Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

The woman who brought me into this world is the embodiment of love. She is kind, good-hearted and caring; she is fun-loving and funny, too.
My mother is not only the woman who gave me birth; she has been a powerful influence and has been my closest friend for all of my adult life.

Mom, thank you for all that you are. Thank you for everything.

And Happy Mother's Day to all the rest of you mothers, grandmothers, step-mothers, foster mothers, surrogate mothers and mother figures out there.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

More Fun in the Neighborhood

(Photo by Ted Jackson, Times Picayune.)

I've got other things to write about but I wanted to dispense with this one first.

My neighborhood is starting to remind me of that weekend in April of 2005 when my corner appeared to have become the temporary portal to Hell.

I had written an elaborate post about what happened on Tuesday night (May 1st) while it was all fresh, but then Firefox crashed and took all but the first few sentences with it. (So much for that Blogger auto-save feature.) It took a long time to compose that post --you know I'm a four-fingered, hunt and peck typist, at best --and if it had survived, you'd have been treated to a riveting account of my first really close encounter with New Orleans street crime, Wild West-style. It was kinda like Blake's experience, only the vehicle involved didn't drive backwards for three blocks. He only made it about 90 feet before crashing and he was moving forward the whole time.

On Tuesday, May 1st, my neighbor was outside and noticed a car and its occupants just sitting on our corner for a while before driving the short block to the corner store up the street. That kind of thing always looks like drug deal behavior to me. According to the Times Picayune account of the event, some kind of argument ensued outside the store between the vehicle's driver and two young guys on bikes. The guys left, then returned with guns and shot the driver in his car.

I heard the first few shots while I was in the house packing boxes and went to my front door to see what was going on. The front door faces in the direction of the corner store and I got there just in time to see all hell break loose up the street. I saw people scuffling to get out of the way and two guys dive in the back of a red pick-up truck, which took off. I thought these guys were the shooters, but then I saw two guys running toward my house, guns in hand, shooting back toward the store.

At first I thought I should try to get a good look at them, but since they were coming so fast in my direction, I thought it would be better to secure the house and make sure Rachel stayed up in her room, where she was playing with the few toys she's kept around for her amusement while I work. There's little in terms of wall between my kitchen and the outside world and as I headed through it to close the wooden back-door, (the iron security door was already locked), I heard one of the shooters say to the other, "let's go this way." I prayed that "this way" wasn't through my yard. (It wasn't.)

This all happened around 5:30 PM. The neighborhood was bustling and more than a half-dozen of my immediate neighbors saw these guys, yet the police didn't see fit to interview any of us.

Rachel had been bugging me for at least a half hour before this happened to take her to that store for a snack. I said no again and again. Usually I relent, and I'm so glad I didn't this time. I can't imagine how traumatized she would have been if we'd been that close to the action. Understandably, she was kind of freaked out by all this, but less so than I would have been at her age. Of course, when I was 10, I was severely traumatized by television coverage of people jumping to their deaths from the Rault Center (there's video, if you really think you want to see it), followed shortly thereafter by watching sniper Mark Essex pick off people on the street from various spots in the downtown Howard Johnson's, then himself being splattered in a hail of bullets on the HoJo rooftop. It didn't help that my parents, who both worked downtown, came and pulled me out of school that day, as they'd been advised to do so in fear of race riots that were being predicted. It took me a long time to get over the trauma of it all and for at least a couple of years after that, I freaked out whenever I heard firecrackers, convinced that it was sniper fire. Somehow, my dad acquired bullet fragments and casings from the scene which he mounted on cardboard for me to take to school as a "show and tell" exhibit. That didn't strike me as strange then, but it sure does now.

I was pretty freaked out by the corner shooting, too, but less so than I would have been 19 years ago when we first bought the house. And it passed quickly. I've heard so many gunshots and we've had more than a few murders in the neighborhood over the years. I'm desensitized. That makes it all the more sad.

There have been other fairly recent shootings in or around this store. There was one about 3 years ago in the middle of the day. Two guys down, one of them dead. Drug related. A police officer was living next door to me at that time and he pressured the store owners to get a police detail there to curtail the drug activity. Things got better, but then came The Storm. My police officer neighbor is gone now, (he was here for the storm and aftermath, though), and aside from a few things mentioned in the middle of this post, the neighborhood was pretty quiet until Jakes reopened. And I just learned that a man shot a woman in the hand in a "domestic incident" inside the store a couple of weeks ago. Oy!

This isn't store-related, but a last month, a shifty and apparently slow-witted, young thugster sidled up to me in the yard while I was painting the house and, after some pathetic and brief attempt to make conversation in order to get closer to me, lifted my shirt and asked me if I had any tatoos. He had very bad intentions, that was clear to me. My evasive tactics worked, (probably because there were potential witnesses nearby), and I was able to run him off. Nonetheless, he made at least 5 more attempts to sneak back over when he thought I wasn't looking, as if to ambush me. I kept my eyes on him and whenever he realized that I saw him, he'd try to make it look like he had some legitimate reason to come back in my direction. He even went to the door of a neighbor and pretended to talk to her inside the screen. (She doesn't know him.) Anyway, my vigilance worked as a deterrent. I told all my neighbors what happened so they could be on the lookout for him and learned that he did a similar stalking routine on two of them, but never got close enough to take any kind of action.

I've got a beautiful, diverse neighborhood and this small group of thugs is making the rest of us rather uncomfortable. This is not a problem that will be solved overnight, but in the meantime, I'd like all the thug-boys in my neighborhood to fight their battles in their own space or choose a better way of life, (it is possible and to say it isn't is to spit in the face of every person whose ever chosen to find a respectable way out and to take it --and if you want to argue this point, I'll introduce you to some of those people and you can argue it with them and not me because they're quite passionate and armed with first-hand experience); otherwise, if these guys really think the thug life is where it's at, they can just scram and start their own little insulated crime society on a small, deserted island somewhere, with all the guns and ammunition they want.

I'm going to be back in my house one day and it's going to be really nice when it's finally finished. I want my neighbors to be nice to each other, too. All of them.