This week, after nearly a year, I finally escaped from the Palisades. My new apartment is located in Columbia Heights, what one person at my writing group dubbed “the heart of the revolution” and what my old housemate declared was “the fucking ghetto” when I told him I was going there.
The Palisades were not good to me. My first landlord was an out-and-out crook who knowingly sold a ticking carbon monoxide bomb to us, knowing there was a 50/50 chance he’d lose the rights to the property by the end of the year anyway (he lost that coin flip in the end). In the second house, I was somehow dragged into a teen soap opera drama which culminated in one of my housemates punching another in the face and shoving them down the front stairs. And she thought I was crazy! Well, I am. But now, unlike her, I’ve never had a warrant put out for me. So that counts as a success? Maybe.
That’s all done now.
Columbia Heights seems like the Brooklyn of DC, which is fine because a lot of the downtown area feels like the tackiest, more obnoxious parts of Manhattan, minus about sixty floors on either side (DC’s building codes mean we never see the “urban canyon effect”, more like the “urban gutter”).
Am I contributing to gentrification? I don’t know, but probably. That stuff is mostly out of my control, however. The rent was already too damn high before I moved here and they’ve already built the new Safeway, so at least I’m a trend follower, not a trend setter. I’m okay with this for now. Maybe in a few months I’ll ask my neighbors.
Now that I am just north of the Capitol (but still in the “NW” quadrant of Washington…if you want to see a REAL ghetto, go east of the Anacostia River), I must finally confront my very irrational fear that DC is going to be bombed into oblivion by ???????.
According to this paranoid study–http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/washington-dc-nuclear-blast-radius/–a nuclear strike in just the perfect spot would carry fallout north and northeast of the downtown area, meaning all the rich ambassadors and the Ginger Nazi who lives in 5282 Loughboro would be safe as long as they stayed indoors, but everyone else including me would probably be screwed unless we happened to be near a bunker.
The fact that I think about this more than a few times a week is ridiculous and embarrassing–as with many of the other things I’m afraid of, like microwaves and McDonalds and disembodied heads–and yet at the same time, it’s the logical end result of our post-9/11 paranoia in this country, as exhibited countless times over in our popular culture. Someone–monsters, terrorists, robots, aliens, even people on the inside, perhaps even Barack Obama himself–wants to destroy us, and will usually at the very least succeed in knocking down all our cherished monuments. How many dozens of films have joyously exhibited the dismembering of the Washington Monument, as if America is going through a metaphorical castration?
I don’t want to go far down this road; asking whether the cultural reasons for believing in imminent threats to our country include subconscious guilt or denial belongs to another blog post and really to more astute cultural scholars than I ever plan on becoming. But suffice to say, I’ll walk down the national mall tonight and hope that nothing particularly dangerous is embedded in those fireworks, and that this year is not the year someone evil decides to ‘make a statement’.
(another aside, every time I see some asshole make a joke about wiping DC off the map “to get rid of the politicians” or some nonsense I cringe. It’s not just a bad joke, but DC is actually a city just like any other city, with 500,000 people doing normal things like shopping at Wal-Mart and falling asleep on the bus. We don’t deserve to die!)
My fear is no less realistic or logical than my old roommate’s fear of black people, although I’d say my fear is a little more benign. He–let’s give him a nice patriotic pseudonym like “Nathan”–told me that he’d briefly looked at renting a room near where I live now, but that he decided that in this neighborhood he’d almost certainly be car-jacked (not a problem if you don’t have a car!) and all the housing looked like shit. Well, he sort of had me there; there are bars on some of the windows near where I live, and some ugly empty lots with weeds growing through the pavement, but whatever. If you don’t like black people, you don’t have to talk to them. It’s not as if anyone is friendly to their neighbors back in the Palisades.
People have a ridiculous sense of urban areas as being places where minorities lurk behind every corner, every back alley, waiting to rape you or shoot you in the face, but after riding the subway in DC enough times, I have come to the conclusion that as degenerate as they may be, people of color or Mexico or somewhere else are too preoccupied with better things to do than ruin your day. Maybe they have a job. Maybe they want to take a nap. Maybe they are talking on the phone with someone you don’t know. But they’re ignoring you. Such is the case just about anywhere. Even in a “bad” neighborhood. Nobody is waiting for you, except for maybe a handful of crazy outliers, who are disparate enough as to be about as threatening on average as a loose nuke.
I’ll try not to be glib. People get mugged, people get pick-pocketed…hell, this was the subject of my very first blog post, on my very first day in Barcelona! But even then, YOU are not the target, just your money. Nobody wants to kill or intentionally harm you.
Actually, plenty of people want to kill or intentionally harm you. But they exist within and without the full spectrum of humanity. You can’t run and hide from bad people. They’re everywhere. There are evil men (and women) in Columbia Heights AND the Palisades. But in the Palisades, the threat is even worse because it’s hidden behind closed doors and then under the thick smothering cushion of upper-class urbanity. Someone rapes you in ‘the Heights’ and if you can identify them, they’re going to jail. Your rich white neighbor rapes you and you’re looking at months and months of juggling in the justice system.
The kinds of pettiness people get up to in the suburbs are often much more dangerous than the brief and specific motives behind carjacking. My landlord could have killed me by accident because he didn’t want to pay an extra $200, which to me is a far far more heinous crime than trying to muscle $50 out of me on purpose.
The Palisades are a ghetto of an entirely different sort. If I wanted to go to a coffee shop within walking distance, my only options were a Starbucks or the Au bon Pain in Sibley Hospital. Although pretty in the summer, the Palisades are mostly an empty and generic collection of homes which could have been anywhere in the Upland South. There were a lot of nice doggies, but not many nice dog owners; some would get angry if you tried to pet them. I suppose things would have been different if I had a car to drive into Arlington or Bethesda. But I didn’t, and that was by choice, so for me the Palisades were just wide empty spaces between places I actually wanted to get to, like American University or Georgetown.
And the only decent thing about the area, the Belgian waffles at the farmer’s market, punished me in a bad way this Sunday. Not to get too gross, but three waffles went in, but only two went out the way they were supposed to. The other served as a disgusting reminder of what happens when you try to cram too much processed sugar and grease into your face after a night of heavy(ish) drinking.
That’s all for now.
Happy birthday, America!