"Face it, you live in a bad neighborhood," said the voice in the darkness. "Look, you sound like a nice lady. My advice to you is to get out of that neighborhood as fast as possible."
I sat on my futon in the darkness, straining to hear the policeman's voice on my cell phone over the earthshaking din that screamed out of a ground-floor apartment and rattled the entire building. I was angry that even the police could do nothing to stop the loud party that had been blasting away several floors below my window all evening. I was incredibly depressed to be confronted with the thought of moving at 230 in the morning, especially since I only earn enough to pay my rent, and not one dime more. How could I possibly afford to move? I felt trapped.
Morning finally arrived, hot and sweaty, and it was greeted by yet another impressive display of bone-breaking sound, except this time, it pounded out of an open car sitting by the sidewalk near the subway entrance.
What was going on? My suddenly peaceful block has been transformed overnight into a hellish envelope of deafening stereos and firecrackers and screaming kids and shouting adults that never stops. The cop had told me that the drug dealers, robbers, rapists and murderers had just returned to the area and the police could do nothing to control the situation because they only had six cars covering the entire precinct, which encompases a fairly large area and many thousands of people.
After last night, I feel incredibly unsafe in my own neighborhood, where I have lived for nearly two years. According to recent statistics, even though burglaries have decreased 8.3 percent across NYC, they rose by 19.8 percent this year in my neighborhood and robberies increased by 14 percent even though the rest of the city enjoyed a 8.2 percent decrease. What will happen to me if I am confronted by a robber? Will I be killed because I don't have any extra cash? Should I should get another cat sitting job so I can earn enough money to carry with me so I can buy my life from a robber? Or is my life even worth that added effort? (honestly, I'd prefer to spend the money on a nice meal, some laundry supplies or even a pair of shoes).
Even Mayor Bloomberg doesn't care; he showed up 25 minutes late to a recent neighborhood meeting, and when there, he gave his usual preprogrammed spiel about "modern New York is a place where a diverse population enjoys improving schools [as a college professor, I can tell you that our schools are shockingly bad], a recovering economy [uh, yeah, right, you're smoking crack, Mr. Mayor] and falling crime." He then tries to placate us with a host of ridiculous comments such as "We have to bring it [crime] down more, and we have a little problem in the 34th Precinct, which is actually where you are now."
Well, duh. We are (suddenly) painfully aware of where we live. The police tell us which precinct we are talking to every time we call them with a problem, which is increasingly often. At this neighborhood meeting, my neighbors complained to Bloomberg about serious issues; drug dealing, prostitution, robbery, burglary, car thefts, drag racing, menacing packs of pit bulls, and unresponsive police. Even though no one complained about porno shops, the mayor appears to be more worried about the porno shops in the Village than murder: a woman was murdered in my neighborhood a year ago and that crime remains unsolved. She was murdered while jogging early in the morning in one of the two neighborhood parks that are located two blocks from where I live, the very same parks where I have been told I should go bird watching early in the morning "because they are safer than Central Park".
Yeah, right. I never felt comfortable in those parks, so I always avoided them. But now I feel unsafe in my own neighborhood, even walking home from the subway on the sidewalks. What will I do when I have to return home after dark from teaching this autumn? Will I be assaulted on the train as that woman was a week ago? Or maybe I will instead be assaulted as I walk home in the dark from the subway terminus? If I am assaulted, how will I afford the medical bills, since I have no health insurance? Who can I trust to take care of my birds if I am hospitalized -- or worse?
I can't believe I sacrificed everything and worked so hard for my entire life only to find myself living near the poverty level, working as a part time temp while supplementing my meagre income as a cat sitter, with no friends or family or really, anyone to turn to. What was I thinking? Or maybe the better question is; was I thinking at all?
On the other hand, it is doubtful that my life is significantly different from what it would have been had I not struggled for my education.