Matt Forney
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Ten Observations from Living in America’s Most Notorious Neighborhood

This is a guest post by Kid Strangelove. Kid originally published this article at his own blog on April 24, 2015, but he deleted the site a while ago so he could focus on other projects. He asked me if I’d be willing to re-post some of his articles on my blog and I said yes.

In late February/early March 2014, I was put in a rather uncomfortable position. My roommate at the time informed me that he would not be able to sign a year’s lease with me. He was having difficulty finding steady work, and the situation was heightened by the fact that the rent for our two bedroom slice of comfort would spike by nearly 20 percent for the new lease.

The apartment was nice and it performed its functions admirably, but it was not worth the rent spike. I soon learned that lesson the hard way. As potential Craigslist roommate after roommate stopped by to check the place out, I could tell their dissatisfaction by the look in their eyes. It was not worth the money. And one by one, my potential roommates turned me down. I was left with a two bedroom apartment and two weeks’ worth of time to get the hell out of there.

notorious

I underestimated the rather unforgiving New York City housing market. There was no way I could find a suitable place in such a small time frame. Thankfully, I had a friend who got my back.

His parents had moved down South, so he took over the lease on their apartment: a two bedroom place in the South Bronx. At the time, he was having some issues with work, so getting a 50 percent rent discount sounded like a win to him. We shook hands on it and it was finalized: Kid Strangelove was moving to the hood!

The South Bronx carries a certain mystique about it. While America has been described as the land of opportunity for ages, the South Bronx seemed like its polar opposite: crime, poverty, and no upward mobility. Would it hold true? Only time could tell.

Here are the observations that I made while living there: about the people, the culture, and about me.

1. Everything is cheaper.

I was expecting this, but I underestimated the scope of how much cheaper things really are. My rent was half as much as I was paying in the Upper East Side, groceries were significantly less pricy, and so were the local restaurants and delivery places. I was really able to stretch out my paycheck further than I ever have before. The dream that Internet marketers try to sell you—making American money while living on the cheap in a small Latin American country—was alive and well in Manhattan and the Bronx. Except instead of sandy beaches, you have bleacher tickets to the Yankees.

2. There is barely anything to do.

Speaking of the Yankees, I hope you like ’em, because there’s hardly anything else to do in the area. Once you get accustomed to the NYC way of living—that there’s always some nightlife, a movie theater, or a bar within walking distance from you—its a bit of a shock to suddenly lack those options, all while still technically living in the city that does! I was always curious as to why people of all ages in the Bronx were sitting outside of their buildings, sometimes with lawn chairs and radios, and the answer was simple: there is just no place else for them to go. Most of the activities you want to participate in become a “trip” or an “event” because of the distance involved, and since many people don’t have cars, they cant travel that distance on a whim.

3. Most of the people in the Bronx are just families doing their thing and getting by.

I saw kids, mothers, and fathers. I saw people in blue-collar work uniforms leading kids in private school uniforms. I saw grocery shopping trips and birthday parties. I saw normal family life, and the Bronx is one of the few places in New York City where normal family life is actually affordable. With the distance involved in getting to work, school and places of interest, the Bronx is like a giant suburb with apartments instead of single-family houses. This was always the biggest surprise to people when they visited, since they expected the Bronx to be nothing but shady people.

4. There was a fair share of shady people.

What’s shady? People posted up on the steps of a building or inside in the stairwell drinking out of a paper bag and/or smoking a fat blunt. There is just nothing else to do in the area, and sometimes you just wanna get wasted. I get it. But I also get how wasted people can act: aggressive, confrontational, irrational. The golden rule is in full effect in the Bronx, but with different wording: don’t fuck with people, and they won’t fuck with you.

5. Give respect, get respect: mind your business.

The Bronx’s reputation always precedes it, so I made sure to be civil with everyone I met. I would always say hello to my neighbors and I would always say hi and “Excuse me” to the folks drinking and smoking in the stairway. I treated everyone with politeness and respect and I got the same in return. There were no “messing with the white kid” stories going on, at least not with me. Speaking of which…

6. The Bronx is incredibly diverse.

I saw various ethnicities and nationalities represented and everyone, at least on the surface, is cool with one another. Of course, the inevitable question is, “but what about white people?” There’s plenty, especially due to NYC’s history of Irish and Italian immigration, as well as people from all walks of life trying to live on the cheap. I was far from the only white kid in the Bronx.

7. Bronx people are incredibly in tune with pop culture, nerd culture, sports culture… any culture, really.

I made this observation a while back, but now I know why: when you have nothing to do, you look for something to do. That’s why so many people in the Bronx embrace various different aspects of culture: the barrier of entry to enjoy these things is super low. Some of the nerdiest people I have ever met were from the hood. This is why I’m one of the few people who doesn’t throw a shit fit when a new iteration of a comic book character is a different race or gender than an older iteration: it gives people someone new to identify with. And yes, it’s easier to identify with someone of the same race, gender, religion or nationality as you. As a white person, I love that Eminem bridged the race gap in hip hop, and as a Russian I love our representation in the NHL as well as Fedor Emilianenko’s reign at the top of the MMA world. I’m also smart enough to know that Miles Morales isn’t Peter Parker, just like John Stewart wasn’t Hal Jordan, and that the people who throw these kinds of fits over nerd culture are usually not the audience that would be buying these things anyway. But that’s a different rant for a different day.

8. You instantly earn a reputation.

Telling people I lived in the South Bronx would often immediately change the way people perceived me. Sometimes it gave me “bad boy points,” one time a hipster felt visibly “out-hipstered” when I told him about my address and my enjoyment of a local Dominican restaurant, and there were even a few instances where people made snide comments. I’ve never had such strong reactions when I lived elsewhere. But hey, I’m a realist: if I can get a reputation, I’ll use it to my advantage (aka to get laid), which brings us to…

9. My game skyrocketed.

I lived in the Bronx, but I would still play in Manhattan and Brooklyn. That’s just where the girls are. And the fact that I didn’t feel like taking an expensive cab ride or a long train ride home made me more aggressive and upfront about going to a girl’s place for sex. It wasn’t just about the lay anymore: it was about a good night’s rest. Yes, I became one of those guys. And it felt good.

10. You learn to control yourself.

The single biggest takeaway from living in the hood is that I learned a lot about self-control, personal planning and personal responsibility. If I wanted to meet my friends in Brooklyn, I had to factor in the fact that to get home, I’d have to spend an hour and a half on the subway. Therefore, I didn’t get shitfaced. This also helped me avoid getting on the wrong side of the shady folks on my block: I was never an easy target. Because of the distance, I researched, planned, and generally made the most of my free time because I had very little room to be spontaneous: the travel time was too great! This attitude spread to a lot of my other activities, and I am a much better person because of it.

So there you go, the most notorious neighborhood in all of America isn’t all that bad. Maybe some of you will be motivated to move there, maybe not: but if you do, keep me posted.

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