Life at Sloane House YMCA


Death and Drugs

Because of the varieties of people living in Sloane House, there were many crimes. I had been a victim numerous times. Big John was the security chief when I started. He was in his late 60’, a retired New York City policeman. There were not many expressions on his face. But he was a kind man. Every morning he would say hello to me with his deep but clear Irish accent. With 3 grand kids, he was about to retire again, he told me. But one evening, around 7:00pm, I got a bad news: Big John was in a serious condition at St. Vincent Hospital. He was stabbed while he was making his daily routine checking in the basement. I couldn’t believe it. There were only a few days left before his second retirement and he was so much looking forward to that day and now this. I didn’t know where the hospital was so I took a cab to St. Vincent Hospital. When he saw me, his face lit up. He didn’t expect I would be there. It was heart breaking to see him lying in a hospital bed with the bandage on him. He almost died of the stab wounds. Big John recovered slowly. He came to Sloane House say goodbye to us when he was able to walk. He finally retired from his job. How safe could it be when your security chief almost got killed? That was the situation at Sloane House.

Just a few months after I started working behind the Hospitality Center, one morning, a group of tourists angrily cornered a Jamaican guy. It was a big scene so I went over to investigate. It turned out this Jamaican dude pretended to be a student at Columbia University and befriended some tourists. All of them happened to be Europeans whom I could not say were street smart people. After a few drinks, he would say he needed a favor from everyone. He owed some tuition to the University and his family was wiring it to him. But the school would kick him out if he didn’t have the money by next day. He needed to borrow some money so he would remain in school and he promised he would pay them in two days when the wired money arrived. Otherwise he would be out of school. His story was so convincing, everyone opened their wallet to help him out of sympathy. Little did they know this dude disappeared in next few days. Believing these tourists would be gone then, he re emerged. But to his surprise, they were still here and wanted their money back…

Realizing there was no way out, he just sat there, lowering his head to avoid any eye contact with the angry crowd. The tourists asked me to call the police and I did. Ten minutes later, two policemen came and they questioned both the lending party and the borrowing party. Half an hour later, they came to the conclusion that they had to let the guy go. I was very shocked at their decision. How could they let the criminal get away? He cheated people out of their money! He should be locked up until he re-paid the money back. The police patiently explained to everyone including me that the lending party was a willing partner in this transaction. The guy did not force them to lend the money to him. He did not commit any crime here. The way they explained it to me demonstrated their knowledge about the law and they executed it flawlessly, at least in this incident.

One night, around 11:45pm, I was getting myself ready to close my shift. I heard some sirens and ambulance right in front of the entrance door. I tried to run out and a police blocked the door from outside to make sure medical staff and the ambulance complete their work. I went back to the front desk and wanted to know what happened. Ten minutes later, a policeman came in and told the manager and I that a man had jumped out of the window and landed on the ground in front of the building. The victim’s head hit the flag pole before his body reached the ground, killing him instantly. He showed me the picture ID of the dead man. I recognized the man: I had just checked him in at around 10:00pm for a room on the 14th floor. He was a young man, in his 30s with a nice jacket. It shook me up. I sat there quietly for about half an hour, wondering what had happened that he had to kill himself.

The 4th floor was designated for students who did not belong to schools like SVA or Parsons who had a long term contract with Sloane House Y. Dawn and Lily both lived on this floor. Some of my other friends lived on that floor as well so I came to this floor often. The odor on this floor was a bit strong to me in the begining, but gradually I got to know that a certain section of this floor was a drug zone. Each night there were some activities going on. One evening, after dinner, I went to the 4th floor, visiting Dawn. Her room door was open. Her boy friend, the art student was in her room. He usually was a quiet guy. But that evening he was erratic. He uncharacteristically laughed hysterically all the time and making unfriendly comments on just anyone walking by the door. I asked Dawn what was going on. She told me he just smoked marijuana. I didn’t know marijuana had such effect on people. I couldn't help but shaking my head wondering if my fellow countrymen like this during the Opium War a century and half ago. For this very reson, Chinese (well, most of us) would stay away from drugs. We knew the consequence of being addicted to drugs.

When I was in college back in China, our campus was on the outskirt of the city, next to a farm land. A few farmers lived in a farm house right by the entrance of our college. One day our new English teacher, a lady from Wisconsin walking with us after a class in the afternoon, suddenly stopped with her jaw wide opened, as if she just discovered a new continent. She was looking at cannabis sativa growing by one farmer’s fence. We didn’t know what the excitement was about. She pulled out her camera and started asking us to take pictures for her standing next to the plants. She said growing marijuana in America was illegal. We didn’t understand the fuss. I told her when I was a kid, my buddies and I usually played hide-and- seek in cannabis sativa field, and using the seed as baits to catch birds. Farmers were not happy about it and they would chase us out of the field. They used the plant to make ropes in the fall. I had seen farmers harvesting the plants and left them in the pond for days before they peel the skin off for rope making. But I had never heard or seen anyone smoking it.

Big John never told us what exactly happened to him the night he was stabbed in the basement, but it was rumored that he was stabbed for busting a drug transaction there. Because of this, I didn’t like these people. I tried to stay away from them as much as possible and they did the same.

One spring morning-it was raining outside. I got to the shower room down the hallway, just about to get ready for the day. I heard some noises coming from the court yard side of the building. I stuck my head out of the window to find out what was going on. I saw a few more heads sticking out of the window. Without my glasses, everything was a blur. I could not see anything. I asked a guy from other side of the building what was going on. Recognizing I was the staff of Sloane House, he pointed his finger at something in the courtyard, telling me there was a woman lying on top of the second floor roof, facing down half naked. “Looks, she is dead!” he shouted to me. Right away I yelled out loud asking people to call police. Realizing I might have to face police and my manager about the incident, I thought I might as well just finish my shower. I finished my shower quickly and ran down stairs front desk. I was told the police already left with the body. I never heard anything about this case afterwards. Nobody even bother to ask me about it at all. Sloane House did not want to make it a big deal for obvious reasons.


At 2:48 PM, Blogger Scanman said...

I remember the smell that used to envelope the elevator when the door to the 5th floor would open. That was the floor of the dead. The nursing home floor. Man, I don't envy anyone who stayed on the 4th floor with the pit view.

I had an opportunity to see the apartments that were being renovated back in 96 but chose not to, a decision I regret. I'd really like to know how extensive the renovations were.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Scanman said...

Oh yeah in the time I was there, the women's bathroom added one of those numbered security locks, because of the creeps who wanted to hook up with "loose" American women.


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