Growing up in a bad part of town

August 26, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog

I was watching Chris Rock on Inside the Actors Studio (downloaded while in the Philippines, outside China’s retarded firewall that blocks YouTube). He talked about how growing up in dangerous neighborhoods in Brooklyn helped form him.

Personally, I highly value the self-made-ness of  a self-made man or woman. I think most people do, especially compared to someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth. His description of his childhood in a bad neighborhood reminded me of a neighborhood I spent some time growing up in. I started writing this post about my self-made-ness, but realized it’s more about my mother’s.

I looked up the name of a street my mom moved to not long after my parents divorced — Rockland Street in Philadelphia. In the 70s it was, to say the least, an economically depressed neighborhood. They gave out welfare sandwiches to kids at the end of the block, no questions asked. My mom points out we never went on welfare, but I enjoyed those free sandwiches at the time — puffy white bread, bright yellow mustard, thin slices of baloney. Stuff only a kid could love because now I would see such stuff as horribly unhealthy and a government subsidy to agribusiness disguised as help for poor people. My family would never get such unhealthy stuff, so I had to enjoy the free stuff.

Once I made the mistake of walking around the block in bare feet, leading to so much broken glass and blood on my feet it took I don’t know how long to tweeze it all out.

Anyway, back to the search. Today’s search revealed the place hasn’t changed much. Only two news articles came up on it: “2 Arrested After Double Shooting In Logan; No Arrests In Three Others” and “Police Identify Limo Driver Shot And Killed Behind The Wheel In Feltonville” although the latter story related to a different section of Rockland Street.

Besides two shootings, the search also revealed a neighborhood blog, — an encouraging, community-building site, though its top story covered a colossal (6ft x 8t x 10ft!!) pothole no one had fixed for at least four months.


Anyway, as I mentioned, this post is ending up about my mom. As a kid, I didn’t think much of where we lived. I had no other childhood than the one I was living to compare it to. Kids bolted a milk crate and piece of plywood to a telephone pole to make a basket to play hoops at the downhill end. People in run down houses spent a lot of money on cars for some reason. People opened fire hydrants to play in on hot summer days. Neighbors had giant tubs of welfare peanut butter that was sweetened as much as peanut butter cups candy.

All that was normal to us. I mean, my father’s house was nearby but in a neighborhood I don’t think has ever been economically depressed and my two sisters and I spent equal time at each house.

I don’t think many adults who knew otherwise would choose living on Rockland Street if they had a choice. So many cockroaches. So much crime.

So why did we live there? I’ve never asked my mom, but I remember two things. The first is that she said when my parents decided to divorce she wanted to avoid a long, drawn-out process, which probably meant getting less, materially speaking. I never followed up to find out more or asked my father’s perspective. I was only around four years old so I wasn’t aware. And who knows how accurate my memories are?

The second is that I never remember my mother complain about the situation. I remember her working a lot to earn money, fixing the place up with my stepfather, and moving to a nicer house and neighborhood a few years later. I tend to think of my time their as building character, but I can’t take credit for improving our situation. That took hard work by adults.

Anyway, the themes of not blaming others but taking responsibility for improving situations and looking for solutions instead of dwelling on problems runs through my posts. Rockland Street has been a major instance of each for me.

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4 responses on “Growing up in a bad part of town

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