Life hasn’t been kind to Mostafa Saifula lately, but he remembers what a “normal life” used to feel like.
Russell “Rusty” Green hauls buckets of tools from in front of a home just north of West Roosevelt Drive, where he’s just finished a concrete stoop. Green’s fingertips, stained with a thin, permanent-looking layer of white dust, match his grizzled beard. “We’re losing our future,” Rusty says, as he leans against his cream-colored pickup truck. “See, the youth are our future, right? And this is how we live forever, this is how our name stays in the book of life forever — through our kids, grandkids and so on, and so forth.
Richie Rich leans against a tree near the corner of 36th and Concordia. He wears a flat-brimmed baseball cap and long jean shorts; a keychain, gilded in gold, hangs from a belt buckle. He’s hesitant to speak and refuses to give his real name. “All these shootin’s and robberies, I see that shit e’ry day; [people] just only see it on the news — I’m out here in that shit. So, I don’t even watch the news because I see it anyway, face to face.”
Kevin Carlton stands just outside a cluttered garage south of National Avenue in an alley off of 47th Street. Carlton, who displays tattoos from under a cut-off white shirt, has only been in Milwaukee for two years, but it’s been a long road here. “I grew up in a rough family; my dad died when I was 2 — he got hit by a drunk driver on the freeway and mom raised five of us,” he says. “I was the youngest one out of the clan, so, I really didn’t have a chance to miss him. But, you know, earthquakes and the beaches — I love the beaches; that’s all I miss. California is full of people, too crowded.”
Art Brown walks down the middle of a trash-strewn alley south of Locust Street between 17th and 16th Streets. Brown just came from the corner store on Locust; with concern and disapproval in his voice, he gives a warning to the young men hanging around the spot. “If I come up in the store, you don’t know me, how you wanna ask me do I wanna buy some weed or some drugs? What the fuck wrong with you?” he says. “You don’t know if I’m the police; you don’t even know me! You know, you’re puttin’ your future in the justice department — that’s where your future gonna be at.”
Timothy Seeger greets “Mo,” a Muslim employee at Capitol Smoke Shop, 6924 W. Capitol Dr., with the customary greetings of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greater”) and “As-salamu alaykum” (“peace be upon you”). Seeger, who’s there for two packs of Pyramid Blue King cigarettes, which he refers to as “modern-day peace pipes,” pays the bill of $11.50 in dollar bills and pennies. “When you think about it, there’s no fighting and no arguing when people are smoking cigarettes, for the most part,” says Seeger, who only began the habit three years ago, at 58. “They’re calm, relaxed; It’s like weed … but this is legal.”
Michelle Legener stops to ask for a buck near a bus stop at the corner of 22nd and Greenfield. Legener, who grew up near 29th and National, just left the nearby Victory Outreach Christian Recovery Home, a rehabilitation center that takes in drug addicts, about an hour before. “[There are] a lot of good people in this city,” she says, but adds, “a lot of bad stuff happens.”