In some courtyards of the Riverdale Village apartments, roses bloom and children play with puppies just yards from piles of trash and discarded furnishings -- an unwanted chair, a bent lamp, sofa pillows.
Signs of abandonment are as abundant as the signs of life, in a strange juxtaposition reflecting the confusion felt by tenants of the doomed World War II-era Essex housing complex.
As some neighbors hunker down to await the predicted June 11 condemnation of the property, many others are packing up their belongings and driving away.
"We don't have lot, but what we have is ours, and we respect it, so we're leaving," said Samantha Campbell, 23, mother of five, as she put a fresh coat of white paint on the top of a child's night stand that soon would be loaded into a Ryder truck. "I don't want to take a chance -- so we're leaving today and we're going to party tonight."
Baltimore County officials are urging the more than 400 remaining tenants to leave the dilapidated two-story apartments in the 1900 block of Eastern Ave.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has threatened to turn off power June 11, a step that would bring immediate condemnation of the complex by the county.
The management of the privately owned complex, meanwhile, has continued to rent out units; tenants insist they've been told everything will be all right.
Some tenants are in denial, said Mary Emerick, who as head of the county's Community Conservation Office is coordinating relocation efforts. For others, the uncertainty is too much to take.
At the relocation center set up in nearby Middlesex Elementary School, more than 300 already have been seen, she said. No one is sure exactly how many people are still living in the complex.
Courtyard by courtyard, however, Riverdale's neighborhoods are fracturing.
"I've got toddlers to worry about," said Kim Marrero, 23, while helping Campbell carry boxes and preparing to move her own belongings. "Thank God for friends."
Marrero owes Riverdale Village $288 for May rent, which she said she withheld when she received notice of the utility turn-off date. Although rental rates included utilities, the landlord has not paid more than $600,000 to BGE. Now Marrero has received an eviction letter from the apartment managers.
She will stay with the Campbells in their new home in Dundalk while she searches for a job and an apartment, she said. Her ex-husband, who lives in another state, will take the children for the summer, she added.
She said goodbye to the postal carrier who delivered her last mail at Riverdale.
Then the postman lifted his bag and headed into one of a series of dusty cul-de-sacs lined with two-story apartments, past the plywood boards covering some doors, past neighbors peeking from behind pastel sheets that substitute for curtains, past beer bottles and spent condoms in the dirt by the sidewalk.
He shouted back over his shoulder, "With everyone moving, I don't know what's going to happen to my job."
In the next group of apartments, Glenn Horner loaded a hamper full of his sons' sports gear into the back of a covered Chevy pickup. He was taking his wife and three children somewhere more stable.
"I feel fortunate that we can get out: We're not on welfare, we don't qualify for the help they're offering down there at the school, we can move on. We were living here just to be able to catch up on bills," he said. "It was all right."
Other families who moved yesterday said they were compelled by fear of vandalism and theft; none wanted to remain to become the last residents of a ghost town.
Down a wide stairwell marred by kicked-in plaster, past a door with a shattered windowpane, former convenience store worker Charles Ewing watched a load of packed-up memories and household goods go away from his $150-a-month apartment.
The items were packed in a large plastic barrel, which his nephew lugged off to the bus stop: They have been moving this way for days, shifting the sands of their Riverdale lives to storage in a sister's place three bus transfers away.
"We took some last night, and he's taking some more today, and since I don't have a car we'll just keep on until we get it all out of here," said Ewing, who has lived in various Riverdale Village apartments on and off for 12 years, most recently while on disability.
He will depart with his roommate, two dogs, two cats and two iguanas by the 11th: "What I got ain't much, but I can't replace it."
The apartment next door has been stripped by vandals, he said, pushing open its broken door to reveal the stench of garbage and a pair of yellow curtains. The apartment downstairs, into which a piece of his kitchen floor collapsed recently, is marked condemned.
About two streets over, children splashed in an inflatable pool. The ice cream truck's bell announced its arrival with an unrelenting "Turkey in the Straw," and the kids lined up in the heat.
Nearby, Eurcle Younce, 90, supervised from a brown armchair as her son and grandson carried away her electric fan, kitchenware, and knickknacks from her tidy, tiny rooms.
"This just tears me to pieces," Younce said.
Pub Date: 6/01/97