new harlem locals

It’s Harlem, We See Plenty of Crazy….

The serenity is broken by fireworks buzzing past our heads from the street below… They usually start in May, getting ready for July 4th and then they continue to be set off all through July and well into August. Some nights it sounds like a carnival other nights, Beirut because of the gun fire and motorcross bikes.

Often in the daytime we have the helicopters buzzing… In this neighbourhood, that usually means someone has done something stupid. And stupid seems to happen a lot around here. Today those noisy machines were hovering directly over head, for an hour! I guess the perps were hiding well. There wasn’t much street activity, which probably means they were  just checking stuff out. It’s just like that here…

nypd chopper

At night the search lights from the choppers light up the ‘hood in a  different way. Crisscrossing across the night sky and there’s always more than one.

But it’s better than it was when we first came, fresh off the boat, so to speak. I was so naive. I saw some really crazy shit…There was a needle exchange clinic around the corner and lots of empty blocks. The crack heads would sit on our garden and smoke their crack, cos it was comfy…I’d never seen crack or anyone smoke it before, so we all learned together. Luckily the kids were too little to notice. Because of the crack, the hookers were around too. Lovely girls really all strung out on crack , just looking for their next money source.

A homeless guy set up house on the corner, complete with rugs, couches and lamps. But then the cops came and threw it all over the fence. He lived there happily for 3 whole days!homeless man sets up house on the corner

On any given Saturday night the entertainment on our block was loud and random. Often the street would fill up with cop cars and plain unmarked cars and even a taxi. This is how I learned there was an undercover yellow cab. Did you know that?

One evening, late, The King and the Princess were coming home from a function and cruising the ‘hood for a parking space, around here they’re rarer than hen’s teeth, after 6pm. After circling for some time they found one, one street down but there were two men rolling on the ground fighting, it was 1am after all. The girlfriend was screaming at them to get up and out of the way. Now the King, not being one to be deterred ever, started slowly edging into the space, where the brawlers were, as he edged in, they rolled out, continuing to fight. It was like a synchronized ballet performance. They finally got out of the way and he neatly parked the car but as he and the Princess began to exit the vehicle the fighters got up and one pulled his gun out and fired 3 shots in the air. Thinking very fast the King dialled 911 but from his lap using hands-free dialing. The last thing you want when a drunken brawler fires a gun, is for him to see you calling the popo. Those boys in blue rained down on that scene like flies on a shit pile…You’ve never seen something appear so fast. Off to jail those brawlers went, with the girlfriend cursing them out all the way.

Another time, as I was coming home from the playground with the kids, who were 2 and 5, a car came screaming up the road on the wrong side , slammed on its brakes and four HUGE guys jumped out with guns drawn…in broad daylight! I was less than 20 feet away. My first instinct was to see which way they were holding those weapons so as to determine whether I was safe or to run like shit the other way. As I was sizing up the scene, one of them saw me, said “shit!’ with a look of horror on his face and I registered at that exact moment, they were cops because they had the double handed fist grip going on and not the sideways gangsta hold and a gangsta wouldn’t care if kids were around. A quick turn right and a hightail outta there we did do.. I didn’t leave the apartment for about 3 days. It unnerved me that much.

We have 9mm shells we found outside the building, but not in a long time.
new harlem locals

Not long after that, I was involved in a mugging, not the victim but I chased the guy away, called 911 and stayed with the girl until they came. I later had to go to the precinct to try and identify the assailant. It was at lunch time and Miss Gremlin and I were walking home from a ‘Mommy and me’ class. I saw him in the bushes but I thought he was just peeing, he obviously decided a) I didn’t have what he wanted and b) was too difficult a target as I had a small child… you know mama bear goes crazy ass when attacked. The girl was only one flight of stairs behind me, so I was able to help quickly. He got her ipod but she wasn’t hurt.

The cops used to use our rooftop as a look out vantage point around the ‘hood. Ours was one of the first ‘new’ buildings and therefore towered over the neighbourhood and they could see all sorts of things…

It’s changed here a lot since then.

In the early days, I was pretty freaked out but things have improved and I’ve gotten braver as well. It’s not perfect but it’s so much better. When the kids get home, they give me a report that they saw another arrest in the street or the trail bikes are out again. They’re learning to spot the real danger.

Nowadays we mostly just smile and keep walking, not too much phases us anymore, we know the drill.  Hey, we live in Harlem, Yo!
The Detectives come to party now 🙂

harlem detectives


Have you ever lived in a neighbourhood with ‘character’? I’d love to hear your experiences, has it changed you much?



Comments 20

  1. I lived in the East Village — Alphabet City — in the 80s. Whoa! I stepped over drunks to get into my building and once walking down Ave A with my parents, about every 10 steps someone would offer us/them drugs. Washington Square Park — sanitized now — was the perfect place to score EVERYTHING and I lived on the Ave of Americas side of it. The Village had tons of character. One of my favorite places to live in the city!

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