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.