I am 75 years old, and have been married to my wonderful husband for more than 50 of them. We are Jeopardy fans. My favorite poet is Louise Bogan. My favorite author is John McPhee. We live in Teaneck, NJ, where my husband’s family has lived since 1950. We just got here in 1974. My husband teaches Creative Writing at the Rodda Center in Teaneck. I am the teacher’s pet. His students, especially Peggy Gerber and Marie Johnson-Ladson, encouraged me to submit some of my written work to online publishers.
A Life of Crime
Cold steel pokes my back. “I’ve got a gun. Give me money, so nobody gets hurt”. I reach into my purse, grab my wallet and extract bills. I hold them over my head. I know better than to turn around. A hand expertly snatches my last week’s salary. A cop turns the corner onto our street. We hear footsteps running away, and run toward the policeman. “We’ve been robbed” I cry, trembling. “Lady” the cop replies “You’re lucky”. He walks past. It’s 1969. Albert Shankar and the UFT have struck the entire New York City school system, three times. Middle-class professionals flee the city. “Fun City” crumbles and social services are cut.
What are we doing here? It’s 1969 and we are apartment hunting in NYC. Two naïve babes in the wood, we called about an apartment in our price range on this street. We drove to the address, found it “already taken”, and couldn’t even get into the building. We were walking back to our borrowed car when I felt the gun in my back. NYC real estate defeated us. We saw one apartment with a realtor. The kitchen was a hallway, and you entered as you walked in. The bedroom and living room were on either side, and the tiny closet in the bedroom wouldn’t hold our sheets and towels. It was rented by the time we got back to their office. I call companies: “You advertise apartments at $300/month. We’d like to make an appointment to see one, please” I say. “Our lowest price apartments start at $500/month”, the phone voice answers. “But you advertise in the New York Times you have apartments at $300/month”, I scream. “Click” and I’m disconnected. Realtors lied, lied and lied some more. Cozy meant miniature. Up-and-coming neighborhood meant you would be mugged in broad daylight. Near public transit meant you couldn’t enter your doorway during rush hour. The soot seeped in everywhere.
Joe heard Brooklyn Heights was a lovely area. We pushed our borrowed car across the Brooklyn Bridge , where a complex of brick buildings on a grassy plot of land showed “now renting”. We made four left turns and drove around for 15 minutes looking for a parking space. The arrogant, obnoxious manager condescends to let us see one apartment. Corner apartment, eighth floor. Living room-dining room 30+ feet, seven closets and a kitchen you could put a table and chairs in, a bedroom the size of a Manhattan apartment. The rent is in our price range. We pay for an extra month to nail down the place. Joe’s father has to co-sign the lease, because a mere Harvard lawyer can’t be trusted to pay. Still, we have a place to live.
We furnish the apartment. Joe and I walk to work across the Brooklyn Bridge. Graduate school courses become less demanding because we are on top of the A train. After our ordeal of looking, we want to stay here. We’re so close to the subway, people park their cars here to commute. The car alarms ring night and day, and go on for hours. We lose a night a week of sleep to the car alarms. Years pass, and my patience runs out. I’m going to put an end to that. I’ll torch the next car whose alarm that goes on for more than an hour.
Checklist: black balaclava mask, black shirt and pants over shorts and t-shirt. Add a rag, rubbing alcohol and lighter. Just wait for the next jerk who doesn’t come out to turn off his car alarm. I’m ready to go to jail for this Cause. I am one desperate woman. Joe calls from work. “The NY State Legislature has just passed a noise abatement law. All cars registered in New York State must have an alarm stop which turns off after 15 minutes. The police can ticket any car whose alarm runs on for more than 30 minutes. They can tow any car whose alarm goes on for more than an hour”. I throw the baggy pants, balaclava, and oversize top into the donation bin. Joe is joking, of course. He simply doesn’t want the effort of a lawsuit after I’m caught.
A local heroine emerges in our neighborhood. The local throwaway newspaper features a woman who dons a balaclava and dark clothing. She goes around torching cars whose alarms run on for more than an hour. She takes a rag, dips it in rubbing alcohol, places it on top of the car hood, and lights it. She’s totally anonymous and has never been caught. The reporter who interviewed her quoted her as saying: “Like, when I realized the police couldn’t care less about noise pollution I stepped up my campaign. I used to go out once a week. Now I simply go out as often as I hear an alarm for an hour”. There’s a fund for her legal defense, if she’s ever caught. The reporter asks how she got started on this noble endeavor. “I’d signed petitions, and written letters, but nobody paid any attention. I raided a Thrift Shop donation box and found a balaclava, baggy black pants, a baggy shirt and a lighter all in one bag together. I then realized I could make a real difference in the local noise level. I hadn’t realized the local police would turn a blind eye to my efforts”.
My brother-in-law voices the family’s sentiments: “We always thought you and Joe were too good to be true. Now we know you’re human like the rest of us. Well done”. I tell him I am not the “Angel of Peace” of Brooklyn Heights. I protest I have no idea of what he’s talking about. “Ok, OK. We’re just letting you know we’re on your side”, he continues. Our friends are even less subtle. The more I protest, the more they believe. The Brooklyn Heights “Angel of Peace” remains anonymous, even when offered a TV contract .
Eventually, we move to a house in the suburbs. Lawn services replace car alarms, and the noisy teens on the block enjoy “their” “music” at ear-splitting levels. Our baby wakes up to nurse every 2 ½ hours. Still, it’s an improvement. We don’t lose as much sleep.