I live in what brokers would call a “up-and-coming” area. (There’s no G-word in Brokerese.) It’s scrappy, but not slummy — a true neighborhood, with enough general stores and Pinterest-y cafes to feel sufficiently Brooklandia. I’m feet from fast trains to and from the island, blocks from Prospect Park and downtown, and minutes from dollar oysters and expertly made Manhattans at my spot around the corner. The essentials, you know?
For as much as we love to hate on the G-word — and as ill its effects on longtime residents who can no longer pay the rent — it’s not all bad news. Gentrification is as much about the cop stationed outside the ATM as the landing of Starbucks (for the record, we’re all mad about that). It’s a conscious effort the city makes to improve communities formerly underserved and overrun by crime. As intended, it makes life better for everyone.
But it’s a process, and not without its tensions along the way. My block pays witness to that: one side new-age gentry, the other a raucous bastion of hood. I’ve never felt personally threatened, but I’ve spent a few nights tossing and turning in my front-facing apartment as the street action raged into the wee hours. 2am. 3am. 4am. Good God, are these people still awake, filling the night with cackled obscenities? I were true gentry, I’d huffily slam the window and swan back into my air-conditioned apartment. As it is, I need the breeze.
So I hear a lot. A lot of “fuck you,” a lot of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” and a lot of open-window domestic disputes. The vibe errs more rowdy than violent, but a few sound effects have made me wonder if I was turning a blind eye — or pillow-smothered ear — on humanity. A recent night left no doubt in my mind that something was off. I awoke to a dreadful chorus: rhythmic hoots, piteous feline yowling, and shouts of, “My money’s on the black one!”
I cracked. I called 911, slurring a half-conscious explanation from under my covers. In the moment, I knew I was doing the right thing. This wasn’t about stifling the community. It was about protecting it from destruction that arose — however organically — from patterns that could and should be changed.
By the time the cops came, the crowd had dispersed, but the guttural meows had not. No arrests were made, to my knowledge. The cats were removed from the scene. I wasn’t contacted for more information, but by then I was far from sleep, so I made bread pudding. The next day, my girlfriends came over for brunch. What a princess, right? Why don’t I go back where I came from?
That’s not the solution. Nor is my keeping my mouth shut when shit gets real. And that’s the undisclosed cost of life on the gentrified side of the street — a responsibility to see the evolution through. What’s more, I can’t expect my catfighting neighbors to see things my way, no matter how pleasantly we wave as I pass in my business-casual attire. Things look different from over there. One man’s cup of sugar is another’s trod-on petunias.
There’s nothing to do but wave when the waving’s good, and follow my gut when it’s not. And to know that being neighborly isn’t as simple as doling out bread pudding. Luckily, we’re moving into a season when I can close the window. I just hope we can find a way to keep the door open.