My Paradise In the Hood

I was only ten years old when I boldly told my poor mother that I’m leaving this horrible place and never coming back. In retrospect,  I’m sure not an easy thing for my poor mother to hear coming from her favorite (sorry sis) daughter. She  fought hard to make things better for me but despite all she did to protect me, the surrounding elements had other plans. A concrete jungle. A forgotten class. If she couldn’t control the outside forces, she damn well made sure that things were different in one small spot. A refuge of sorts. It was my paradise in the hood, apartment 5G.

This was a beautiful prewar building with a lobby that boasted super lustrous floors and two stairwells with marble landings. A quiet Jewish neighborhood. We were Hispanic. This was far from being a  symbiotic relationship since “our kind” were not wanted there. As was my mother’s nature she was not taking no for an answer. She scrounged, she saved, the woman actually bribed her way in.  And in no time 5G became our home. We acclimated quickly and were accepted warmly by all.

If I had to imagine how the Daily News classified post presented this apartment it would look like this;

One large bedroom, possible junior 4. Large eat in kitchen with fire escape access. Washing machine connection set up. Ceiling height cabinets. Laminate countertops. Deep double sink. Extra large living room with popcorn ceiling and walls. Lots of windows throughout. Very sunny and breezy. Open view. Three large closets. Hardwood floors. Quiet neighborhood. Close to schools, shops and transportation.

That description may have baited my mother but doesn’t entirely explain the personality and character of this sweet and cozy apartment. I never thought of this place as just a rental apartment. This was home. Maybe no fireplace. Maybe no backyard. What I had though were a whole mess of other cumulative details.

The funky yellow and red velvet couches I’d relax on to watch The Odd Couple and Twilight Zone even on a school night. There were those times we’d plop down and sit Japanese style at our glass coffee table to eat take out chicken wings with fried rice straight from the cartons. This was our interpretation of dinner at the dining table. The oddly placed yellow washing machine in the kitchen I’d sit on to listen to my mother tell and retell the same childhood stories as she cooked dinner. All the windows with a view to the Bruckner Boulevard Highway that introduced and filled 5G with the humming sound of the cars that zoomed by. This sound music became my lullaby. Mom would frame all those windows with delicate sheer lace curtains that would dance and float softly with each subtle breeze that rushed through. It was beautiful to watch, like a ballet of sorts. The incredibly shiny hardwood floors my mom would devotedly wax every weekend with Mop and Glo. I’d suffer, patiently waiting until I could play out my rendition of Tom Cruises infamous scene in Risky Business and slide across the slippery floors in my socks. Having a fire escape provided a multitude of uses as an extension of the apartment. Tanning bed. Social venue. Best of all? A launching pad for my G.I.Joe army men to catch the air just right under their parachutes as they gently floated down one by one into the alleyway. Two large Shepards awaiting their chew toys below. The long red shag carpet mom decided to cover the entire apartment with improved the coziness factor 5G already exuded, but sadly halted my sliding performances. The prominent bulky green rotary phone on the kitchen wall with a cord so long you could walk the entire apartment with it. I tested this. It extended as far out as to the next door neighbor. Deep closets were Mom’s supposed ideal hiding place of choice for surprise gifts. That’s what I allowed her to believe. I perfected the surprised “is that for me?” look at an early age.

Surely these simple everyday things added to the comfort of 5G. But Mom’s continued efforts to keep it entertaining came barging through when she built forts from bedroom sheets, or put the mattress on the floor so I can flip, twist and jump myself to exhaustion. She’d grant me the decision on how to rearrange all the furniture in the living room and with our backs as leverage,  we would push and slide until my 10 year old self was satisfied. And hysterically, at times all items landed exactly where they started. And as every parent knows paradise wouldn’t be complete without the addition of a few furry friends. Although poor mother didn’t have much by the way of financial means that definitely didn’t stop her from opening her heart and home to two hamsters, one dog and a cat. My loyal companions.

And so I look back and reflect on why she did it? Why did she do any AND all of this? The answer lies in why at ten years old I told my poor mother I was leaving this horrible place and never coming back. Horrible? Despite my mom’s efforts to buy her way into what she believed would be the optimal environment conducive to raising her favorite child, her dream soon transformed into a nightmare when this so called perfect environment took a drastic turn for the worse. What was once a beautiful quiet Jewish neighborhood with the older generation sitting on lawn chairs watching the kids playing skelzies and Double Dutch quickly became a breeding ground for crack heads and dealers. These older folks died off,  their children moved away and affluence was a distant memory. Low income, no income, welfare income and section 8 populated. Unfortunately,  “my kind” populated.

My poor mother bought her way in and at 10 years old I was looking for a way out. Am I bitter? Did I become a product of this sad and pitiful environment? Did I go from favorite child to dreaded teenager?  I couldnt. My mom’s plans never changed. She worked hard to get into a great neighborhood and although she was presented with many bumps in the road, it had no effect on what went on in 5G.

If Boynton Avenue and all those in it wanted to dig their own graves, mom created heaven. Boynton Avenue was hell, but 5G was our paradise.

3 thoughts

  1. You described the apartment perfectly. I know she upgraded to a yellow rotary phone with a disturbing long cord too. But I have to admit you transported me back to her apartment where the streets the trouble and the world couldn’t touch us. It truly was a home and she’s what every mom aspires to be like. Xoxoxoxoxo you should try writing a book based on this post BTW. It was so heartfelt and draws you right in.

  2. Such an excellent post…. It was well written out…. I was actually waiting for more…!! You should write a book about your life experiences…. Especially as they connect to growing up as a latina in a challenging neighborhood…!

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