In Which Julie Sets Aside Guilt and Asks for What She Wants

After realizing that “furlough” means “loss of income” and not just “Mondays off” I decided that I shouldn’t try to buy a house when I moved back to Hartford. Roller coaster paystubs don’t inspire confidence in lenders.

So off I went in search of an apartment.

First of all, I have to tell you: craigslist isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Slicing my way through the spam was extremely frustrating. And while many listings claim that dogs and cats are welcome, they really mean “no animals are welcome.” (Note to craigslist: if almost every landlord is leaving “dogs are OK: wooof” and “cats are OK: purrr” on their listings, you might consider redesigning your interface. That’s not user error.)

But anyway. Off I went in search of an apartment.

My needs were few: affordable, not horrid, and willing to take Gracie.

But a new and unfamiliar feeling was rising in me, and it made me feel very uncomfortable. It was a “want.” Not a “need,” a “want.” There was no doubt that I wanted to be in the city, but I realized that I wanted to be somewhere very different from where I’d been living in Holyoke, and even where I’d lived in Hartford. I looked half-heartedly at apartments in multis in Barry Square and the South End, where I’d lived most recently. I was weighed down by a feeling of gloom and defeat as I reviewed the listings. I wanted to be closer to where things were happening. I wanted to be closer to public transportation. I wanted to be able to walk to cool places like Elizabeth Park and the Hartford Seminary.


I want to feel safer.

Before you jump on me and criticize me for naiveté, know this: I am fully, completely, sadly aware that crime and violence take place in the West End, as they do everywhere. I’ve lived in Hartford for the better part of 25 years. I don’t need to be schooled on this.

Actually, I’d appreciate if you didn’t jump on me at all. I’m quite capable of doing that myself. I’ve been beating myself up non-stop since making this decision. And strangely, so have some of my friends. They did it under the guise of joking, but I believe that many jokes tell truths that a person can’t bear to speak. (Freud posited that “jokes package hostility or cynicism.”) It’s painful to have your what you sincerely want reduced to petty selfishness by people who love you.

This is what I hope not to experience, or to experience less of (not all of these examples are from Hartford, so haters, don’t.even.start):

  • a man pacing up and down the street swinging a machete
  • the sound of gunshots
  • my home broken into by two suburban crackheads who lived there for two days as they, at their leisure, packed up my car with my things and drove them off to the pawn shop
  • my neighbor building a two-story addition to his house that was clearly unsafe, and that the municipality refused to stop
  • the incessant, maddening buzz of crotch rockets
  • the incessant, maddening pounding of car stereos outfitted with speakers the size of Rhode Island
  • a man circling his house with a gun while his wife and children cower inside
  • trash, trash, trash, trash, trash
  • people insisting that a neighborhood obviously in decline is experiencing a renaissance
  • people feeling proud of themselves because they perceive themselves as “urban homesteaders” which, more often than not, means middle- and upper-income people swooping up real estate bargains in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. (Full disclosure: I’ve been that person.)
  • being followed by four teenaged boys who were describing in some detail how they were going to take my dog from me, tie me up, and rape me
  • police cars on every corner, at least three times a week, lights flashing
  • harvesting needles from my front yard
  • drive-by shootings

Aside from feeling guilty about wanting to feel safer, I feel guilty because I believe I’m betraying my commitment to challenging class barriers. I am more passionate about economic class than any other socio-political issue. And although people have tried to convince me otherwise, the West End seems to be home to more wealthy, connected people than any other neighborhood I know of in Hartford. That’s why it can get speed bumps and other traffic-calming measures. Trivial example, I know, but still… (By the way, if I’m wrong about my perception of West End demographics please let me know. It’s not important that I be right. As we all know, perception and reality are frequently in conflict.)

Here’s the bottom line: I gave myself permission to look for apartments in the West End.

The experience threw me off balance: The neighborhood was quiet. There were lots of well-behaved dogs. People greeted me. On the street where I found myself with the most options, many of the houses’ exteriors were beautifully restored. The lawns were well-tended and there wasn’t any trash on the sidewalks or in the roads. To be honest, I felt a little self-conscious because my car is 14 years old, but whatever, my car is a tool, not a message.

I’ve lived in dangerous neighborhoods. I’ve lived in filthy neighborhoods. I’ve lived in proximity to street-corner drug dealers, chop shops, and prostitutes.

Just because I have done a thing, doesn’t mean I have to keep doing it. So I’m giving in to what I want. Wait. I’m also giving in to what I need. I need to have a reasonable expectation that I’ll feel safer. And that’s OK. That might be what every person wants.

That might be what every person needs.

This entry was posted in Crime, Self-Indulgence, Street, Thought, violence. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to In Which Julie Sets Aside Guilt and Asks for What She Wants

  1. Gideon says:

    I don’t know why you think people are going to jump all over you or why you have, to yourself. It’s a quality of life issue and sometimes we just don’t want to deal. I love Hartford, but there’s a reason I moved out of the West End.

    • Julie Beman says:

      I think people are going to jump all over me because they already have, both for turning my back on the “real” city (as if I ever could) and for exhibiting such guilt.

  2. Kerri says:

    If you are happy with your choice, you don’t have to justify it to anyone else. With that said, I understand the compulsion to do so, since I’m constantly explaining my choices to people who do not understand why I opted to live where I do.

    I’d add, though, from having lived in the West End, that the neighborhood is not economically or culturally homogenous, and that there is snobbery coming from some toward those living in other areas. I know we’ve talked about this, but for the sake of public info, I’ll add it here. Much of the neighborhood South of Farmington Avenue is regarded as “ghetto” by some living North of it. I lived South of Farmington and felt unwelcomed by some residents, as if I was not good enough or something for living in the part containing many apartments and legal multifamily homes (opposed to the illegal multifamily set-ups North of Farmington). There was plenty of noise where I lived and I did wake up in the middle of the night to see police with guns out, forcing a burglar to the pavement. There was drug activity aplenty. So, I’m sharing this because I think the idea of an entire neighborhood as having a certain identity is sort of bogus. The culture changes on just about every block. There are gorgeous, verdant, and quiet blocks in the West End, but there are also ones plagued with all of the other quality of life issues mentioned previously.

    On a side note, I rode my bicycle through West Hartford a few days ago and found myself thinking, “Ahh….the suburbs…where crime happens quietly behind closed doors.” When we talk about crime, we have to remember that it happens everywhere, and that the main difference between suburbs and cities is whether it’s happening on the street or where only those immediately involved can see it.

    With all that said, I’m glad you’re coming home. I can bike to the West End. I can’t bike to Holyoke.

    • Julie Beman says:

      I’m with you re: the differences between south and north of Farmington Avenue. I lived south of Farmington for a couple of years before moving downtown. The apartment buildings and multi-families definitely give that part of the neighborhood a different flavor.

      And I also agree with your statement about the suburbs.

      One of the things I was wondering about was how much not-on-the-street-corner drug dealing/buying happens north of Farmington Avenue. And of course there’s always domestic violence. And car and home break-ins. And driving under the influence. And probably other crimes that I don’t even know exist.

      • elizabeth says:

        and snorting and smoking and shooting drugs procured from who knows where. Being a pretty steady alcohol user that comes not from a smoking-snorting-shooting-is-inherently-bad perspective but rather a someone-other-than-you-is-suffering-from-your-drug-use perspective. (Unless of course you grow your own from seeds somehow gently found. And, you aren’t an addict in a relationship with other beings who are most likely being neglected because you are an addict . . .) I’m tired now.

      • Julie Beman says:

        Oh yeah, and rape.

  3. Josh LaPorte says:

    I grew up in the West End, on Fern Street in the last block before you hit West Hartford. My parents still live there. They have been there since the seventies. While I have been living on my own, I have lived on Sherman, Girard, and Evergreen. Then I moved to Asylum Hill. I don’t get why people would give you grief about choosing to live there. The quality of life is very high on some blocks. Elizabeth Park is lovely. Most people are friendly. A lot of people have lived there for decades or lifetimes. It is a Hartford neighborhood, and many people who live there are fiercely proud to live there. I don’t see anything wrong with any of this.

    When I was growing up there, the bridge between north and south of farmington avenue was Noah Webster School. It tied the reaches of the neighborhood together. I had friends on Warrenton and friends on Westerly. By extension, my parents knew the parents of my friends all over the neighborhood. Sadly, with the magnet schools I understand that this is no longer the case.

    • elizabeth says:

      you said
      “I don’t get why people would give you grief about choosing to live there. The quality of life is very high on some blocks. ”

      the grief being given is not for moving INTO the West End. It is for NOT moving to Behind the Rocks or Southwest . . . . Mea culpa. I hope I will get some leniency as I suffer* from other-parts-of-Hartford-aren’t as cool/safe/smart/fill-in-the-blank-as-the-West-End-inferiority-complex syndrome. Soon to be featured in your local DSM – loved the commentary on Freud and jokes. Reading through it made me want to read the whole dang book. Library, :-), here I come! – and, as, MOST IMPORTANTLY, I am sad I won’t be able to walk to your house in less than 7 minutes. Yes, selfish could be my middle name.

      *working on that as we speak

  4. Burf says:

    Don’t beat yourself up over this. You have to do what’s right for you and find compromises you can be happy with. You’re still making a choice to live in and support the city with your dollars, commitment, and presence, and that’s more than most people do.

    We faced the same decision here in Boston a few years ago, and ultimately chose to buy a house in West Roxbury, probably the most “suburban” neighborhood within the city limits. It’s the least diverse part of the city, but also among the safest, and it’s a neighborhood we love to come home to and that we’re proud of. Our children are in, or will be in, the Boston Public Schools, our tax dollars go to the city, and we can walk to shops, restaurants, parks, buses and the commuter rail. And there are tons of folks like us, who have made similar choices to stay in the “suburban” city instead of taking their tax dollars to the actual suburbs.

  5. Holyoke Home says:

    You should live where you want to live! Period.

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