The boarding house, by Don Astaldo
Oil on Canvas & blue marker, 63 x 88 cm
Ofir Hirsh, 2001

“What happened?” I asked John, who approached me smiling and shook my hand. The pastor from the neighboring crematory was screaming in Spanish in the background, while we both looked at the two police patrol cars that parked in front of the boarding house.
“Did you meet the two new guys from room # 5 ?” John asked, and continued: “They wanted to celebrate, so they called an escort girl. After they finished, they told her they ran out of money. She pulled out a pistol from her purse, shot one of them in his foot and walked out of the room shouting and cursing everyone in the yard. So after the ambulance took the bleeding guy to the hospital, the cops came and are now investigating his roommate and some of the other guys in the yard.”
I met John World at a hostel in South Beach, Miami, in New Year’s eve 2001. He came from Cameroon, on a UN scholarship, for completing his PhD in Economics. We were both looking for cheap accommodation.
A few days later, I came across a neglected ‘boarding house’ in a neglected neighborhood. Its residents had typically just come out of jail, recovering from drug addiction, or both. The charge was 25$ per week for a shared room and 100$ for a single room in a separate building, across the street, for independent people in a more advanced situation.
I encountered an ugly but spacious room on the 2nd floor and was taken by the four huge windows that filled it with natural light. When I came back to the hostel to pick up my stuff, I told John about the boarding house. He was terrified by my description, but I gave him the address, just in case. He showed up after a few days, quite desperate, as his scholarship money he was waiting for hadn’t arrived yet. I loaned him some money and he ‘checked-in’ in one of those shared rooms. He was the only sober person near the office when Jack, the owner, appeared the night after and caught the manager injecting himself a dangerous, illegal drug inside the office. While Jack was waiting for the police, he had a nice conversation with John, and he immediately appointed him as the new manager, on a salary, private room, and benefits. John and I became good friends. We exercised together in what we called the “poor people’s park’ and went several times to the Everglades together, where John found ‘The leaves of God’, a medicinal tropical plant that his family in Cameroon uses for generations to cure everything. As the manager of the boarding house he ordered on my room’s renovation.
A few days after moving into my room, I discovered my two other lost brothers who shared the 2nd floor with me, Tony Haley and Karl King, . They were my best neighbors ever.
Tony, a former U.S army explosive expert, who left the army because of racism, was a smart and smiley guy, and very quiet whenever his girlfriends weren’t visiting. He was an admirer of big black women.
Karl was kind and generous and extremely clean. He gave our floor and balcony a 5 star treatment.
He was a lost soul. Mainly because of a very rough childhood in the hood. We sat together in the evenings in our balcony, drinking whatever we could afford and smoking cheap cigars, and under purple skies, he told me his horrible memories. He kept telling me that he’s so lonely and that if something should ever happen to him, no one will care, he will be forgotten and his body will rot before anyone will find him.
The last brother I must mention is Jose Florio, who resided in another area of Miami.
I met Jose in Miami’s public hospital. I had an ear infection. He got shot. Seven times, all over his body. Sometimes life gives you a new perspective. We had an immediate click. We hanged out together and had endless honest conversations about life, death, love, money and religion.
Many years have passed by, but I still cherish my long lost brothers from Miami, and their stories still inspire me.