A Brief History of Crime and Real Estate

Posted on July 20, 2010

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When I moved to the District in 1993, it had recently won the honor of Murder Capital of the World, and my family and friends confidently predicted that I would die, quickly and painfully.  I played it cool, but I was a complete rube, a babe in the woods, and I suspected that they were right, though it would be a small price to pay for getting the hell out of Dodge and living a curfew-less, cilantro-ful life rich with public transportation options.  It was a good three months before I ventured out in the city alone after dark.

OK, it was a good year.

And OK, I mean “out on campus alone after dark.”

In the ensuing years, I have lived in weirdo Foggy Bottom, in so-so neighborhoods, and in neighborhoods that scandalized my cab drivers at 3 a.m.  Once parental support ended, my journey into the city’s more…gentrifying, transitional, border (whatever the slightly racist term of art is now)… neighborhoods began.  And so did my proclivity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

1996: 18th and Riggs NW

This little tiny apartment was the first place I ever lived alone, and–not coincidentally–the first place my depression really kicked into overdrive.  This is where I lived when I had my brief pothead phase, smoking a bowl every night while I watched M*A*S*H and Welcome Back, Kotter on my little rabbit-eared TV.  I ate a lot of ramen noodles, worked two jobs (AmeriCorps and Starbucks), and dropped out of school so I could sleep and sleep on my mattress on the floor.  This was emphatically not a good time, and it got worse when I returned from a trip home on the Greyhound (13 miserable hours) to find that someone had carefully removed the bars from my back window and totally ransacked my place, including throwing food out of the cabinets.  The only things stolen–the only things I had worth stealing–were my VCR and my last little bit of dried-out shake.  I could’ve really used a bowl that night, too.

This was the first–but oh friends, so not the last–time I ever called MPD.  I had maintained the purity of the crime scene because everyone who’s ever watched TV knows that’s what you do, but the lone officer who showed up just chuckled when I asked if they were taking fingerprints, like Oh honey, we have so many bigger fish to fry than your stolen VCR.

I figured I wouldn’t get much sympathy on the weed, either.

1996: 21st and O NW

I shared this apartment with my friend M., who was still in school.  I was newly employed at the bar and launched on a multi-year period of aimless drunkenness and side work (or as I like to call this period, “my twenties”).  It was a nice apartment, a first-floor 1BR that we paid $800 for, situated right across from the O Street Mansion.  This was back in the day when many drugs were sold in Dupont Circle and many weirdos hung out at P Street Beach (perhaps these days are not over; I’m old.)  People traveling between these two venues had a strange affinity for our front yard for some reason, and we had to call 911 twice for two different overdoses.  Many more souls lingered to sing aloud and scratch themselves.  But the worst of the worst was The Pervertrator.

That summer, it was my habit to come home from working the floor, limp with heat and exhaustion, and sit in my beat-up black recliner (a grandpa hand-me-down) to read and have a beer and decompress before I washed one of my two white shirts by hand in the bathtub in preparation for the next shift.  One night, strange noises roused me from my reverie and I looked out the window to see an unmistakable flash of motion in the bushes: The Pervertrator had arrived.  I screamed, he came, and I ran for the bedroom and dialed 911.

Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.  When I eventually called MPD back, they said they’d driven by and not seen anything.  Hey, thanks for the heads up.

The Pervertrator came returned many, many times, despite a hand-lettered sign in the window that said, Stop looking in our windows, you freak. We eventually stopped calling 911 because they never so much as knocked on the door or took a report.  We just shut the window and pulled the blind permanently–almost too much of a sacrifice to make in an apartment with no AC in July in the city, but not quite.

1997: 12th and P NW
In the grand scheme of things, this was a dream.  I was sleeping with a rock star.  I shared a 1BR apartment that I think we paid $600/month for.  Yes, there were crack whores turning tricks in the alley, but hardly ever.  This was definitely a neighborhood that left cab drivers aghast, hard as that is to believe these days.  One of my finer moments in this apartment was meeting my roommate as he left to do a Habitat for Humanity build while I was stumbling in from a night of waitressing followed by serious, insane alcohol consumption at upper NW’s less fine after hours establishments. (Club Soda, anyone? Or a truly terrifying place called Sugar’s, where I saw my first non-hunting gun, coyly nestled up to a small mountain of cocaine?  Club Soda was gross, but Sugar’s was the most electrifyingly scary place I have ever been.  Instant fight-or-flight sobriety and a quick inventory of my sins thus far in life the second we walked in.  Do I even need to say that there was an inappropriate man involved in getting me there? )

I hesitate to include this as a crime given what’s coming later, but I was very gently kind of mugged…extorted, really…on my way home from the grocery store (the Giant at 8th and P.)  I was struggling down the road with three enormous bags when a guy came up behind me and took them out of my hands.  He gave me his beer to hold and walked with me for a block or two.  I told him I could take it from there, because I really didn’t want him at my front door, and he started backing away with my stuff.  He said his services would cost me $2o bucks, but we compromised on $10 because that’s all I had.

That one might actually be more “city weirdness” than crime.

1998: 15th and Belmont

When I tell this anecdote now, people don’t empathize so much with the awfulness of it as they marvel at my sheeplike stupidity in how I dealt with it.  Thirty-five-year-old me would not have put up with this shit for five minutes, but 23-year-old me was a hot mess.  Forgive her.

This was an efficiency apartment in a big brick building across from my beloved Malcolm X Park.  I paid $425 a month, a price that turned out to include all the mice I could catch.  I had been there about four months when I came home to find the door slightly ajar and a toothmug shattered on my bathroom floor.  That’s weird, I said to myself just before I fell asleep for 12 hours.  It wasn’t until the next morning when I went to put my tips in their ultra-safe spot–my underwear drawer–that I realized I’d been robbed.  I had slung a lot of Guinness and burgers for that money, and it was no small loss.  The police came, my resident manager came (cue ominous foreshadowing) and everyone somehow decided that no forced entry=no crime.

From that point, every couple of weeks I would come home and find my door very slightly open, or at least unlocked, and some truly disturbing things in my apartment.  To wit:

  • My underwear drawer dumped in the middle of the floor;
  • The toilet seat left up and an empty beer in the bathroom trash can;
  • Ice cream taken out of the freezer and left in the cupboards to melt;
  • My Blockbuster rentals stolen (remember how much that cost?);
  • Cigarette-holes burnt into pictures of my face;
  • All of the silver stolen out of my giant change jar, but the pennies left, implying that someone had taken their sweet time ripping me off.

I called MPD several times, but they were really stuck on the forced entry thing and I think they thought I was crazy.  I did have an officer pull me aside and tell me that they had received other complaints about my resident manager being in people’s apartments when he shouldn’t have been, but nothing ever stuck.  He told me I should “be careful”.  Thanks for that, chief.

Once my resident manager called me close to midnight to say that he’d been “thinking a lot about me” , and to offer the theory that the thefts were perpetrated by “people I brought home with me when I got off work every night at 3 a.m.”  Since I had to walk past his apartment to get to mine, I took the hint that he was monitoring my comings and goings.  My management company refused to put a new lock on my door and threatened to evict me if I did.  I should have let them, but my mom had co-signed my lease and I didn’t want her to really know what was going on; I was very invested in my own success in the city.

I should have raised holy hell, set a trap, broken the lease, something, but I was really tired all the time and just wholly unable to deal.  In retrospect, I’m lucky nothing worse happened.

1999-2002: 13th and Corcoran NW

This was another basement apartment, with cheerful yellow walls and lovely gay neighbors.  My sister leased it with me and we paid $800.  The worst thing that happened here is that I got so drunk at my own 4th of July party that I fell asleep in the middle of it.  On the floor.  Wearing a skirt.  A short one.

2002-2003: 12th and S NW

This was a huge 2BR apartment with tons of light and a yard.  We were so pleased with our move up in the world that we quickly acquired a puppy, and then a car to go buy food for the puppy.  I loved this apartment, even though it did smell faintly of cat pee when it was very humid.  We paid $1450 and loved being within stumbling distance of U St.  The worst thing that happened here was…nothing.  It was paradise.  Which made the next transition all that much more bracing.

2003-2009: 14th and G NE

Remember the heyday of the DC real estate boom, when everyone and their mother was buying houses and condos and telling you that you had to as well, lest you be doomed to a life of Throwing Your Money Away on Rent?  Yeah, we bought that line too.  Four of my close friends closed on houses the same week we did.  This was before most of you ever heard of H St. NE, before The Argonaut, before the Joe Englert revolution.   We thought we’d live there for two years and sell it for 100% more than we paid.  And we could have, too–though we could not have bought another house in the city for what we would have earned.  2005 was pretty much the top of the curve for housing prices around here.  Also, homeownership is all-consuming, and by 2005 we had a thriving garden full of tomatoes and H Street development was under way.   The neighborhood was changing fast,with fewer corner boys and more people who wanted to organize block parties with grills in the street and Moonbounces.

Then, in 2006, my sister’s boyfriend was shot on our front porch.  Some day I will tell this story, what happened and what it meant to my life, but it won’t be in a flip rundown of places I’ve lived.  Suffice it to say that I finally saw what kind of crime makes MPD sit up and pay attention, and though they were superb it’s a lesson I’d just as happily not have learned.  I also learned that if someone loses a lot of blood and other tissue on your doorstep, no magic fairies come and clean it up; it’s all on you, even if you are crying so hard you can barely stand up, even if everyone is gathering at the hospital because things are quite dire, even if someone’s being wheeled in to emergency brain surgery, even then.

My love affair with H Street and its charming nightlife cooled down considerably, since I was basically terrified to be out walking around after dark.  It took us awhile to figure out how my sister was going to keep the house and let me out of it.  Somewhere in there I was elected block president solely on the strength of my deviled eggs, but even so I knew it was time for me to make the next move.

2009-Forever: Mt Pleasant FTW

Mt P, Mt P, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:

I love you more than the number of hipsters wearing cut-off jean shorts or manpris and chunky glasses in a ten block radius.

I love you more than that leftover pupusa I found in my refrigerator, with extra slaw, when I needed it most.

I love you more than all of the tomatoes I’ve bought at the farmer’s market that happens in my front yard every Saturday.

I love you more with every annoying person who gets off the 42 bus before we get here.

I love you more than every cheap, ripe avocado I’ve ever bought at Bestway for making perfect guacamole.

I love you more than I fear letting my cell phone ring at Dos Gringos.

I love you at least as much as I love the free cable you gave me in my beautiful, cheap, 2BR apartment with the private patio and optional parking spot.

I love you enough to pretend that guy on Lamont Street really didn’t come thisclose to peeing on my foot as I was walking down the sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon.

I guess this did not turn out to be a brief list, but it did leave out 5 or 6 places I lived in college.  We were mostly the ones breaking laws there though…or if not laws, at least universally accepted codes of human conduct.  Okay, and a law or two, but only dumb laws.

In sum, I’m never moving again.


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Posted in: Angst, DC, Uncategorized