[BOOK INTRO] Barack Obama's Autobiography - "Dreams From My Father"
with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work, so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle. None of this concerned me much, for I didn’t get many visitors. I was impatient in those days, busy with work and unrealized plans,
and prone to see other people as unnecessary distractions. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate company exactly. I enjoyed exchanging Spanish pleasantries with my mostly Puerto Rican neighbors, and on my way back from classes I’d usually stop to talk to the boys who hung out on the stoop all summer long about the Knicks or the gunshots they’d heard the night before. When the weather was good, my roommate and I might sit out on the fire
escape to smoke cigarettes and study the dusk washing blue over the city, or watch white people from the better neighborhoods nearby walk their dogs down our block to let the animals shit on our curbs—“Scoop the poop, you bastards!” my roommate would shout with impressive rage, and we’d laugh at the faces of both master and beast, grim and unapologetic as they hunkered down to do the deed. I enjoyed such moments—but only in brief. If the talk
began to wander, or cross the border into familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself. I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew. I remember there was an old man living next door who seemed to share my disposition. He lived alone, a gaunt, stooped figure who wore a heavy black overcoat and a misshapen fedora on those rare occasions when he left his apartment. Once in a while
I’d run into him on his way back from the store, and I would offer to carry his groceries up the long flight of stairs. He would look at me and shrug, and we would begin our ascent, stopping at each landing so that he catch his breath. When we finally arrived at his apartment, I’d carefully set the bags down on the floor and he would offer a courtly nod of acknowledgment before shuffling inside and
closing the latch. Not a single word would pass between us, and not once did he ever thank me for my efforts. The old man’s silence impressed me; I thought him a kindred spirit. Later, my roommate would find him crumpled up on the third-floor landing, his eyes wide open, his limbs stiff and curled up like a baby’s. A crowd gathered; a few of the women crossed themselves, and the smaller children whispered with excitement. Eventually
the paramedics arrived to take away the body and the police let into the old man’s apartment. It was neat, almost empty—a chair, a desk, the faded portrait of a woman with heavy eyebrows and a gentle smile set atop the mantelpiece. Somebody opened the refrigerator and found close to a thousand dollars in small bills rolled inside wads of old newspaper and carefully arranged behind mayonnaise and pickle jars. The loneliness of the scene affected me, and
for the briefest moment I wished that I had learned the old man’s name. Then, almost immediately, I regretted my desire, along with its companion grief. I felt as if an understanding had been broken between us— as if, in that barren room, the old man was whispering an untold history, telling me things I preferred not to hear. It must have been a month or so later, on a cold, dreary November morning, the sun faint
behind a gauze of clouds, that the other call came. I was in the middle of making myself breakfast...
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