Sunday, June 24, 2012

Charlie's Life

He has lived in the Central neighborhood of Cleveland for more than 60 years. He is 80, with the energy of someone younger. He carries a cane but says he doesn't really need it. The index finger of his left hand is missing.

He has seen a lot of changes in his decades in Cleveland. "See that corner? Used to be a filling station. That used to be a store over there, you could buy flour or sugar for ten cents. The slumlords came in, they would take a broken bathtub from one house and put it in another. There was a lot of drugs here. Then they cleared everything away, put up new stuff.

"I came up from Tampa, Florida by myself when I was 13. I didn't like Florida. I was in Pittsburgh, and then I came to Cleveland." He worked for many years at the Ford plant in Brook Park, and later at the community college, whose logo is on the T-shirt he wears. "That was a good job -- they have good insurance," he says, indicating the small pharmacy bag he is carrying, with the medications he says are keeping him going.

Standing in front of a historic church, he recalls his long-ago wedding there. His marriage later faltered due to his drinking. "I was an alcoholic — lost my family to it. I was into anything — wine, canned heat [Sterno]. You drink that, you stay drunk for a week. Sometimes I slept over there," he says, pointing to a grassy field across the street. Eventually, he got sober. "I haven't had a drink for 40 years."

"This neighborhood is coming back a little. Me and him"  — he indicates a neighbor — "we're the only ones been here all these years."

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