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Why is it, when you'd like to make a good impression regarding something, everything that can possibly foul it up goes wrong? You invite a new friend over to your house, and your cat barfs in her handbag, or you start a new job, and find out that you'd sat on gum at the bus stop and you have a huge smear of smoot on your butt all day. In my case, the “everything that could go wrong” incident revolves around the lack of peace in my neighborhood.

I don't know if I've spoken of it much, but I live in a kind of bad neighborhood. It wasn't bad at all when we moved in here four years ago…a little shabby, but generally a perfectly respectable, comfortable working-class neighborhood of little bungalows inhabited mostly by Latino families with kids. Folks hung out on their porches and back alleys, kids rode their bikes all over the place, and everything was pretty chill. The swarms of children playing on the sidewalks and in yards spoke well to us; people were confident of the relative safety of the area, and really lived here and went on about conducting a normal, unfettered life.

About a year ago, the police did a big, elaborate sting-and-sweep of a drug-riddled community almost directly north of us, and while they did an admirable job of cleaning up that neighborhood, all they really did was flush the problem southward. A dilapidated apartment building, two crumbling duplexes adjacent, and one house four doors west of us have become dealer HQ, and sketchy characters twitchy from crack, meth, or PCP meander up and down the street day in and out. Capitalistic competition amongst these various illicit substance emporiums frequently culminates in bellowing, blows, and gunfire. Todd and I have a macabre guessing game we like to call “gunfire or backfire,” though around 4th of July and New Years, we seasonally adapt it to “fireworks or firearms.”

About a week ago, we were sleeping, as we do at night, when we were awakened by a long chorus of “pah-pah-pah-pah-pah.” It sounded just like an electric nailgun, but who the heck is using a nailgun at 2:00 a.m. There are several houses being re-roofed on the block, but even the most dedicated workaholic is not laying shingles at 2:00 in the morning.

While my folks were here, they got to experience some of the true character of the neighborhood in its current incarnation. Apparently there was a loud altercation at the house to the west late in the night. My folks were camped out on the sofas in the front room and got to hear every word of it. That same night, somewhere back in the alley (probably from the apartments or duplexes on the east end of the street) there was yet another volley of gunfire. My folks lucked out and the acoustics were such that they didn't hear the gunfire. And the acoustics were such that we didn't hear the big noisy row out in the street.

I guess my parents already knew what to expect, though. They were here last fall, and got to see the parades of skuzzy, skeevy druggies meandering up and down the walk between one drug house and another. They heard donnybrooks at the house to the west of us. On both trips, they've seen heaps of old sofas, busted TVs, smelly old clothes, and shattered children's toys heaped higgldy-piggldy on the curbs by people too ignorant to know when Bulky Item Pickup takes place and too negligent to bag it up and put it out on regular trash day.

I'm getting thoroughly sick of this whole ghetto scene, but I'm feeling more or less stuck with it. When we got into our house four years ago, the neighborhood was stable and pleasant. Our little house is pretty and remarkably well suited to our way of living. It's convenient to downtown and to Todd's new workplace, as well as a reasonable distance to UMKC. When hopped-up hillbillies aren't scrappin' and shootin' it's still an attractive neighborhood, with cute little bungalows and big, old trees, some of which are left over from its earlier incarnation as an amusement park (true fact, my neighborhood was the end of the streetcar line back in the 1890s, and in order to entice people to ride the line, the line owner had an amusement park complete with roller coaster and ferris wheel built on the land at the end of the run. It was in operation until WWI)

I'm sure it's just a matter of time until the police institute another “crime sweep” and run these poor, twitchy, lost souls out into another area of the city. It really sucks, because I kinda feel bad for the druggies…it's a hell of a way to live, but on the other hand, they've worn out the last of my practical goodwill by being a flaming nuisance. I don't like the notion of my safety and property being in jeopardy because some cracked-out nutbag needs a fix and feels that pawning my bike or mugging me on the way home is an acceptable way to get it.

What I'd love to see, instead of these “sweeps,” is a program of detox, rehabilitation, and practical career education, to clean these folks up, give them some direction, and give them the means for a more productive life. I think a lot of these people get into the cheap-n-potent drugs because they truly don't have anything else going on.

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