The internet is aflame with gun arguments right now, impassioned and extreme on both sides. On one site I’m a member of, I read a comment in defense of private citizens keeping themselves armed (without stricter regulations) to the effect of for those of us who don’t live in ivory towers…live in the real world…danger…needing a weapon…and a few cities were named, to make the point that (s)he was not referencing bucolic pastures or suburban houses made of ticky-tacky. That specific comment really struck me, because as a city dweller I’ve always thought of this as an issue for those who don’t live in cities. People living in wide open spaces who don’t have police and police stations within spitting distance, and of course, visions (fed by the media, no personal experience) of compounds populated by paranoid folks who don’t trust the commie gubmint. Obviously there are criminals with guns here in the city, law enforcement officers, and those who work in the Diamond District, but nope, I don’t know of any neighbors who are campaigning to keep legal arsenals.
Several of my online friends who aren’t American have been asking me questions, all pretty much boiling down to a blend of what-the-fuck? why? guns? and America?
I touched on this in my last post, but I want to talk about this a bit more, and hope readers will join the conversation. You’re welcome to agree or disagree with me, but no personal attacks or blanket slurs. While Americans have a common bond by definition, our experiences of life in America–what constitutes the “real world,” varies greatly, and that plays a huge part in individual stances.
Maybe you grew up with inappropriate jokes about those who lived in the Bronx. Or Detroit, or Chicago. I grew up with inappropriate jokes about places in big sky country (is that a nickname for an actual place or an idea?), where the men were men and the sheep were nervous. Shouldn’t we be past all that now?
You all know Mrs Fringe is a New Yawkah; born here, raised here, guessing I’ll collect social security here too. I ride the subways every day. I’m not wealthy, never have been. When I was younger, I worked in downtown Brooklyn, when it was very, very different from the artsy, hipster paradise it is today. Our office was next to the Brooklyn Arms Hotel, and every day on my way from the subway station, I’d feel the crack vials crunch under my feet while I rushed past the Brooklyn Arms Hotel (a particularly notorious welfare hotel) and hoped I didn’t get clipped in the head by something flying out a window–’cause that happened regularly. Of course, I wasn’t first starting my day when I went into the office, that was after three hours of “field work,” which involved walking through neighborhoods that weren’t part of any tourist attractions, and visiting clients who weren’t particularly happy to see my smiling face at 7am. Sometimes I was walking those streets at 1am, because of a late shift or an emergency–and trust me, this was long before New York was spit shined and spiffed up. I’m not trying to glorify life in the city or America, there’s crime, there are problems, and yes, I’ve had a moment or ten where I’ve been frightened.
I don’t live in the roughest neighborhood, it’s one that’s been “gentrified.” I’m not young, I remember when it wasn’t. Gentrified in (most of) NY means there’s still a good mix of everyone–race, culture, and economics–sharing the same block and the same public schools. Three kids, three elementary schools, and two of those elementary schools were classified as Title I schools. Title I means there’s a high percentage of children who come from low-income families who qualify for free/reduced lunch. If you’re unfamiliar, trust me, your income has to be pretty damned low for your kids to qualify for free lunch, and yes, here in Fringeland, we’ve had many years where our kiddos qualified because life.
On my block there are a mix of residences. Google tells me one brownstone is on the market for $6 million dollars, average for the block and neighborhood. Next to it is a housing project (yanno, the projects), there’s a small building that I think is a co-op (a very NY thing, you buy your apartment, but technically you own shares in the building, not your apartment, so everything you want or do–including the purchase of the place–has to be approved by the co-op board, generally a bunch of residents who take pleasure in agonizing over awning colors and making residents jump through as many hoops as possible), and there’s my building, which is part of a program from the 60’s/70’s designed to keep working class people in the city. One block over starts the SROs and a couple of shelters. Wikipedia says SROs are for one or two people, but I know plenty of families that live in those one room dwellings. Regardless of which address they live in, I recognize most of the long term faces on the block and immediate neighborhood, and they recognize me, too. We smile, nod, maybe say Happy Holidays. My family’s experience of America is quite different than that of the family in a brownstone up the street, and different again than that of a family in the projects.
Even if I only look within my building, there’s a mix of skin colors, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds; I know of at least ten different languages spoken within these bricks, twelve different religions, atheists–likely more, this is NY, we don’t talk personal religion all that much. Multicultural is a fact of life here, not a talking point, and definitely not something that strikes fear in my heart. So what’s my point?
We’ve got a lot of questions that need to be discussed and examined, but more guns can’t possibly be the answer. If your experience of America is different than mine, that’s part of what makes America what it is. It doesn’t invalidate my experience any more than mine invalidates yours. Let’s talk about what’s real, what it is to live in x city, x suburb, x town; talk about it based on real life experiences, not phantoms of what could happen based on shadows and misdirection. Maybe you’d be afraid if you found yourself on a subway platform at 1am and saw a few of my neighbors waiting for the 2 train. I’m pretty sure I’d piss my pants if I found myself faced with a bear in the woods. Hell, I run into the house when I’m visiting friends in New Jersey and a deer steps into their backyard. But my world is still real, thankyouverymuch. Real city, real New Yawk, real America. There have been quite a few times where I wished I had cab fare, but I never wished for a gun.