“This is a Dangerous Place …”*


I live in the city. Not downtown per se, but close enough. Urban suburbs. The street we live on is one people use, mostly on foot, to get to a main intersection featuring a small village-like shopping area. It’s called the Square, and from its beginning the developers and neighborhood boosters have tried to make it a hip little enclave for the mostly white, middle class, 21st century hippies in the area. Trendy shops, specialty food markets, restaurants, a wine bar, etc. Summer Friday nights feature live music outside, merchants set up tables and booths, folks bring picnics and dance with their kids to reggae or celtic rock or parrothead anthems. Even I drag my anti-social SO (known to suffer panic attacks in crowds) and our little girl there to dance a couple times a month if the weather cooperates. Its actually a pretty good time.

But it’s an affluent, conspicuously lily-white affair, set smack dab in the middle of a mostly working-class black neighborhood. The folks who walk through my neighborhood to the intersection are not heading to the Square for a little shopping and a bite. They’re schlepping to the bus stop, or to the liquor store, or to the gas station.

I saw one fella heading up the street at 7:30 yesterday morning, unabashedly pounding down a beer. Last summer, my daughter and I returned home to find a gentleman sleeping something off on our front porch, pants undone, snoring away. When I woke him up and asked if I could help him with something, he just mumbled, zipped his pants halfway back up , and stumbled down our stairs and up the block. Answering my daughter’s questions about the incident was an interesting real-life exercise in the compassion with which I’m trying to raise her. I was livid.

This is not a racial thing, not at all, but I’m afraid I sound like a republican when I say so. My Caucasian neighbor across the street, whom I suspect lives on disability, gets a delivery every morning. Different car, different person each day … but you can set your watch by their arrival. They stay less than 5 minutes, and the neighbor isn’t seen for the rest of the day. Sometimes an ex-wife visits, but not often. He’s tall, thin, has the remnants of what was once a handsome face. I feel sorry for the guy. He had a life once. I don’t like his daily delivery guys though, and what they carry with them to protect their investment … not when my little girl is playing right across the street in our front yard.

Our cars have been broken into, our house was broken into the day after Obama’s inauguration, my son was harassed (my big, strapping, 6 foot 195 lb. son) as he did his daily football conditioning run.   I’ve caught kids walking right up onto our porch, attempting to grab my daughter’s bike.  We find used condoms and syringes on the playground.

When the weather’s warm, the Police helicopters come.  Saw the first one of the season last night. It hovered and buzzed my block and the one behind it for close to an hour and a half. All the while it blared announcements of a missing child, a 10 year old boy. It disappeared as abruptly as it showed up.

I was especially unsettled by the missing child. Restless the whole time the helicopter hovered. Impossible to sit still. What drives me even crazier, perhaps, is that there’s never a disposition when this happens … I can’t tell if the child was found or not, alive or dead, or if they just gave up. Checking the news later offers no closure either. No mention of it. I can only hope no news is good news. It isn’t always.

It haunted me all night. I went to sleep spooning with my little girl, and dreamed that the beautiful 10 year old daughter of a close friend was missing. The dream, this morning, is pretty easy to peg: silent stream-of-consciousness panic.

My SO is content to stay in this house, in this neighborhood, until he dies. It was affordable to begin with, even moreso with his VA benefits. We would never be able to find as sweet a deal again, even in this buyer’s market.  He objects that he’s not necessarily content, but that he’s not going to spend his life worrying about it.  I wonder how to appeal to the parent in him.

I’m having a hard time teaching my daughter to be safe and aware without scaring her.   Best way is to model the appropriate behavior and attitude.  But I’ve gotta believe it first.

There are so many layers here… so many nuances.  Issues of race, class, economics, social justice, the inequities of local politics, all of which are irrelevant in the one-on-one relationships (all good) with my neighbors.  But the personal violations feel cumulative.  The ferociously protective mother lion in me is purely instinctive.

This constant, low-level (sometimes even dormant, I grant) sense of alarm is corrosive.


2 responses »

  1. Oh, I felt your pain in this. We moved about 2.5 years ago to a neighborhood free of restlessly roaming rats which liked to create burrows in the mulch under my kids swing set. No more syringes in the alley or junkies across the street. No more obvious prostitutes working the corner gas station. At this point in my life, my kids need to play relatively safely and freely outside and attend really good schools take precedent over parental appreciation of all a more urbanish life has to offer. I feel fortunate we were able to make the move when we did. I loved my old neighborhood and most all of my neighbors, and was happy there for 16 years, but I don’t miss my children needing to learn things like when they hear a helicopter hovering overhead that means run into the house and lock the door, and not to pick up needles they find on the street as we take a walk.

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