||[Jun. 24th, 2007|08:23 am]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse
When I moved into my funky mid-Atlantic rowhouse, I did not sleep for a month. It was on the shabby side of a good neighborhood -- my house had been built in an alley by Mary Robertson, a domestic -- next to the cloacal park on a cliff which separated the neighborhood from the rest of the city and through which rapists and muggers and burglars escaped. Malefactors from all over the world travelled to this neighborhood to relieve us of our goods. It was like a property tax. It was their right. Men were seen on a regular basis carrying televisions and air conditioners through the park. Recently a guy's throat was slit during a mugging. Other muggers reasoned with us, at gun point: We have to do this. It's the only way we can make a living.|
Early Sunday morning dog walkers could, by walking behind the fence behind the softball diamond outfield, find gutted wallets and knapsacks and all the things the muggers did not want. Father's funeral mass cards. Birth control pills with 26 left. Filthy Hermes scarves. It was the syringes on the jungle gym which freaked the breeders and sent them scurrying for the burbs. But that is a whole nother story.
At the other end of the park from the junkies festooning the play equipment, a Spanish-speaking ho who couldn't have passed muster in full daylight took to entertaining her clients -- all the Latino employees of the Four Seasons Hotel -- on the picnic table after 10 p.m..
Osama vaporized a neighbor headed to LA.
Drunks headed to the local university bars puked, pissed and pillaged every pot of chrysanthemums or Jack O Lantern arranged on the stoop.
One neighbor had attention deficit disorder. She thought she didn't get enough. She set fire to her kitchen curtains regularly, after a cocktail or two, and when the firemen arrived greeted them in her birthday suit. When the firemen caught on, she went to Neam's and lay down on the floor and beat it with her tiny fists when they told her they didn't have arugula. When Neam's barred her from the veg aisle, she took to standing on the corner of 28th and O until she was mugged, which normally took about an hour. Then she went to rehab.
Where were the police, you ask? In their cars. And, in a white neighborhood in a majority black city, posturing in ways either fearful or defiant that left the place undefended. The police dispatcher would kiss you off as only a black woman with a lip on her can do. The parking meter man, when one dowager expostulated with him in rather too imperious a congenital tone, told her he wasn't her slave and he didn't have to listen to her any more.
The only viable de facto neighborhood watch were the dog people, who hit the bricks from about 5 a.m. to past midnight. The sidewalks and parks and houses and back yards and alleys were deserted by day, as all its Type A residents went to work early and came home late. Indeed it was an intrepid dog person -- a freelance reporter who worked at home -- who caught a one-man crime wave air conditioner thief vaulting her fence one fine morning, after she had observed him walking down the street in broad day light snapping each parked car with a bungee cord. To see if it had an alarm.
Back when I moved to the hood, I didn't sleep until I had debated the question of putting bars on the first floor windows, and on the basement level French doors in the back. I didn't have the money. I didn't want to admit that the block was robbed, and my neighbors mugged, on a weekly basis. I also didn't want anybody to break into the house while I was in it, since women tend not to survve burglaries in one piece.
So I bought the bars. The house was so old and funky the guy asked me if I wanted the bars plumb with the house or plumb with the universe. I said universe.
I had him make French doors out of wrought iron bars. Which I kept locked. The dog could squeeze through the bars. So could the rats. But in the 20 years I lived there, mine was the only house on the block which was not hit -- through the basement level French doors.
I slept like a baby. Mary Robertson's baby.