We were not young. Call it early middle age. Baby boomer free-lance artist types, we had rented apartments in every lakefront neighborhood in Chicago. We’d just lost another great place to increasing property values and increasing rents and decided it was time to buy our first house. We looked carefully, found a place we could afford in an “improving” neighborhood, and moved in.
We chose the wrong block. We had just moved in with the Almighty Imperial Gangstas.
In this blog I’ll be talking about our first eleven years living in “Devilside,” one of the AIG neighborhoods in the area known to more innocent Chicagoans as Logan Square. Our cross streets—McLean and St. Louis—are featured on the Chicagogangs.org website, and drugs have been sold here since the 1960s. If the real estate boom had gone on a few more years, the block might have been worth more as property than as a drug shopping mall. As it is, the wall of money stalled a couple of blocks east of us before it subsided altogether. Because of the glut of foreclosures on the market, our house is worth considerably less than we owe on it. So we and the Gangstas are stuck with each other. They’re not any happier about it than we are, but they don’t have any more choice than we do, either.
I’ll be talking about drugs and shootings and thousands of 911 calls. About one girl murdered in a playground and another kidnapped and impregnated. About a Gangsta dumped on our porch by his pals after he’d done some of the toxic heroin that was going around a few years ago.
I’ll also talk about sharing the evening of September 11, 2001, with a bunch of neighborhood kids who had not yet understood what they would be told in school the next day—that life had changed forever. About thousands of books handed out to hundreds of kids in the faint hope that kids who read will be a hair less likely to become kids who kill, and anyway reading is better than not reading. About foot races on the sidewalk and standing-on-one-foot contests and anything else I could come up with to occupy children on a hot summer night.
I don’t plan to do much analyzing of causes. Our story is far too close and personal for that. Let those who have never watched a young woman hurl a brick through a car window while she was talking on her cell phone try to understand what massive failure of our social and economic system has led to this dark world my partner Michael and I are living in. We’re trying just to survive it.
But when you’re standing in your bathrobe in the dark at the bottom of the stairs looking out at eight or nine guys who have just wakened you at 2:00 AM with shouted obscenities, you can’t help wondering. You pick up the phone and dial the cops because every 911 report gets your block a little more attention when the cars are scheduled. But you also think about why life has to be like this.
Then you take a walk and run into something like this and you laugh your ass off.