Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block

"Intoxicated by West Harlem's cultural diversity, and, more importantly, its affordability, Judith impulsively buys a fixer upper brownstone in the area. Little does she know what's in store."

The video trailer above is for a book, Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block, recounting the experience of a Judith Matloff, who impulsively bought a house on West 141st Street in Hamilton Heights after visiting the area in 2000. An area of Harlem the NYTimes, in a piece about the book and the neighborhood, reports at that time, "was considered by law enforcement to be a main distribution point in the Northeast for millions of dollars in cocaine...Much of that drug activity was centered on Ms. Matloff’s street." The story went on to report another consequence of living in the neighborhood, "Her son, Anton, grew up thinking he was Latino: he spoke only Spanish, identified himself with the brown dolls and had a fashion sense that 'veered towards bling,' as Ms. Matloff explained."

The video above is pretty humorous, and I'm dying to read the book. I can't tell if I will enjoy it or not, but at first blush it seems entertaining. The author has published some excerpts on her page, and they're hard to interpret. I liked the video trailer better. Below is from an excerpt of the Prologue (pdf),

"Leaving the subway platform, I ran up the stairs to the street where the Mexican vendor cried, 'Tamales, Tamaales' like a siren...What terrific street life! If I closed my eyes and ignored the police sirens – for some reason there were so many – I could imagine myself on a commercial drag in Santo Domingo. I almost bumped into a group playing sidewalk baseball with a broomstick. They shot me curious looks...Turning the corner of what would soon be my – my! – street, I passed a cluster of men who regarded me gravely. “Buenos tardes!” I called out cheerily."

Following is an excerpt from An Encounter With Police (pdf), recounting an experience of having armed police guard their house for protection,

"...We knew from experience in Africa that there’s nothing like an armed man to provoke another armed man. This was like sending out a beacon to the block that we were in cahoots with the police. Even more worrying was John’s explosive reaction. He was puffing up like a rooster spoiling for a fight. 'You’ll have to move,' John ordered the man in shorts. The cop looked longingly at the freedom of Broadway -- so close, yet so far. 'Can’t. Orders,' he said regretfully. 'Whose orders?' John’s voice dropped an octave. The policeman put his hand on his holster for greater authority. 'The commander of Manhattan North, Diaz. He says you need protection.'"

The Book, Home Girl, is available for purchase at Amazon.
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