City houses like city people do not stand alone. They prefer company, nestling shoulder to shoulder in parade formation as if in a pageant – which of course city life is.
When they are demolished to make way for another apartment building, it is as if they have broken ranks, their former place marked by a scar. All that persists is the painted patchwork of room remains that are left hanging like a Piet Mondrian mural on the walls of neighboring buildings, a suspended last-minute testimony to all that was within.
Thanks to the diligent work of sledgehammers, walls thought to divide neighbor from neighbor are revealed to be what joined them all along.
For a while, those splotches of paint, temporary tombstones of lime and acrylic, will grace these cityscapes. It is a melancholy sight, like bunting the day after a rained-out celebration. Too much is revealed. These are things we shouldn’t see. It seems an indiscretion: in a city where everything is exteriors and wrought-iron grates and concrete sidewalks and cobble-stoned streets, it is strange to see such interior spaces revealed to all prying eyes. There is the wallpaper chosen for a new child’s room; the bathroom whose paint had been overtaken by mildew; or a bedroom whose daring color was a mistake but a mistake soon learned to be lived with. Now every passer-by can look up and cast judgement.
And seeing what I don’t want to see – but riveted all the same — I think of the final day, the day when the last thing of value was removed. Only those objects that had lost their value were left behind: a chair with a cracked leg, a toy that was broken and nobody wanted, empty boxes, papers and garbage bags. Who after all, would bother to clean a house that would soon not be?
And so the last thing of value was removed. And then the demolition crew came in. Before long, they were covered in the chalky dust that is the basic building block of all life. Dust to dust. Their heavy sledges rang out with dull thuds that sundered walls that had withstood years. And rooms that had once echoed with living and song were soon leveled. Workers jested and shouted and nibbled their way implacably downward: first the roof then the upper story walls and then even the ground floor until one day there was just an empty space, covered in rubble.
And the demolition crew was glad of a job well done. They sat down to rest and celebrate on a pile of rubble that was once a house. The mural of what had once been rooms glared at those who sat oblivious in a circle and passed a Coke bottle around to slake the thirst caused by so much dust.