Thursday, April 10, 2008


We live in -- how to say this politely -- a transitional neighborhood. All signs point to the trend of transitioning up. (And may I interrupt here: I do not equate "up" with "whitening": my neighborhood, was and continues to be, racially diverse -- it's actually a big part of why I moved here in the first place.) But those who have lived here 10-20 years have all sorts of stories: the house down the street where the old woman died, and her young granddaughter continued to live there doing drugs, until she was arrested and evicted. The new owner speaks of cleaning rooms wearing hazmat outfits, but it is now an entirely charming colonial with wood floors, cheerful paint, french doors overlooking balconies, two dogs roaming around an impeccably landscaped yard with a barbecue. The woman down the street who remembers, a decade ago, watching in shock when her front door was flung open and a man (who turned out to be a mugger in pursuit) ran through her shotgun single and out the back door. Stories like this have dissipated greatly as people with families moved in, cleaned up their yards, and began walking their dogs and letting their children play outside. I love this neighborhood with all of my heart, but I know full well that urban is presently decaying a few short miles away. There is still the occasional attempted break in of home or car, petty vandalism, and horribly enough near the main street or the train station, a random mugging. It's part of living in a city this balance of everything at your fingertips, and danger lurking around the corner. I've lived in a city before, and am glad to do it again.

The blight that is in the process of being removed ever so gently from my immediate neighborhood still exists in the larger region. One in four people live under the poverty line. Last year's homicide rate broke records. It is ridiculously easy to obtain handguns. The public schools are atrocious, both in terms of facility and general usefulness not to mention safety. Jobs, like the famous Navy Yard, keep shutting down and or moving away. For decades the city's administration has been identified with blowing up residences, widespread corruption, and cronyism.

So it was with some acceptance, and a heavy sigh that I discovered my car had been keyed overnight. Things like this are bound to happen I suppose, and it's the price I pay for living in a dreamhouse amid the best neighbors ever within walking distance of mad-good coffee shops and homemade pastry. But the words in my 5-month old door cut me short: BICTH. I'm assuming, from the crime and the vocabulary, that this was a child, out after dark, on a school night when s/he should have been at home, who seized this crime of opportunity. (Had it been an older person with more criminal experience, they would've gone right through the window in search of my GPS system.) But instead of articulating an anger -- toward me, or toward this city which for decades has neglected it's children -- the perpetrator came off sounding like Sylvester the Cat reaching for a handful of pens.

Mayor Michael Nutter, if you're reading this, please know that I support you and your administration, that I love this city, and will do whatever lies in my power to better this situation before it gets worse. Because it could very well get worse. This is a city on the precipice, with a recession looming in front of it. And what happened to my car doesn't strike me with fear, and doesn't make my neighborhood look bad, it makes the city look ridiculous. We have kids hanging on by their toenails, who are herded into decrepit schools, matriculated without skills, with no where to go afterwards, and no jobs on their horizon. And before we get in their parents' grills, let's remember that many of them are working two jobs, and can't afford child care. Kids are this city's future, and we're letting them down -- we're laughing off their bouts of rage, and I for one am about to pay a couple grand to obliterate it as if it was never heard. In short, the problems of this city are writ large, three times, over two metallic blue car panels: we need to teach kids to spell before any of this gets better.

Because to-do lists seem the rage, here's mine for today:

1) Get Police Report.

2) Get estimate on repair (scheduled for this afternoon) before

3) calling insurance company.

4) Find local literacy campaign to donate books to.

5) Donate money to local after-school program.

6) Email architect, who is coming with a contractor for a meeting on Monday to discuss our kitchen reno, about the possibility of off-street parking structure.

7) Swill coffee, look out window at beautiful Blue Atlas Cedar, exhale, and repeat 10 times: There are worse things this. There are worse things than this. There are worse things than this.


Dayna said...

So sorry this happened to you. We had a similar incident not too long after we first moved here (and I suppose we don't live too far from you). As you said, it wasn't the worst thing. But it was certainly distressing.

I think your way of handling things is great. I wish everyone dealt with being a victim of petty violence by donating books to a literacy program. I wish I had thought of it myself when our own car was keyed.

j said...

I love how you react to this. With a systematic list and a compassionate heart, and big overview. Big hugs.

Newt said...

Bicth is the new black, Tash.

What a marvelous, smart post. I used to live in a developing neighborhood in Atlanta, and would find my car windows regularly broken so the homeless guys could root around under the seats looking for spare change. But I loved it.

Now I live in a small town in an economically depressed state, and we have different problems--crazy bigots in the state legislature, lousy schools, rural meth labs, dangerous roads, and no good coffee anywhere to be found. But I love it here, too.

I'm glad you've found a way to live with so much love and happiness, and I'm sorry you've been shaken. Enjoy the coffee.

Which Box said...

This is actually funny, in the sad way you've articulated so well. (me=bicth for laughing, you=compassionate literacy activist)

Ugh, probably not quite what you wanted to do with your day. Good luck with it all.

STE said...

After my mom died, when something like this would occur, I would console myself that "at least no one died" or "at least no one's dying."

I lived in a similar neighborhood in the Boston area. Sorry this happened. The field I work in is lookin to ways to improve schools and the neighborhoods understand some of the interactions. It's heartening to read your list, and read your words of support for your city. Nothing gets fixed by picking up and leaving.

Though I know I'd like to get up and leave this life, too.

Amy said...

The literacy of the children today is decaying rapidly. Yes, a literacy project would be a great way to donate money.

I am sorry that this has happened to you. I am glad that you have taken something rather harsh and turned it into a positive.

What's worse, you would think at the very least these kids could spell derogatory words appropriately.

Aurelia said...

Yep, when you can't even spell swear know that literacy is going down the toilet.

We live in a similar neighbourhood in Toronto, and it is just about 5-10 years further on the road to gentrifying. In our case, it is becoming whiter but only because the immigrants want to move to giant suburban mansions when they finally make it and move on up.

I dream of a garage too, mostly because I secretly want to fill it with junk. I won't, but it's tempting.

CLC said...

Now you have me trying to guess what neighborhood you live in! Philly's problems are so sad. I still own the house I lived in when I was single living in the city (Fairmount). I wanted to live there after we got married but then someone got murdered a few blocks away at a bar that I had been to the previous week. That's when I knew I was too chickenshit to raise a family in Philly. So now it's rented out. But I would still love to be there. I guess that makes me part of the problem- I left when things seemed to be going downhill too close to home.

I admire your compassion for the illiterate kids who did this to your car. I can't say I would react the same way. But it's a sad statement for Philly when kids can't even spell bitch right when they are keying a card.

Antigone said...

Perhaps you should leave an inviting box, full of spelling and grammar primers, on the roof of your car this evening.

c. said...

I find this rather humorous...should I?

I'm sorry it happened though. I'd be pretty upset. Even knowing that there are indeed worse things than poor spelling.

(Puking child. Oozing dog sores. Keyed car. What else does this week have in store for you, for christ sake?)

Julia said...

Your neighborhood sounds way cool. I could totally take the occasional car keying for that sort of a life. Not sure JD would-- the man loves his cars.
Our neighborhood, while still technically in the city is nowhere near as cool. Pretty much like suburbs only with very shitty schools. Except for the pilot one that you have to win the lottery to go to, and we lost. And the neighbors? I am pretty sure none of them even noticed that I was pregnant and then not. It was winter, with coats and cars, I'll give them that. But still...
Although the kids do play outside, and together, all the time when it's warm, and race their bikes up and down the street. So Monkey has had much more interaction with neighbor kids and adults than we have. Oh, well...

Alice said...

Dear Tash,

I may be out of order now but could I make a suggestion? Unless the car is actually not functioning then don't bother to get it fixed. It'll happen again and you'll feel bad - so just don't bother. The city I live in (Brussels) is actually very civilised but still cars get trashed all the time. My husband used to have a good car and it was stolen. We agreed never to have a good car again. So we have a beaten up old car and that means we just don't have any worries. We don't even care if someone steals it really. For me, this is a good approach to cars. After all, who cares about cars really? (Although I understand why you're fed up). Hope you don't mind me saying this.


niobe said...

This brings back memories of the (much more -- or perhaps less transitional) area where we used to live. I managed to take the syringes in the park and the drive-by shootings more or less in stride. It was when we were about to move to another city that I realized that a much bigger problem was that the recession had destroyed real estate prices in our neighborhood, we owed more on the mortgage than the house was worth, and to sell it, we'd have to bring a huge sum of money (which we didn't have) to the table.

For many years after that, we rented.

k@lakly said...

Reminds me of my SF days, waking up, going downstairs to the carport, never knowing who or what I would find in my car from the night before. I felt like the three bears coming back from the walk but I never once found anything or anyone as cute as Goldilocks sleeping in my car...and they only stole the stereo once. Ah the good ole days.
can I just say I didn't even notice the misspelling until you mentioned it, although I am sure I would have if it had been impaled on the side of my car. What a bummer.
Maybe you should correct the typo right onthe car and drive around with it for a while, the perp is bound to see it and feel at least slightly ashamed. As they should.

Bon said...

worse things indeed, and a wonderful post...and still, overall a tough situation to be in.

i laughed, though. only because "bicth" is an epithet i've worn proudly. more than a decade ago, i taught a class of Inuit high schoolers in Canada's arctic, and the angriest of my angry young men was named Ernie. seriously, Ernie. no wonder he was angry. anyhoo, Ernie didn't come to school very often and when he did he was often high, and he categorically didn't like white people much. he was a bully. he was the only kid i really had a hard time with, no matter how i tried. one day after school, after i'd laid down a few things about respect to Ernie - mostly about respecting the girls in the class - i found a note left on my desk that read b-i-c-t-h, in what was very clearly Ernie's handwriting. so i took the note, dug out his journal, compared the writing to be sure, and wrote back, "Ernie, 'bitch' is spelled b-i-t-c-h." i signed it and left it in his journal. said nothing. smiled at him like usual. and amazingly, he never gave me shit again.

CDE said...

But instead of articulating an anger -- toward me, or toward this city which for decades has neglected it's children -- the perpetrator came off sounding like Sylvester the Cat reaching for a handful of pens.

Thank you for providing me with hearty laughter at the start of my Saturday. I needed this.

Where S and I live now is so unlike where we lived in Boston that it's almost surreal. Most of the vandalism and property damage is caused by people who drive nicer cars than we do - spoiled white kids from suburbs and gated communities. And their levels of literacy aren't much better in some cases than your midnight key-wielder. The biggest difference is that they're going to walk into jobs and homes and families, not jail. This makes me very, very angry.

Beruriah said...

I live in la-la land, where the neighbors take their double strollers to the local "deli" to enjoy $8 hot dogs - the organic gourmet condiments are extra. But our town has recently been shaken by a string of armed robberies. Everyone is sure they are done by "outsiders." Looks like this recession isn't leaving anyone behind.

Bicth. I love it.

Coggy said...

I can't help but feel dismayed by the fact that kids these days can't spell. That's what I initially think upon reading bad graffiti. What does that say about me?

Yes there are far worse things than this, but things like this make my blood boil. That someone can come along and ruin or steal something of yours and they get away with it. I hate the helpless feeling, knowing there's nothing I can do except call the garage or buy another.

MsPrufrock said...

Ugh, I'm sorry. Though the "bicth" thing is quite funny (sorry), the incident isn't. I'm amazed as your grace!

Mrs. Spit said...

Oh Tash, I'm sorry.

I hear you. I live in "up and coming neighbourhood", and while things are still getting better, I had a girl running from a bad date in my house in Jan and she stole my wallet on the way out. My story about Naked Woman on the front porch is funny, but I have to confess a mis-spelled epithat is much funnier. (although I get the unfunny part of it too).

I'm going to the next community meeting and telling this story! And I'm going home to check out the spelling on the local graffiti.

Here's some of the stuff we are doing