More Foggy Bottom, Less Sunset Park ... Please

by Ricardo Gutierrez

I went to college at GW. Foggy Bottom was so nice and so far from hood. It helped me become a better person and grow past the emotional caps that growing up in a shitty neighborhood forces on you. I was able to smile in the street and say hello to people I'd never met without thinking they were trying to get over on me. I was more open to the world around me.

That sort stint is the only time I've lived in a nice neighborhood. When I was growing up Sunset Park, Brooklyn was a really shitty neighborhood. Shootouts at block parties, crack vials, broke-down prostitutes and heroin addicts by your stoop who did dead-on imitations of slow-motion drinking bird toys. 

Since then things have gotten a lot better in Sunset. I'm sure the drugs persist behind closed doors, but walking down the street the most you'll experience is the lingering smell of weed in the air. There aren't any more women walking the track. The face of the neighborhood now is a little less Latin-Caribbean, a lot more Central and South American, Chinese and Middle Eastern. It's a stop for folks to be at so their kids can master the language and chase the dream.

It's still not pretty. There is still an extreme dearth of trees. Trash still rolls be like tumbleweed. There is still the big, green, rusted eyesore that splits the neighborhood and we can all thank Robert Moses for. Ultimately, I'd call it progress, and I want the fuck out.

I don't want out because I'm crazy and miss the glory days when I really felt like I had to walk around with "ojos pelado" (eyes peeled), I'll feel that way not matter where I am. I want out because I'm feeling too old for this shit. I want trees, nice coffee shops and a lot of good restaurants within walking distance. I don't want my cab ride home from hanging out to be a real expense. My family, which now consists of my girlfriend Sam and our mini-dacshund Elijah Craig, deserve that. I want out because of the type of shit that happened this morning.

Sam gets up before 7 a.m. three times a week and dons chef's whites at spot called Spoon in Flatiron. I get up with her and walk her to the train. Not because I'm a gentlemen, which I am, but because whenever she walks alone, inevitably some dude comes out of his face with some stupid shit. Never mind that at 5'9" she towers over all these fools, she is also Half-Korean and Half-Scottish Irish, so she stands out in the hood. But the fact is this is just what these assholes do. So I walk her to and from the train whenever I can. Just so she doesn't have to deal with it.

This morning, about four houses away from ours, these two Mexican dudes are lingering around their car and they see us walking by, or I should say, they see her walking by because I was invisible. They are straight-staring at her body and one of them makes some sort of low clicking sound that's a close kin to the act of sucking his teeth. I stared at them both and in the Spanish equivalent said "What the fuck are you staring at? You lose something?" (I had to say it in Spanish cause everyone in the neighborhood who doesn't know me seems to think I'm some white dude whose just moved in and doesn't know what time it is.) They diverted their eyes and didn't say shit. 

I'm a peaceful man, ask anyone who knows me, but on five hours sleep and the obvious disrespect, my blood bubbled up. I pictured a few old Mortal Kombat fatalities I could pull on these dudes to school 'em right. But we just walked on.

I'm too old for this shit and have too much to lose. And my lady deserves better. I want trees dammit!!

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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