Taking the stairs and beginning to walk down the long and narrow third-floor corridor, I realize that there are many, many minuscule rooms carved out of this small hulk of a building. I pass the elevator, where a tall goateed white guy in his late 30s, wearing some kind of sweater vest over his white T-shirt, is exiting. He’s not muscular but experienced and confident. He’s wearing either a pendant or keys or both on a long neck cord. He notices but does not acknowledge me, unlike the Latino and black guys I encountered downstairs. Next to the elevator is a heavy red fire door, with the following in white letters: “WARNING! THERE MAY BE FIRE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS DOOR!” At least these particular fears are confirmed by somebody — but what about the rest, like the ominous “private shower rooms,” the ones that are “out of order,” “do not use,” “yada yada” — why don’t they simply lock these up? Someone could get murdered in there, or worse. I don’t see or hear anyone in the grim hallway as I pass by scores of rooms seemingly laid out in a large square pattern, and then I come to #310, the number on my key card.
I go in, and there’s a coverless toilet staring me in the face, slightly to my right. The bed close by on my left takes up about half of the jail cell–like room. There’s a sink, a mini TV, a few small drawers and short shelves for one’s meager possessions. Real downsized. I look out the window at the double-jointed red metro rail car with huge mechanical breathing mechanisms on its roof. Or else it’s part of the motor. I’m not as observant about all these things as I might be because I’m nervous and want out fast. I do notice that the place is institutionally clean but worn. That makes it even more like jail. As I make my way down the anonymous tunnel towards the elevator, I hear the only sounds I’ve heard on the third floor, both in my coming and going. It appears to be the voice of a white female in one of the rooms. “This is bullshit!” she says loud and clear. You got that right, momma, you got that exactly right! ■