There is peril in blogging angry.
For one thing, I rarely look back and read over what I've read in an angry mood and think: "Yes, indeed, I am proud of how I am representing myself there, make copies and send one to the Queen." More likely I cringe and get an itchy "Delete Post" finger. (This is the main reason why most of my diaries, those still in existence anyway, have large sections of their pages stapled together - I loathe the idea of destroying my own records but I also don't want to have them so readily available for reading. The staple is sort of symbolic, obviously, as I have a staple remover as well as the stapler itself, but it does the trick.)
I've yapped at length about my troubled relationship with East Harlem so let's suffice with this recap for first timers: I moved to the neighborhood in October of 2002 and have lived in two apartments since. I live in East Harlem proper, not a pretty little place on 97th street, and since living here, I have had lots of good experiences but also lots of shitty ones - usually of the racial/gentrification anger persuasion and entirely without provocation (unless you consider being white provocation, which, whatever, you may. I don't know your life.)
A couple of blogs have popped up recently touting the beauties of Spanish Harlem, quoting, as I once did, the abundance of real culture, the terrific family neighborhood feel, the amazing variety of excellent street food and the general lack of astronomical rents that make the rest of Manhattan sort of obnoxious for those of us either too poor or too sensible to spend $3,000/month on a walk-in closet with a hot plate and a view of Union Square.
Some of these blogs have also, however, gone on romantically and at length about aspects of living in the neighborhood about which they clearly need to remove their rose colored glasses, namely, the ludicrous idea that living in East Harlem, as it is right now (ie: pre-full gentrification) somehow gives the person in question "street cred". To which I just have to take a deep breath and say:
This "street cred" you speak of exists because the neighborhood still has lots of problems, problems in the areas of safety and quality of life. Taking pleasure or pride in street cred garnered by you choosing to live in a place where others don't have choice, others who aren't making the decision to live in East Harlem because it is a good value, but rather because they simply can't afford to go elsewhere is, in a word, revolting. Which makes you, in several more words, an insensitive, spoiled asshole.
Where am I going with this?
This is where I am going.
The other night we had some friends over to watch a soccer game and grill up some hot dogs. We were able to have a fair amount of people up, because living in East Harlem allows us to have a much bigger space than we would be able to afford elsewhere. We were able to grill because this same choice allows us to have outdoor space. FULL DISCLOSURE: I live in East Harlem because I get more for my money! Not to cash in on street cred! Because that would be as stupid as it sounds!
As the festivities proceeded I heard from the folks sitting in the aforementioned outside space that kids from a neighboring public park were throwing stones into our garden. Much discussion of "kids being kids" ensued, including some talk about what we had all done as kids, which was a fair amount of not much. Turns out most of our parents had us in as soon as it got dark.
But then the stones kept coming, and some of them came fast, and these little fuckers started getting bigger. Boulder size? Certainly not, but big enough that if they had hit a glass, or a window, or an eyeball, there is no doubt there would have been damage. And then at some point, I don't know, there was another stone and I, to put it mildly, lost my shit. I don't know if it was some sort of pregnancy rage but I had visions of my baby playing in that garden and getting hit by a stone, or one of our friends getting clocked in the eye for the audacity of spending the day with us. Before I knew what was happening I was standing outside a public park yelling at a group of little kids.
The kids were unsupervised (of course they were. Why don't we put that under the handy title of "street cred" too: a neighborhood abounding with children who are getting no attention or guidance! How cooooool is that Mr. Street Cred!?) and here we were yelling at them, like crazy, out-of-control morons. And, as you can probably imagine, it didn't stop the rocks anyway. Eventually, at our landlord's insistence, we called the cops.
We called the cops on little kids.
So, like, to review: we had to call the police on small children.
The whole experience left me feeling...drained. And sad. And confused about what I should have done. Retreat inside? Throw the rocks back? Try to reason with them instead of yell? Even now, I'm still confused and angry about it; regretting my actions but still wondering, what was the right thing to do? What would have made the situation better? Why can't I shake this feeling that now this is just going to happen, all summer, turning our little garden into a place of frustration that we avoid instead of enjoy.
And, honestly, kids throwing rocks is really the least of our problems. I'm telling this story more to elaborate on this whole tale of my living situation. Filling out the corners, so to speak.
When I first moved to East Harlem 8 years ago I was aware of very little. I was so focused on adjusting to city life I didn't notice most of the things that were obvious to everyone else. "Isn't it dangerous?" people would ask. "Don't you feel nervous going home alone at night?" And, you know what? I never did. My neighborhood lacks in some amenities, sure, but all the basics are there, all the things that make living in NYC great. I have built relationships with so many people around my home. I always wave at the pizza guys and they always wave back. The women at my supermarket ask about my family and grin at my pregnant belly as if they were my family too. Ali at the deli scolds me when I go out in cool weather with my hair wet and comes out from behind the counter to shake my hand and ask how I am. Tika at the bakery knows we like the ciabatta best. My neighbors and I, both former and current, have developed strong bonds, caring for each other's children, pets and plants. Sharing meals and holidays. And yet.
Not a month ago some kids went up and down 118th street and smashed in almost every windshield. A week later someone burned out a BMW, leaving an acrid smell and a charred mess on the cars unfortunate enough to be parked in front and behind. There are gunshots, usually in the summer and far enough from us that we've become somewhat used to it, but still, gunshots! Litter is getting bad again, like it was when I first moved here which may not seem important but points, I think to a general trend of ambivalence and disuse. The times when I get yelled at, called a cracker and worse, are moving towards each other in frequency, not apart.
So, I wonder about these other people, these people so enamored with the neighborhood they've lived in for 1 or 2 or 3 years. Are they just not seeing things for what they really are? Am I just unlucky, constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time? How is it that the existence of Costco seems to make these bozos feel better? Or the plans to build the East Harlem cultural center, something that has been promised for nearly a decade? How are these same people who seem beguiled by grit comforted through clinging to these false harbingers of an idyllic East Harlem just over the horizon? Because I'm scared about the direction things are moving, and street cred doesn't make me feel better.
Frankly, that is the kind of credit I can live without.
41 minutes ago