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Bronx Diarist

Brian C. Anderson
Trick or Treat?
Winter 1998

Our plan did not originally include moving to the Bronx. When my wife and I decided to come to New York, we had many reasons to do so: a new job, the prospect of living closer to our families, and of course Manhattan, the greatest place on Earth. But the Bronx? When people mentioned it, I pictured burned-out buildings and crack-addicted neighbors. What sane person would move there willingly?

But my friend David insisted that I had the Bronx all wrong. Moreover, the apartment building in which he lived had a vacancy. The rent was great, the apartment stood five minutes from a commuter train stop, and best of all, we would have friends living there. With two weeks to find a place to live, we took the easy route and trusted David.

As we descended from the cab our first evening in the Bronx, three police cars drove by slowly, peremptorily shining lights into the dark park in front of our new building. "Oh, there's a police precinct a block away," David reassured us, although later it occurred to me this was not sufficient explanation for what the police were doing. The next morning, though, we saw our new neighborhood in the bright light of a northeast October day, and it was almost idyllic. Old folks sat on park benches gossiping while dogs frolicked in the park—except, on closer inspection, the dogs were not frolicking so much as straining violently on their leashes. Almost all the dogs were pit bulls, with the occasional Cerberus-like rottweiler adding genetic variation. A lone poodle looked—quite rationally, I thought—terrified.

Our second night—Halloween—led me to suspect that we were unwitting pawns in David's master plan to gentrify the Bronx. First came the trick-or-treaters, some of whom were in their early twenties and spoke with deep voices. At about 9 pm we stopped answering the door. Then, a little later, our whole building began throbbing, as if we were now living inside a disco. Could somebody actually be playing music this loud? Why weren't the old people we saw earlier, presumably not all of them stone deaf, calling the cops?

My wife had already abandoned hope: "We've made a terrible, terrible mistake," she said icily. Only after a call and response kicked in between a bellowing emcee and what sounded like at least 2,000 people did I realize that this cacophony couldn't possibly be coming from inside our building. Although we were prepared to think the worst—that living in the Bronx meant simply accepting ear-splitting bacchanalia late into the night—the truth was more complicated. The next morning, bleary-eyed, I discovered the source of the noise: a local school held a dance party every Halloween to keep kids from shooting and stabbing one another—or unlucky passers-by—on a night that, in the Bronx, one truly has reason to be afraid. Thus, at least on certain troubled Bronx evenings, one trades sleep for peace of mind, not a choice I'm certain my wife and I want to confront for long.

Meanwhile, I arranged to have a cable-TV salesman come to the apartment, a preliminary stage to having the cable man himself arrive. I had tried for two weeks to have cable installed before we moved in, but the company refused to return my calls. As I discovered from the world-weary salesman, Bronx residents had the habit, once addicted to cable but unable to pay, of switching accounts to other members of the household, pretending themselves to move and hocking the cable box on the street. Hence the cable company's suspicion and the need for a salesman's visit.

Since then, I've gotten a little more used to the Bronx. Nothing works very well; 204th Street oddly has seven small, poorly stocked newsstands within three blocks; we see the occasional crack addict. My wife and I stick to the same three streets, as if our neighborhood had shrunk dramatically. I'm not sure how long we'll stay before moving farther from, or closer to, Manhattan. But most of the people in my neighborhood seem hardworking, there's a great bar around the corner, and the nearby Botanical Garden stands resplendent, a reminder of the Bronx's faded glory.

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