I’ve often felt a bit like a pioneer, staking my claim in a transitioning neighborhood, crossing my fingers, and hoping for the best. Sure, I do as much as I can, but some situations – like the foreclosure next door – are beyond my control.
I was naive when I bought. No, scratch that. I was blinded by the thrill of the whole experience. I just assumed that suburban neighborhood equaled safe, especially after my time living on the South Side. Of course the neighborhood was fine. I did cursory due diligence, driving by at different times of day, and took a quick walk around the block on the blustery March day of my inspection. But I didn’t talk to the neighbors, ignored the wildcard factor of the rental next door, and just assumed that the vacant pink building across the street would continue to be innocuously vacant. Or perhaps it would hold a tea shop that hosted a knitting circle of blue haired grannies who snacked on pastries.
That’s why the emergence of the drug dealers next door was such a shock to the system. Where had I moved? And how was I supposed to get rid of them? Fuming under my breath didn’t work, and nor did the hairy eyeball. I couldn’t exactly go up to them and say, “Hello, Mr. Crack Dealer. On behalf of the Welcome Wagon, we ask that you please stop dealing. Thanks. Now, would you like to attend our neighborhood barbeque?”
Now, however, things have improved greatly (fingers crossed). Which is why I could read Judith Matloff’s Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block and sympathize, laugh and realize it could have been much much worse.
I saw a review for this book and found the premise very interesting. Judith Matloff and her husband – seasoned journlists with stints in Rwanda, Chechnya and South Africa – bought an old brownstone in dire need of a lot of work in West Harlem. It was essentially an impulse buy, so they failed to do their homework on the neighborhood – and the neighbors – and soon discovered that they had bought a crack den whose occupants were reluctant to move out. Oh, and it was caving in and structurally unsound.
My neighborhood is small potatoes compared to Judith’s, and this excellent book made me feel better in many respects. I loved this book and read it in a single Saturday. It was witty, enthralling, funny and very well-written. I hope she continues to chronicle her transitioning neighborhood.