I was born, raised, moved away, moved back, moved away again but returned to live in my neigbourhood of the most gentrified kind.
The ‘hood’, as it was once known during my childhood, had an unsavory cultural characteristics of the almost ghetto kind, not yet there, but oh so close and that classification depended on whose perspective you cared to seriously consider-those who lived there and those who took one look and passed through quickly. But to me and my posse of friends the ‘hood’ was our world!
Winters were cold, idle and desolate while summers were muggy, alive and sizzling, riding the waves of the so-called “pulse of the city”. At night, I slept the sleep of dreams on my twin mattress because during the summer days, the ‘hood’ was an interactive playground and as a young participant, I was constantly moving and socializing!
The rents were cheap and the living was easy if you were part of the ‘hood’. Being part of the hood was to know the gangbangers by their real names, not their tags. Being part of the hood was having an extended family of misfit friends who played double-dutch, stoopball and red rover on demand. Being part of the hood was hanging on the stoops, sitting at the windowsills, yelling from rooftops and letting the water from an open hydrant stream into an open car window after you promised the driver you’d hold the water down as he drove through.
The ‘hood’ was comforting and predictable. Everyone knew everyone or some dark secret about him or her or them. We knew who would be on the rooftop at night trying to throw bottles on the heads of the women who flirted with her man on that day. Only later did we find out the woman on top of the roof throwing the bottles was not a woman.
We knew who to grub cigarettes off during Fourth of July in order to light our firecrackers-he was usually too stoned to noticed when we sneaked off with his pack. We loved Uncle Willie, a retired gentle person who lived in the block’s only wood frame home. He got the city to provide breakfast and lunches for the ‘hood’ kids and permits for street closings so we could run around like maniacs. We loved our neighbours who took an interest in us kids and in particular one couple who treated us to an excursion to Long Island for trick o’treating. We returned home with mounds of candy to last for a month.
Who would want to live here back in the days of: gang warfare, Molotov cocktails with police riots, drugs, racial mayhem, broken streetlights, abandon buildings, dilapidated playgrounds, Congo players drumming well past midnight and fake candy stores with bulletproof glass around the counter that sold weed. Not the garden ‘weed be gone’. Although you can have a garden of weed but I am not writing about the pest control kind of weed although weed can control some pests while unleashing others.
The more you put in, the more you got out. My friends were many and enemies did not exist. Familiarity can often bring contempt but the familiarity with my neighbours brought me protection. I was part of the ‘hood’, my family was not. Mom paid the bills, so when she said we had to move, we didn’t sell the house but moved to a new neighbourhood in Queens.
Almost thirty plus years have passed since my childhood days of living in the ‘hood’. The ‘hood’ resides in the past, referred to nostalgically at times glorified by the few originals left who are lucky to be in rent-controlled housing.
The neighbourhood formerly known as the ‘hood’ is now, of the most unfavourable kind, depending on whose viewpoint you hear-those who pass through shopping at numerous upscale shops and those overwhelmed by the flood of crying babies and dogs. The ‘hood’ has moved on up, with most of the old occupants displaced and the abandon buildings turned into upscale luxury housing, some with swimming pools and most with concierge service. Restaurants of every fare occupy every square inch of a block. Thai, American, Classic diner fare, Vegan, Japanese Fusion, Campo de Flora Pizza made with real olive oil and Chinese fast food with brown rice, organic peas and carrots. Order take out or saunter up to the outdoor seating and people watch, the new people in the neighbourhood.