood with rats and roaches.

Unknown what the vermin situation is at 3101 6th Street N., the OTHER "Apartment Complex of Anarchy," but given the fact conditions at that building were MUCH WORSE for a prolonged period of time, one suspects the rats have themselves a palace and are contemplating a bold expansion of their empire into the surrounding neighborhood...

On another note: the Spring 2008 Hawthorne newsletter actually used the term "Apartment Complexes of Anarchy," which originated on this blog. It was pretty cool to see that.

Punker Punches Debutante In Dinkytown, Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood (Photo Two)

Photo by John Hoff

Here is a second photo of the group. I'm posting it because...well, maybe somehow their parents might get word of their whereabouts. If I run into them again, I might try to get more information. I've also sent an email to the police department requesting the police report about the incident, so I can find out their names.

They are silly children who imagine themselves wise and worldly. I worry about them.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Punker Punches Debutante in Dinkytown, Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood (Photo One)

Photo by John Hoff

Yes, my self-appointed journalistic blog beat does cover the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood from time to time, especially when it's something this colorful and I actually have a photo of the participants...

Last night I had...well, OK, a date. A woman I met, um, on the internet(s). We met at the Kitty Kat Club in Dinkytown, then when the club grew noisy we went to a bunch of other noisy clubs, briefly, until we ended up at The Steak Knife. She's a serious vegetarian, but she managed to find some kind of veggie pita on the menu.

She was fascinated by the Dinkytown night life, the endless array of students carrying paper plates with single slices of pizza from Mesa Pizza. I told her how, on any weekend, you could sit and watch altercations, random puking, college women who don't have the grown-up good sense to wear their "big girl shoes" and instead walk barefoot on the dark sidewalks, just a visual buffet of violent, chaotic fun. I told her about the column I wrote called "Fear and loathing at zero miles an hour" and I should have told her about that crazy night when I tried to help some guy with (as it turned out later) a stab wound in his neck.

Sitting on a bench, we saw the things I had predicted: 1.) Women unable to walk in "big girl shoes," 2.) Students so drunk they were falling over, though when the women fell over they didn't go unassisted for very long. 3.) Puking.

There wasn't really a good altercation, and we'd decided to call it a night and walk together to her vehicle, when the chaotic madness which is Dinkytown on the weekend broke loose all at once.

There were some street youth, homeless, punk rocker type kids sitting in front of the post office, one of them playing a guitar for spare change. Suddenly there was some kind of physical altercation between two males, one of them a big punk rocker and the other seemingly some random college guy. There was a lot of sissified shoving and words shouted. At one point, as weird as this seems, I thought I heard the punk rock guy say, "I'll give you $20 bucks to leave me and my friends alone" while the shoves went back and forth.

I had my finger poised over the "9" on my cell phone, but I didn't call the cops quite yet because sissies shoving at each other's shoulders and spatting like angry kittens doesn't really merit a police response, even if it would technically count as assault. So many times I've seen the situation abruptly de-escalate as friends intervene and pull the angry participants apart, and I hate telling a 911 operator, "Never mind."

At that very moment--though we didn't know it at the time--a man lay shot and dying in the parking lot of the Fourth Street Bar on the North Side, a couple blocks from where I'd watched the "human chess tournament" the day before. In fact, two people were murdered the same day in separate incidents. But the drunk college kids in Dinkytown were, as usual, sucking up more than their fair share of police resources. (See my opinion column, "Send the 'party patrol' to North Minneapolis.")

The sissy slapping contest continued for a bit--enough time for my date to speculate the college student had tried to make change out of the open guitar case, and that had started the argument--I could hear it had something to do with leaving stuff alone, not touching other people's stuff, something along those lines.

All of a sudden, two women were wrestling, a dog was barking madly, and the punk rock guy who had been sissy-slapping with the college guy rushed into the middle of the melee between the two women. I saw actual punches being thrown and now I was dialing 911, but one and then two police cars pulled up that very moment and I didn't need to complete the call.

A small punk rock girl with a pink Mohawk haircut was arrested and put in the back of a squad car. I saw the police making the other punk rockers disperse, repeatedly, and it looked like an arrest or another wrestling match would start. The whole time, yards away, college students waited in line for pizza, not breaking from the line and losing their place.

A tall, leggy, long-haired brunette girl in a black cocktail dress was receiving medical attention from one of the officers. My date saw blood pouring out of the young woman's nose and speculated her nose was broken. I couldn't see blood from where I was watching, not in such bad light, but her face had something dark on it and the officer did appear to be paying attention to her nose.

"She looks like a debutante," I told my date. "That punk rock girl in the pink Mohawk must have hit her."

I couldn't resist pointing out THIS was what we had been waiting to see, and how fortunate it happened before we left so we didn't miss it.

I wanted to find out the story, somehow, but my date didn't want to get any closer to the action. It was already worrisome to walk to the parking lot with the angry, frustrated punk rockers wandering around. They did indeed wander right past while we stood at her car and talked.

After she left, I walked back toward The Library bar and grill, and I overheard some discussion among some college students about why the altercation had started. I heard, "One of their dogs got away, and Jesse grabbed the leash."

I heard another say, "Can you believe it? All this for a stupid dog."

The next day, after I parked my vehicle, I saw some of the punk rockers begging for change at the I-35 offramp, the one right before the bridge construction. The punk rocker with the pink Mohawk was there and I though, "Wow, I can't believe they let her out of jail so easily."

I had two very special beers in my vehicle, left over from cleaning my house before the sale. I'd found these beers inside 415 31st Avenue North, the house involved in the complex lawsuit with Citimortgage, and I'd removed the beers (two big cans of Steel Reserve) to keep them from falling into the hands of minors.

For myself, I can't stand beer. The smell alone makes me want to gag. But I hate to see things go to waste. With those two unopened beers--handed to the male, who looked to be easily over the age of 21--and a fistful of change, I managed to get the group to tell me the story.

Pink Mohawk claimed some crazy college students were saying, "Homeless people shouldn't have dogs. You're not taking care of your dogs." They were threatening to call the police and get Animal Control to take the dogs. A college girl grabbed the dog's leash and tried to make off with the dog and that's when the fight broke out, first among the two women--Pink Mohawk and the debutante-looking brunette--then one of the guys jumped into the fray.

The male claimed he had been arrested and put in a squad car for punching the college girl, but he had not punched her--he did not hit women, he said--rather it was his friend who looked a lot like him.

Currently, they were trying to leave town for Seattle, but there was talk of returning for the protests at RNC 2008 in late August, early September. Pink Mohawk wanted to build a raft and float down the Mississippi all the way to New Orleans. I suggested she should purchase a boat, instead, something proven to be water-worthy, but she was enamored with the idea of building a raft and floating down the river.

I urged them to call their parents and let them know their whereabouts. (I can't help it, I was deeply influenced by reading "Into The Wild" and watching the movie) I also added, lamely but for the record, "Remember, violence is not the answer."

I find myself not sure who or what to believe. Based on the two accounts I heard and what I observed, this is what I think happened. Some college students did indeed level some random criticisms about the punk rockers and their treatment of their animals. In my observation, college students are infamous for a particular type of immature act: unprovoked verbal criticisms leveled at random strangers, especially while walking around drunk.

They are young, naive and tender. Life has not yet taught them how a harsh word casually tossed around may result in a sudden blast of violent rage. They will learn. If they live.

I think that's what the initial pushing and verbal back-and-forth was about. I also don't think the young man came up with the notion of confronting the punk rockers all on his own. I think the brunette female was the one overwhelmingly concerned with the dogs, and the male was more concerned with...well, maybe he is a cat lover.

I think the young man may have actually offered money for the dogs, or suggested simply handing over the dogs, all because he wanted to impress the girl. One of the dogs got loose during the pushing and shoving and the college girl--obviously quite an animal lover--was concerned the animal would run into the street and get hit by a car, so she instinctively grabbed the trailing leash.

This caused two things to happen: 1.) The dog was probably yanked back hard on its leash, if it was running full-tilt. 2.) The college girl was physically handling and taking possession of the dog, which was the whole point of the dispute.

So the punk rock girl grabbed for the leash, as well. And the college girl who cared so much about the welfare of this animal didn't want to let go. She wanted to talk, to negotiate, to reason. The two began to have a physical altercation and, well, the college girl is about twice as big as the punk rock girl.

So the punk rock guy went over there and just DECKED THE DEBUTANTE, WHAM. The dispute was turning into a violent ball of people and one frantically yapping dog when the police rolled up.

Then again...I'm not sure. I want to label this as speculation.

For the record, the girl with the pink Mohawk denied the college girl suffered a broken nose, but said proudly, "She was covered in blood."

In the photo above, note they not only have two dogs--both pit bulls--but the male has a pet black-and-white rat in his shirt collar. It is a male. Its pink testes were amazingly prominent. The dog involved in the altercation is not one of the dogs pictured here. There were several other members of the group, and they were elsewhere when this photo was taken.

I think these punk rockers are unwise to remain around the campus. Punching a hot college girl in the face is bound to stir up all kinds of young men who will be looking for an opportunity to be knights in shining armor.

Yes, college kids have a kind of dangerously naive immaturity, but the punk rockers--despite literally living on the street--have their own naive blind spots. Last night was the blind punching the blind.

Sex Offender Update: Eviction Proceedings August 13

Photo by John Hoff

Word from Jeff Skrenes is that eviction proceedings will take place on August 13 against Junaid Maalik, the squatter/sex offender still living at the foreclosed and beyond-redemption house at 3024 6th Street North, currently owned by US Bank & Trust.

Jeff didn't have more details. We both agreed it certainly wasn't fast enough.

Above, you can see Junaid Maalik literally looking over his shoulder. That feeling he gets of somebody watching him is from somebody watching him.

The telephoto function on my digital camera isn't very sophisticated, but it gets the job done. And no, I'm not sure who the woman is. I suspect it is Junaid's supervising officer or a former co-worker from the job where I got his (expletive) fired, one or the other.

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Human Chess Tournament, Photo Nine (Back To the Box)

Photo by John Hoff

This is how chess games end, with the pieces all jumbled together but apparently getting along. The young boy in the yellow shirt was probably the deadliest player on the board.

Yes, a good time was had by all!

Later that night, a few blocks away, some guy died in a shooting at the Fourth Street Bar.

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Human Chess Tournament, Photo Eight (Waiting For Their Doom)

Photo by John Hoff

Like sheep at a slaughterhouse, the chess people passively await their gruesome fates.

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