I enjoy memoirs that I can easily picture myself living. Although I do not live in Manhattan nor have I ever bought and rehabbed a Victorian crack den in the middle of a crack infested neighborhood, I could do that. I could buy an old beat up house and live in less than favorable circumstances while I fixed it up like Judith Matloff in her lovely personal story Homegirl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block.
Ms Matloff has moved to New York City after a whole other lifetime living abroad and reporting on wars and natural disasters for various newspapers. She and her husband want to settle down and start a family which involves buying a house in their now chosen home of New York. Judith rationalizes that she has been in war zones and faced down militias, why should she worry about living on a block with drug dealers?
As I predicted from the start, after a few years of sweat and toil she and her husband come to have a beautiful home and family and come to have a real love for their strange neighborhood of misfits and crack addicts. They make friends, watch as stores come into the neighborhood, become activists for drug free neighborhoods, walk the dog and weather 9-11 together.
I loved the narrator’s insecurities about living there after she made the decision to buy, and I love watching her life take root. The whole story is delightful and page turning. About the only confusion I have is her ambivalence about the drug dealers who inhabit her street. On the one hand she befriends some of them and learns to use them to help her keep the addicts off her front steps and keep the crime away from the hood. She laments over one of them named Miguel who disappears suddenly. She even searches for him in the Dominican Republic when she goes there on business. On the other hand she openly hates them and works to rid her neighborhood of them. She rejoices when the undercover narcotics cops announce there is no more work to do in her neighborhood. Perhaps it is this very tension in the story that makes the story so compelling. Isn’t this basic truth for all of us? The very things we hate are somehow secretly so much a part of us that we really have a hard time not loving them. Or something like that. Read this one. It is enjoyable.